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Jonathan Scott Inside the White Race Corral (on Theodore Allen, The Invention ofthe White Race, Volume One: Racial Oppression and Social Control [New York: Verso, 1994]) In Lenin, Georg Lukács makes the point that Lenin's greatness as a Marxist historian and theoristcanbemeasured by thedepthand breadth of his grasp that "historical materialism is the theory of the proletarian revolution" (9). Readings of Lenin that see his contributions only in terms ofRussia and itspeculiarproblem ofunderdevelopment, Lukács argued: forget what is today only too rightly forgotten: that the same accusation was also made, in his time, against Marx. It was said that he formulated his observations of English economic life and of the English factory system uncritically as general laws of all social development; that his observations may in themselves have been quite correct but, precisely because they were distorted into general laws, theybecame incorrect.... On the contrary —true to the methods of genuine historical and political genius—he detected, both theoretically and historically, in the microcosm of the English factory system, inits social premisses, its conditions and consequences, and in the historical trends which lead to, and in turn eventually threaten its development, precisely the macrocosm of capitalist development as a whole. (10) In The Invention of the White Race, Theodore Allen returns to this decisive link between Marx, Lenin and the dialectical method of historical materialism. His work, like Lenin's, is a concrete analysis ofconcrete situations. Allen understands the whole ofcapitalist development in the United States through a historical analysis of racial slavery and racial oppression, and by means of one of the most basic concepts of the Marxist tradition, oppression. Like Lenin, what is new in his method and procedure is that he has no interest in improving on the work of Marx, but rather a commitment to making his method more concrete. This is reflected in his object of study: racial oppression and social control. As an object of the dialectical method, Allen makes racial oppression and social control concrete in four ways. First, he establishes that racial oppression in bourgeois society is a particular form of oppression , which means that within racial oppression itself are all the essential terms and elements of social oppression in general; and second, for racial oppression to contain all the characteristics of social oppression in general, its origins must be colonial, since the first European ruling class to use racial oppression, the English, used it precisely to socially 94the minnesota review control a colonized people, the Irish. And as the origins of racial oppression are colonial, the question as to why racial oppression in U.S. society is so badly misunderstood becomes readily apparent. The "Irish Mirror," as Allen terms it, reflects back the most telling fact of racial oppression, that Irish history presents a case of racial oppression without reference to skin color. In his definition of racial oppression, the terms of this thesis are formulated as follows: The assault upon the tribal affinities, customs, laws and institutions of the Africans, the American Indians and the Irish by English/British and AngloAmerican colonialism reduced all members of the oppressed group to one undifferentiated social status, a status beneath that of any member of any social class within the colonizing population. This is the hallmark of racial oppression in its colonial origins, and ithas persisted in subsequenthistorical contexts. (32; emphasis retained) Moreover, the attempt to invert racial oppression into a general category which applies solely to people of a particular phenotype (as opposed to all non-white peoples, which is its function), is a symptom ofU.S. imperialism's expansion throughout Latin America and the Caribbean . It is no coincidence that both racial oppression and imperialism are the most distorted terms in U.S. political culture. In the absence of concrete definitions, we have instead "racism" (a term Allen rejects as useless), and "postcolonialism," each a mystification of their real objects. In terms of racial oppression, the association of "blackness" with slavery and degradation has been so successfully internalized in the U.S. that rational discussion in the "public sphere" about the most basic issues—healthcare, immigration, schools, jobs, housing, crime, prisons, etc.—has become totally impossible. With imperialism...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2157-4189
Print ISSN
0026-5667
Pages
pp. 93-103
Launched on MUSE
2011-07-06
Open Access
No
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