The Clare Spark Blog

December 24, 2014

“blood on their hands”?

Anti-Iraq war image depicting Tony Blair

Anti-Iraq war image depicting Tony Blair

What is incitement or “fighting words” and who does it? Some statutes state that it is illegal to incite others to commit crimes. Voices from both sides of the increasingly polarized political spectrum are accusing personalities or groups of having “blood on their hands”—yet the punditry continues to classify “peaceful protest” promoting hate as an exercise of free speech. I was stunned to discover that there are actual laws in the UK, Canada, and the US warning that such acts as spouting “fighting words” are tantamount to encouraging crime (though less so in the US). (See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Incitement (on British law), http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fighting_words, comparing Canada and the US, with case law examples.)

Tell that to Hollywood writers, journalists, or to academics of any political stripe. It is not widely known that wealthy liberals, through their foundations, had resorted to better communication as the favored strategy in solving “the Negro problem” as it was called in Gunnar Myrdal’s famous book, An American Dilemma (1944), a study said to be a landmark in “race relations.” One of Myrdal’s less publicized warnings to readers was a direct threat to hidebound Southern conservatives. Myrdal was neither a revolutionary socialist nor, pace one biographer, an optimistic moralist appealing to Christian consciences. Rather, in one rarely quoted passage, the Swedish social democrat and economist was explicitly cautioning “Southern conservative(s)” who had better heed the lessons of history and to

“…begin allowing the higher strata of the Negro population to participate in the political process as soon as possible, and to push the movement down to the lowest groups gradually…also to speed up the civic education of these masses who are bound to have votes in the future.…political conservatives, who have been successful for any length of time, have always foreseen impending changes and have put through the needed reforms themselves in time. By following this tactic they have been able to guard fundamental conservative interests even in the framing of the reforms. They have thereby also succeeded in slowing them up; changes have not overwhelmed them as avalanches. They have kept the control and preserved a basis for the retention of their political power. Southern conservatives should further learn from history that, over a period of time, the conservative forces in society cannot afford to abstain from the tremendous strategic advantage of forming the party of “law and order.” This is such an immense interest for conservatism that if–for constitutional and other reasons–the law does not come to the conservatives even when they are in power, the conservatives had better come to the law.

“But the great majority of Southern conservative white people do not see the handwriting on the wall. They do not study the impending changes; they live again in the pathetic illusion that the matter is settled. They do not care to have any constructive policies to meet the trends. They think no new adjustments are called for. The chances that the future development will be planned and led intelligently–and that, consequently, it will take the form of cautious, foresighted reforms instead of unexpected, tumultuous, haphazard breaks, with mounting discords and anxieties in its wake–are indeed small. But we want to keep this last question open. Man is a free agent, and there are no inevitabilities. All will depend upon the thinking done and the action taken in the region during the next decade or so. History can be made. It is not necessary to receive it as mere destiny.” [End, Myrdal quote, his emphasis]

Myrdal, like his patrons, the Carnegie Corporation, wanted to forestall incitement by red agitators who, preying upon real grievances, would incite race riots and other forms of disruptive protest.

But these words were written in the early 1940s (probably by Myrdal, not Bunche, his chief assistant, then a radical), and we face a more subtle brand of incitement today. Its form is the cynical belief, shared by academics, movie and television writers, hip journalists, and perhaps many politicians (all catering to minorities and women, certainly not the white working class), that not only is everybody corrupt, motivated solely by the will to power, but that the American future is hopeless, for we are led by criminals masquerading as businessmen and the politicians who protect them. It is they, these bold [populist] speakers of truth to power, who give each other cushy professorships and other trophies indicating excellence in the arts, while inciting hatred of the American past and present, with no analysis of effective or ineffective social policies.

As published in Rolling Stone

As published in Rolling Stone

Recall the worshipful popularity of The Sopranos, or that James Spader (“Red Reddington”) in the popular series The Blacklist, informs the female FBI agent he is protecting that the world is run by criminals. I have just seen American Hustle which ends with the lines “The art of survival is a story that never ends.” I assume that the writers view themselves as surviving in a specifically American business environment that rewards con artists like themselves. The same could be said of the hit Netflix drama House of Cards that weaves an intricate tale of secret deals between power-seekers who have zero interest in social policy, except for the obligatory nod to feminism through a failed effort to get anti-sexual assault in the military through Congress. In the fashionable bleak mood even Democrats are phonies. Holden Caulfield has won hearts and minds.

While stopping for a moment to eat lunch, I heard Neil Cavuto on Fox lamenting the cynicism of the young, who have lost faith and trust in [earthly] “leaders.” I am suggesting something different: that cynicism is a form of incitement. Rightists correctly blame POTUS, Eric Holder, Al Sharpton, and Bill de Blasio of playing the race card while (at times) calling for national unity. But there is nothing peaceful in the protests of black supremacists and their self-righteous, indoctrinated young white allies, masked as crusaders for social justice.

girlwithradiomind

More than “faith” or “trust” in “leaders” we need to teach the young to distinguish between cynicism and healthy skepticism. Cynicism may produce well-made, clever and lucrative “art” and entertainment, but it is rational skepticism that leads to healthy, rational citizen participation in democratic processes.

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August 17, 2014

Improving “race relations”: Left, Right, and Middle

racerelationsThe race riot in Ferguson, Missouri (August 10, 2014 onward), is a reminder that we have made little progress in resolving the vexed question of “race relations” in America. This blog suggests that neither Leftists, Rightists, nor Moderates have a clue as to how to proceed in ameliorating what are called “race relations.”

I became interested in this subject while researching my book on the so-called “revival” of Herman Melville, universally lauded for his allegedly advanced position on prejudice and “race.” So I read a book published during WW2, by Gunnar Myrdal, assisted by Ralph Bunche: An  American Dilemma: The Negro Problem and American Democracy (Harper, 1944), a massive research project funded by the Carnegie Corporation in order to fend off the depression-instigated race riots that were anticipated at the end of the looming conflict with Nazism and other fascisms.  Immersion in the Bunche Papers at UCLA and related materials alerted me to this volatile, incendiary, and unresolved subject.

First, an outline of the positions as put forth by American political factions and organizations:

The New Left: Unlike old Lefties (who viewed the bourgeoisie as developing the productive forces, but doomed) American history is essentially racist and destructive; propertied white males have abused indigenous peoples, blacks, Nature, immigrants, and women. There is no solution to the race problem short of revolutionary transformation achieved through [inter-racial] class struggle directed against finance capital (the master puppeteers). After the revolution, all particularisms (e.g. “identity politics”) will disappear in an internationalist commitment to communism and true individuality.

Liberals and other anticommunist social democrats: It must be noted that Bunche and Myrdal were at odds over prior strategies to solve “the Negro problem.” Bunche was infuriated by the liberal solution of “better communication” between whites and blacks. At that time, Bunche was writing from the left of Myrdal (a Swedish social democrat), and urging that blacks join unions to overthrow autocratic union bosses and all other bureaucrats toward the objective of worker’s control. At times, he (or more likely Myrdal) called for a more effective welfare state. Myrdal’s responses to Bunche’s militant memoranda resulted in mischaracterizing Bunche as an “economic determinist,” while leaning on him to separate troublemaking black “betterment organizations” from the harmless ones. (See https://clarespark.com/2011/08/04/carnegie-corp-and-the-negro-problem/.) Bunche correctly identified the Marcus Garvey movement and its offshoots as fascist and escapist, while criticizing such venerable organizations as the NAACP and Urban League as indifferent to the cause of Labor.

[But during and after WW2, Bunche was successfully co-opted by the liberal establishment and became an ally of the State Department and its British counterparts in his mediation of the “insoluble” Jewish problem (see https://clarespark.com/2014/06/18/how-ralph-bunche-sold-out-and-failed-in-palestine/.)]

Since the acceleration of the civil rights movement in the 1960s, the repertoire of non-solutions has been added to by liberals: affirmative action, separatist curricula in academe, multiculturalism, whiteness studies (the latter adopted by the far left since it damns Amerikkka and the West). Through dwelling on the errors of the  past, while ignoring present-day education and other practical solutions, black rage has probably accelerated, though prominent black writers were angry enough (e.g., James Baldwin, Chester Himes). Since writing this blog, I have reviewed the Johnson administration recommendations now known as The Moynihan Report. See https://clarespark.com/2015/08/08/the-moynihan-report-march-1965-and-instability-in-the-black-family/. This might upset those conservatives who see the reconstituted nuclear family as the solution to black poverty and illegitimacy.

The Right: There is no cohesive conservative movement on this subject, but the most persistent call for relief from race riots, a threatening black underclass, incomplete transition to middle class status by American blacks, and female headed households (with excessive illegitimacy in “the black community”) has been a call for the rehabilitation of the patriarchal black family along with a religious revival, presumably headed by strong father figures willing to discipline and inspire children to study, to renounce gang membership, and to adhere to traditional religious principles. (The latter is expressed in support of school vouchers that would include sectarian religious schools, hence this strategy implicitly rejects “secular” solutions to group antagonisms.)

Given the sharp disagreements over strategy within the fighting factions of American politics, it is not surprising that Masters of Sex delivered a muddled episode on August 10, 2014 (see https://clarespark.com/2014/08/16/ferguson-mi-masters-of-sex-and-the-dilemma-of-the-white-liberal/).

Clare’s advice: Had the phrase “move on” not been sullied by the ultra-liberal George Soros forces, I would advise concerned Americans to stop dwelling on past failures and errors, but to focus on a quality education for all children, neither idealizing nor demonizing those aspects of the Western past that are irrefutably “racist” and demeaning to non-whites. There is a heated debate right now regarding whether or not “race” even exists as it is currently imagined; a revival of Lamarckianism may be in the works, thanks to epigenetics. As for the father-led family, that mostly conservative strategy seems utopian to me, and would take to long to demonstrate results, unlike potential changes in school curricula and in the media. [Update 8-29-14: it has been objected on Facebook that women may be inadequate parents too. This is true, but it is one feature of conservative ideology to drastically separate male and female roles in the family: men are the disciplinarians, while women offer unconditional love. Why should parenting be taught in the schools to prepare youngsters for the likely road ahead? Both parents should be setting boundaries and educating their kids for real life which is always a struggle, whatever the period in which kids must function.]

One thing is for certain: Eva Moskowitz’s charter schools in Harlem have established that black and brown children can “succeed” beyond our wildest dreams if there is strong cooperation between school staff and parents, and a challenging curriculum.

Hope looms on the horizon, but we are all responsible, white and non-white alike, for pushing Eva Moskowitz’s agenda forward, notwithstanding opposition from entrenched interests such as teachers unions (see comments below).

racerelations2

August 4, 2011

Carnegie Corp. and “the Negro problem”

Gunnar Myrdal and family, 1938

Diane Ravitch and other education historians frequently cite Gunnar Myrdal’s An American Dilemma as a landmark publication in the history of American reform, but they do not describe the fundor Carnegie Corporation’s explicitly anti-communist project. As with other social democratic initiatives, social cohesion, not structural reform and/or the search for truth, was the explicit aim of the massive Carnegie project.  In this blog, I excerpt a key passage in my published article on the subject, with some revisions. See Clare L. Spark, “Race, Caste, or Class? The Bunche-Myrdal Dispute Over An American Dilemma,” International Journal of Politics, Culture, and Society, Vol.14, No.2  (March 2001): 465-511. The reason for this post is not to support Bunche’s 1930s leftist strategies as my own today, but to emphasize that social democrats are and were anticommunists, and should never be conflated with revolutionary socialists. True, they are and were protofascist statists with an aristocratic mind-set, but there are degrees of statism, and we still have more than one political party.

[From my article:] The record suggests that Bunche was hired for the Carnegie study because as a leading black intellectual in command of the existing literature and research, he criticized anti-white black nationalist tendencies that would undermine the coming war effort; moreover Bunche’s participation at a high level made the project look inclusive and objective. These points are obvious, but more, as an experienced scholar-activist, he could draw clear boundaries between safe (co-optable) and potentially disruptive protest movements, a feat perhaps not within the competence of establishment social scientists, themselves removed from 1930s radical organizations with their shifting modes and memberships. This latter objective is explicitly spelled out in a letter from Louis Wirth to Samuel Stouffer, 31 August 1940, that illuminates the objectives of the Carnegie-Myrdal Study.[i]

Samuel Stouffer

Louis Wirth was very favorable to Bunche’s Ideologies memorandum, but his suggestions for revision were politically motivated, and are worth further quoting:

[Wirth:]”…4. I think the classification of ideologies needs more intensive work. The two major lines of thought explicitly recognized are (1) accommodation, (2) escapism. But actually the materials fall into at least three categories (1) accommodation (2) escapism (3) militancy. Surely, although some of the revolutionary ideologies are in part escapist, utopian and futile, still, they are activist and radically and militantly so. This needs stressing and is the major shortcoming of the organization of the materials as it now stands. Also, I think it might be well to distinguish between the ideologies that accept the fundamental premises upon which the present order rests and those that reject or transcend these premises. This amounts virtually to saying that a distinction should be made between caste-bound ideologies and those that repudiate caste. Likewise, a distinction should be made between those ideologies that accept the general socio-economic order and those that reject it (liberal democratic, capitalist, Christian, nationalism vs. a fascist or communist, or socialist internationalism). 5. In the concluding chapter the dominant trends might be emphasized: Whither are we going? This is a question that is fairly studiously avoided. 6. Finally the  compatibility or incompatibility of the different ideologies should be brought out. Which ones are in conflict with one another and which mutually reinforce one another? For any formulation of General Policy with reference to the Negro in America, which I assume is one of the ultimate objectives of the Carnegie-Myrdal Study, this demand is crucial.”

Wirth’s juxtaposition of “Christian” with (U.S.) “nationalism” as a counterpoint to the various “internationalist” ideologies he lists requires some examination: perhaps it reflected the German-Jewish immigrant’s obeisance to assimilation. I wonder if Wirth, a prominent urban sociologist, associated Jews with the Left. He might have been surprised by Bunche’s sharp attack on antisemitism in black nationalist organizations, recognizing that Bunche was writing from the Left.  Bunche had synopsized his article from the Journal of Negro Education, July 1939, in his memorandum “The Programs, Ideologies, Tactics And Achievements of Negro Betterment and Interracial Organizations,” Book #4 (765-770). In his “General Critique of Negro Organizations” Bunche criticized race consciousness and inwardness of the sort preached by Marcus Garvey and Carter Woodson.[ii]  Race pride was the black man’s burden: for the nationalists, white allies must think of the problem as Negroes think of them, or be rejected. Bunche objected,and then brought up the folly of “Negro anti-Semitism.”

Ralph Bunche, radical

[Bunche:] As long as the Negro is black and the white man harbors prejudice, what has the Negro to do with class or caste, with capitalism, imperialism, fascism, communism, or any other “ism?” (767) [The organizations, black, white, or mixed, share these characteristics:] “(1) adherence to policies of escape, based upon racialism and nationalism; (2) lack of mass support among Negroes, and mass appeal; (3) dependence upon white benefactors for finance; (4) reluctance to encourage the development of working class psychology among Negroes and avoidance of class interpretations; (5) tendency directly or indirectly, to take the main ideological cues from white sympathizers; (6) lack of a coherent, constructive program; (7) lack of broad social perspective and the ability to relate the problems of the Negro to the main social currents and forces of the American society; and (8) pursuit of policies of immediate relief and petty opportunism (767-68).

[Bunche, cont.] It is not surprising that the narrowly racial conceptions of the Negro have caused him to be seduced by anti-Semitism. He thinks only in terms of jobs for Negroes, business for Negroes, Negro landlords, bankers and employers, and vents his emotional spleen on the Jewish shopkeeper in the Negro neighborhood, who exploits the black trade quite as enthusiastically as would the black shopkeeper. The Negro anti-Semite does not reason, nor does it matter, that all Jews are neither shopkeepers nor prejudiced. It is sufficient that the Jew makes profit from a store in a Negro section that Negroes ought to work in, or that a Jewish professor holds a position at a Negro university that a Negro, if even a less competent one, should occupy. Such bigoted attitudes are deliberately nurtured by the self-seeking, sensitive Negro middle-class–the business and professional groups, who seek an economic base for their middle-class aspirations.

In view of the obvious implications for the Negro of this sort of blind, suicidal emotionalism, the certain truth that racial generalizations and prejudices are luxuries which the Negro can ill-afford, it is a bitter indictment of Negro organizations that none has been rational or bold enough to wage a vigorous campaign against Negro anti-Semitism. [No Negro organization is fighting fascism, comparing] fundamental racial and totalitarian dogmas, versus democracy, imperfect as it has been for minority groups (769).

Bunche then quoted Mein Kampf: “all that is not race in this world is trash.” (770) Writing with maximum urgency, he argued that nationalist politics must be abandoned; blacks should forge alliances with  progressive groups…developing the American society with a lush economic and political democracy in which there will be real opportunity and real life for all citizens (772).…facing facts and facts alone (773).” Without the broad view and social analysis he advocated, Bunche predicted that Negroes would be herded into ghettoes and concentration camps (770). In another publication, he recommended that Negroes and Jews should cooperate through their organizations to solve their common problems. [iii]


i. See inserted feedback on Ideologies volume (Bound volume, Bunche Papers, Box 80). Compare Charles Henry, RB, 104.

11. See Ideologies memo, p.11. Compare RJB to Mrs. A. L. Spaulding, n.d. ca 1935, Bunche Papers, Box 1, commenting on her plan for an Exposition: “Primarily I presume it would be your desire not to portray the
Negro as a separate and distinct group in the American society which has made some progress under adversity but rather to exhibit the fact that the American Negro has been an integral and contributing factor in the development of the peculiarly American civilization. That would free the plan from the stigma of furthering separatism, for which it might properly be criticized from some sources.”

111. Brian Urquhart Papers, UCLA, Box 1, mimeo of Bunche’s Forward to Wedlock’s “Anti-Semitism in the Negro Press,” dated 12/11/41.

February 27, 2011

Remembering Ralph Bunche, American

Ralph Bunche at UCLA, 1926

Dr. Ralph Bunche, political scientist and Acting Mediator in the Arab-Israeli conflict of 1948-49, did not want to remembered as an African-American or an African American. Bunche wrote that his ancestors had helped build this country, and wanted no insinuation that he should be racially identified, though there was no doubt that he was a tireless defender of “my people.”

In the last few blogs, I have been complaining about a powerful group of white cultural historians who believe they are accurate in describing American descendants of slaves as African-Americans or African Americans without the hyphen. These include such luminaries as David Brion Davis, David Blight, Seymour Drescher, Steven Mintz, and John Stauffer. They are all hard working and productive scholars, good men all, who have done much to remind Americans that the sectional reconciliation that followed the Civil War did not fulfill the emancipatory promise of that momentous conflict. I do not depart from their general view that white supremacy still lingers; see https://clarespark.com/2012/01/21/the-persistence-of-white-racism/.

But I do not understand why they persist in a racialist discourse. Africa, a huge continent, was the site of numerous, distinct societies that were too various to be gathered under the umbrella of pan-Africanism. As cultural historians, they would argue that African survivals created a cohesive community of blacks in America that share a common culture. But such a category, however fluid it may be imagined, covers over class differences and other conflicting interests. These scholars follow W. E. B. Dubois, not Ralph Bunche. They also frequently cite Gunnar Myrdal, who knew nothing about race relations in America, and was chosen by the Carnegie Corporation for precisely that reason, lest their mammoth study of “the Negro problem” be seen as one-sided. So Ralph Bunche, who had been outlining a big study on this very subject, but could not proceed for lack of powerful fundors, was hired as Myrdal’s lead collaborator, and Bunche was not to be intimidated by Myrdal or his sponsors. His voluminous memoranda and correspondence, housed at UCLA Special Collections, were a revelation to me, for the internal debates in the making of An American Dilemma (1944) that were never published told me a lot about “liberal” sponsorship of American history projects with their emphasis on intercultural communication and understanding. For examples, see https://clarespark.com/2011/06/16/the-antiquated-melting-pot/.

Bunche and his close friend and mentor at Howard University, Abram L. Harris, had great hopes for integrated industrial unions, but recognized that union bosses (the bureaucratic layer) were a menace to the interests of the rank-and-file, white as well as the black workers who were to unite with their working brethren to lift all workers out of the mire of the Great Depression. Bunche was a radical during the 1930s, hence he was no acolyte to those I have called elsewhere “socially responsible capitalists” or “corporatist liberals.” All this is worth remembering as the nation argues about public sector unions and unions in general.

Though Myrdal attacked Bunche and his colleagues as “economic determinists” Bunche never neglected culture and ideology. But what may have made him unacceptable to high society was his plain spoken condemnation of all black nationalist tendencies, seen by him as escapist and often antisemitic. Bunche’s constant reminders to Myrdal that Jews were the only pro-labor members of Negro Betterment Organizations (such as the Urban League) could not have sat well with those who read his memoranda. But it is worth remembering that Bunche spoke out against antisemitism when it was not fashionable to do so.

Although Sir Brian Urquhart has written a commendable biography of Bunche, no one can write a complete biography as long as his voluminous  letters to his wife are sealed until the death of his children, Ralph Jr. and Joan. I would like to have been the one to have written that biography, but it cannot be. Still, the many months I have spent in his papers are a highlight of my years in research, and did much to dispel the lingering racism that was my unfortunate inheritance as a student in the 1940s and 1950s. One more memory before Black History Month disappears: the professors I mentioned above are disturbed by the lingering effects of racism into the present, though they are vague about precisely what that entails beyond “race inequality.” Bunche had no doubt on that score: 19th century job competition between black and white workers bred bitterness, he thought, and it would take work to overcome that cultural inheritance. But that kind of talk is forgotten in the age of liberal guilt and “reparations” that do not, and cannot, repair. See https://clarespark.com/2013/06/23/the-origins-of-political-correctness/.

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