YDS: The Clare Spark Blog

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.


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