As the embers of progressive discontent begin to burn in America, American youth alike are beginning to embrace radical politics and ideas as an alternative to the status quo. In spite of the rise of #BlackLivesMatters, the discontent of Black youth is being aimed towards the romantic reproduction of another ‘Civil Rights Movement’. While the Civil Rights Movement certainly has increased the political and civil freedoms of Black people in the United States, it has not sealed the deal on the great goal of Black liberation. This is a travesty given the onslaught of neoliberalism, the newest phase in American racial capitalism. It is this new ‘neoliberal’ American racial capitalism that is driving the school-to-prison pipeline, ‘the new Jim Crow’, and the general assault on Black women and children. However, by returning to the African American Karl Marx, W.E.B DuBois, we can begin to rebuild a systemic critique and analysis that will contribute to the newest phase of Black liberation.
Beginning with an essay on the oppression and exploitation of the Black working class in America, W.E.B DuBois’ Black Reconstruction in America lays bear the social and political contradictions flowing throughout the entirety of American RACIAL capitalism. By revisiting Black Reconstruction as a serious social-economic and historical account of the American capitalist social order from its birth, the American capitalist system can be critiqued and understood in an effective and comprehensive manner.
While Marx accurately highlights the nature of the production process in terms of industrial production and the production of [profit] surplus value – the difference between the labor produced by workers in general and the profit taken in by capitalist – Marx’s analysis of capitalism is limited in that it did not fully anticipate white supremacy as the ‘veil’ [weltanshauug] that would mediate the relationships between workers among themselves, capitalists and the forms of production under capital – cultural, political, economic, and social. However, Marx asserted accurately in Das Kapital that “white labor cannot be emancipated as long as Black skin is branded’, highlighting an awareness of the American condition.
Nevertheless this analysis did not anticipate the fetishization of white labor power beyond ‘reconstruction’. It is race that functions as a barrier to working class solidarity across the color line, and serves as the primary stumbling block to an American socialist movement. Dubois highlights this in his assertion that ‘white workers [proletariat] are more threatened by free Black labor than Black labor enslaved.’ DuBois’ assertion is essential because he pinpoints the means in which white labor, and white bodies, are often valued above the humanity of Black people even though they equally produce the same profit [surplus value] for capitalists. And despite this mutual exploitation between white and black labor, the reification of whiteness by American capital as such translates into a false conceptions of merit and viability by white workers!
Thus a powerful political and social antagonism between white and Black laborers prevents these two portions of the American working class from acting as allies. This fundamental antagonism is in operation in the workplaces, criminal justice, academic institutions and public policy-making of American society. Wealth inequality, for example, is returning as a major discourse in American public policy via the rise of would-be political stars Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, and past mobilizations such as #Occupy Wall Street. Yet, this rejuvenation of ‘progressive politics’ has the potential of stumbling over the issue of race and its centrality in the American mode of production. Thus actualizing itself only as ‘white progressive politics’.
DuBois’ insight is invaluable in this regard because he highlights the position of those who are ‘behind the veil’ of white supremacy and its hold over American democracy. What is American democracy if its ideas of political equality fail to translate into racial solidarity and economic equality for all? American racial capitalism reifies the political, cultural and social needs of the white working class over its fellow non-white workers. In this manner, Black Reconstruction is invaluable because it provides the left leg that has been missing in the American socialist and progressive traditions from Eugene V. Debs onwards.
Black Reconstruction in America is indispensable in the training of activists, scholars, and students who desire to fight for social justice in precarious conditions that are coming to a surface. The ongoing penalization, murder, and economic deprivation of Black men and women of all persuasions necessitate critical and systemic critique that is missing in today’s public discourse. By returning to Black Reconstruction in America, DuBois’ analysis of the Afro-American condition evens out the sometimes-inadequate Marxian analysis of American racial capitalist production. In conclusion, Black Reconstruction is essential to developing a 21st century socialist analysis of capitalism, and for inspiring a new generation of Black socialists and intellectuals.