Summer – a time for catching up, relaxing, exploring, starting new projects, or perhaps completing work in progress. Reading, of course, is key in all of these. With this in mind, we asked some faculty members at St. John’s about books that have influenced them personally or professionally.
Black Reconstruction in America was written when W. E. B. Du Bois was developing a new analysis of the world and the place of Black people in it inspired by Marxism and the world socialist movement, but transcending those movements in a manner that few could fathom at the time. He was advocating a new strategy for social change on the basis of reconceptualizing the lessons of the past strategy of the NAACP. Second it should be noted that the original title of the work was “Black Reconstruction of Democracy in America” (Lewis 2000:361). Du Bois argues here not only against the intellectual apologists for slavery for the humanity of Black people, but undertakes a much more radical transformation of the intellectual landscape by a dramatic reshaping of our intellectual understanding of the shape of the social world, and the place of Black people in it.
Black Reconstruction in America reflects the most sophisticated analysis of the world capitalist system as a historical social system till that time and for the next 40 years when intellectuals associated with the national liberation movements in the periphery and with the New Left in the core states themselves began to assimilate the lessons that Du Bois had articulated in Black Reconstruction. Like no other work of that time the book captures that particular moment as the beginning of the quest of the United States for hegemonic status in the world-system and the implications of that strategy for democracy within the U.S. and world racial order. Thirdly Black Reconstruction addresses is the issue of revolutionary agency of the Southern rural strata which contradicts the Marxist dogma about the industrial proletariat against a so-called rural peasantry, and the Leninist dogma about the revolutionary party as the necessary transmitter of revolutionary ideas and methods of organization to the working class.