YDS: The Clare Spark Blog

January 20, 2018

“White supremacy”

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Roy Moore/NBC News photo

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There is no better way to track social democrats (liberals) than the usage of the term “white supremacy.” No respectable Marxist or conservative would be caught dead using this description to characterize the West or the history of the US. (See the anticapitalist analysis here: https://jacobinmag.com/2018/01/racecraft-racism-barbara-karen-fields). And yet the phrase “white supremacy” has tremendous currency on the so-called Left, owing to its coalition with liberals during the New Deal. https://clarespark.com/2015/04/17/the-ongoing-appeal-of-the-leftist-dominated-popular-front-against-fascism/.

I have been ploughing through Eric Foner’s prize-winning book RECONSTRUCTION (1988) and noted his constant usage of the term “white supremacy,” which was repeated by earlier textbook-writing liberal historians influenced by the 1960s movements. This bears some unpacking, as it recalls the shift from class politics to an emphasis on black nationalism, particularly on the increasing acceptance of Malcolm X’s use of “white devils” on the liberal “Left.”

And yet Foner condemns the “Gilded Age” for its turning the freedmen (ex-slaves) into wage slaves. Similarly he ignores the New Left emphasis on Southern and Western Populism because it is so lily-white (not because it scapegoated banks and finance capital). Foner’s confusion surely is derived from Pop-Front politics that could not fuse liberal anticommunism with class-struggle politics.

But even more significant than the move toward explicitly racial politics, is this Foner’s deployment of “slavery” and the (failed) Reconstruction to the cause of present-mindedness, i.e., reading current values into the past, which violates the conscientious historian’s task of reconstructing the context of whatever period s/her writes about.

Conservatives rightly protest the term “white supremacy” because it assumes that all white people share the same interests. But we do better to see how the term distorts the popular understanding of US history, including the more recent move toward black nationalism/multiculturalism by “liberals.” https://clarespark.com/2010/07/18/white-elite-enabling-of-black-power/.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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February 25, 2013

POTUS, Michelle, and the end of the democratic republic

MichelleOscarI didn’t expect to blog about the Oscars 2013, but the denouement, in which [naughty] Jack Nicholson handed over his duties in announcing the Oscar for Best Picture to the First Lady, dressed for the Red Carpet and surrounded by what appeared to be a private army (yes they were military, it was acknowledged today), has suggested to me that not only are Hollywood liberalism and the newly minted Democratic Party-in–name-only seriously in cahoots, but that the spirit roused by the excerpt from Les Miserables, ending with tricolors floating to the stage, along with Barbra Streisand reminding us of a 1973 movie in which she played a sweet young Stalinist—all this signals that our Leader and his followers in Hollywood and in the mass media intend to establish the Permanent Revolution in America, with the Obamas playing Lenin/Stalin/Trotsky. Someday, far, very far in the future, the state will melt away, and the “Parisian” poor will get their just deserts.

The signs were all there during the first campaign: Michelle’s Princeton thesis was outspoken in its support for black nationalism, as was her consort’s twenty-year stint in Reverend Wright’s whacked out antisemitic congregation. Non-white supremacy is in the air, while recent popular television shows, written by liberals, feature strong black characters who appear to be lamentably compromised in their sex lives, but who will likely expose and discipline corrupt white characters of great power and wealth. (Think SCANDAL or DECEPTION.)

During my days on the Left, it was obvious that Stalinists and anarchistic local artists admired angry black men, such as Malcolm X. In those radio days, I never heard of Ralph Bunche or his accomplished mentor Abram L. Harris until I started my Bunche researches at UCLA in the 1990s, and after I had gotten my doctorate. More along these lines: At the Oscars, the ever-cocky Quentin Tarantino was recognized for DJANGO UNCHAINED. That was yet another symptom of the blood lust that runs through the movie industry, a “business” supposedly controlled by older members (many of whom behave like the old Reds). Indeed, were not key movie stars sitting on their hands while movie buffs picketed outside, when the brilliant but “treacherous” director Elia Kazan was belatedly recognized a few years ago?

StreisandOscar

And what of the campaign to deny ZERO DARK THIRTY its award because it allegedly glorified “torture” in the hunt for Bin Laden?

It matters not what we call the coming political dispensation. Obama’s constant campaigning (as if for a third term), his denunciation of the looming budget cuts while threatening national mayhem (even where localities, not the feds, control the hiring of first responders or teachers), growing evidence of electoral fraud and the cynicism of some black and brown supporters, suggest that social justice means one party dictatorship and the end of the Constitution, let alone of the meritocracy.

THE_WAY_WE_WERE

It is not too late to halt the slide toward the F-word. But the opposition (that may come to include disillusioned Democrats, Independents, Republicans, and conservatives) had better read the tea leaves and wake up.

July 19, 2012

Communist ideas go mainstream

Rosa Luxemburg

[This blog should be read in tandem with https://clarespark.com/2012/08/20/ernest-hemingway-carlos-baker-and-the-spanish-civil-war/.]

The most important idea in this blog: that the original Progressives wanted a regulated capitalism that would stave off the specter of red revolution. Their enemies were Gilded Age robber barons/ finance capital, but more so, a militant working class that seemed to be on the march, especially during the riotous year of 1919, but before that, in the take-off period for industrial capitalism after the Civil War. In the first eight months of 1919–in August introducing the first article publicizing the ostensibly forgotten Herman Melville (1819-1891), The Nation magazine advised its conservative readers to move sharply to the left, outflanking the Industrial Workers of the World and its evil twin the Socialist Party. Oswald Garrison Villard’s influential magazine preached “honest Anglo-Saxon populism” of the communitarian sort that such Anglo-Saxon upper-Midwesterners such as Ernest Hemingway would embody in his novels, for instance in A Farewell to Arms (where war is blamed on the upper classes, and suffered by hapless peasants), and then For Whom The Bell Tolls (1940, written shortly before EH was to be recruited by the KGB as revealed in The Rise and Fall of the KGB in America, 2009, see https://clarespark.com/2012/07/09/hbo-does-gellhorn-in-red/).

Nation writers in 1919 also made a vital distinction between industrial capital and finance capital: the latter were Shylocks, while industrial capital was, by contrast, close to the earth, *suggesting the same primitivism, earthiness, and regressive use of language [childish prattle?] that Hemingway (a.k.a. “Hemingstein”) admired. They also posited mystical bonds to unite society, for they were at heart organic conservatives, hostile to anything that smacked of empiricism or “materialism.” Above all, they preached deference to gentlemanly, compassionate Anglo-Saxon experts, who, properly reconstructed, would avoid the extremes of heartless laissez-faire capitalism and communist revolution (Jew/Jacobin-led mob rule). That is why I call them the moderate men, and these moderates can be found in both political parties today, arguing for “the neutral state,” while at the same time, the moderate men are attuned to life among the lowly (see https://clarespark.com/2012/06/29/the-neutered-state/, with its bizarre notion that all conflict can be reconciled by the artful, manipulative “mediator” bringing progressive ideas of order to the “mixed-economy”).

For a detailed account of The Nation line in January-August 1919, see https://clarespark.com/2009/09/19/populism-progressivism-and-corporatist-liberalism-in-the-nation-1919/. For more on the separation of finance capital from industrial capital see https://clarespark.com/2010/09/11/is-wall-street-slaughtering-the-middle-class/.

In a more recent blog, I summarized the main ideas of Harvey Klehr and John Earl Haynes in their detailed summation of the Communist movement in the U.S. (See https://clarespark.com/2012/06/03/connecting-vs-connecting-the-dots/. ) As Klehr and Haynes demonstrate the heyday of American communism was the Great Depression, or as literary scholars say, the Red Decade, where virtually every important writer studied Marx and Lenin, with many joining the communist movement, though there were vicious animosities between Stalinists and Trotskyists that remain relevant today (for instance, in the late 1930s and early 1940s, between readers of The New Masses and Partisan Review). Klehr and Haynes argue that the communist movement today is weak and nearly defunct, but did not trace the infiltration of Leninist statism into the progressive movement and the New Left, though they mention several instances where New Deal strategies such as social security were first introduced by the CPUSA (but see Professor Cherny’s objection to this claim below in his lengthy comment).

Marcus Garvey

New Left developments: The civil rights movement, under infiltration by communist thinkers and organizers, quickly turned from an integrationist movement (the MLK Jr. line) to a militantly cultural nationalist movement, drawing on both the cultural pluralism introduced by earlier progressives, and the separatism advocated by avowed fascists such as Marcus Garvey (a petit-bourgeois radical and precursor to Malcolm X), or by Communists  advocating a Black Belt in the deep American South as reparations for the horrors of slavery, debt-peonage, and Jim Crow.

Schine, McCarthy, Cohn

The New Left (many of whom were readers and admirers of the anti-imperialist, anti-Zionist British Left still reeling from the 1956 revelations about Stalin) defined itself as “anti-anti-Communist,” with a great horror of McCarthy and his vile [Jewish] henchmen, Roy Cohn and G. David Schine, arguing that anticommunism was a (continued) cover for right-wing opposition to the statist New Deal, and of course that we had not “lost China” as “right-wing loons” had insisted. It was this 1960s generation that turned once again to history from the bottoms up, or social history or cultural history, histories that had already been made fashionable and appealing by 1930s progressive journalists, authors, songwriters, filmmakers, and playwrights  celebrating the Common Man/the Salt of the Earth.  See https://clarespark.com/2012/06/16/the-social-history-racket/, but also recent blogs on such figures as Edna Ferber, Oscar Hammerstein, and Martha Gellhorn. Today, NPR, the Pacifica Foundation, and academic departments of humanities  continue the populist-communitarian strain extant since the last decade of the 19th century, antisemitism and all. What a shock it must have been when Yale University Press published its series of books that delved into the briefly opened Soviet archives, revealing that Alger Hiss, the Rosenbergs, et al, were guilty of espionage after all, that Whittaker Chambers was no sociopath, and though McCarthy was a vile opportunist, he was not so far off the mark as liberals had insisted.

TIME Cover, March 8, 1954

Although in prior blogs I have made sharp distinctions between liberal anticommunists (social democrats) and hardcore communists and fascists, the statism and crypto-elitism advanced by “progressivism” have so blurred the boundaries between social democracy and full-fledged Marxist-Leninism that I cannot blame those on the Right who conflate all the variant statisms into one huge encroaching monster. Popular Front politics did not stop in 1939, but persist into the present.

*It was Nation writer Lincoln Colcord who draw a distinction between “international bankers” versus “commercial bankers”; the latter were closer to the site of production, hence would make concessions to labor, whereas the international bankers were solely involved with the extraction of profits. Cf. J. A. Hobson, also favorably cited by The Nation in this period.

May 15, 2012

Progressive uplift vs. “New Left” nihilism

Bill Ayers, Weatherman

Several writers on the Right have been selling books with the premise that the Progressive movement in early 20th century America was protofascist, or fascist and racist. Their aim is to mobilize their constituencies to vote for organic conservatives like themselves in the hopes of halting “the nanny state.”  Similarly, they dwell on the President’s links to racist extremists in the period before he ran for office as a uniter, not a divider.

In this blog, I argue that it is an error to link in any way whatsoever the Progressive uplifters and more recent advocates of violence and anarchy. For uplift was an orderly process, an expression of the “moderate” strategies of the chief publicists of progressivism. It was also, at its core, defined against “revolutionary radicalism” as evidenced in the I.W.W. or anarchism in the labor movement. Here is a juicy example of their thought, taken from my book on Melville and from a previous blog. (See https://clarespark.com/2009/11/13/supermen-wanted-early-freudians-and-the-mob/, also https://clarespark.com/2010/03/10/jonah-goldbergs-liberal-fascism-part-one/.)

[Revolutionary Radicalism, “Epilogue”:] “In this rapid survey of a new and important educational idea we have carried Marja, the immigrant girl, from king and caste-ridden Europe to America, the land of hope and opportunity. We have seen her struggle with an unknown tongue and with ways of life unfamiliar to her. In the end we see her transformed, reborn–no longer foreign and illiterate, but educated and self-respecting. Later she will marry and her children, though they may have traditions of another land and another blood, will be Americans in education and ideals of life, government and progress. It was been worth while that one man has broken through this barrier and made the road clear for others to follow.

“All real education has the development of discipline as its basis. Poise, self-control and self-esteem are characteristic of the well-ordered mind, and the growth of these in the industrial worker makes for efficient service and better wages. Gradually there is an awakening of social consciousness–the awareness of one’s place in society and the obligations such membership entails upon the individual in respect to the group or racial mass, with a constantly developing sense of one’s personal responsibility in all human relationships.

“In conclusion, the higher significance of this work means that we must descend the shaft and share the lives of those that dwell in the lower strata–the teeming populations that never see the stars or the green grass, scent the flowers or hear the birds sing–the huddled, hopeless foreign folk of the tenements. We are living in the Age of Service, and are growing into a conviction that life is not a matter of favored races or small, exclusive social groups, but embraces all humanity and reaches back to God. To those of prophetic soul comes a vision of the day that haunted Tennyson when ‘The war-drum throbbed no longer and the battle flags were furled/ In the Parliament of Man, the Federation of the World.’ ” [From N.Y. State Legislature. Joint Committee Investigating Seditious Activities, Revolutionary radicalism: its history, purpose and tactics with an exposition and discussion of the steps being taken and required to curb it, being the report of the joint legislative committee investigating seditious activities filed April 24, 1920 in the Senate of the State of New York (Albany: J.B. Lyon, 1920), 2014, 2201, 3136-3137.]

Here we have a statement that is clearly ideological in favor of order and their version of Americanization; for a related blog see https://clarespark.com/2009/09/19/populism-progressivism-and-corporatist-liberalism-in-the-nation-1919/ .

Far different was the Prairie Fire contingent of Maoists (along with hippies and anarchists?): See /http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Weather_Underground_Organization#Prairie_Fire_1974) who took over (replaced?) Students for A Democratic Society from the “Old Guard” in the late 1960s. First a bit of socialist history. In 19th century Marxist thought, it was the educated and urbanized working class that would comprise the vanguard of change. But after the stunning success of the Soviet coup in October 1917, Leninism (a branch of socialist thought that lauded bureaucratic centralism and the vanguard of intellectuals), the old Marxist anti-statist paradigm was discarded in favor of “Marxist-Leninism” with its attendant Trotskyist notion that the communist utopia could leapfrog over the bourgeois democratic phase, and stir the victims of imperialism to overthrow their European or American masters by any means necessary. (It was Stalin, not Trotsky, who insisted upon “socialism in one country.”) In China, a model for 1960s revolutionaries everywhere, the rural population was now the revolutionary vanguard, provided that they were taught by the correctly indoctrinated intellectual layer.

Such journalists as Theodore White and Edgar Snow transmitted the Maoist message to American radicals, where they received support from a communist-sympathetic faction in the U.S. Department of State.  (For details, see https://clarespark.com/2011/06/30/links-to-review-essay-on-hemingway-spy-mission-to-china/.)

To these developments in revolutionary theory, add the general brutalization caused by the slaughter of the Great War, much emphasized by George L. Mosse and his students at the U. of Wisconsin; while in the realm of culture, primitivism ruled the 1920s as a white response to the growing power or prestige of New Negroes, New Women, and working class radicalism. Indeed, Ernest Hemingway’s rise to cultural prominence as a manly prose stylist may be seen as a purification of the too-florid and feminized Victorian culture that had put white males on the defensive. Supermen were wanted, and supermen were provided by our leading writers in the Nietzsche fad that still finds adherents among ambitious students, for instance those who follow such decadent musicians as Jim Morrison and the Doors.

And what were the order-loving nativists of the Progressive movement doing after the war? They were certainly not manning the outposts of the grand innovations of mass media, including radio and the movies. Rather, that task fell to recent immigrants, who sought audiences among the masses whose instinctive populism was fully exploited, as I described here in my blog on Charles Murray (https://clarespark.com/2012/05/04/3957/):

“Early Hollywood had no illusions about mass taste, and provided adventure, sex and violence to a readymade audience that already was alienated from snooty and exclusive nativist old families. The Mayers or Goldwyns or Laemmles and their movie or television offspring still adhere to populist feeling and a hefty dose of primitivism. Social realism and didacticism do not sell, except as a warning to other “liberals” that the natives are restless and gun toting, or that criminals may be running everything. But Murray is worried that the white working class is obese and watches too much television, as if the skinnier upper classes do not enjoy the more sophisticated adventures, romance, soft porn, escapism, and even artiness provided by the younger writers and producers, affected as they have been by counter-culture naughtiness, identification with Marlon Brando or James Dean, clever parodies, and fun.”

When I first started my Pacifica radio programs on the art world in the early 1970s, I noticed that the Los Angeles hipster male artists were fans of Eldridge Cleaver and Malcolm X. Since I was relatively uneducated in the ways of black supremacy or nihilism* in general, I was not on guard. Not long ago, I checked out a copy of a manifesto titled Prairie Fire (1974), a production of the Weather Underground (authors William Ayers, Bernadine Dohrn, Jeff Jones, and Celia Sojourn). It was so violent in its language and in its aims, that I had to put it down; it was simply unbearable in its stridency. For a fictional peek into the European nihilists who were their contemporaries, see William Herrick’s Love and Terror (1981), a brilliant and disturbing work that reveals the mindset of the Baader-Meinhof gang. The intellectual antecedents of such urban terrorists are not to be found in the utopian thought of Marx, but in the ravings of such radicals as Marx’s rivals: Proudhon and Bakunin, earlier Babeuf, later George Sorel. For all of them “property is theft” and no crime is too vicious, no product of human labor off limits to their fury and defiance.

I wrote this blog because I see the some of the same thuggery in some protest movements (the “Red-Greens”, the Occupy Wall Street troops, Chicano irredentism, or black liberationist tendencies–see photo of Michelle Obama associating with the Nation of Islam below). I worry that the Baby Boomer parents of the antiwar generation who raised their children to be spontaneous and creative, will only egg on the mindless acting out in which they, the sadder but un-wiser generation, frequently indulged as young women and men. These nouvelle enragées owe nothing to the progressives who led both American political parties to dominance in the 20thcentury. It is also true that Communists infiltrated the progressive movement, using the Popular Front as their entry. The writing of “cultural history” has been deformed accordingly.

*By nihilism, I do not refer to anthropology that argues for cultural relativism and historicism, but to the apparent promotion of “beast of prey” by Nietzsche in such works as Beyond Good and Evil or The Genealogy of Morals, both read and studied by Jim Morrison (see comment below that defends Nietzsche against such readings).

Michelle Obama and friends

December 2, 2011

The Whiteness of the Whale

Frederick Douglass not black enough

I have just listened to an 8 minute rant against the OWS protesters by podcaster Adam Corolla: (http://biggovernment.com/mrctv/2011/11/30/adam-carolla-explains-the-ows-generation/).  These polarized times are friendly to those personalities who can harness and provide a catharsis for conservatives and independents outraged by the ostensibly spoiled brats of hippie parents and others who like Big Government  (a.k.a. the Nanny State) as a solution to social inequality, or who were part of the self-esteem movement in multicultural education.

There may be something to what he says regarding giving undeserving kids trophies so that they won’t feel bad about losing to the stronger or more competent in school athletics and progressive education.  What Corolla did not include in this particular rant is the sea change in American education since the civil rights movement took hold in the 1960s. An entire generation of senior scholars in American history absorbed the troublemakers who instigated scary and destructive urban riots after the assassinations of Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Robert Kennedy (the latter friendly to those who would relieve the horrors of urban ghetto life). By 1968, the white northeastern liberal establishment consciously co-opted what by then was militant black nationalism, while the “cool” leaders in the media industry went primitive, feeding into long term trends in popular culture—for instance the minstrel shows, later 1920s embrace of such as Josephine Baker and flamboyant sexuality in general.  Both strategies would have been labeled as escapist by such lucid political thinkers as the late Ralph Bunche (d.1971). See https://yankeedoodlesoc.wordpress.com/2011/08/04/carnegie-corp-and-the-negro-problem/.

By the time I hit graduate school in US history in the early 1980s, the determining structures were in place: American history was taught as if instructed by Soviet anti-American propaganda. Rather than being an exceptional nation, unprecedented in its governmental reliance on popular sovereignty as a source of instruction and legitimacy, “Zionist” America* was a rotten apple with a polished red skin, but rotten to the core. The entire field of American Studies (and its affiliated cultural studies) were devoted to proving this proposition. And even post-Civil War immigrants were held responsible for the misery of “Afro-Americans” as some called the black population, even Eastern European Jews fleeing pogroms and held to be communistic infiltrators.

Not surprisingly, conservative intellectuals are recuperating the Founding Fathers and writing about the making of the U.S. Constitution, in order to combat the Democratic Party’s emphasis on the antebellum period, the Civil War, and the failure of Reconstruction, events said to have entirely disabled living blacks today! How do we know this to be true? The history profession gives its major awards to those cultural historians who assert that the Civil War and white racism are the central sources of American character and cultural identity. The vanguard of Chosen People (asserted by Herman Melville! https://clarespark.com/2009/09/06/the-hebraic-american-landscape-sublime-or-despotic/) has been banished to the back of the line in Ivy League universities and in the humanities in general.  If you are not writing about “race” you are simply not in the academic game, and heaven help the feminists who do not focus their research on women of color. Similarly, if you write about the labor movement, you had better note their earlier hostility to black, Chinese, and Latino competitors. Throw in the Draft Riots of 1863, or the inherently narcissistic character of “American individualism,” or the peculiar institution (Southern slavery) as indistinguishable from capitalism (or its financial haul from slave labor funding capitalist development), and you are on your way to a job in the history profession in actually existing major universities.

To return to Adam Corolla’s rant against OWS. Beside the strong Third World or Maoist contingent of the current organized Left in OWS, add those who were educated to believe that capitalism is not merely a failed experiment, but is positively evil and an expression of our species’ “dark side”; that whiteness itself  is proof of demonic possession and the will to plunder and disrespect the whole, wide world.  Wonder ye then at the fiery hunt?

* See this excerpt from Dmitri Volkogonov, The Psychological War (1986):  “The capitalist mass media are greatly influenced by the Zionist circles.  For example, Zionist organisations in the United States control half its magazines, more than half of its radio stations, and a large number of press and radio bureaus abroad.  In other capitalist countries the picture is very much the same.  In addition to that, various Zionist organisations run more than a thousand publications in 67 countries.  This is where the military-industrial complex draws its ideological support. The capitalist mass media spread outright lies about socialism, create a climate of fear for the future, of gloom and doom.  The main idea of this vast system of disinformation is to prove that “socialism is bad” and the “free world” is good. This is how the capitalist mass media are waging the psychological war against the Soviet people, also against their own people whom the bourgeois radio centres feed with disinformation.  This is how opinions in the West are shaped when people are unable to understand the true state of things, when they think and act only under the influence of the extraneous forces that manipulate them.”

NOTE. This blog reflects my reading of the week: Frederick Douglass, Life and Times of Frederick Douglass (1962) and David Blight, Frederick Douglass’s Civil War (1989). 

October 31, 2009

Was Martin Luther King Jr. ever a black nationalist?

Image (80)

Stanford U. demonstration, 1980s

During the presidential campaign of 2008, I wrote an essay for History News Network http://hnn.us/articles/48809.html. I am posting the unedited version, which is also slightly updated and retitled. Two recent events have prompted this move: 1. David Plouffe’s memoir of the campaign will be released on November 3, and 2. the Anti-Defamation League has conducted a poll concluding that antisemitism in America has declined. I am wondering about the veracity of Plouffe (could he not have been aware of how black politics have moved away from integrationist to nationalist tactics)? I also doubt that the ADL sampled enough of the black population (a powerful force in both local and national politics when it is unified), nor do I believe that the pollsters were sufficiently skeptical of the tendency to deny bigotry when persons are asked such loaded questions by pollsters. So I am presenting this blog to remind visitors that black liberation theology annexed Martin Luther King, Jr. in a frightening synthesis that is undoubtedly appealing to much of the anti-imperialist Left, long famous for its view on “internal colonialism” and also “multiculturalism” (in my view, a resegregation of minorities who either were moving into the middle-class, or who participated in urban riots in the 1960s, prompting their co-option by major universities).  (On multiculturalism and its origins, see http://hnn.us/articles/4533.html.) [added 8-27-13: for more on James Cone and the conception of the Black Jesus see https://clarespark.com/2012/12/01/petit-bourgeois-radicalism-and-obama/.]

My article follows, with a quote from the Plouffe book as first item.

[From David Plouffe’s upcoming book, as quoted by George Stephanopolous on his blog, 10-31- 09:] “The incident [the news about Reverend Wright and his parishioner BHO] should have prompted an immediate scouring of the Reverend Wright and all he has said over the years….it’s worth noting that our systemic failure to deal with this issue properly started the day before Obama’s announcement.  I still kick myself for how terribly we mishandled our internal Wright work.” [Added 11-5: Plouffe was queried about the Rev. Wright relationship by Terri Gross on NPR, 11-4, and stated flat out that Obama had joined Wright’s church not because of its leader but mostly because of the strong community it attracted. This was exactly the line during the campaign, during damage control time as Wright’s politics were revealed.]

Is Reverend Wright a Black Liberationist?
By Clare L. Spark

Ralph Luker, Atlanta Journal-Constitution 3-18-08

“The Almighty God himself is not the only, not the God just standing out saying through Hosea, ‘I love you, Israel.’ He’s also the God that stands up before the nations and said: ‘Be still and know that I’m God, that if you don’t obey me I will break the backbone of your power, and slap you out of the orbits of your international and national relationships.”

Those words sound like something by the Rev. Jeremiah Wright of Chicago’s Trinity United Church of Christ, Sen. Barack Obama’s minister. He was much quoted over the weekend as having said: “God damn America.” But the quotation comes not from Wright, but from the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s first address to the Montgomery Improvement Association on December 5, 1955. Both African-American preachers have understood prophetic biblical preaching far better than those who feign shock at and condemn Wright’s words. … ‘G-d damn, America,’ indeed. It should have more men like him.”

Martin Luther King, Jr. 12-5-55

“The Almighty God himself is not only, not the God just standing out saying through Hosea, “I love you, Israel.” He’s also the God that stands up before the nations and said: “Be still and know that I’m God (Yeah), that if you don’t obey me I will break the backbone of your power (Yeah) and slap you out of the orbits of your international and national relationships.” (That’s right) Standing beside love is always justice, and we are only using the tools of justice. Not only are we using the tools of persuasion, but we’ve come to see that we’ve got to use the tools of coercion. Not only is this thing a process of education, but it is also a process of legislation. (Yeah) [applause]”

It is puzzling to me that Ralph Luker can partially excerpt a speech of Martin Luther King, Jr. to link King’s prophetic voice to the pastor of black liberation theology who shouted “God damn America,” for it was the separatist black power movement (derived from black supremacist Pan-Africanism and Elijah Muhammad’s Nation of Islam, and later Christianized by James Cone) that saw “white supremacist” America as irrevocably damned, whereas the integrationist King, speaking at the inception of the Montgomery bus boycott movement, protested the failure of American democracy to live up to its stated ideals, and proposed legal, non-violent means to rectify a shameful lapse: moral suasion and legislation. King did not present a damned America, but one with promise if, as a Christian and democratic nation, its professed universal brotherhood, signifying equality before the law, was to be addressed: “And certainly, certainly, this is the glory of America, with all of its faults. (Yeah) This is the glory of our democracy. If we were incarcerated behind the iron curtains of a Communistic nation, we couldn’t do this. If we were dropped in the dungeon of a totalitarian regime, we couldn’t do this. (All right) But the great glory of American democracy is the right to protest for right. (That’s right) [applause].”

One of my areas of research is black history, particularly the ideas of Ralph Bunche, both before he collaborated with Gunnar Myrdal in the research for An American Dilemma: The Negro Problem and Modern Democracy (1944) and during the years he worked for the United Nations. Bunche, despite his interest in the 1930s Left, was always an integrationist with a strong commitment to the welfare of “my people,” and who marched with Martin Luther King, Jr. in the 1960s, distanced himself from separatist movements until the end of his life, despite efforts of Malcolm X and others to enlist his participation in an “umbrella movement,” or, in the case of UC Berkeley professor Charles P. Henry, to claim Bunche for “black power” in a late-life conversion. Bunche’s biographer Sir Brian Urquhart put a special emphasis on Bunche’s as “an American life,” not the life of a hyphenated American, and that was Bunche’s line as well. It was most probably he who gave Myrdal the idea of “an American Creed” of rationalism, democracy, and egalitarianism, to which even Southern whites gave at least lip service. In a 1941 speech urging black participation in the resistance to Nazism, he reiterated the American Creed, and, referring to Southern white laggards, memorably concluded, “Democracy, to be realized, must be lived broadly.”

I can also say that the cultural nationalists who are now the primary black voices on the Pacifica Radio network are frequently just as paranoid as Rev. Jeremiah Wright. Bunche, in his memoranda to Myrdal, observed that ghettoes produce parochialism: the self-destructive suspicion of outsiders that cannot distinguish friends from enemies. Bunche’s analysis has been vindicated. Listening to Wright’s claim that government programs originated the AIDS virus to destroy blacks reminded me of “Afrikan Mental Liberation Weekend,” a notorious series of radio broadcasts on Los Angeles Pacifica station KPFK in the early 1990s, that virtually damned “the ice people.” The financial support emanating from black listeners was intense. Such irrationalism was not part of the American Creed as formulated by Bunche, who died in 1971; on the contrary he was ever wary of incendiary language and populist revolts that released pent-up hatred and resentment along with fantastic longings for an idealized past or utopian future. Unfortunately several trends in American life in the last several decades have marginalized Bunche’s vision of an imperfect America that was yet capable of equal treatment for minorities, especially the right of equal opportunity to “get ahead,” universally applied to all its citizens.

Some months ago, a prominent libertarian commentator predicted that the 2008 presidential campaign could profitably facilitate a national discussion on the appropriate role of the state in the economy, a prediction based on the assumption that Republicans and libertarians generally favor free markets and limited government, while Democrats and leftists look to statist remedies conferring “social justice” in order to correct a bogus and skewed “free market”:  For some “progressives” Adam Smith was dead wrong: free trade and market economies do not promote peace or create wealth and an ever rising standard of living for ordinary people, but rather imperialist war, accelerating inequality, and the destruction of nature. This could be a productive conversation for all Americans, and would engage such books as Jonah Goldberg’s popular polemic Liberal Fascism (2008) and the more nuanced, historically grounded examination of the role of the state in a market economy, Jerry Z. Muller’s The Mind and the Market: Capitalism in Modern European Thought (2002). Sadly, that debate is not the one we are having, although it may underlie the current controversy regarding Obama’s true beliefs with respect to “black liberation theology.” On the surface the political class wonders, does Barack Obama silently agree while he publicly disagrees with his ex-pastor and mentor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright? Moreover, there are questions about Wright’s place within American black history: is he a separatist in the tradition of Malcolm X and other cultural nationalists, or are his Afro-centric “jeremiads” and his “African Christianity” a legitimate offspring of the postwar civil rights movement, peacefully opposing “segregation, separatism, sectarianism and superiority” as Martin Marty has argued in The Chronicle of Higher Education (4-11-08)?

What I find shocking is the erasure of historical memory and analytic precision that seems to exist inside those ostensibly liberal institutions that affect public opinion.  The vague and undefined buzz words—not just “change” or “hope” but “the black community,” “diversity,” “social justice”– that pervade media commentary were partly produced or ratified by leading universities as their administrations incorporated and co-opted 1960s social movements. Writing in the late 1930s, Bunche and his colleagues had demanded an integrated political, social, and economic history of blacks in America with investigators approaching the problem from diverse antiracist perspectives, but cooperatively developing a scientifically collected knowledge base of use to all reformers. By contrast, in response to the urban riots of the middle and late 1960s, college administrators shoved the often class-based grievances of blacks and other protestors, for instance, women and Latinos, into separate departments defined by gender or race/ethnicity, and eventually taught by members of their racial or gender group. Simultaneously, fields of study bloomed in departments of English and cultural studies that disavowed [WASP-Jewish] Euro-centric white male supremacy and racism, while, oddly, perpetuating a racial and communitarian discourse of “diversity.” “Educational” (tax-exempt) public media, supported by the federal government, the liberal foundations, and listener-sponsors quickly followed suit. Disappeared was the concept of American society as a collection of free-standing individuals whose civil rights were (or should be) guaranteed by the liberal state; taking its place were autonomous racial or ethnic communities whose distinctive “cultures” (each with its own particular Zeitgeist and heroes, unrecognized or indecipherable to other races or ethnicities) would be celebrated as the antidote to debilitating “negative images” supposedly dispensed by rich white males and their white  supremacist lackeys. Also deseparecido was the 18th century concept of the melting pot, which was now seen as a conspiracy against the regnant “cultural pluralism.” Israel Zangwill had explicated “The Melting Pot” in his popular play of 1908; his was a syncretic view of the unprecedented enriched and enriching American culture-in-formation that would leave European blood feuds behind, but such clarifications were soon viewed as apologetics for a manipulative pseudo-objective “science” that dissolved precious ancestral ties, leaving deracinated immigrants and ex-slaves victims of either [Jewishly-inspired] proletarian internationalism, or of urban anomie, hence newly susceptible to a debasing jewified mass culture, and consigned to slugging it out in the war of all against all that was the legacy of Locke, Hobbes, and their atomizing doctrines of “possessive individualism.”  That “identity politics” retains its salience is demonstrated by The New York Times in its report of Obama’s speech on race, 3-19-08: “Mr. Obama stayed up well into the night writing much of the speech himself, aides said. His words carried familiar strains of the biography he wrote more than a decade ago about his search for racial identity.”

There were other casualties in the post-60s process of co-opting the movements of women and minorities as they had existed since the entwined Protestant-led reform movements of the antebellum period, including abolitionism and feminism. I have mentioned above the denigration of the Enlightenment concept of individuality and universal civil rights as the individual, dissenting or otherwise, was melted into “community” (das Volk or “integral nationalism” as understood by German Romantics). The postmodern revolt against science (science as just another “story”) jettisoned the notion of free speech also central to the Enlightenment: Free speech was not an excuse for slander and libel or loose talk in general, but that which enabled the no-holds-barred search for truth, that is, a search that would ultimately yield a working consensus on social policy and reform, arrived at through collective deliberation based on universally observable facts, not site-specific group facts.  But there are no universally observable facts, nor are there objective histories of conflict, according to those literary theorists who have annexed history and anthropology to their projects of advancing moral and cultural relativism, God or Goddess damning the bigoted imperialist, patriarchal, and ecocidal “Amerika”/“the hypocritical West,” and justifying “terror” as a legitimate weapon against predatory Eurocentric scientific method as wielded by mad scientists and Romantic Wandering Jews. Hence, James Cone, originator of “black liberation theology” could state in 1971 with conviction (and future support): “If the oppressed are to attain their freedom, they must begin to create a new style of communication which is consistent with their struggle for liberation. In part they must deny the accepted canons of logic, allowing the liberation struggle alone to be the logical test for meaningful discourse. Logical consistency, as defined by the oppressors, is irrelevant.”  

Without understanding the recent submergence of the rational argumentation that sustains productive democratic participation in our “progressive” institutions, it is difficult to see the scandal of the Obama-Wright controversy and the shallow analysis in some quarters that has accompanied the dissemination of Wright’s sermons and Obama’s speech on race. Think of the learned political debates of the 1930s or the pre-60s postwar civil rights movement that, in retrospect, were oases of scholarship and empiricism. The very concept of “racial diversity” as currently deployed was dissected by anti-Nazis, for example Julian Huxley in We Europeans (1936), or by such proponents of an educated and unified industrial union movement as political scientist Bunche and his mentor and colleague at Howard University, the economist Abram L. Harris. Throw in their friend, the anthropologist Melville Herskovits who challenged “the myth of the Negro past” (i.e., that there were no African survivals in the U.S.) by arguing for cultural syncretism. These materialists were keenly aware of clashing interests and strategies among blacks, and Bunche, for one, not only challenged the concept of “race” tout court in his well-known pamphlet A World View of Race (1936) but lamented the fiasco of the 1935 National Negro Congress that he and his mentor Abram L. Harris had helped to organize, for he understood that no agreement over tactics could be achieved where black integrationists and black nationalists, or capitalists and labor union bureaucrats oblivious to the needs of rank and file workers, sat at the same table. As he bitterly noted in his memoranda, “There is no such thing as “the Negro.” For Bunche at that time, there could be no institutional change without independent organization by participants in the labor market, educated through the experience of unified (black-white) class action how best to defend their individual and group interests. But taking his writings as a whole, “integration” for Bunche signified equal rights; i.e., equal opportunity to pursue the American dream, a goal that was unlikely to be realized without the elimination of ghettoes.

Whether or not Marxist postulations of irreconcilable structural antagonisms between capital and labor are still relevant and helpful, the Bunche cohort’s disdain for the toothless strategies of upper-class white foundations who were advocating interracial understanding and enhanced communication, i.e., [Christian] love not [Jewish] hate, as the primary solution to black poverty and political powerlessness, remains apposite. (See https://clarespark.com/2009/10/10/ralph-bunche-and-the-jewish-problem/.) So much for “the black community” as posited by today’s pundits, dutifully echoing the histrionic cultural nationalists who dominate the public square, claiming to speak for all members of their “race”, while hoping to mobilize mass (and liberal upper-class) support for the advancement of their own very particular careers. As long as we allow color and an antiquated discourse of the organic [black] community to define the political divisions that matter, we ignore the urgent question that begs to be addressed: In an era of globalization, what role should government intervention and regulation play in an advanced market economy, and how well have prior interventions and regulations served their purported objectives? The “civil rights movements” (feminism, gay rights, etc.) that piggy-backed on the black movement (one that was always internally divided between integrationist and separatist strategies) may have exacerbated already existing divisions in the democratic polity, diverting attention from the bigger picture, which is the long-standing polarization over the role of the state in regulating a free market economy. Questions of remedies for exclusion—of women, minorities, and gays– are properly subsumed under this larger problem of government, especially since we are federalists in an enormous nation with diverse and often conflicting belief systems. Barack Obama, former president of the Harvard Law Review, quoting Martin Luther King, Jr., could and should have made that the focus of “the ferocious urgency of now.”

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