Wednesday April 23rd, 2014, 3:32 am (EDT)

David Roediger

The Retreat from Race and Class

As the twentieth century started, indeed at almost exactly the same moment that W. E. B. Du Bois predicted that the “color line” would be its great divide, Eugene Victor Debs announced that the socialist movement that he led in the United States could and should offer “nothing special” to African Americans. “The class struggle,” Debs added, “is colorless.” As the century unfolded, the white Marxist left, schooled by struggles for colonial freedom and by the self-activity of people of color in the centers of empire, increasingly saw the wisdom of Du Bois’s insight and tried hard to consider how knowledge of the color line could illuminate, energize, and express class struggles. We would increasingly turn to other passages from Debs, including one expressing a historical insight that he could already articulate in the early twentieth century but that his colorblindness kept him from acting upon: “That the white heel is still on the black neck is simply proof that the world is not yet civilized. The history of the Negro in the United States is a history of crime without a parallel.”… | more |