Archive for the ‘reactionaries’ Category

I know everyone is spending every free minute watching al-Jazeera coverage of the protests in Egypt, but I thought it might be helpful to take a step back from this for a moment for a decidedly more unpleasant look at the movement: through the eyes of American reactionaries.  Here’s a small survey of their thoughts on the situation.

Pam Geller, white supremacist cheerleader, applauds Mubarak’s repression of the Muslim Brotherhood, one of the leading forces for democratic reform in the country.

Some schmuck at RedState fulminates over Obama’s failure of masculinity in not preventing “another Iran.” Reactionaries have but one story to tell when it comes to these sorts of things.  Truman lost China, Carter lost Iran, Obama lost Egypt.  Islam is twenty-first century communism (or is it the other way around?)

The Weekly Standard has the most serious piece I’ve seen so far.  The author, Lee Smith, notes that Mubarak’s regime is much more stable than Ben Ali’s.  However, there are also notable signs of anxiety throughout, combined with imperial condescension.  We are told that the protests are really directed against Jamal Mubarak, not his father Hosni (a quick look at the slogans being chanted indicates otherwise).  There’s also a number of reminders that Arabs will revolt for any old reason, so we shouldn’t be too concerned.  Finally, there’s a reminder that democracy in the Mideast hasn’t worked out so well for the US, with the elections in Palestine proffered as example.

Fox News brings out the dominoes, and underlines that ‘our’ interest is ‘the free flow of oil in the entire region.’

Smadar Peri, a columnist for the Israeli tabloid Yediot Ahronot, is unimpressed with the democracy movement in Egypt, noting with approval that the ‘security apparatuses, and there are at least four of those responsible for the regime’s stability and domestic peace, possess plenty of experience in crushing protests.’


Peter Wehner from Commentary sees this as a vindication of Bush’s “Freedom Agenda.” Given that Bush (and Obama) have been the main people funding Egypt’s security state that is now cracking skulls, I’m not sure how this one is supposed to work.  What’s really interesting about this contention is the symmetry it engenders.  Insofar as there are elements of the American right that support the revolt to some extent (and there certainly are), they attribute it to some speeches Bush made several years ago.  Bourgeois liberals, on the other hand, tend to look to Obama’s Cairo speech.  In both cases, there’s an inescapable national narcissism, which holds that people in other countries don’t fight for self-determination until American presidents tell them to.

Somewhat surprisingly, Michelle Malkin is unreservedly supportive of the movement.

Finally, the American Power Blog (which sounds like something started by one of the nerdier GI Joes) offers an ambivalent reading, concluding that Mubarak’s tenure is of little consequence for the grand course of the war on terror.

Read Full Post »

Rand Paul gets groovy

There’s been lots of talk since the election describing the new Republicans as pushing a particularly cruel or uncaring version of capitalism.  Besides ignoring the increasing important of affect in the performance of conservative masculinity, this line of thought completely misunderstands the vision of capitalism espoused by Tea Party and co.  It’s not capitalism red in tooth and claw they favor, but hippie capitalism:

BLITZER: What if they just raised taxes on the richest, those making more than 250,000 dollars a year?

PAUL: Well, the thing is, we’re all interconnected. There are no rich. There are no middle class. There are no poor. We all are interconnected in the economy.

Read Full Post »

The Ecclesiarchy

Throughout the whole tawdry spectacle of controversy over the so-called ‘Ground Zero mosque,’ it has been interesting to follow the responses of American liberals.  Some have cravenly attempted to track the mythical beast known as ‘public opinion,’ hoping to capture it and save their own sorry hides.  Others have acquitted themselves well, taking a principled stand against racism.  Despite the welcome display of backbone on this issue on the part of many liberals, I’ve nonetheless experienced a certain dissatisfaction upon reading their arguments.  This feeling is especially acute regarding their treatment of the assertion that Ground Zero is ‘hallowed ground.’

People can certainly be forgiven for meeting this charge with stifled giggles.  After all, as one much-reposted blog entry has shown us, the former World Trade Center site is surrounded by strip clubs, betting parlors, and all imaginable varieties of tourist terror kitsch.  Furthermore, the repeated solemn intonations of the phrase by various talking heads have so emptied it of semantic content that one is left with the impression that it means little besides ‘no muslims allowed.’  Thus, many have concluded, this site is not hallowed ground, but rather one more piece of Manhattan where people will do anything to make a buck.  While such a response is tempting, however, it is insufficient.  For it is precisely the veneration of accumulation, embodied in the various supposedly profane establishments listed above, that makes Ground Zero a sacred space in the American imagination.

To understand why this is so, we must look, with Walter Benjamin, upon capitalism as a religion.  Benjamin made this argument in a short unpublished fragment from 1921.  A response to Max Weber’s famous treatment of Protestantism and capitalism, Benjamin’s fragment sought to demonstrate not merely that capitalism was strengthened by religious culture at key points in its development, but that it was itself a religious phenomenon.  Thanks to Michael Lowy’s erudite exegesis of the fragment in Historical Materialism last year, those of us without a complete edition of Benjamin’s unpublished writings can see this fascinating argument for the first time.

Capital's avatar

Benjamin’s characterization of capitalism as a religion relies on three main points.  The first is that capitalism is a peculiarly cultic phenomenon, one in which ‘nothing has meaning that is not immediately related to the cult’.   The cultic activities – ‘capital investment, speculation, financial operations, stock-exchange manipulations, the selling and buying of commodities’ – are the only ones invested with meaning, as all else is rendered valueless (p. 62).  The idol of the cult is money, the only object worthy of worship.  As Lowy notes, this description of capitalism is not Marx’s, focusing as it does on mercantile activity, and not the aspects of capitalism (the commodification of labor power) that Marx thought were decisive.  Nonetheless, the practices Benjamin focuses on are those which are crucial to capital’s self-presentation — its church clothes, if you like.

The second religious aspect of capitalism is its conception of time.  Benjamin’s phrase, borrowed from Weber, is “sans trêve et sans merci” (without rest or mercy) (p. 63).  Capital’s time is homogenous, rationalized.  It marches steadily forward without interruption, without pause.  For Weber, this dynamic had its roots in the Puritan suppression of holidays, when time spent for one’s self was time stolen from God.  For Benjamin, the accent is different, as the cultic allegiance capital demands, the ceaseless worship of its idols, transform every day into a sacred one, homogenizing our experience of time into a never-ending cultic ceremony.

The final religious aspect of capitalism is its production of despair.  Capital recognizes nothing beyond itself.  It forecloses on all futures except its own.  This destruction of futurity can be seen as the essence of despair, since any hope is contingent upon the possibility of a future.  Every capitalist must expand or be crushed by the competition, so that collectively the class ensures that none of its members may have any respite from this dynamic.  As Lowy puts it: “According to the religion of Capital, the only salvation consists in the intensification of the system, in capitalist expansion, in the accumulation of more and more commodities; but this ‘remedy’ results only in the aggravation of despair” (p. 68).  According to the rules of the game, the pursuit of salvation only assures damnation.

All of these cultic aspects of capitalism were on exhibit in the original World Trade Center.  Conceived in the 1940s as a means to revitalize lower Manhattan, the WTC was to act as a locus for international trade at the same time that it would be an engine of urban renewal by improving the value of the real estate surrounding it.  The cultic devotion to the realization of profit here reshaped the urban form, restructuring the city environment in ways more conducive to capital.  Architecturally, this same dynamic shaped the design of the buildings themselves.  The WTC’s distinctive design, in which the steel support beams were placed on the building’s exterior, was intended to allowed maximum flexibility for the tenants of the various floors.  The  project’s planners envisaged every sort of commercial activity within the wide open spaces of the towers’ interior, from office space to trading floors hundreds of feet above the city.  Every aspect of the project was to be devoted to the cultic practices of capitalism.

The homogenization of time was also important in the project’s conception.  The WTC was to be a command center of global capital, a place from which the expansion of markets and the battering down of trade barriers could be planned and executed.  Its purpose, in other words, was to facilitate the imposition of capitalist time upon those areas of the world still outside of it.  The WTC’s form also lent itself to the project of homogenizing time.  The skyscraper, after all, is a particular attempt to control time through a spatial configuration.  By gathering so many of capital’s prelates into one place, the planners of the WTC hoped to minimize the temporal disruptions caused by difficulties in communication.  Through the manipulation of space, time could be smoothed into that frictionless medium demanded by capitalist theology.

Crucial as the homogenization of time and the domination of cultic activity were to the WTC’s design, the production of despair was by far the most important ideological element of the project.  Minoru Yamasaki, the head architect, conceived of his design as a tribute to American democracy.  Yamasaki hoped that his buildings would be a ‘a living and active monument to world peace,’ linking the globe through trade.  Though couched in a language of liberal hope, Yamasaki’s dreams for his project reveal a profoundly desperate vision of the future.  The WTC was to be a monument to a particular kind of world peace – that established under American global supremacy.  Launched during the Cold War, the project’s goal of uniting the world through trade was a particularly American vision of global cooperation.  As capitalism works through eliminating possible futures, ensuring that its future will be the only one, so the WTC was a symbol of the United States’ bid to ensure that the world’s future would be identical with its own.

With so much cultic energy embodied in the WTC, it is unsurprising to find that the project’s design expressed certain themes in common with sacred architecture.  Portentously enough, Yamasaki chose Islamic architecture as the tradition from which he would draw.  Capitalism’s relentless reduction of everything to ductile raw materials here worked its magic on symbolic motifs of pre-modernity, transforming the sacred architecture of Islam into adornments of the church’s of capital.  This pattern was most obvious on the exterior of the towers, where transition from wide column spacing to “dense structural mesh” created implied pointed arches, one of Islamic architecture’s most recognizable motifs.  The central plaza of the WTC was patterned after the Qa’ba in Mecca, the most holy site in Islam.  All of this was quite conscious on Yamasaki’s part, as he described his project as “a mecca, a great relief from the narrow streets and sidewalks of the surrounding Wall Street area.”  Just as  other religions absorb the holidays and deities of their predecessors, capital absorbed the sacred architecture of Islam into its own hallowed ground.

Capital's Qa'ba

September 11th, as they like to say, changed everything.  But the designation of the WTC site as a sacred space of capitalism would remain untouched.  Before the wreckage had even been cleared, plans for rebuilding were already under way.  The eventual design that was settled upon, ‘Freedom Tower,’ was to be a monument to America’s determination to rebuild.  It would be, as its designer Daniel Libeskind declared, “a global symptom of optimism.”

As Oscar Wilde told us long ago, however, “The basis of optimism is sheer terror.”  In this case, truer words have never been spoken.  Freedom Tower is a bathetic expression of American supremacy.  At 1776 feet tall, its structure is meant to remind us of our hallowed past and sacred mission.  Yet patriotic numerology cannot expunge from consciousness a certain awareness of the structure’s origins in terror.  As dominating as the tower purports to be, it cannot conceal the paranoia built into its structure.  As the New York Times’ architectural critic has put it, the structure’s ’20-story, windowless fortified concrete base decorated in prismatic glass panels [is] a grotesque attempt to disguise its underlying paranoia.’  Of course, the project’s devotion to the cultic pursuits of capitalism also remains.  The current owners of the lease have hawked rental space in the tower with all the fervor of a revivalist preacher, assuring the tenants that their pursuit of profit is a noble service to their country.

So, next time someone tries to convince you that Ground Zero is ‘hallowed ground’ which would be defiled by a community center, don’t simply brush them off with a reference to strip clubs.  Instead, join with the lost soul in religious brotherhood.  There’s bound to be a Starbucks nearby where the two of you can take communion.  Though it seems like the conflict over Park51 may tear this country apart, remember: we are a nation full of faith.  With enough good works, we are sure to make it through.

Read Full Post »

…and the bigots

Read Full Post »


I have to admit I’ve been feeling rather depressed lately about political potentialities in the United States.  Despite the real change that Obama’s election signaled in American racial politics, it seems all but certain that we’re heading into a period of increased attacks on people of color.  This is most obvious in the campaign against Muslims in the US.  The GOP, who have recently hit a new low in their approval ratings, have realized that the Tea Party ideology of naked contempt for anyone suffering as a result of the economic crisis is not the stuff of which successful electioneering is made.  Accordingly, they’ve fallen back on what’s familiar – race baiting.  Unfortunately, this looks as if it will work out rather well for them.  Polls generally show about 70% of Americans oppose the so-called ‘Ground Zero Mosque’ (which is neither at ground zero, nor a mosque – discuss amongst yourselves).  On another front, it’s worth pointing out that the Facebook group “Stand With Arizona (and Against Illegal Immigration)” has more than 300,000 members, about three times as many as any of the pro-immigrant groups.  This is a rough metric, to be sure, but it’s nonetheless expressive of something.  And now today, the New York Times, that bastion of liberalism, publishes an article whose argument is quite literally that xenophobia is good.  Don’t believe me?  See for yourself:

During the great waves of 19th-century immigration, the insistence that new arrivals adapt to Anglo-Saxon culture — and the threat of discrimination if they didn’t — was crucial to their swift assimilation. The post-1920s immigration restrictions were draconian in many ways, but they created time for persistent ethnic divisions to melt into a general unhyphenated Americanism.

The same was true in religion. The steady pressure to conform to American norms, exerted through fair means and foul, eventually persuaded the Mormons to abandon polygamy, smoothing their assimilation into the American mainstream. Nativist concerns about Catholicism’s illiberal tendencies inspired American Catholics to prod their church toward a recognition of the virtues of democracy, making it possible for generations of immigrants to feel unambiguously Catholic and American.

I’m not discounting the fact that struggle is growing against all these things, and that people are doing some wonderful things.  I’m just saying I’m not optimistic.

Read Full Post »

When you see this
you probably don’t think this,

but you should.

It’s become commonplace to describe contemporary racial ideology in the United States as ‘colorblind racism.’ Since the civil rights movement, overtly racist language has become unacceptable in public life. As a consequence, those dedicated to upholding white suprmacy in the US have had to shift their rhetoric. While once Reagan could expect to make political hay by blaming Martin Luther King, Jr. for his own assassination (he said it was a “great tragedy that began when we began compromising with law and order, and people started choosing which laws they’d break”), by Nixon’s time the president realized that such sentiments needed dressier garb (According to Nixon’s chief of staff, Tricky Dick “emphasized that you have to face the fact that the whole problem is really the blacks. The key is to devise a system that recognizes this while not appearing to. [Nixon] Pointed out that there has never in history been an adequate black nation, and they are the only race of which this is true.”)  Thus was born the rhetoric of colorblindness, putatively race-neutral language that works nonetheless to achieve the same results of black subordination.  Code words (or dog whistle politics) such as ‘welfare queen’ or ‘crime’ are only the most familiar of this genus of race talk.

This is a familiar story, and much good work has been written exposing what’s behind the facade, from Michelle Alexander’s social physiology of the criminal justice system to Eduardo Bonilla-Silva’s investigation of “the linguistics of color blind racism.” There is one gesture, however, in the rhetoric of colorblindness that has been wanting for attention – the provocation, as epitomized by Glenn Beck’s little outburst above.

Now, it will be patently obvious to those reading this that the comparison of Obama’s America to the Planet of the Apes is racist.  There have already been a whole host of incidents in which various reactionaries made similar comparisons.  Two things distinguish Beck’s use of the image, however.  First, he is a major media figure, not some provincial GOP peckerwood forwarding an email.  Second, and more importantly, he is a (slightly) more discrete.  Rather than directly comparing one of the Obamas to an ape, he deploys a metaphor. It’s true that one must only go a few stops on the associational train (Planet of the Apes is ruled by apes -> America is like a planet ruled by apes) to get to the point, but Beck and his gormless followers can nonetheless feign surprise at the outlandish associations made in the  minds of their progressive persecutors.  Making a crazy leap of logic like that…they’re probably the real racists!

Given the racial scrutiny Beck has been subject to (ever since he talked about putting Muslims in concentration camps and expressed fear that Obama opposed white culture), it seems obvious that the Planet of the Apes metaphor was chosen with some care.  There are, after all, innumerable other filmic metaphors which could make substantially the same point (through the looking glass, the Twilight Zone, the Land of Oz, etc etc).  Why choose one which will certainly draw condemnation from places like Media Matters, even if plausible deniability is built in?

The obvious answer is that it throws red meat to the resentful white Fox viewership, bunkered down in their own personal Fortress Americas and savoring whatever expressions of white privilege they can get their hands on before the rising tide of color sweeps them all away.  There’s certainly something to this, and I’ll return to the white libidinal investment in these sorts of things shortly.  But I think it’s also important to recognize that Beck’s metaphor is governed by a more strategic logic as well.  This is where the trap comes in.  The comparison of Obama’s America to Planet of Apes was designed precisely to elicit the predictable condemnations.  I’m not the only one to notice this dynamic.  One of Beck’s defenders, taking note of the accusations that quickly appeared, described the metaphor as “exotic liberal bait [given how] quickly as liberals have grabbed it to scream racism.”

The way it works is like this: Beck makes a comparison that is supposedly race neutral, but unmistakably grounded in racist symbolism.  When liberals and antiracists call him on it, he accuses them of being racist against white people for assuming Beck was saying something racist.  For Beck and his viewers, it is one more instance of how true (white) Americans are the victims of system in which any complaint they have is dismissed as racist.  Eduardo Bonilla-Silva has described how projection is a key rhetorical device for colorblind racism, allowing whites to blame any evidence of racial disparity on Blacks themselves (“they like to be with their own kind” as an explanation of residential segregation, for example).  In this context, provocation can be seen as a kind of auxiliary gesture, one that works to enable the projection by eliciting ‘evidence’ for its claims.  As such, the wide eyed innocence with which Beck and his associates meet their accusations is like recent Israeli diplomacy – a lie whose true content is its own unbelievability.

For the right wing, this kind of provocation is a good deal of fun.  Dave Weigel has nicely encapsulated the impulses going into this sort of play, noting that “Extremism — theories about race, right-wing European politics, anti-immigration rhetoric — is seen in these circles as something of a lark. It’s forbidden knowledge. It terrifies liberals.”  Since everyone knows there’s no more racism in America (except against white people), baiting liberals and people of color is a game, one that at once mocks their perception of reality and affirms the intellectual superiority of the provocateur.  By deploying rhetoric they know will cause an uproar, people like Beck and his confreres on hate radio get to feel as if they are pulling the strings, demonstrating how easy it is to whip the dusky herd up into a frenzy over what’s really nothing at all.

So what should be the proper response of antiracists to this blatant provocation?  Simply don’t take the bait?  I would hope, dear reader, that you know me better than that.  Trying to avoid the trap is simply not an option, for a number of reasons.  First, the result of not responding is the mainstreaming of racist language, the re-entry into public discourse of the kind of race talk that has been banished (to a degree) for a generation.  In light of the persistence of racist discourse outside the environs of official politics, some might be tempted to say that it would be a good thing if politicians today were as honest as Strom Thurmond in 1948.  It means something real, however, that openly racist discourse is no longer an accepted aspect of American political life.  It matters that African Americans on television aren’t treated like Malcolm X was in the 1960s, an object of open scorn and derision.  Moreover, given that half the fun of this sort of provocation is getting caught, it’s not as if Beck and company will desist when their efforts don’t achieve the intended result.  They’ll just push a little harder.

As such, there’s really no choice here except to take the bait.  If it helps the provocateurs make the case that the elites are keeping real Americans down, so be it.  Whatever aid our response gives our enemies in organizing their side, it is the sine quo non of organizing our own.  A movement to dismantle what Manning Marable calls the new racial domain will get nowhere by ignoring racist abuse.  As the exit of Mark Williams from the Tea Party shows, it is possible to put a real price on this kind of talk.  If organized, we really can take their toys away.

Read Full Post »

News coverage of Barack Obama’s presidential victory in 2008 was dominated by one word: historic. As if newsrooms around the country had suddenly been seized by a bout of Hegelianism, headlines trumpeted the ‘unfolding’ of history before our eyes. Obama’s victory, it seemed, was the next step of the Absolute Spirit. Yet as overwrought as such rhetoric appears now, after two years of unremarkable managerial liberalism, it hints at a deeper truth about Obama’s campaign. Both Obama’s supporters and his detractors, after all, grounded their vision of the candidate in prominent narratives of American history. One thinks, for example, of the shirts prominently displayed by Harlem street vendors that read “Rosa sat so Martin could walk so Obama could run.” For his supporters, Obama embodied the legacy of the Civil Rights Movement. For those opposing him from the right, however, Obama was the product of a different historical saga: the perfidy of the American Left. For these critics, Obama was the protégé of Black Communist Frank Marshall Davis1, the parishioner of Black Liberation Theologian Jeremiah Wright, the friend of Bill Ayers. If for his supporters Obama’s election was the dénoument of that most American of stories, for his opponents his victory represented the penetration of anti-American radicalism into the highest office in the land.

This double vision, seeing both radicalism and civil rights in the same person, speaks suggestively to recent scholarship on the Black freedom struggle in the middle decades of the twentieth century. One major focus of this historiography has been the relationship between radicalisms of various sorts (both class-based socialisms and race-based nationalisms) and the movement represented in popular memory by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Rosa Parks (which some scholars have taken to calling the ‘classical phase’ of the movement). In re-examining this relationship, many historians have concluded that civil rights and radicalism are not as opposed as the competing representations of Obama’s candidacy would lead us to believe. This essay will examine this scholarship through the lens of Jacqueline Dowd Hall’s formulation of a “Long Civil Rights Movement,” consider objections to the concept, and suggest ways it may be extended.

Hall announced her conceptualization of the long movement in her presidential address to the Organization of American Historians in 2004. Entitled “The Long Civil Rights Movement and the Political Uses of the Past,” the address was a combative response to conservative appropriations of the image of civil rights. Hall sought to reconceptualize this history in such a way that it would be both a “more robust, more progressive, and truer story” and “[h]arder to celebrate as a natural progression of American values. Harder to cast as a satisfying morality tale.” To accomplish these dual objectives, Hall crafted a narrative of civil rights which began not with the Montgomery Bus Boycott, or even Brown v. Board of Education, but the struggles of liberals and radicals against racial oppression in the 1930s. These struggles, such as the Communist Party led campaign to free the Scottsboro Boys, or the struggle of Blacks in the CIO for a “civil rights unionism,”2 signaled a capacious understanding of the fight for racial justice, which included confronting class and gender oppression as well. In these campaigns, Hall argues, lie the origins of the civil rights movement.3

United Tobacco Workers protest R.J. Reynolds, 1946

Hall suggests that understanding the nature of the civil rights movement’s classical phase requires coming to terms with how this earlier movement was defeated. As a radical challenge to what Hall describes as “racial capitalism,” it should come as no surprise that this first wave of civil rights should have met with fierce opposition from the business class, defenders of white supremacy, and the US state. The anticommunist crusade, aided by liberal figures inside civil rights organizations such as the NAACP, broke the back of organizations which had been at the heart of radical challenges to Black oppression. Leftist figures like Paul Robeson were denounced in the the press, and groups like the anticolonialist Council on African Affairs were prosecuted by the government for being agents of a foreign power. The disorganization this repression visited on the Left led Hall to pronounce civil rights a “casualty” of the Cold War.4

Anticommunist repression thus decisively changed the character of civil rights struggle, marginalizing those with a more expansive vision of emancipation and encouraging groups like the NAACP to pursue a more narrowly legalistic strategy than they had in the mid-1940s. Even as it disorganized the left, however, Cold War repression did not succeed in completely isolating radical activists. As a great deal of research on the classical phase of the civil rights movement is now showing, figures like Bayard Rustin and Ella Baker, who were absolutely central to the movement, had substantial Old Left backgrounds and training which carried over into their work with the movement’s most recognizable leaders and institutions. Moreover, activists at the local level, who have increasingly displaced telegenic leaders like Dr. King as the focus of recent research, often brought to civil rights work their experience in the radical campaigns of the 1940s.5

Hall’s reconceptualization of civil rights thus extends the movement backwards in time, effectively positing two distinct, though intimately related, waves. The first, based in the radical challenges to racism of the thirties and forties, was closely linked with working class movements and supported by activists who often held a vision of total social transformation for the United States. After this movement was crushed by government repression, the classical phase of the movement emerged. This wave advanced more restricted goals than the earlier wave, but was still supported by a significant group of activists with ties to earlier radical organizing.

This vision of a long civil rights movement obviously has tremendous synthetic power. Yet the concept has also provoked criticism. Sundiata Keita Cha-Jua and Clarence Lang have recently argued that, in its amalgamation of 1930s and 1960s struggles, the long movement concept resembles a vampire, in that “it exists outside of time and history, beyond the processes of life and death, and change and development.” According to this critique, “the continuous 1930s-1970s timeline theorized by Long Movement scholars ignores or minimizes the ruptures and fractures” wrought by government repression. Eric Arnesen advances a similar criticism, in addition to a more broadly political point that historians of the long movement tend to gloss over the Communist Left’s defects and ignoring its critics.6

As the above gloss on Hall’s presentation of the long movement concept makes clear, the critique of overly inclusive periodization largely fails to engage with long movement scholarship. Hall’s contention that civil rights were a “casualty” of the Cold War can hardly be described as downplaying or ignoring the effects of government repression. Indeed, documenting the rupture between the character of activism in the earlier era and the classical phase of the movement has been one of the hallmarks of long movement scholarship. Penny Von Eschen, for example, provides a detailed account of the ways that the racial discourse of groups like the NAACP shifted during the Cold War. Where they had once condemned the exploitation and oppression that white supremacy entailed, by the 1950s their descriptions of racism evoked Myrdalian moral dilemmas or organic metaphors of “the virus of prejudice,” both of which took race out of history. Similarly, Martha Biondi has described how anticommunism in New York City led the NAACP to move away from popular forms of protest such as picketing, which officials feared was too open to Leftist infiltration. Finally, Glenda Gilmore’s Defying Dixie, which presents an impressively researched account of the long movement to an audience beyond the academy, argues that “virulent southern anti-Communism…eviscerated postwar social justice movements and truncated the civil rights movement that emerged in the 1950s.” In the face of this body of work, Cha-Jua and Long’s contention that “Long Movement scholars generally fail to engage these issues of postwar anticommunist repression” is simply unsustainable.7

Eric Arnesen’s criticism of long movement periodization is similarly misdirected. In an attempted reductio ad absurdum, Arnesen asks why scholars stop at World War I, and don’t include Reconstruction-era struggles or uprisings on slave ships as part of the long movement. The point of long movement scholarship, however, is not simply that African Americans fought against racism before the classic civil rights movement. Indeed, this point is taken for granted by virtually everyone who currently studies Black history. Rather, long movement scholars emphasize that, in the decades prior to the classic movement, activists challenged white supremacy in such a fashion that their struggle shaped the next wave in two key ways: first, the earlier wave of civil rights activism won a number of important victories that changed the shape of later struggle, and second, the earlier wave produced institutions and trained activists that would go on to play an absolutely central role in the later wave. These relations, not the abstract fact of struggle, are what lends support to long movement scholarship’s linking of the 1940s with the 1960s.

Arnesen’s political critique attempts to rehabilitate the perspective of anticommunist Black activists such as A. Philip Randolph, who he contends have been marginalized by long movement scholars overly enamored with groups and individuals linked to the Communist Party. These figures, he argues, were not merely dupes of J. Edgar Hoover, but important Black progressives who had a deep critique of communist cynicism towards Black rights and complicity with Stalinist repression abroad. For Arnesen, the question must be asked: “So where do Randolph and his non-communist allies fit into the new narrative of the long civil rights movement? The quick answer: awkwardly, when they fit at all.” As with the Cha-Jua and Long’s critique of periodization, this is simply a misrepresentation of long movement scholarship. Thomas Sugrue’s recent Sweet Land of Liberty, for example, which presents the civil rights struggle in the North to a popular audience, explicitly takes its cue from Hall’s long movement framework. Far from Randolph being marginalized in that text, he is discussed at length, receiving easily as much attention as the Communist Party. Nor is Randolph absent from other long movement scholarship. Indeed, it is telling that Arnesen never directly names any works that overlook Randolph’s contributions.8

A. Philip Randolph

On the political level, Arnesen’s promotion of Randolph runs into other problems. As Arnesen makes clear, Randolph’s critique of the Communist Party was not primarily based on the party’s backing off from militant civil rights struggle during World War II, but rather its support for the Nazi-Soviet Pact in 1939. Neither of these actions by the party, however, appear to have damaged its ability to recruit and appeal to African Americans. As Bert Cochran has noted, the war years actually saw an increase in the percentage of Blacks among new recruits to the party, so that by 1944 they constituted fully thirty-seven percent of new members. While Randolph’s outrage over the party’s shifting lines with regard to race and war may have been justifiable, it does not appear to have prevailed among broad layers of the Black working class. Arnesen may well be correct that revisionist scholarship on the CP has not fully reckoned with the party’s failings regarding civil rights, but it is clear that Randolph’s perspective provides little help in understanding these failings.9

Existing critiques of long movement scholarship thus largely fail to engage with the key claims of the historiography. However, the long movement concept, especially as theorized by Hall, does possess a notable weakness: its relation to space.10 Aside from extending the movement’s periodization and reconsidering its relationship to the Left, a major theme of long movement scholarship has been the ways African American activists related to spaces outside the United States.11 Yet Hall spends barely a paragraph on the global imaginaries of Black activists. As a consequence, the concept of a long movement expands the location occupied by civil rights in time, but does little to push the spatial boundaries of the movement beyond those theorized by earlier waves of scholarship, even as long movement scholarship has clearly called for just such a reconceptualization.

Paul Gilroy’s theorization of a “Black Atlantic” is suggestive in its ability to propose an alternative, “outer-national” space of Black struggle. Gilroy argues that the diasporic space of the Atlantic as a whole has framed Black experience in a way that simply cannot be captured through national heuristics. The international experiences and engagements of Black activists from Frederick Douglass to Richard Wright show that even when Black struggle is directed against profoundly national institutions such as American chattel slavery or the construction of Black ghettos, the contours of Black struggle cannot be explained without reference to the broader stage of the Black Atlantic. The histories of long movement activists like Paul Robeson, George Padmore, and Lorraine Hansberry confirm the importance of this “outer-national” framework.12

As helpful as Gilroy’s Black Atlantic is for moving the long movement outside the borders of the United States, it is ultimately insufficient for the task. Black internationalism, especially during the years long movement scholarship covers, ultimately went far beyond the framing of the Atlantic. Martin Luther King’s embrace of Gandhian satyagraha is only the most obvious way in which civil rights activists looked beyond the Atlantic for resources in their struggle. Gerald Horne has recently shown that King was far from alone among civil rights activists in his engagement with the Indian anticolonial struggle. Bill V. Mullen has gone so far as to propose a discourse of “Afro-Orientalism” as a sort of Eastern version of the Black Atlantic, to capture the ways in which Black activists engaged with India and China. In particular, his portrait of a “Bandung Detroit,” awash in the politics of decolonization, seems especially important for long movement scholars to take note of. If these works gesture towards the need to go beyond the Black Atlantic, none of them, in the end, provide formulations of sufficient rigor and breath to replace it.13

W.E.B. Du Bois meets the Chairman

The lack of attention that historians have paid to the formulations of literary critics like Mullen and, to a lesser extent, social theorists like Gilroy is also indicative of the ways in which the concept of the long civil rights movement can be extended. This essay will thus conclude with a comparison of Richard Wright’s Native Son and James Baldwin’s Another Country, works which could stand as representative cultural productions of the two waves of the movement. Additionally, I will consider the problems that arise from current periodizations of Black literature, and suggest how the concept of the long movement could contribute to solving these.

Native Son is easily the most famous work to come out of the Leftist milieu long movement scholars have described. Wright’s role in the Chicago John Reed Club, his relocation to Harlem and his ultimate disillusionment with the CP are all well known. Because of Wright’s prominence in the CP and the success of Native Son, the novel has come to stand in for the literary productions of the what Michael Denning has called “the cultural front” as a whole. Literary critics looking back on this movement have often seen didacticism and antimodernism as hallmarks of this literature, qualities they have often found in no short supply in Native Son. Yet such a reading does violence both to Wright’s novel and the broader movement. As Barbara Foley has argued, Native Son in fact has a much more complex formal structure than its common description as “naturalist” would imply. Though most of the novel is narrated from the limited perspective of Bigger’s consciousness, Wright also included the Communist lawyer Max’s lengthy closing argument, which presents an account of Bigger’s life that is not identical to the one to which readers have access through Bigger. Additionally, in every edition after the first, Wright included his essay “How Bigger Was Born,” which, unlike either Bigger’s story or Max’s summation, compares the book’s protagonist with the alienated and dispossessed youth of all races. As Foley notes, “[a]ll three perspectives upon Bigger’s experience coexist in the novel, vying for the reader’s consideration and judgment.”14

This multi-layered rhetorical structure places Native Son alongside works like John Dos Passos’ USA, the standard bearer for Leftist modernism. Like Dos Passos’ trilogy, Wright’s use of multiple perspectives allows his work to represent what Marxist critics have called the “totality,” or the whole complex of social processes and contradictions that compose a social formation. This aspiration to totality is replicated on the level of plot, as Bigger’s fear, flight, and fate take him from the segregated South Side of Chicago to the mansion of his white employers, and into a confrontation with the state in the courtroom climax. This plot structure allows Wright to draw a picture for the reader of the interactions of different classes and institutions in Bigger’s life, making clear the connection between the ‘philanthropic’ real estate baron and the crushing poverty in which Bigger’s family lives. Form and content thus interact in Native Son to present a total critique of American society, merging opposition to racial oppression and class exploitation in just the way that long movement activists sought to.15

James Baldwin’s Another Country is a very different sort of book. Well before it was published (1962), Baldwin had signaled his intention to create a different aesthetic from Wright. His essay “Everybody’s Protest Novel” pilloried the older writer mercilessly, comparing Native Son to Uncle Tom’s Cabin. The essay was published in Partisan Review (the first piece by an openly Black author in that venue), former journal of the New York John Reed Club which had, by the time of Baldwin’s piece, become solidly anticommunist. In fact, Partisan Review would go on to play an important role in articulating an American aesthetic meant to replace the literature of the Thirties. Valuing irony and ambiguity over social commitment or mimesis, the Partisan Review aesthetic dovetailed nicely with the reactionary agrarian philosophy of the New Criticism. Together, these critical currents marginalized the literary values which had inspired much of the cultural front. In effect, Partisan Review was a major part of the aesthetic wing of the ‘long backlash’ identified by Hall.16

Another Country fulfills a great deal of these critical expectations. On the most surface level, the book is dedicated to Mary S. Painter, a close friend of Baldwin’s who worked for the Office of Strategic Services, precursor to the CIA. On a more substantial level, the novel’s plot concerns a group of friends, acquaintances, and lovers coming to terms with race, sex, and love in the aftermath of a friend’s suicide. The novel’s tight focus on this group of characters, who all seem to be Greenwich Village bohemians of one sort or another, is the opposite of Native Son’s expansive vision, running as it does from the ghetto to the mansion. While the novel focuses closely on the ways that race distorts human relationships, it is, in contrast to Native Son, almost silent on the class question. As Paul Goodman noted in a review at the time, “It is puzzling how most of Baldwin’s people make a living.” Other critics with radical affiliations were similarly disappointed. Langston Hughes, while conceding the novel’s emotional power, thought it a “curiously juvenile” book that focused too much on sex. Most famously, Eldridge Cleaver pronounced the novel “void of a political, economic, or even a social reference.”17

Yet just as long movement scholarship emphasizes the rupture that anticommunist repression created in the struggle against white supremacy, it also emphasizes the continuities that remained between the earlier wave and the classic phase. Such continuities exist in Baldwin’s work as well. Baldwin himself had something of a background in the Left, having joined the Trotskyist Young People’s Socialist League as a youth. While his tenure in the organized Left was brief, Baldwin would go on to be an important voice in the journal Freedomways, the theoretical journal of the classic phase of the movement. Edited by Esther Cooper Jackson, a veteran of the Southern Negro Youth Congress and wife of CP member James Jackson, Freedomways was the site of some of the strongest links between the civil rights unionism of the 1940s and the movement of the 1960s..18

James Baldwin, Joan Baez, and James Farmer, 1965

In light of such links to political radicalism, it is unsurprising that Another Country’s politics, like Native Son’s aesthetics, are more complicated than they at first appear. For one thing, class is not so absent from the novel as Goodman and Cleaver argue. While it’s true that Baldwin’s characters seem to have access to more money than their life styles would indicate, the legacy of Black poverty and exploitation appears in the novel through its suffusion with the voices of women blues singers. Throughout the novel, lyrical fragments from blues singers like Bessie Smith appear interspersed with the dialogue of the characters. As the characters sit in a club, Bessie sings “I wouldn’t mind being in jail but I’ve got to stay there so long,” testifying to the incarceration of Blacks outside the clubs. Later, a white character awakes to his Black girlfriend (a waitress, who is, significantly, the only main character in the novel who works for wages) singing “ If you can’t give me a dollar/Give me a lousy dime-/Just want to feed/This hungry man of mine,” a song that comments both on the poverty of Black households and Black women’s consequent entry into the labor market well before their white counterparts.19

Another Country also has moments of anger that seethe as much as Bigger Thomas ever did. When the father of the Rufus, the Black jazz musician who committed suicide, is presented with his son’s body, his wife asks him to pray. He shouts in response “Pray? Who, pray? I bet you, if I ever get anywhere near that white devil you call God, I’ll tear my son and my father [who was beaten to death with a hammer by a white railroad guard] out of his white hide!” Baldwin here foregrounds the violence of white supremacy, as well as the poverty of Black men (the father’s death strongly suggests he was a hobo). Baldwin’s characters can also be every bit as didactic as Wright’s, describing their lives in such a way that no white reader could miss the message. In a moment of interracial honesty, for example, Ida, the waitress, tells her white friend Cass her true feelings about white folks:

Shit. They keep you here because you’re black, the filthy white cock suckers, while they go around jerking themselves off with all that jazz about the land of the free and the home of the brave. And they want you to jerk yourself off with that same music, too, only keep your distance. Some days, honey, I wish I could turn myself into one big fist and grind this miserable country to powder. Some days, I don’t believe it has a right to exist.

As this passage indicates, Baldwin’s emphasis on the importance of sex, which so disturbed Cleaver and Hughes, could be harnessed to an anger at American racism as intense as their own.

The ruptures and continuities between Baldwin and Wrights’ works line up suggestively with those foregrounded by the concept of a long civil rights movement. They also point to a way of periodizing African American literature that is more coherent than current efforts. The current edition of the Norton Anthology of African American Literature, a text that largely sets the terms for such periodization, lists both Wright and Baldwin under the same period, which the editors (Nellie Y. McKay and Henry Louis Gates, Jr.) label “Realism, Naturalism, Modernism, 1940-1960.” As they themselves readily acknowledge, such a melange of genres is essentially arbitrary. Encompassing a range of aesthetics which are largely opposed to one another, the label mixes together writers such as Baldwin, Ellison, and Wright, whose primary relations to one another were often gestures of disaffiliation. Furthermore, by using form as the primary means of dividing writers, it encourages the mis-reading of books like Native Son, whose obvious naturalist tendencies should not cause us to overlook its modernist features.20

A periodization which bases itself on long movement scholarship might look at the years surrounding mid-century differently. Recognizing the importance of the labor left to the first wave of civil rights struggle, as well as the connection of virtually every major Black cultural figure to the movement during this period, such a periodization would see a decisive break in the late 1940s. The thorough disorganization of the movement during these years, combined with the CP’s success in alienating its most talented Black authors (Wright and Ellison), could mark a transition point, when the radical Black aesthetics of the thirties and forties were displaced by the rise of a liberal Black modernism. Heartily encouraged by the institutions of the cultural Cold War, this new aesthetic would repudiate the social commitment of earlier writers in favor of protagonists who are largely equivocal about the society in which they live.21

Just as Baldwin (who had done as much as anyone to marginalize Wright and the socially committed work of the Black Popular Front) would retain important radical moments in his work, however, Black literature as a whole was not utterly purged of its radicalism by the McCarthy years. Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun, for example, was partially a product of Hansberry’s involvement with the Freedom group, comprised of mostly Black writers centered around Paul Robeson. By using the long movement framework as a guide to periodizing Black literature, scholars could avoid the admitted artificiality of current efforts, and account for the continuities and discontinuities in cultural production at mid-century.

The concept of a long civil rights movement thus has a great deal to offer scholarship on Black politics and culture during the twentieth century. Its ability to reshape discussions of Black cultural production has yet to be appreciated, though it clearly has a great deal to contribute in this area once literary scholars take note of what historians have been up to. Though an adequate theorization of space within the concept has yet to appear, this lacuna has not prevented long movement scholars from definitively pushing the boundaries of civil rights outside the United States. The need for such a reconceptualization is not merely academic. As the controversy surrounding Barack Obama’s birth certificate has shown, those who support America’s racial status quo have a healthy interest in questions of space as well. If long movement scholarship is to succeed in its aim of destabilizing the racial narrative that supports such controversies, it will ultimately have to grapple with the same questions of culture and space that the heirs of the backlash do.

1Ironically, Obama’s friendship with Davis was brought to the attention of the right wing partially by radical historian Gerald Horne, who described it in his talk at the 2007 reception of the Communist Party-USA archives at New York University’s Tamiment Library. See Horne, “Rethinking the History and Future of the Communist Party,” http://www.politicalaffairs.net/article/articleview/5047/1/32/

2The struggle of the Communist Party and its allies against racism was introduced into the historical discussion primarily by Mark Naison, Communists in Harlem During the Great Depression and Robing D.G. Kelley Hammer and Hoe: Alabama Communists During the Great Depression. Randi Storch brings the Midwest into the story in Red Chicago: American Communism at its Grassroots, 1928-1935.

3Jacqueline Dowd Hall, “The Long Civil Rights Movement and the Political Uses of the Past.” Journal of American History. 91.4 (2005) pg 1235. Though most of the scholarship Hall discusses under the long movement rubric was published in the mid-nineties or after, there were important anticipations of the concept as early as the mid-1980s. See Manning Marable, Race, Reform, and Rebellion: The Second Reconstruction in Black America, 1945-1990; and Robert Korstad and Alex Lichtenstein, “Opportunities Found and Lost: Labor, Radicals, and the Early Civil Rights Movement.” Journal of American History 75.3 (December 1988), pp 786-811 (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1984)

4Hall, 1249. For accounts of civil rights casualties of the Cold War, see Risa L. Goluboff, The Lost Promise of Civil Rights, Penny Von Eschen, Race Against Colonialism, Ch. 7, and especially Martha Biondi, To Stand and Fight, Chs. 7-8.

5On Baker and Rustin, see respectively Barbara Ransby, Ella Baker and the Black Freedom Movement and John D’Emilio, Lost Prophet. For local struggles, see Charles Payne, I’ve Got the Light of Freedom and Michael K. Honey, Black Workers Remember: An Oral History of Segregation, Unionism, and the Freedom Struggle.

6Sundiata Keita Cha-Jua and Clarence Lang, “The ‘Long Movement’ as Vampire: Temporal and Spatial Fallacies in Recent Black Freedom Studies.” Journal of African-American History 92.2 2007, 271. See also, Eric Arnesen “Reconsidering the ‘Long Civil Rights Movement’” Historically Speaking 10.2 2009. pgs 31-34; and “No ‘Graver Danger’: Black Anticommunism, the Communist Party, and the Race Question” and “The Red and the Black: Reflections on the Responses to ‘No Graver Danger,’” Labor: Studies in Working-Class History of the Americas 3, No. 4 (Winter 2006). Ironically, Kevin Boyle makes the exact opposite criticism of long movement scholarship, arguing that it exaggerates the differences between the character of struggle in the 1940s and the 1960s. See Kevin Boyle, “Labour, the left, and the long civil rights movement.” Social History 30, No. 3 (August 2005), 366-372.

7Von Eschen, 145-159. Biondi, 189. Gilmore, 8. Cha-Jua and Long, 272. Cha-Jua and Long attempt to make their case by examining Jeanne Theoharis and Komozi Woodward’s collections Freedom North and Groundwork. Cha-Jua and Long note that only three articles in these two collections cover the period between 1947 and 1955. Yet as the above summary makes clear, such a lacuna is hardly characteristic of long movement scholarship.

8Arnesen, “Reconsidering,” 33. In his introduction, Sugrue announces that he has been “inspired by the work of a new generation of civil rights historians, most of them focusing on the South, who have challenged the tired chronologies of that region’s battle over Jim Crow.” He also cites Hall specifically for her theorization of the long movement. Sugrue, Sweet Land of Liberty: The Forgotten Civil Rights Struggle in the North (New York: Random House, 2008). pg xix.

9For CP membership data during the war, see Bert Cochran, Labor and Communism: The Conflict that Shaped American Unions (Princeton: Princeton UP, 1977), pg 228.

10Cha-Jua and Long critique long movement scholarship on a spatial basis for its alleged elision of differences between the conditions of civil rights struggle in the North and in the South. Hall, however, is quite clear on the differences in race and class structure in different regions, noting that the “plantation metaphor” of oppression failed to describe conditions in areas where migrants from the South arrived. See Cha-Jua and Long, pg 281-283; and Hall, 1240.

11See, for example, Von Eschen, Race Against Empire and Satchmo Blows Up the World: Jazz Ambassadors Play the Cold War (Cambridge: Harvard UP, 2004); Brenda Gayle Plummer, Rising Wind: Black Americans and US Foreign Affairs, 1935-1960; Glenda Gilmore, Defying Dixie; Kevin K. Gaines, American Africans in Ghana: Black Expatriates During the Civil Rights Era. Interestingly, Matthew Frye Jacobson’s Roots, Too: White Ethnic Revival in Post-Civil Rights America suggests that whiteness in this period had a similarly international character, as white ethnics claimed their linkages with European homelands as a way of distancing themselves from whiteness. Thus, the ‘long backlash’ Hall describes has an international component that goes well beyond the Cold War pressures she identifies.

12Paul Gilroy, The Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double Consciousness. (Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1993). Additionally, Gilroy’s theorization of the Black Atlantic is meant to destabilize nationalist discourses of race in a way that is strikingly congruent with Hall’s project of making civil rights “harder.”

13See Gerald Horne, The End of Empires: African Americans and India. (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2008); Bill V. Mullen, Afro-Orientalism (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2004), esp. Ch. 3. Vijay Prashad provides a broader view of Black engagements with Asia in his Everybody Was Kung-Fu Fighting: Afro-Asian Connections and the Myth of Cultural Purity. (Boston: Beacon Press, 2002). Kate Baldwin has extended Gilroy’s framework to include the Soviet Union in her Beyond the Color Line and the Iron Curtain. (Durham: Duke UP, 2002), but her inattention to the actual politics of her subjects mars the attempt. Robin Kelley notes that Black history has always had a global perspective in Kelly, “But a Local Phase of a World Problem: Black History’s Global Vision, 1883-1950” Journal of American History 86.3 (December 1993), pgs 1045-1077. Gerald Horne outlines possible avenues of study for future global research in Afro-American history in Horne, “Towards a Transnational Research Agenda for African American History in the 21st Century’ Journal of African American History 91.3 (2006), pgs 288-304.

14Barbara Foley, Radical Representations: Politics and Form in U.S. Proletarian Fiction, 1929-1941. (Durham: Duke UP, 1993) pgs 209-212. Foley also demonstrates conclusively that there was no generalized antipathy to modernism among writers associated with the CP. For an excellent account of the the relation of modernist poetry and radicalism, see Alan Filreis, Counter-Revolution of the Word: The Conservative Attack on Modern Poetry, 1945-1960. (Chapel Hill: UNC Press, 2008), Ch. 1. Michael Denning’s incredible The Cultural Front: The Laboring of American Culture in the Twentieth Century. (New York: Verso, 1998) remains the best book yet written on“culture in “the age of the CIO.”

15The classic work on the Marxist theory of totality in literature is Georg Lukács, The Historical Novel. (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1983). Lukács’ description of the way writers of the historical novel like Scott were able to create a picture of social totality through the interaction of their protagonists with multiple social layers is suggestively similar to Wright’s practice in Native Son, though Wright almost certainly never read Lukács. See Lukács, Ch. 1 Sec. 2.

16For more on the critical consensus of the Cold War, see Thomas Hill Schaub, American Fiction in the Cold War. (Madison: University of Madison Press, 1991); Lawrence Schwartz, Creating Faulkner’s Reputation: The Politics of Modern Literary Criticism. (Nashville: University of Tennessee Press, 1990); and Terry Eagleton, Literary Theory: An Introduction. (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1996 [2nd Ed.]), pg 43.

17On Baldwin’s relationship to Painter, see Carol Polsgrove, Divided Minds: Intellectuals and the Civil Rights Movement. (New York: Norton, 2001), pg 93. Paul Goodman review, “Not Enough of a World to Grow in,” appeared in the New York Times on June 24th, 1962. For Hughes’ assessment, see Herb Boyd, Baldwin’s Harlem: A Biography of James Baldwin. (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2008) pgs. 40-41. Cleaver’s attack on Baldwin, “Notes on a Native Son,” was published as part of his Soul on Ice.

18On Freedomways and the Left, see James Smethurst, SNYC, Freedomways, and the Influence of the Popular Front in the South on the Black Arts Movement.” Reconstruction 8.1 (2008). <http://reconstruction.eserver.org/081/smethurst.shtml> Smethurst’s authoritative The Black Arts Movement: Literary Nationalism in the 1960s and 1970s (Chapel Hill: UNC Press, 2005) maps in detail the linkages between Old Left artistic practices and persons and the militant art of the Black Power era.

19On the class politics of women’s blues, see Angela Y. Davis, Blues Legacies and Black Feminism: Gertrue “Ma” Rainey, Bessie Smith, and Billie Holiday. (New York: Vintage, 1999).

20Nellie Y. McKay and Henry Lous Gates, Jr. The Norton Anthology of African American Literature, 2nd Ed. (New York, Norton, 2003) pgs 1355-1368.

21Barbara Foley’s forthcoming Wrestling with Prometheus: Ralph Ellison, the Left, and the Making of “Invisible Man” promises to provide an in-depth picture of the move from the aesthetics of the Black Left to those promoted by the New Criticism by one of the most important writers of this period.

Read Full Post »

Though I have no wish to contribute to the vastly over-inflated role which the Tea Parties occupy in the current liberal imagination, I can’t help but repost this passage from The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, where Marx describes the bourgeoisie’s retreat, in the face of proletarian insurrection, from its own previously held ideals.  This narrative of bourgeois ideology would go on to play an important role in Georg Lukács’ theory of the novel, of which more will be said in an upcoming post.  For now, here is Marx.

As monosyllabic on the platform as in the press. Flat as a riddle whose answer is known in advance. Whether it was a question of the right of petition or the tax on wine, freedom of the press or free trade, the clubs or the municipal charter, protection of personal liberty or regulation of the state budget, the watchword constantly recurs, the theme remains always the same, the verdict is ever ready and invariably reads: “Socialism!” Even bourgeois liberalism is declared socialistic, bourgeois enlightenment socialistic, bourgeois financial reform socialistic. It was socialistic to build a railway where a canal already existed, and it was socialistic to defend oneself with a cane when one was attacked with a rapier.

Sound familiar?

Read Full Post »

« Newer Posts