Building a better world

Over the past few days, the Philadelphia Inquirer has been -- as the NAACP holds its convention here -- glorifying W.E.B. DuBois . And in vintage Marxist terms like this:

....[S]ince the 1980s, the maldistribution of income in the United States has become greater in favor of the rich than in any other modern democracy, and it is rapidly growing worse. Corporate profits have incurable elephantiasis. CEOs receive huge bonuses that have nothing to do with their often poor performance. Employees work harder for less pay, and there is less work for more people. Much of higher education is now priced so far above the means of middle-class Americans as to be available, if at all, only through crushing indebtedness. In the American political climate of 2004, it is all but impossible to have a meaningful debate on taxes for social-democratic initiatives. There are permanent open seasons on affirmative action and women's reproductive rights.

As for that swaggering about the world, that, too, appears to be with us indefinitely. It seems that the U.S. government and a significant portion of the public see themselves living in the black and white world of clashing civilizations a la Samuel Huntington and other catastrophist writers. Many students of history are saying: Yesterday, we had a republic; today, we have the Homeland Security State. How can all this have happened?

As the NAACP's long record of reproach attests, there has always been a dark side to that mythic city on a hill whence our ideals and institutions are said to derive. But 9/11 has robbed us once again of that innocence we Americans seem to lose every other decade. Quite understandably, many citizens feel that they have to trade some of their liberties in return for security. However, this is an old, bad Faustian bargain. Unless we take great care, the Homeland Security State and its Justice Department handmaidens, Patriot Acts I and II, may well leave our civil liberties as maimed as the New York cityscape has been by al-Qaeda.

Fifty-odd years ago, in the preface to the 50th anniversary edition of his watershed study The Souls of Black Folk, Du Bois rendered his definitive assessment of the inherent limitations not only of American democracy but also of the world order of the American Century:

"I still think today as yesterday that the color line is a great problem of this century," he wrote. "But today I see more clearly than yesterday that back of the problem of race and color lies a greater problem which both obscures and implements it: And that is the fact that so many civilized persons are willing to live in comfort even if the price of this is poverty, ignorance and disease of the majority of their fellow men; that to maintain this privilege men have waged war until today war tends to become universal and continuous, and the excuse for this war continues largely to be color and race."

Du Bois saw, with horrific clarity, that the fundamental problem of the age was not so much color but unregulated capital: the exploitation of the great majority of humankind by the kleptocratic minority.

I hope I'm right in believing that the NAACP of the 21st century fully embraces Du Bois' unmasking of these primal motives for injustice and war.

To NAACP Board Chairman Julian Bond, DuBois is a hero. But then, Bond believes that Communist Party leaders James and Esther Jackson are "a model of what Black youth should and ought to do."

Here's Bond on "Bush and other Republicans":

NAACP chairman Julian Bond, speaking to lawmakers and business leaders in Indiana last month, said Bush and other Republicans appealed to a racist "dark underside of American culture."

"They preach racial equality but practice racial division," Bond said. "Their idea of equal rights is the American flag and Confederate swastika flying side by side."

At the 2001 NAACP convention in New Orleans, Bond said Bush "has selected nominees from the Taliban wing of American politics, appeased the wretched appetites of the extreme right wing, and chosen cabinet officials whose devotion to the Confederacy is nearly canine in its uncritical affection."

OK, fair enough. Or unfair enough, depending on your perspective. (Until today I never knew there was such a thing as a Confederate swastika.)

It's all relative, isn't it?

So is truth, and DuBois was -- always -- an utterer of truth!

Always an utterer of difficult and unpopular truths, Du Bois's writing still has the ring of prophecy come true. "The inflexible truth he embraced was that, just as Africans in the United States 'under the corporate rule of monopolized wealth ... will be confined to the lowest wage group,' so the peoples of the developing world faced subordination in the global scheme of things capitalist."
According to Bond and the NAACP, Bush is the demon of the dark underside. No doubt if he were alive today, DuBois would agree. Doubtless so would many of Bond's other Communist heroes.

But what kind of people did DuBois admire? Who were his heroes?

Here's W.E.B. DuBois, uttering the truth about Joseph Stalin:

Joseph Stalin was a great man; few other men of the 20th century approach his stature. He was simple, calm and courageous. He seldom lost his poise; pondered his problems slowly, made his decisions clearly and firmly; never yielded to ostentation nor coyly refrained from holding his rightful place with dignity. He was the son of a serf but stood calmly before the great without hesitation or nerves. But also - and this was the highest proof of his greatness - he knew the common man, felt his problems, followed his fate.

.....His judgment of men was profound. He early saw through the flamboyance and exhibitionism of Trotsky, who fooled the world, and especially America. The whole ill-bred and insulting attitude of Liberals in the U.S. today began with our naive acceptance of Trotsky's magnificent lying propaganda, which he carried around the world. Against it, Stalin stood like a rock and moved neither right nor left, as he continued to advance toward a real socialism instead of the sham Trotsky offered.

Three great decisions faced Stalin in power and he met them magnificently: first, the problem of the peasants, then the West European attack, and last the Second World War. The poor Russian peasant was the lowest victim of tsarism, capitalism and the Orthodox Church. He surrendered the Little White Father easily; he turned less readily but perceptibly from his ikons; but his kulaks clung tenaciously to capitalism and were near wrecking the revolution when Stalin risked a second revolution and drove out the rural bloodsuckers.

Um, yeah, Stalin definitely drove them out. They were exterminated.

But you didn't really have to be a kulak:

In reality however, the term "kulak" was a loose term to describe anyone who opposed collectivisation, which included many peasants who were anything but rich.
If Stalin were alive today, the term "kulak" might even include many members of the NAACP.

Not the leadership, of course. They're the ones who get to do the defining. And the judging.

And if we move the (very elitist) DuBois into the 21st Century, his semi-official biographer offers an insight into what such a judgment might be:

But in a world today where we are supposedly moving beyond race, I think you would hear Dubois modify that and say that people of color must be judged by the content of their politics.
I don't doubt one bit that DuBois would say that. Nor do I doubt that much of the NAACP leadership agrees with it.

Much as I abhor ending on a note of irony, I think it fair to ask why the NAACP refuses to take a position on gay marriage. Bond thinks it's just as well:

When the NAACP opens its national convention here today, one of the hottest issues of the moment - same-sex marriage - will be nowhere on its agenda.

Gay-rights advocates have challenged African Americans to see the homosexual-marriage struggle as a modern-day civil-rights cause. And the timing for an open discussion or vote by the nation's premier civil-rights organization seems perfect: The U.S. Senate is debating the Federal Marriage Amendment, which would define marriage as solely a heterosexual institution.

But no one pushed to have the issue aired at the convention, said NAACP board chairman Julian Bond. And he, for one, is just as happy.

"It would be a healthy discussion to have," Bond said in a telephone interview. "But I would be fearful of what might happen" because "it very well could" cause moments of rancor - and a vote he would regret.

In his case, that would be a vote against same-sex rights.

Bond is a staunch supporter of gay civil rights, yet he knows that antipathy to same-sex marriage is widespread among African Americans, and may be roiling beneath the NAACP's official silence.

A national poll by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press in November found that 60 percent of black respondents opposed gay marriage. A December New York Times poll put the figure at 75 percent. The Pew poll found blacks less inclined than whites or Hispanics to support gay marriage, with just 28 percent in favor.

Might they be breathing a sigh of relief that President Bush didn't attend?

There are a lot of people who think there are bigger issues than gay marriage. The NAACP obviously thinks socialism is a bigger issue.

In a way, they're right.

Which is why I think opposing socialism is a bigger issue. If I lose my economic freedom and my property rights, what's the point of a legal relationship with the ostensible purpose of protecting them?

UPDATE: Here's DuBois's biographer, David Lettering Lewis, on writing:

I write in longhand; I consider the computer a television set with a keyboard.
Gee. I thought my computer was more like a Gutenberg press than a television set, but what do I know? I hate television!

posted by Eric on 07.12.04 at 10:26 AM


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Tracked on July 13, 2004 7:11 PM


Communism among established leaders and prominent stars was long a hindrance for American blacks. I'm reminded of Paul Robeson, who defended his support for Stalin after the revelation of genocide and other crimes by saying, "The coach tells you what to do and you do it."

He was rightly shunned by the new wave of civil rights leaders who finally began to make real progress in the 1960s, and yet there are many people who maintain that he was a heroic and important figure in the fight. He witnessed firsthand that the image of the Soviet dream was a lie, yet kept maintained the illusion, content a contented slave to socialist ideology:

"[S]everal celebrities who had given their influential imprimatur to the Stalin regime suffered subsequent pangs of conscience. Probably the most outstanding example of post-Stalinist contrition was Paul Robeson. The peerless Black singer and actor spent his declining years in a state of paranoid depression conceivably brought on by gnawing remorse over his role as self-deluded accessory to a KGB-engineered deception. In 1952 at the height of Stalin’s antisemitic campaign Robeson was officially invited to Moscow. At a restaurant the KGB produced one of the victimised Yiddish writers – briefly released from the Lubjanka, ‘force-fed’ and given sunlamp treatment – for Robeson to interview. At the meal the writer was distant and silent, whereas his voluble ‘translator’ gave Robeson all sorts of assurances. The singer believed the lie because he wanted to believe it. On his return to the US he maintained that the allegedly jailed Yiddish writers in the USSR were at liberty, and condemned the American papers’ biased reporting."

The civil rights movement was a success when instead of supporting the communism's patently brutal and inhumane "revolution," it acted on rational principals (fully in line with the founding principals of the United States) and, like Gandhi in India, exploited the best of Thoreau's civil disobedience to circumvent whatever injustice stood in the way.

It would be a pity to see the established leadership take up the communist mantle again and play the politics of race identity, fully subverting the individuality of American Blacks.

Varius Contrarius   ·  July 12, 2004 3:36 PM

I was just reminded that unless I had ancestors murdered by Stalin, I have no moral right to complain about "the past" here. And if I did, then I am taking these things too personally. Now why didn't I think of that?

The problem is that I am not "dwelling on the past." The rehabilitation of Stalinists like DuBois and (as you highlight) Paul Robeson is quite mainstream.

In fact, DuBois biographer David Levering Lewis is a major Robeson booster, and Rutgers (where he's a tenured professor) is home to the Paul Robeson Cultural Center.

I haven't heard of this center before, but I think you might enjoy peeking at some of their links....

Eric Scheie   ·  July 12, 2004 3:59 PM

Thanks again, Varius!

I was so caught up with DuBois that I wasn't thinking about Rutgers, but your Robeson remark triggered my memory about rampant anti-Semitism there. (Via InstaPundit.) Last year, the day after former Gulag prisoner Natan Sharansky was assaulted with a pie, swastikas were spray-painted on Rutgers Hillel.

Stalin would be proud of his progeny, I think...

Eric Scheie   ·  July 12, 2004 4:33 PM

It seems that at the Robeson center culture is the domain of the hyphenated American.

And then it is further limited to the prefixes african-, arab-, asian-, latin-, and native-.

I often need to be reminded that I have no culture because I'm white.

DWEMs be damned!

Varius Contrarius   ·  July 13, 2004 12:46 PM

If anyone wants a "modern-day civil-rights cause," they can look to the gay men who are too busy trying to avoid getting beaten to death to even think about getting married.

Raging Bee   ·  July 14, 2004 4:37 PM

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