Racialization and Racism

Land reform, race reform: Interwar anticommunism and U.S. racial capitalism

Across the 1920s and 1930s, expansive domestic infrastructural and institutional developments consolidated the U.S. national economy and generated the conditions for U.S.-led international commerce and finance. As the United States transformed from a debtor nation into a creditor nation that captured markets across Africa, Asia, and the Americas, it reckoned with the racial and labor antagonisms of the U.S. South, and ascendant interconnected Black worker-led liberation movements throughout the broader “American Mediterranean.” By interrogating their engagement with Southern agrarian labor-capital relations, this essay addresses how race-liberal U.S. social scientists helped shore up the nation and an ascendant modern U.S. racial capitalism by translating such crises into the geoeconomic commensurabilities at the heart of a universalist U.S. nationalism and U.S.-led international finance. It focuses on how Charles S. Johnson, Rupert B. Vance, and others helped disavow the plantation system as a modern(izing) institution while recasting it as an object of national developmental intervention. Through the concepts of the “plantation economy” and the idealized “national economy” it presupposed, race-liberal social scientists not only framed the U.S. nation-state as that which could foster social forms of security through the market. They did so in ways that helped suture an “official” antiracism to U.S. nationalism bearing the agency for international finance and transnational capitalism.

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Volume 40 Issue 5

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