YDS: The Clare Spark Blog

August 14, 2009

My Life At Pacifica: Part Two, with gory details and more on “identity”

II. Every working artist and scientist will know what I mean when I claim that there is no consensus on the value of the dissenting individual, yet that Promethean figure is precisely what I, a listener and strong supporter of KPFK in the late 1960s, thought listener-sponsorship, diffuse and voluntary, was supposedly designed to protect and foster. Living in that illusion, the radio station changed my life, transforming me, notwithstanding its deficiencies, from a sheltered and naïve suburban housewife and mother, to a ‘public intellectual’ and professional historian. This is a crucial point for all those who study institutions, whether of the Left or Right: we are not helpless pawns, we are not stamped and molded, but persons able to reflect upon our experience and, when confronted by new facts and conditions, change our minds accordingly. Unfortunately for its subscribers, my libertarian outlook is in conflict with the ruling ideology of Pacifica as of other cultural institutions practicing ethnopluralism or multiculturalism as it is now called, and it is this difference that accounts most importantly for my traumatic and shocking firing as Program Director in 1982, then final banishment from the air in 1997. I am too insistent on the absolute requirement for independent and objective artists, scientists, and scholars unbeholden to any political party or controlling bureaucracy—that is, if an excellent popular democracy is ever to be realized. I have too elevated, too rationalist a view of the human capacity for self-management, too universalist a view of ethics, too optimistic a hope for the international understanding and cooperation that could accompany economic, scientific, and technological development, bringing in its wake, the reduction, if not abolition, of human suffering and destructiveness.

Although some observers may think I have changed my politics, this view is mistaken. I have always been more of a freethinker, artist and journalist than a political activist (hence under party discipline), but it is true that I have been identified and often self-identified as a Marxist (misunderstood by me as a radical liberal) during the years I produced a weekly radio program, The Sour Apple Tree for Pacifica Radio in Los Angeles (1969-1997) or for the eighteen months I served as Program Director (2-81 through 7-82). What is appalling to me in retrospect is the indoctrination into the revisionist version of the Cold War that I received as a listener to KPFK from 1959 on and then as a mature graduate student at UCLA in the Department of History (1980, 1983-93). Alleging that the United States was entirely responsible for the Cold War, the revisionist narrative was a version of twentieth-century history that blunted my understanding of world politics, but that I largely accepted until my dissertation research was completed, and I had time to examine recently declassified government documents of the late 1940s and early 1950s, demonstrating to my amazement that there was no evidence whatsoever that disclosed an American plot to magnify the Soviet military threat as I had been led to believe by Left and New Left scholars and journalists; to be sure, I found an enthusiasm for psychological warfare among social psychologists, but there was no agreement on policy; rather hot contestation about goals and methods. Where others posited conspiracy, I found evidence of chaos and incompetence. Beginning in the early 1990s former Soviet bureaucrats divulged their secrets and Soviet archives became partly available for scrutiny by Western scholars. Small wonder that I now believe that scholars should direct their attention to the political and psychological damage that distorted histories explaining the causes of war and of mass death in this century may have inflicted upon us all, for nothing less than political will and the capacity for enduring emotional and intellectual attachments is at stake. (Again: I do not mean to imply that the conduct of US foreign policy was or is above criticism; quite the contrary, as I have argued in my article “Who’s Crazy Now? An Essay Dedicated to Christopher Hill,” UCLA History Journal Vol.10, 1990, pp.1-37).

Before I describe a few of the shortcomings of the Pacifica Foundation and its five listener-sponsored radio stations, I must declare that the relative freedom of the work environment at KPFK until recently, the access I acquired to powerful people in both established institutions and in radical social movements, my generally positive relations with productive and significant intellectuals of the Left (despite disillusion and disappointment in some cases), and the direct and open interactions I had with the listeners of the most varied backgrounds and interests, not only made it possible for me to develop as an artist and scholar, intellectually and emotionally relatively free of institutional pressures, but also prepared me for a graduate education in history with confidence and resolve: I had a base in the thousands of autodidacts—earnest, intelligent, and decent–who had depended upon me as their teacher, and I was not about to sell them out for academic preferment and advancement.

The Sour Apple Tree years. I began my radio production in 1969, at a time when artists, like other Americans galvanized by the civil rights movement, were in revolt against the institutions that determined their careers. Museums and other cultural institutions mediated between artists and the public; my work gave voice to artists wishing to have a say about the way his or her work was displayed and contextualized, assuming that their work was represented at all. At a time when women and minorities were mobilizing to be included in galleries and museums dominated by white males, my programming gave voice to organized groups and individuals; I also focused on the interference of Boards of Directors with the day to day operation of the local museum; I was defending, I thought, the academic freedom of the curatorial staff. At the same time, (along with curators and other scholars) I resisted biology as a rationale for group exhibition. In Los Angeles, so I was informed, it was boards of directors and corporate sponsors in the 1970s, not curators, who insisted upon the entry of hitherto excluded or ignored artists as women artists, black artists, etc. This was a point that in retrospect is crucial to the understanding of the 1970s and its co-optation of dissent, apparently absorbing protests from below but turning a victory into defeat by reinforcing essentialist categories, i.e. sorting people out by race (ethnicity) and gender, then imputing similar ethnic or gender character to every member of the set. (It doesn’t sound so bad when this character is called “identity” with its connotation of inner integration and adjustment.)

What was the alternative? Artists share common sets of aesthetic and intellectual concerns at any given historical moment. If a curator wishes to illuminate the doings of artists, historic or contemporary, the show lays out the underlying unity of the works in the exhibition and focuses the viewer’s attention upon those aspects of form and content that are shared as well as those that are contested, opening the art and the culture that stimulated its production to interrogation by the viewer. If the gender or “race” of the artist becomes the rationale for the exhibition, then every member of the group must be alike in their concerns and responses, and women or non-whites and white males must be discernibly different. Needless to say, numerous artists were eager to take this line: that their unique and always radical (group) sensibilities made their work unattractive or undecipherable to the white male oppressor. Irrationalism of the most reactionary character was (or continued to be), in: the Enlightenment and the universalism of science as promulgated by the progressive bourgeoisie was (or continued to be), out. I put the case this way because I am not convinced that we have made the full transition from tribal or feudal to democratic social relations in any society whatsoever; even scientists and mathematicians, the designated Prometheans, do not control their institutional fates, most especially since a group of “geniuses” at Los Alamos held the fate of the world in their hands. [fn Sudoplatov, Special Tasks]

Several years before I was hired as Program Director in early 1981, Jim Berland, my future boss, led a coup that ousted Program Director Ruth Hirschman (now Ruth Seymour, Manager of KCRW) and Manager Will Lewis. As a volunteer programmer, I had little to do with the politics of KPFK. So I would not have known that when Jim Berland became Manager in 1978, he had been ordered to integrate the station by race and gender and to replace the morning classical music slot with a news and public affairs magazine; however that would have meant partly dispossessing the largely white male staff who dominated the air and who had been Berland’s lieutenants in the coup. At the point when I, the superdumb bunny who would take the heat, was hired, Berland was on notice to fulfill the directive in six months, or he would lose his job (not that he told me about the deadline when I was hired: it was the Executive Director Sharon Maeda who passed on this juicy tidbit). It is worth mentioning that Maeda, who later solicited corporate funding, had a vision of poor black people pushing wheelbarrows full of pennies up to our doors were we to program “their” music, interrupted with three or five minute public affairs spots.

PURGE #1. The story of my purge after eighteen months of startling successes in improving the credibility of KPFK and enlarging its subscription base makes no sense unless I relate how other institutions (including other Pacifica stations) had handled the demands of women and minorities in the civil rights, black power, and feminist movements. Responding to black power and the urban riots that followed the assassination of Martin Luther King, members of the education establishment (like the progressives who had preceded them during analogous moments of conflict from below) decided to co-opt black nationalist movements with ethnic studies and other reforms designed to combat prejudice and hate speech. Here is a portion of the edited transcript of a meeting at Martha’s Vineyard, July 1968, where liberal leaders aired their concerns and proposed a solution to the increasing intractable problem of urban violence. Though startling in its frankness and bizarre view of the remedy for “racial discrimination,” it has to my knowledge been utterly ignored by journalists and scholars commenting on the culture wars:

[From a small conference “to explore the role of education in combating racial discrimination,” Martha’s Vineyard, July 1968, published as Racism and American Education: A Dialogue and Agenda for Action, Foreward by Averell Harriman, Harper and Row, 1970:]

[Kenneth Clark (President of the Metropolitan Applied Research Center, Inc. Member of the New York State Board of Regents, and Professor of Psychology at City College of New York):]“…I don’t see how we can avoid coming to the conclusion that teachers, who are supposed to be professionals with confidence in the potential of human beings, are deficient in areas in which higher education is supposed to provide knowledge. In some research among teachers selected by their principals to discuss teaching with us, the common denominator, interestingly enough true of Negro teachers as well as white teachers, was a profound illiteracy on what you would consider critical areas of knowledge. I mean the attitudes, well not just the attitudes, but the knowledge of cultural anthropology or modern and contemporary knowledge about race and racial differences and racial potentialities or social psychology…They were really illiterate…in areas of social science that were relevant to their jobs (52).”

[C. Van Woodward (Sterling Professor of History at Yale University):]“…Americans in the early phases of nationalism did really foolish things. In order to establish what they would now call their identity, Americans denigrated everything European in culture, and at the same time exalted everything American. If it was American, it was beautiful, and if it was European, it was not. Of course, that resulted in a lot of third-rate art and letters and sculpture and so forth. I think we have recovered from our earlier excesses of nationalism in this respect, but by no means are we free from nationalism as a country. The black nationalism, I think, will manifest many of these same excesses. I think this is inevitable, and I think we are going to have to live with it in the colleges, in the public schools, all down the line. We’re going to have to adjust to it. I think we must think about it with as much dispassionate wisdom as we can muster, because it’s likely to get out of hand (64-65″); see Kenneth Clark rejecting tolerance of black nationalism, 68).

[Christopher Edley (Program Officer in charge of the Government and Law Program at the Ford Foundation):]“…I’m convinced that the way you eliminate prejudice and racism in America is not by talking and education and explanation. I think you have to start with a simple cliché‚ like God, motherhood, or country. You have to have something that has a noble ring. And it seems to me that what this country needs is a movement, and I don’t know that this is the appropriate group to sponsor it. This country needs a movement. The way to eliminate prejudice is to smother it. If we could bring about a climate in this country where no one could express a prejudicial viewpoint without being challenged, we would begin to drive prejudice underground. And I submit to you that prejudice unexpressed and unacted upon dies–it doesn’t fester and grow–it dies. Now this is high sounding, and I don’t expect people to agree with such a simplistic solution. But I really believe that you can stamp it out. And if you look at our national figures today, there are certain people who cannot make a prejudicial remark. Many of our Governors, the President, many responsible Senators are precluded in their public lives from ever making a prejudiced public statement, and if they make a statement that sounds like it’s prejudicial, they’re called on it and the next day, as General de Gaulle found, it was necessary to recant. So we don’t allow them to get away with anything. But at the lower levels, over the dinner table…[ellipsis in original]. “

[Franklin Roosevelt (Former Chairman of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and Congressman from the Twentieth Congressional District in New York during the eighty-first to the eight-third Congresses):] ” The citizen level…[ellipsis in orig.]“

[Christopher Edley:] “At the citizen level, we say it’s perfectly all right for a bigot to express his bigoted thoughts. If you’re anti-Negro you can speak out against the Negro at supper. The simplicity of the idea I submit to you is the thing that gives it some national potential for changing the climate (145).” [Identifications as published, xiii-xv. Edley is an African-American, now Professor of Law at Harvard and a frequent spokesman for affirmative action.]

Multiculturalism, as hiring policy and program orientation, its racialist discourse intact, was instituted at Pacifica shortly afterward. As WBAI station manager Ed Goodman explained to a worried audience of New Yorkers in 1972:

“The tension between access and quality appears to me to be inevitable. The tension is now more pronounced due to the heightened consciousness of various disenfranchised groups such as gay people, blacks, women, etc. The problem is particularly acute within the context of the electronic media where the opportunities are limited by the numbers of hours in the day, and the licensing prerequisites. These limitations are absent in the theater, print journalism, and other areas of expression. Though the assertion that we should hire talented people and the hell with other considerations is, on the face, appealing, it is much too simplistic and ultimately self-limiting and suicidal. It denies the contention that there are unique points of view and perspectives that are reflective of one’s ethnic background, sex, sexual proclivity, life style, and economic status. The station is therefore enriched if its staff can reflect the diversity of the listening audience. Of course, if diversity of this kind is sought for political expediency to the exclusion of talent and intelligence, this course too is limiting and destructive.”

Ironically, the original mission statement called for the study of political and economic problems, studies that would generate understandings that would lead to world peace. It said nothing about quotas applied to programming staff to insure diverse points of view rooted in blood and soil (with almost as an afterthought, “economic status”). But then in the late 1940s when Hill had formulated the goals of Pacifica, the memory of Nazi ideology was still fresh in the minds of American citizens. Inevitably, in the new dispensation, cultural (i.e. “anthropological” or ethnological) explanations for conflict subsumed political and economic factors in explaining major conflicts or the wars of this century, while high culture and science were stigmatized as the oppressive emanations of Eurocentric supremacy.

Since all hell had broken loose at WBAI and KPFA when multiculturalism was instituted as ugly manifestations of cultural nationalism were now routinely broadcast and program quality had noticeably deteriorated, I had hoped to avoid a repeat disaster in Los Angeles. I thought that meant improving the skill level of all the programmers, along with the manners of a few of them. I did not see how we could reach out to new listeners in Los Angeles while tolerating racial or gender or ethnic or class slurs, insults that were either explicit or implicit in the opinions aired on social policy. But I was not interested in driving the insults underground, or confining their expression to private dinner table talk. Rather, I wanted to track social cruelty to its origins in institutional structures and practices as they had evolved. Everyone, including our listeners, would be responsible, over time, for educating herself in the history of women, minority groups, and labor and of course the stated ideas, bases, tactics, and objectives of the social movements that had given expression to their grievances. Such study did not mean separating out women’s history, as if it had it had its autonomous dynamic and responded solely to “patriarchy”; in my view “patriarchy” is an ahistoric category of analysis, that, by positing male domination as the primary contradiction in society, hides the useful knowledge about the real choices women have had, given the level of social and economic development of the society in question. Unlike the radical feminists, for instance, I was striving for a new synthesis that was not present-minded and that delivered the big picture.

I had found in my own experience that the more I learned about such subjects, the more I identified with the troubles of groups who were not part of my protected world and the more I wished to spare them yet more of the pain and rejection that accompanied bad leadership and ineffectual tactics. This did not mean the end of cakes and ale or “satire.” Indeed my own work was infused with the comic spirit, a spirit I might add that has always stood with the long-term needs of “the lower orders.” In retrospect I find nothing shameful or autocratic about my policies. The implicit idea voiced by Ed Goodman that giving voice to the voiceless, by itself and without further analysis, guarantees wisdom, accuracy, and fairness, hence contributes to the solving of problems that may be structural or partly personal in nature, is preposterous, whereas the notion of ongoing self- understanding and group education—the engagement with opposing ideas and the marshalling of hitherto unknown or ignored facts about institutional practices, letting the chips fall where they may, speaks to competence and compassion and elementary human decency.

During the first three years of the Berland administration, the station had gradually abandoned the sophisticated programming initiated by Ruth Hirschman in her several roles at KPFK: advanced culture of Europe and America with a strong liberal inquisitiveness into the politics of the Nixon and Ford administrations. Instead, the anti-intellectual programming that had always been part of the pluralist mix–the voice of the CPUSA cheek by jowl with the hippie counter-culture, New Age politics and Third-World-ish Berkeley radicalism– became the dominant note. The “Marxist” perspective offered by Dorothy Healey, Secretary of the Southern California branch of the CP, could sound like a fountain of sanity in that milieu. So, being systematic and methodical in my work habits, I presented my ideas at a meeting of all the Pacifica program directors in the Spring of 1981, called by the executive director Sharon Maeda to re-examine the mission of Pacifica. Having recently written an essay in my first quarter of graduate school objecting to Harold Cruse’s alarmingly antisemitic tract The Crisis of the Negro Intellectual (an attack on Jews in the Communist Party, contrasting them invidiously to the CP WASPS)–an article that I would controversially place in the KPFK monthly program guide as a point of discussion regarding the strong appeal and danger of cultural nationalist politics– I said flat out that [Cruse-style] cultural nationalism, with its irrationalist emphasis on unique hence incommunicable group facts, was understandable as a response to domination, but as the basis for program policy it had to go. I was an intuitive integrationist, wanting to bring people together, not drive them further apart at a time when knowledge of each other’s predicaments and our common danger was more and more important to rational political deliberation. In what was in retrospect a daring move, since no one had previously allowed the program directors to make significant changes in policy, the other program directors (including three non-whites) agreed with me, and I authored a resolution to be presented at the upcoming meeting of the National Board. Here is the last paragraph of the Program Directors Resolution as it addressed this very question. Contrast my handling of “class, race, and gender” with the approach advocated by Ed Goodman in 1972 (or by the social constructivists of today who believe that ‘class’ is too airy or contingent or dynamic a concept ever to be pinned down):

“…Tokenism. It follows from the above [that we are studying ways to heal conflicts without reinforcing structures of domination; that we should be historical and dialectical in approaching culture and politics, that we should be learning about the history of women, labor, ethnic groups, etc.] that by isolating class, race, gender, and labor questions to ghettoized programming—that is, by not integrating these questions into the way we analyze and create all our programming—we only perpetuate preexisting divisions and the pitting of groups against each other as they fight for turf. This has been the strategy of co-optation since the sixties, and it has fragmented the staff and audience and, we believe, turned off large portions of our constituency. The integration of class, gender, and race into a coherent analysis of society and conflict requires a sophistication barely and rarely achieved by radical scholars. It must, however, be a Pacifica project to strive for such analyses and syntheses.”

Imagine. We were asking our program staff and volunteers to do something difficult; something they had never thought of before (although every social novelist of the nineteenth century had mastered or at least attempted such a grand synthesis); something that would require strenuous effort, reading, and discussion; something that could bring Pacifica into fruitful controversy and dialogue with social movements as they were currently constituted; something that would justify Pacifica’s 501(c) 3 status as a tax-exempt educational organization; above all (as far as I was concerned) that would strengthen the critical tools of our listeners, most of whom had not the benefits of an expensive upper-class education, nor, as autodidacts, the time to do the reading and research that our generally privileged volunteers enjoyed.

Surprisingly, the resolution was passed and ordered to be implemented by Chairman Jack O’Dell, though I had been red-baited by David Salniker, then manager of Berkeley flagship station KPFA, as imposing “a political litmus test” on the programmers. (Salniker, a labor lawyer and member of Democratic Socialists of America, was later to be executive director of the Foundation). At the point that the air of freedom, of unfettered inquiry and decentralized institutional control, began to waft through the corridors of Pacifica Radio, the masks were dropped, the fine words evaporated, the limits of “diversity” and “complexity” came into focus, and the authoritarian character of the ostensibly liberal organization made itself obvious to those with eyes to see. But not all at once. My first opponents were, of course, those who had benefited from the previous fragmentation of the air.

I was immediately cast as the girl Stalinist and am still remembered as inveterate enemy to “pluralism” by my critics. It was never my intention to liquidate the opposition, but I did believe that the listeners had a right to editorial oversight and quality control. And overall quality meant that the tabloid sound and other appeals to the irrational had to identified and challenged. Nor did I prevent programming blocs of special interest to women, Latinos, blacks, gays, etc. Indeed, I supported them vigorously, but also asked that their news and opinions not be fenced in, but rather engaged and debated by other programmers, whatever their class origins, skin color, or gender—when relevant and appropriate. Here are two of my most controversial interventions and their outcomes:

On the news front: I broke the monopoly of William Mandel, Dorothy Healey, and labor reporter Sam Kushner on discussion of the Soviet Union, the Marxist left, and the labor movement by bringing in other Marxist programmers such as Suzi Weissman, Jon Amsden, and Carl Boggs, all of whom were trained scholars and experienced journalists, critical of Stalinist interpretations and alliances. Healey (to whom I had even offered additional air time) stigmatized the interlopers as Trotskyite destroyers; the Spanish Civil War was an especially sensitive subject. I was told that she marched into the news room one day and exploded: “There are too many Trotskyists in here.” Mandel, an inveterate reader of Pravda on the air would no longer have his weekly program, but would have to take turns with Suzy Weissman’s “Portraits of the USSR” (my troublemaking title). He did not take the novel competition lightly; when an outraged letter-writing campaign was initiated in the Bay Area on his behalf, I dared to call Mandel “an apologist for the Soviet Union” and was strongly criticized for my “mistake” by the President of the Foundation, Peter Franck.

I also asked Sam Kushner, generally sympathetic to the labor bureaucracy, to deal with the growing antagonisms between Latino and Black workers in the region. He refused. So I gave air time to a competing analyst of the labor movement: a young man with an M.A. from Cornell University, sympathetic to rank-and-file issues and struggles. And, after my firing, Dorothy Healey lobbied numerous liberal organizations to oppose my reinstatement, claiming that I was a Trotskyist, an anti-feminist, an antisemite, and personally destructive. (Healey, like the manager Jim Berland, used the on-air reading by Suzi Weissman of Israel Shahak’s controversial article published in the anti-Zionist Trotskyist journal Khamsin (nos.8 and 9, 1981), on Judaism as the most authoritarian religion in history, as evidence of my antisemitism, even though Weissman arranged for a critique of the article, also on air. Given the Stalinist record on antisemitism and anti-Zionism, this was a strange accusation. In retrospect, the strong response of listeners wanting copies of the article is ominous.)

On the culture front: I asked Carl Stone, Music Director and Paul Vangelisti, Cultural Affairs Director, (both fond of modernist poetry and music in its most neo-classical manifestations) to open up new, difficult music and other art to the listeners by describing what it was and what it meant to the artists who composed it and the audiences that consumed it. Moreover, disk jockeys were to research the music they played and provide commentary. This is about as radical as asking for program notes at a concert, but it provoked a secret meeting with all the volunteers in music and cultural affairs after the first fund drive when my announced policies were vindicated with unprecedented pledge totals. Stone and Vangelisti denounced me as an enemy to all music and cultural programming, which I was plotting to remove from the air within six months in order to create an all-news, all public affairs station. The manager was flooded with mail demanding my removal and the local press investigated the controversy, to my benefit. Later, when I learned of the secret meeting from a young volunteer, the manager Jim Berland (who had known of these shenanigans all along) forced Stone and Vangelisti to resign, but never told the audience why they were leaving. Moreover, they were permitted to give the impression that my policies had driven them out—even though numerous vanguard experiments and live concerts had been frequently aired under my tenure (and at their initiative), and I sought the involvement of local artists and poets in our peace festivals as a matter of course. Not to speak of my long record as a defender of the First Amendment and academic and cultural freedom. To this day, there are program volunteers at KPFK who sincerely believe that I was out to get them. And my performance as PD was officially evaluated, shortly before my removal, by these same volunteers who had no reason to believe that I was not the confidence-woman depicted by their department heads.

But stepping back a bit from these (apparently) petty power plays, there was a structural adjustment that may have been more disruptive than I understood at the time. I and my supporters in the News and Public Affairs department had brought the listeners meaningfully into the dialogue that created programming decisions: not only did I conduct an open-phone, unscreened Report to the Listener for an hour at prime time every week, but newly formed “Friends of Pacifica” groups, dispersed throughout our broad listening area, discussed the articles I wrote each month on programming philosophy and approaches, giving me valuable feedback. As a result, momentum existed for the Friends groups, viewed now as more than dutiful fund-raisers, directly to elect representatives to the local advisory board (that in turn elected members to the National Board) hence potentially breaking the oligarchy that ruled the foundation. The Friends groups were dissolved about a year after my removal, but supplied troops to protest the second stage of the purge a year later when Marc Cooper (News Director) and Tim Frasca (Head of the Pacifica Washington Bureau) and Robert Knight (News Director of WBAI) were fired: all had protested the impending acceptance of corporate money to fund equipment in the news departments. [Marc Cooper has a somewhat different recollection of this incident, and should amplify here.]

The firing and its aftermath. I was about to put the conflict between myth and science on the table as conversational theme for Fall Fund Drive of 1982; plans were already under way and programmers were peacefully cooperating with me, including one of my most vocal critics (Mike Hodel). Why was I removed? The manager had been trying to fire me for about six months, but we (the newly invigorated News and Public Affairs Department) kept making money—the most weekly income that the station had ever generated, Berland told his management team–and yet we were broke. He was about to mortgage the building at 22% interest when I asked the President of the Foundation to evaluate his performance, including his fiscal management and the bureaucratic layer Berland had hired that I and others felt was not carrying its weight. Two days later I was fired by Berland as a disruptive force in the station. I was ordered to resign during a private meeting ostensibly called to present my suggestions for the next year’s budget. I refused, so Berland ordered me to leave the building (that my ex-husband’s family had largely paid for, by the way), by 5 pm. It is true that I had been sort of warned: Berland had said to me earlier that year, “Now that we have a really radical radio station, it is your job for the next year to make it look like it is not. I’m not sure that you know how to do that.” Before that he had criticized me for printing my critique of Harold Cruse and cultural nationalism in the Program Guide. I had moreover failed to prevent the use of the word “capitalism” by some of our left-wing programmers: they should have complained about “big business” (a populist touch, that). And my management style was insufficiently conciliatory, too confrontational; i.e. I did not pretend to consult the staff and volunteers while doing what I pleased, as he had suggested earlier.

My pathetic attempt to be reinstated through a grievance procedure over the next few months was doomed. Peter Franck, President of the Foundation, a Berkeley radical and once member of the Free Speech Movement, had told me to get a lawyer, hinting that we would reinstate me if I allowed him to test the new internal procedures without going to the press. However, when the process was complete and I had produced abundant evidence of a witch-hunt, Franck (who has repented his decision, but privately ) upheld the firing lest the managers’ prerogatives to fire “at will” be threatened. A remarkable judgment from a Left-wing radio station, no? Out in listener land, I was said to be fired either because of a Zionist conspiracy or because I was a strong woman. Neither rumor is true in my view. At the most fundamental level, I was fired because I thought we were accountable to the listener-subscribers who had given their hard-earned cash and labor; I did not insult their intelligence; and I was supporting structures that decentralized authority, bringing the “audience” into the decision-making process, i.e., into the rational deliberative give and take of a popular democracy that took its educational responsibilities seriously.

Though I had been invited to continue my volunteer programming after the firing, I was now in graduate school at UCLA, totally immersed in the rigorous study of American and European history and the debates in the field, and by the way, trying to understand the dynamics of the witch-hunt to which I had been subjected by Pacifica. By 1986 I had passed my qualifying exams and started dissertation research with a comparatively relaxed schedule. So when the George H.W. Bush campaign mounted its attack on all liberal policies, unfairly and excessively I thought, I returned to the air with a new series, “How Do We Know When We Are Not Fascists?” –an ironic and subtle title that immediately aroused suspicions among the more alert listeners who suspected that I might be taking pot shots at the radio station they were listening to. Actually, my remarks were more generally directed at the entire liberal left and all others who had perpetuated a distorted account of the causes of mass death in the twentieth century and delivered vague and ahistoric accounts of fascist ideology; i.e., fascism as excessive nationalism, or as “monopoly capitalism,” not as an historically specific response to economic crisis and working-class militancy made victorious by disgraceful sectarianism on the Left and Stalinist tactical alliances with Nazism.

As my reading deepened, and I learned something about the history of antisemitism and Nazi ideology (a subject that was curiously missing from my course work in the U.S. field at UCLA, as it was absent in the 1960s New Left), I became more and more suspicious of the critical theorists of the Frankfurt School who had so impressed me in the 1970s, and who influenced my articles in the monthly program guide (republished in my essay “Pacifica Radio and The Politics of Culture,” American Media and Mass Culture, ed. Don Lazere (University of California Press, 1987). Gradually I became aware of the propaganda contrived by threatened aristocratic elites and directed against the rising middle-class ever since the seventeenth century. It became obvious that the step-by-step institutionalization of the civil liberties so prized and so central to the education and emancipation of women, Jews, slaves, and workers, were the achievement of the radical bourgeoisie, especially in America. I also saw that the explanations for the appeal of Nazism and fascism offered by school curricula, museums, and Pacifica programmers had little to do with the facts of the historical record, but everything to do with the ideological imperatives of “multiculturalism” and the organicist discourse that it transmitted. In other words, there was supposed to be an organic entity called “America.” Its repressive puritan mission, the very mission of the deceptively labeled enlightened bourgeoisie, was “essentially” imperialist, patriarchal, and destructive of nature–sins from which our radical critics were exempt. With horror, I recognized the narrative of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Armed with this astonishing insight, my doctoral dissertation on the Melville Revival was refocused upon the changing academic readings of Melville’s Captain Ahab, since the late 1930s, a representation of the (Hebraic) American character as proto-Nazi and unprecedented in its technological capacity to inflict cruelty upon hapless Others. My listeners were kept up to date on my research and the witch hunt that had been directed against Herman Melville for decades by powerfully placed allies of the New Deal, including the Stalinist Left.

Something came over me the summer of 1997 as Herman Melville’s birthday loomed. I had revealed hot stuff from my research for years, but now the question of identity, the buzz-word of many academic leftists, was on my mind. Since Melville himself had adopted various and contradictory personae (to the confusion of his enemies), not only in his family, but as author, I thought I could make a point by playing with the notion of mistaken identities in a distinctively Melvillean way. Something told me it would be my last radio program on KPFK and I was right as it turned out.

PURGE #2 as told by C. Augusta Dupinstein. “The week before the broadcast, air promotion was read by the announcers at Clare’s request: Clare was to reveal a witch-hunt directed against Herman Melville by his academic champions. As soon as the program started, she introduced herself as Dr. Etta Enzyme, here to expose that Marxist Clare Spark, who had been annoying sober and honest professors with her weird fantasies. In high dudgeon Etta read from Clare’s red essay on his “crazy” novel Pierre, linking the subversions of the dark Lady Isabel to the New York State Rent Wars of the 1840s—”See, I told you she was a Marxist!” cried Etta. At the break, the listeners heard Stephen Foster’s lament for a deceased virgin: “She will come no more, Gentle Annie…” Clare returned to the air announcing that she had just killed Etta Enzyme. She went on to read more of her work, then took phone calls from the listeners. The phone lines lit up. The first two callers were horrified: How could a Progressive radio station allow such red-baiting to go on? Couldn’t Clare bring back Etta so that they could have a debate at least? One of the calls made sense: Clare should lay out systematically and off-the-cuff what it was about Herman Melville’s writing that infuriated conservatives. Clare complied in a plain and orderly fashion, but that did not satisfy the 26 year-old program director, Cathie Lo, who had never read Melville, and who did not want a “clubby” air sound, as she later explained in the offing of Etta Enzyme. Clare’s cassette copy of the last radio show was duplicated for review and several weeks later, after Clare left a message asking for air time to talk about the racial discourse of multiculturalism, Clare received a phone call from the PD: she was never to use the name Etta Enzyme again; she must pre-tape her next program for review, and she would get only 30 minutes to review the history of the concepts ‘race’ and ‘ethnicity’. Clare said it was too insulting an offer for a programmer of her experience and achievement. She would not be monitored in this fashion, although in her persona as scholar, not artist, she had no objection to using her real name. Cathy Lo said she understood her predicament and said that she would call her back to arrange an air time, without prior review. That call never materialized.

A few months later, Clare, having learned that the manager had misrepresented to her whether or not certain recent National Board meetings were open to the public, clinched her final separation from Pacifica by retracting a prior letter she had written to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting supporting the Foundation against Free Pacifica, a group of disaffected listeners, staffers, and programmers objecting to current management and its (perceived) mainstream and autocratic policies. In her latest (and still unanswered) letter, Clare asked the CPB to clarify what the new classification of Pacifica radio as a “minority” radio network [still unbeknownst to the listening audience!!!] entailed for hiring and programming. The manager angrily accused her of sour grapes, having lost air time–there were no principles involved. “Hell hath no fury….”

III. What have I learned from all this that could deepen our understanding of the culture wars? Double messages and reaction are inherent in ethnopluralism: To understand the causes of religious and racial and philosophical antagonisms is the ostensible mission of Pacifica. These are not seen as intertwined with and dependent upon social relations in historically specific and evolving economic institutions. Hence it can be advanced that such antagonisms can be solved with better inter-cultural communication and self-knowledge; i.e. the universal propensity for scapegoating of the Other or Prejudice. But the multicultural or social psychological strategy is contradicted by its own precept of cultural relativism: existentialists and nihilists that we are, we can’t really get inside each other’s heads. So segregate the racial or gender group by dividing up jobs and program time according to women’s issues or race or ethnicity. Identify the enemy as white male supremacy. Repeat and repeat the assertion that the national identity of the United States is essentially destructive of the individual (while erasing the concept of the free-standing individual in organicist categories such as ethnicity or “race” or an essentially imperialist, capitalist, patriarchal, and ecocidal Amerika).

Pacifica’s multicultural program policies exemplify the wider trend in which individual biography (as synecdoche for group biography) becomes the content of ‘history’: hence the emphasis on the subjective report of actors in social movements. There is no longer any need to move out of the subjective impression into the world of actually existing institutions, market and property relationships and power relations within institutions. The abstraction of “bourgeois society” and its “hegemony” (“corporatism”) is sighted as the implacable force (me for instance) erasing individuality instead of making unprecedented demands upon the newly politicized individual and upon newly accountable governing institutions.

For my primitivist detractors, “progress” is a ruse; the artifice/dissembling of the money power withers natural desires (instincts). Their propaganda message is simple and direct: purging this too cerebral, too demanding intellectual/moral presence (Clare, a Bad Mother) restores the warm personal relationships of the happy family, of the small producer, of the simple pleasures afforded by the small town nestled in benignant nature. For Pacifica, then and now, ‘bourgeois individualism” or “bourgeois subjectivity” is the enemy. Allow me to speculate: One great loss in the transition to rational secular society is the comforting concept of the immortal soul. What if blood knowledge, the intuitive knowledge of the “race” was a substitute for the missing soul, necessarily sought because the conditions for autonomy of the kind Locke had in mind are still intolerable to our most advanced societies, which refuse to evolve toward structures that would enable each one of us to form an integrated, i.e. unconfused, non-internally contradictory self? A self that did not always need masks; a self that could remember its past and its actions without fleeing in shame and panic. And where do we fly? toward structures that demand authority and obedience–that find the free-standing individual to be rootless and unstable. The individual may lack continuity and memory, but not the racial entity. So we are to merge with group memory (the soul-soil) and find our uniqueness in its untranslatable and undefiled past. Here lies the fatal attraction of multiculturalism.

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12 Comments »

  1. most especially since a group of “geniuses” at Los Alamos held the fate of the world in their hands.

    They were geniuses. And their invention, the atomic bomb, saved millions upon millions of lives, both Japanese and American. In three days it ended a war that had raged for years, killing many ten of thousands each day. The B-29 conventional raids alone were killing 40-80,000 Japanese at a time. The causality estimates for an invasion of Japan, rough estimates based on casualty counts around the Pacific Theater Campaign, were millions dead.

    In addition, atomic bombs, then nuclear weapons (hydrogen-fusion weapons) have made Great Power wars a thing of the past. The reason the Cold War never became WWIII was a direct result of their existence. Finally, if you read the brilliant The Making of the Atomic Bomb you’ll find that physics was ready to produce that weapon, and Japan and Germany both had programs to develop it. Fortunately for the world, they lacked the resources and industrial infrastructure. Thank your lucky stars we had both.

    Comment by Michael Hiteshew — January 5, 2014 @ 8:31 am | Reply

  2. Clare, you are smart, experienced, wise, have a lot to share, but your method is so byzantine. In a word, frustrating. That said, thanks for your blog. What’s your take on Bill Mandel? He was still on when I started to listen. I’m a consistent and casual KPFA listener, definitely non-supporting; I find it interesting, entertaining….kind of like massaging a loose tooth. Who was your husband’s family? Can I ask that? You wrote that they paid for the building.You might feel some kind of affiliation with Lew Hill. It’s possible. I’m interested in Hill. Would like to know more about him, but it’s a bit of a mystery. I feel for his children. Cheap psychology but I’ve wondered if the whole thing was a rebellion against the parents. I read that his father held a legislative position in OK. Couldn’t unearth anything. That would take a day in a library in OK probably. The wiki piece on him, by KPFA, is baloney. No surprise. Read the news piece in the papers the day after he took his life. Too bad there wasn’t anybody there to help him out of that situation. You have to ask how much of it was simply financial. They had that big house up on Alvareda, then moved to smaller but still beautiful home off of College Ave. Would need to know when his father died. Sorry to obsess about details, but it might shed light in a mundane way.

    Elsewhere, I like Melville.

    Thanks

    Comment by Love Clare — September 13, 2012 @ 3:00 am | Reply

    • William Mandel used to read Pravda on the air as if it were Holy Writ. He spread awful rumors about me when I allowed a Trotskyist to alternate with him. My ex-husband’s family owned Mattel toys. They (Ruth and Elliott Handler) gave much of the money for the new building at KPFK, while their son Ken gave an extra ten thousand for the upstairs. Max Palevsky gave the rest, while Frank Wyle pledged, but never came through. Years ago, I tried to find out where Lew Hill’s papers were, but no one was talking to me. You should read the other two pieces on Pacifica for more on Lew Hill. He came from money and imagined that he was a radical.

      Comment by clarespark — September 13, 2012 @ 3:10 am | Reply

      • I would like to know more of Lewis Hill. being a conscientous objector in WW II must have been very hard and the pro-WW II
        propaganda still persists today. I wish KPFA did have an anti-war agenda which is what it ought to have. Unfortunately, I have
        come to view it’s agenda as a Frankfurt School agenda, which is a very different animal.
        I happened upon this blog and find it interesting but I do not understand much of it.
        Is the conflict in KPFA a conflict of vying Jewish factions, or is there a Gentile-faction in the mix?

        Comment by Jim — December 2, 2012 @ 8:47 pm

      • The Pacifica fights are not about religion, but about ideology. To even cast the internal fights over Jew vs. Gentile is to assume that religion is the backdrop to all political disputes. Lew Hill was a Quaker, and his confederates were most likely liberal Protestants and atheists. There has always been a strong communist presence in the Foundation, but its demands tended to echo those of liberal elites attempting to co-opt and contain scary movements from below, especially black nationalism.

        Comment by clarespark — December 2, 2012 @ 8:52 pm

  3. [...] part two of this memoir: http://clarespark.com/2009/08/14/my-life-at-pacifica-part-two-with-gory-details-and-more-on-identity….] Comments (6) LikeBe the first to like this [...]

    Pingback by My Life at Pacifica Radio: a memoir, part one « YDS: The Clare Spark Blog — March 9, 2011 @ 9:39 pm | Reply

  4. Were you speaking of my memoir or of Pacifica and its denizens?

    Comment by clarespark — December 6, 2009 @ 4:09 pm | Reply

  5. Show me the self-pity and narcissism and I will mend my ways.

    Comment by clarespark — December 5, 2009 @ 7:13 pm | Reply

  6. Maury, You might want to look at my recent blog, The Enigmatic Face of Philosemitism. It is a concise synthesis of antisemitism in the modern period. I’m not sure what Mosse would have thought of it, as he could support Herder as a positive figure, which is rather shocking given Mosse’s constant analysis of volkisch thought as Bad For The Jews. But then he was a German, and comes out of the idealist tradition. A contradictory writer, but always interesting to me.

    Comment by clarespark — November 4, 2009 @ 12:57 am | Reply

  7. Just a note on personalities: I met Dorothy Healey yrs later via her son Richard. Just a nice old lady, long out of the CP. But we were all expected to listen only. She didn’t like me. I found Harold Cruse’s book to be incoherent. He knew what he was against but not what he was for. Some good info, e.g. I was unfamiliar w/Josephine Baker until I read his book. But he came across as a black Gerald L.K. Smith. Maybe I felt this way because my politics were being attacked. I don’t think he had much influence in African-American community. Seemed to make his living explaining black nationalism to white audiences. Israel Shahak I find boring and irrelevant. It’s noteworthy that far right outlets sell his books. (I’ve been mining the far right looking for sane people. Pickings are slim.) On Shahak: Jews are being attacked because they’re Jews not because people are critical of their religion. Which means, I don’t understand Shahak at all, and don’t care to.

    Comment by mauryk2 — November 4, 2009 @ 12:42 am | Reply


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