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/

To Chen with love

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