by Danny Haiphong
“White supremacy has normalized Empire and the genocidal war, robbery, and repression it has wrought on the oppressed everywhere.”
Gerald Horne’s Counter Revolution of 1776: Slave Resistance and the Origins of the United States of America is a critical contribution in the struggle for clarity around one of the most misconceived periods of history. In schools, media outlets, and institutions of power across the US, the history leading up to the so-called “American Revolution” is riddled with US imperial deception. Most are taught that the revolting settlers were victims of London’s tyrannical rule, and even Marxists and avowed revolutionaries promote the idea that the formation of the US was a great step forward for humanity. Horne’s work provides the vast historical narrative that proves how this premise is false. He centers his analysis on the inherently counter-revolutionary nature of what led to the colonists desire for succession.
The central thesis argues that the revolt against British rule was an effort to maintain the institutions of white supremacy and the slave trade in opposition to London’s incipient trend toward abolition. Africans stolen from their homeland and enslaved in both the mainland colonies and the Caribbean were prone to insurrection. Spain and France took advantage of this by arming Africans and Indigenous people against London’s rule. This created a crisis of an internal enemy and an external foe that had the potential of sending London’s capitalist economy into a political and economic crisis. As London responded by arming Africans and seeking gradual abolition of chattel slavery in the mid to late 18th century, the ever fatter planter and merchant capitalist class of the mainland colonies began to see London as a threat to its existence. The “founding fathers” sought to eliminate this threat by creating a perfect “whiteness” in the form of a republican state. It would do this by granting rights and privileges to European migrants of all classes (now deemed “white”) to protect the slave owning class from the rapidly growing African population, which by the time of 1776 outnumbered white settlers in important colonies such as South Carolina.
Horne concludes that the development of white supremacy was a necessary response to the colonial bourgeoisie’s dependency on the African chattel slave trade. This dependency brought numerous contradictions to their peak as planter and merchant capitalists alike accumulated vast super profits from African bondage. The Stono Rebellion of 1739 among numerous others in North America and the Caribbean struck fear in the eyes of the settlers. To make matters worse for the settlers, whiteness was at this point a fragile and complicated system of social control. Recruiting the ranks of Irish, Scots, and assorted Europeans into whiteness when the Crown was partaking in the colonization and religious suppression of these nations made fostering alignment with the colonizer a difficult task. For example, in 1741, fires engulfed much of New York is what was thought to be sparked by poor European migrants and African slaves working in collusion with each other. The Crown feared losing global hegemony to its rivals, while the settlers on the mainland feared losing their lucrative trade of African bodies.
The threat of African rebellion was exacerbated by the rapid expansion of the chattel slave trade in the mainland colonies after the Crown deregulated the Royal African Company in 1688. Deregulation unleashed an independent slave trading class whose primary motivation was profit. This led to illegal colonial trade with the Crown’s enemies of France and Spain as well as lost domestic revenue in London. The rising merchant class paid little to nothing in taxes for defense systems in coastal West Africa the Crown built to protect traders from African resistance. This was made all the more complicated by the calculated move by London to invest more in the mainland as the colonies of Jamaica and Antigua became engulfed in African rebellion.
The combination of the danger Africans and the colonial powers presented to London and the settlers’ dishonest business and intransigence to fight for London to suppress Africans and European rivals in the Caribbean led the Crown to believe that gradual abolition would best preserve and expand British capitalism. The Crown’s response to the problem of the colonies was to levy taxes on sugar and other raw materials, which increased the price of imported African slaves. These policies sparked tensions between settlers and the Crown that ultimately caught fire when the Somerset case of 1772 ruled that chattel slavery was a breach in English Common Law. Three years later, Lord Dunmore of Virginia declared his intention to arm Africans against settlers disloyalty to the Crown. Colonists in the mainland believed that only independence from the Crown would allow their profitable white supremacist enterprise to continue.
Only a war to detach from London could unleash the full genocidal potential of the settler’s brand of capitalism and white supremacy we see today. London’s defeat by the settlers had devastating consequences for Black Americans in particular. Modern day slave patrols, the police, are daily stripping away the lives of Black people. The police are the guns behind the Mass Black Incarceration State, the slave masters’ weapon of choice in subduing Black America in their quest for continued Wall Street profit. Black Americans make up nearly half of the 2.3 million behind the walls in the world’s largest prison camp. Mass Black incarceration should be seen as a necessary form of statecraft to maintain the rule of the rich. The economic condition of the Black working class is worse than it was in 1964, when many were conscious of US imperialism’s apartheid conditions. Whatever Black wealth accumulated during the post-World War II period has deteriorated to the point where in the city of Boston, for example, Black wealth is so minuscule that it is rounded to zero.
White supremacy is the barrel of the gun that keeps this miserable condition intact. Whether the US ruling class is robbing the poor and working class or waging geopolitical warfare to secure profits, each and every policy of US imperialism is white supremacist in nature. The Trans Pacific Partnership, if pushed through by Obama in his last years, would give multi-national corporations (most of which are tied to Western imperial nations) the power to sue sovereign governments if such actions by these governments are deemed to violate trade terms and hurt “future profits.” Such a deal would shift an increasingly non-Western alignment in the global capitalist economy back to the US and West. In short, the TPP would strengthen imperialism’s ability to loot the non-Western world of its wealth, a process that has been justified for centuries by the idea that white ruled nations are superior and civilized to colonized nations.
Whether it’s the domestic surveillance of the War on Terror, or the misery and murder of US imperial interventions in Libya, Syria, Iraq, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the same white supremacist ambitions that drove the settlers to revolt against the Crown dictate US imperial policy in the 21st century. Decades of struggle and crises have changed the form of the system, but not its foundation. US capitalism is in its terminal stage of monopoly and Wall Street has sent out all of its guns to wrestle the world back into its orbit during a period where “recovery” and reform are impossible. This has meant endless war and plunder backed by the forces of white supremacy.
When the Boston Bombing occurred in 2013, the corporate media made sure to work day and night to pump up public fear of the Muslim “terrorist” rather than question its own government’s involvement in Chechnya or the numerous reports of FBI contact with the alleged bombers years prior. This is just one example of how white supremacy’s primary function in this period is to erase and dehumanize the existence of Black, indigenous, and those who Fanon called the “Wretched of the Earth” in order to align white and collaborationist forces to the rule of Empire. The attachment to white supremacy and the belief that the US is superior to all other nations are large reasons why there was no collective questioning as to the true nature of the Boston Bombing incident and why most people in the US know nothing of the 6 million Congolese murdered since Washington backed Rwanda and Uganda’s proxy invasion in 1996. White supremacy has normalized Empire and the genocidal war, robbery, and repression it has wrought on the oppressed everywhere.
Horne’s analysis of the events leading up to the 1776 debacle provides clarity on what truly brought the US into fruition and why this history matters if we are to truly understand the current period. Without the paralyzing fear of Black rebellion to enslavement, which happened often during the period of 1712-1775, the white unity that helped the colonial bourgeoisie solidify conflict with the Crown would not have presented such a grave challenge to both the enslaved and their de facto liberators in the Crown. In this way, white supremacy can be said to have brought the United States of America to life through counter revolution.
Today, US imperialism remains a racist state. It utilizes White America’s alignment with imperialism to not only weaken the struggle for liberation against the impoverishing forces of monopoly capital and the murderous forces of the state, but also to create an irreconcilable class war between the privileged global white minority and the oppressed majority from Black America to Palestine. Horne’s scholarship on the first state born from white supremacy is a solid contribution to the struggle for social revolution in the US and should be used to counter the narrative parroted by those living in the US of all political orientations that 1776 was a step forward for humanity. There will be no second revolution in the US, just a first.