YDS: The Clare Spark Blog

September 3, 2014

Solidarity on “the Left” vs. disunity on “the Right”

conflictmanagementPOTUS (Obama) delivered his usual mixed message today, first vowing to smash ISIS, then softening his stance to one of “managing conflict.” This blog is about why the Right can’t unify to defeat such typical ‘switcheroos.’

All graduate students in today’s better doctoral programs are marinated in the ideology of “progressivism.” How did this come about? I have traced the origins of managerial attempts to deal with the frightening rise of the “laissez-faire” bourgeoisie that threatened to spread Jacobin-type revolution in the early years of the Industrial Revolution–not because the conservatives were Jacobins, but because the early years of the Industrial Revolution, spawned by an alliance of bourgeoisie and aristocracy, suggested a revolution of the new industrial working class. Class relations in Britain were never the same again.

To review: aristocrats in England bonded with the new industrial working class (drawn from deskilled artisans and peasants) against the bourgeoisie. (See https://clarespark.com/2011/07/16/disraelis-contribution-to-social-democracy/.) Disraeli’s Young England and its Christian Socialist allies provided a model for forward thinking politicians, historians (!), and journalists in the United States after the Civil War (the take-off period for rapid industrialization now that the agrarian South was vanquished). Enter the Progressive movement that skillfully co-opted the anti-elitist populist movement, a movement composed of small producers on the land, and directed against railroads for instance. But the progressives never stood with working class organizations or the dread specter of “proletarian internationalism”—rather, they installed “ethnicity” or “race” as the socio-economic division that mattered, erasing “class” as a category for sorting people’s interests out.

The Nation magazine moved sharply to the left in 1919, to avert bloody class warfare, but they supported populism, not communism. Their stance could not have been more elitist or counter-revolutionary. (See https://clarespark.com/2009/09/19/populism-progressivism-and-corporatist-liberalism-in-the-nation-1919/.) Oswald Garrison Villard’s crypto-organic conservatism or a gentleman’s version of the route to social cohesion is obvious, and no anarchists or communists were taken in by his anti-capitalist fulminations.

You could say, with accuracy, that progressives and leftists hated each others’ guts until the brilliant stroke of solidarity against “fascism” in the mid-1930s that was called “the Popular Front.” Such solidarity between social democrats and hard leftists continues to exist, scandalously in my view, with social democrats controlling the discourse. For no radical of either Left or Right should abandon empiricism and materialism (i.e., Enlightenment) to be absorbed by the alleged management of structural conflicts offered by social democrats (i.e., progressives who don’t like Progress as delivered by relatively unregulated market economies).

Hence, the confusion today over Obama’s “true” loyalties: is he a Leninist or a managerial centrist? Opinion on the Right is sharply divided, perhaps because selected pieces of New Deal reformism still exist in the upper reaches of the Republican Party, for instance in the impetus toward Medicare accomplished during the Eisenhower administration, a statist remedy that would serve as models for other reforms in Big Government, such as Obamacare marching toward “Medicare for all.”


I cannot blame the Tea Party for its animus against what appears to be the passivity of Congress in resisting the Obama administration’s apparent big lurch to the Left, but I do fault them for unnecessary sectarianism, particularly among the social conservatives who appear to have abandoned the separation of Church and State, and look to a religious revival to repair structural problems in American society, all the  while denying that there is any racism on the Right.

Contra many conservatives, “liberalism” is not a religion, but an ideology that will triumph as long as the pseudo-leftist social democratic managerial discourse dominates popular culture/public and private speech.

“Progressive rock, Italian style

Until the hopelessly corrupt Chicago machine is dislodged, there is no stopping Big Government. Whatever the flaws of the “Republican establishment” it would serve classical liberalism well to take a lesson from the leftist playbook and practice “solidarity forever.” [Update 9-4-14: There cannot be solidarity on the Right as long as mutual hostility exists between small and big business. See http://www.forbes.com/sites/realspin/2014/07/08/the-u-s-government-isnt-friendly-enough-to-big-business/. This argues that [New Deal reformism] favored small business over big business. This will shock many in The Tea Party.]


July 26, 2014

Darren Mulloy and the John Birch Society

mulloyJBS.jpgThe author is quoted in the Vanderbilt University Press handout for reviewers, quoting the author: “I don’t see the John Birch Society as some part of the ‘lunatic fringe’ of American society, but as a part of the wider culture of the Cold War and as a bridge to the contemporary conservatism of the Tea Party.” VUP: “The John Birch Society played a significant role in the development of the conservative movement as we know it in the U.S.” This statement ignores that the book states unequivocally that it covers the period 1958-1968, with no materials justifying this p.r. guide to potential reviewers, who, presumably will take this book to establish the continuity claimed between the conspiratorial, demonized, and fantastical Welch and his followers and the current disparate foes to “big government.”

D. J. Mulloy is an associate professor in a Canadian university, where he is a member of the history department.A historian is peer-reviewed by the originality of his research and the novelty of the primary sources used. Here are the “primary sources” listed by Professor Mulloy [not one of these is considered to be a primary source comparable to private papers, letters, and diaries, though these must exist in the papers of chief actors in the postwar period from Eisenhower on through Nixon and Ford, not to speak of Buckley and other right-wing characters described in the book: CS ]:
1. John Birch Society periodicals, pamphlets, and speeches
2. Website for JBS.
3. Books (written by eight authors, including Robert W. Welch, Jr.)
4. Newspapers and periodicals
5. Official documents and reports

This is an astounding publication to have emanated from an academic press (Vanderbilt UP, 2014). There are zero examples of either Welch diaries, his correspondence, or the diaries and private correspondence of the chief actors in the melodrama limned by Mulloy. One can only conclude that VUP published a hatchet job directed against all Republicans and conservatives. This despite the evidence supplied by the Venona documents, and the material unearthed by scholars allowed to examine the briefly opened Soviet archives, that did provide proof of Soviet sabotage and spying, as reported by established and more cautious scholars such as John Earl Haynes, Harvey Klehr, Mark Kramer, Ron Radosh, Alexander Vassiliev, and Allen Weinstein.

Moreover, where extremely controversial events are concerned, Mulloy will often cite one book, rather than a variety of interpretations, including those that disagree with whatever claim he makes at the moment in his mad dash through the postwar period.

Chief among his targets is those who claim that the US military budget was justified in light of the fighting strength of the Soviet Union. This is one of the contentions of those Stalinists who accuse [fascist] Americans of starting the Cold War, and of exaggerating the Soviet military threat. Indeed, one prominent New Leftist alerted me to recently declassified CIA documents ‘proving’ that the US was guilty as charged by the Left. But when I looked at these documents, I saw no such materials, but rather, in reviewing the documents treating the Psychological Strategy Board of the 1950s (under the Truman and Eisenhower administrations), I found only disagreement and confusion in high government circles regarding the best approach to dealing with Soviet expansionism. (See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Psychological_Strategy_Board, and my detailed article “Who’s Crazy Now? An Essay Dedicated to Christopher Hill,” UCLA Historical Journal Vol. 10, 1990.)

Another of Mulloy’s professional lapses is his failure to distinguish between class interest and his imprecisely rendered notion of “conspiracy.” Nor is there even an entry in his index for the Popular Front, which might have explained why it was difficult for “extremist” conservatives such as Welch to distinguish between communists and social democrats, a problem that persists today as more and more professed revolutionary socialists deploy the argot of the counter-revolutionary social democrats. (Eric Hobsbawm is one example: see https://clarespark.com/2013/10/28/hobsbawm-israel-the-totalitarian-idea/.)

Moreover, what Mulloy never explains to the reader is this: Marx was never a conspiracy theorist; this was a theoretical point that the JBS didn’t understand, nor probably William F. Buckley either. Socialist revolution would not come from a small group of fanatical terrorists barking out orders from Moscow, but would result from working class revolt, owing to their increasing immiseration under capitalism (resulting from declining rates of profit—a prediction that failed to materialize as Marx had predicted). (Bureaucratic centralism and statism were “Marxist-Leninist” innovations.)

I suppose Mulloy is yet another social democrat who projects his elitism upon a social movement that it does not resemble at all. The populists described in Mulloy’s book were first and foremost suspicious of statist elites, and still are (https://clarespark.com/2009/09/19/populism-progressivism-and-corporatist-liberalism-in-the-nation-1919/ which is indeed elitist).

Working class agency/the labor movement is entirely invisible in Mulloy’s mural of postwar Amerikkka, the land of the easily duped.


April 12, 2014

The Organization of American Historians taking sides

Filed under: Uncategorized — clarelspark @ 9:36 pm
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dissenthouston[From Rick Shenkman’s report on day 2 of the annual meeting of the Organization of American Historians, 2014:] The major event of the day was the late-afternoon plenary session devoted to “historians and their publics.”  The standout panel included Alan Kraut, Spencer Crew, Jill Lepore, Sean Wilentz, and filmmaker Shola Lynch.  Unfortunately, we can’t show you a video as one member of the panel objected to cameras.  So you’ll have to take our word for it that it was a great panel.  Wilentz, typically combative, said that historians should use their authority to police the public square.  When pundits and politicians (Glen Beck, they’re talking about you) make stuff up about history, they should be called out.  Lepore said when she tried to do that very thing in her book on the Tea Party historians wondered why on earth she was bothering. 

Wilentz got off a great line.  Historians, he said, “want to make the alien seem more familiar and the familiar seem more alien.”  That was something all the panelists seemed to agree with.

– See more at: http://hnn.us/article/155258#sthash.wSDxdAJH.dpuf]

[My stunned comment:] This is an astonishing statement to emanate from an academic conference. Read it closely. No longer is US history to be a search for more accurate knowledge about the past, but one of its leading lights, Princeton professor Sean Wilentz recommends [the alienation-effect made famous by Bertolt Brecht?]. Even worse, Rick Shenkman, former chief editor of History News Network, agreeing with Wilentz, sees historians as an arm of the state, policing “the public square”—presumably filled with bothersome and  unteachable Tea Party hoi polloi.

These sentiments are what passes for academic freedom and free speech today. “We have seen the enemy, and the enemy is [not] us.”


No conservative call for anticommunist or anti-progressive historians will remedy the sorry state of academe. Rather, what is needed is an injection of courage and especially the re-examination of the liberal assumptions of yesteryear.

Ralph Bunche complained bitterly of those upper-class white liberal foundations that funded only those projects that increased communications between warring groups, such as white and black. Such tactics offended him because he saw structural flaws in American society that would not disintegrate because whites and blacks played nicely together, eschewing [hate speech].

We should be so lucky now. The polarization is so complete and hardened that certified teachers of the young see themselves as guardians of public order, ONLY. (In the past, their impetus toward political and social “stability” was rarely stated with such startling candor. If the rabble was rioting, you bought them off or co-opted them]

But more, though self-satisfied in their allegiance to that side that works toward “social justice” Wilentz’s Brechtian moment suggests a tactical distancing from complacency with respect to received knowledge, that is belied by the opinion that historians should be the thought police.

It is back: the same old liberal double bind that I complain about endlessly here: There is no conflict between Truth (found out by poring through archives and distancing oneself from inherited biases–i.e., making the familiar seem alien, making the invisible visible) and Order.

These social democrats and leftists may hold the commanding heights of academe, but their opposition holds the mantle of free speech, which I implore them, as the [unruly] public, neither to abuse, nor to take for granted. Our betters have spoken and now it is up to us to uphold reasoned dissent and the rule of law. [Update: 5-7-14: a conservative scholar has taken issue with my thesis here; says that OAH is a private organization and has the right to these sentiments, which he does not associate with policing, but rather with inspection, and that my blog would deny similar rights to conservative academics. I stand by my reading of “policing”, but hope that cultural pluralism is alive and well, as much as this conservative scholar believes to be case, as opposed to leftish academics functioning as an arm of the State while dominating higher education.]



February 5, 2014

Joe McCarthy and the warrior spirit

McCarthy shaded by Cohn

McCarthy shaded by Cohn

I asked a historian of communism and anticommunism what books to read regarding the dread figure of Joe McCarthy, and got this assessment of M. Stanton Evans’s Blacklisted by History: The Untold Story of Senator Joe McCarthy and his Fight Against America’s Enemies (Three Rivers Press, 2007) that presented an exhaustive new biography of the demonic Senator from Wisconsin: it was too sympathetic to McCarthy, said this academic whose judgment I respect.  Perhaps he is correct: I don’t know.

This blog is about how an independent scholar views the wreckage of the academic literature on the infamous anticommunist. I write because furious accusations against former allies have at times roiled the Right, though leftists and moderates have no doubt as to the beastliness of the bully, drunk, and wild man of the Midwest, along with his unsavory associates, Roy Cohn and G. David Schine. The proposed National Standards for the teaching of US history emphasized the plague of “McCarthyism” that presumably created a climate of fear and suppressed dissent until the nirvana of the 1960s and the widespread protest of the Viet Nam war. The fight over McCarthy’s veracity and character is tied up with the propriety of the US entering the Viet Nam conflict, a matter that continues to engage the field of diplomatic history.

As I have noted many times on this website, the blandness of academics in the humanities rubs me the wrong way. Even many “radicals” are conformist and timid– seemingly afraid of their shadows, lest they cast doubts on their earnestness in the eyes of the affinity group that maintains their careers. I speak from extensive experience.

Return to McCarthy and his latest champion: the journalist M. Stanton Evans. Perhaps to maintain his credibility, Evans was not reluctant to criticize the Senator for errors of judgment, for instance in attacking George Marshall and James Wechsler, superfluous targets in McCarthy’s attempts to uncover communist and fellow traveler infiltration of US policy circles, especially the State Department that “lost China.” But in order to discredit the Evans book, should not a historian go back to his sources and show that Evans misread or otherwise exaggerated their significance? That could take years unless a platoon of advanced graduate students is in tow. A “liberal” English professor wrote to me indignantly that Evans, a native son of Indiana, was sure that fluoridation of water was a communist plot, and that Evans was probably a Klansman.

I tend to view the hatred of McCarthy as a class problem. McCarthy, the son of a farmer, was an Irish Catholic who was never part of the Northeastern Ivy League-generated establishment of moderate men. Indeed, his “populist” energy and support was diminished by UC Berkeley political scientist Michael Rogin, who made the influential judgment that agrarian populist constituencies cannot account for “McCarthyism”, but rather that “traditional conservative elites” backed the Senator. (Rogin did not distinguish between moderate conservatives–i.e., liberals, and the more disreputable type.)

Well of course. Agrarian populism was dead at the time that McCarthy entered the Senate, having been co-opted by the progressive movement at the beginning of the 20th century.  While reading Evans, it occurred to me that the focus on the changing of the guard in 1952 that elected Eisenhower and threw out the Truman administration, was crucial to the drama that followed, one leading to McCarthy’s televised fight with the Army and his subsequent censure and early death. For Evans sees the moderate Eisenhower at odds with McCarthy and his mission. The new president was tied to the New Deal state, as was the Truman administration before him.

It seems to me that McCarthy and his followers were analogous to the current breach between Tea Party conservatives (small business men and white workers) and “the Republican establishment”.  It is also the case that the Midwestern, Southern, and Western “cowboys” were the targets of wrathful professors in the Ivy League, who blamed frontiersmen and other “expansionists” for the rape of the land and non-whites in their helter-skelter rugged individualist advance against Indians,, Mexicans, and Nature (see https://clarespark.com/2014/01/08/the-frontiersmansettler-as-all-purpose-scapegoat/). It is the 21st century, and only the names have changed.

I cannot explain the transformation of myself from conforming good girl and obedient wife and daughter to the libertarian/classical liberal iconoclast evident on this website. It was probably my years at Pacifica radio, where I strongly bonded with a diverse audience of autodidacts, and I continue to feel that my relative privilege and leisure allow me to seek and relate my research and reading without retaliation from a peer group of academics. “Win or lose, one must fight” said a human rights activist of my acquaintance.  The warrior spirit is socialized out of academia, though subtly and sometimes invisibly to outside observers. It was a shock for me to go from wild and wooly Pacifica to the decorum and silence of my fellow graduate students in U.S. history, who,  in order to get a job, did what they were told.

I don’t know enough from the various McCarthy biographies I have read to account for his persistence and downfall. But I do know that there are more “moderates” on the Right than is generally acknowledged, and that valiant seekers of truth are hard to come by. Read Melville’s The Confidence-Man: His Masquerade (1857): “NO TRUST” by which Melville meant not to be taken in by illegitimate authority–especially those unregulated characters elevated by the Industrial Revolution.

And don’t miss this important essay by historian Harvey Klehr: http://www.frontpagemag.com/2013/harvey-klehr/setting-the-record-on-joe-mccarthy-straight/. A more recent article is http://reason.com/blog/2014/04/22/four-great-myths-of-the-mccarthy-era, authored by Jesse Walker (an anarchist when I knew him). Finally, there can be no reliable biography of Joseph McCarthy until his papers at Marquette University are unsealed. See http://www.marquette.edu/library/archives/Mss/JRM/JRM-main.shtml.


May 16, 2013

March 7, 2013

Blogs on neo-isolationism

Kentucky Senator Rand Paul

Kentucky Senator Rand Paul

https://clarespark.com/2011/06/03/neo-isolationists-and-the-jewish-problem/ (Clare Spark)

https://clarespark.com/2010/07/04/pacifica-radio-and-the-progressive-movement/ (Clare Spark)

https://clarespark.com/2012/01/09/living-in-the-nuclear-age/ (Tom Nichols)

https://clarespark.com/2012/04/26/responding-to-neo-isolationists/ (Phillip Smyth)

https://clarespark.com/2012/09/14/ron-paul-anarchist-in-chief/ (Phillip Smyth)

https://clarespark.com/2013/03/09/feel-no-pain-rand-pauls-secret/ (Clare Spark)

Some of these blogs were guest blogs written by Tom Nichols or Phillip Smyth. My own view: no one who is not a masochist (or otherwise infantilized, as in the discourse of “family”)  likes to be bossed around, and most of us are bullied at some point, maybe a lot. But to throw over self- and national defense in favor of a calculated stunt is madness and could spell the end of the Republican Party. The notion of an unexpected drone attack dropping upon our heads is a potent symbol that taps repressed fears of nuclear annihilation or a repetition of 9-11. Recall that North Korea threatened a nuclear strike before Rand Paul hit on the filibuster idea: one that suggested a fatal blow and annihilation out of nowhere. Who wouldn’t be riled up? Will the Democratic Party win by default the entire issue of national security?

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