[Marxism] : Slave Self-Activity and the Bourgeois Revolution in the US

Andrew Stewart hasc.warrior.stew at gmail.com
Tue Dec 17 06:35:07 MST 2019

Gerald Horne, who notably authored biographies of WEB as well as Shirley Graham Du Bois as well as editing the Du Bois encyclopedia, repudiated this notion of a bourgeois revolution as a) an emancipatory project that came up short on slavery, as well as b) something grounded in a significant progressive effort altogether.

Instead he has argued convincingly that the goal of the American rebellion against the crown was explicitly and intentionally about the preservation of slavery as a response to the inroads being made by abolitionists in the British parliament. The entire set of taxes upon goods that fueled “no taxation without representation” was taxation on goods produced by the slave trade!  See his Counterrevolution of 1776 and The Apocalypse of Settler Colonialism for more information. I interviewed Horne about this discussion last year.


Pertinent quote:

AS: Where do you think the idea that American independence as a ‘bourgeois democratic revolution’ was a step forward for mankind came from? 

GH: First, it seems to me that you can call these events a ‘bourgeois democratic revolution’ as long as you have a major caveat, which is that, if this was a ‘bourgeois democratic revolution’, let’s not have any more! Let that be the last one!

If you are going to use that term then critique that term. And I would say that is particularly true in the United States, which is the seed bed of critiques of revolutions that have happened worldwide since 1776. There’s an entire industry with people making good livings criticizing every revolution since 1776, sometimes in a one-sided manner, be it the French revolution, the Cuban revolution, the Russian revolution, etc.

That shows me folks in the United States are capable of doing a multi-sided critique of revolutions except 1776, where they come to this absurd conclusion that ‘Oh, it went well, except, you know, the genocide and mass enslavement.’ It reminds me of the MOVE bombing in Philadelphia when the mayor said afterwards “Well, everything went fine except we destroyed the neighborhood.”

What kind of thinking is that?

Part of the problem is that until the anti-Jim Crow movement took flight, many Black historians in particular were barred from the archives or even were barred from graduate school and that handicapped the ability of those who might be most disposed to take a critical look at history.

Now obviously it doesn’t speak well for those that did have access to the archives that they could not come to this conclusion because, as I’ve been saying for some years, this is not a difficult case to make. This was not rocket science coming to these conclusions!

What was created was an apartheid state. It was like going to South Africans and saying ‘Well, the Nationalist Party, they did well for the Afrikaner people, it was a whole affirmative action program for the Afrikaners that lifted many out of poverty and that served as a precursor for what might happen to the Africans under nationalist party rule.’ If you took that position, people would laugh you out of court!

But basically that’s what has happened in North America, the ability of the 1776 regime to take land from Native Americans and redistribute it to European migrants and lift them out of poverty, I guess that serves as a template for bettering the lives of Native Americans.

Best regards 
Andrew Stewart 
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Message: 2
Date: Mon, 16 Dec 2019 19:48:13 +0000
From: Brian Kelly <brian_kelly at me.com>
To: marxism at lists.csbs.utah.edu
Subject: [Marxism] Slave Self-Activity and the Bourgeois Revolution in
   the US
Message-ID: <1FC1FDA9-1098-4AF5-A01E-73DAE0785D2E at me.com>
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Please share link: 

Brian Kelly, ?Slave Self-Acitivty and the Bourgeois Revolution in the United States: Jubilee and the Boundaries of Black Freedom,? Historical Materialism 27.3 (2019): 31-76.

available here: https://brill.com/view/journals/hima/27/3/article-p31_2.xml<https://brill.com/view/journals/hima/27/3/article-p31_2.xml>

"What is needed urgently...is a frame- work that can move beyond the juxtaposition between high politics and slave self-activity and map, with some precision, the convergences and antagonisms between the bourgeois revolution and ground-level slave initiative. The point is not to find a middle ground between high politics and black agency, but to offer a framework that can explain their essential, dynamic interaction in the most important revolutionary upheaval in US history and offer a coher- ent explanation for Washington?s ultimate failure to deliver on the promise of black freedom. Potentially, such an interpretation offers a key not only to un derstanding the dynamics of wartime emancipation, but to the whole of the period analysed by Du Bois (1860?80) ? tumultuous years encompassing war, the attempt to construct bi-racial democracy in the liberated South, and the decisive defeat of that project in Reconstruction?s violent overthrow."

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