On the British Riots (August 2011)

Last summer, London and other British cities erupted in rioting as poor and working-class youth reacted furiously to racist police violence, austerity, and deepening inequality. This was the first of a couple of pieces I wrote for Socialist Worker on this urban rebellion. It appeared on the SW website on August 10, 2011.

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BRITAIN IS reeling after several nights of rioting in major cities across the country–the worst civil unrest in a least a generation.

What began at the end of last week as a series of protests against police brutality and racism has escalated into a major crisis of the entire social and political order, with police apparently losing control in parts of major cities. Continue reading

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Black Reconstruction in America @ Socialism 2011

Here’s the audio of my talk from Socialism 2011

Black Reconstruction in America

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Slavery and the Origins of the Civil War: ISR version

Well…

It’s a little over a year since I posted anything on here, but I’m minded to start updating it again.

To ease myself back into it, here’s the longer version of my piece on “Slavery and the Origins of the Civil War.” It appeared in the ISR #78 (July-August 2011).

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SLAVERY AND THE ORIGINS OF THE CIVIL WAR

By JAMES ILLINGWORTH

IN DECEMBER 2010 a group of well-heeled South Carolinians gathered in Charleston for a “Secession Ball” to mark the sesquicentennial of their state’s exit from the union. As partygoers strutted around in period costume—Confederate gray for the men and hoop skirts for the women—one speechmaker announced that the South had seceded “not to preserve the institution of slavery, not for glory or riches or honor, but for freedom alone.”[1]

Readers of the International Socialist Review might expect the Charleston elite to misrepresent or misunderstand the nature of the Civil War. But they are hardly alone. In fact, one hundred and fifty years after it began, the Civil War remains one of the most misunderstood episodes in American history. Unfortunately, this is just as true on the left as it is on the right. In a recent Pew poll, 60 percent of Americans under the age of 30 identified states’ rights as a more important cause of the conflict than slavery.[2] These results are all the more disheartening when we take into account this generation’s generally progressive political leanings on other issues. Continue reading

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Discussion: America’s Bourgeois Revolution

I was lucky enough to get some excellent feedback and questions from comrades and friends regarding my article “Slavery and the Origins of the Civil War.” The discussion took place on my Facebook page, so I thought I’d try to summarize it here.

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Q. To what extent do you think the Southern secession can be framed as the exploited South gaining independence from the exploitive north? While it’s true that the Southern states relied on the brutal enslavement of Africans, was not the north equally as brutal in its system of wage slavery?

I think its true that, to a certain extent, the slave states had a colonial relationship to the industrializing North.

However, I don’t think it’s right to say that wage labor in the North was just as bad as, or even worse than, chattel slavery. Slaves could not form trade unions, vote, or go out on strike. Slavery also made the spread of anti-racist ideas amongst white workers all but impossible. Without defending the wage labor system in the North, I think we can say that it was historically progressive when compared to slavery. Continue reading

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Slavery and the Origins of the Civil War

I wrote this for Socialist Worker to commemorate Black History Month and mark the sesquicentennial of the first shots of the Civil War, It appears at socialistworker.org today.

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N MARCH 1861, Alexander Stephens, vice president of the newly established Confederacy in the South, expressed a simple truth about secession. Slavery, Stephens noted, “was the immediate cause of the late rupture and present revolution.”

Referring to the new Confederate government, Stephens stated, “Its cornerstone rests upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery, subordination to the superior race, is his natural and normal condition. This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth.”

Stephens could hardly have been any clearer: slavery caused secession and war, and the Confederacy was built to defend white supremacy. Yet many Americans today continue to believe that the Civil War came about as a conflict over taxation, tariff policy or states’ rights. Continue reading

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Chicago’s New Municipal Anthem

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Classics of Marxism: The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte

I wrote this for the ISR over the autumn, as part of the Classics of Marxism series. It’s online here. I’ve been lost in dissertation land for most of the winter but I should have time to post more regularly now.

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Classics of Marxism

Karl Marx, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte

The Revolutions of 1848 in Europe are a forgotten episode in radical history, particularly in the United States. While revolutionary turning points such as the signing of the Declaration of Independence in 1776, the Storming of the Bastille in 1789, the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863, or even the Paris Commune of 1871 retain some place in popular consciousness, the same cannot be said of the events of 1848-50: the uprising in Vienna, the June Days in Paris, the Siege of Rome, or the nationalist revolt in Hungary.

Particularly for Marxists, however, the Revolutions of 1848 have huge significance. For one thing, these upheavals represented the first examples of independent working-class political action in European history—they were the moment at which something resembling the modern socialist movement began to take shape. Secondly, the Revolutions of 1848 gave Karl Marx and Frederick Engels their first major opportunity to put their revolutionary theories into practice—both men participated as central actors in the German wing of the revolutionary movement. Finally, and most importantly for the purposes of this review, the Revolution of 1848 in France gave Marx his first chance to analyze and write about the development of the revolutionary movement using the method of historical materialism. Continue reading

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