YDS: The Clare Spark Blog

June 30, 2013

The origins of “political correctness” (2)

political-correctness2[Update, 9-20-13: rules against “hate speech” were enforced by the institutionalized censorship in the movie industry long before the 1960s. “Entertainment” was sharply differentiated from “propaganda” or any movie that portrayed other countries unfairly. I.e., “Love” trumped “hate”. Amor vincit omnia. Thank you Will Hays and Joseph Breen, and lately, Loretta Lynch!]

The Paula Deen affair has returned the subject of “hate speech” and “political correctness” to the headlines. In part one of this sequence (https://clarespark.com/2013/06/23/the-origins-of-political-correctness/ and https://clarespark.com/2013/07/04/independence-and-the-marketplace-of-ideas/.) I tried to correct the widespread impression on the Right that “cultural Marxism” was responsible for what is considered to be an infringement on the First Amendment. Indirectly, I sharply criticized “paleoconservatives” for aligning themselves with such as Willis Carto’s Liberty Lobby that blamed the imputed Jewishness of the German “Marxist-Freudian” refugees for gagging white, Christian Americans. (This was especially notable in Bill Lind’s piece on the origins of PC. See the dissemination of his line here: http://monroecountydailytest.blogspot.com/2011/06/politically-correct-attitudes.html. For more on Willis Carto see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Willis_Carto).

In this blog, I will extend my discussion, taking into account 1. The hypocrisy of punishing Paula Deen for using the “N” word long ago while liberals deploy a racialist discourse that fails to criticize the very notion of “race”; and 2. The understandable confusion arising from the politics of the [Comintern initiated] “Popular Front” against fascism in the 1930s, wherein communists and New Deal liberals were seen as one coherent political entity, which they were not. Both were statists and bureaucratic collectivists, but whereas New Dealers were conservative reformers trying to stabilize capitalism, communists were revolutionary socialists, hoping to turn the world upside down.

First, the question of hypocrisy. Even before the Soviet coup, it was the progressive movement that dreamed up the notion of the hyphenated American in the nineteen teens (1916). Their purpose: to counter the then left-wing generated notion of proletarian internationalism with the notion of ethnicity. Out went the melting pot, and in came the hyphenated American, thanks to such as Randolph Bourne and Horace Kallen (the latter a teaching assistant to William James, the pragmatist philosopher).

(See https://clarespark.com/2009/12/12/switching-the-enlightenment-corporatist-liberalism-and-the-revision-of-american-history/, and https://clarespark.com/2009/12/18/assimilation-and-citizenship-in-a-democratic-republic/. The latter blog quotes Horace Kallen.)

American nationality was thus redefined. The syncretic melting pot American was out. The hyphenated Americans were in. There would be a mosaic or salad of grouplets, sharing the same capacity for love and compassion. Hence was born “multiculturalism” prefigured by the German Romantics as a weapon against rootless cosmopolitans. The very notion of the individual was erased, for “individualism” was associated with narcissism, selfishness, jingoism, and hateful big business, the latter allegedly disgraced during the Gilded Age. The “individual” was all Head and no Heart; such a demon atomized society, leaving in its wake the lonely crowd. He was the generic “Jew,” and was indistinguishable from the WASP elite.

As a further weapon against class politics during the Great Depression, the big liberal foundations adopted the notion earlier popularized by William James as cultural pluralism: that social conflict could be managed with better intercultural communication: there would be no problem with “compromise” if we understood each other better. Later progressives would see that abusive language hampered the rational state of mind that would allow warring parties to submit to mediation. Ralph Bunche saw through the intercultural strategy in his lengthy memoranda to Gunnar Myrdal (ca. 1938-1940), and was stigmatized as an “economic determinist” for his pains in Myrdal’s An American Dilemma (1944). (See https://clarespark.com/2009/10/10/ralph-bunche-and-the-jewish-problem/. Also https://clarespark.com/2011/06/16/the-antiquated-melting-pot/.)

Thus the stage was set for Ivy League professors and big liberal foundations to bargain with troublemaking blacks during the late 1960s. (See https://clarespark.com/2010/07/18/white-elite-enabling-of-black-power/.) I have shown in this review of progressive politics that there was no critique of race or ethnicity, but rather an assault on the dissenting or “different” individual. Paula Deen was caught like a fly on flypaper, and no public figure has, to my knowledge, criticized the liberal media for hypocrisy, for it is they who persist in the racialist language of groupiness, and who believe that keeping the “N” word to oneself will solve major structural problems, e.g., the opposition of teachers unions to school choice and/or merit pay.

Second, the confusing Popular Front. Some readers were unconvinced by part one of this blog sequence. They persist in seeing a purely communist lineage for PC. For many on the Right, the boundaries between social democrats and communists have been blurred. For this, we can blame the Comintern that initiated the coalition of bourgeois parties and revolutionary parties from 1934 onward. But make no mistake: the Democratic Party remains a bourgeois party, making strategic gestures that only appear to be anti-racist, but this strategy will not bear close scrutiny as I argued above.

This passage from Hugh Thomas on Spanish politics at the time of the Popular Front (1934) may help to explain why there are divergent views on the origins of political correctness:

“At this time, with the shadows of war and fascism alike growing, the Soviet Union had a good reputation in Spain as elsewhere among Left and progressive people. The great Russian experiment did not yet seem to have betrayed its ideals. Thanks to an extraordinary programme of propaganda and unprecedented secrecy, the facts of agricultural collectivization were as yet unknown, and the persecution of Trotsky not understood. The communist party was to claim that they were responsible for the pact of the Popular Front which fought the Spanish general elections of February 1936. But it required little prompting for the socialists to adopt the salute with the clenched fist and bent arm (originated by German communists), the red flag, the revolutionary phraseology, the calls to unite in the face of international fascism demanded throughout the world by communist parties. ‘Anti-fascism’ and ‘the Popular Front’ were becoming powerful myths, almost irresistible to those who both loved peace and liberty and were impatient with old parties. Equally important on the Right were the myths of empire and national regeneration. The appearance in the Cortes elected in 1933 of a fascist and a communist was a portent and a warning.” (p.117, The Spanish Civil War)

In Thomas’s account, communism and social democracy bled into one another, thanks to the [preventable] polarization in Spain. Extend that bleed to Europe and to the United States, and you have the impasse of today.  Bereft of history, but armed with groupiness, the First Amendment becomes an item in the arsenal of demagogues where “ignorant armies clash by night.”

Paula Deen is road kill.

Paula Deen


May 6, 2013

The New Left activist scholars

activist_scholarshipIt was once my fantasy that scholarship entailed a thorough comprehension of the field under discussion, and that recent events were the purview of journalists, not scholars (who were supposedly waiting for the opening of archives and all primary source materials before rushing into print).

But with the antiwar movement that was contemporaneous with the student strikes all over America during the late 1960s and early 1970s, the activist scholar came into her own.  I remember one such, Temma Kaplan (author of The Anarchists of Andalusia), introducing herself to a seminar at UCLA as “an activist” (or possibly as “an activist scholar”).

Assistant Professor Kaplan’s self-introduction suggested a sea change in the teaching of the humanities and social sciences. It is true that it is difficult to escape ideological biases, but Hugh Thomas’s mammoth book on The Spanish Civil War used sources from the Nationalist Right, interviewed many of the survivors, some of whom lived in Franco Spain, and was careful to footnote many accounts that might differ from his own generally moderate narrative and interpretations. (For instance, I call him a “moderate” because he blamed socialist factions for not cohering to prevent the rightist nationalist rebellion led by General Franco in July 1936 that finally prevailed over the Spanish Republic in a conflict that rocked the world. For some estimates of the HBO treatment of the Hemingway-Gellhorn marriage see https://clarespark.com/2012/07/09/hbo-does-gellhorn-in-red/. I saw the movie as another bow to the Popular Front that formulated interwar and postwar conflicts as ‘the People’ vs. ‘Fascism.’ ).

But with the New Left there was no such eclecticism or acknowledgements that recent events might be too polarized for a relatively objective reading, not to speak of the usual inaccessibility of government or other official documents, hoarded by interested parties or descendants protecting the reputations of their illustrious ancestors.

Alexander Saxton, my own Stalinist dissertation director, upon seeing my first draft of an introductory chapter, explicitly ordered me to delete criticisms of his ideological allies (e.g. Ellen Schrecker), and never to praise his enemies (e.g. John Dos Passos, author of the USA trilogy). Later, he also let me know that he and his [communist?] wife had met one of my chief Melville revivers and his wife (Jay Leyda and Si-Lan Chen) and liked them very much.  I pressed ahead and devoted a long chapter to Jay Leyda, an outspoken and versatile Stalinist, and after years of stubbornly sticking to primary sources (some either previously restricted, misreported, or only briefly opened) got my dissertation approved. It was a Trotskyist scholar of international fame who agreed to be my co-chair after Alex Saxton retired. (Saxton even wrote a strong letter in support of my dissertation, telling me that I was the first student for whom he had done such a favor.)

Mine is not an unfamiliar story in academe. Since I had been studying multiculturalism during the period of my dissertation research (1984-1993), and had objected to its racialist discourse in various academic forums and conferences (sometimes to the screams or taunts of tenured left professors in both public and private spaces), I discovered that David Horowitz and Peter Collier were publishing a periodical called Heterodoxy that accurately described the PC takeover of teaching. At that time, Horowitz was living in my neighborhood, and running into him with some family members, I introduced myself to him as a reader of his work, which jibed entirely with my own experience as a hounded graduate student.

Somehow word got out that Horowitz and I were allies, since he and his wife April came to my first book talk at Dutton’s bookstore in Brentwood, shortly after 9-11-2001. Not long after that, I was interrogated by two well known Marxist professors (one a sociologist, the other an art historian) whether DH was a friend of mine. I take friendship very seriously and resent interference with my choices.  I should have known that I was likely being marginalized by the academic left as at least an “unreliable” or “uncontrollable.” The final blow came when Christopher Hitchens gave a talk at the Horowitz Wednesday Morning Club in favor of the Iraq war, and numerous old friends, activist scholars and journalists, saw that I had entered the Devil’s realm. In retrospect, it was not surprising that Verso Press backed out of publishing my book on the Melville Revival (after telling people it would be published), because I refused to downplay the importance of John Milton, or to puff F. O. Matthiessen and Lewis Mumford. This was during the mid-1990s. To my sorrow, none of my once close allies, gathered when I was program director at KPFK (and had power, it seemed to them), lifted a finger to criticize Verso, which after all was publishing their work.

As an experiment (to test an old but languishing friendship), I invited one of the academics who was a close friend in the 1970s to friend me on Facebook. From what I can gather, he visited my FB page, and was appalled that I was writing about Fox News and continued to link to articles from Horowitz’s Frontpagemagazine.com, and announced that he was going to block me, but that we might still be friends, and that he welcomed a face to face discussion of our political differences (where he would have an opportunity to tell me to my face that I was now an enemy to the working class?). I responded that I had not changed; that I was still doing class analysis, and still defending the cultural freedom of every individual. Then I asked him if he had read at least part of my book. He responded that he had, but was too busy to read much of it. That did it. I thought that I understood what impelled the second wave of feminism. Here was my reasoning: he liked me before I was a scholar and had no tools to question his anti-art, anti-bourgeois cultural politics. I supposed that I was a worshipful female in his eyes. Now that I too was a scholar, I surmised that he was too burdened with committee meetings and other academic responsibilities (complained about in one of his many e-mails) to expend any effort on a book that purportedly changed Melville scholarship forever, and moreover, notwithstanding that it was mostly written from the Left (though not with any orthodoxy)! (In a subsequent email exchange, he denies that he thought any such thing.) As for my claim that my book changed Melville scholarship, I make no apologies. That is what scholars are supposed to do: find new sources and revise all previous scholarship! If they can’t do more than take other scholars  down, without providing a reconfiguration of old problems, and providing new syntheses, then they are not scholars at all, but ideologues parroting some party line. You can be a scholar, or a journalist, or a party hack, but not all three at the same time.

Join us

I have told these stories because I want my readers to know that activist scholars have designs on their students, and must be outed and opposed. These activists use academic freedom to abuse it, and to smother all dissent, even among themselves. (Ironically, before his death, my dissertation director, wrote to me with great affection and appreciation as he enclosed his last book. But then he had the soul of an artist, and every now and then, it peeped out from some chinks in the Stalinist armor. I have forgiven his erratic conduct–sometimes censorious, sometimes approving– long ago. Bottom line: Saxton allowed me to write a Melville dissertation in the history department. No English department would have allowed me to write about “a major figure.” Such erratic conduct as Saxton demonstrated ironically fit in with Melville’s own wavering between aristocrat and democrat.)

Therefore, “Wonder ye then at the fiery hunt?”

July 9, 2012

HBO Does Gellhorn in Red

[For related blogs see https://clarespark.com/2012/08/20/ernest-hemingway-carlos-baker-and-the-spanish-civil-war/, https://clarespark.com/2011/06/30/links-to-review-essay-on-hemingway-spy-mission-to-china/, and https://clarespark.com/2012/08/06/gellhorns-blind-spot-on-israel/.]

There is no finer example of the penetration of communist ideas into the American liberal mainstream than HBO’s recent “biopic” (or “drama”: take your pick) on the “wild and tempestuous” relationship between Ernest Hemingway and lover and third wife Martha Gellhorn, whose reputation as a pioneering war correspondent has been celebrated in multiple biographies and monographs.

There is no excuse for the carelessness, cover-ups, and distortions perpetrated by the writers, directors, and actors in this highly touted movie, one that treats some of the most sensitive and controverted events in the history of the twentieth century: I refer to the Spanish Civil War and the civil war in China that, with the complicity of some American journalists, resulted in the victory of Communism in 1949. The HBO movie presents the Stalinist and Maoist views of those events, departing from the historical record that the HBO writers should have consulted, but apparently did not, or did not think to be important; most fundamentally, the communist line pits “the People” versus “Fascism,” ignoring the actual political/diplomatic dynamics of the 1930s that led to the second world war. This blog spells out some of the more egregious errors of fact in the ostensibly historical drama.

First, it was revealed in Spies: The Rise and Fall of the KGB, by Harvey Klehr, John Earl Haynes, and Alexander Vassiliev, published by the prestigious Yale University Press in 2009 that Hemingway had been recruited by the KGB, with his control the famous Jacob Golos. (The date of October 1940 was related to me by Harvey Klehr in an email.) The book describes the surprising Hemingway recruitment on pages 152-155, but cautions that no evidence has surfaced that Hemingway delivered any intel to the Soviets. This was a bombshell to the authors, but I must say, less so to me, for Gustav Regler, purged Commissar of the 12th International Brigade, had already suggested Hemingway’s allegiance to Soviet Communists in his 1959 memoir, The Owl of Minerva:

[Regler:] Mexico, 1941:…Hemingway came from Cuba to see the bullfights. We had drinks at the Tampico Club. When we were out in the street again he clapped his hand on my shoulder and thrust me against the marble façade. “Why did you leave them?” (He meant the Communists.)… but he would not let me go; he was in an alarming state of emotional confusion. “Why did you believe them in Spain? There has to be an organization, and they have one. Go back to them! Beat the slanderers in their own house!” After a time he turned away from me and cursed the whole world. “The US is finished, just like France. All Nazis should be castrated. The Russians are the only ones who are doing any fighting.” Then he came back to me. “What do you care about the lies they are telling about you? All that’s just chicken-shit!”

Moreover, in his play The Fifth Column (1940, but recently revived in NYC), “Dorothy Bridges” (the character obviously based on Martha Gellhorn) suggests that “Philip” (Hemingway) study “dialectics.” Gellhorn may have been, like so many of her contemporaries, a Popular Front/New Deal idealist, but until I read that line in the play, I had no idea that she might be  so well versed in Marxist-Leninist rhetoric. I now wonder if she too was something more than a fellow-traveler.

Return to the HBO film, that seems more interested in hot sex (also controversial in biographies of Gellhorn), than in the historical record. For instance, one of the more momentous events in Hemingway’s life in Spain was the ending of his friendship with the world-famous writer John Dos Passos. Dr. Jose Robles, professor of Spanish literature at Johns Hopkins University had returned to Spain to participate in the Revolution. He was famously and mysteriously executed under circumstances that remain cloudy. But Robles became desaparacedo in the HBO script, replaced by a fictional character they called Paco Zarra, a dashing fighter on horseback, carried off by the Soviet propagandist Koltsov, although Robles was killed before Hemingway arrived in Spain. (See Stephen Koch’s 2005 book, The Breaking Point,for a reconstruction of shocking events that places the Hemingway-Dos Passos friendship in proper perspective, along with endnotes that cite the latest bibliography on the subject, including material on Communist filmmaker Joris Ivens, also a character in the HBO movie, and never identified as under Comintern control.)

Moreover, the Abraham Lincoln Battalion is presented, not as communists, but as folk singers who ride along with Martha Gellhorn in a train as she enters Spain. One even carries an allusion to the Woody Guthrie placard on his guitar, “This machine kills fascists.” (Machine becomes “guitar” in the movie.) As Carl Rollyson notes in his biography of Gellhorn, she rode to Spain along with Spaniards, not with members of the (American) Lincoln Battalion. Gellhorn, who wants to be remembered as a “war correspondent” (not as a “footnote” to Hemingway,  is thus merged with fighters, and partakes of their heroism. Indeed, Hemingway is shown running into battle with his rifle, followed in the rear by his lover MG. (I have never seen evidence that Hemingway actually fought in the Spanish Civil War, though his propaganda on the Communists’ behalf is legendary.)

You won’t see any reference to the Soviet destruction of POUM or the Spanish anarchists either. That subject is taken up in detail by Burnett Bolloten in his long volume on the Spanish Civil War, but I have never seen that aspect of the conflict taken up in American television or film. (Phillip Deery has just told me of Ken Loach’s 1995 film Land and Freedom that does deal with the Anarchists and POUM. The lengthy account of the Spanish Civil War by Hugh Thomas is less sympathetic to the anarchists and generally more detailed than anything else I have read on the lead up to the war, the conflict itself, and then the aftermath.). However, Hemingway’s For Whom The Bell Tolls (1940) does transmit a story, related by Pilar in chapter 10, of a hateful anarchist-ridden mob destroying the Church and bourgeoisie of [Ronda], and would have pleased his conservative Catholic wife Pauline, not to speak of the Soviets. This is not surprising. (I just reread the chapter, and it is harrowing. The Republican, relatively pacifistic, guerilla comrades of Robert Jordan are contrasted invidiously with the drunken and barbaric anarchists. Hemingway’s guerrillas are entirely fictional and represent his general primitivism, a common post WW1 trope.)

But perhaps the most shocking transformation in the HBO (sex film) occurs in the short section on the trip to China, where Gellhorn is to write about the civil war for Collier’s. Peter Moreira’s book Hemingway’s Spy Mission to China (2007) had a thorough, if flawed, account of that trip, and there is no doubt that Gellhorn praised Madame Chiang in her Collier’s piece, but she never visited the Roosevelts later to report that “the Communists are going to win” as the HBO film claims. Rather, writing in 1941, she repressed her dislike of the rulers of China, and Moreira took her to task for the lie (p.144). What Gellhorn did was to conform to the Soviet-FDR line, that was supporting Chiang Kai-Shek at that time. (See https://clarespark.com/2011/06/30/links-to-review-essay-on-hemingway-spy-mission-to-china/.) Whether or not they consciously did it, the HBO film is friendly to Maoism and Third World-ism in general, joining such journalist celebrities as Agnes Smedley, Edgar Snow, and Theodore White in their puffing of the Mao-Chou contingent.

In its publicity, the HBO film proclaims that Martha Gellhorn was “the greatest war correspondent” ever, a question that elides the question, what is the purpose of the war correspondent? Do they tell us the deep causes of war (a task that requires advanced historical training in diplomatic and military history, along with access to archives, some of which remain secret)? Or are they, as Hemingway bitterly accused Gellhorn, of being addicted to excitement and danger, and I would add, while displaying their bleeding hearts to a public also hooked on the sights and sounds of mass death?

Hemingway and Gellhorn in NYC

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