Vietnam's (meager) resources

Jonathan Scott jonascott at
Tue Jun 2 17:10:08 PDT 1998

Doug writes:
> Carrol Cox wrote:

"It is devishly difficult to keep a discussion of race going on these lists."

I beg to differ. Race & its relation to class seems to have been one of the staples of discussion in lbo-talk's first month of life. Which is exactly the kind of thing I was hoping for - the abortion discussion too. [SNIP]
> And stay up all night
> every night discussing
> race and class..."

Carrol Cox writes:

"Yes and no. There have been some very long threads on race and class. But your appended Communist Love Song is an appropriate comment on those threads: they tend to go around in a circle endlessly, a circle which does not incorporate new material with each spin of the wheel*, but merely restate the general point (which I then stated again in my post). When I say it's devilishly difficult, I mean it is difficult to get the discussion to go much beyond this reaffirmation of what I believe has been established as a truism, but...

"How do we move that discussion forward beyond that truism?"

I'll have to look up the previous discussions of race and class on lbo-talk. I've been on the list for only a day or two.

DuBois always talked about "the White Blindspot" as the main weakness of social thought in the US. What Carrol refers to as the endless circle of talk about race and class on the left is perfect next to DuBois' formulation: where we once had the Blindspot to contend with, before it was blown open by the US civil rights movement, we now have in its place an insidious truism--insidious precisely because its intent is not to better explain or illuminate but to get away from its referent: white racial oppression.

I think Carrol's question--"How do we move that discussion forward beyond that truism"--is worth more than one answer. It requires a lot of steady discussion that's a lot less sexy than talk about militias. But for now here's one answer, as brief as I can make it:

If white skin privilege continues to be the achilles heel of the labor movement as a whole, and white racial oppression the central feature of US history--I take this to be the specific truism Carrol refers to above--then we can square the race and class circle by first getting our terms straight. I have the feeling that very few folks on the left know anything substantial about--on par with, say, the Vietnam War--how the "white race" was invented, its history as a ruling-class social control formation.

Theodore Allen's two volume study, THE INVENTION OF THE WHITE RACE (Verso, 1994 and 1997) is a great place to start. We should have back-and-forths about this masterpiece of American historiography. Many of our terms, such as racial oppression and white skin privilege, could be nuanced and made more precise through recourse to Allen's work. I'm not suggesting a study-group (nor am I saying Allen is the only place to go); I'm just saying that since many of the back-and-forths already take the form of a study-group, let's use the opportunity to get discussions going along these lines, where relevant citations could be made and so on, as they are in lbo-talk discussions about the Vietnam War, abortion, militias, Leninism, etc.

To me, what Carrol is saying (in response to Doug's rejoinder above) is that this is what is lacking whenever the US left gets together to talk about race and class. Unlike discussions about environmentalism, religion or socialism, discussions about race and class act as if everyone is in agreement about fundamentals. So let's talk a few fundamentals and see if it's true.



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