In this number we are celebrating the hundredth anniversary of W. E. B. Du Bois’ The Souls of Black Folk by devoting a special issue to race and imperialism. MR is proud to have had a connection with Du Bois. Fifty years ago he wrote his famous article “Negroes and the Crisis of Capitalism in the United States” for MR (April 1953; reprinted in the magazine last April). In addition, Monthly Review Press is the publisher of Du Bois’ Education of Black People: Ten Critiques, 1906–1960, edited by Herbert Aptheker. This was a book that Du Bois had planned, based originally on seven critiques of education that he had delivered as speeches over the years. But his attempts in the 1940s to get it published proved futile. One publisher after another turned down the work—no doubt scared off by the very same ruthless critique that made his work so valuable. Yet, Du Bois never gave up hope of bringing out this book and it was found among his papers after his death in 1963. The published version, which was announced in the MR Press catalog in 1973 and has remained in print ever since (a new edition with a new foreword by Aptheker was brought out in 2001), included the original seven critiques and the short introductions that Du Bois had written for each of them for the book. It also contained three critiques of education that he had written in subsequent years. Everyone interested in the effects of race and class exploitation on higher learning in the United States would gain from a careful study of this profoundly humanistic, often lyrical, and fundamentally subversive work. In his 1908 lecture, “Galileo Galilei,” included in The Education of Black People, Du Bois wrote: “The greatest gift that a scholar can bring to Learning is Reverence of Truth, a Hatred of Hypocrisy and Sham, and an absolute sincerity of purpose.” There is no doubt that Du Bois exemplified this principle throughout his entire life
We are living in a period in which the rhetoric of empire knows few bounds. In a special report on “America and Empire” in August, the London-based Economist magazine asked whether the United States would, in the event of “regime changes … effected peacefully” in Iran and Syria, “really be prepared to shoulder the white man’s burden across the Middle East?” The answer it gave was that this was “unlikely”—the U.S. commitment to empire did not go so far. What is significant, however, is that the question was asked at all.
The profound hypocrisy and inherent barbarism of bourgeois civilization lies unveiled before our eyes, moving from its home, where it assumes respectable form, to the colonies, where it goes naked (Karl Marx, The Future Results of British Rule in India, New York Daily Tribune, January 22, 1853).
Marx’s statement is telling and relevant. Capitalism has always acted as a global system, working across or between nation states. The ever-present imperative to produce profit has pushed capital from its historic heartlands in northern Europe to all societies. But as Marx implies, the process of expansion has not been a homogenizing one: the bourgeoisie has double standards, or perhaps multiple standards, as it negotiates its presence in a wide variety of locations. The standards that most would define as minimally acceptable (social democracy) have been a product of specific historical and material conditions: a result of the emergence of institutionally robust and interventionist states and the political demands of working classes. But, these historical conditions are part of the same conditions that produced very different states and economies in sub-Saharan Africa: the colonial states arising from the scramble for colonies of the late 1880s are themselves part of the same capitalism which produced the bourgeois civilization that Marx ironically attributes to late Victorian England. The hypocrisy is that civilization in Europe, plus plunder, primitive accumulation, and famine in the colonial world were part of the same overarching liberal ideals
What is today viewed as globalization is not in fact a new phenomenon as the writing of W. E. B. Du Bois attests. Dr. Du Bois understood the impacts of what today we call neoliberalism, its damages, its causes, the interests it serves, and the way it divides the working class and undercuts the progressive movements with horrible consequences at home and abroad. These remain our themes today, though we would add “and women” in brackets where Dr. Du Bois wrote only “men,” and we would include ethnicity and religion as part of the discussion of the color line
The Blue Heron Press Jubilee edition of The Souls of Black Folk appeared in 1953. In 1949 Du Bois had purchased the plates to the book, which was then out of print. At that time, during the anticommunist hysteria, it was extremely difficult to keep in print or to publish works that raised fundamental questions about U.S. society. In 1952, best-selling novelist Howard Fast had his latest novel Spartacus turned down by his usual publisher and by every other he turned to-presumably, because of his association with the Communist Party as well as the incendiary nature of his novel, which was about a revolt against slavery, albeit in antiquity. Fast’s only choice was to publish the book himself. Devising his own imprint, Blue Heron Press, he solicited orders by direct mail and finally had enough so that he could print 50,000 copies. This self-published book became a best-seller, and with the proceeds Fast reissued a number of his earlier historical novels