American History

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.[1]

Leon Trotsky

“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.”[2]

Karl Marx

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.[3] 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″.[4]

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.” [5].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”.[6]

DSA

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.[7]

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”.

1619 Project

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.[8]

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”.

Conclusion

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.

Further Reading

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


[1] On Black Nationalism-Documents on the Negro Struggle- https://www.marxists.org/archive/trotsky/works/1940/negro1.htm

[2] 1846 in The Poverty of Philosophy,

[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jim_Crow_laws

[4] 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

[5] https://www.politico.com/blogs/ben-smith/2010/03/obama-and-the-left-95-edition-026114

[6] https://harpers.org/archive/2022/02/separate-and-unequal-the-south-jim-crow-and-its-afterlives-adolph-reed-jr/

[7] “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

[8] “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 found@www.wsws.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. [1]

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. [2] 

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. [3]

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.

[1] “Leon Trotsky: What Is National Socialism? (1933).”

[2] “Inside the New York Times Town Hall.” Slate. Accessed February 8, 2022. 

[3] 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”.[1]

“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.[2]

Emancipation Declaration

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.[3]

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.[4] 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”.[5]

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.[6]

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.”[7]

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[8]. 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.


[1] https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2019/09/06/1619-s06.html

[2] A Transcription by the President of the United States of America:https://www.archives.gov/exhibits/featured-documents/emancipation-proclamation/transcript.html

[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carry_On_Cleo

[4] wsws.org

[5] https://www.aier.org/article/the-1619-project-a-critique/

[6] https://www.capitalismmagazine.com/2020/04/books-the-1619-project-a-critique/

[7] 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

[8] 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 long and short of the business seems to me to be that a war of this kind must be conducted on revolutionary lines, while the Yankees have so far been trying to conduct it constitutionally.”

letter from Marx to Frederick Engels August 7, 1862,

“This huge mess of traitors, loafers, hospitals, axe-grinders, & incompetencies & officials that goes by the name of Washington.”

Walt Whitman

“Up to now, we have witnessed only the first act of the civil war – the constitutional waging of war. The second act, the revolutionary waging of war, is at hand.”

Karl Marx

“If you don’t want to use the army, I should like to borrow it for a while.

Abraham Lincoln.


Edward Achorn’s new book is a superb narrative-driven account of the Second Inauguration of Abraham Lincoln. Achorn’s descriptive powers separate his book from a very crowded market. 
As Gordon S Wood[1] correctly states “It is hard to imagine anyone saying anything new about Abraham Lincoln, the most written-about figure in American history. But Edward Achorn has done it. No one has ever placed Lincoln’s Second Inaugural in such a full and rich context as he has. Achorn recreates the sights, sounds, smells, and the feel of everything, and his Lincoln was never more real. This is the work of a superb imaginative historian.”

Achorn introduces the reader to a growing number of prostitutes, Confederate spies, newspaper reporters, women with low moral esteem and power-crazed politicians who swirled around Washington at the time of Lincoln’s speech. Unknown and famous people came to Washington- to hear Lincoln’s second inauguration. The poet and journalist Walt Whitman is given a significant amount of space in the book as is African American leader Frederick Douglass. Douglass called the speech “sacred effort”.

Achorn gives Walt Whitman significant space in his book. Whitman, who was a journalist, poet and nurse based in Washington. Whitman’s most famous work is his poetry collection Leaves of Grass. The book caused such a scandal that one  critic demanded Whitman “be kicked from decent society as below the level of a brute.” Achord writes that Lincoln enjoyed Leaves of Grass and read it to cure is often bouts of depression.

Perhaps the most villainous of all the complex characters swirling around Lincoln at the time was the actor John Wilkes Booth who would later assassinate Lincoln. Booth is second only to Lincoln in the amount of space allotted in the book. Given Booth’s historical importance, this is entirely natural. Achorn’s portrayal of Booth at times takes the form of a novel, a difficult art to maintain which Achorn does while not dropping academic standards.

As James Macpherson so eloquently writes “This richly detailed account of the events surrounding Lincoln’s second inaugural address focuses on the many notable and obscure personalities present in Washington as the Civil War neared its end, including such opposites as Frederick Douglass and John Wilkes Booth, whose lives intersected with Lincoln’s in dramatically contrasting ways.”

The inauguration was set amidst a raging civil war that by March 1865, had killed 700,000 Americans and left an indelible mark on American society.”The rebels…could not at the same time throw off the Constitution and invoke its aid…. Decisive and extensive measures must be adopted…. We wanted the army to strike more vigorous blows. The Administration must set an example and strike at the heart of the rebellion.”[2]

It has been claimed by most civil war historians as the most important inaugural address in American history. In just 701 words Lincoln issues a stunning attack on slavery: “If we shall suppose that American Slavery is one of those offences which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South, this terrible war, as the woe due to those by whom the offence came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a Living God always ascribe to Him? Fondly do we hope — fervently do we pray — that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash, shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said f[our] three thousand years ago, so still it must be said: “the judgments of the Lord, are true and righteous altogether”.[3]

Perhaps one of the most surprising aspects of the book was Achorn’s almost God-given gift for explaining the psychological impact of the war and the struggle against slavery and how it impacted on participants psychological well being particularly that of Lincoln. As the French minister in Washington wrote “[h]is face denotes an immense force of resistance and extreme melancholy. It is plain that this man has suffered deeply.” The president’s secretary, John Hay, noted that “the boisterous laughter became less frequent year by year; the eye grew veiled by constant meditation on momentous subjects”.[4]

Achorn also notes that “Lincoln’s hard life had left him with thick scar tissue over his psychic wounds” from his upbringing, yet the war “had reawakened his thoughts about God’s role in this world of suffering”.

Achord rejects the strong theme in current historiography portraying Lincoln as a cynic motivated by purely economic or political gains. This theme was promulgated by the recent New York Times 1619 project.[5] Achorn’s principle view of Lincoln flies in the face of recent attempts by the New York Times and its 1619 Project to present a racialised view of US history. The journalist from the Times present Lincoln as just another white racist indifferent to the fate of the slaves. It denies the extraordinary revolutionary significance of the American Civil War.

While noting that slavery was an economic and political issue, Lincoln believed its abolition was the right thing to do. As his Second Inaugural address expresses “, One-eighth of the whole population were colored slaves, not distributed generally over the Union, but localised in the southern part of it. These slaves constituted a peculiar and powerful interest. All knew that this interest was somehow the cause of the war. To strengthen, perpetuate, and extend this interest was the object for which the insurgents would rend the Union even by war, while the Government claimed no right to do more than to restrict the territorial enlargement of it”. With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations”.

One of the most commendable aspects of Achorn’s book is that he allows Lincoln to speak for himself. It is not said enough that Lincoln was a superb writer. One look at the Gettysburg Address confirms the eloquence and power of his prose “Fourscore and seven years ago our fathers brought forth, on this continent, a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived, and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting-place for those who here gave their lives, that that nation might live. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honoured dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they here gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom, and that Government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”[6]

As Achorn points out in the book, Lincoln’s inaugural address went deeper in that it started to reflect on the causes of the war. As Achorn writes, Lincoln “would not bask in the glory of recent, hard-fought military victories, or present a detailed plan for reconstruction. He would speak about human depravity, about the hideous sin committed by both sides, and about the justice of God’s infallible, implacable.

The black abolitionist Frederick Douglass who attended the inauguration had in the past been heavily critical Lincoln’s ambiguous attitude towards slavery, but on this occasion, he applauded Lincoln’s condemnation slavery. As Achorn writes “He came to understand that Lincoln was a statesman who had to time his actions to what the public would accept, and I think that is a very poignant thing to see”. Douglas believed it was “a sacred effort.”

While Lincoln’s speech was indeed stateman like he was conscious of the need to tie his political fortunes with that of military ones.  Achord correctly gives credit to Major General William Tecumseh Sherman whose victories on the battlefield enabled Lincoln to win a second term as president. Of particular importance was the taking of Atlanta by Sherman. This victory changed the popular mood, and Lincoln won re-election by a significant margin.

Although Achorn does not dwell too much on the international aspect of the American Civil war and Lincoln’s role in that war, it is worth examining what the most important observer from the standpoint of the working class had to say on the war.

When Karl Marx heard of Lincoln’s re-election on behalf of the First International Workingmen’s Association he sent congratulations to Lincoln. “They consider it an earnest of the epoch to come that it fell to the lot of Abraham Lincoln, the single-minded son of the working class, to lead his country through the matchless struggle for the rescue of an enchained race and the reconstruction of a social world.”[7]

Marx’s analysis of the causes of the civil war still holds up today He writes “when an oligarchy of 300,000 slaveholders dared to inscribe, for the first time in the annals of the world, “slavery” on the banner of Armed Revolt, when on the very spots where hardly a century ago the idea of one great Democratic Republic had first sprung up, whence the first Declaration of the Rights of Man was issued, and the first impulse given to the European revolution of the eighteenth century; when on those very spots counterrevolution, with systematic thoroughness, gloried in rescinding “the ideas entertained at the time of the formation of the old constitution”, and maintained slavery to be “a beneficent institution”, indeed, the old solution of the great problem of “the relation of capital to labor”, and cynically proclaimed property in man “the cornerstone of the new edifice” — then the working classes of Europe understood at once, even before the fanatic partisanship of the upper classes for the Confederate gentry had given its dismal warning, that the slaveholders’ rebellion was to sound the tocsin for a general holy crusade of property against labor, and that for the men of labor, with their hopes for the future, even their past conquests were at stake in that tremendous conflict on the other side of the Atlantic. Everywhere they bore therefore patiently the hardships imposed upon them by the cotton crisis, opposed enthusiastically the proslavery intervention of their betters — and, from most parts of Europe, contributed their quota of blood to the good cause”.[8]

While it was not possible for Achorn to look at every possible aspect of the Lincoln presidency, some older historians have drawn parallels between Lincoln and other leaders of civil wars. One such comparison was the leader of the English revolution, Oliver Cromwell.

The historian, Isaac Foot, in a lecture given in 1944 amid the Second World war, drew far-reaching parallels between Lincoln and Cromwell. Foot writes “That is the mark of each man. He was there at the particular time when his special gift seemed to be adapted to the critical occasion that called for the contribution which, as far as we can see could not have been made by any other man of his day. The epitaph of each man might very well have been-“after he had served his generation, by the will of God, he fell on sleep”.[9]

The working-class could learn a lot from each man. As the great Russian Marxist Leon Trotsky said “Cromwell was a great revolutionary of his time, who knew how to uphold the interests of the new, bourgeois social system against the old aristocratic one without holding back at anything. This must be learnt from him, and the dead lion of the seventeenth century is in this sense immeasurably greater than many living dogs.”[10]

The same could be said about Lincoln.To conclude,Achorn does offer a new and fresh approach to this complex period of American history. The national crisis he writes about bears striking resemblance today. The significant book sales mean Achorn’s work has resonated with modern-day readers.As the American working-class comes into direct struggle with its bourgeoisie, it will need to armed with an understanding of America’s revolutionary past. It will need to form its own “Ironsides”.

Its first step must be to put an end to the removal of statues of Washington, Lincoln and Grant. As Joe Kishore writes “The removal of monuments to the leaders of America’s revolutionary and civil wars has no justification. These men led great social struggles against the very forces of reaction that justified racial oppression as an incarnation of the fundamental inequality of human beings”.[11]

[1] Gordon S. Wood, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Empire of Liberty
[2] Battle Cry of Freedom : James M. McPherson
[3] Transcript of President Abraham Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address (1865)- http://www.ourdocuments.gov/doc.php?flash=false&doc=38&page=transcript
[4] Every Drop of Blood: The Momentous Second Inauguration of Abraham Lincoln-Edward Achorn- Hardcover – March 19. 2020
[5] See The New York Times 1619 project: A racialist falsification of US and world history-wsws.org
[6] Lincoln delivered the 272 word Gettysburg Address on November 19, 1863 on the battlefield near Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.
[7] Address of the International Working Men’s Association to Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States of America-Presented to U.S. Ambassador Charles Francis Adams
January 28, 1865
[8] Address of the International Working Men’s Association to Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States of America-Presented to U.S. Ambassador Charles Francis Adams
January 28, 1865
[9] Oliver Cromwell and Abraham Lincoln: A comparison : a lecture delivered before the Royal Society of Literature on April 19th, 1944-Isaac Foot
[10] Where Is Britain Going?
[11] Hands off the monuments to Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln and Grant!- https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2020/06/22/pers-j22.html

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

Introduction

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.”[1]

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.”[2]

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.”[3]

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.”[4]

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.”[5]

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.

Slavery

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.”[6]

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.[7]

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.”[8]

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.[9]

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?.[10]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.”[11]

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.”[12]

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.[13]

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.

Conclusion

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”[14].

Both pamphlets can be purchased at https://mehring.com for US buyers and for UK – https://socialequality.org.uk/


[1] Why we Publishedt he 1619 Project-By Jake Silverstein-DEC. 20, 2019-https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2019/12/20/magazine/1619-intro.html[2] The Idea of America- by Nikole Hannah-Jones-New York Times-1619 Project[3] 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[4] This Is Your Brain on Nationalism-The Biology of Us and ThemBy Robert Sapolsky March/April 2019-https://www.foreignaffairs.com/[5] 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[6] 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[7] 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[8] 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[9] https://www.nytimes.com/2019/12/20/magazine/we-respond-to-the-historians-who-critiqued-the-1619-project.html[10] https://www.nytimes.com/2019/12/20/magazine/we-respond-to-the-historians-who-critiqued-the-1619-project.html[11] A reply to the American Historical Review’s defense of the 1619 Project-By David North and Tom Mackaman-31 January 2020[12] 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[13] 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[14] 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

Both ideological and historical myths are a product of immediate class interests. These myths may be refuted by restoring historical truth—the honest presentation of facts and tendencies of the past.—Vadim Z. Rogovin
“Tell me anyway–Maybe I can find the truth by comparing the lies.”

― Leon Trotsky

This groundbreaking book adds significantly to the arsenal of Marxist works that have utilised the historical materialist method in examing complex historical questions. This collection of essays and interviews represents the most consistent and sustained attack on the New York Times 1619 Project, released in August 2019. The book’s publication is a significant political and intellectual event

The 1619 project denounced two seminal events in American history: the 1776 revolution that founded the United States and the Civil War of 1861–65. In its place, the New York Times put forward a completely new revisionist narrative that stipulated that the rebellion against Britain was a counterrevolution instigated to defend slavery and that the union forces in the Civil War were led by a president, Abraham Lincoln, who was a racist.

The lead writer and Project founder Times journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones said, “Our democracy’s founding ideals were false when they were written. Black Americans have fought to make them true”. For this piece of deep insight, the author was awarded a Pulitzer Prize for commentary. Hannah-Jones made the preposterous claim that anti-black racism “runs in the very DNA of this country”.

As you would expect from a work published by Mehring books, this collection of essays and lectures is based on meticulous research. It thoroughly discredits the 1619 Project’s lies and distortions.One question to book seeks to answer is why would the Times lie. As Leon Trotsky once pointed out the that when one lies about history, it is done to conceal real social contradictions. The Times project was released amidst truly staggering levels of social inequality produced by capitalism. As one writer wrote, “These contradictions can be resolved on a progressive basis only through the methods of class struggle. Efforts to divert and sabotage that struggle by dissolving class identity into the miasma of racial identity lead inexorably in the direction of fascism”.

Contained in the book are interviews with the most renowned scholars and specialists in the history of the American Revolution, the Civil War, and the civil rights movement of the 1960s — Gordon Wood, James M. McPherson, James Oakes, Victoria Bynum, Richard Carwardine, Clayborne Carson, Adolph Reed Jr., and Dolores Janiewski. Subjects examined are the “complex development of slavery in the New World, the American Revolution, the sectional crisis over slavery and the Civil War, the struggle for social equality in the twentieth century, and the class politics of racial identity in the present”.

The most disturbing feature of the Times revisionist project was not so much what it contained, which was easily refuted, but the fact that it was left to the Trotskyist movement and the World Socialist Website(WSWS) to attack this abomination of historical falsehood. The Attack by the WSWS drew immediate media attention and very quickly seriously undermined the whole 1619 project. As one writer put it, it destroyed the Times “new historical narrative” and exposed it as a money-making venture.

In reading this book and its sustained attack on the 1619 project, it is not hard to understand why the stand taken by the WSWS and several leading Historians has altered the political and “intellectual terrain”. It has destroyed the 1619 project. It has provided a textbook Marxist approach and has implemented a historical materialist method of historical investigation. One also has to admire the bravery of the historians that collaborated with the WSWS. These historians had “strong reservations about important aspects of the 1619 Project” and were “dismayed at some of the factual errors in the project and the closed process behind it.” It is one thing for a Marxist to launch a polemical attack. After all, it is in their DNA. It is another for world-renowned historians to put their life’s work on the line by defending historical truth.
The stand taken by the WSWS and these leading historian has encouraged others to enter the field of battle. One notable book has been Peter W Wood’s book 1620. Peter.W.Wood’s book is a very useful critique of the New York Times 1619 Project. It has been described as historiography of the debates over the 1619 Project. The Times basic premise is to reset American history by “asserting that all the laws, material gains, and cultural achievements of Americans are rooted in the exploitation of African-Americans”.

To his credit, Woods does not buy into this absurd and dangerously wrong assumption. The book is an attempt, to sum up what critiques of the Project have written. While many of the most important historians who have written on the subject have published articles and letters opposing the Times, the political leadership in this fight against this travesty of historical study has fallen to the Trotskyist’s at the World Socialist Website. While semi acknowledging this in the book, Wood’s is not happy that it was the Trotskyists who first exposed this racialist and revisionist approach to American history. The fact that the Times project has been so discredited is down to the role played by the Marxists.
As the Marxist writer David North correctly points out, “As a business venture, the 1619 Project clambers on, but as an effort at historical revision, it has been, to a great extent, discredited. This outcome is owed in large measure to the intervention of the World Socialist Web Site, with the support of several distinguished and courageous historians, which exposed the 1619 Project for what it is: a combination of shoddy journalism, careless and dishonest research, and a false, politically-motivated narrative that makes racism and racial conflict the central driving forces of American history”.
In his book, Wood opposes the 1619 project and offers a different starting point for modern American history, which is when the first pilgrims set foot in America in the 1620s. The political and historical study of the pilgrims is a worthwhile subject. To some degree, Wood’s has a case in point, but American history has many such starting points.

Most historians seem to stick with the Declaration of Independence in 1776 as America’s founding.
Wood’s book is one of the better critiques of the 1619 project, but it does not probe the politics behind 1619. As David North points out, “The “financialisation” of the Times has proceeded alongside another critical determinant of the newspaper’s selection of issues to be publicised and promoted: that is, its central role in the formulation and aggressive marketing of the policies of the Democratic Party. This process has served to obliterate the always tenuous boundary lines between objective reporting and sheer propaganda. The consequences of the Times’ financial and political evolution have found a particularly reactionary expression in the 1619 Project. Led by Ms Nikole Hannah-Jones and New York Times Magazine editor Jake Silverstein, the 1619 Project was developed to provide the Democratic Party with a historical narrative that legitimised its efforts to develop an electoral constituency based on the promotion of racial politics. Assisting the Democratic Party’s decades-long efforts to disassociate itself from its identification with the social welfare liberalism of the New Deal to Great Society era, the 1619 Project, by prioritising racial conflict, marginalises, and even eliminates, class conflict as a notable factor in history and politics”.

Given that the Trotskyists from the WSWS have led the political and historical fight against the Times deeply right-wing and revisionist historical viewpoint, it is perhaps not surprising that the WSWS has come under sustained attack from not only conservative sources but has been attacked by several Stalinist and Pseudo left individuals and organisations.

One of the more stupid and ignorant attacks came from the predictable Louis Proyect, who wrote,” Indeed, nobody has published more “Trotskyist polemics” than them, as long as you are using the term Trotskyist without regard for what Trotsky stood for. An examination of the record will place Trotsky firmly in the Project 1619 camp. When Trotsky was living in Prinkipo, an island near Istanbul, in 1933, he met with Arne Swabeck (who coincidentally was one of the talking heads in Warren Beatty’s “Reds”). Swabeck asked, “How must we view the position of the American Negro: As a national minority or as a racial minority?” Trotsky’s reply probably would have made both Wilentz and his friends at WSWS beet-red with fury. He urged his comrades to support self-determination for Blacks even if it antagonised white workers, who were far more radical in 1933 than they are today”.

Proyect has a history of right-wing attacks on the WSWS. The WSWS called him a professional liar and said, “Proyect’s blog—or should we call it blather—lacks all credibility. In his dishonesty, cynicism, and debased vulgarity, he epitomises all that is politically diseased in the milieu of American pseudo-left politics. His attack on the WSWS is the work of a man who has absolutely nothing to do with the politics, principles and culture of the Marxist movement. His blog were it correctly named, would be called “The Unrepentant Liar.”

Further attacks on the WSWS have come from the Stalinists of the USA Communist Party who wrote, “Trotskyists have traditionally attacked mainstream Communists and others who have sought to construct centre-left coalitions to defeat the right, attacks that have aided the right. Here, North, London, and the World Socialist Review have acted to support a centre-right backlash against a new history of slavery, a kind of negative United Front with the liberal and conservative celebrators of U.S. history. The author and co-signers of the protest letter, whom they defend, would never put “bourgeois” in front of “democratic” to define the American Revolution. In my experience, they would do what they usually do—reject the work of those like the scholars of the 1619 Project who challenge conventional wisdom and by their rejection prevent the article’s publication in mainstream media”.

This duplicity has been the trademark of the Stalinists for nearly a century. It has been exposed and refuted by the Trotskyist movement and represents a desperate attempt by the Stalinist to breathe new life into the discredited Democratic party and join forces with the various other Pseudo Left groups that have backed the Project and have attacked the WSWS.

In the past, these Pseudo left organisations would have at least paid lip service to the struggles of the working class, but now this has been replaced by an open acceptance of new forms of non working class forms of struggle. James A. Lindsay and Helen Pluckrose summarise this succinctly in this article “We have moved into a new stage of history. The battles the left fought over the past half-century have largely been won. We cannot go back to focusing on miners’ rights and trade unions, or on securing equal pay for women, outlawing racial discrimination, or legalising homosexuality: we have won those wars. Much of the right support these advances now too. We have new battles to fight. These include combating climate change, securing our place on the world stage and within the global economy, and fostering cohesive multiculturalism, free from moral relativism and enforced conformity. The left now finds itself pulled in many directions at once. This is the source of its profound identity crisis”.One manifestation of this right-wing shift is the support by the Pseudo Left organisations of the 1619 racialist project.

Conclusion

It is hoped that The New York Times’ 1619 Project and the Racialist Falsification of History: Essays and Interviews will find a wide audience. Its essays and interviews will be of interest to all readers of American history.
It is an essential aid for all teachers and college professors, students and the general reading public to counter the Times’ blatant historical falsifications. It will also be a valuable tool in the struggle of both black and white workers in their struggle against capitalism.