Race, class and revolution

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By SEAN PURDY*

Commentary on the recently released book, a collection on “the struggle for People's Power in the United States”.

This collection of texts by American revolutionaries of the 1960s-1970s on race, class, and revolution, edited by Jones Manoel and Gabriel Landi, makes an important contribution to the history of the United States in Brazil. Translates into Portuguese and brings together numerous articles from the Black Panthers newspaper, The Black Panther, a recent article on the Rainbow Coalition (an alliance between the Panthers, the Latino movement, and white workers), six contributions from the Chicano and Puerto Rican movement, three documents from the Asian American movement, a pamphlet, article, and recent interview on the Young Patriots (white worker militants) and two texts from the indigenous movement. It provides a good overview of the positions of the various movements of the time regarding issues of race and class. Footnotes explain terms, people and events unknown to Brazilian readers. The book will be very useful for leftist activists and professors of US History in Brazil.

What leaves something to be desired in the collection is the huge 70-page preface by Manoel and Landi. What is expected in a presentation of a collection of this type is an introduction to the texts, placing them in the context of the time and in the existing literature on these movements. After all, there is already a very wide literature, especially on the black struggle, which discusses the origins of these movements, their ideas, debates on the left, internal discussions and the problems they faced.

But instead, the organizers are fixated on their current political projects, especially the debates around liberalism and Domenico Losurdo's critique of Hannah Arendt. This subject can even be discussed – Arendt wrote some racist texts about blacks in the United States –, but this ends up dominating the text. There are 19 quotations from Losurdo and 25 from Arendt in the footnotes of the preface, but only six from WEB Du Bois and one from Angela Davis, not to mention the total absence of experts on the period and movements such as Manning Marable, Peniel Joseph, Joshua Bloom , Waldo E. Martin Jr., Ahmed Shawki, and Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, to name but a few scholars. What guides the historiography of these social movements in the 1960s in the United States is not Hannah Arendt's liberalism, but broader questions about Marxism, political economy, strategy and tactics in the movements and the left as a whole – questions that the authors above deal with in detail.

Interestingly, there are also no texts from the League of Revolutionary Black Workers, an independent grassroots organization among black Detroit auto workers that organized several successful strikes in 1968-1969. In addition to the influence of the so-called Marxism-Leninism (Maoism and Stalinist communism) in the League, there were also in the organization currents of thought from the Pan-Africanism of CLR James and the humanist Marxism of Raya Dunayevskaya, Grace Lee Boggs and James Boggs (all Detroiters).

Finally, there is no reference to studies and translations into Portuguese already carried out in recent years by Brazilians on these movements.

Combined with a wider reading of secondary sources, however, this collection is more than welcome. This is particularly important at the present time as the emergence of Black Lives Matter in the United States and the central role of anti-racist and social movements in Brazil.

*Sean Purdy is a professor of US history at the Department of History at the University of São Paulo (USP).

Reference


Jones Manoel and Gabriel Landi (eds.) Race, Class, and Revolution: The Struggle for People Power in the United States. São Paulo, Literary Autonomy, 2020.

 

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