Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

June 13, 2020

Putting class-reductionism under a microscope: Adolph Reed Jr., Jacobin, and the George Floyd protests

Filed under: Black Lives Matter,Jacobin — louisproyect @ 5:42 pm

Adolph Reed Jr.
(Photo by Dan Creighton)

Recently three blips popped up on my radar screen that reminded me it was time once again to look at the tortured race/class debate that dominates, if not haunts, the American left.

On June 5th, Philly DSA issued a statement on George Floyd’s killing that epitomized the class-reductionism that has festered in the group for some time now. So much static was generated over the statement, especially on social media, that they issued a Maoist-style self-criticism3 days later:

On Friday, Philly DSA posted a statement on our website titled “Against Police Violence and Austerity, For Worker Power”. In doing so, we made a mistake that we deeply regret. Our statement did not sufficiently address the disproportionate impact of police violence on people of color, specifically Black Americans, and the significant anti-racist character of the protests. George Floyd’s life mattered, and all Black lives matter.

Along the same lines, Cedric Johnson, a black professor and class reductionist par excellence, wrote an article for Nonsite titled “The Triumph of Black Lives Matter and Neoliberal Redemption”. It asserted, “This moment has been a triumph for Black Lives Matter activists, but once the plumes of tear gas dissipate and compassion fatigue sets in, the real beneficiaries will likely be the neoliberal Democrats and the capitalist blocs they serve.” Johnson also reminded his readers that the silent majority in the black community is pro-cop:

While a slim majority of Americans now believe police are more likely to use excessive force against blacks than other groups, millions more do not share the most militant calls to defund or dismantle police departments voiced by some activists. Most Americans are upset by police killings, but they also want more effective policing. Over the last five years, satisfaction with police has strengthened among all ethnic and racial groups, including African Americans (from 50% “at least somewhat satisfied” in 2015 to 72% now).

To bolster his arguments, Johnson cited an article by Adolph Reed Jr. titled “How Racial Disparity Does Not Help Make Sense of Patterns of Police Violence” that also appeared on Nonsite, where Reed serves on the editorial board alongside fellow class-reductionist Walter Benn Michaels. Like Reed and Johnson, Michaels (who is white) sees any pro-black movements as a particularism that ultimately supports the goals of the capitalist liberal elite.

Reed’s article crows triumphantly over his revelation that white people constitute the majority of victims of police shootings, even if blacks are disproportionately affected. He cites a Washington Post article that reveals that the states with the highest rates of police homicide per million of population are among the whitest in the country. The only problem with his data-driven analysis is that it doesn’t account for how and why these homicides take place. Would Derek Chauvin have kept his knee on George Floyd’s neck for 9 minutes if he was white? Or would Timothy Loehmann, a white cop, have shot Tamir Rice, a 12-year old black boy playing with a toy pistol in a Cleveland park? To even pose the question renders you brain-dead, no matter your academic credentials. For the class-reductionist left, suggesting that cops single out blacks for shooting first and asking questions later puts you in the same category as the kente-wearing Nancy Pelosi or Chuck Schumer.

Not only does Reed turn a cold shoulder to the protests against George Floyd’s murder, he probably is grumbling at all the statues now being overturned. Writing for the Lens, a New Orleans ‘zine, in 2017, he urged readers not to be duped: “The clamor to take down the monuments falls short of a truly radical movement.” Among the statues he would defend against the unruly mob was Andrew Jackson, the slave-owner and Cherokee mass murderer whose portrait adorns Donald Trump’s Oval Office:

Already the group has over-reached in its tone-deaf demand that the statue of Andrew Jackson be removed from Jackson Square because Jackson was a slaveholder and architect of genocidal suppression of Native Americans. The Jackson statue against the backdrop of St. Louis Cathedral is one of the city’s most iconic, internationally known images, and Jackson, never really my cup of tea, fought to save the young republic and extend its reach, not secede from it in an act of treason. Indeed, when the city was under Union occupation, Gen. Benjamin F. Butler emblazoned the Jackson statue with the legend, “The Union Must and Shall Be Preserved,” thus rendering it an emblem of Confederate defeat.

Never his cup of tea? WTF? Sure, he fought to defend the young republic, whatever that means. As for his being on the side of preserving the Union, it should never be forgotten that Jackson was the first DP president. And what does Reed mean by extending the reach of the U.S.A.? Does this refer to Jackson’s ability to wrest control of land owned by American Indians? After the War of 1812 ended, General Jackson was directed to secure the southern borders of the United States. He used his military muscle to get the Creeks, Chickasaws, Cherokees and Choctaws to sign treaties ceding huge tracts of land to the U.S., thus leaving them confined in much smaller territories. The only other academic I’ve run into who has this unaccountable devotion to Jackson is Sean Wilentz, the only opponent of the 1619 Project that not even WSWS would touch with a ten-foot pole.

To avoid being co-opted by the liberal elite, it is supposedly necessary to abandon “anti-racism” and advance economic demands that can unite black and white workers. In putting this position forward, Reed and Johnson are continuing with a very long ideological tradition going back to Eugene V. Debs. In his 1905 “The Negro and the Class Struggle”, he wrote, “We have nothing special to offer the Negro, and we cannot make separate appeals to all the races.” In distinction to the SP, the CPUSA did see race and class as interlinked, even if in practice it fell short such as in opposing A. Philip Randolph’s March on Washington during WWII.

However, by the early 60s, it too began to sound a lot like Debs. When Malcolm X began to develop a following, James E. Jackson, a black CP leader, ripped into him in Political Affairs in 1963:

The Muslim organization, in general, and Malcolm X, in particular, are ultra-reactionary forces operating in the orbit of the Negro people’s movement, with the strategic assignment to sow ideological confusion, to dissipate the organization energies of the Negro masses, to promote divisionism within the Negro movement, and to alienate the Negro movement from fraternal ties with and support of comparably deprived or democratically inclined white masses.

The Muslim movement objectively serves the interests of the main enemies of the cause of Negro freedom and equality.

The Trotskyist movement saw Malcolm much more positively, even if he was still under the sway of his sect’s obscurantism. This should not come as a great surprise since Leon Trotsky spoke favorably of Marcus Garvey in his discussions with American co-thinkers, including CLR James.

Some SWP members felt the same way as James E. Jackson. Tim Wolforth and James Robertson regarded black nationalism as divisive, so much so that this would convince the two to start their own groups based on the mechanical black-white unity defended by Debs and Jackson.

Wolforth’s group folded long ago but much of his thinking is preserved in the World Socialist Web Site, the online newspaper of the Socialist Equality Party that has been on a campaign against the 1619 Project launched by the NY Times last August. In addition to providing a space for civil war historians appalled by the idea that slavery was a major factor in black oppression today, the WSWS allowed Adolph Reed Jr. to recite some of his talking points. He disparaged those who are dwell on killer-cops and racial profiling. Despite his willingness to trash the 1619 Project, he failed to understand that its basic premise is correct, namely that this was the year that slavery first appeared in this country. He says, “Those first 20 people weren’t slaves. There wasn’t chattel slavery yet in British North America.” Implicit in these words is the notion that they were indentured servants, when in fact they were nothing of the sort. Whites who became indentured servants signed a contract under duress, usually to pay off a debt. But the Africans were simply kidnapped by Portuguese, who then ended up on a privateer’s ship alongside such genuine indentured servants.

I’ll give Jacobin credit for publishing a critique of Reed in 2016 written by Paul Heideman and Jonah Birch. In defending BLM against the charge that it is a tool of Nancy Pelosi, et al, they point to its success in changing young peoples’ minds: “At this point, BLM has majority support among young white Americans.” Only 4 years later, it now has the support of a majority of American voters by a 28-point margin, up from a 17-point margin before the most recent wave of protests began. One can imagine Reed and Johnson sitting in the chairs at home watching all these protests and gnashing their teeth over such a wasted effort.  They’d be better off, I guess, ringing doorbells for the latest round of “democratic socialists” as the next election approaches.

Reed and Johnson get more articles published in Jacobin than any other black people, as far as I can tell. It is clear that Bhaskar Sunkara endorses their analysis, which coincides with his own social democratic gradualism. That affinity also exists between the Philly DSA and Reed, who developed ties with the chapter’s leadership when he was still teaching at the U. of Pennsylvania. One might hope that the self-criticism alluded to at the beginning of the article shows that the material reality of people in the streets in numbers might have changed their minds.

Over the past year or so, Jacobin has become more and more stuck in the rut of electoral politics. With the collapse of the ISO, there are fewer more openly revolutionary articles in its pages or on the website. And for those ex-ISOers who still have an in with Sunkara, there must have been an understanding that spouting the old-school opposition to the Democratic Party was a no-no. Ex-ISOer Paul Heideman, who once skewered illusions in the DP in Jacobin, is now just as vehemently a Sandernista ideologue.

It will be interesting to see whether Sanders’s swan dive into the Biden election campaign, as well as his opposition to police defunding, will have an impact on rank-and-file DSA’ers and/or Jacobin subscribers. As of now, Reed is on record as opposed to Biden, having co-authored a Guardian op-ed with Cornel West titled “Joe Biden wants us to forget his past. We won’t”.

Yet, he was not above urging a vote for someone cut from the same cloth as Biden, once upon a time. In an April 28, 2008 Progressive article that starts off with the ostensibly insurrectionary-minded title of “Obama No”, we learn that it could have just as easily been titled “Hillary Yes”:

I’m hardly a Clinton fan. I’m on record in last November’s issue as saying that I’d rather sit out the election entirely than vote for either her or Obama. At this point, though, I’ve decided that she’s the lesser evil in the Democratic race, for the following reasons: 1) Obama’s empty claims to being a candidate of progressive change and to embodying a “movement” that exists only as a brand will dissolve into disillusionment in either a failed campaign against McCain or an Obama Presidency that continues the politics he’s practiced his entire career; 2) his horribly opportunistic approach to the issues bearing on inequality—in which he tosses behaviorist rhetoric to the right and little more than calls to celebrate his success to blacks—stands to pollute debate about racial injustice whether he wins or loses the Presidency; 3) he can’t beat McCain in November.

Eight years later, Reed made another pitch for Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign in a July 7th radio interview on Doug Henwood’s “Behind the News”:

DH: The movement that has catalyzed with the Sanders campaign, how can we keep it from dissipating as November approaches. “Trump is so horrible, you know, hold your nose and vote for Hillary. etc.” There’s a great possibility for induced amnesia to set in. How do we fight that?

AR: What one does in November lies in a different dimension from the movement building concerns. From a pragmatic point of view there really is nothing else to do except to vote for Hillary. But that only becomes a big to-do if you have an exaggerated sense of the significance of your own vote anyway.

DH: People get so obsessed with something that takes five minutes to do in early November. It’s really remarkable.

AR: Absolutely. On some level it only comes down to a matter of taste and existential choice. I could vote for Gore in 2000. I lived in Connecticut and it was easy not to vote for Gore in 2000 and to vote for Ralph. I’d argue that this is a different moment and especially with Republican control of Congress-even if they lose the Senate which is a long shot . . . we’re going to be in the same position on the Wednesday after the election than we were on the Monday before the election. The real challenge is to try to disconnect the organizing from it being driven by the election cycle.

What was it that Molotov said to reporters after signing a non-aggression pact with the Nazis? Oh, I remember: “fascism is a matter of taste”. As far as existential choices are concerned, I would say that celibacy is an existential choice. Or assisted suicide. Or masturbating with a vacuum cleaner. That sort of thing, if you gather my drift.


  1. […] via Putting class-reductionism under a microscope: Adolph Reed Jr., Jacobin, and the George Floyd protes… […]

    Pingback by Putting class-reductionism under a microscope: Adolph Reed Jr., Jacobin, and the George Floyd protests – poetsunionus — June 13, 2020 @ 7:22 pm

  2. Reed is a fool, more so as he ages. A gigantic waste of brainpower and education. Someone like Gerald Horne has absolutely no use for him and all of those opposed to the NYT 1619 Project. I am sure that Robin Kelley feels the same. Reed trashed Robin and a few others many years ago in Telos I believe. He had one of his grad students write to me, offering some veiled criticisms about how what I wrote could easily segue into neoliberalism (or play into the neoliberal hand), after i wrote an essay, since expanded and published in various places, titled “It’s Still Slavery by another Name.” I pointed out to that even Cuba has a race problem, 60 years after the Revolution and major efforts to eradicate the effects of the color line there. If this sis true there, how much more true must it be here. I suggested he read “Race in Cuba: Essays on the Revolution and Racial Inequality” by Esteban Morales Dominguez. Morales is the world’f foremost expert on the subject. Reed’s acolyte never got back to me. Some of the white people who love Reed have expressed some remarkable views on the great progress US society has made in terms of racial equality. Louis, your old nemesis, the wretched Michael Smith, is one such person. As for Sunkara, his own background and writing tell us that he knows absolutely nothing about the working class, its racial construction, and the way in which race and class intersect, to use a word they all hate. Funny that he and his well-off parents came from the Caribbean. We all know that not a few of the stalwart anti-racist radicals, including musicians (as Horne shows in his book about Jazz) in our past were also from that region. They saw clearly the centrality of race in the United States. Yet they somehow managed to be class conscious as well. None of them would have succumbed to some sort of neoliberal shit that just wants more diverse corporate boards. Just as no thinking radical would today. BTW, black musicians, wherever their place of origin, also knew that a black bandleader could be just as rotten and exploitative as any white capitalist.

    Comment by Michael D Yates — June 13, 2020 @ 7:33 pm

  3. If these guys were so keen on black-white working class unity, is it not obvious that the best thing to do is to *unite with* and SUPPORT black people’s struggles against racism?

    A Marxist analysis of class in this country must, must, take into account how the American working classes have been historically shaped in so many ways (by design) by racism. You cannot unify the working classes if you dismiss the most fundamentally significant ways in which the working classes have been fractured through racist systems in every facet of social life; from housing, to schooling, to access to good jobs, to access to loans, access to healthy food, access to healthcare, even access to seniority in unions (for Christ’s sake, even in unions they are not equal!!), access to clean neighborhoods (why are most polluting factories right next to or in the middle of black and poor neighborhoods? Now … there’s a point of unity!), all the way to the ease with which the police can murder black people with absolute impunity.

    The following analogy is not the best, but since these guys are mostly professors, one has to wonder: If adjunct and part-time faculty at their universities demand equal pay and equal rights, will these professors come out with: “Stop this nonsense! You’re destroying the unity of the teaching faculty!” They’d be abdicating their duty to show solidarity, by bonkers arguments, to justify their own privileged positions.

    Again, not the best analogy, but maybe it makes the point. Am open to corrections, though!

    Comment by Reza — June 13, 2020 @ 8:39 pm

  4. Reed did advocate voting for Biden on Ben Dixon’s podcast in late April.

    Comment by Craig Johnson — June 14, 2020 @ 1:07 am

  5. Here in New Orleans the protests have been organized by BLM, Take ‘Em Down NOLA (i.e. take down Confederate monuments,) and New Orleans Workers Group. Take ‘Em Down take the lead at the rallies I attended, and their speakers state right from the start they are “Black Revolutionaries” and anti-capitalists, and they seem far to left of DSA and express no interest in electoral politics, expanding Black business opportunities, or expanding opportunities for entering the meritocracy–i.e, none of the usual talking points of race based politics in the South. And so the movement has been impervious to co-option by the Black political class (who have “ruled” New Orleans for most of the past 40 years,) the clergy, Black business leaders, and the Civil Rights nomenklatura who have all stayed away in droves. (It has also had trouble attracting non-politically attuned African Americans; despite extremely impressive turnouts the masses appear to be about 70% white in an African-American majority city.) http://takeemdownnola.org/updates/2020/6/10/white-supremacist-capitalism-is-the-pandemic-covid-19s-disproportionate-killing-of-black-people-is-the-symptom

    Comment by Benjamin Lyons — June 14, 2020 @ 4:52 am

  6. I usually don’t do this sort of thing, and I suspect some reaction is what he wants. Nevertheless, Proyect’s dishonest — e.g. he should know the line that he attributes to Debs is wrong; see William P. Jones, “‘Nothing Special to Offer the Negro:’ Revisiting the ‘Debsian View’ of the Negro Question,” ILWCH (2008) — and puerile — e.g., he asserts that I “turn a cold shoulder toward the the protests of the George Floyd murder” while discussing a 2016 essay — but I need to say one for the record. I’m beyond sick and tired of sanctimonious white assholes — and this includes you, Michael Yates — denouncing me for not understanding or caring about racism in the United States. If one wants to go around finding instances of racism all around — and that’s your politics, not mine — the hubris that tack displays couldn’t be a clearer example of it. Neither of you, nor the others who play this game know a fucking thing about me, my history, views, practice or life. For instance, if Proyect read what I’ve written on the monuments controversy in New Orleans, he’d know that I largely grew up under Jim Crow and lived its indignities for much of my formative life. My point in the piece from which he cherry picks quotes was to caution about the fact that the monuments’ removal was being interpreted by governing elites as a validation of current forms of neoliberal inequality, which also have a disproportionate impact on black people. So you two, and all the rest of the cretins whose play on the internet includes denouncing me, Cedric Johnson — another, albeit much younger black Lousianan whose experience of racial injustice is direct and unmediated by books — and others as “class reductionists,” especially at this moment when race-first politics has generated nearly $2 billion (and counting) of corporate support, including from an outfit as transparently hideous as ALEC, can go fuck yourselves. That that goes double, and in spades, for the white ones for whom this game suggests that, if they really want to find racism, they should just look in the motherfucking mirror.

    Comment by Adolph Reed, Jr. — June 14, 2020 @ 3:42 pm

  7. For people interested in the article by William P. Jones, cited by Reed, and are unable to access International Labor and Working-Class History, Jacobin published a piece that was adapted from the ILWCH article. It was titled “Something to Offer” and can be found at https://www.jacobinmag.com/2015/08/debs-socialism-race-du-bois-socialist-party-black-liberation/

    The citation for the International Labor and Working-Class History article is:

    Jones, W. P. (2008). Nothing special to offer the Negro: Revisiting the Debsian view of the Negro question. International Labor and Working-Class History, 74(1), 212-224. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0147547908000252

    Comment by alan ginsberg — June 14, 2020 @ 4:14 pm

  8. I revere Eugene V. Debs but I’d be reluctant to make his 1905 article something more than it is in light of another sentence I didn’t quote:

    “For myself, my heart goes to the Negro and I make no apology to any white man for it. In fact, when I see the poor, brutalized, outraged black victim, I feel a burning sense of guilt for his intellectual poverty and moral debasement that makes me blush for the unspeakable crimes committed by my own race.”

    Intellectual poverty and moral debasement? Really?

    Comment by louisproyect — June 14, 2020 @ 4:36 pm

  9. More from Debs on the Negro question:

    “In this system class rules class and while the system lasts, and this, as I have already indicated, is not a race question, but a class question, and when the Negroes, the great mass of whom are wage workers, develop sufficient intelligence to understand their true economic and political interests, they will join and support the Socialist Party, the only political party in the world today whose declared purpose it is to abolish class rule and establish a republic whose fundamental principle is the equal rights and freedom of all.”

    No Negro Question Outside the Class Question:
    An Open Letter to J. Milton Waldron, President of the
    National Negro American Political League
    (June 30, 1908)

    Click to access 080627-debs-towaldron.pdf

    Comment by louisproyect — June 14, 2020 @ 4:50 pm

  10. This will either be ignored by or draw scorn from everyone involved in this discussion, but I find (yes) the Levi-Strauss notion of bricollage to be useful here. To be simplistic: racism is something that capitalism finds ready-made that functions beautifully to both obfuscate and reinforce class distinctions. It gets remanufactured into all sorts of handy cultural products that (“just happen to”) allow working people to be divided and set at each other’s throats. The important feature of is that it seemingly goes by itself–has an independent life that allows white people (and all the confusing gradations of non-black, not-white, and not-exactly-white) to see it as natural. “You don’t see the bluebirds and the redbirds flocking together.”

    In spite of this, the dictatorial authoritarian forces of liberal capitalism–the Clinton/Biden/Goldman Sachs/DC Gentrification/police-loving/leftist-hating force, for short–continually advance an ultraliberal version of identify politics that as far as they are concerned presents no threat to their dictatorial control of their “human resources stock.” I worked for most of the past seven years for a large contracting firm with a lot of government contracts. The extent to which they express ultra-liberal sentiments about race, gender, and sexuality is astonishing, even in the Trump era when one would assume they might profit by letting the mask slip. You have to be trained in it and sit through interminable corporate come-to-Jesus meetings in which the theme gets tootled over and over in a repetitious drone that reminds one of bagpipe music.

    The result internally is that nobody ever even considers labor action against the many and manifest abuses of “human resources” without which the company would go bankrupt–or that permit the bloodflow of capitalism in general. You may not even mention labor organizing or going on strike to this mostly young and impressionable workforce. It’s unthinkable–why, they’re all enlightened young professionals: completely controllable and controlled, even when they have no effective “management” role at all. Their identity-political inoculation renders them impervious to the slightest serious questioning of the capitalist system. They cannot even conceive of such a thing and receive any mention of it with lip-curling contempt and cheapshot sarcasm.

    This too is a reality. A truthful perspective, perhaps, has to accept that racism does not actually or entirely originate with the capitalist class system, and could outlive it, but that it can be and is used by that system exhaustively in a myriad of ways, some of them apparently contradictory.

    To anyone protected by white privilege, this can appear to be a splendidly “interesting” question. To those who cannot breathe because of racism, it is a matter of life and death–not a debating topic.

    Comment by Farans Kalosar — June 14, 2020 @ 8:23 pm

  11. correction: “even in the Trump era” –> “especially in the Trump era.”

    Comment by Farans Kalosar — June 14, 2020 @ 8:28 pm

  12. There are several issues that come to mind here.

    First is the fact that, by engaging in his predictably personalized and vitriolic method of polemic, Proyect in fact does cross a line and engages in a policing of Reed and Johnson’s tone and politics that is altogether unacceptable, or, to borrow today’s parlance, he fails to “stay in his lane.” Louis clearly desired to make a point of some value but missed the mark in a hurtful and counterproductive manner that should not be excused.

    But simultaneously, we do have a genuine issue at hand, one which Louis actually can provide a more sensible critique of.

    I have repeatedly witnessed in the past several years the use of a bowdlerized, simplistic version of Prof. Reed’s work by white social democrats in a tokenizing gesture. It bears emphasis at this point to emphasize that the act of tokenizing is one depriving the subject of their ability to correct the perception or add a nuance that represents their true views. Instead, the catalytic agent of this gesture has a defined, concrete agenda that they invoke the tokenized so to serve. In my experience, white social democrats have thrown out a particular dispatch from Prof. Reed (usually carried in Jacobin and never derived from one of his monographs) in order to justify a refusal to engage with political education about race and racism. In particular, I found a set of young white social democrats that explicitly refused to engage with the issue of racism in a majority white women Providence teachers union even though, historically speaking, it has been PRECISELY racism in the faculty that has driven a wedge between the community and teachers, an opening that the charter school industry shamelessly exploits annually when enrollment opens. Now I certainly don’t dare claim that Prof. Reed is a proponent of charter schools, demonstrated aptly by his bibliography, but here we have an instance where the gesture of tokenism has been in all objective senses useful for perpetuating conditions that are useful to the charter school industry. Is that his fault? Not at all, that is on white social democrats who tokenized his works in justification of their own cowardice and racism.

    Again and again this upsurge in social democratic politics germinated by the Sanders campaign has resulted in similar tokenizing gestures. White social democrats use the endorsement of people like Prof Reed and Cornel West as an imprimatur upon their wider political projects, never seriously engaging with the implications of both their tokenizing gesture as well as the internal contradictions of their efforts.

    It is not the obligation or privilege of white people to police and interrogate Black politics. But simultaneously, it is the job of white people to call in and struggle against the racism of people that look like us.

    Comment by stew312856 — June 14, 2020 @ 8:33 pm

  13. First is the fact that, by engaging in his predictably personalized and vitriolic method of polemic,

    Andrew, give me an example of the vitriol. Was it vitriolic to correct Reed on 1619? Or to establish what Debs and James Jackson wrote? Or to highlight the racial nature of the attacks on Tamir Rice? I don’t mind you disagreeing with me, but generally it is useful when engaged in debates with other Marxists to cite them as Lenin cited Kautsky, or John Smith cited David Harvey, or Paul Sweezy cited Maurice Dobb, etc.

    Comment by louisproyect — June 14, 2020 @ 8:39 pm

  14. Louis, it goes beyond the realm of criticism of the idea into personalized language and presumption of individual actions.

    Comment by stew312856 — June 14, 2020 @ 10:21 pm

  15. I’m still waiting for a quote of mine that is an example of “personalized language”, vitriol, etc.

    Meanwhile, this from Reed doesn’t seem to bother you:

    “I’m beyond sick and tired of sanctimonious white assholes — and this includes you, Michael Yates — denouncing me for not understanding or caring about racism in the United States. If one wants to go around finding instances of racism all around — and that’s your politics, not mine — the hubris that tack displays couldn’t be a clearer example of it. Neither of you, nor the others who play this game know a fucking thing about me, my history, views, practice or life.”

    How does a distinguished professor emeritus from an Ivy school say something like this? Why does someone who has had dozens of articles in places like the Progressive, Nation, and New Republic, etc. even bother to respond to my obscure blog? I would call him the one who needs a lesson in how to conduct a serious debate.

    Comment by louisproyect — June 14, 2020 @ 10:29 pm

  16. This is from an essay by David Roediger in Monthly Review, July 2006. He is criticizing Reed:

    “Classifying the Hurricane” appeared while the horrific impact of Katrina in Reed’s former hometown of New Orleans was fresh in readers’ minds, just after many had noted the racist reporting that contrasted black “looters” with white survivors shown doing precisely the same foraging. It noted “manifest racial disparities in vulnerability, treatment, and outcome” of the experience of natural disaster. And then it turned on a dime to excoriate the “abstract, moralizing patter about how and whether race matters.” Even so, in this first of his two paired essays Reed’s retreat from race could be read as simply a strategic one. “For roughly a generation it seemed responsible to expect that defining inequalities in racial terms would provide some remedial response from the federal government,” he wrote. “But for some time race’s force in national politics has been as a vehicle for reassuring whites that that ‘public’ equals some combination of ‘black,’ ‘poor,’ and ‘loser.’” Katrina lay bare both race and class injustices, but in part because of the growing strength of racism, an effective response to it would have to be strictly “class-ified,” according to Reed.

    “The Real Divide” repeated, expanded, and made more bitter the arguments in The Nation article. Reed did continue to mention, in a labored construction, that he was “not claiming that systemic inequalities in the United States are not significantly racialized.” Indeed “any sane or honest person” would have to acknowledge the overwhelming evidence of “racial disparities [that] largely emerge from a history of discrimination and racial injustice.” Nonetheless, Reed followed up these generalizations by categorically declaring that “as a political strategy exposing racism is wrongheaded and at best an utter waste of time.” The focus on racism is for Reed a dodge designed to make “upper status liberals” feel morally superior as they vote for the deeply compromised Democratic Party and ignore the “real divide” of class. In one of the few bits of the article offering ostensible, if incredibly narrow and misguided, class analysis, exposing racism is said to serve “the material interests of those who would be race relations technicians.” As in “Classi-fying the Hurricane” the arguments are partly that racism, being “too imprecise” and too abstract, lacks power as an analytical tool. However, the point Reed develops more is that among whites the very “discussion of race” reinforces “the idea that cutting public spending is justifiably aimed at weaning a lazy black underclass off the dole.” The “racism charge,” on this view, is easily defeated by Republican appeals to “scurrilous racial stereotypes” and therefore should be jettisoned.

    Gilroy’s Against Race at least acknowledges that a call for giving up on race-based traditions of struggle asks a lot of social movements rooted in communities of color. In law, for example, exposing racism is often the sole strategy available to protect, after a fashion, the rights of many of the poorest workers in the United States. Reed’s view that elite liberalism is the source of movements to expose and combat racism—a view much facilitated by his outspoken dismissal of the reparations movement—forestalls consideration of the dynamics of concrete struggles around race and class, leaving the call for a retreat from race itself as something of an abstraction.

    Fortunately there is no reason to decide whether to organize and to analyze around either racism or class oppression, one to the exclusion of the other. The case of New Orleans, which moved Reed to present us with such a choice, offers good examples of why we should reject it. Compare, for example, Reed’s thumbs up/thumbs down approach to race and class with the left activist and writer Mike Davis’s accounts of post-Katrina New Orleans. Davis raised a series of questions three months into the rebuilding process in New Orleans and perfectly captured the continuing color line and more:

    Why is there so much high-level talk about abandoning the Ninth Ward as uninhabitable when no one is proposing to turn equally inundated Lakeview back into a swamp? Is it because Lakeview is a wealthy white community? And/or is it because the 30,000 reliably Democratic Black votes in the Ninth Ward hold the balance of power in Louisiana politics?

    To what extent, Davis wondered, did “ethnic cleansing” and rebuilding coincide? Davis’s accounts have also been especially acute on the ways in which elites, including the black political elite in New Orleans, have played on, and indeed created, black-Latino tensions during the rebuilding process. How are we to conceptualize these tensions, and to struggle to overcome them, without discussing both race and class, as well as white supremacy?”

    Given Professor Reed’s decades-long vitriol directed against any number of persons who don’t hold to his views on race and class, it is almost funny to read his rant above. Perhaps he thinks Roediger and Mike Davis (quoted at the end of the essay) are sanctimonious white assholes too. I apologize for calling him a fool. It is his ideas that are getting more and more wrongheaded. I don’t know much at all about Reed’s life. But I don’t know much about Robin Kelley’s or Gerald Horne’s either. So what. I find their ideas better, more interesting, more useful in terms of building a movement capable of getting rid of capitalism.

    Comment by Michael D Yates — June 14, 2020 @ 11:22 pm

  17. Louis, I agree with Roediger, Ignatiev, and many other scholars about these multiple issues. Frankly, I have a lot of disagreement with him about his attacks on Robin Kelley from 1992 wherein he equated him with Booker T Washington.

    It’s not a matter of disagreement between us.

    It’s the fact you aren’t Black and what he expressed demonstrates that you crossed a line wherein you clearly made him feel like you had a place as a white man to dictate how he as a Black man should relate to white supremacy, a matter of literal life-and-death you simply will never have any experience with as a beneficiary rather than a target of the hegemonic system. Impact does not equal intention and this is undeniably a tricky subject. Furthermore, robust and important discussions can and should be had about where and how we as European-descended radicals and beneficiaries of white supremacy engage with other who look like us in order to build a stronger movement for justice. But we need to be able to comprehend national liberation, in whatever form you conceive of it, requires granting a level of autonomy, independence, respect, and non-comment from the whites about internal Black community politics.

    Here is Reed explaining his views in a more succinct and nuanced fashion. Consider some of the dimensions that he discusses, it seems pretty evident to me there’s a dimension of pragmatism involved that we might disagree with (cf. Ignatiev, Rainbow Coalition or Class War? 2017) but which merit mature consideration.

    Comment by stew312856 — June 15, 2020 @ 1:28 am

  18. My animosity toward Reed peaked with his accusations in the wake of the Wisconsin Uprising of 2012. What he said is stunning. Here is a quote from an essay I wrote:

    “The acerbic Adolph L. Reed, Jr, professor at the University of Pennsylvania and cofounder of the stillborn Labor Party, put the icing on the cake, unambiguously endorsing the views of his friends Lafer and Robin, not only reiterating the “anti-labor leftist” charge, but accusing us of scapegoating labor for Walker’s victory, of waiting idly by for the “Spark” that will spontaneously ignite working class revolution, and giving aid and comfort to the enemy by having the temerity to criticize the labor movement in public forums!”

    So those of us who criticized some US labor leaders, those who have consistently betrayed their members, were “anti-labor” leftists, scapegoating labor for Scott Walker’s victory and subsequent vicious assaults on workers, the results of which are still seen today. Not only that, we were giving aid and comfort to employers. A more vicious and wrongheaded attack is hard to imagine. I don’t trade in public profanities. But, Reed, I am sure you can read my mind in terms of what I thought of you then. You have not the slightest qualm going on the attack, but when the shoe is on the other foot, you resort to uncensored rage.

    Comment by Michael D Yates — June 15, 2020 @ 1:22 pm

  19. Reed is right. Proyect blatantly distorts Reed’s position on the monuments issue. Reed has said over and over again, in the Common Dreams piece and in various interviews, that he was glad to see them taken down. For Proyect to write otherwise shows that he either failed to read anything Reed wrote on the topic, or has zero reading comprehension. This is the kind of careless distortion that led to Proyect’s bizarre claim, in a one-star review on Amazon, that a passage in Max Blumenthal’s The Management of Savagery wasn’t footnoted when it actually was, because Proyect didn’t bother to look in the back of the book. With embarrassing frequency, Proyect plays fast and loose with facts when it comes to authors he disagrees with, and Reed is no exception. Finally, as Reed points out, it’s incredibly arrogant and obnoxious for white leftists to claim that black leftists who dissent from race-reductionist orthodoxy don’t understand the depth of racism in American life.

    Comment by Joe — June 16, 2020 @ 6:13 am

  20. Maybe Joe didn’t understand the point I was making about Reed and the monuments. I’d call it a case of damning with faint praise since his Common Dreams article’s main point is that it is an exercise in futility. And I guess Joe isn’t troubled by what Reed said about Andrew Jackson. “Extending the reach” of the USA, after all, was important even if it involved genocidal attacks on American Indians. I suppose that goes hand in hand with his defense of Blumenthal’s book. Some day Assad’s statues will be toppled to the dismay of those leftists who considered the mafia family’s dynasty as “anti-imperialist”. That day may be sooner than ever with Syria coming apart at the seams.

    Comment by louisproyect — June 16, 2020 @ 11:10 am

  21. Oh, please. Are you now implying that Reed is an Andrew Jackson apologist? You can’t be serious. Then again, if you think that pointing out how sloppy your review of Blumenthal’s book was makes me an Assadist, I shouldn’t be surprised. You used to post some good stuff on Marxmail. It is sad to see you abandoning any pretence of critical rigor or intellectual honesty.

    Comment by Joe — June 16, 2020 @ 11:53 am

  22. Are you now implying that Reed is an Andrew Jackson apologist?

    No, I am saying it outright. Maybe you need to look into what Andrew Jackson did. Frankly, I’d be in favor of toppling any statue honoring him, even if Reed called one such action in New Orleans “insane”. More on Jackson:

    Before and after Jackson’s career-making victory in the Battle of New Orleans in 1815 — won after the war was technically over — he ruled the city as a tyrant, as Caleb Crain notes in the New Yorker:

    He censored a newspaper, came close to executing two deserters, and jailed a state congressman, a judge, and a district attorney. He defied a writ of habeas corpus, the legal privilege recognized by the Constitution which allows someone being detained to insist that a judge look into his case. Jackson was fined for his actions, and, for the rest of his life, was shadowed by the charge that he had behaved tyrannically. In retirement, after two terms as President, he called on his reserves of political clout to get the fine refunded, and Congress ended up debating the legality of his actions in New Orleans for nearly two years.

    On December 16, 1814, Jackson declared martial law, provoking an immediate backlash on civil liberties grounds. “Despite the constitutional irregularity, Jackson imposed a nine o’clock curfew and required that everyone entering and exiting the city be vetted by the military,” Crain explains. He arrested a state legislator who had resisted calls to suspend habeas corpus, and then ordered the man guarding the legislator to arrest anyone trying to serve a write of habeas to free him.

    Comment by louisproyect — June 16, 2020 @ 12:35 pm

  23. Reed never denies that Jackson was a genocidal, slaveholding piece of shit. The “cup of tea” line in that Lens piece is obviously sarcastic. He is making an argument about political strategy which I personally disagree with, but it’s dishonest to call Reed a genocide denier.

    Comment by Joe — June 16, 2020 @ 12:47 pm

  24. Anybody who defends Jackson on the basis that he “fought to save the young republic and extend its reach” has a poor understanding of Jackson’s legacy. Extending its reach can mean only one thing–ethnic cleansing of the American Indian. It is truly sad that a black man can be so tone-deaf.

    Comment by louisproyect — June 16, 2020 @ 12:53 pm

  25. “It is truly sad that a black man can be so tone-deaf.”

    This is exactly the kind of smug racism that Reed rightly called you out for in the comments above. You are way out of line, Louis.

    Comment by Joe — June 16, 2020 @ 12:59 pm

  26. “And what does Reed mean by extending the reach of the U.S.A.?”

    Since Reed counterposed that phrase (“extending the reach” of the young republic) against the secession of Southern states, he is surely referencing Jackson’s role in the nullification crisis, in which the federal government asserted its power over states rights, thus landing a blow against the slave economy. I see no reason to assume the worst of Reed, who comes across as thoughtful and humane in all of his writings that I’ve read.

    And it should be noted that his advocacy for voting Clinton consisted of calling her a “lying neoliberal warmonger”, who nonetheless, would wreak far less havoc than Trump. The same op-ed, switching Clinton’s name for Biden’s, would be just as valid today. This is rather different from Bernie’s approach, which smacks of dishonesty to the extent that he extols Clinton’s or Biden’s progressive bona fides, which are nonexistent.

    Comment by FM — June 17, 2020 @ 3:04 am

  27. So, Adolph Reed Jr. believes that it was overreach because Jackson asserted federal power over South Carolina’s refusal to abide by tariffs. I’d say that is not enough in my book to condemn people who still wanted to tear down the motherfucker.

    Comment by louisproyect — June 17, 2020 @ 11:49 am

  28. I’m going to cut to the chase, Louis. Why are you such a racist? You need to stop.

    Comment by Robert — June 17, 2020 @ 3:08 pm

  29. This article and the way you’ve conducted yourself in the comments is outright embarrassing, Louis. Reed being openly enraged at you is hardly surprising considering the presumptive bullshit you two seem to enjoy writing. “Extending it’s reach” can only mean cleansing, really? Were you being facetious, or is your view of history so tightly restricted by your politics that you genuinely can’t get any other meaning out of that?

    I assumed Reed was being overly harsh when he told you to “look in the motherfucking mirror”, but I’ve lost any sympathy for you after seeing these comments. Seeing that you’re prepared senselessly label a black man as a genocide apologist while having to audacity to call him tone-deaf I’m afraid you deserve no better. I don’t doubt that you engage in politics with good intentions and I respect a lot of the work you’ve done, but you’re either a fool or unconsciously racist.

    Comment by David — June 17, 2020 @ 4:15 pm

  30. Its amazing how few intelligent people are actually wise. Some ideas are so silly, only an intellectual could subscribe to them.

    Comment by #4673764732 — June 17, 2020 @ 4:31 pm

  31. Seeing that you’re prepared senselessly label a black man as a genocide apologist while having to audacity to call him tone-deaf I’m afraid you deserve no better.

    He wrote, “Already the group has over-reached in its tone-deaf demand that the statue of Andrew Jackson be removed from Jackson Square because Jackson was a slaveholder and architect of genocidal suppression of Native Americans.”

    Why is it an “over-reach” to support the removal of an Andrew Jackson statue? Is it an “over-reach” to call for the toppling of Christopher Columbus statues? Reed could never be described as a genocide apologist. I found no evidence of that in his sorry article. He is, however, painfully out of touch with young black activists, especially in DSA’s black caucus who demanded a debate with him. The event was called off but I would have loved to see his ass roasted.

    Comment by louisproyect — June 17, 2020 @ 4:48 pm

  32. Lou, you’re coming off as the worst kind of whitesplainer. Stop digging.

    Comment by Pascal — June 17, 2020 @ 5:28 pm

  33. Comments #28 and #32 are intellectually and politically vapid while those from Michael Yates (#2) and Benjamin Lyons (#5) make substantive points. I urge Reed fans to refrain from making one sentence attacks on me as a racist since it only reflects the paucity of critical thinking on your part.

    Comment by louisproyect — June 17, 2020 @ 6:14 pm

  34. Look, you moron trolls. I will release your comments from the moderation queue as long as you don’t use a proxy server. Some knucklehead just used a temple.edu address but a check on the IP address revealed that it was a high-risk proxy server and not a Temple University server. I actually welcome your idiotic defense of Reed but I have a policy against anything originating on a proxy server.

    Comment by louisproyect — June 17, 2020 @ 7:53 pm

  35. “Whites who became indentured servants signed a contract under duress, usually to pay off a debt. But the Africans were simply kidnapped by Portuguese, who then ended up on a privateer’s ship alongside such genuine indentured servants.”

    From an article by by Mark Steeds and Roger Ball from the Bristol Radical History Group https://www.brh.org.uk/site/,
    which was published in the Bristol Post last year:-

    “In the Widening Gate: Bristol and the Atlantic Economy David Sacks states that Bristol’s merchant elite sent countless thousands of impoverished Bristolians, along with religious and political dissidents, to labour on plantations in the New World in the 17th Century.

    It is estimated that 40 per cent of these unfortunates died before being released from their indentures and only 40 per cent of them ever came home out of some 200,000 forced labourers sent from England and Ireland. This was out of a total of 300,000 that went out during the century.

    West Africans under chattel slavery in the Americas clearly suffered the most brutal of conditions and their numbers eventually far outweighed the forced labourers from English cities such as Bristol. However the story of the misery of the plantation economy which made Bristol merchants rich is not complete without recognising the suffering of forced labourers from the West Country.”


    (There has been an ongoing debate for several years in Bristol ., over the city’s commemoration of the slave trader Edward Colston.
    On June 7th his statue was dumped into the harbour by a multi-ethnic protest supporting BLM.
    This has led to a backlash by Tory ministers & far rightists who clashed with police in Wesminster last weekend, arguing they were “too weak”

    Comment by prianikoff — June 18, 2020 @ 6:40 am

  36. It does appear, although the much-bruited theme of Irish slavery appears to be based on lies, that slavery was only the most extreme form of involuntary servitude exploited during the colonial period in the English-speaking New World. Indentured servitude was brutal and murderous in the extreme, even if actual slavery was more so. It seems that the racism of the day provided a ready-made way of justifying the slave system, which in turn may eventually have created solidarity among all classes of white people, including the brutally oppressed indentured classes, against the Africans–a great convenience to the Colstons of the world, who gleefully oppressed both–and this happened before the fully developed industrial working class, whatever its remote origins in late medieval agricultural wage labor (if that is a fact) supplanted the involuntary servitude of most early laboring classes in England and in the American colonies. It’s worth mentioning that slavery in the United States was AFAIK in relative decline until the cotton gin, the steamboat, and railroads gave Southern planters the ability to supply cotton in hitherto impossible quantities to the world market, thus leading to a brief period in the development of capitalism when black slave labor took its place beside so-called “free” labor as an irreplacable source of value in the capitalist marketplace. None of this could have happened if racism were merely a historical by-product of the industrial class system. (I do not mean to suggest that Prof. Reed holds that opinion BTW–I’m not familiar with his work and am not trying to stake out a position pro- or anti-Reed.)

    I don’t know why it is so difficult for some people to understand the obvious fact that history ingests and makes all kinds of use of pre-existing materials when forging new patterns and processes. The process is IMO not a tidy one. I suspect that European racism was among those materials as slavery was taking hold in the English speaking colonies during the seventeenth century, whatever form it existed in before it took its current place as a necessary component of twentieth-century European, British, and American nationalist ideology.

    Comment by Farans Kalosar — June 20, 2020 @ 8:09 am

  37. Reeds not a ‘class reductionist’. Hes one of the sharpest writers on race, class, politics and culture, and is often way ahead of the curve – he had Obama figured out as far back as the mid-90’s. His stance on reparations is a bit wrongheaded in my opinion and, some of the left-wing media who discuss this topic with him seem to deny how reparations could benefit Black Americans under the veil of being ‘anti-essentialist’ and accusing people who advocate reparations of being ‘neoliberal race reductionist essentialists’.
    Reed is still a heavyweight thinker and organizer, and Louis’ accusation is way off and reads like a scattered mess.

    Comment by Hassan — July 11, 2020 @ 6:43 am

  38. he had Obama figured out as far back as the mid-90’s.

    Maybe so, but not Hillary Clinton:

    I’m hardly a Clinton fan. I’m on record in last November’s issue as saying that I’d rather sit out the election entirely than vote for either her or Obama. At this point, though, I’ve decided that she’s the lesser evil in the Democratic race, for the following reasons: 1) Obama’s empty claims to being a candidate of progressive change and to embodying a “movement” that exists only as a brand will dissolve into disillusionment in either a failed campaign against McCain or an Obama Presidency that continues the politics he’s practiced his entire career; 2) his horribly opportunistic approach to the issues bearing on inequality—in which he tosses behaviorist rhetoric to the right and little more than calls to celebrate his success to blacks—stands to pollute debate about racial injustice whether he wins or loses the Presidency; 3) he can’t beat McCain in November.


    Comment by louisproyect — July 11, 2020 @ 12:36 pm

  39. If Reed was endorsing Hilary Clinton that’s a disappointment, as is his stance on reparations. At times, he can be, or appear to be dismissive regarding race/race based problems, despite the fact hes one of the sharpest writers on the topic. Maybe this is because a section of the left have heavily relied upon his views about it without really including differing left-wing Black thought.
    Having said that, people making comparisons about him and Black conservatives, or that hes somehow fuelling white supremacy are wrong and reaching.

    Comment by Hassan — July 28, 2020 @ 5:38 pm

  40. When Reed points out that most killed by cops are white, he’s not downplaying the racist element; his point is that there’s good reason to form a larger, multiracial movement against police brutality, which was not the main thrust of BLM.

    Comment by Jesús Hermosillo — March 5, 2022 @ 3:37 pm

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