Saturday, August 1, 2020

Harlem's Pearl - James Baldwin


The American idea of progress is how fast I become white. And it’s a trick bag. Because they know perfectly well I can never become white. I have drunk my share of dry martinis; I have proven myself civilized in every way I can. But there is an irreducible difficulty: something doesn’t work. Well, I decided: I might as well act like a nigger.”

 

         -----James Baldwin, UC Berkeley, 1979[1]

 

A dangerous individual.”[2]

                              -----F.B.I. field report

 

Grandson of a slave, the eldest of nine children in a Harlem family rooted in bitter poverty, he grew up amidst junkies, winos, pimps, racketeers, pick-pockets, and con-artists.

 

Surrounded by despair, he took refuge in literature, reading with such focused intensity that his mother took to hiding his books.[3] He knew the Bible so well he became a teen sensation in the pulpit, luxuriating in Old Testament rhetoric and poetry. By then he had devoured everything he could get his hands on close to home. "There were two libraries in Harlem,” he remembered, “and by the time I was thirteen I had read every book in both libraries and I had a card downtown for Forty-second street."[4]  

 

His brilliance stood out. One of his teachers, a Communist with a Theatre Project job thanks to the WPA, began giving him books and taking him to plays and movies and museums, nurturing his keen mind while teaching him an ironic lesson about the supposed master race: "She gave me my first key, my first clue that white people were human," Baldwin said. [5]

 

Racism affected everything, often in unexpected ways. Baldwin, for example, had learned from his mother to always offer his seat to a woman when he rode the subway. But in church some preachers taught that he should never surrender his seat to a white woman, because that would be “an act of servility.” Baldwin solved the conundrum by never sitting down on the subway.[6] But other racial dilemmas were not so easily side-stepped, such as when two police officers beat him “half to death” when he was but ten years old.[7]

 

Somehow emerging literate, self-assured, and honest in a world that defined him as but a half-step removed from jungle savagery, he found himself perpetually in danger of doing or saying something that would trigger disaster. At 18, he lost control of his suppressed rage and hurled a glass of water at a waitress who had refused him service in a segregated New Jersey restaurant, watching along with the astonished patrons as it shattered against the mirror behind the bar. The following year Harlem erupted in a race riot as he buried his father, whose rage had consumed him long before the tuberculosis that finished him off.  Five years after that, young James had had more than enough of the brutalities of American life, and fled the U.S. “about five minutes before being carried off to Bellevue.”[8]

 

Reaching Paris with $40 to his name and no French, he spent his nights there on park benches consoling the victims of France's Algeria campaign, while his pent-up bitterness at all he had endured in the U.S. came spilling out.[9] For an entire year he was busy “breaking up bars, knocking down people,” he later remembered, eventually ending up in jail. “You’ve been taught that you’re inferior,” he explained, “so you act as though you’re inferior. And on the level that is very difficult to get at, you really believe it.”[10]

 

When the chaos subsided, Baldwin discovered that his life had at last become personal, allowing him a detached look at the crippling racial obsession ravaging his native land. Like an Old Testament prophet he sounded the alarm in the pages of The Fire Next Time: "This is the crime of which I accuse my country and my countrymen, and for which neither I nor time nor history will ever forgive them, that they have destroyed and are destroying hundreds of thousands of lives and do not know it and do not want to know it." He saved his richest contempt for the willfully blind: "It is not permissible that the authors of devastation should also be innocent. It is the innocence which constitutes the crime."[11]

 

Brilliant, driven, deeply troubled, he warned that time was running out to atone for slavery. "If we do not now dare everything," he wrote, "the fulfillment of that prophecy, re-created from the Bible in song by a slave, is upon us: God gave Noah the rainbow sign, No more water, the fire next time!"[12]

 

Baldwin’s soaring rhetoric landed with a sickening thud against the deaf ears of the liberal establishment, which was busy dragging its feet in response to a civil rights movement that Baldwin more accurately called America’s latest “slave rebellion.”[13] Embarrassed by the screaming headlines and distressed at the propaganda coup the USSR was reaping from racial upheaval in the U.S., the Kennedy administration moved only reluctantly and belatedly to support the black freedom movement.[14] While blacks were set upon by mobs, clubbed with lead pipes, and shot, bombed, jailed, and killed, Attorney General Robert Kennedy’s FBI agents took notes and filed reports, but made no general move to enforce the law against rioting police and KKK vigilantes. Concerned about losing support in Congress, JFK opted to shore up his southern political base, appointing racist judges to the bench, including one in Georgia who sought to prevent “pinks, radicals and black voters” from overturning segregation, and another in Mississippi who saw no point in registering “a bunch of niggers on a voter drive.”[15]

 

In the midst of all this, Baldwin sent Attorney General Robert Kennedy a telegram taking the Kennedy administration to task for the siege of Birmingham, and Kennedy responded by inviting him to assemble a group of black luminaries for a meeting in his New York apartment. It didn't go well. Baldwin's brother David shook a fist in Kennedy's face. Playwright Lorraine Hansberry blasted the "specimens of white manhood" portrayed in a recent Time magazine photo: Alabama police pinning a black woman to the ground with a knee to her throat, better known today as the George Floyd maneuver. Lena Horne suggested sarcastically that Kennedy try promoting his policy of Jim Crow collaboration to Harlem residents, but warned that "we ain't going, because we don't want to get shot." Freedom Rider Jerome Smith, crippled for life from a Mississippi beating, said he was nauseated to have to meet with Kennedy at all (in order to have his rights respected). He told the shocked Attorney General that he could no longer conceive of fighting for his country in uniform, but was nearly ready to pick up a gun against it.

 

Baldwin and his guests pleaded with Kennedy to have the president send troops to quell racist violence in Birmingham, and demanded to know why he himself hadn't escorted James Meredith when be became the first black student to register at Ole Miss.

 

Kennedy laughed.

 

Failing to see anything funny, Baldwin and his group demanded a demonstration of moral commitment by the White House. The President, they insisted, should escort a black child into a Deep South school, so that any racist who spat on that child would also be spitting on the nation.

 

Kennedy dismissed the idea as a meaningless moral gesture. Son of a bootlegger, helped into office by Mob connections, he recommended that blacks pull themselves up the way his family did. With luck, he concluded brightly, one of them might be president in forty years.

 

Forty more years and blacks might get relief from racist terror - on top of the 400 years they had already endured – and then only if they behaved themselves! Baldwin told Kennedy his comment was absurd. The point was, he said, that a Kennedy could already be president, while blacks, who had arrived in America long before the Irish Catholics, were “still required to supplicate and beg for justice.”

 

When Kennedy remained unmoved and unmovable, Baldwin emerged from the meeting profoundly depressed, pronouncing him "insensitive and unresponsive to the Negro's torment."[16] The FBI marked him down as a “Communist,” and though he flew all the way from Paris, he was not allowed to speak to the March on Washington three months later,[17] where Dr. King delivered his “I Have A Dream” speech. Eighteen days after that speech a bomb exploded in Birmingham, blasting four black girls attending Sunday school into eternity.

 

Dreams are one thing; change, quite another.

 

Though Baldwin regarded himself as “at bottom an optimist,”[18] he gradually gave up hope that the United States would change, as a string of assassinations (Medgar Evers, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Fred Hampton, Mark Clark) made it increasingly obvious it had no intention of doing so. To the extent the country defined itself as white, he thought, to that same extent it was irrelevant. Change would come, but from elsewhere.

 

When Black Power emerged and Baldwin expressed sympathies for a new generation of black radicals, white liberals often expressed consternation at what they saw as his retreat from integration and reconciliation. Baldwin took a certain pleasure in setting them straight:[19] white people had long ago (forcefully) integrated the country, he reminded them, the facts not being subject to dispute, as “my grandmother never raped nobody.”[20] Furthermore, the “negro problem” was actually a “white problem,” as it was they who invented the “nigger” fantasy, and they who were continually tormented by it. The burden was on them to discover why.[21] Until they did, all talk of racial reconciliation was premature, if not consciously diversionary.

 

Such relentless honesty proved hard to handle even for the most balanced and resourceful minds. In a three-part discussion with Baldwin in August, 1970, Margaret Mead’s detailed anthropological and historical knowledge checked Baldwin’s tendency toward poetic exaggeration through seven fascinating hours of wide-ranging conversation. But when Israel-Palestine came up, Baldwin’s passion for truth proved more reliable than Mead’s faltering reason. “I have been the Arab, in America, at the hands of the Jews,” he said, denouncing Israel’s 1948 displacement of the Palestinians by “an entirely irreligious people” based incongruously on “something that is written down by Jehovah on a tablet.” Mead lost her composure at this, and accused Baldwin of making a racist comment, “just because there have been a bunch of Jewish shopkeepers in Harlem.”[22]

 

But there was no trace of anti-Semitism in Baldwin then, or at any other time in his career. He was just telling the truth.

 

And he never stopped. In 1974, he won the Cathedral of St. John the Divine's centennial medal for the "artist as prophet," and was invited to address a congregation for the first time since his teen years. Using the Old Testament story of David slaying Goliath and the Philistines, the diminutive Baldwin let loose a blast of hyper-articulate fury at the U.S. "betrayal" of its black brethren, and thunderously dismissed President Nixon as a "motherfucker."

 

The subdean of the cathedral, unhappy with the tone of the service, confided to the dean: No one ever before has said 'motherfucker' from the pulpit of St. John the Divine."

 

The Dean replied that times had changed: "It's about time someone did."[23]

 

Thirteen years later, Baldwin’s funeral took place in that very same church, and mourners celebrated his wildly improbable and incredibly abundant life. Maya Angelou called him a “great soul.”[24] Toni Morrison remembered that “the season was always Christmas” when he was around, and thanked him for replacing evasion and hypocrisy with clarity and beauty in his 6895 pages of published work.[25] Amiri Baraka praised his “insistent elegance” and ranked the importance of his work with Dr. King and Malcolm X.[26]

 

Of course, taking fair measure of a life lived on three continents, and dedicated to human liberation by embracing every vulnerability, probing all weaknesses, and excavating the most deeply buried truths is an impossible task. Perhaps all one can say is that - by the power of his spoken and written words - Baldwin transformed a horrifying legacy of pain and rage into grace and light.  

 

It’s hard not to be grateful for that.

 

Had he lived, Baldwin would have turned 96 years old tomorrow. Happy Birthday, James, and well done!

 

 



[1] Reflections of James Baldwin, C-SPAN, March 3, 2007

[2] William J. Maxwell, James Baldwin – The FBI File (Arcade Publishing, 2017) Chapter 21, p. 167

[3] W. J.  Weatherby, James Baldwin – Artist on Fire, (Donald I. Fine, 1989) p. 15

[4] James Baldwin and Margaret Mead – A Rap on Race, (J. B. Lippincott, 1971) pps. 45-6

[5] A Rap on Race, p. 31

[6] A Rap on Race, p. 55

[7] A Rap on Race, p. 213

[8] A Rap on Race, p. 56

[9] A Rap on Race, p. 242

[10] A Rap on Race, p. 57

[11] James Baldwin, The Fire Next Time, (Dell, 1962) pps. 15-16

[12] The Fire Next Time, p. 141

[13] Reflections of James Baldwin, speech at UC Berkeley, January 15, 1979 (broadcast on C-SPAN 3 March 3, 2007)

[14] Howard Zinn, A People’s History of the United States, (Harper, 1980) p. 445; Baldwin, The Fire Next Time, pps. 117-18

[15] Tom Hayden, Reunion – A Memoir, (Random House, 1988) p. 59

[16] The account of the Bobby Kennedy meeting is from: James Campbell, Talking At The Gates – A Life of James Baldwin, (Viking, 1991) pps. 163-5; David Leeming, James Baldwin – A Biography, (Henry Holt, 1994) pps. 222-6; W. J. Weatherby, James Baldwin – Artist on Fire, (Donald I. Fine, 1989) pps. 221-4

[17] Leeming, p. 296

[18] A Rap on Race, p. 88

[19] Leeming, p. 185

[20] Baldwin 1965 Cambridge Union debate with William F. Buckley Jr.

[21] I Am Not Your Negro (film)

[22] A Rap on Race, pps. 215-16

[23] Leeming, p. 322

[24] Maya Angelou, “When Great Trees Fall,” bookpatrol.net, May 29, 2014

[25] Toni Morrison, “James Baldwin: His Voice Remembered – Life In His Language” New York Times, December 20, 1987

[26] Amiri Baraka, “James Baldwin, “His Voice Remembered – We Carry Him With Us” New York Times, December 20, 1987

Thursday, July 16, 2020

Economic Fascism Creates Political Fascism





Neo-liberal capitalism has transformed the social democratic capitalism that followed the Second World War into a more oppressive and destructive form with greater accumulation of minority wealth and majority poverty than the world has ever seen. The present stage in the usual boom-bust cycle of market forces under private profit rule now multiplied by a still unperceived factor, seems nearer total failure and more frightening than ever. This is leading to incredibly reactionary programs to assure minority rule while at the same time unleashing revolutionary possibilities for the global majority which threaten minority power as never before.

In America, fading from dominance as the center of the global system but still frighteningly powerful militarily and thus a menace to all humanity, voices are raised in opposition to that power, but so far successfully divided into minorities of relatively less social impact which only rewards segments of the population to keep in power the smallest minority with the greatest state control: the wealthiest 1% who own and operate what passes for a democracy but is no more so than the one which elected Hitler and the Nazis in Germany in the last century.

 And that doctored historic memory of political fascism is constantly used to keep current populations in line, warning them against suffering the horrors of pre-second world war capitalism, rather than becoming aware of that system’s present horrors kept nearly secret by consciousness control and mind management techniques to maintain the prevailing disorder of our social life in maintenance of the dominating order of their private profits.

Capitalism ruled Germany before and after Hitler and still rules up to the present moment, as it does in the USA and most of the global community. Food, clothing, shelter, war, peace, health, illness, pets, tattoos and everything else are for sale at the market and available to any who can afford the price, and to none who cannot. If there is a private profit to be made, the product will be available. If only the public good will be served, forget about it. That is why we spend more than 700 billion a year on war and more than seventy billion on pets while hundreds of thousands live in the street and medical workers and the entire health care community are criminally over-worked and suffering breakdowns leading to death by disease and suicide during the present capitalist pandemic.

Germany in the 1930s, like the United States, was in the grips of an economy near collapse and moved to total ruling class domination without pretense of democratic values by putting the commanding heights of that economy under control of the state. That state, always an arm of ruling power, was a force to keep the peace among the rich and poor by having elections to maintain wealth and poverty in as polite terms as possible, even creating the world’s first national health care system long before the collapse.

The USA was also in economic chaos with as much as 25% unemployment and communist and socialist parties demanding real democracy, which would have meant radical transformation of the economic system.

While more overtly oppressive fascist capitalism took power in Germany, the social democratic form prevailed in the USA, as cooler ruling class heads saw that the market left alone, under religious belief that freedom would flower under the idiotic doctrine that buying cheap and selling dear was the word of god, was a bit more dangerous than minority wealth could rely on. It could lead to social revolution.

The capitalist war saw the USA triumph and after millions of deaths and incredible destruction the social democratic model took hold in the western world and market interference was allowed to the extent that dreadful poverty would not be visible to most of the population and confined to relatively invisible-by-design communities in national and foreign ghettos.

For some fifty years now that phase has been under assault by a return to free market fanaticism as an answer to the only slightly higher taxes and lower profits of the social democratic form, with practitioners of both schools preventing the people from seeing that it is the system itself and not the way it is arranged that guarantees failure for most at tremendous benefit to only some.

The 21st century has seen the enormous inequality of previous periods expand to proportions that only those confined to a mental concentration camp could see as a system of democracy and equality, though idealized as such by majorities reduced to accepting the purchase of elections by a wealthy minority under the guise of choice for the working majority. In the past, thousands of multi-millionaires were somehow rationalized as healthy aspects of capitalism since they would invest in businesses and thereby create jobs and prosperity for the toiling masses and their professionally trained upper classes.

At present, there are some 700 earthly creatures called billionaires, having amassed such incredible wealth and power over perverse democracies that past tyrants seen as deities by their subjects might in present terms amount to no more than what were once called rich peasants. These incredibly wealthy individuals shame the very notion of democracy and are treated as more royal than past deities in hopes that they will invest in “my” identity group’s security and that will somehow represent success for the millions left out of “my” group. Viva capitalist democracy.

At a time when the most incredibly massive state and personal debt ever accumulated have the system tilting precariously on a mountain of symbolic finance with roots in a foundation of substantial fiction, a capitalist pandemic has both aggravated the situation further while also making radical change necessary not just to overcome the pandemic but ultimately capitalism itself. So, the people are bombarded anew into fear of political fascism bringing on further deprivation leading many to be swept up in fake-left and phony-right political excuses for the preservation of the moral toilet of an economic system which must be changed for humanity, which is composed of far more earthly beings than our relatively tiny American numbers.

There are more than 7.5 billion humans on earth and the shockingly anti-democratic inequality in America is far more horrifying on a global scale, but the American numbers are bad enough to provoke social revolution once the public finds out, which will never be the case as long as bi-partisan capital owns and operates both major political parties.

The class differences which have existed since organized states began have taken on far more malevolence and created greater threats to the future of humanity under the rules of market capitalism which have rewarded many while destroying far more. The seemingly good life enjoyed by some under alleged democracy are really no different than they were under slavery, when many lived in a degree of comfort even though not owning slaves, just as a shrinking middle class now survives without owning any capital, let alone exercising any control over it. And rest assured that being privileged enough to own some stock in a major corporation will not mean the 1% will be phoning you asking your advice before hiring cheaper immigrant labor or laying off more expensive American workers in pursuit of still greater private profits.

The next American election will offer the usual lesser evil choice to be accepted by a minority of the electorate in a supposed exercise of democracy that would make sense only in a world where pimping meant true love and starvation meant being on a diet, the organizing and action that must take place to end the virus of con-19 and its parent capitalism will need to take on greater efforts than ever to avoid potential disaster not only for America but humanity itself.

Democracy, in material reality and not continued rape of language, is more necessary than ever, to bring about another world and not just a different America. We will all need to think globally while acting locally, and then not just politically but economically before that, lest our politics continually reinforce rather than transform social reality. And the lives of the American and global majority matter more than ever but will amount to less than nothing if we only think of ourselves as nationals or different-than-human members of subjugated groups, and not our class of humanity which is now, as always, the overwhelming majority of working people on the planet.

Tuesday, July 7, 2020

USA!

"Can't build a decent car anymore. Can't make a TV set, cell phone, or VCR. Got no steel industry left. No textiles. Can't educate our young people. Can't get health care to our old people. But we can bomb the shit outta your country, all right.  We can bomb the shit outta your country!"

----George Carlin, Napalm and Silly Putty

Monday, July 6, 2020

Towering Defiance: W. E. B. DuBois

1903: Atlanta
Dr. W. E. B. DuBois


Babies are named after him, organizations founded in his honor, grave risks run complying with his constant calls for action.

Brilliant, eloquent, and hungry for knowledge, by age twenty-seven he had completed a Ph.D. in Sociology at Harvard and all coursework for another in Economics at Humboldt University in Berlin, the leading economics department in the world. After that, he wrote the first work on American urban sociology, the first social scientific treatise on the slave trade, and a powerful collection of essays worthy of Shakespeare and the King James Bible.

A trail of Yankee and European admirers regularly seeks him out, staying in hotels segregation forbids DuBois himself to enter. Such cruel ironies have etched a half-sneer on the good Doctor’s face, and the scorn only deepens when his requests for research funds are routinely dismissed or ignored.

Condescended to by his inferiors, DuBois responds with volleys of lucid indignation that may subside but never entirely disappear. Seeing the wrath that greets what they take to be their good intentions, Southern “gentlemen” shake their heads and conclude smugly that cities breed a deracialized “uppityness” in general and racial Frankensteins like DuBois in particular.

Teacher, scholar, activist, sociologist, historian, writer, and world traveler, DuBois uses his lyrical voice, analytical rigor, and passionate advocacy with the supreme dignity of an avatar entrusted with the guidance of his entire race.

Boundless ambition marked him early. While still a teenager he decided to “prove to the world that Negroes [are] just like other people.”



Sources: David Levering Lewis, W. E. B. DuBois – Biography of a Race, 1868-1919, (Henry Holt and Co., 1998) pps. 3, 32, 98, 272, 350, 469, 500, 505; Playthell Benjamin and Stanley Crouch, C-SPAN Book TV, April 2, 2003 

1959: Beijing
Portrait of a Harvard Ph.D.

Seeing a lynching victim’s blackened knuckles in a display case jolted him out of brilliant scholarly detachment and converted him to activism.

Decades of distinguished accomplishment later, universities shun him, well-to-do blacks disdain him, and intellectuals refuse to write about him. Only the Communists and the National Guardian risk publishing him, while his sole financial support comes from the pennies of the poor.

Heretical groups, their coffers empty and their leaders always on the brink of jail, compete to have him grace their gatherings with unpaid speeches, which he delivers with aplomb. Always he says exactly what needs saying in an eloquently prophetic voice worthy of Robeson. In private conversation he prefers listening to monopolizing the floor, but whenever he opens his mouth a hush falls over the room.

Prolific author, spellbinding orator, tireless organizer, proud socialist, champion of a hundred causes Dr. DuBois speaks from Beijing University on his 91st birthday: “I speak with no authority, no assumption of age nor rank; I hold no position, I have no wealth. One thing alone I own and that is my soul. Ownership of that I have even while in my own country for near a century I have been nothing but a ‘nigger.’ On this basis and this alone I dare speak.”



Sources: Cedric Belfrage and James Aaronson, Something To Guard: The Stormy Life of the National Guardian 1948-1967, (Columbia, 1978) pps. 137-40, 252; Mary Jo Buhle, Paul Buhle, and Harvey J. Kaye, The American Radical, (Routledge, 1994) pps. 113-20



                       
1903: The Alabama Black Belt
  The Tuskegee Machine
The gatekeeper of rewards, the key to black advancement, Tuskegee Institute champions hard work and savings, the purchase of respect, and a gradual alleviation of racism’s miseries.

Perpetually under construction, the school is built by students whose lessons consist of laying cement, transporting hods on scaffolds, and planing wood in the carpentry shop. Commencement valedictories witness seniors quickly assembling demonstration houses while buildings bearing the names of Northern philanthropists rise up all over campus the whole year round.

Masters of cabinet-making, plastering, masonry, and steam-fitting, Tuskegee graduates never lack for jobs. According to the Tuskegee creed, practical education is worth temporary political subservience, for a man without a vocation is no man at all.

Liberal arts mean nothing to menials locked in caste subordination, and higher degrees merely glorify idleness. Music, literature, and foreign language can wait until blacks become rich, while the vote is a useless thing. Carpentry pays better, and invites no trouble.



Sources: David Levering Lewis, Kent, W. E. B. DuBois – Biography of a Race, 1868-1919, (Henry Holt and Co., 1998) pps. 233, 262, 309, 341, 353; Noel J. Kent, America In 1900, (M. E. Sharpe, 2000) p. 123

1903: The Urban North

The Talented Tenth

Collusion with oppression and meek acceptance of inferiority is turning black society on its head, warn these learned blacks, a self-surrender that awards starring roles to sharecroppers, skilled mechanics, and domestics, while black teachers, preachers, doctors, and undertakers are forced off the stage. In the past accomplished black people traveled and pondered, read more than just the Bible, and at least aspired to express themselves nobly, but today all march to segregated prosperity behind Booker T. Washington and his Tuskegee Machine.
“In the history of nearly all other races and peoples the doctrine preached has been that manly self-respect is worth more than land and houses,” W. E. B. DuBois reminds his tormented race. Dignity comes before utility, he adds, and knowledge of values will forever trump obsession with prices.
      Educated blacks insist that work and money can do their race no ultimate good until it has the vote, higher education, and the power to defeat discrimination. A refinement of character, not material success, is the true measure of humanity. Years ago, Dr. DuBois warned that education should not be confused with a Meal Ticket: “Never make the mistake of thinking that the object of being a man is to make a carpenter; the object of being a carpenter is to be a man.”



Sources: David Levering Lewis, W. E. B. DuBois – Biography of a Race, 1868-1919, (Henry Holt and Co., 1998) pps. 108, 288; W. E. B. DuBois – The Fight For Equality and the American Century, 1919-1963, (Henry Holt and Co., 2000) p. 2; Thomas R. Frazier, ed., Afro-American History – Primary Sources (Harcourt, 1971) pps. 119-28)



W. E. B. DuBois Calls For Economic Sanity


“What has gone wrong? It is clear the workers don’t understand the meaning of work. Work is service, not gain. The object of work is life, not income. The reward of production is plenty, not private property. We should measure the prosperity of the nation not by the number of millionaires, but by the absence of poverty; the prevalence of health; the efficiency of the public schools; and the number of people who can, do read worthwhile books. 

Toward all this we do strive, but instead of marching breast forward, we stagger and wander thinking that food is raised not to eat, but to sell at good profit; houses are not to shelter the masses, but to make real estate agents rich; and solemnly declaring that without private profit there can be no food or homes. All of this is ridiculous. It has been disproven centuries ago.

The greatest thinkers of every age have inveighed against concentration of wealth in the hands of the few and against poverty, and disease and ignorance in the masses of men.

We have tried every method of reform. A favorite effort has been force by war. But the loot stolen by murder went to the generals and not to the soldiers. We tried through religion to lead men to sacrifice and right treatment of their fellow men, but the priests too often stole the fruits of sacrifice and concealed the truth.

In the 17th century of our modern European era we sought leadership in science and dreamed that justice might rule through natural law, but we misinterpreted that law to mean that most men were slaves and white Europeans were the right masters of the world.

In the 18th century, we turned toward the ballot in the hands of the worker to force a just division of the fruits of labor among the toilers. But the capitalists, happening on black slavery and land monopoly and on private monopoly of capital, forced the modern worker into a new slavery which built a new civilization of the world with colored slaves at the bottom, with white serfs between, and the power still in the hands of the rich.

But one consideration halted this plan. The serfs and even the slaves had begun to learn to think. Some bits of education had stimulated them and some of the real scientists of the world began to use their knowledge for the masses and not solely for the ruling classes. It became more and more a matter of straight thinking.

What is work? It was what all must contribute to the common good. No man has a right to be idle. It is the bounden duty of each to contribute his best to the well being of all, of what men gain by the efforts of all have a right to share, not to the extent of all that they may want, but certainly to the extent of what they really need.

You must let the world know that this is your simple and unwavering program: the abolition of poverty, disease and ignorance the world over among women and men of all races, religions and color; to accomplish this by just control of concentrated wealth, and overthrow of monopoly to ensure that income depends on work and not on privilege or change; that freedom is the heritage of man, and that by freedom we do not mean freedom from the laws of nature, but freedom to think and believe and express our thoughts and dream our dreams and to maintain our rights against secret police, witchhunters or any other sort of a modern fool or tyrant.”

--W. E. B. DuBois at the 1953 California Peace Crusade



Source: Heather Gray, Another Look at W. E. B. DuBois, Counterpunch, November 19, 2007

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Substance Matters More Than Symbols




Substance Matters More Than Symbols  



The current wakeup call being experienced by more Americans about historic racism is leading to hopeful actions but if all that results is removal of symbolic remnants of a wretched past these may lead to very little substantial change of the present and future. The rush to remove statues, change street names, remove written distortions of history and denounce past individuals wont mean much if we don’t confront the debased political economic system that is the substance on which those symbols rest and which creates present reality that still only profits a small minority at increasingly dangerous cost to the great majority.

Building a monument to Martin Luther King or Malcolm X to replace those previously honoring slave owners among the original 1% might be wonderful but will only mean new places for birds to leave their droppings unless we make far more substantial changes in the system that makes good use of symbols, even profiting from their creation and service, while maintaining the social and environmental destruction of private profit capitalism.

Changing the name of Wall Street to Open Border Boulevard wont mean much if we maintain it as a citadel of billions for minority capital that comes from the backs, minds and pocketbooks of majority workers.

Renaming the Pentagon the Emma Goldman building won’t make a dime’s bit of difference if we continue using it as headquarters for spending more than 700 billion dollars a year on war and mass murder while raping language in calling that defense. 

Tearing down a statue of Columbus might make a minority among us feel good but the majority of us need to understand that his voyage was not financed by mythological royalty but by early capital in its desire for spreading commerce to new markets. Those 15th century economic powers were on their way to becoming global and have grown tremendously since then, now ruling the planet with massive power and control in the 21st century. They will not be contested by tumbling a monument or burning a flag or taking a knee before it in more polite protest.

We need to learn real history in order to change the present and future, not simply destroy or rename symbols like statues and buildings and streets. The system that must be confronted and radically changed for the good of all people is the one that profited from slavery in the past, and massive bloody violence before and since slavery which continues up to the minute with more threatened as idiot servants of wealth claim villainy all around us with distractions that make their lies inaudible and our dangerous reality all but invisible. We may be helped inspirationally by destroying some symbols and even creating new ones, but the major work must be done on the substance of reality and not its representations and cosmetically false history lessons.

Symbols can play a vital role in many of our lives, whether national, religious or even more personal, but no one can pay the rent or mortgage by giving the landlord a flag or the bank a Koran, Menorah or four-leaf clover, nor feed a family by leaving a statue of Jesus at the CVS, Costco or Trader Joe’s checkout line. Until we change the political economic foundation of the society from a private profit first focus which approaches moral fanaticism to a humane placing of the public good as primary before any private gain, updating the books at a library or the art at a museum will only benefit those able to attend libraries and museums now, but we need to make a difference in the housing and feeding and health care of a population so that all can attend and benefit from libraries and museums in the future.

The anti-democratic political economics of war and injustice that are the foundation of capitalism must be radically changed from its roots, and confronting its history is not only important but critical to really changing the future in substance and not simply in its symbols. At the present moment of more glaring breakdowns in the economy reflected in a health care system that makes primitive societies look at least morally superior, and with national leadership idiotically lashing out at Russia, China and a growing global population finding the USA the most dangerous power in the world, a desire to confront historical lies is important. But of far greater consequence is the creation of a material truth that is a complete, and not only in specific but all circumstances, break with the inhuman aspects of reality that are leading to serious crises not only in health and markets but in planetary survival itself.

And attacks on speech and the labeling of too many things as “hate crimes” are hardly a healthy reaction to past disgraceful language and especially brutal treatment of humanity. In fact, such actions are in perfect keeping with the worst aspects of a society and culture the anti-speech crowds are supposedly against. Treating some nose-picking intellectuals as brilliant creators of self-lobotomies and some market hustlers as revolutionaries for gaining lucrative incomes by indulging in establishment acceptable speech and teaching are not just symbolic but substantial efforts to smother the demand for real change under a blanket of reactionary practice using language of the present to strengthen systems of the past.

What’s most important for sincere advocates of change to understand is the fact that during the current capitalist pandemic-economic crisis, more than 45 million Americans have filed for unemployment insurance and at the same time 29 Americans have become members of the billionaire brigade which now numbers nearly 700 people. That’s in a nation of nearly 350 million people. If that describes a democratic republic, then everyone having cancer describes a healthy public.

Those who find such incredible economic disparities tolerable will probably find the new markets for symbols to replace old ones lucrative forms of advancing their own class privileges. The rest of us need to join together in transforming every aspect of our political economy to one that works for peace, justice and humanity, and choose our symbols later, after we’ve seen to everyone’s right to food, clothing, shelter, and an environment assuring a healthy future for all and not just some. Chains, whether enclosing our bodies or our minds, need to be broken, in substance.

Monday, June 29, 2020

Racial Pathology In The USA

 
1901: Atlanta
 The “Machiavelli of the Black Belt”
A former West Virginia slave and the founder of Tuskegee Institute, Booker T. Washington has risen to become the most powerful black man in the United States. In his widely acclaimed autobiography, “Up From Slavery,” he says he did it by hard work and faith in God, the only antidotes to adversity.
Conservative, wealthy, and pro-laissez faire, Washington puts social equality on the back burner in favor of economic uplift. Accommodation, compromise, and propitiation are the price of survival, he says, so blacks must apply themselves to blacksmithing, bricklaying, and carpentry. Then they can buy their citizenship rights. “The black man who spends ten thousand a year in freight charges can select his own seat in a railroad train.”
Washington’s steady stream of bromides and “darky” tales lets him smoothly navigate his way through white society, dissolving tension in condescending chuckles. One of his cheerful maxims holds that lynching “really indicates progress,” since “there can be no progress without friction.” Another praises slavery for having converted pagans to Christianity, thus teaching blacks to work and speak English.
Adrift in a stormy sea of white-sheeted fury, Washington engineers plodding advance by never showing his dislikes. But no matter how much he moderates his moderation and waters down his water, he still evokes white wrath. “I am just as opposed to Booker Washington as a voter,” rails Mississippi Governor Vardaman, “with all his Anglo-Saxon reinforcements, as I am to the coconut-headed, chocolate-colored, typical little coon, Andy Dotson, who blacks my shoes every evening.”

Sources:

David Levering Lewis, W. E. B. DuBois, Biography of a Race, 1868-1919, (Henry Holt and Co., 1998) pps. 169, 215, 240, 256-7, 261-3, 274

Noel J. Kent, America In 1900, (M. E. Sharpe, 2000) p. 123


1901: Washington
Tasteless Dining
President Roosevelt invites Booker T. Washington to dine at the White House and a mortified South recoils in shocked outrage.
The New Orleans Times-Democrat complains that, “When Mr. Roosevelt sits down to dinner with a Negro, he declares that the Negro is the social equal of the white man.” The Memphis Scimitar angrily accuses the president of “the most damnable outrage ever.” The editor of the Richmond Times says he has implicitly endorsed Negro-White courtship and interracial marriage. An outraged Memphis editorialist swears that, “No Southern woman with proper self-respect would now accept an invitation to the White House.”


Sources:

Henry F. Pringle, Theodore Roosevelt - A Biography, (Harcourt, 1931) pps. 174-6

Clifton Daniel, ed. Chronicle of America, (DK Publishing, 1997) p. 535


1901: Chicago
Clarence Darrow Laments The
Moral Deficiencies of the White Race
“Probably I do not look at the race problem in as hopeful a way as many of our people do, for I am somewhat pessimistic about the white race. When I see how anxious the white race is to go to war over nothing and to shoot down men in cold blood for the benefit of trade, when I see the injustice everywhere present, the rich people uniting and crowding the poor into inferior positions, I fear the dreams we have indulged in of perfect equality and unlimited opportunity are a long way from realization. The colored race should learn this: if the white race insults you on account of your inferior position they also degrade themselves when they do it. Every time a superior person invades the rights and liberties and dignity of an inferior person he retards and debases his own manhood.”


Source: Irving Stone, Clarence Darrow For The Defense, (Signet, 1941) pps. 197-8


1901: Philadelphia
Optimistic Editorial In The Philadelphia Ledger:
“The present war (in the Philippines) is no bloodless, fake, opera bouffe engagement; our men have been relentless, have killed to exterminate men, women, children, prisoners, and captives, active insurgents and suspected people from lads of 10 up, an idea prevailing that the Filipino as such was little better than a dog...Our soldiers have pumped salt water into men to ‘make them talk,’ and have taken prisoners people who held up their hands and peacefully surrendered, and an hour later, without an atom of evidence to show that they were even insurrectos, stood them on a bridge and shot them down one by one, to drop into the water below and float down, as examples to those who found their bullet-loaded corpses. . . The new military plan of settling the trouble by setting them at each other looks promising.”


Source: Daniel Schirmer,  Republic or Empire: American Resistance to the Philippine War, (Schenken Publishing Company, 1972) p. 232-4

1902: Washington
The Lodge Committee Hearings
General MacArthur denies there is a Philippine war at all, merely an attempt by Americans “to govern themselves” in a “tuitionary annex.” To establish the superiority of the self-governing race he reviews the history of America’s “Aryan ancestors” raising cattle and articulating “imperishable ideas.” He attributes the huge disproportion in Filipino and U.S. war dead to superior American genes and marksmanship, adding that “no war in history has been conducted with as much humanity.”
Carefully screened ex-soldiers instruct the committee on the necessity of shooting and burning all Filipinos as a means of coping with their “inability to appreciate human kindness.” Ex-Corporal Richard T. O’Brien testifies how Captain Fred McDonald and his troops annihilated the village of La Nog, shooting down men waving white flags, but sparing the life of a beautiful mestizo mother so she could be gang raped by the rampaging soldiers.
David P. Barrows testifies that the water cure “injured no one,” adding that the Filipinos in concentration camps are “there of their own volition,” and have actually benefited from the war.
Senator Bacon breaks ranks with the optimists, reading a letter from the commander of one of the concentration camps, who calls them “suburbs of hell”: “What a farce it all is...this little spot of black sogginess is a reconcentrado pen, with a dead line outside, beyond which everything living is shot...Upon arrival, I found 30 cases of smallpox, and average fresh ones of five a day, which practically have to be turned out to die. At nightfall crowds of huge vampire bats softly swirl out of their orgies over the dead. Mosquitos work in relays. This corpse-carcass stench wafts in and combined with some lovely municipal odors besides makes it slightly unpleasant here.”


Sources: Stuart Creighton Miller, Benevolent Assimilation - The American Conquest of the Philippines, 1899-1903, (Yale, 1982) pps. 213, 216, 240, 243

Richard Drinnon, Facing West: The Metaphysics of Indian Hating and Empire Building (Schocken, 1980), p. 317


1902: Washington
The Lodge Committee (2): Civilized Morality
Senator Rawlins (D, Utah): “If these shacks were of no consequence what was the utility of their destruction?”
General R. P. Hughes: “The destruction was a punishment. They permitted these people to come in there and conceal themselves . . .”
Senator Rawlins: “The punishment in that case would fall, not upon the men, who could go elsewhere, but mainly upon the women and little children.”
Hughes: “The women and children are part of the family, and where you wish to inflict a punishment you can punish the man probably worse in that way than in any other.”
Senator Rawlins: “But is that within the ordinary rules of civilized warfare? Of course you could exterminate the family which would be still worse punishment.”
Hughes: “These people are not civilized.”

 Source: Stuart Creighton Miller, Benevolent Assimilation - The American Conquest of the Philippines, 1899-1903, (Yale, 1982) pps. 213, 216, 240, 243


1902: Washington
The Lodge Committee (3): The Way of God
Senator Beveridge (R., Indiana): “When a town or barrio has been notoriously known as a rendezvous, place of departure and return of ladrones [bandits], what then would be a justifiable course to pursue?”
Colonel Wagner: “If the town were notoriously a nest of ladrones, if it was impossible to get the rest of the people to yield them up, it would be justifiable and proper to destroy the town, even though we destroyed the property of some innocent people. The Almighty destroyed Sodom, notwithstanding the fact that there were a few just people in that community—less than ten.”
Senator Beveridge: “How strange; I was thinking of that instance of Sodom and Gomorrah.”

 Source: Richard Drinnon, Facing West: The Metaphysics of Indian Hating and Empire Building (Schocken, 1980), p. 319


1902: San Francisco
The San Francisco Argonaut On
Development Obstacles in the East
“...the talk about benevolent assimilation is insufferable cant...We do not want the Filipinos. We want the Philippines. The islands are enormously rich, but, unfortunately they are infested by Filipinos. There are many millions of them there, and it is to be feared that their extinction will be slow...The development of the islands cannot be successfully done while the Filipinos are there. Therefore the more of them killed the better.”

 Source: Oswald Garrison Villard, Fighting Years: Memoirs of a Liberal Editor, (Harcourt, Brace, and Co, 1939) p. 141