Bacon's Rebellion

Labor rebellion or war against Indians?

Dear ISR,

I have been reading your magazine for about a year now, and I have to say it is very informative. Also, the production quality is outstanding, especially for a “revolutionary” publication. Most others I am familiar with are cheap-looking newsprint publications (which does have its own special charm), or ghastly Xeroxed jobs.

I myself am not a Fourth Internationalist, or even a Marxist for that matter, but your articles shed a refreshing light on many and diverse subjects. I have often found Marxist thought and analyses to be keenly insightful and the conclusions, as often as not, correct. I eagerly anticipate each new issue; thank you sincerely for your diligent efforts.

What has prompted me to write, however, is what I perceive as an oversight on your fine periodical’s part. The otherwise fantastic article “Slavery and the Origins of the Civil War” (James Illingworth, ISR 78, July–August 2011) seems to mischaracterize the events of Bacon’s Rebellion as a labor rebellion. From my understanding the proximate cause of the rebellion was the governor’s unwillingness to allow the colonists to continue their genocidal rampage against the Native Americans, not any concern for labor or related issues.

Moreover, the ensuing conflict was between the landed gentry themselves, not between working people and the establishment powers. I am worried that readers who are unfamiliar with the history of this rebellion will mistake this low point in colonist–Native American relations for a high point in early labor movements.  While it is true that the rebels were co-operating across “racial lines,” and the aftermath of the rebellion saw the passing of racist and divisive legislation, it hardly seems appropriate to characterize this as a moment which should be remembered in a positive light by progressives of any stripe.

Perhaps it is my understanding that is at fault. If there is any source to which you could point me, or a clarification you can offer, I would be most appreciative. Otherwise you may wish to print a notice explaining that while Bacon’s Rebellion was a significant moment in the history of interracial relations in the American colonies, it was essentially a power struggle amongst the landed gentry caused by the colonists’ desire to murder Native Americans against the wishes of the governor, not a labor rebellion.

-Jake Colbert

Issue #86

November 2012

The legacy of the Industrial Workers of the World

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