YDS: The Clare Spark Blog

September 2, 2013

Labor Day 2013

Alison Saar sculpture palma y palmara

Alison Saar sculpture palma y palmara

On the history of this holiday see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Labor_Day. For a conservative response to the crypto-communism seen in this celebration, see http://www.nationalreview.com/article/357369/red-monday-kevin-d-williamson. President Grover Cleveland made the first Monday in September a holiday to avoid May Day associations with the Haymarket Massacre, the latter an event that has taken religious tones for some Leftists.  Since the Knights of Labor were involved in Grover Cleveland’s decision, I suspect that the initial modern labor movement was nostalgic for medieval guilds that excluded tyros and enforced standards of craftsmanship that are now gone with the wind. In the early days of the American Republic, it was customary for the various occupations to mount parades celebrating their contributions. Such parades are lovingly resuscitated and honored by academic historians of the labor movement; such scholars are generally devoted to “the new labor history” that confines itself mostly to the “culture” of the industrial working class as opposed to its internal politics and hierarchies. Nestled in academe, with tenure and necessarily silenced and dependent students, these academics can be regarded as aristocratic radicals, blue jeans and work shirts notwithstanding.

I know a bit about the decorative arts and modernism in general, and American craftsmen, once ignored as too severe or kitschy, are now admired as “folk artists, a.k.a. primitivists.  But this blog is not about the collecting habits of New England WASPS, or the ways some modern artists had adapted old forms for political purposes in such redoubts as the East Village of NYC in the name of a reinvigorated “spirituality” (opposed to bourgeois “materialism”).

The academic left is assiduous in documenting the spectacular strikes of industrial workers in the 19th C, the Pinkerton operatives who mowed the strikers down like rabbits , the popularity of Eugene V. Debs, the ferocity of A. Mitchell Palmer and his confederates in destroying the IWW, and the sit-down strikes of the 1930s. Indeed, John Dos Passos’s trilogy USA is surely one of the great American novels, though the reputation of Dos Passos has taken a hit after he exposed the criminal infiltration of big labor in his novel Mid-Century (1961).  No one on the Left will forgive his defection, a process that began with his break with Hemingway during the Spanish Civil War over Hemingway’s indifference to the fate of the murdered Jose Robles (Dos’s translator). But USA readers should have noticed that he was always hard on Communist organizers.

The 1930s are frequently lauded as a decade of amelioration for the working class under the guidance of New Deal legislation, but see this letter from Emmet (“Sam”) Dorsey, Ralph Bunche’s colleague at Howard University (not dated, but 1933):

[Dorsey to Bunche:] “This town is in an uproar. Labor is raising hell. There are thousands in Union Square every night denouncing the N.R.A. and “Yankee imperialism in Cuba.” An epidemic of strikes are breaking out all over. The government is being driven to the position of opposing all strikes. If this policy of the (gov.) continues labour will be just out of the picture. It’s an anomalous situation. Roosevelt is begging labor to organize! He wants labor to police his codes. Labor is incapable of organizing because of its reactionary and unwieldy craft structure. And Bill Green is pitiable. One of the best and also most tragic stories is the one concerning Swope and Green. Swope asked Green to organize his industry! Such an organization would be an industrial union. Green said that he couldn’t do it because he would have to interfere with the autonomy of the several unions in his (Swope’s) industry. The test has come and the structure, tactics, and ideology of the A.F. of L. [are] found to be terribly outmoded and inept. Only the radical unions are able to move. But they because of the strangle hold the A.F. of L. has upon the Amer. labor movement can’t do the job. If labor were intelligently organized now it could really bargain but as things now stand all that it can do is to call shop and plant strikes which have no national labor support and therefore are treated by the government as attempts to sabotage its program. If labor doesn’t get itself together and seemingly it can’t what can the result be but complete monopolized control from above? Well, it’s their U.S.A. Let them mess it up.” (Swope was a progressive and President of General Electric. Enter the CIO, industrial unionism, and sordid affiliations with gangsters.)

I quoted Dorsey’s  letter, because Bunche (during his radical period in the 1930s) was enraged by the power that union bosses had over the rank and file. Such analysis is missing today by labor historians, who have plumped for “the labor movement” (along with the anti-globalization movement), but have not dwelt upon its abandonment of its original noble goals: to ensure the health and safety of its members, to improve their material condition, and to guard the consumer from faulty, even dangerous, merchandise/products. Indeed, government unions are not criticized for internal corruption or for their very existence. Nor has the academic left worried its head over the decline of public education (surely the bedrock of longstanding worker demands). Rather, it has stigmatized the “white working class” as nativist while supporting teachers unions against charter schools or vouchers.

Thos. Hart Benton: The Twist

Thos. Hart Benton: The Twist

In a short blog, I cannot dwell upon the absence of women’s work in the home as only a recent concern of labor historians (e.g. Alice Kessler-Harris), but it is worth pointing out that technology has made the old glorification of “the dignity of labor” obsolete, for many men, but not for mothers whose exhausting tasks in rearing children go largely unrecognized except on token holidays such as Mother’s Day.

Indeed, it was a communist claim that science and technology had created a revolution in productivity that the social relations of capitalism could not handle, hence the drive to obscene waste and war by profiteers. But the record of the Soviet Union, that bastion of “socialism,” discredited its claims that the future worked.  Today, the industrial working class has largely disappeared, thanks to automation (though sweat shops in Los Angeles exist, along with farm labor and food preparation in Southern and agricultural red states). Bureaucrats in civil service, or low-wage service employees, domestic labor and/or janitors are now targets of lefty organizing, while our populist POTUS wants to make everyone “middle class,” even if there is no money to pay for the innovations of the New Deal and the Great Society.  The old industrial working class is no more, and it is hard to see how communist agitation directed toward the overthrow of “exploitative finance capital” can deliver the leisure and higher culture that such communists as R. Palme Dutt promised in 1934. We seem hardly to know what to do with the leisure we do have.

On a personal note: though my European ancestors were apparently not proletarian or engaged in farming, but seem all to have been rabbis or small craftsmen, I have always identified with those toward the bottom of the totem pole: labor, whether these be enlisted men in the armed services, construction workers, plumbers, garment makers , domestics, or mothers/ housewives whose work is never completed. One of my father’s cousins died in the Triangle Shirtwaist fire (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Triangle_Shirtwaist_Factory_fire) .

Today I look around and see a shocking disengagement from politics, economics, and the future of our country in favor of apocalyptic cultural pessimism, meaningless chatter/kvetching in social media as in most social gatherings, and few ideas about what should constitute informed and effective political action. Sex (including S-M), fashion, celebrity-worship, raucous popular music, and the culture wars have replaced the once vibrant and contentious political culture that characterized the US from the Revolution onward.  Political correctness countered by religious and political fundamentalism and conspiracy theories substitute for a detailed, accurate knowledge of the flawed social movements that brought us to this sorry pass.

Are we not cannibalizing the bones of our ancestors?  A cause for national atonement, I dare say.



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?


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.


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.

March 31, 2012

Nell Painter’s History of White People

Rather than summarize the scope of Nell Painter’s book, I ask you to read this review by a sympathetic colleague. http://www.nytimes.com/2010/03/28/books/review/Gordon-t.html?pagewanted=all.

As  Linda Gordon’s NYT review makes clear, Nell Irvin Painter, a much honored historian, has written The History of White People (Norton, 2010), directing this synoptic intellectual/cultural history to a popular audience, hence biting off too big a chunk of history. Not so surprisingly, Professor Gordon, a well-known left-feminist, does not launch an ideological critique, for she shares the same social democratic/New Deal belief system. Gordon is a noted historian of the welfare state and feminist issues, but since she is of the same faction as Painter, she could not identify the slant of Painter’s book, which mocks the notion of cultural syncretism and the melting pot in favor of a salad bowl or multiplicity of American identities, defined in terms that rooted cosmopolitans would recognize: see https://clarespark.com/2010/07/20/german-romantic-predecessors-to-multiculturalism/, and https://clarespark.com/2010/10/18/the-dialectic-of-multiculturalism-helvetius-herder-fichte/).

Briefly, Painter reiterates the left-progressive (but not Marxist*) story of American identity, one defined in racial terms: American identity, the echt example of Manifest Destiny masquerading as universal messianic liberator, was in fact racist, imperialist, classist, sexist, etc. Howard Zinn could have written this book, and did. American identity is nowhere related to the revolutionary character of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, or to the uniqueness of the conception of popular sovereignty—a notion of popular participation that would require several centuries and bitterly fought conflicts to be worked out, and even then, thanks to the unhelpful interventions of many progressives like Painter and Gordon, was undermined by boundaries to education established by corporatist liberal elites and their allies and pets, the teachers unions. For a chronology see https://clarespark.com/2011/10/24/turning-points-in-the-ascentdecline-of-the-west/.

The corporatist liberals are a movement of patricians who attached themselves to “intercultural understanding” as a solution to looming class politics from 1900 on, and who were especially threatened in the 1930s, when materialist analyses were prominent and popular. (See my blog https://clarespark.com/2009/10/10/ralph-bunche-and-the-jewish-problem/. Ralph Bunche and other anti-racist blacks—especially Abram L. Harris–writing in the materialist tradition and in opposition to German Idealism, are absent from her book, along with such as white antiracists Charles Sumner and Thaddeus Stevens and many abolitionists, also Anglophiles in the sense that they celebrated libertarian ideals.)

In Painter’s account, New England Puritans were the bad guys whose ancestors framed the Magna Charta (dissed by Painter), and whose descendants were (with the exception of Ruth Benedict) nativists associated with the Republican Party. All other Americans (obviously blacks, but also non-Aryans) were  their victims.  But recent trends in intermarriage have blurred the sharp racial lines that were established by “scientific racism.” The latter is an ideology forged in Germany and England, and then eagerly taken up by American Republicans like Theodore Roosevelt and those she associates with him, Lothrop Stoddard and Madison Grant  [although Zangwill dedicated his The Melting Pot to TR]. Into the brew add a host of American eugenicists and evil statisticians, who not only persecuted Appalachian whites and ethnic groups from Eastern and Southeastern Europe, arbitrarily designating themselves (the WASPS) as the natural elite and true white people, but originated, avant la lettre, some of the most repellent Nazi practices and beliefs.

Along the way, Professor Painter, like other social democrats, presents herself as a sympathizer to the working class and to anarchists and communists absurdly hounded by the proto-Nazi Republicans in the riotous and strike-ridden year of 1919. (Readers of Jonah Goldberg’s Liberal Fascism will find some of the same miscreants, e.g., Margaret Sanger, only in his widely admired book, it is progressives who are the fascists and Nazis.) And yet, Painter does not recognize or acknowledge the German Romantic predecessors to multiculturalism and Nazism alike. Nor does the term “organic conservative” darken her palette. (See these take shape in the interwar period in numerous venues as I laid out in several blogs: https://clarespark.com/2009/09/19/populism-progressivism-and-corporatist-liberalism-in-the-nation-1919/, https://clarespark.com/2010/03/05/organic-conservatives-and-hitler/, https://clarespark.com/2009/11/22/on-literariness-and-the-ethical-state/.  In other words, the progressives and Southern Agrarians were as enamored of “Anglo-Saxon” collectivist/corporatist categories as the uniformly racist Republicans she taunts throughout.

I do not know why Painter wrote this book unless it was meant to lure Reagan Democrats away from the Republican Party, back to the Democratic Party as it has evolved under President Obama. Her work reminds me of a common designation by 1930s Stalinists whereby all Republicans were Fascists, whereas the multicultural Soviet Union was the home to the most amply realized freedom of the individual.

One or two last words: Although Painter is hostile to antisemitism, she is not sympathetic to Israel, or to “Jews” who insist on “having the last word.” I did find her description of Hiram Powers’s “The White Slave” to be a useful key to identifying the erotic appeal of Katherine McPhee’s big number in the last episode of Smash. Dressed in white drapery, country mouse McPhee as Marilyn Monroe, is hounded to death and caged by her [Jewish?] masked promoters/fans, with her allure defined by whiteness and the chains (bars of the cage) that link purity, sex, and submission. But any hip feminist would have seen through that one.

Hiram Powers' White Slave

*Marx admired the American Civil War as one of the great world revolutions. His communist supporters, writing in The New Masses during the 1930s, admired America for having developed the productive forces that would make the transcendence of capitalism a practical possibility. In those days, one could find radicals who admired the bourgeoisie as a progressive class. The New Left, mesmerized by black nationalist militants and Afro-centrists like Nell Painter, scrubbed away that interpretation of U.S. history. I rather  like her paintings however.

"Plantains 3" Nell Painter

January 3, 2012

The Race Card

Sumner bio paperback cover art

This blog responds to the playing of “the race card” by such politicians as Eric Holder, Barack Obama, Al Sharpton, and Jesse Jackson, plus a cast of thousands of militant black nationalists, along with academic allies who favor ethnic studies. Their separatism and taxonomy of “African-Americans” suggests not only an underlying loyalty to (racist) Pan-Africanism, but a fashionable version of US history as unmarked by moral and political outrage at the institution of slavery or horror at the failed struggle for Reconstruction after the supposed ending of the Civil War. At bottom, this blog suggests that the President’s continued popularity may be partly attributed to white liberal guilt (as suggested early on by Shelby Steele and others), and certainly not to powerful “liberal” blows against the racism that permeates our society, with some exceptions.

I will try to contrast two important books on race and class in the 19th century; one by the late David Montgomery, writing from the Left, and another by the late David Herbert Donald, writing from the moderate middle.  As I have shown in other blogs on the website, such success as the ex-slaves and their descendants have achieved in America is explained by the overt or subtextual racism of primitivism and  multiculturalism. (See https://clarespark.com/2010/04/08/racism-modernity-modernism/, and https://clarespark.com/2011/05/12/the-great-common-goes-to-the-white-house/.

I.    After having faulted upper-class antebellum and post-bellum Radical reformers (through 1868) for their obliviousness to structural class conflict, the late labor historian David Montgomery concluded that “the Radicals” (including Charles Sumner), nevertheless exerted a positive influence on American politics. In Beyond Equality, (1967) the book that established him as a leading historian, Montgomery ended with this paragraph:  “…though their moment in power was brief and their response to the dilemmas of that moment confused, the Radicals left America a legacy that was both rich and various. To Negroes they bequeathed the promise of equality, enshrined in the organic law of the land. To Liberals they imparted faith that an educated and propertied elite might shepherd the nation through the morass of democratic ignorance toward an increasingly prosperous, harmonious, and rational life. Upon the Sentimental Reformers, and through them, on the working classes, they bestowed the ideal of popular use of governmental machinery to promote the common good, and a conception of that good as something nobler than a larger gross national product. Henry Carey’s sense of revulsion toward the consecration of “selfishness and individualism as the prime feature of society,” and Thaddeus Stevens’s aspiration for a community ‘freed from every vestige of human oppression,’ jettisoned by a nation in frantic pursuit of wealth, were left in trust to its labor movement.”

(For David Montgomery’s views on his membership in the Communist Party see http://rhr.dukejournals.org/content/1980/23/37.full.pdf+html.)

II.   I have quoted from Montgomery’s first book, not because I sympathize with his Marxist analysis of the future of the labor movement, but because Montgomery’s positive view of the abolitionists and antislavery men (including Senator Charles Sumner, 1811-1874) stands in such sharp contrast with that of his Ivy League colleague David Herbert Donald, author of a much lauded two-volume biography of Sumner, that leaves out the labor question altogether, focusing rather on Sumner (a catalyst for Civil War) as a pain in the neck (perhaps with Jewish, Negro, or Indian blood), deserving of endless psychological analysis. But even more importantly, Donald sees the race problem as one of “prejudice,” without consideration of labor competition, in Ralph Bunche’s view, the lingering cause of white racism (see https://clarespark.com/2009/10/10/ralph-bunche-and-the-jewish-problem/) .

Here are some passages that illustrate my point:

David Herbert Donald

[From Donald, Charles Sumner and the Coming of the Civil War (1960), footnote: pp.4-5:] “…Barry [1853] asserted that Sumner’s mother was ‘probably of Jewish descent’; this allegation led…Stearns [1905]…to identify ‘the Hebrew element in Sumner’s nature; the inflexibility of purpose, the absolute self-devotion, and even the prophetic forecast.’ Such a theory of inherited racial traits is, of course, highly unscientific. But, in any case, the Jewish strain in Sumner’s ancestry is dubious. At no point in his career, when virtually every other possible weapon was used against him, were anti-Semitic charges raised.” In the text on p. 5, Donald reports that “Boston maiden aunts speculated—without any evidence whatever—that the mysterious [Esther Holmes, Sumner’s paternal grandmother, never married to Major Sumner] had been ‘partly of Negro or Indian blood.’” But then, Donald hints that there may be something to these speculations seeking to account for Sumner’s passion for Negro human rights: “Prudently the new senator preferred to draw the veil over the whole subject of his genealogy (referring to CS’s autobiography): “It seems to me better to leave it all unsaid.”

In Charles  Sumner and the Rights of Man (1970), Donald takes a slightly more positive view of his subject, but no sooner does he declare Sumner’s belief in the brotherhood of humanity, than he finds a quote that attributes distinct racial qualities to Negroes (though this typical 19th century view of national or racial character never affects Sumner’s view of such crucial matters as freeing the slaves immediately after the attack on Fort Sumter, or endowing the freedmen with some of the land that they had worked, plus a full panoply of civil rights, including desegregated quality education, male suffrage, the right to testify in trials, desegregated public space, etc.

[Donald, V.2, p. 422, referring to Sumner’s anti-segregation speech “The Question of Caste”:]  “Invoking the new prestige of evolutionary science, he declared that ethnology and anthropology proved the ‘overruling Unity’ among the races of man, ‘by which they are constituted one and the same cosmopolitan species, endowed with speech, reason, conscience, and the hope of immortality, knitting all together in a common Humanity.’… [The Switch:] When the bars of caste were lifted, the Negroes would exhibit their basic racial traits of ‘simplicity, amenity, good-nature, generousity, fidelity,’ and these, when added to the ‘more precocious and harder’ characteristics of white Americans, would result in a civilization where ‘men will not only know and do, but they will feel also.”….

Near the end of Vol. 2, Donald reveals his affinity with Gunnar Myrdal, the white liberal foundations who funded and controlled the production of An American Dilemma (1944), and other cultural historians who hoped that reduction of “prejudice” and interracial understanding (or the constant reiteration of “white guilt”) will alleviate every kind of racism, through a change of heart:

[Donald, p. 533, referring to Sumner’s proposed civil rights bill:] “The subordination of the Negroes was less a matter of economics than of prejudice, deep-seated and ineradicable so long as black men legally were marked as belonging to an inferior caste. Only by securing equal rights to all citizens could the United States live up to its promise and become a land where even-handed justice ruled.”

This rejection of economic considerations (e.g. labor competition) is precisely what Myrdal’s associate Ralph Bunche or his mentor Abram L. Harris, were repudiating in the late 1930s.

What to take away from this dip into the conflicted mind of the late David Herbert Donald, a Mississippian with a Vermont ancestor who fought for the Union? How did he climb the academic ladder to become one of the most honored historians in the field? Why should we pay attention to his Sumner obsession?

I have two primary reasons for writing this blog:

  1. Having reread the two-volume Donald  bio of Sumner, I am more convinced than ever that Melville modeled his character Captain Ahab after Sumner. Just as “Ahab” was a “fighting Quaker”,  Sumner’s first scandalous public oration– on the Fourth of July 1845, in Faneuil Hall, Boston, to an elite assemblage that included military brass sitting in the first row—denounced all wars and pledged his life to peace.  The “fighting Quaker” moniker, plus the compassion that Ahab feels for the black boy Pip, going so far as to take “crazy” Pip into his cabin and promising never to abandon him, clinches the deal for me. For Sumner’s writing completed as Melville was writing Moby-Dick see https://clarespark.com/2009/10/05/charles-sumner-moderate-conservative-on-lifelong-learning/. Or see https://clarespark.com/2008/05/03/margoth-vs-robert-e-lee/.

2. The notion that a career such as Sumner’s, passionately averse to slavery, that then fights for reconstruction of an American post-Civil War Union, could be the sign of a mental disorder or even tainted blood, is so bizarre as to be a sign of mental  incompetence and perhaps outright hostility in Sumner’s biographer. It was noted in one obituary (the New York Times) that Volumes one and two of  Donald’s major work were different in tone, owing to the growing civil rights movement. Clearly, that writer did not read the new, improved model with sufficient care.  Donald never relinquishes his characterization of a foppish, somewhat gay, anti-social, supremely arrogant and Negro-fixated Charles Sumner. His complexion may have been olive-tinted in Volume 1, but he goes out in Vol. 2 with “So White a Soul” (referring to Emerson’s characterization of Sumner’s moral  purity, but with a suggestion of underlying racism).


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). 

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/.

February 10, 2011

“Multiculturalism”: cui bono?

David Cameron

I have seen numerous cable news reports of British P. M. David Cameron’s recent speech in Munich, where he spoke about “multiculturalism” as failed social policy, thus joining Angela Merkel as a critic of MC.  No one in the major media, to my knowledge, understands the origin and application of this doctrine, although it is the chief sales point of many a progressive private school, and indeed, it is the ruling ideology in the U.S., though both Marxists and conservatives grumble.  I wrote about its origins at length here: http://hnn.us/articles/4533.html. But to answer the question I posed above, who benefits, I can enumerate those who have triumphed in imposing MC:

1. Social democrats who smashed the red specter of proletarian internationalism that haunted Europe after the French Revolution and the various smaller revolutions that followed. The social democratic claim was that ethnicity trumped class solidarity in the hearts of the people. In countries such as the U.S. where a flood of immigrants threatened WASP hegemony, the melting pot ideal of the new amalgamated, innovative, culturally syncretic American was smothered by “cultural pluralism” and hyphenated Americanism as advanced by such as Randolph Bourne and Horace Kallen. Ethnicity or “race” displaced “class” as an analytic category, though the Depression years saw a resurgence of class analysis, making late 1930s progressives very nervous about another depression that would surely follow demobilization after the looming  second world war. Et voila, the Carnegie Corporation fretted about the “American Dilemma,” with Gunnar Myrdal attacking Ralph Bunche’s  “economic determinism” in the pages of that landmark book, An American Dilemma: The Negro Problem and American Democracy (1944).

2. Upwardly mobile non-white petit-bourgeois intellectuals. In the move toward separate ethnic studies programs after the urban riots of the mid to late 1960s, college administrators leapt at the opportunity to pacify the restless natives. MC asserted that “cultural diversity” was a great thing for everyone, enriching even, and that if you were a person of color, only other persons of color in your particular group understood your unique and untranslatable “experience”. Under these conditions, ancient and recent wrongs would be righted, and “deracinated” blacks, browns, and reds (Native Americans), and sometimes even yellows, would set down roots and arm themselves to resist the depredations of the white male oppressor. Job opportunities burgeoned for would-be academics from the correctly hyphenated community of color. (I.e., only an African-American can teach African-American Studies.)

3. Terrorists (home-grown).  The constant reiteration of Amerika as a tainted, evil country, with no boundaries between past and present,  provides the moral justification for destroying the entire entity.

     So when P.M. David Cameron and various journalists deplore ghettoes that prevent assimilation to a presumably more coherent [British] “national identity” they are not misdescribing reality (though jihadists are the issue, not westernized Muslims, though there is disagreement even on this issue: see http://www.meforum.org/3053/radical-islamist-muslims). Where the pundits fail is in ignoring distinctions between liberal nationalism (Gesellschaft) and conservative, integral nationalism (Gemeinschaft). I.e., they do not sufficiently define their terms.  Charles Sumner prescribed liberal nationalism during the mid-19th century as follows: the overarching federal government, as a republic, protects its citizens from invasion and protects their civil rights, including property rights (See https://clarespark.com/2008/05/03/margoth-vs-robert-e-lee/). But there was a competing notion of “identity” derived first from German Romanticism and then carried forth in the organic conservatism beloved in the American South before and after the Civil War, and by the advocates of MC today as they deploy magical notions of “community” or the utterly invented and absurd idea of Zeitgeist (the spirit of the age or Volk, a spirit, indeed).

What is lost is the notion of the free-standing individual, possessed of an education that prepared her to criticize proposed social policies and their advocates. (See https://clarespark.com/2011/10/09/vox-populi-vox-big-brother/.) What is also lost is the ongoing debate about markets: their wealth-creating potential, or conversely, their regulation, limitation, or abolition. (I am of the belief that markets are wealth-creators and that every anti-modern, anti-science initiative is a descent into possibly irreparable poverty and strife. Multiculturalism is anti-science and anti-modern.)

July 15, 2010

Index to Black Power blogs

Judith Bernstein’s allusion to Black Power

Illustrated is an invitation to feminist artist Judith Bernstein’s new exhibition of work not seen since 1973. Her work was famously censored by the Philadelphia Museum of Art because it was seen as incendiary and a representation of black (phallic) power.

What follows is an index to blogs dealing with source materials that demonstrate the upper-class enabling of the black power movement, thus co-opting the integrationist civil rights movement. It is worth noting that when Ralph Bunche was on the board of trustees of the Rockefeller Foundation, he suggested a pilot program that would begin to break up urban ghettoes by gradually integrating them into small towns and cities. If memory serves (I refer to Sir Brian Urquhart’s biography), the Rockefeller Foundation did nothing and Bunche resigned.

It is also important that the Bunche Center at UCLA has predictably become an advocate of separatism, with Charles Henry, UC Berkeley professor and keynote speaker at the conference I participated in (2004), insisting that Bunche had converted to black power at the end of his life. There is no evidence for that in Bunche’s papers: quite the contrary. Was he angry at the slow pace of progress? Yes. Did he renounce integrationism? No. Would he approved of the term “African American”? No way: he was a proud American who believed that blacks had helped build this country and wanted no other label than that of  “American.” His biographer understood this and subtitled his life of Bunche with this: “An American Life.”




















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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