Du Bois astutely reveals how mob violence has been used throughout history to prevent the expansion of democracy – which the US purports to fight for abroad.
Du Bois was intimately concerned about the fragility of American democracy.
His magnum opus, ‘Black Reconstruction in America’, first published in 1935, reveals just how close the US came to finally building a genuine multi-racial democracy in the wake of the Civil War.
The decade of Reconstruction, from 1867 to 1877, marked the establishment of a thriving Black civil society that included churches, primary and secondary schools, and the rise of a Black political class devoted to implementing universal social programs.
Du Bois’s idea of “abolition democracy”, coined in the pages of ‘Black Reconstruction in America’, outlines the central demands of this era for Black “physical freedom, civil rights, economic opportunity and education and the right to vote, [as a] a matter of sheer human justice and right”.
However, this vision for full equity was ultimately defeated by a targeted campaign of physical violence, economic exploitation, and political neutering against Black Americans.
A new reconstruction
Now, as many activists and progressive politicians call for a new era of reconstruction, Du Bois’s work demonstrates the importance of building a multi-racial working-class movement to achieve this vision of an equitable society – by warning of the destructive consequences of segregation.
Du Bois highlights how the period following Reconstruction was met by mass labor unrest, which had the potential to transform working-class conditions across the country.