The Return of John Brown: White Race-Traitors in the 2020 Uprising

taken from Ill Will

Theses on the White Proletariat

  1. White people, like all people, are divided by politics and class. These divisions were revealed through the recent uprisings, which showed us that there are whites who are willing to go the distance, and there are whites who are willing to violently defend capitalism and the state. 
  2. We need a revolutionary strategy for white proletarians not in spite of, but precisely because of their racism. Enrolling the white proletariat into a white supremacist alliance has been a crucial tactic of American capitalism, for the simple reason that white workers have always been the largest demographic in this nation. A successful proletarian revolution requires breaking up this alliance.
  3. The white proletariat has revolutionary potential, but this potential is simultaneously inflected with racism and anti-Blackness. This contradiction takes the form of a civil war within the white proletariat. This civil war is defined, on the one hand, by solidarity with the rest of the proletariat, and on the other hand, by whiteness.
  4. The so-called ‘white outside agitator’ is the name for a living creature who breaks the spell of a united white bloc of civility, protocol, and allegiance to capitalism and the state. It reveals that there are white people who are not invested in whiteness.
  5. As more white race-traitors emerge, they too will be hunted down and murdered. In this sense, law and order is not only about disciplining Black and Brown proletarians but also white race-traitors. This is the revolutionary fate of all proletarians who pose a threat to the racial order. 
  6. The white proletariat is not frozen. It can change, evolve, and break from its history of settler colonialism, racism, and imperialism. We need not entertain romantic illusions in order to see this. Actual people make revolutions, not saints and angels.
  7. The historical moment that sheds the most light on the current white proletariat is the era of the Civil War. This history powerfully informs the trajectory of what will come. The Civil War and Reconstruction are the unfinished business of this land.
  8. Only crisis, civil war and revolution can smash the alliance between the white proletariat and capitalism. 


The maps of spring always have to be redrawn again, in undared forms.

—Sylvia Wynter

The Black proletariat initiated the uprising, but it can’t defeat capitalism on its own. In this essay, we have explored how the white proletariat is a piece of the puzzle. Another piece, which we have not yet examined, is the Latinx proletariat. Another piece is the Indigenous proletariat. Another is the international proletariat. There are many pieces in the puzzle of revolutionary strategy. How they will come together has been revealed in the experience of the 2020 uprising. As of this writing, the riots continue to emerge. 

Capitalism has been chipping away at the wages of whiteness for decades now. As a result, more whites are joining the struggle against racial capitalism. But there is no guarantee of what will happen with the white proletariat. While there are revolutionary currents within it, its history is constituted by racism, and it has a lot of work to do to convince other workers that it is committed to revolution. This will require dedication of the likes we have never seen. There is a lot of abstract and shallow accounting of how whiteness is to be overcome through guilt, self-sacrifice, charity, and interpersonal behaviors, but the clearest road ahead is when whites join the mass struggle, fight the police, burn cop cars, burn police stations, burn courthouses, burn department of corrections buildings, and commit their bodies to the uprising. 

The uprising has forced everyone to take sides, raising the specter of civil war. How do we turn this civil war into a revolutionary war that abolishes whiteness, settler colonialism, empire, capitalism, and patriarchy? For this to happen, a revolutionary alliance must develop between all sections of the proletariat, in opposition to the middle classes and bourgeoisie of all identities. The formation of this proletarian alliance will be on terms so different from what most understand solidarity to mean, that it will look like a monster to most, including the left. It will require strategy, organization, tactics, and politics which most of the US left is unprepared for. This does not mean that we have to remain that way.

Some people will look at these rebellions and continue to think exactly as they thought before. They have nothing to learn from this experience. Riots, looting, and arson have accomplished more in one summer than what activists have been able to accomplish in decades. This summer has transformed an entire generation. It is not the NGO’s, nor the left, nor even the revolutionary left, which has done this. It is thousands of brave young people acting on their own initiative, their own perception of what makes sense, what feels not only logical and powerful, but what a dignified response to state slaughter looks like. They are the ones we pay homage to. And to our fallen comrades.

If a revolutionary praxis will emerge, it will emerge from the fires of these rebellions. Now, with a new recession, masses of proletarians out of work, tens of thousands on the verge of eviction, and a pandemic that is getting worse, the crisis giving rise to the riots is only becoming more entrenched. Despite the push towards reformism and the spectacle of the election, the struggle continues. 

We welcome the proletarian monster. 

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