Dr. Gerald Horne, Moores Professor of History and African American Studies, University of Houston
"A Deeper History of an Insurrection: When Past Meets Present on 1/6/21"
Precise by Carl Leak
Many across the country have continued to express shock and disbelief in reaction to the attack on the United States Capitol on January 6, 2021. However, Dr. Gerald Horne—in his talk titled A Deeper History of an Insurrection: When Past Meets Present on 1/6/21—wove current and historical events together to frame his premise of there being a “certain inevitability” to what unfolded that day. The failure to fully anticipate the scale and character of the violence that occurred is the result of what Horne referred to as a collective “misreading of U.S. history that afflicts the left, right, and center.” These problematic histories obfuscate how expressions of violence couched in white supremacy and capitalism, historically, were methods of the ruling classes to preserve power. Horne detailed a full composite of cross-class collaborators, with representation from all levels of society among the organizers and direct participants in the violent course of events on the 6th, a coalition also emblematic of the violent revolts of the past that he briefly sketched. The partial and problematic historical narratives most Americans bear with them, according to Horne, not only obscure the nation’s collective ability to anticipate events like those that occurred on the 6th, but they also obscure the modes of resistance that have historically countered repressive power structures. Here, Horne referenced the “bottom-up” cross-racial, cross-class labor and social movements that have been the drivers of substantial change. Horne cited the example of the 1917 Russian Revolution as an inspiration for African Americans to forge international alliances. He also cited the many iterations of labor movements that were multiracial and well as having class-focused agendas. Considering these instances of international alliances as evidence of the “impact of the external on the internal,” Horne identified how such efforts heavily influenced both industry and government to make concessions concerning Jim Crow laws, fair wages, and working environments.
Contemplating possible means of opposing distorted historical understandings that do not take the complexity of the past into account—misunderstandings compounded by fluid contemporary modes of misinformation and disinformation--Horne posited that the diverse mass movements of the past should be our ideal. The challenge in the present, Horne argued, is the weakening—and in some cases the non-existence—of the institutions and structures that once allowed these broad movements to take shape. Horne reiterated that the mass labor and social movements of the past resulted in desegregation and social mobility among members of the working class, but those movements also were followed by what Horne called an “attack on unions” and other forms of political organization from below. These attacks, in turn, resulted in the loss of venues for political education and the forging of social relationships that could have, in Horne’s estimation, prevented the violence that occurred on January 6, 2021.
Gerald Horne is the Moores Professor of History and African American Studies at the University of Houston. His research has addressed issues of racism in a variety of relations involving labor, politics, civil rights, international relations, and war. He is the author of more than 30 books and 100 scholarly articles and reviews. His current research includes an examination of U.S.-Southern African relations since the so-called “Anglo-Boer War” at the end of the 19th century and an analysis of the political economy of the music called “Jazz” from the late 19th century to the present.