The South: Jim Crow and Its Afterlives by Adolph L. Reed Jr. (London, UK & Brooklyn, NY: Verso Books, 2022)
“Reinventing the past to suit the purposes of the present.”
Adolph L. Reed Jr
We must find the road to the most deprived, to the darkest strata of the proletariat, beginning with the Negro, whom capitalist society has converted into a pariah, and who must learn to see in us his revolutionary brothers. And this depends wholly upon our energy and devotion to the work.
“Direct slavery is as much the pivot upon which our present-day industrialism turns as are machinery, credit, etc. Without slavery, there would be no cotton. Without cotton, there would be no modern industry. It is slavery that has given value to the colonies, it is the colonies that have created world trade, and world trade is the necessary condition for large-scale machine industry. Slavery is, therefore, an economic category of paramount importance.”
One of the purposes of this excellent new book by Adolph L Reed is to preserve the voices of the last generation of Americans with a living memory of Jim Crow. In the words of the English historian E. P Thompson, it attempts to rescue them from the “enormous condescension of posterity”.
The South documents Reed’s personal history almost in the manner of a memoir. However, unlike similar books, Reed presents a historical and class-based analysis of the racist Jim Crow laws.
As Barbara J Fields explains, it is important to understand the race from a historical perspective. She writes, “When virtually the whole of society, including supposedly thoughtful, educated, intelligent persons, commits itself to belief in propositions that collapse into absurdity upon the slightest examination, the reason is not hallucination or delusion or even simple hypocrisy; rather, it is ideology. And ideology is impossible for anyone to analyse rationally who remains trapped on its terrain. That is why race still proves so hard for historians to deal with historically, rather than in terms of metaphysics, religion, or socio- (that is, pseudo-) biology”.
Nothing so well illustrates that impossibility as the conviction among otherwise sensible scholars that race “explains” historical phenomena; specifically, it explains why people of African descent have been set apart for treatment different from others. But race is just the name assigned to the phenomenon, which it no more explains than judicial review “explains” why the United States Supreme Court can declare acts of Congress unconstitutional, or than Civil War “explains” why Americans fought each other between 1861 and 1865″.
Reed’s defence of a historical and class-based understanding of race has led him to be heavily criticised and ostracised. Reed has opposed what he calls “race reductionism,”. In 1996, he famously described Barack Obama as a “smooth Harvard lawyer with impeccable do-good credentials and vacuous-to-repressive neoliberal politics.” .For Reed, class-based inequality is the historical constant, not race. Reed examines how the black middle class were treated differently than the black working class. He recounts how many black middle-class people could avoid some of the worst excesses of the murderess Jim Crow regime.
As Reed contends in his article Separate and Unequal, “Middle-class, “respectable” black people sought as much as possible to insulate themselves and their children from contact with those they considered to be class inferiors. An elaborate structure of social clubs—for example, the Links and the Girl Friends for women, the Boulé for men, Jack and Jill for children, and fraternity and sorority chapters for students and alumni—evolved to create and sustain homogeneous middle-class social networks locally and nationally. Segregation did have a levelling effect on race. Those with higher status were forced to share neighbourhoods, schools, churches, restaurants, and other public entertainments with those they would prefer not to associate with. From the system’s beginnings, a complaint about the injustice of enforced segregation was that it did not account for class distinctions among black people”.
Reed has also criticised “critical race theory”, saying, “It is another expression of reductionism. On the most pedestrian level, it is an observation that what you see is a function of where you stand. At that level, there is nothing in it that was not in Marx’s early writings or Mannheim. But then you get an appropriation of the standpoint theory for identity that says, for example, all blacks think the same way. It is taxonomic, a reification. So the retort to that critique has been “intersectionality.” Yes, there is a black perspective, but what you do is fragment it, so there are multiple black perspectives because each potential—or each sacralised—social position becomes discrete. That is what gives you intersectionality.
Reed’s political and class-based perspective has been too much for the Democratic Socialists of America(DSA), who had a speech of Reed’s cancelled due to objections by the AFROSOCialist and Socialists of Color Caucus over his “reactionary and class reductionist form of politics”.
His critique of the 1619 project has led to personal and political attacks. In a recent interview with Tom Mackaman- Reed states, “I did not know about the 1619 Project until it came out, and frankly when I learned about it, my reaction was a big sigh. But again, the relation to history has passed to the appropriation of the past in support of whatever kind of ‘just-so’ stories about the present is desired. This approach has taken root within the Academy. It is like all bets are off. Merlin Chowkwanyun and I did an article a few years ago in the Socialist Register that is a critique of disparitarianism in the social sciences, by which this or that disparity has replaced the study of inequality and its effects. As Walter Benn Michaels said, and as I have said time and time again if anti-disparitarianism is your ideology, then for you, a society qualifies as being just if 1 per cent of the population controls 90 per cent of the wealth, so long as that within that 1 per cent 12 per cent or so are black, etc., reflecting their share of the national population. This is the ideal of social justice for neoliberalism. There is no question of actual redistribution.
Reed demolishes one of the myths of the 1619 project that enslaved people were introduced to America because of racism. Reed points out that the first slaves were brought over under the auspices of a wage labour system. He writes, ” the 1619 Project assumes, in whatever way, that slavery was the natural condition of Africans. And that is where the Afro-pessimism types wind up sharing a cup of tea with James Henry Hammond.”
As Niemuth points out in his defence of Reed, “The furious reaction within the DSA leadership to the invitation to Reed reveals how deeply the organisation is imbued with the reactionary and right-wing politics of racial division. The extreme hostility to any analysis based on the primacy of class expresses the interests of affluent sections of the petit bourgeoisie, who utilise racial and identity politics in the fight over positions of power and privilege within the apparatus of the state, the trade unions, academia and corporations”.
This concise volume deserves to be read widely and hopefully put onto university reading lists. It is hoped a younger readership picks it up and learns about a class-based and historical perspective on racism than the racialist perspective touted by the 1619 project.
About the Author
Adolph Reed, Jr., is Professor Emeritus of Political Science at the University of Pennsylvania. He is the author of numerous books and articles dealing with race and class in American society and writes regularly for the New Republic.
1. The cancellation of professor Adolph Reed, Jr.’s speech and the DSA’s promotion of race politics-Niles Niemuth- 18 August 2020-wsws.org
2. The New York Times’ 1619 Project and the Racialist Falsification of History: Essays and Interviews Paperback – 26 February 2021
3. by David North, Thomas Mackaman
 On Black Nationalism-Documents on the Negro Struggle- https://www.marxists.org/archive/trotsky/works/1940/negro1.htm
 1846 in The Poverty of Philosophy,
 Slavery, Race, and Ideology in the United States of America-https://www.versobooks.com/blogs/5281-slavery-race-and-ideology-in-the-united-states-of-america
 “Reinventing the past to suit the purposes of the present”-An interview with political scientist Adolph Reed, Jr. on the New York Times’ 1619 Project-Tom Mackaman-20 December 2019-wsws.org
 “Reinventing the past to suit the purposes of the present”-An interview with political scientist Adolph Reed, Jr. on the New York Times’ 1619 Project-Tom Mackaman-20 December 2019-wsws.org
Book Review: The 1619 Project: A New Origin Story, edited by Nikole Hannah-Jones, Caitlin Roper, Ilena Silverman and Jake Silverstein. New York, One World, 2021.
(A guest article from the writer and historian Tom Mackaman. The original article can be firstname.lastname@example.org/en/articles/2022/02/21/proj-f21.html)
An old idiom advises to never judge a book by its cover. Yet the front cover of the recently released book version of the New York Times’ 1619 Project speaks as much in a few short words as the following 600 pages of text. The Project, the over title reads, is “A New Origin Story,” which has been “Created by Nikole Hannah-Jones.” The dust jacket flap adds a touch of clairvoyance, explaining that the volume “offers a profoundly revealing vision of the American past and present.”
The Times, which wishes readers to take the 1619 Project seriously as a “reframing of American history,” has said more than it intended.Origin stories lie in the realm of myth, not history. Premodern societies produced, but did not “create,” origin stories. They were the work of whole cultures, emerging out of oral traditions that first humanized nature and then naturalized social relations. But in modern times, origin stories have indeed been created. Closely linked with nationalism in politics and irrationalism in philosophy, origin stories aim to fuse groups of people by lifting “the race” above the material class relations of history. Indeed, from the racialist vantage point, history is merely “the emanation of the race,” as Trotsky put it in words he aimed at Nazi racial mythmaking, but that serve just as well to indict the 1619 Project, which sorts actors in history into two categories: “white people” and “Black people,” and deduces motive and action from this a priori racial classification. 
That the 1619 Project was a racialist falsification of history was the central criticism the World Socialist Web Site leveled at it immediately after its release in August 2019, timing ostensibly chosen to commemorate the arrival of the first slaves in Virginia 400 years earlier. All of the 1619 Project’s errors, distortions, and omissions—its insinuation that slavery was a uniquely American “original sin”; its claim that the American Revolution was a counterrevolution launched to defend slavery against British abolition; its selective use of quotes to suggest that Abraham Lincoln was a racist indifferent to slavery; its censoring of the interracial character of the abolitionist, civil rights, and labor movements; its insistence that all present social problems are the fruit of slavery; its stance that historians had ignored slavery—all of this flowed from the Times’ singular effort to impose a racial myth on the past, the better to “to teach our readers to think a little bit more” in the racial way, in the leaked words of Times editor Dean Baquet. 
The exposure of the 1619 Project by the WSWS, and by leading historians it interviewed, has never been met forthrightly by the Times. Instead, Hannah-Jones, the Project’s journalist-celebrity “creator,” egged on race-baiting and red-baiting social media attacks against critics, while New York Times Magazine editor Jake Silverstein demeaned them on the pages of the Times as jealous careerists, even as he surreptitiously altered the Project. All the while, backers of the 1619 Project said, “Just wait for the book. It will erase all doubts.” This drumroll lasted for two years.The mountains have labored and brought forth a mouse.
The central achievement of the book version of the 1619 Project, released in December, appears to be that it is bigger. Weighing in at two pounds and costing $23, it is probably ten times heavier than the magazine given out free by the thousands, errors and all, to cash-strapped public schools. Unfortunately for the Times, the added weight lends no new gravitas to the content, which, in spite of all the lofty rhetoric about “finally telling the truth,” “new narratives,” and “reframing,” remains unoriginal to the point of banality. The book does not inch much beyond the warmed-over racial essentialism that has long been the stock-in-trade of right-wing black nationalism, and which has always had a special purchase on the guilt feelings of wealthy liberals. The late Ebony editor, Lerone Bennett, Jr., remains unmistakably the dominant intellectual influence on Hannah-Jones and the entire project. 
The Times has spared no expense to keep afloat its flagship project. This much shows. The volume is handsomely presented. The book’s 18 chapters include seven new historical essays, interspersed with 36 poems and short stories, as well as 18 photographs. If anything justifies the book, it is these photographs, which alone among the contents manage to convey something truthful about American society. Yet, in their artistic depiction of everyday black men, women, and children, the photographs actually express the commonness of humanity, contradicting the 1619 Project’ racialist aims.
The rest of the volume, the poetry and fiction included, bears the fatal marks of the racialist perspective. What emerges is an even darker and more unyielding interpretation of race in America than that which came across in the magazine. The book is replete with blatantly anti-historical passages, such as: “There has never been a time in United States history when Black rebellions did not spark existential fear among white people …” (p. 101); “In the eyes of white people, Black criminality was broadly defined” (p. 281.) One could go on. Every contributor engages in this sort of crude racial reductionism. There are no immigrants, Asians, Jews, Catholics, or Muslims, and only a few pages on Native Americans. The 1619 Project sees only “white Americans” and “black Americans.” And these monoliths, undivided by class or any other material factor, had already appeared in colonial Virginia in 1619 in their present form, prepared to act out their racially defined destinies.
A new preface by Hannah-Jones attempts to motivate the book by noting that Americans know little about slavery. She points to a Southern Poverty Law Center study that found only 8 percent of high school students can cite slavery as the central cause of the Civil War. This statistic is not surprising. It would also not be surprising to learn that less than 8 percent of recent high school graduates know, even roughly, when the Vietnam War happened, or whether The Great Gatsby is a novel or a submarine sandwich. This is not the fault of students or of teachers. The public schools have been starved of funding by Republicans and Democrats alike. History and art have been especially savaged in favor of supposedly more practical “funding priorities.”
In any case, the 1619 Project will help no one understand why the Civil War happened. The book’s overriding theme is that all “white Americans” were (and are still) the beneficiaries of slavery. This makes the Civil War incomprehensible. Why was the country split apart in 1861? Why did it wage a bloody war over the next four years, fighting battles whose death tolls stunned the world? Why did 50,000 men fall dead or maimed at Gettysburg in the first three days of July 1863, a half year after Lincoln’s issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation? Historian James McPherson, in works such as Abraham Lincoln and the Second American Revolution and For Cause and Comrades, answers these questions. The 1619 Project cannot.
The 1619 Project’s denial of slavery’s role in the Civil War is probably clearest in the essays by Matthew Desmond, Martha S. Jones, and Ibram Kendi. Desmond’s essay, “Capitalism,” which appeared in the original version and now reappears in slightly longer form, argues that Southern slavery was the dynamic part of the antebellum economy, and that the wealth generated from it also built Northern capitalism. Desmond has it backwards. The demand for cotton in the North, and especially in Great Britain—a demand itself contingent on capitalist economic growth—gave a new impulse to Southern slavery, and not the other way around. When the slave masters seceded and launched the Civil War, among their miscalculations was to overestimate their worth in the global economy, an error Desmond repeats.
Over the years of 1861-1865 the Southern planters were destroyed as a class. Yet their clients in Britain and the North found new sources of cotton and emerged still richer. Desmond, a Princeton sociologist, was brought on by the 1619 Project to pay some attention to economics. But he winds up denying a material cause and a material effect of the Civil War. Desmond’s theory cannot explain why the war happened, why the North defeated the supposedly more advanced slave South, and why it is that today we live in a world dominated by the exploitation of wage workers, and not chattel slaves.
In her essay, entitled “Citizenship,” Martha S. Jones reduces the antebellum struggle for equality to the activity of the small free black population in the North, focusing on the Colored Conventions movement that began in 1830. She simply writes out of existence the abolitionist movement, which was majority white and eventually reached even into small towns across the North. The abolitionist movement was undoubtedly a major political factor in the expansion of civil rights to free blacks—ostensibly Jones’ subject—and in the coming of the Civil War, ultimately fusing with the anti-slavery Republican Party through figures such as Frederick Douglass. This counts for little to Jones and historians like her. They erect a wall between agitation against slavery, which they dismiss as mere cover for white racial interest, and what they call “anti-racism,” a contemporary moral-political posture they impose on history. “White Americans” of the past, even the most dedicated and egalitarian opponents of slavery, can never pass muster before these examiners.
Frederick Douglass, ca. 1879
This “immense condescension of posterity,” to borrow a phrase from the late English historian E.P. Thompson, reaches new depths in the essay by Kendi, whose career as an “anti-racist” has been so challenging to the powers-that-be that he has been showered with millions of dollars by the “white institutions” of the publishing, academic, and corporate endowment worlds. Kendi thinks he has discovered that the pioneering abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison was a patronizing hypocrite who “actually reinforced racism and slavery” (p. 430). No one in Garrison’s time, neither friend nor enemy, thought so. It should be recalled that Garrison was himself nearly lynched by a racist mob in 1835. Frederick Douglass, in his beautiful eulogy delivered in 1879, said that Garrison moved not with the tide, but against it. He rose not by the power of the Church or the State, but in bold, inflexible and defiant opposition to the mighty power of both. It was the glory of this man that he could stand alone with the truth, and calmly await the result… [L]et us guard his memory as a precious inheritance, let us teach our children the story of his life.
After tarnishing the “precious inheritance” of Garrison, Kendi moves on to Lincoln. He rehashes the thoroughly debunked claim that the Emancipation Proclamation, the greatest revolutionary document in American history after the Declaration of Independence, was a mere military tactic. In Kendi’s way of seeing things, Lincoln’s order only made it “incumbent on Black people to emancipate themselves.” He goes on, “And that is precisely what they did, running away from enslavers to Union lines…” (p. 431).
Kendi does not seem to fathom that the Emancipation Proclamation made these men and women legally free when they ran to Union line, rather than runaway slaves with the property claims of their masters still operative. But then again, Kendi does not even ask himself what the Union army was doing in the South. His essay is called “Progress.” This must be meant ironically. Kendi sees no progress in history.
The bringing in of Jones, of Johns Hopkins University, and Kendi, of Boston University, is meant to clothe the 1619 Project in immense authority. A couple of other efforts have been made along these lines. Here too, a law of diminishing returns seems to have imposed itself on the Times.
Stung by criticism that she had no sources in the original publication, Hannah-Jones has plugged in, ex post facto, 94 endnotes to her “framing essay,” which the editors have now given the title “Democracy.” Not much else has changed from the original version, which was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in commentary—not history—for what the prize committee charitably called Hannah-Jones’ “highly personal” style. The new footnotes lead to many URLs as well as personal conversations with historians, including Woody Holton of the University of South Carolina, who has staked his professional reputation to the 1619 Project.
Sent in to provide authority, Holton is responsible for the most clamorous new error introduced into the present volume. Hannah-Jones quotes Holton as saying that the Dunmore Proclamation of November 7, 1775, a British offer of freedom to slaves of masters already in revolt, “ignited the turn to independence” for the Virginian founding fathers George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison (p. 16), supposedly because they feared losing their human property. Unfortunately for Holton, at that point Washington was already commanding the Continental Army in war, Jefferson had drafted his tract A Declaration of the Causes & Necessity for Taking Up Arms, and Madison, then only 24, had joined a revolutionary organ, the Orange County Virginia Committee of Safety.
This is not an innocent mistake. Holton and the 1619 Project get the sequence of events wrong to support another fiction: that the true, never-before-revealed (and undocumented!) motivation of the Founding Fathers in 1776 was to defend slavery. These are fatal errors. And yet there is a still larger issue. Whatever the individual motives of Washington, Jefferson, and Madison—even if a single letter, article, or diary entry might one day be found from among their voluminous writings demonstrating that they “staked their lives and sacred honor” to defend slavery—in assessing the significance of the American Revolution much more than this must still be taken into consideration. Why was it that the great slaveless majority of colonists supported America’s second-bloodiest war for six long years? Why did thousands of free blacks enlist? And further, what was the relationship between the American Revolution and the Enlightenment, whose thought contemporaries believed that it embodied? What was its relationship to that which historian R.R. Palmer called “the age of the democratic revolution” that swept the Atlantic in its wake? What was its connection to the destruction of slavery in the US and elsewhere over the next century? How did it relate, ideologically, to subsequent anti-colonial struggles? An utter lack of curiosity about these and other critical questions characterizes the entire volume.
A few contributors manage to make certain valid historical points. Times columnist Jamelle Bouie provides treatment of the vociferous pro-slavery advocate, John C. Calhoun of South Carolina “who saw no difference between slavery and other forms of labor in the modern world” (p. 199). Khahlil Gibran Muhammad gives a useful survey of the sugar plantation system. But as a whole, and Bouie and Muhammad notwithstanding, the book’s various chapters are formulaic in the extreme. They identify present-day social, political, and cultural problems in exclusively racial terms, and then, each performing the same salto mortale, impose the present diagnosis on history.
Health care, the massive prison population, gun violence, obesity, traffic jams—these, and many more problems, the Times wishes us to believe, are rooted in “endemic” “anti-black racism” first imprinted in a national “DNA” in 1619. The Times, a multi-billion dollar corporation closely tied to Wall Street and the military-intelligence apparatus, does not want readers to consider more obvious, and much more proximate, causes for America’s social and political ills—for example, the extreme polarization of wealth that has reduced 70 percent of the population to paycheck-to-paycheck existence, while the ranks of billionaires swell, their wealth doubling with astonishing frequency.
As it turns out, it is all about wealth, and more specifically, cash, as Hannah-Jones admits in a concluding essay: “[W]hat steals opportunities is the lack of wealth … the defining feature of Black life,” she writes (p. 456). This essay is entitled “Justice.” A call for race-based reparations for blacks—any individual who can show “documentation that he or she identified as a Black person for at least ten years….” (p. 472)—it originally appeared in the New York Times Magazine on June 30, 2020, under the title “What is Owed.”
“Lack of wealth” is not the defining feature of “black life” in America. It defines life for the vast majority of the American and world population. But Hannah-Jones is not calling for any sort of class redistribution of wealth. On the contrary, if her proposal were put into effect, the federal government, which has not authored a substantial social reform since the 1960s, would inevitably direct money away from the little that remains to support students, the poor, the sick, and the elderly of all races. The proceeds would go to blacks regardless of their wealth, including to people such as herself, for whom “lack of wealth” is not a “defining feature” of life. Only recently, for instance, Hannah-Jones charged a California community college $25,000 for a one-hour, virtual engagement—this being the charitable discount rate of her speaking fees.
In putting its imprimatur on a call for race-based reparations, the Times could not have come up with an “issue” more beneficial to the Trump-led Republican Party than if it had been dreamed up by Stephen Bannon himself. Hannah-Jones, of course, claims that her proposal is not meant to pit races against each other. She simply takes it for granted that “the races” have separate and opposed interests. On this, black nationalists and white supremacists have always agreed. Indeed, Hannah-Jones appears to be completely oblivious to the dangerous implications of “the federal government,” which would distribute the money, dividing Americans up by race (p. 472). The categorization of people into races by the state has been the starting point of some of history’s worst crimes—the Third Reich’s annihilation of Germany’s Jews being only the most horrific example.
The existence of chattel slavery is also one of history’s monumental crimes. But it was a crime in an unusual, premodern way. Slavery was inherited blindly, without questioning, from the colonial past. It was the most degraded status in a world where personal dependency and unfree labor were the rule, and not the exception—a world of serfdom, indentured servitude, penal labor, corvée, and peonage. The American Revolution, for the first time in world history, raised slavery up as a historical problem —in the sense that it could now be consciously identified as such, both because its existence was obnoxious to the revolution’s assertion of human equality and because slavery stood in contradistinction to “free” wage labor, which grew rapidly in its aftermath. These contradictions breathed life into various attempts to end slavery peacefully. Such efforts came to naught. In a cruel paradox, the growth of capitalism, and its insatiable demand for cotton, nurtured the development of what historians have called a “second slavery” in the antebellum. Historical problems as deep-rooted as slavery are not given to simple solutions.English convicts—men, women, and children—chained and bound for the colony for “terms of service”
Yet, “four score and seven years” later, the Civil War, the Second American Revolution, ended American slavery, hastening its demise in Brazil and Cuba as well. In the longue durée of slavery’s history, which reaches back to the ancient world, this is a remarkably compressed period. There are many people alive today who are 87 years old, a time span that separates us from 1935. That year, the high-water mark of the social reformism of Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal, the Wagner Act was passed, securing the legal right for workers to form trade unions of their own choosing. The New Deal never did succeed in securing a national health care system, a relatively modest reform that has since been realized by many nations, but which has eluded the US for the intervening 87 years. By way of comparison, in the 87 years separating the Declaration of Independence from the Gettysburg Address, the United States destroyed slavery, an entire system of private property in man. It did so at a terrible cost. Lincoln was not far off when he said in his Second Inaugural Address that “every drop of blood drawn with the lash” might be “paid by another drawn with the sword.” Some 700,000 Americans had already died when he said those words.
Lincoln delivering the Gettysburg Address. He is visible in the upper left, hatless
Lincoln’s political genius lay in his unique capacity to link the enormous crisis of the Civil War to the American Revolution, and to the still larger question of human equality—that is, to extract from the maelstrom of events the true, the essential. He did this most famously at Gettysburg, when he explained that the war was a test of whether or not the founding principle “that all men are created equal … shall perish from the earth.” Lincoln knew well, as he put it in another speech, that “the occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise—with the occasion,” before quickly adding, “We cannot escape history.”
Our time is also “piled high with difficulty,” and we can no less escape history than those alive in the 1860s. Nearly 1 million Americans have now died in the COVID-19 pandemic, part of a global death toll of some 6 million, according to the official counting. There is a clear and present danger of war with nuclear-armed Russia and China. Social inequality has reached nearly unfathomable levels. Basic democratic principles are under assault. Manmade climate change threatens the ecology, and ultimately the habitability, of the planet. These are major historical problems, to say the least. It was once commonplace—and certainly not unique to Marxists, as Lincoln’s words show—to appreciate that major problems cannot even be understood, let alone acted upon, without an objective, truthful approach to history.
 “Leon Trotsky: What Is National Socialism? (1933).”
 “Inside the New York Times Town Hall.” Slate. Accessed February 8, 2022.
 Hannah-Jones has repeatedly acknowledged Bennett’s influence. See Before the Mayflower: A History of Black America. Chicago, Ill.: Johnson Pub. Co., 2007; and Forced into Glory: Abraham Lincoln’s White Dream. Chicago: Johnson Pub. Co., 2007.
Review: The 1619 Project: A Critique by Phillip W. Magness- Paperback 148 pages – April 2020-American Institute for Economic Research.
“History is not a morality tale. The efforts to discredit the Revolution by focusing on the alleged hypocrisy of Jefferson and other founders contribute nothing to an understanding of history. The American Revolution cannot be understood as the sum of the subjective intentions and moral limitations of those who led it. The world-historical significance of the Revolution is best understood through an examination of its objective causes and consequences”.
“That on the first day of January, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, all persons held as slaves within any State or designated part of a State, the people whereof shall then be in rebellion against the United States, shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free; and the Executive Government of the United States, including the military and naval authority thereof, will recognize and maintain the freedom of such persons, and will do no act or acts to repress such persons, or any of them, in any efforts they may make for their actual freedom.
Carry On Cleo is a 1964 British Comedy. In one scene, Julius Caeser, played by Kenneth Williams, is about to be assassinated by his bodyguards. Caesar sends out his bodyguard Hengist Pod played by Kenneth Connor, to save his life. Pod is a first-class coward. Hod faces the assassins only to find that someone else has slain them all. Hod goes back to Caesar and claims the credit.
Reading Phillip W. Magness’s book reminds me of this scene because he seems to take too much credit for something he does not entirely deserve. His downplaying of the lead political and historical role played by the World Socialist Website in exposing the lies and falsification of the 1619 project is especially troubling. In 120 pages, he makes just one mention.
Despite being a critique of the 1619 project, Magness’s short book gives this wretched piece of journalism and history far too much credit. He writes, “the newspaper’s initiative conveyed a serious attempt to engage the public in an intellectual exchange about the history of slavery in the United States and its lingering harms to our social fabric”.
Magness, it seems, had no problem with the 1619 project until a number of the essays contained in the project assert that the origins of modern-day American capitalism stemmed largely from slavery. While making some correct historical points, Magness is not concerned with the preposterous claim that the American Revolution and Civil war were fought to defend slavery but is concerned with the projects “heavily anticapitalist political perspective”.Magness critique of the project is not from the left but the right.
One of the more disturbing aspects of Magness’s book is his agreement with the 1619′ s project attack on Abraham Lincoln. He writes that he “has devoted a significant amount of scholarly work to Lincoln’s presidency. I weighed in on the arguments as presented, showing that the 1619 Project’s assessment was in closer line with historical evidence that these critics neglected to consider. The essays are presented herein, and they place me in the curious position of being one of the only 1619 Project critics to also come to its defence on one of the major points of contention.
The 1619 Project’s and Magness’s attack on Abraham Lincoln is not only wrong but reprehensible. The 1619 Project’s vendetta against Lincoln has been described as his second assassination. Lincoln’s attitude towards slavery was complex and contradictory. To label him a racist is simplistic and false. As David North points out, “Abraham Lincoln was an extraordinarily complex man, whose life and politics reflected the contradictions of his time. He could not, as he once stated, “escape history.” Determined to save the Union, he was driven by the logic of the bloody civil war to resort to revolutionary measures. In the course of the brutal struggle, Lincoln gave expression to the revolutionary-democratic aspirations that inspired hundreds of thousands of Americans to fight and sacrifice their lives for a “new birth of freedom.”
In another sleight of hand, Magness attempts to equate the 1619’s project of the racialization of history with all what he calls “far-left groups. He states,” Broadly speaking, the political discourse around race, which comes from a very far-left perspective, has an unfortunate effect of crowding out other forms of anti-discriminatory thinking, including the individualist form. The notion of individual rights and the dignity of the human person. The notion that people should not face persecution or discrimination based on their skin colour, based on their religion, based on their ethnicity. These are all stories rooted in the rights and liberties of an individual”.
In reality, he is talking about the World Socialist Website. This slander needs answering. The reader can make their mind up by reading the book The New York Times’ 1619 Project and the Racialist Falsification of History. But I would add this quote as a rebuttal to Magness’s slur. As David North says, the real purveyors of race theory are not the Trotskyists of the World Socialist Website but come from the academia which comes “Under the influence of postmodernism and its offspring, “critical race theory,” the doors of American universities have been flung wide open for the propagation of deeply reactionary conceptions. Racial identity has replaced social class and related economic processes as the principal and essential analytic category”.
To conclude, Magness book is, on the whole, an accommodation to the right-wing and racialist politics of the 1619 project. While containing some interesting work on the origins of slavery and early capitalism, the serious reader who wants a real critique of the 1619 project should read the book, The New York Times’ 1619 Project and the Racialist Falsification of History.
 A Transcription by the President of the United States of America:https://www.archives.gov/exhibits/featured-documents/emancipation-proclamation/transcript.html
 Racial-communalist politics and the second assassination of Abraham Lincoln
Niles Niemuth, David North-https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2020/06/25/pers-j24.html
 The New York Times’ 1619 Project and the Racialist Falsification of History-https://mehring.com/product/the-new-york-times-1619-project-and-the-racialist-falsification-of-history/
Review: Every Drop of Blood: The Momentous Second Inauguration of Abraham Lincoln-Edward Achorn- Hardcover – March 19. 2020
The New York Times’s 1619 Project: A racialist falsification of American and world history-By Niles Niemuth, Tom Mackaman and David North September 6 2019
“Despite the pretence of establishing the United States’ “true” foundation, the New York Times’ 1619 Project is a politically motivated falsification of History. It aims to create a historical narrative that legitimises the effort of the Democratic Party to construct an electoral coalition based on the prioritising of personal “identities”—i.e., gender, sexual preference, ethnicity, and, above all, race.
The New York Times’s 1619 Project: A racialist falsification of American and world history-By Niles Niemuth, Tom Mackaman and David North.
What is a Negro slave? A man of the black race. … A Negro is a Negro. Only under certain conditions does he become a slave. A cotton-spinning machine is a machine for spinning cotton. Only under certain conditions does it become capital. Torn away from these conditions, it is as little capital as gold is itself money, or sugar is the price of sugar
Marx, Wage Labour and Capital (1847)
“Men make their own History, but they do not make it as they please; they do not make it under self-selected circumstances, but under the circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past. The tradition of all dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brains of the living.”
Karl Marx 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte
On August 19, 2019, the New York Times published its “The 1619 Project,”. If you are one the lucky ones to get a copy (you can only access the articles online for a limited time due to subscription paywall), you would see with a cursory look that the articles contained in the magazine are a revisionist interpretation of American History.
The date of 2019 is important for the New York Times(NYT) because it signalled the 400th anniversary of the arrival of 20 African slaves at Point Comfort in Virginia, a British colony in North America. The Project, according to the Times, intends to “reframe the country’s history, understanding 1619 as our true founding, and placing the consequences of slavery and the contributions of black Americans at the very centre of the story we tell ourselves about who we are.”
One issue arises from this blatantly false and revisionist account of American historical development. Firstly why is it that virtually the whole of American academia has ignored this reactionary piece of historiography, and this goes for academia around the world. In Britain, not a single academic institution or historian has published comment on this subject. Major magazines such as The Times Literary Supplement Literary review or History Today have not published a single article commenting on the 1619 Project.
Which brings me to the review of these two publications by Mehring books. The first pamphlet contains four articles attacking in different ways the 1619 Project. 1. David North, Tom Mackaman, Niles Niemuth-The New York Times 1619 project: A racialist falsification of the U.S. and world history.2. Book review: Masterless Men: Poor Whites and Slavery in the Antebellum South by Keri Leigh Merritt-By Eric London-9 September 2019.3 Why are reparations for slavery being made an issue in the 2020 U.S. elections? June 21, 2019, and lastly The attacks on Green Book and the racialist infection of the affluent middle class-by David Walsh and Joanne Laurier-8 March 2019. The second part of the review will cover the pamphlet: The 1619 Project and the falsification of History: An analysis of the New York Times reply to five historians-By David North and Eric London-December 28 2019.
The bourgeois and radical presses in America have been forced to admit that it is only the Marxist’s from the World Socialist Website (W.S.W.S.) that have challenged this falsification of History. The World Socialist Website not only marshalled its journalists and historians but published an array of interviews from leading historians known throughout the world.
One of the more shocking claims that W.S.W. Journalists and historians sought to refute is the an assertion by Nikole Hannah-Jones, the staff writer and New America Foundation fellow and lead journalist of the Project that “Anti-black racism runs in the very D.N.A. of this country.”
As the World Socialist Website pamphlet points out “this is a false and dangerous conception. D.N.A. is a chemical molecule that contains the genetic code of living organisms and determines their physical characteristics and development. The transfer of this critical biological term to the study of a country—even if meant only in a metaphorical sense—leads to bad History and reactionary politics. Countries do not have D.N.A.; they have historically formed economic structures, antagonistic classes and complex political relationships. These do not exist apart from a certain level of technological development, nor independently of a more or less developed network of global economic interconnections.
The methodology that underlies the 1619 Project is an idealist (i.e., it derives social being from thought, rather than the other way around) and, in the most fundamental sense of the word, irrationalist. All of History is to be explained from the existence of a supra-historical emotional impulse. Slavery is viewed and analysed not as a specific economically rooted form of the exploitation of labour, but, instead, as the manifestation of white racism. However, where does this racism come from? It is embedded, claims Hannah-Jones, in the historical D.N.A. of American “white people.” Thus, it must persist independently of any change in political or economic conditions.”
As the pamphlet highlights, Nikole Hannah-Jones’s dangerous conceptions have provoked other equally reactionary commentators to espouse their false comments. The pamphlet’s authors quote neurologist Robert Sapolsky who writes in Foreign Affairs that “the dynamics of human group identity, including the resurgence of nationalism—that potentially most destructive form of in-group bias—requires grasping the biological and cognitive underpinnings that shape them.”
The authors of the pamphlet attack Sapolsky’s “simplistic dissolution of History into biology recalls not only the reactionary invocation of “Social Darwinism” to legitimise imperialist conquest by the late nineteen and early twentieth-century imperialists but also the efforts of German geneticists to provide a pseudo-scientific justification for Nazi anti-Semitism and racism.”
Much of Sapolsky’s ideas and for that matter, Hanah-Jones have an echo in academia and political institutions throughout the world. This would partly explain academia’s hostile attitude towards the Trotskyist’s exposure of the 1619 Project.
One of the more insidious attacks on the journalists and historians who contributed articles and interviews to the World Socialist website on the 1619 project has been that they downplay the importance of slavery in the History of the world. Anyone with an ounce of historical knowledge will see this as untrue and a politically motivated attack. The fact that American slavery is a monumental subject with vast and enduring historical and political significance cannot be denied.
However, as the authors of the pamphlet point out, slavery did not begin in America. Slavery in America is but one crucial episode in the global History of slavery, which extends back into the ancient world, and of the origins and development of the world capitalist system.
The Marxist movement has not underplayed slavery’s importance and have produced a vast body of literature dealing with the widespread practice of slavery throughout the world and has insisted that it cannot be understood apart from its role in the economic development of capitalism in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. As Karl Marx explained in the chapter titled “The Genesis of the Industrial Capitalist” in Volume One of Das Kapital: ”The discovery of gold and silver in America, the extirpation, enslavement and entombment in mines of the aboriginal population, the beginning of the conquest and looting of the East Indies, the turning of Africa into a warren for the commercial hunting of black-skins, signalised the rosy dawn of the era of capitalist production. These idyllic proceedings are the chief momenta of primitive accumulation. On their heels treads the commercial war of the European nations, with the globe for a theatre. It begins with the revolt of the Netherlands from Spain, assumes giant dimensions in England’s Anti-Jacobin War, and is still going on in the opium wars against China.”
The American Revolution and Abraham Lincoln
While it comes as no surprise that the bourgeois journalists and historians from the 1619 Project are hostile to any Marxist attacks on their historiography, it does come as a significant shock that they attack the very conception of an American bourgeois revolution and one its finest by-products, Abraham Lincoln. The 1619 Project portrays the Revolution as a sinister attempt to uphold the slave system.
As the pamphlet points out this not just a “reframing” of History, it is a falsification that ignores more than a half-century of scholarship. It is highly unlikely that Hannah-Jones (or any of her co-essayists) have even heard of, let alone read, the work on slavery carried out by Williams, Davis, or Peter Kolchin; on the American Revolution by Bernard Bailyn and Gordon Wood; on the political conceptions that motivated union soldiers by James McPherson; on Reconstruction by Eric Foner; on Jim Crow segregation by C. Vann Woodward; or on the Great Migration by James N. Gregory or Joe William Trotter.”
As for Hannah-Jones belief that the American revolutionaries such as Thomas Jefferson were nothing more than racist Hippocrates it would be nice to think that this is just her piece of reactionary journalism, unfortunately, it appears this is a also echoed in a broader attitude amongst historians and writers.
Dr Jonathan W. Wilson points out in his review of the book Common Cause: Creating Race and Nation in the American Revolution by Robert G. Parkinson that “typically, historians have responded by crediting the American Revolution with imperfectly realised but laudable ideals, as well as with crucial contributions to 19th-century reform. Over the last decade, however, many historians have dispensed with treating the American revolutionary era as an ideologically coherent moment. Instead, they depict it as a moment of complicated social division and civil war, part of a broader context of Atlantic and continental conflict. Their accounts suggest the violence – which neither began nor ended with the imperial crisis – helps explain subsequent decades of racial hatred and oppression in the United States.
As the writers of the pamphlet point out it is not to defend or attack figures like Jefferson but to understand the context of their actions as the Marxist writer David North explains “It is undeniable that Jefferson was painfully aware that there existed conditions in which the right of property was in direct contradiction to that of life and liberty. He was, after all, a Virginian and a slave-owner. However, it is of historical and political significance that in a preliminary draft of the Declaration of Independence Jefferson included as one of the indictments against George III his perpetuation of the slave trade: “He has waged cruel war against human nature itself, violating its most sacred rights of life and liberty in the persons of a distant people who never offended him, captivating and carrying them into slavery in another hemisphere or to incur miserable death in their transportation thither. This piratical warfare, this opprobrium of infidel powers, is the warfare of the Christian king of Great Britain, determined to keep open a market where Men should be bought and sold, he has prostituted his negative for suppressing every legislative attempt to prohibit or to restrain this execrable commerce. In the context of this discussion, Jefferson’s redefinition of the concept of natural rights, substituting “the pursuit of happiness” for property, endowed the document with an enduring, world-historical significance. In using this formulation to justify the rebellion of American colonists against the Mother Country, Jefferson inspired a more revolutionary, universal and humane concept of what truly constituted the “Rights of Man.”
The second pamphlet in this review is The 1619 Project and the falsification of History: An analysis of the New York Times’ reply to five historians by David North and Eric London.
On December 20, 2019, the New York Times finally felt the need to reply to a letter signed by five leading and internationally recognised historians. In the letter, they requested that the Times correct the historical falsifications upon which the 1619 Project was based.
It took the Times over four months to reply to criticisms of its 1619 project. The historians outlined their “strong reservations about important aspects of the 1619 Project” and state they “are dismayed at some of the factual errors in the project and the closed process behind it.” These errors, which concern major events, cannot be described as interpretation or “framing.” They are matters of verifiable fact, which are the foundation of both honest scholarship and honest journalism. They suggest a displacement of historical understanding by ideology. Dismissal of objections on racial grounds—that they are the objections of only “white historians”—has affirmed that displacement.
The historians also point out that only a select few were chosen for the Project. The Times deliberately chose only those writers and historians they knew would go along with the Project’s falsifications. The historians attacked this, saying “The process remains opaque. The names of only some of the historians involved have been released, and the extent of their involvement as “consultants” and fact-checkers remains vague. The selective transparency deepens our concern”.
The response of the New York Times to the historians was to reject their criticisms and continue as if nothing had happened. The New York Times Magazine editor in chief Jake Silverstein said “We are familiar,” with the objections of the letter writers, as four of them have been interviewed in recent months by the World Socialist Web Site. The Project was intended to address the marginalisation of African-American History in the telling of our national story and examine the legacy of slavery in contemporary American life. We are not ourselves historians; it is true. We are journalists, trained to look at current events and situations and ask the question: Why is this the way it is?.North and London point out in the pamphlet that “Silverstein’s response to questions raised by the historians about the background of the 1619 Project is evasive and disingenuous. The 1619 Project is not merely a journalistic endeavour. The Times launched it with the explicitly declared intention of changing the teaching and understanding of the History of the United States fundamentally.”
North and London continue “When challenged on its numerous factual errors, the paucity of its source material, and the ignoring of the scholarly literature, the Times excuses itself by arguing that its authors do not claim to be historians. But when it is pointed out that the authors have failed to present accurately, as is expected of competent journalists, the conflicting arguments in the debate over America’s founding, the Times proclaims that it is writing a new history.”
The political consequences of historical falsification
If the “mistakes” in the Times 1619 Project were just that then while being reprehensible, they would not do too much damage to the study of History. However, that is not the case. When the editor of one of the most prestigious history journals in America if not the world defends the 1619 Project this is not just bringing the historical falsification to a broader audience, which is bad enough as the authors point out it would have political consequences that extend beyond the ivory towers of the American Historical Review.
The editor of the A.H.R. wrote in February 2020 that he did want to be dragged into this debate stating” I did not want to devote this column to the recent dispute between the New York Times and the handful of prominent historians who have offered sharp criticism of that publication’s purportedly revisionist narrative of the American story—the 1619 Project—that puts racism and the struggle for black liberation at the core of the national experience. However, of course, it was all anyone asked me about at the A.H.A.’s Annual Meeting during the first week of January, so I feel I must.”
The response of the A.H.R. like the New York Times is evasive and continues the historical falsification. Editor Alex Lichtenstein writes “the letter writers do not just object to errors they claim to have identified; they call for the Times to issue corrections. What, in fact, might these look like? The primary offender seems to be Nikole Hannah-Jones, in her sweeping essay that frames the entire Project. Again, one could read the critics and miss the fact that the 1619 Project includes dozens of elements beyond Hannah-Jones’s opening essay. Many others may—or may not—contain errors, but Hannah-Jones’s essay has been singled out as representative of the whole. Particularly objectionable, the historians insist, is her assertion that “one of the primary reasons the colonists decided to declare their independence from Britain was because they wanted to protect the institution of slavery.” As the letter bluntly points out, “This is not true.” Admittedly, at a minimum, her formulation seriously overstates the anti-slavery bona fides of the British Empire at the time, not to mention the universality of pro-slavery views in the colonies. Fair enough. So, then, what would suffice in its stead? “One of the primary reasons the colonists decided to declare their independence”? How about “some of the Patriots fought for independence in the knowledge that it would secure their investments in slavery”? Presumably at least some of the letter writers would find the following counter-formulation no less objectionable: “there were many reasons the colonists decided to declare their independence, but the preservation of slavery was not among them.” While Hannah-Jones may be guilty of an overstatement, this is more a matter of emphasis than it is of a correct or incorrect interpretation.
It is not the intention of London and North to say that everyone involved in the Project is in their words “engaged in deliberate deception or is merely chasing career opportunities.
However, they continue “The falsification of History invariably serves very real, even if unstated, contemporary political interests. The racial narrative is intended to replace one that is based on the analysis of objectively existing social and class interests. The New York Times, as a corporate entity and, more importantly, a powerful voice of the ruling class and its state, has a very real political agenda, which is carefully coordinated with the Democratic Party. Silverstein never explains why the Times now adopts, as the basis of an essential change in the teaching of American History, the race-based narrative of Lerone Bennett, Jr., which it explicitly and forcefully rejected 50 years ago. Nor does he explain why the Times rejects the criticisms of Gordon Wood and James McPherson, whom it was describing less than a decade ago as the leading authorities in the fields of Revolutionary and Civil War-era studies.
It is clear from these two pamphlets and the many articles on the W.S.W.S that the 1619 Project is a fraud and a huge exercise in historical falsification. It is up to the many scholars, students and workers who know that the 1619 Project makes a travesty of History to do something about it. As the pamphlet states “It is their responsibility to take a stand and reject the coordinated attempt, spearheaded by the Times, to dredge up and rehabilitate a reactionary race-based falsification of American and world history”.PostscriptRecently the editor of the 1619 project Jake Silverstein was forced to announce that 1619 Project ” would slightly amend its claim that the American Revolution was a racist endeavour undertaken to fight plans by the British Empire to end slavery”.
As Tom Mackaman points out “In his update, Silverstein does not apologise to the five eminent historians who, in a letter sent in December to the Times, specifically objected to the claim that the Revolution was undertaken in defence of slavery. Historians Victoria Bynum, James McPherson, James Oakes, Sean Wilentz, and Gordon Wood asked that this assertion be corrected, along with several other egregious errors and distortions in the Project”.
 Why we Publishedt he 1619 Project-By Jake Silverstein-DEC. 20, 2019-https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2019/12/20/magazine/1619-intro.html The Idea of America- by Nikole Hannah-Jones-New York Times-1619 Project The New York Times’s 1619 Project: A racialist falsification of American and world history-By Niles Niemuth, Tom Mackaman and David North6 September 2019 This Is Your Brain on Nationalism-The Biology of Us and ThemBy Robert Sapolsky March/April 2019-https://www.foreignaffairs.com/ The New York Times’s 1619 Project: A racialist falsification of American and world history-By Niles Niemuth, Tom Mackaman and David North6 September 2019 The New York Times’s 1619 Project: A racialist falsification of American and world history-By Niles Niemuth, Tom Mackaman and David North6 September 2019 Common Cause: Creating Race and Nation in the American Revolution-Robert G. Parkinson-Chapel Hill, NC, University of North Carolina Press, 2016, ISBN: 9781469626635 ; 640pp.; Price: £33.52 Equality, the Rights of Man and the Birth of Socialism-By David North 24 October 1996-https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/1996/10/lect-o24.html https://www.nytimes.com/2019/12/20/magazine/we-respond-to-the-historians-who-critiqued-the-1619-project.html https://www.nytimes.com/2019/12/20/magazine/we-respond-to-the-historians-who-critiqued-the-1619-project.html A reply to the American Historical Review’s defense of the 1619 Project-By David North and Tom Mackaman-31 January 2020 From the Editor’s Desk: 1619 and All That -The American Historical Review, Volume 125, Issue 1, February 2020, Pages xv–xxi, https://doi.org/10.1093/ahr/rhaa041Published: 03 February 2020 From the Editor’s Desk: 1619 and All That -The American Historical Review, Volume 125, Issue 1, February 2020, Pages xv–xxi, https://doi.org/10.1093/ahr/rhaa041Published: 03 February 2020 New York Times Magazine editor Jake Silverstein attempts to slither away from central 1619 Project fabrication-By Tom Mackaman-16 March 2020
Review: The New York Times 1619 Project and the Racialist Falsification of History- David North & Tom Mackaman-Mehring Books-$24.95