Archive for the Playthell on politics Category

The Worst House Speaker Ever?

Posted in Playthell on politics on October 3, 2013 by playthell

John Boehnoer

A Reckless Charlatan

 Boehner’s Name will live in Infamy!

Based on the most recent polls the Congress of the United States has a 10% approval rating from the public.  This is the lowest rating on record!  And that was before the Republicans shut down the federal government in a fit of rage, much like a spoiled child who throws a temper tantrum when they can’t get their way.  Only much more is at stake in this tantrum, for the fate of the nation hangs in the balance.

The path the GOP – Grand Obstructionist Party – is taking could well cost lives among the population for whom government benefits are a lifeline.  People such as a mother in Utah – a white American mind you – who explained on MSNBC today that without a special formula her twin babies could die, because it would cost her $750.00 to get it otherwise….and she can’t afford it!

These kinds of stories abound.  There are, for instance, nearly a million civil service workers, people who provide vital services to the American people, that have been locked out of their jobs.  And what is worse several Republican members of the House, the scoundrels who caused this crisis, are now saying that they are not sure whether they will vote to pay these workers for their forced layoff!   This is not only reckless and stupid, it is amoral and evil.   The path the Republicans have chosen is a classic example of folly…in fact it is not too much to say it is criminal folly.

In this instance I am not employing the term “folly” in the usual sense, which the dictionary defines as “a thoughtless or reckless act,” although it certainly meets this definition, but in the sense the historian Barbara Tuchman defines it in her Pulitzer Prize winning book “The March of Folly.” According to Ms. Tuchman, a two time Pulitzer Prize winner, Folly is when a nation chooses a policy that all the objective evidence suggests will lead to disaster.  By this standard the Republican Party is engaged in the extremist folly.

Unable to get its way through the normal democratic process provided by the US Constitution, the Grand Obstructionist Party has decided to use the routine practices of governance such as passing a budget to fund the lawful activities of the of the federal government, and raising the debt ceiling, to re-litigate policy issues that they failed to achieve through the normal process.  In other words, since they were not able to achieve their policy objectives by electing like-minded people they are now trying to force their will on the nation by shutting down our national government altogether.

As is often the case when governments engage in folly it eventually leads to tragedy.  And that is where we are presently headed at break neck speed.  Already poor children who depend upon food stamps, surplus government foods, hot meals at school, and community food pantry’s are going hungry as I write.  And needless to say, while this crisis affects millions of Americans of all races the victims of this Republican folly are disproportionately black…especially women and children.

It is critically important that working and middle class Americans understand what is happening here, because the Tea Party Republicans who are driving the GOP’s legislative agenda are full blown anti-government fanatics who feel that they are on a mission to drastically reduce the federal budget by any means necessary, and they are supported by the voters in their specially designed right-wing Congressional Districts.  There is nothing more dangerous than a group of self-righteous fanatics on a mission.

The extent of their fanaticism is such that these people not only refuse to compromise, they are so reckless they cannot even accept partial victories.   Like all fanatics, whether motivated by sacred or secular ideologies, they want all or nothing and appear quite willing to cut off their nose to spite their face.

President’s original budget request for 2014 was over one trillion dollars, but the Senate Democrats, with the President’s consent have reduced it to almost half that sum in the present budget to a little over 900 billion dollars in an attempt to compromise with the House Republicans in order to pass a budget and fund the government.  The figure they agreed to is actually close to the numbers in the budget proposed by Paul Ryan, which President Obama ran against and won!

Yet although President Obama was reelected on his platform the Republicans in the House, most of whom represent gerrymandered districts – which is to say “safe” Republican districts created by election commissions appointed by the Republican governors in those states, many of whom were elected because they pledged to fight President Obama’s policies.   So they are insulated from the wrath of the national electorate.

This bit of political chicanery has resulted in a situation where the radical far right-wing minority in the Grand Obstructionists Party can blow up the federal government and plunge the nation into one crisis after another without fear of retribution at the polls.   But as their folly in shutting down the Federal government begins to inconvenience citizens who are on holiday in Washington and find national monuments – like the World War II veterans who made a pilgrimage to that sacred shrine honoring their sacrifice and found it closed.

This is why the Republican iconoclasts are attempting to restore funding to select parts of the government to avoid enraging the public; but President Obama will not play that game, he knows that it is folly to try and finance government operations on an ala carte basis.  The Republicans – shameless charlatans that they are – are now running around posing for pictures with the vets and declaring themselves the true friends of the armed forces, although they have recently cut millions in funding for veteran’s benefits from the federal budget.

With all of the chaos the government shutdown is causing, which is damaging to the nation and might fatally injure the Republican Party’s chances at winning the Presidency, the question all thoughtful people are asking is: Why doesn’t Boehner just pit the budget resolution on the floor for a vote by the entire House and end the crisis the members of his caucus created.

The answer alas, is that Boehner is a man who privileges personal ambition over the stability of the nation, because he knows that should he put the bill up and it is passed by a bi-partisan vote he will be stripped of his Chairmanship.  And that’s too great a price to pay for a lower middle class guy from a mid-western hick town who has ascended to a level beyond his boyhood dreams; hence he is drunk on the intoxicating opiate of power.  Boehner loves being Speaker of the House, and he appears all to ready to sell his soul to keep it.

By placing personal ambition over the public interests, Boehner has demonstrated that he is unfit for a job that requires just the opposite.  That’s why he may well be the worst House Speaker ever.   Since he has the misfortune of following Nancy Pelosi wielding the Speaker’s gavel, whose record of accomplishment during her brief tenure in office is one of the most impressive of all times, historians will have little trouble pointing out just what an ineffective sad sack he is.  No wonder he’s always crying.

The Weeper and the Speaker: Johnny and Nancy
John Boehner and Nancy Pelosi
Contemplating their place in History?

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Playthell  G. Benjamin
October 3, 2013
Harlem, New York

A Tyranny of the Minority!

Posted in Playthell on politics, Uncategorized with tags , , , , on October 1, 2013 by playthell
Boehner with crack pipe
John Boehner: Is he Smoking Crack?

The Lunatics Have Taken Over the Asylum!

The prescient French intellectual Alexis de Tocqueville warned against the development of a “Tyranny of the Majority” in his two volume 1831 treatise Democracy in America.  However he, nor anyone else, worried about a tyranny of the minority.  I suspect that such a thing was unimaginable in a system where the majority rules.  Yet what we are facing as I write is a tyranny of a minority of the Republican Party – the far right Tea Party faction – who is directing the Republican legislative agenda in Congress.  In the last election the so-called “Tea Party Patriots” elected over 60 people to the House of Representatives, these people were political Neanderthals fueled more by rage than reason, and committed to “limited government.”

They marched into Washington determined to dismantle the Federal government and the art of compromise, a normal process of governance, became betrayal. Disruption of the orderly processes of government became the order of the day as they manufactured one crisis after another, and they have succeeded so well that at this moment in American history we have no national government at all. This is the second time in 17 years the federal government has been shut down based on the 1868 law requiring that government shut down if Congress does not appropriate the funds to operate, and both times it was radical right wing Republicans – the Grand Obstructionist Party, that shut it down.

The United States of America, a popular democracy that is unique among the nations of the world because power is in the hands of the people through their exercise of the ballot, stands in danger of inflicting a devastating crisis upon itself through the irrational actions of some elected leaders.  If this sounds like madness that’s because it is; Republican politics has become a species of self-destructive madness, anarchy in the guise of patriotism and religious virtue.

As a weary nation watched the deadline for the government shutdown approach, most citizens hoped and prayed the radical Republicans would soon come to their senses, put partisan politics aside, and act responsibly in the public interest.  No such luck alas, and our national government has shut down.  All responsible citizens should be afraid, and if you are a federal worker you should be very afraid!

Listening to the various governmental spokesmen and “experts” on American government and economy one scarcely knows what to believe regarding the consequences of the shutdown.  Their contradictory explanations must resemble a tower of babble to the average citizen with a cavalier interest in politics.  However there is no doubt that almost a million federal employees are out of work today and are uncertain what the future holds or even if they will receive their next paycheck.

So it is an immediate tragedy for them.  But in a nation of over three hundred people that’s not very many people, and millions of Americans are indifferent to their plight, while millions of right-wing Republicans, who seem to view our federal government as a pit of evil that does more harm than good, feel that government workers are parasites who are getting what they deserve.

These attitudes offer indisputable proof that the removal of “Civics” courses from our public schools, along with the decline of newspapers devoted to serious journalism, the splintering of the media into a morass of outlets in which unedited information is broadcast over the airwaves or posted online without fact checking, polluting the empty heads of a clueless public, has combined to dumbfound and so confuse millions of Americans that they are ill-equipped to comprehend either the benefits of a strong national government or the causes of the present crisis.

One need only look at the responses of American citizens in “man on the street” television interviews to understand the depth of confusion among the populace.  Although the polls show that 72% of the public disagree with the Republican strategy of shutting down the government in order to defund the Affordable Health Care Act, or “Obamacare,” all of the people in the street poll conducted by MSNBC blame both parties, the President and Congress equally.  This is further evidence that Thomas Jefferson was right when he predicted an ignorant electorate would pose great a danger to the proper functioning of our brand of participatory democracy.

Based upon the actions of the right-wing iconoclasts in the Grand Obstructionist Party, who have now succeeded in shutting down the federal government and believe they have performed a heroic deed, even members of congress do not appear to understand the possible consequences of their actions.  Some prescient scholars of American government have long predicted that our system of divided government, with its countervailing forces where each branch of government check and balance the other, could result in a disaster that renders the nation ungovernable.  As the nation stands on the precipice of disaster, with the congress so gridlocked they can’t even pass a budget, we may have arrived at that moment.

Although the financial markets are up this morning, perhaps because the state insurance exchanges mandated by the Affordable Healthcare Law has gone into effect, if this shutdown of the federal government is not ended soon it will surely result in financial catastrophe.  Aside from the fact that people in critical positions such as Air Traffic Controllers are being asked to work without pay, this kind of grand folly does not inspire trust in investors that the US government will pay the interests on its bonds.  Hence as the vote to raise the debt ceiling ensues in a couple of weeks it could set off a panic in financial markets worldwide, which would spark a new depression more severe than the Bush imbroglio.  We simply cannot predict what will happen since the markets operate on confidence.

The long and the short of the matter is the United States of America is about to suffer a self-inflicted wound that could put our ailing economy on life support.  At the moment nobody can envision a way of this political morass.  The Republicans have come up with a convoluted argument in which the crux of the crisis is the refusal of the Democrats to “negotiate.”  But their idea of negotiation is to demand that the President essentially scrap his signature legislative achievement, the Affordable Health Care Act, an achievement that both Democratic and Republican presidents have tried to implement for a century, going all the way back to Teddy Roosevelt.   With 45 million people uninsured in the richest nation in the world any program designed to expand health care coverage is long overdue.

Needless to say, this is a demand the President cannot and will not accept.  Apparently, the Republicans have underestimated both the resolve of the president and his supporters, because many of us will fight them to the bitter end…. no matter the consequences.  In my view this is President Obama’s finest hour; he must not give an inch.  This is a fight to the finish and the American people must decide if they want to continue electing inflexible ideologues to congress that hate government and have no interests in governing, people whose real interest is in crippling the ability of the federal government to provide services to the people that need them, or mature responsible legislators who cherish government and are committed to making the necessary compromises to govern well, placing the public interests above personal or party interests.

Ironically, the people who need government most, based on the record of government transfer payments – either through jobs or subsidies – are in the “red states” represented by the people who are trying to dismantle the federal government.  And just now, it is the far-right Tea Party caucus in the Republican Party who are driving this effort, although they are fewer in number than establishment Republicans they are conducting a reign of terror by threatening to run candidates to their right in future primaries.

And the kiss of death for any Republican leader is to appear to be working with President Obama, the man they all love to hate!  Just look at all the flak governor Christie got for working with the President in order to bring relief to the hurricane ravaged state.  Their irrational hatred of the President is fired by who he is more than anything he has done.  They hate him first because he is African-American, and thus they cannot admit that there is virtue in anything he does.  Hence they oppose him even when he accepts their positions.

The ruthless tactics of the Tea Party cabal have turned John Boehner into a burlesque of a House Speaker, a cowed pot butt pretender who is afraid to act in the best interests of the nation by simply bringing the Budget Resolution up for a vote and telling members of his party to vote their conscience.  No one doubts that the budget resolution preventing the government shutdown would have carried the day.

However should the speaker man up and do his job – which is to lead, instead of behaving like a clueless castrati in the choir suffering from a deficit of testicular fortitude in order to save his speakership – this crisis can be quickly resolved.  Yet John Boehner, “The Weeper of the House,” is proving to be a jellyfish who seems perfectly willing to follow the lead of people with the mentality of suicide bombers.

This has resulted in a bizarre state of affairs where,  as President Obama points out, a minority of one political party that controls the House of Representatives gets to nullify the will of the Senate, the President, the Supreme Court, and ultimately the will of the American people who voted for this President over Mitt Romney in an election where the Affordable Healthcare Act was a major issue.  Hence what we are witnessing in Washington is truly a “Tyranny of the minority.”

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Playthell G. Benjamin
Harlem, New York
October 1, 2013

Is Marable’s Malcolm A Re-Invention?

Posted in Book Reviews, Playthell on politics with tags on September 29, 2013 by playthell
Malcom X II
In Search of his Idenity and Destiny

 On Myth, History and Special Pleading

Unlike most of the combatants who have squared off in the debate over Dr. Manning Marable’s biography, Malcolm X: A Life of Reinventions, I came to read this text almost by accident.  I had decided that having known Malcolm X well during the last three years of his life, and being an eyewitness to the ordeals he struggled through in his last days, I knew everything that really mattered about the life of Malcolm X.  I was aware of the squabbles that had been going on for years among Malcolm scholars about the details of some of the episodes in the famous Autobiography of Malcolm X, but I thought that kind of esoteric discourse was best left to specialists.

I would look in on the conversation from time to time to see if our industrious researchers managed to dredge up something really new, interesting and important.  On occasion I was pleasantly surprised by new insights that advanced our understanding of how Malcolm’s character and vision of the world were molded. One such instance that stands out is my reading of Professor Robin D.G. Kelly’s analysis in his innovative text Race Rebels.

Dr. Kelly showed how Malcolm reinvented himself, when discussing his Zoot Suit wearing hep cat days in the Autobiography, in order to make his interpretation conform to the puritanical preachments of the Nation of Islam which guided his life at the time.   He went on to present a complex analysis of the cultural and historical milieu that produced the ‘race rebels” for whom wearing the Zoot Suit was an act of rebellion – like the Mexican “Pachucos” in Los Angeles, whose flamboyant style led to the infamous 1943 ”Zoot Suit Riots.” I found the analysis thoughtful, original and enlightening.

But my main interest in Malcolm X is his political ideas, specifically whether his analysis of the black predicament was correct, and if his strategy and goals were coherent and possible, since politics is the art of the possible, I didn’t expect to learn much more than I already knew from Dr. Marable’s biography.  Hence reading a five hundred page tome by an academic that I figured was sort of engaging in academic busy work, tackling an icon of his youth in a work that offered the possibility of a bestselling text that could increase his coin  and add the gloss of celebrity to the conclusion of an outstanding, albeit relatively obscure, academic career.  I wished the Professor well but didn’t expect any revelations, and thus I had better employment for my time than wading through pages of essentially meaningless erudition.

For me the great question of the moment was how to reelect President Obama, retain control of the Senate, try to increase the Democratic majority to 60 seats, and take back the House of Representatives from the Tea Party.  The principal vehicle for advocating my position in the national debate is “Commentaries on the Times,” an ongoing series of commentaries that address major issues of politics and culture which is broadcast over WBAI in New York, streamed around the world in real time on the internet, archived online for 90 days, and published in expanded texts at commentariesonthetimes.wordpress.com.  And just as when I was an Editorial Page Columnists for the Daily News, or a regular contributor to the Manchester Guardian – now the Guardian /Observer, and the Sunday Times of London – I write about foreign and domestic affairs, politics and cultural matters.  So I am a busy man who is not looking to read voluminous tomes because they might prove entertaining.

However during Afro-American history month I found myself standing outside a bookstore in Amherst, Massachusetts and the window was decorated with texts exploring Afro-American history.  Dr. Marable’s Malcolm X was staring me straight in the face so I went in and bought it.  I was taking the bus back to New York and would have several hours to peruse the text and decide if I wanted to give it a serious reading.  Once I delved into its well written pages I got hooked.  I got down wit it and couldn’t quit it until it was done!   The raison d’etre for this essay is to record my response to this magisterial text that has now been awarded the coveted Pulitzer Prize for history.

In reviewing this book two considerations guided my assessment: Is Dr. Marable telling us something we don’t know and whether his evidence is sufficient to justify his claims after subjection to rigorous scrutiny.   Well, I learned a lot of details about Malcolm’s life and the inner workings of the Nation of Islam that I didn’t know…nor could we have known, before Dr. Marable examined the extensive FBI files on Malcolm, Elijah Muhammad, Betty Shabazz, Supreme Captain of the Fruit of Islam, Raymond Sharif, et al.   And he was the first scholar the family allowed access to Malcolm’s private papers.  While there are some critics of this text who find that his research was not extensive enough, because he didn’t interview some people whom they consider critical to his reconstruction of Malcolm’s life. I don’t share their concern.

Furthermore, from what I have seen of the critics of this text, I dare not hope that what I have written in the present essay will fare any better with this crowd of passionate Malcolmites, who seem more interested in myth making than history.  In fact, Dr. Marable’s conclusions may look quite different after they read my take on the book. For I share the views of Fredrick Douglass in his historic speech at the unveiling of the Freedman’s Memorial to Abraham Lincoln: “Truth is beautiful and proper in all places and all times.  But it is never more beautiful and proper than when speaking of a man who will be commended to history.”  So although I knew Malcolm far better than the most caustic critics, like Othello, I decided to tell “a round unvarnished tale” based on the facts as I find them.

From my reading of the evidence I find Dr. Marable’s sources voluminous and his research extensive.  Working with a group of bright and energetic graduate students at Columbia University, he appears to have left few stones unturned. And there is a real question in my mind as to whether further interviews would have advanced our understanding of the subject; there is a good chance the story would have descended into a Tower of Babble if the author interviewed everybody who had an opinion about Malcolm.

Professor Marable consulted letters written by Malcolm and his contemporaries; Malcolm’s personal diaries; interviews with major players in the drama that was the life of Malcolm X conducted by Dr. Marable and others he investigated the records of several police agencies local and federal, plus a variety other public records. He has also consulted the major published works on Malcolm as well as unpublished doctoral dissertations and Master’s theses dealing with his subject.  Dr. Marable also extensively investigated the news sources that covered Malcolm throughout his public career.

Hence he has covered the bases upon which scholarly histories are constructed.  As for those who feel that Dr. Marable’s text is incomplete, I remind them that no historical study can claim the last word on a subject.  That’s why even the most distinguished historians routinely refer to their work as “A history” rather than “The history.” And to those professional scholars who are dissatisfied with Professor Marable’s research, I would invite them to conduct their own and publish a study filling in the gaps.  That’s the way the historical enterprise works; the essence of which is the science of historiography, where professional historians critique each other’s texts with the fervor of Talmudic scholars commenting on Torah.

At the moment, it seems safe to say that Professor Marable’s book is the state of the art in Malcolm X biography.  So those who are challenging the factual basis of this text have their work cut out for them.  My criticism of the book however is in regard to the way the author interprets the meaning of the massive data he has compiled on the life of Malcolm; at times his conclusions depart from careful documentation for his claims and slides into special pleading, which is the term of art for historians who offer conclusions that reflect their hopes and biases rather than the hard evidence at hand.

Sometimes he glosses over important issues that would enrich his story.  Two examples stand out: his cavalier treatment of Farrakhan’s decision to give up music, and his superficial analysis of the dynamics of mass transformative movements.  A comparative analysis of the relevant factors could have shed real light on why Malcolm was so much more successful recruiting people to the NOI, than he was at convincing people to join the Organization Of Afro-American Unity, OAAU, a secular organization Malcolm founded upon quitting the NOI.

A Love Supreme

Farrakhan playing_violin_bjm

Farrakhan Playing his Beloved Violin

For instance, he passed far too quickly over Minister Farrakhan’s decision to give up music in order to advance in the Nation of Islam.  It suggests that, like a lot of intellectuals, Marable didn’t understand the miracle of making music, or the magnitude of commitment it requires to be great.  The violin is one of the most difficult instruments to play – a hollow box of lacquered wood with a couple of designer holes cut in, with four catgut strings stretched over a bridge, from which heavenly sounds are coaxed with a horsehair bow, and notes are played by a magical act of finding precise spots on a fretless neck….. and Louis Farrakhan mastered it.   One need only look at the video of his performance as a teenager when he appeared on the famous Ted Mack Amateur Hour, to see what a giant role the violin played in his life. (See video at bottom of this essay)

In the interview that followed with host Ted Mack after a brilliant performance we see a handsome, optimistic, eloquent, very bright, charming young man who was both a champion athlete and brilliant artist.  He had just set a state record in track, but when asked about it he chose to talk about his love for the violin. Playing the violin defined him!  For anyone who has had even the most casual encounter with a musical instrument it is easy to imagine the spiritual flight that one experiences playing great music on an instrument as marvelous as the violin.

I still remember the satisfaction I felt the first time I managed to play the C scale on a trumpet – even though it is the simplest scale, with no sharps and flats – and the sheer ecstatic joy I felt when I figured out the opening passage of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata on the piano, which I had watched my Aunt Marie play with precision, and my next door neighbors Sylvia and Ronald Hammond play with competence, many times.  Some Black Nationalists would prefer not to discuss the Minister’s love of the violin and the works of the great European composers he reveres – especially the Germans.  It doesn’t fit in with their ideas about what proper culture is for black people, and what their artistic concerns ought to be.

But this kind of foolishness is of recent origin: it is a product of certain misguided ideas minted in the “Black Arts” movement of the 1960’s.   Some who advocated” black cultural nationalism” took it to mean that black artists should only perform black music.  And it wrecked the brilliant careers of black musicians who played European classical music that I knew personally.  After braving the racism of the white musical establishment who determine which artist shall have a career in their chosen art, they faced the opprobrium of Black Nationalist ideologues.

These musicians became so caught up in the preachment of the Black Arts cultural police that they began to feel guilty for playing great European music, as if they had sinned against the black community.  So they just stopped playing!  I don’t think they ever found a way of filling the hole left in their soul!  Fortunately, when Farrakhan and I were growing up back in the day such questions never arose among musicians.  Music was music and all the musicians I knew aimed to perform well in any genre – like Wynton Marsalis, Herbie Hancock, Chucho Valdez, Richard Davis, Carlos Del Pino, Hubert Laws, Hazel Scott, Dorothy Donnegan, et al.

Not only was Minister Farrakhan a good violinist; he was a virtuoso…still is after putting his instrument down for forty years!  It is an unheard of feat.  It is enough for the musically tutored observer to watch the videos of him performing masterworks in the violin literature of classical European music – Concertos by German geniuses like Beethoven and Mendelsohn on You Tube – to see that this artist could have been one of the greatest concert violinists of the 20th century.  First his hopes for a career were dashed by racist white impresarios, and when Elijah Muhammad demanded that he choose “show business” or the Nation of Islam he put his violin down for four decades.

And he employed his beautiful tenor singing voice only in singing Islamic prayers. There are few sacrifices one could make that would be more heartrending, the pain must have been soul searing.  For when we see him performing now the love beams from his face and the exquisite pleasure of it radiates from every nuance of his body language.  It is truly a love supreme.  Giving up music was a life changing experience for Farakhan.  And since there was no good reason why he should ever have been called upon to make such a sacrifice, it was a tragedy.

Further discussion of this earth shaking event could have laid the basis for a serious discussion of the role of culture as viewed from the perspective of the NOI, which would have given us a real perspective on how Malcolm viewed culture. When the Islamic fanatics took over Iran one of the first things the Ayatollah Khomeni did was ban music.  So did the Taliban in Afghanistan!  Hence when Dr. Marable tells us Malcolm believed in “Cultural Revolution” well into the book, we would have some idea what he means by the term….since we have no clue what Malcolm thought on this question.

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Considering that Professor Marable’s training is as a social scientist, I’m surprised that he didn’t place the Afro-American “freedom movement” in a wider context.  Had he discussed the dynamics of social movements as a class of phenomenon for instance, it would have greatly enriched the readers understanding of the reasons why Malcolm had such trouble trying to duplicate the success he had as an organizer for the NOI as opposed to the OAAU, the secular organization he founded upon quitting “the Nation.”   As we learned from the outstanding pioneering research of Professor Luther P. Gerlach – “People, Power, Change “– in order for a movement to grow, certain elements must be present.

First of all they must have a comprehensive ideology that defines the goals and aspirations of the movement which address the sources of discontent in the masses they hope to organize. This complex ideology must be successfully communicated in power packed slogans, and they must have a means of communicating that message to the public.  They also must have a means of financing their program.  They must have members who are willing to engage in face to face recruiting.  They must have commitment rituals that symbolize one’s conversion to the group’s ideology and objectives.  And most important of all, they must have a clearly identifiable enemy!   To take this message to the masses in dramatic fashion and propel the movement forward they must have Charismatic Revivalists: great orators who can mobilize masses of people with the spoken word.

While Dr. Gerlach explained this phenomenon scientifically, Adolph Hitler understood it instinctively.  “It is the spoken word not the written word that drives men to action,” he observed.  And to prepare himself for the role he spent countless hours practicing speechmaking before the mirror. History will verify his awesome prowess on the podium.  This Austrian corporal managed to convince the most intellectually advanced nation in the world, a civilization that celebrates high culture and gave us Bach, Mozart, Freud, Marx and Albert Einstein, to resort to barbarism and murder millions of their neighbors based on a bogus master race theory that he borrowed from the American eugenicist Madison Grant.  Such is the power of great charismatic orators.

These are special people who have a powerful gift of speech that enables them to appear to embody the aspirations of the masses in their personality – which is the essence of Charisma. This was the role that Malcolm X played, and he was brilliant at it.  However the difference in his effectiveness at growing the NOI and the OAAU lay in the fact that the NOI had all the other factors in play and the OAAU did not.

The theology of the Nation of Islam provides a comprehensive world view,  expressed in powerful slogans like “The white man is the Devil,” “Do for self,” “Live sheep need a live shepherd,” “Everything is real,” etc.  They had a newspaper aptly named “Muhammad Speaks.”  They financed their activities by the tithes of the membership as well as founding businesses in the communities they recruited from.

Thy Fruit Of Islam engaged in aggressive face to face recruiting in organized operations called “fishing,” in which they reeled in lost souls in and out of the nation’s prisons.  The taking of the X and donning a uniform style of dress were powerful commitment rituals.  The decision to stop eating pork – which was no picayune matter for many recruits; if I were not prohibited from joining the NOI by my atheism, giving up ham and pork chops would surely have done it – was a powerful commitment rituals. When Malcolm joined the Nation Of Islam almost all of these elements were in place – except for the Newspaper, which he founded – the critical importance of which he learned from the problems of actual organizing.

Notwithstanding Malcolm’s prowess in the role of charismatic revivalist, he did not come close to Dr. Martin Luther King as an effective  mass leader in the great Afro-American freedom movement of the 1960’s.  Hence the most serious problem I have with this text is the conclusions Professor Marable reaches about the extent of Malcolm’s influence among Afro-Americans vs. Dr. King and the leaders of the Civil Rights Movement based on passive resistance.

I am also troubled by his use of the terms “revolutionary” and “revolution,” as well as “cultural revolution.”  And I am disturbed by the way he simply repeats some of Malcolm’s erroneous arguments and rhetoric without criticism.  The dangerous ahistorical nonsense about “House Negroes and Field Negroes” is a striking case in point, which I shall return to later in this essay – the disastrous consequences of which I have spelled out in “On the Burden of History,” at   www.commentariesonthetimes.wordpress.com.

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One of the many important contributions of this book is its revelation of the extent to which the FBI knew every move Malcolm and other leaders of the NOI made.  Oftentimes they knew when they paused to take a dump.  All of us in the Revolutionary Action Movement suspected that we were under surveillance, but we had no clue as to the extent of it until Max Stanford /aka Dr. Muhammad Ahmed, retrieved the multi-volume files the FBI had compiled on RAM.   However there is a spate of studies that show clandestine snooping on the movement, whether armed or non-violent, was widespread and ongoing.

Most of it was conducted under the FBI’s Counter-Intelligence Program, the notorious Co-In-Tel-Pro, which had perfected its disruptive tactics destroying the Communist Party in the 1950’s.   But as Dr. Marable shows in his examination of documents from BOSS, the New York Police Department had their own secret program to spy on black activists; as did other local police departments around the country.  they were generally called Civil Disobedience Units.

The level of surveillance intensified after Malcolm left the NOI and was gravitating toward a secular political stance, which the FBI feared would greatly broaden his appeal.  If Malcolm had made any illegal moves – like actually leading or dispatching an armed force against the government or the white citizenry which he threatened to do – they would have been wiped out faster than Hoppalong Cassidy could draw his guns.  Just like the armed rightwing anti-government militias today, who are smacked down just as they are about to commit a violent act.  The government knows every move they make.

Furthermore, in the aftermath of any successful armed attack on a branch of state authority in which white citizens were killed, black communities would have been put on lockdown across the nation.  We would have had to show government passes in order to leave black neighborhoods like blacks in South African Bantustans during the apartheid era; or Jews in the ghettos of the Russian Pale during the 19th century.

Thus it should be apparent to anybody, who is not suffering from delusions of grandeur, that there is no way for an armed black force to seize power in this country – or a white one either as the right-wing simpletons in the militia movement is finding out the hard way – thus a resort to armed struggle against the US government is suicidal folly from whatever quarter it arises.  Those like the mad poet Imiri Barack, who cling to the idea of armed revolution as a viable option  for Afro-American  advancement in the US, are in reality just a cabal of deluded old men imprisioned by the illusions of their youth. The sad reality is the only people to whom they pose a real danger are the black youths they are leading astray with their foolishness.

Alas, despite his considerable erudition, Dr. Marable never seems to recognize that Malcolm’s revolutionary rhetoric was delusional, or come to terms with it.  Throughout the text he treats the idea that Malcolm could have led some type of armed force which would revolutionize America as a real possibility.  That’s why he continues to refer to Malcolm as a “revolutionary” until the end; despite the fact that Malcolm never stated any revolutionary objectives let alone built an organization that had any chance of carrying it out.  Dr. Marable’s final chapter is titled “Reflections on a Revolutionary Vision.”  But the doctor’s conclusions contradict his evidence.

In previous chapters Professor Marable details Malcolm’s embrace of Orthodox Islam, especially in the chapter “Epiphany in the Haijj;” where he recounts Malcolm’s gleeful embrace of the corrupt Arab elite in Saudi Arabia.   And he even sought alliances with the fanatical Muslim Brotherhoods of Egypt and Lebanon, people who want to impose Sharia law on the world and enslave women.

He also glosses over the fact that Malcolm was embracing forces who were deadly enemies…as the President of Egypt, Colonel Abdel Gamal Nasser – a leading figure in both the Pan-African and Pan-Arab Socialists movements – would hang Sayeed Guthb, a leader of the Muslim Brotherhood and the most important theologian of the modern Jihad,  a year after his visit. And thus began a deadly struggle between Muslim theocrats and secular military strong men that continues until this day throughout the Muslim world.  I get no indication that either Malcolm or Marable understood any of this.

Colonel Nasser with Islamic Leader

fl26egypt  

The Secular Nationalists and Muslim Brother had a Brief Alliance
 Theologian Sayyd Gutb

Saayd Guthb

He played a deadly game with Nasser and Lost

It apparanty escaped the notice of both Malcolm X and Professor Marable than an  Islamic theocracy is the antithesis of a modern progressive revolutionary society.  Malcolm’s contemporary Dr. Franz Fanon, who was a leader and major theoretician of the great Algerian Revolution, argued against the theocrats in the National Liberation Front i.e. FLN; who wanted to establish an Islamic caliphate after the expulsion of the French.  He vociferously denounced the idea as a return to” primitive medievalism.” As I have written elsewhere – see “On the Burden of History.”

When compared to his contemporaries who were actually involved in real revolutionary struggles like Fanon, Mandela, the revolutionaries of Portuguese Africa like Amilcar Cabral, Dr. Augostino Neto and Samora Marchel, Malcolm’s ideas about revolution comes across as naïve and rather silly.  But then, one of Dr. Marable’s great failings in his analysis of Malcolm’s vision is that he never tells us what he means by “revolution” in the American context….especially a “black revolution.” Yet he constantly refers to Malcolm as a “Revolutionary.”

Professor Marable’s definition becomes especially puzzling when he tells us that the Organization of Afro-American Unity, the secular organization Malcolm founded after he left the NOI, was an extension of the “Revolutionary Nationalism” of Marcus Garvey.  The problem is that Garvey wasn’t a revolutionary nationalist, which implies an armed force struggling to liberate a nation.   Furthermore revolutionary nationalist are distinguished from bourgeois nationalists by a progressive ideology which seeks to build a new social order that will advance human relationships beyond the old order when national liberation is won.

But Garvey had no army, no national territory, and was committed to capitalism.  Hence he was at best a bourgeois racial nationalists.  He even thought he could make common cause with the Ku Klux Klan, which won him the virulent enmity of the progressive Afro-American leadership ranging from socialists like A. Phillip Randolph and Chandler Owen, to radical liberals pursuing a legal remedy to racial inequality through interracial cooperation like Dr. Dubois and James Weldon Johnson of the NAACP, to radical West Indian Marxists like Richard Moore and Cyril Briggs in the African Blood Brotherhood who organized the “Garvey Must Go” campaign in Harlem – right in Garvey’s yard.  Furthermore, Garvey was unwelcome in Liberia, which was founded by Afro-Americans in the 19th century, because he saw himself as destined to rule over all of Africa and they were determined that he wouldn’t start there.

Garvey actually had the temerity to declare himself the “Provisional President” of all Africa, although he was a Jamaican living in exile in the United States and never set foot in Africa.  And, ironically, just like the African Redemptionists of the 19th century – men like Reverend Edward Wilmont Blyden, Bishop Alexander Crummell and Dr. Martin Delany – he was an avowed Afro-Saxon.

Far from being a cultural revolutionary, like all the other aspiring black empire builders from the New World that preceded him,  Garvey wanted to transplant Anglo-Saxon culture in Africa.   All of them had no doubt that Anglo-Saxon culture of whatever variety was far superior to West African culture, which they didn’t hesitate to describe as “uncivilized.” The only difference was the Americans preferred the American variety and Garvey, with his British colonial mentality, wanted to establish the British variety.

This description of the goings on at the first UNIA convention held in New York on August 1, 1920, written by the Nigerian scholar of Black Nationalism in the US, Dr. Essien Udom, in the introductory essay to the 1966 edition of The Philosophy and Opinions of Marcus Garvey, tells it all.

“A high Executive Council consisting of 18 members was also elected. Together with Garvey, they constituted the ‘Provisional Government’ of a United Africa.  After the members of the High Executive Council had been sworn in, Garvey conferred them peerages and Knighthoods such as Duke of the Nile.  Others were made Knights of the Distinguished Service Order of Ethiopia, Ashanti and Mozambique. They were all provided with robes and capes, patterned after the British orders of chivalry.”

In spite of attempts by contemporary “Revolutionary Nationalist” to present Garveyism and the UNIA as a serious revolutionary movement, when the objective political realities are considered – the organizational, technical and military superiority of Europe and her Progeny i.e. the “white Race” – the activities described here reminds me of nothing more than an elaborate child’s game of dress up and make believe played by impassioned but dangerously deluded adults.  As regards its effect on the reigning world-wide system of white supremacy: It was of no more consequence than a costume ball!

The failure of Dr. Marable, as well as  the black intellectuals who criticize his text, to render a dispassionate objective analysis of Garvey’s vision of the African society he aimed to build is embarrassing.  For instance they refuse to admit the incontestable fact that Garvey’s ideas were politically backward.  US society, even with its original and enduring sins of genocide and racism, had advanced far beyond this reactionary British aristocratic model of governance.

Americans had fought a revolution in the 18th century to rid ourselves of this idea of titled nobility, and nullify the rights claimed by their brethren across the seas in Briton to govern them.  That they were racist hypocrites motivated by a desire to preserve their slave property from the strictures of English common Law, which a British judge had pronounced illegal in the Somerset Case of 1772, does not alter this fact.

Just like the Russian Revolution in the 20th Century ignited revolutions all over the world, the 18th century American Revolution, with all of its flaws, ignited a bourgeois revolution in France that advanced the rights of white men from royal subjects to citizens of a Republic where the right to rule came not from Divine powers but the power of the ballot box!  In fact, the US had outlawed the wearing of titles; even as it created a racial caste system based on white supremacy – replacing a British Aristocracy where class status was ascribed at birth with an American pigmentocracy where the value of human beings was determined by the color of their skins.

The French Revolution distnguished itself from the Americans in that their revolution led to the abolition slavery in France.  And the Haitian revolutionaries – whom CLR James dubbed “Black Jacobins” in his seminal text on the Haitian Revolution – who would bring the horrible slave system on that sugar producing Island to a bitter and bloody end.  Led by the brilliant toussiant L’Overture, it was the first successful overthrow of an entrenched slavocracy by the slaves themselves.

However Garvey wanted to revive the backward British aristocratic system, and his plans for Africa resembled the British system of settler colonialism that accompanied their policy of Direct Rule in places such as Kenya, South Africa, the Rhodesias, etc.  Garvey’s aims were stated in the highest moral terms, but so were the motives of British and French colonialists.  The British justified their colonial empire in Africa by declaring their objectives were to promote the three C’s: “Civilization, Christianity, and Commerce.”  The French called their colonial conquests in Africa “The Mission of Civilization.”

The fact that Garvey and his minions in the Universal Negro Improvement Association,  UNIA,  were black did not mitigate their plan to rule over the indigenous African tribes and forcibly change their ancient cultures by, among other things, converting them to Christianity.  And all of this was to be accomplished by forming a “United State of Africa.”  Yet as we have seen since the emergence of Independent states in Africa, the Pan-African ideal of a “United States” of Africa has gone nowhere because no leader is willing to give up his sovereignty in order to join a union led by someone else.

In fact, no sooner than Kwame Nkrumah proposed the idea he was accused by other African leaders of trying to take over their countries.  The major reason that this idea has gone nowhere however is because it is the creation of West Indian and Afro-American intellectuals – WEB DuBois, H. Sylvester Williams, George Padmore, CLR James, et al. and has no roots in indigenous African thought.  And all of these men had more to do with the success of the African independence movement than Marcus Garvey.

It remains to be seen if even national integration will succeed in individual modern African “nations” like Nigeria, where several ethnic groups with profound cultural and religious differences have been welded into one political entity by the British colonialist.  Nigeria is in danger of falling apart at the seams as I write, due to a growing Muslim/Christian conflict.  Franz Fanon addressed this question in a profoundly perceptive essay The Pitfalls of National Consciousness published in The Wretched of the Earth, 1961.

African unity, that vague formula…whose operative value served to bring immense pressure to bear on colonialism… takes off the mask, and crumbles into regionalism inside the hollow shell of nationality itself. The national bourgeoisie, since it is strung up to defend its immediate interests, and sees no farther than the end of its nose, reveals itself incapable of simply bringing national unity into being, or of building up the nation on a stable and productive basis. The national front which has forced colonialism to withdraw cracks up, and wastes the victory it has gained.”

The problem of ethnic strife i.e. tribal warfare has been a persistent phenomenon in post-independence Africa, to such an extent that no less a Pan-Africanist scholar/activist than John Hendrik Clark concluded after a lifetime of engagement with African affairs, that the modern nation state is a failure in Africa.  Hence to speak of Garvey’s dream of an African empire under the leadership of the UNIA as anything other than a well-intentioned fantasy is folly.

Since Garvey was pro-capitalist and driven by an imperialist settler colonial impulse reminiscent of the Zionist in Palestine, and like them made racial blood ties the basis for their claims on African land, Garveyism qualifies as bourgeois nationalism par excellence.  And he once described his ideas as “fascist,” claiming that he not Benito Mussolini was “The Father of Fascism.”  For instance, in a 1937 London interview with Joel A, Rogers, a fellow Jamaican who was a journalist and author of many volumes on the achievements of African peoples world wide, Garvey declared proudly: “We were the first Fascists… when we had 100,000 disciplined men, and were training children, Mussolini was still an unknown. Mussolini copied our Fascism.”

Garvey even adopted the fascistic title “Generalissimo,” as he decorated himself in military costumes and strutted about making grandiose pronouncements that had as about as much chance of becoming reality as a snowball’s chances of survival in a pizza oven.  It is no wonder the ever sober and broadly learned Dr. Dubois dismissed Garvey as a deluded megalomaniac who liked to flounce around in garish uniforms “cutting the fool before the world.”

While Garvey was claiming to be the Father of Fascism Dr. DuBois, a founding Father of Pan-Africanism, was busy organizing Pan-African conferences that tutored and inspired the leaders who would go on and lead the Independence movement on the Afican continent.  While engaging in special pleading and myth making on Garvey’s behalf, Dr. Marable passed over all of this in silence.

Marcus Garvey, Founder of the UNIA
                Garvey II                      The Generalissimo in full regalia
 Dr. WEB DuBois in his Office at the NAACP

Dr. Dubois-in his office

The most broadly Learned and Prophetic 20th century American Intellectual
The Father Of Pan-Africanism with his protege Kwame Nkrumah

Dr. DuBois with Kwame

Here he was in his nineties and working on a 72 volume Encyclopedia Africana
The Dr. Hanging with Mao: Greatest Revolutionary of 20th Century

Dr. DuBois and Mao

Dr. DuBosi was greatly admired by Third world Revolutionary Leaders 

The tragic fiasco into which the UNIA descended, with internecine violence between factions resulting in the murder of a prominent AME Zion clergyman, working class black folks losing their meager capital investing in the Black Star Line, whose incompetent managers bought ships that were not seaworthy, and stirring up antagonism between light and dark skin Afro-Americans with talk of racial purity, suggests that any movement based on that model is doomed to failure.  As George Santayana’s much quoted axiom warns us: Those who refuse to learn from history are doomed to repeat its mistakes.”  Yet Marable finds a revolutionary vision in the UNIA, as well as in what he views as its spawn, the OAAU.

Whatever virtues the Garvey movement offered, and they were not innocent of virtue, it is clear that they misjudged the power of their adversary and it led to their demise.  The same fate awaited Malcolm if he had acted on his militant rhetoric and actually gone down South to take up guns against the government of any of those racist police states of the old Confederacy.  They would have been facing an armed white government and citizenry ready and willing to commit mass murder.  All they needed was a justification, which Malcolm’s action would have given them.  As Dr. King, who had devised an effective strategy of struggle based on the realities of the racist violent south, pointed out: “The white man knows how to deal with violence…it’s nonviolence they can’t handle.”

What Dr. King meant by this statement is that while it would be easy for the armed forces of the state to crush any attempt at a violent overthrow of the existing racial caste system, the use of force against unarmed citizens who were simply asking for the rights conferred upon them by God, which was stated in the American Declaration of Independence and enshrined in constitutional law, turned the world against them and made the US look like shameless hypocrites.

The Soviet Union seized upon the opportunity to point out the fraudulence of America’s claim as a land of freedom and justice, and it became their most potent anti-US propaganda in the emerging Third World.  The cables from Secretary of State Dean Rusk to Attorney General Bobby Kennedy make clear the disastrous consequences for American interests in the global struggle for the hearts and minds of non-white peoples in Africa and Asia, and this realization spurred the Federal government to intervene in defense of the Civil Rights Movement. Fortunately Malcolm’s tough talk was never tested….because it remained just talk.

**************

Thus it is curious how Professor Marable constantly refers to this idle talk as “revolutionary.”  As I have pointed out in “On The Burden of History,” when armed black men did stand up to the racists in the South they were church going Christians with solidly middle class values.  Three examples will suffice: Robert Williams, The Deacons for Justice, and Reverend Goldie Eubanks and his son in my home town St. Augustine Florida.   It was Robert Williams in Monroe North Carolina, not Malcolm X in Harlem, who was the symbol of armed revolutionary struggle for the Revolutionary Action Movement.

Robert Williams and his Neighbors

Robert Williams and friends

          When blacks confronted the Klan with guns Malcolm was nowhere around
While Malcolm thought women needed male protection

Robert williams and Wife Mable

Among Southern Christians women fought side by side with their men!

Unlike Malcolm and his unarmed followers

Robert Williams and Friends II

Southern Afro-Americans had lots of guns!!!

Max Stanford aka Dr. Muhammad Ahmed, was the central promoter of Robert Williams as a black revolutionary icon while Rob was in exile.  After organizing his community to arm themselves and take a stand against the white racist in Monroe North Carolina, Rob was forced into exile in Cuba, where his militant broadcast to black southerners could be heard on Radio Free Dixie.  But he also published a pamphlet called “The Crusader.” Max was a major distributor of this pamphlet, which came to him in batches through the mail, and it made RAM a target of early FBI surveillance.

Hence it came as a big shock when Harold Cruse – who was Malcolm’s contemporary and light years ahead of him as a revolutionary theorist – told us that Robert Williams wasn’t a revolutionary.  Cruse pointed out that self-defense, even if one is armed, is reactionary not revolutionary.  He pointed out that in order to have a revolutionary movement you had to have revolutionary goals, and demanding your constitutional rights to use the public library or swimming pool were not revolutionary objectives.  Cruse dealt with these questions in “The Crisis of the Negro Intellectual,” a master work published in 1967, although he had published an essay on this question earlier in the Radical journal Studies on the Left in 1962, (See: Revolutionary Nationalism and the Afro-American”) the same year that Max Stanford and I founded the Revolutionary Action Movement in Philadelphia.

It was as a result of reading this essay that Max and I sought Harold Cruse out, because we had never read anything like it.  We were introduced to Harold by a beautiful Afro-Cuban woman who was to become my first wife, Dorothy Bannister, who took us to Harold’s small loft apartment at 14th Street and 7th Avenue on the edge of Greenwich Village.  He was writing The Crisis when we met him and much of what he eventually wrote about the misguided notions our generation had about armed “revolutions” came from the series of encounters we had with him.  In this text he first clarifies the difference between Self-defense and revolutionary action: “One can objectively shoot a Klansman ‘defensively’ or ‘offensively,’ but to succeed in shooting one’s way into voting rights, jobs, and ‘desegregated’ public facilities calls for much deeper thought than certain revolutionaries seem to imagine.” 

Cruse then went on to explain the source of our confusion, which he had a firsthand knowledge of because he was engaged in an ongoing dialogue with us and was a highly perceptive seasoned observer of the entire political spectrum of national and international politics. He summed us up with amazing accuracy: “This generation grew up in time to be deeply impressed by the emergence of the African states, the Cuban Revolution, Malcolm X and Robert Williams himself.  They were witnessing a revolutionary age of the liberation of oppressed peoples. Thus they were led to connect their American situation with those of foreign revolutionary situations.  They did not know, of course, that to attempt to apply foreign ideologies to the United States was more easily imagined than accomplished.  They did not know that the revolutionary Marxists had attempted this and had come to grief.” 

Had I not been taken under the tutelage of Queen Mother Moore before meeting Harold, the following comment would also have been an accurate description of me: “In fact, they did not even know what a Marxist was, even though they were destined to have to contend with them in their own little movements.”  He went on to offer another observation that applied to us all: “They did not realize how little they actually understood about what they saw happening, nor did they have the slightest idea of how much they had to learn about the past forty-odd years before they could even begin to understand the revolutionary age in which they lived.”  I would argue that this assessment was equally true of Robert Williams…and Malcolm X; neither of whom show any evidence of having done the study necessary to meet this standard.  This is why Cruse didn’t consider either of them revolutionaries.

But Max would hear none of it and continued to promote Rob as a revolutionary, just as he touts Malcolm’s revolutionary acumen in interviews with Dr. Marable.  But then, Max is a totally political animal who is far more interested in creating serviceable propaganda than writing history.  Yet history has proved Cruse right.  When Williams finally returned to the US from China, where he had moved after he began to feel insecure in Cuba – the reasons for which would require another essay – he would have nothing to do with Max or RAM.

Instead, since the US had no access to China, with whom they had broken diplomatic relations after the Communist Party came to power in 1948, Rob became a leading American expert on “Red China” and was quickly offered a position in the Chinese Studies Department at University of Michigan, from which he never emerged. He spent his remaining days living the quiet middle class life of the mind unobstructed by white racist oppression that he sought in Monroe North Carolina, before being forced to take up guns in self-defense.

But the tendency to privilege propaganda over history by political ideologues probably explains why Dr. Ahmed now touts Malcolm as his revolutionary inspiration rather than Rob….like a lot of my old comrades he seems more interested in self-serving mythmaking than history.  But the question that arises from the experience of Robert Williams is: If armed self-defense was not revolutionary when it was actually employed in the violent racist milieu of Monroe North Carolina, why is it revolutionary when Malcolm X simply talks about it in the relative safety of the North?  Alas, since Professor Marable has danced and joined the revered ancestors, we must struggle to answer these questions on our own.

The claims for Malcolm X as an advocate for black cultural revolution is, if anything, even more spurious.  For instance Dr. Marable says of Malcolm: “His constant message was black pride, self-respect, and awareness of one’s heritage.”  The most obvious questions raised by this assertion are: What is the Afro-American cultural heritage?  And what did Malcolm X mean when he referred to it? There is the actual Afro-American culture that has formed over the course of four centuries, and there is some ideologue’s fantasy about what that culture is.  Dr. Marable never clarifies which version he is referring to.  For instance to those who insist that we are “Africans” the Yoruba culture is the only authentic black culture.  Conversely, to the black Israelites we are the original Jews and therefore that is our true culture.

To those in the Nation of Islam whose teachings Malcolm parroted without question up until the last year of his life, we are the lost Tribe of Shabazz.  I place all three of these claims roughly on the same level, although the Yoruba’s are closest to our original cultural heritage before our ancestors were brought into the wilderness of North America in chains….back before the African holocaust.  Yet all of these conceptions of Afro-Americans are mythological; they bear no resemblance to our cultural reality.  All of them betray a profound ignorance about the nature and role of culture among human beings in general. Culture arises from the lived experience of a people.  It is the way we figure out how to promote harmonious group life that allows us to survive and prosper within the environment that we find ourselves…since we are social animals and must live in a group.

Hence it is folly to suggest that the locus of our culture lies elsewhere.   We are not Africans; we are Americans of African descent.  The way we see the world is as people who grew up in the most technically advanced affluent society in history.  That’s why I have heard more than a few people who went “home” to Africa complain bitterly about lights going off, water stoppages and other inefficiencies that they find unimaginable in the US.   Many are surprised that they are treated like outsiders although they were dressed in traditional African costumes.  Few seem to understand that their newly minted “African” names immediately identify them as a member of the “Afro” tribe from America.  That’s because no African on the entire continent – from Cape Town to Cairo – bears names like Kwame Zulu Shabazz, or Imamu Amiri Baracka, Maulana Ron Karenga, or Malik Shabazz.

Alas, there is a reign of confusion among black nationalists about what the Afro-American cultural heritage is.  While they avidly adopt the names of Arab and Afro-Arab slave traders like Muhammad Ali and Muhammad Ahmed, virtually none point to the church as a pillar of Afro-American culture. Despite the fact that most of our greatest leaders and virtually all of our great musicians – regardless of genre – developed in the Church.  Charlie Parker, Aretha Franklin, Teddy Pendergast, Jessye Norman, Ray Charles, and Max Roach all developed in the church.  The black protestant church has also been the source of the great oratorical tradition of Afro-Americans and shaped the styles of everyone from Paul Robeson and Adam Clayton Powell, to Barack Obama and Malcolm X.  The black Church was also the original source of Black Nationalism in the US (See Pan-Africanism: Myth or Reality?” at www.commentariesonthetimes.wordpress.com.)

For a learned discourse on this question see “On the Wings of Ethiopia” by Dr. Wilson Jeremiah Moses; who has written extensively on this subject and points out that at one time in the 19th century it was hard to distinguish Afro-American theology from Black Nationalists ideology.  I am working on a treatise titled “On the Heroic Role of the Afro-American Preacher in the Pan-African Liberation Struggle.” This marvelous church – which Dr. DuBois called one of the most remarkable institutions ever devised by men – is rarely mentioned by Black Nationalist when they talk about Afro-American culture.

Yet the great Civil Rights movement, which unleashed forces that so changed America it wiped out de jure apartheid and made it possible for a black man to win the Oval Office and made a black woman mistress of the White House, is unimaginable without the black church.  But Dr. Marable, like most black Marxists and Nationalist, plays past this critical institution.  His refusal to deal with the centrality of the black church in Afro-American culture reduces his talk about “cultural revolution” to meaningless prattle.  It also explains how he could write really silly things that greatly exaggerate Malcolm’s mass appeal among Afro-Americans; grandiose assertions for which he presents no quantitative evidence….perhaps for the simple reason that there is none that could withstand even light scrutiny.

After explaining how Malcolm represented the “anti-hero,” who beguiled the black masses with his daring; the “Black outlaw” who transgressed “the established  moral order…the hepcat who  laughed at conventional mores, who used illegal drugs and engaged in illicit sex, who broke all the rules,” in his former life as Detroit Red, which we are told is largely a fictional construction, Professor Marable tells us that Malcolm flipped the script and became “the righteous preacher, the man who dedicated his life to Allah.  Again, this was a role that resonated deeply with African-American culture.  Malcolm inspired blacks to see themselves not as victims, but possessing the agency to transform themselves and their lives.”

This entire line of argument strikes me as the essence of “special pleading.”  Marable offers no evidence for these sweeping generalizations; it is wishful thinking.  To begin with, his description of the black urban masses and their admiration for the hustler, brings to mind the response of Dr. DuBois to Carl Van Vechten’s novel about  Jazz Age Harlem, Nigger Heaven.  DuBois pointed out that the novel was an insult to black people, most of whom never patronized a cabaret and spent far more of their leisure time in their churches, lodges and fraternal societies. Furthermore, Malcolm was merciless in his denunciation of the hustler lifestyle; a point that was missed by some intellectuals who followed – I have discussed the consequences of this in “On the Burden of History,” so I won’t belabor it again here. And contrary to Professor Marable’s claim, all Malcolm did was deal in “victimization.”

After all, he was the one who preached that the experience of being black in in America had destroyed Afro-Americans.  For just about his entire career he routinely defined Afro-Americans as a people who were so damaged that we had to reject our culture and turn to the Arabs – racist enslavers of black people – to find a system of belief that could restore our humanity.  This was just the opposite of what we were taught in our churches and black schools.  But Malcolm knew little of either institution, growing up in Michigan where he was always a minority in schools run by racist whites and having only a tenuous relationship to the black church.

That’s why Malcolm couldn’t understand the power that these institutions had to inspire hope and promote optimism in the face of what appeared to be insurmountable odds.  And he went to his grave never figuring out why he had such a paltry following compared to Dr. King and the Christian preachers in the Southern Christian Leadership Conference; why the masses of black Americans chose the heroic optimism of King over the pessimism and nihilism of Malcolm X.  The Yacub Myth was no match for the story of Daniel in the lion’s den, or Moses parting the Red Sea and the mighty Pharaoh’s army got drowned.

Homo sapiens are the only creatures who construct narratives, and our conceptions of the world and what our purpose is in that world is shaped by the stories we are told in our formative years.  It is through stories reputed to be of divine origin that we define our purpose and possibilities in life,  except for atheists; who are few and far between among Afro-Americans.  In fact, according to statistical measures employed by Yale Professor Stephen Carter in his comprehensive study of religion in America, Afro-Americans are the most “churched” people in the US.

It is the Afro-American church more than any other source from which hope springs eternal; our solid rock when all else fails.  This was the source of Dr. Kings’ belief that “the arc of the universe is wide but it bends toward justice,” that a righteous people struggling for a righteous cause would eventually prevail because unwarranted suffering is redemptive.  It is a message so powerful that it inspired humble and powerful black people to walk unarmed into the valley of death and fear no evil!  I witnessed this as a participant observer in the south.  I saw Malcolm speak live countless times,  and although I was a partisan of Malcolm’s, after watching Dr. King’s speech at the great March on Washington – which I opposed – I was forced to admit that Malcolm had no message that resonated with millions of Christian blacks in America like Dr. King.

In fact, Malcolm was a Muslim fanatic and political nihilist whom most black Americans I knew thought was out of his mind.  It was Dr. King who inspired Afro-Americans to believe that a better day was possible, and that they could bring it about through collective struggle, while Malcolm was standing on the side lines criticizing their every effort and calling them “Uncle Toms.” Professor Marable documents this behavior in rich detail. Alas, Stanley Crouch, a writer and ex-friend who I fell out with partly because of the disrespectful things he has written about Malcolm while celebrating a Neo-Tom opportunist like Ralph Ellison, was right when he called Malcolm “The chief heckler of the Civil Rights movement.”

The question that arises here is why Marable fails to realize, or concede, that Malcolm X was a peripheral figure at best in the great movement that changed America in the 1960’s.  He is so desperate to assign a role to Malcolm that rises to the importance of Dr. King that he expropriates King’s identity and attempts to assign it to Malcolm.  A poignant example of this identity theft is the following passage:” Through his powerful language, Malcolm inspired blacks to see themselves not as victims, but possessing the agency to transform themselves and their lives.”   This description is far truer of Dr. King, so much so that his argument descends from special pleading into hyperbole.

Dr. Martin Luther King was the greatest orator in the world; a highly schooled version of “God’s Trombones,” of whom the great black bard James Weldon Johnson sang.  I recited these epic poems all doing my school years as a member of the Murray High oratorical team.  And thus, I continue to appreciate the grandeur of the Afro-American sermon as art long after I stopped believing in God.  I am a product of the same black Florida culture that produced James Weldon Johnson, Zora Neale Hurston, theologian Howard Thurman and A. Phillip Randolph, another great orator whose father was a preacher of the sort that J. W. Johnson had in mind when he said “The old time southern Negro preacher had all the devices of eloquence at his command.”  I agree.  I also agree with Zora when she wrote to Johnson that a black preacher “must be a poet to survive in a Negro pulpit.”  Dr. King was a poet of very high calling.  Steeped in the biblical stories on which all black Americans were raised, while personifying the Moses myth: nobody moved the black masses – north or south – like Dr. King.

At the root of this refusal to give Dr. King the full props he is due, is a refusal by black radicals to accept the preeminent and historically unique role of the Afro-American church in the ongoing struggle for freedom and human dignity in America.  Generally this hostile attitude toward the church arises from two factors: some of the critics are atheists and others are hostile to the Christian Church because it represents the religion of our slave masters.  But they are flying in the face of history, because the teachings of Jesus do not belong to the slave masters.

They hijacked it just as the Republican right is doing today.  Jesus Christ was born of an enslaved people and that’s why the slaves saw his teachings as weapon they could use for their own deliverance from bondage.  Although I have been an avowed atheist for over fifty years, yet do I marvel at the grandeur of the black church.  As my home girl Zora observed, the Afro-American church was created by a people “who love magnificence…and can’t get enough of it.”

Given the fact that the black church in the US is a multi-service institution, one does not have to believe in its theology to recognize the critical role the church has played in the life of the black community and as an incubator of the freedom movement, or it’s unique place in Afro-American culture.  Nobody should understand this better than black activist, of whatever ideological stripe, since whenever they want to hold a public forum or mass meeting the only venue available to them in black communities are the churches!  Yet most black Nationalists and Marxists find this simple fact impossible to acknowledge.  But I predict that any concept of  a “cultural revolution” among black Americans that does not envision a prominent role for the church is doomed to failure.

Nowhere is this clearer than in the life of Malcolm x who, when  compared to Dr. King, never had more than a fringe following made up of alienated personalities like I was when I fell under his spell in 1962.  We had lost faith in both the promise of the church and the American dream.  So we wanted to tear the house down.  We operated on the basis of the observable facts, which looked pretty grim.  But the church folks that followed MLK walked by faith, they continued to believe that good would triumph over evil no matter what the objective facts suggested, but they also believed the old adage “The Lord helps those who help themselves.”

This was a sharp distinction from what the NOI was teaching; and Dr. Marable quotes Malcolm on several occasions lamenting the fact that Elijah Muhammad was waiting on Allah to deal with the white man.  The black progressive church as represented by the Southern Christian Leadership Council had rejected that attitude; they labeled it “do nothing religion.”  If anyone doubts there is an important role for the black church here at the beginning of the 21st century, they need only consider the murderous nihilism rampant among our youths today. This is a problem that politics alone cannot address.

One thing is certain: If the young nihilist that are turning black communities everywhere into free fire zones, where neither babies nor elders are safe, had grown up in the type of church centered Afro-America culture, reinforced by a black school run by dedicated teachers on a mission to make us “twice as good as white folks,” who taught us the poems of James Weldon Johnson and Paul Laurence Dunbar, right along with William Cullen Bryant and Sweet Willie Shakespeare, we would be far better off than we are.

It was a community whose values, path and objectives were defined by the “Talented Tenth” that the prescient Dr. DuBois called for and assigned the historic role “of leading the mass of negroes away from the worst in their own and other races,” while setting our sights on the highest prizes.  If the youths in today’s black community enjoyed the cultural riches of the black community I grew up in, we would be on a path of progress rather than chaos.  Instead we are in an acute cultural crisis that could devastate us.

Hence I would argue that what we desperately need now is a cultural renaissance – a return to the culture that produced me; not some spurious notion of “cultural revolution,” the exact components of which nobody seems able to define.  The critical question for those who propose cultural revolution is what would they do away with, and what would they keep? In Malcolm’s case we don’t have a clue.

However if Malcolm was going to use his Islamic faith as a guide we can be sure music and dance would be gone – another bedrock of Afro-American culture.  The black church would be gone.  Freedom of expression would be gone, as there would be serious pressure on black creative writers to produce works that supported the line of the government.  High heels and miniskirts would be gone, makeup too.  And all of the endlessly creative hairstyles black women have invented in this country. This may be somebody’s idea of progress…but it sounds like a nightmare to me.  I have no real idea what Professor Marable envisions as a cultural revolution among Afro-Americans because he never defines it.  He simply alludes to it, which means that everybody can define it for themselves.

Since we already have a historical example of the chaos that ill-defined half-baked ideas about cultural revolution can lead to, one should proceed with caution.  The Cultural Revolution in China, which occurred in the decade between 1966 and 1976, is now viewed as “the years of chaos” by the Chinese people. As indeed they were.  This is because the Cultural Revolution was an attempt to stop debate about the direction Chinese economic policy should take, and enshrine Mao Tse Tung’s thought over all other points of view, even if it meant public ridicule or prison for dissenters!

On need only read “Son of the Revolution” authored by Liang Heng, in order to see what a horrific experience The Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution was.   A former Red Guard – the teenage shock troops armed by Mao and entrusted to enforce his edicts by purging the party apparatus of those labeled “capitalist roaders” – Liang provides an inside view of the Cultural Revolution that is a world of confusion. Party hacks who were jealous of intellectuals and artists exploited the situation to humiliate them.

Since this happened to Liang’s father we get a personal view of how devastating this was for families who were loyal to the party and Chairman Mao, when a parent was falsely accused by the “cultural revolutionaries” of being a traitor to the revolution.  It was a terrifying time for intellectuals and artists in China, because the accusations were arbitrary and therefore impossible to anticipate, or defend against.  The ultimate absurdity came when Mao’s wiggy wife Chang Ching seized the baton of a symphony conductor and declared “I’ll show you how to make revolutionary music!”  And a sonic nightmare ensued.

I can imagine similar horrors in a cultural revolution directed by Malcolm X, who was even more confused than the Chinese ideologues on cultural questions.  At least the Chinese had the theories of Mao on art and culture, the basic principles of which can be seen in Mao’s “Talks at the Yenan Forum On Literature and Art.” An attempt at “cultural revolution” led by black Marxists like Amiri Baraka would be horrific enough, see “Amiri Baraka: Thought Policeman” at commentariesonthetimes.wordpress.com, but such an attempt by Malcolm X, who was clueless about cultural matters, is unimaginable.

How could a philistine like Malcolm, who appeared to have no concept of culture and art except as vehicles for his organizational propaganda, lead a “cultural revolution?”  What would be his policies on literature, visual arts, music, dance, male/ female relations, proper attire for women, religious instruction in the schools, etc.?  I shudder at the thought; it would have been an invitation to disaster.  Yet Professor Marable seems oblivious to these questions, as he blithely prattles on about Malcolm the “cultural revolutionary.”   I heard Malcolm X speak many times in the last three years of his life, and I never heard him mention “cultural Revolution” once:  reinventions indeed.

****************

Dr. Marable’s constant reference to Malcolm X as a serious student of black history is a blatant instance of special pleading.  Although Amiri Baraka had a hissy fit when Dr. Marable accurately observed that Malcolm “was not a historian,” the professor was simply stating an incontestable fact – which is no big thing to impassioned ideologues.  Yet in spite of Baraka’s protest, I can find no convincing evidence that Malcolm was even a serious student of African American or African history, let alone a historian.  I was in a unique position to observe Malcolm’s qualifications in this area because I was presenting lectures on African and Afro-American history, of one hour in length, once a week on The Listening Post, a radio show hosted by Mr. Joseph H. Rainey, on WDAS AM in Philadelphia.

Malcolm was a regular on this show over the three and a half years that I knew him, and he always said to me “Keep teaching young brother.”   I kept on teaching and four years after his murder I was a founding member of the W.E. B. Dubois Department of Afro-American Studies at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, the first full-fledged degree granting black studies department in the world!  I was the first professor to teach Afro-American and African history in Amherst.  My role on the Listening Post in the early 1960’s was unique.  After more than forty years of Black Studies on college campuses, and the easy availability of texts on black history, many of these facts are widely known.  But when I started lecturing on the radio on May 25, 1962, a half century ago, the things I was saying were shocking revelations.

Malcolm and I had many conversations at the radio station from 1962 until his murder, and he was as surprised by many of the historical facts and texts I discussed on the Listening Post as everyone else.  Professor Marable cites Malcolm’s appearances on “The Joe Rainey Show” in his last days, when he was virtually running for his life from the Fruit of Islam.  I was there when he appeared, and remember well the fear that surrounded the visit that Dr. Marable describes.  What made the situation so scary is that the radio station was located on Monument Road, near City Line Avenue on the edge of Fairmount Park, which was heavily wooded and offered many places for a sniper to hide.  Although the Philly brothers escorting Malcolm were packing heat and could return fire, it was still a touchy situation given the murderous fanatics that were stalking Malcolm.

I challenge anyone to produce lectures by Malcolm X on black history where he cites actual historical texts written by great black scholars – or white scholars – in the field.  Malcolm’s expertise in Afro-American history is a myth that’s repeated by laymen as if it were a fact, but it comes as a big surprise that Dr. Marable repeats it here without one piece of evidence. Somehow Dr. Marable conveniently overlooks the fact that if Malcolm really understood anything about the history of black people he would not have been calling himself an “Asiatic Black Man” up until the last years of his life.  He would have known that our place of origin was West Africa, not Asia, and that Islam is not an indigenous African Religion.

Malcolm would also have known that the African cultures from which we came are well represented all over the Americas; and our music, dance, cuisine, even the visual arts in much of the Americas is greatly influenced by this polytheistic cultural heritage.  Anyone who is not clear on this matter should hurry up and read Art and Altars of the Black Atlantic World, and Tango: A History of the Dance of Love, by Dr. Robert Farris Thompson, Dean of African Civilization at Yale.

The evidence of the religious heritage of Afro-Americans throughout the western diaspora can be clearly observed in the Santeria of Cuba, the Voodoo of Haiti, the Macumba of Brazil, Jamaican Pocomania, Trinidadian Shongo cults, Puerto Rican Bomba, Black American Holy Rollers, et al.  Yet Malcolm continued to insist that Islam was the true religion of the “Asiatic Black Man” until he broke with the nation, which is to say virtually his whole career in public life.

Furthermore, Malcolm would have known that the great African art which inspired Picasso, Braque, Dali, et al, and the modern art movement in sparked in Europe would never have been impossible without the Gods that inspired it, and that the Arabs he embraced as brothers not only hated African cultures and destroyed their God’s religions but had been enslaving Africans for centuries before European Christians launched the Atlantic slave trade, and they were continuing to enslave Africans when he was travelling throughout the Middle East genuflecting before them.

While there is no evidence that Malcolm knew anything about African history, there is compelling evidence that he knew nothing about the role of Arab Muslims in Africa at the time.  And it is clear that he was not reading his African contemporaries who were dealing with those questions and from whom he could have learned much.  For instance, in 1961, the year before I met Malcolm, Franz Fanon wrote a compelling analysis of the Arab/ African conflict in The Pit Falls of National Consciousness.

“In Senegal, it is the newspaper New Africa which week by week distils hatred of Islam and of the Arabs. The Lebanese, in whose hands is the greater part of the small trading enterprises on the western seaboard, are marked out for national obloquy. The missionaries find it opportune to remind the masses that long before the advent of European colonialism the great African empires were disrupted by the Arab invasion. There is no hesitation in saying that it was the Arab occupation which paved the way for European colonialism; Arab imperialism is commonly spoken of, and the cultural imperialism of Islam is condemned.”

Dr. Fanon goes on to goes to give poignant examples of how Arab racism against Black Africans is manifested.  After dividing the continent into “white” and “black” Africa, with the whites residing to the North of the vast Sahara desert and Blacks to the South, he offers the following observations.

“Yes, unfortunately it is not unknown that students from Black Africa who attend secondary schools north of the Sahara hear their schoolfellows asking if in their country there are houses, if they know what electricity is, or if they practice cannibalism in their families. Yes, unfortunately it is not unknown that in certain regions north of the Sahara Africans coming from countries south of the Sahara meet nationals who implore them to take them ‘anywhere at all on condition we meet Negroes’. In parallel fashion, in certain young states of Black Africa members of parliament, or even ministers, maintain without a trace of humor that the danger is not at all of a reoccupation of their country by colonialism but of an eventual invasion by ‘those vandals of Arabs coming from the North.’”

Dr. Franz Fanon

                                                                                    Fanon

Theoretician of the Algerian Revolution

For a more thorough discussion of this question see: Racism and the Arabs, at www.commentariesonthetimes.wordpress.comwhere I have written comprehensively on this question.    But the essential scholar to read on this issue is the late Howard University Professor of History Chancellor Williams, who has documented the shameful role Arab Muslims have played in Africa in his Magnum Opus, The Destruction of Black Civilization. After carefully studying the history of Islam in Africa Dr. Williams concluded that “blacks should view the Star and Crescent the same way Jews view the Swastika!”  It is clear that Malcolm X was oblivious to all this.

How else could he rhapsodize about seeing white Muslims in Mecca, and conclude that because he saw white and black Muslims on the Hajji there were no racial problems in the Islamic world?  Why would he promote Islam as the solution to the world’s racial problems? Why did he believe that Islam provided a vehicle for Afro-American advancement?  Obviously he would not have been running around the country attacking black Christians for practicing a slave master’s religion if he knew that Arabs have been the greatest enslavers of blacks in history; that in many Arab cultures the word for “Slave” and “Black” is synonymous!

The truth is that when Malcolm was touring the Middle East he was a lost man in search of a new direction.  He knew but little of orthodox Islam and his faith in Elijah Muhammad was shattered – although as Dr. Marable shows, it wasn’t that long ago that Malcolm had publicly described himself as “Mr. Muhammad’s Slave” – hence he was suffering a crisis of faith. Furthermore, he was despised and hounded by the US government; murder mouthed by his former brother ministers in the NOI led by his protégée Louis Farrakhan; who inherited his Mosque in Harlem;  betrayed by close friends like Muhammad Ali, and hounded by the Fruit of Islam with murder on their mind.  Malcolm also had the pressing problem of putting food on the table and keeping a roof over the heads of his wife and daughters.  He was actually in an eviction proceeding initiated by NOI, who owned the house he lived in.   Hence Malcolm was so flattered by the attention he received from the corrupt Saudi elite, he totally went for the okey doke and couldn’t see the forest for the trees.

On the contrary, when Minister Farrakhan visited the Arab Middle East many years later he saw the anti-black racism of Arabs very clearly and spoke on it.  You can see him cynically ridiculing the Arabs for their racism in speeches on You Tube.  If Malcolm X understood so much about black history why is there not a single word about the rampant anti-black racism among his Muslim “brothers” all over the Islamic world in this text…or in any of Malcolm’s speeches that I have seen?  Again I invite anyone of the Malcolm Scholars to present such evidence.  All Dr. Marable does is proclaim it so, and we are expected to take it on faith that the professor knows what he is talking about.   Alas, this claim does not meet the rigorous rules of evidence demanded by professional historians.  And I shall continue to insist that those rules be met by others who make this claim.

The question also arises that if Malcolm was such a student of Afro-American history why didn’t he understand that the abolitionist movement which ended slavery, by pushing the North and South into a Civil War, could not have succeeded without white allies?  And that these white allies were driven to oppose slavery by Christian teachings just like the whites who joined the Civil rights movement?  Why didn’t he know about all the white Quakers who opposed slavery and financed educational institutions for free black people?  Why didn’t he know that the only volume of history written on slave revolts in the US at the time was written by a Jewish Scholar, Dr. Herbert Aptheker, who had also compiled the definitive collection of Afro-American historical documents that covered two volumes and comprised two million words; a work that rivaled Henry Steele Commager’s seminal “Documents in American History.”

If Malcolm knew these things how could he go around for years preaching that all whites were devils?  What would that say about his integrity?  All of these issues point out the fact that in spite of his stated intention of stripping away the mythology surrounding Malcolm X, and revealing the real man, Professor Marable has added to the myth with his special pleading.  Nowhere is this failing more prominently displayed than in his constant reference to the dangerous ahistorical thesis of the “House Negro/Field Negro dichotomy proffered by Malcolm. In Malcolm’s telling of this history the House Negroes were all in love with their masters and were contented slaves; the Field Negroes were the leaders of the rebellions…the revolutionaries.  Nothing could be further from the truth.

To the Field Negro, who only saw the master adorned in the trappings of power astride his fine horses, dressed in fine garments, and armed with rifles and pistols giving orders to a posse of the white subordinates who ruled their lives with arbitrary power, he must have looked all powerful.  But as the old adage goes: “no man is a hero to his butler.”  It was the house slaves who saw the master and his family for the flawed, evil, hypocritical, decadent, characters that they were.  Furthermore, the world of the field slave was so constricted most could not imagine a world beyond the plantation, except in the afterlife.

For most, the plantation was the only world they knew.  It was the House Slaves and tradesmen that got a chance to travel off the plantation and see a wider world.  And if it is human nature for familiarity to breed contempt, it stands to reason that it was the house slaves who hated the master most. Hence the people who organized slave revolts like Nat Turner, Gabriel Prosser, Denmark Vessey, Toussiant L’Overture, etc. none were field slaves.  Frederick Douglass wasn’t a field Negro either; he was a skilled tradesman who often worked off the plantation and got to see a wider view of the world.

It was Frederick Douglass after all who warned John Brown that his plans for a mass slave revolt, which would begin in Virginia, sparked by his seizing of the Federal armory at Harper’s Ferry, would not succeed.  Brown planned to arm the slaves with military weapons after taking the arsenal, but Frederick Douglass was adamant in his position that the masses of field slaves would not join him.  He actually met with John Brown in a Maryland stone quarry on the eve of the attack and tried to dissuade him from it.  Alas, the course of events soon proved Douglass right, in this as in so many other things.  How is it that this myth spouted by Malcolm has nullified all the evidence to the contrary, even in the eyes of people who consider themselves serious scholars?  On this question, Dr. Marable and his critics both fail abysmally.

Frederick Douglass
Frederick douglass
No Field Negro Here!

While John Brown met his demise trying to incite a mass rebellion among field slaves, Douglass chose a different mode of struggle that did bring slavery down by the mighty arm of the Federal government just six years later.   When he chose the abolitionists strategy of argument and mass protests that exposed the hypocrisy of the nation the skillful use of words was his most potent weapon.  Hence Douglass became so enamored with the power of words that he taught himself to read and that really opened up new worlds to him.   He devoured books of history, philosophy, and rhetoric; developing into one of the great writers and orators of his age. Malcolm could have learned much from him…yet I never heard Malcolm once quote from Douglass, who had a quote for any situation that was likely to arise.  His biographer, the pioneering Afro-American historian Dr. Benjamin Quarles, said he couldn’t find a bad line penned by Douglass as he carefully studied his papers.

The most serious problem with the House Negro/Field Negro myth is that Malcolm used it to indict the leadership of the civil rights movement….and black intellectuals in general.  Yet this class, which Dr. Dubois called the “Talented Tenth,” also supplied the leaders of the radical movement – Marxist communists and Revolutionary Nationalists.  Just as it was the learned Afro-American clergy that originally created black-nationalist ideology beginning in the 18th century.  Ironically, Max Stanford, who along with myself founded the Revolutionary Action Movement in Philadelphia in 1962, came from quite a bourgeois background.  His father, after whom he is named, was a prosperous businessman and the President of the black golfers association in Philadelphia.  You can’t get more bourgeois that that.

Furthermore, Max, like Kwame Toure, Huey Newton, Bobby Seales, Don Freeman, H. Rap Brown, Maulana Karenga, and most of the leaders of the radical youths had attended college.  And so had many of the outstanding Marxists radicals who were our antecedents, like Paul Robeson, Ben Davis, William L. Patterson, Alpheous Hunton, et al; most of whom attended the elite white universities where, like the house slaves of antebellum days, they got to view the master class up close.   As were their descendants like Angela Davis, Tony Montiero, Manning Marable, et al.   It was in college that I first heard of socialism and thought it might be a good idea for my people.  It was in also in college that I got involved in the Civil rights movement and learned that we could change America through disciplined collective struggle.

It was college students, not lumpen street elements, or the uneducated working class youths, who launched the movement.  It was college students who founded SNCC, and most of the organizations leaders and staff were college educated.  In other words these were young people who had solid middle class values, the “House Negroes.”  The idea that “field niggers” led the black radical movement in the 1060’s is a dangerously misguided fiction!  Again, the ever insightful Harold Cruse put things in their proper perspective regarding my generation of Black “revolutionary” Nationalist…”they would even be misinterpreted on Freedomways by John Hendrix Clarke,” wrote Cruse, “who describe the ‘new Afro-American nationalism’ as proletarian, when, in fact, it was crowded with young intellectuals, artists, writers, poets, and Musicians.”  True dat!  I know, because I was there.

And look at what they became when they left the movement – most are highly successful middle class professionals.  And what all of them who now celebrate the wisdom of “field niggers” need to understand, is that to the contemporary field niggers – aka “street niggers” – they are all “house niggers.”  Just keeping it real yo.  The fact is, as the brilliant writer Albert Murray argues in The Omni-Americans, it is only discontented déclassé intellectuals who even ask the kinds of questions that lead to revolutionary activism.  It is this insight that spawned the riddle during the 1920’s: “What is a black radical? An overeducated West Indian who is unemployed!”

Hence the House/Negro Field Negro dichotomy is pure poppycock, a self-defeating myth invented by a man who understood little about actual Afro-American history.   Malcolm was a talented propagandist who created a version of history that served his ideological and organizational objectives.  But it remains a mystery why Professor Marable propagates it as if it were historical fact; which greatly detracts from the quality of his analysis.

Equally puzzling and disappointing is the gleeful way Dr. Marable recounts how Malcolm is lionized by Islamic Jihadists, who used that same false House Negro/ Field Negro analogy. “The al-Qaeda network is also sufficiently aware of America racial politics to make sharp distinctions between mainstream Afro-American leaders and black revolutionaries like Malcolm…An al Qaeda video- released following the election of Barack Obama in November 2008 a “race traitor,” and “hypocrite” when compared to Malcolm X.”

For Professor Marable to quote these murderous, ignorant, racist, Islamic fanatics’ evaluation of President Obama without comment is, in my view, the greatest single failure of this book!  The al-Qaeda statement went on to say “And in Barack Obama and Colin Powell, and Condoleezza Rice and your likes, the words of Malcolm X (may Allah have mercy on him) concerning house Negroes are confirmed.”  Since I have never heard a word of condemnation from al-Qaeda about anti-black racism and slavery among Arabs, I for one don’t give a fuck what they think!  Furthermore, they chose Malcolm not because he was a “black revolutionary,” but because he was a Muslim fanatic.  It is obvious that Professor Marable does not understand that in a country run by Al-Qaeda, secular leftist intellectuals like him would be put to the sword!

These are people who believe the biggest mistake in the history of Mankind was the separation of church and state that created a secular polity and ushered in the modern world. Obviously Professor Marable had never read “Milestones,” a seminal statement by Sayyed Guthb – the premiere theologian of the modern Jihad – condemning secular society and calling for the establishment of Sharia law everywhere.  They are the manifestation of the desire to “return to primitive medievalism” that Dr. Fanon warned against in Algeria.  Almost fifty years later the FLN is still at war with militant Islamist to keep them from taking over the state and hurling the country back to the middle ages.

While most of Dr. Marable’s black critics appear to believe that he is out to slander and defame Malcolm X, I think he has been overly generous in his celebration of Malcolm’s ideas about a strategy and tactics for black advancement in the US.   Which is why I am puzzled about his comments regarding John Walker Lindh, a seriously confused white guy from California who goes off and joins the Taliban in Afghanistan after watching Spike Lee’s Movie on Malcolm and reading the Autobiography. Dr. Marable identifies Lindh as a radical “Islamic convert and Talibanist,” then he tells us: “Lidhn’s fascination grew into fierce determination. In October 2003, as American forces stormed into Afghanistan, Lidhn was captured among the Taliban combatants and is now serving a twenty year sentence.  Lidhn’s religious advisor, Shakeel Syed, is convinced that Lidnh could ‘become the next Malcolm X.”  Say what?   Is fuckrie dis, as the Rastaman would say.

This is a comment that cries for a analysis from Professor Marable; he at least owes it to the reader to say whether he thinks this is true or hyperbole.  After all, he thought the comment worth quoting, and the thoughtful reader cannot help wondering why?  The Taliban was the most backward regime on earth before the US overthrew them.  I felt the world should have overthrown them sooner given their horrible oppression of women.  As the father of two smart feisty daughters I despise them!  But Dr. Marable seems there is cause for celebration in this story.

Alas, we will never be able to interrogate him on his intentions here, so we are left to speculate.  And while I don’t share the views of those who believe that Dr. Marable was on a mission to defame Malcolm X; he did a pretty good job of it here.  To suggest that this sadly confused white guy could become the successor to Malcolm X strikes me as …..well, insane!  Considering how backward these people are, it is the kiss of death to suggest that Malcolm had anything in common with these murderous, reactionary, Islamic Zealots.   It would be more than enough to disqualify him for any serious role as a “political theorist” in the movement for black liberation here or in Africa.

At this point in the discussion it should be abundantly clear to anyone who is not blinded by ideology, is that had we followed Malcolm’s advice and took up arms in a race war with the well-armed white majority, not only would we have been crushed but the backlash would have been devastating. We would still have legal Apartheid in America; blacks in the south would never have gotten the right to vote; the War on Poverty and Affirmative Action programs that quadrupled the black middle class would never have happened, and the police agencies of the state would have us under watch like Al Qaeda.

As my uncle Jimmy, a decorated combat officer who fought with the Australians against the Imperial Army of Japan in World War II point outs: We would all be suspected terrorists just now because any resort to violence would have to employ terrorist tactics; which is the only choice open to a people so out-numbered and out gunned.  Elijah was having none of it because he recognized that course of action for the suicidal folly that it was.

Since the masses of black Americans concurred and wisely followed the leadership of Dr. King instead, not only did we destroy the legal caste system in America and gain the right to vote, but we have a black family in the White House – a truly historic achievement.  There is no more compelling evidence of the cluelessness and irrelevance of black leftist radicals and reactionary Nationalists, which magnifies their alienation from the true aspirations of the black masses, than their tendency to sneer at this magnificent victory for Afro-Americans.

As the prescient Trinidadian calypsonian “Crazy,” who predicted America would soon have a black President in his song “In Times to Come” noted: “The election of President Obama is a great thing for black people everywhere.”  Ninety percent of black American’s agree.  If Malcolm X were here I think he would also agree….and if he didn’t he would be out of step with most black people the same way he was when he was alive.   In any case, Professor Marable has made Malcolm so many things for which there is no convincing evidence the careful reader is forced to wonder: Is Dr. Marable’s Malcolm yet another invention?

 Malcolm and Ali in their Glory Days
Malcolm-X-and-Muhammad-Ali
He would soon stab Malcolm in the back

*********************

Playthell  Benjamin

Harlem, New York

April, 2012

Charlatan Cruz!

Posted in Playthell on politics with tags , , , on September 26, 2013 by playthell

Cruz TedSenator Ted Cruz

 The Wicked Wails of a Clown

Although there has been no absence of charlatans, churls and damned fools in the history of the US Congress Ted Cruz, a Republican Senator from Texas – is setting new standards for buffoonery.  And his antics may well doom the GOP – Grand Obstructionist Party – in national politics.  His fake filibuster, which one wise wag aptly called “a sillybuster,” in the Senate debate over the budget, insisting that the Senate vote to defund the Affordable Healthcare Act, could set the stage for a shutdown of the government despite the fact that after talking smack for 21 hours he voted for the continuing resolution that is designed to prevent this impending tragedy.

This is the behavior of a classic charlatan and demagogue.  He stirred up the primitive passions of the untutored mob in a marathon speech designed to put the spotlight on his tawdry act, but like all professional bunko and sleight of hand artists he stops just short of taking actions that would overplay his hand and could result in his professional destruction.  All successful con men know when to quit the game and live to play another day.  That’s why the Senator has stopped short of taking actions that could result in the destruction of his chances of one day becoming President.

Despite Cruz’s reckless rhetoric he harbors the hope of becoming the first Hispanic president of the United States, beating out his fellow Hispanic Republican Senator Marco Rubio.  At present he has a leg up on Rubio – who has been wary of running for the presidency because his election to the Senate was spurred by blatant lies about his family’s suffering under the Communist dictatorship of Fidel Castro in Cuba and sought refuge in the US.

The smooth talking elegantly dressed Rubio got a lot of mileage out of this touching tale of oppressed immigrants who found a new and better life in America.  Until an enterprising investigative reporter at the Miami Herald exposed it as a lie by publishing documents showing that Rubio’s parents immigrated to the US under Fulgensia Batista, the right wing dictator who was the bosom buddy of the US government who was overthrown by Castro in a popular revolution. Rubio played the report off, claiming that he was mistaken and honestly believed his parents had come here fleeing Castro.  Which is as believable as the proverbial  piano player in the parlor of a whore house who protests to the cops that he didn’t know what was going on upstairs.

Although Rubio got away with it because the mucho loco white Cubans in southern Florida didn’t give a fig about the facts, they just wanted a fire breathing right-wing anti-Castro Cuban American in the US Senate, but he is scared to death that the larger American electorate might take a different view of his masquerade.  Hence while Marco fiddles Teddy is more than ready to step in front of the once promising star of the white Cuban community.  The charade on the senate floor is best understood as a part of that plan.

For the far right zealots in the Tea Party wing of the Grand Obstructionist Party, Cruz appears to be a God send.  A graduate of Princeton and Harvard Law School, who also clerked for a Supreme Court Justice, a seasoned Republican operative and a champion debater at Princeton, plus a Hispanic, America’s fastest growing minority. Hence the see him as their Hispanic Barack Obama.  That’s why many far right Republicans view him as the savior of their cause…the horse they will ride to power.  However to the Republican establishment he is a loose cannon that may well sink their ship.

Blind from the wine of ambition and drunk on hubris, Cruz has adopted a risky strategy and is appealing directly to the racist, reactionary, ignorant sector of the electorate.  That’s what the farce on the Senate floor was really all about.   He has such contempt for the untutored mob at the base of the GOP that he read them a fairy tale by Dr. Seuss that got the moral of the story all wrong.  Since he was actually reading from the text he must have known that he was misrepresenting the author’s intention.

The way Cruz presented the popular story “Green Eggs and Ham,” it is a tale about a person having a meal forced upon him that he detested, thus denying him freedom of choice.   However that is an embarrassing misreading of the tale, because when the character actually tries a meal of green eggs and ham he loves it!

Hence the true moral of this story is that one should try new things before they reject them out of hand.   This, alas, is just the opposite of Cruz’s position on the Affordable Healthcare Act, which has yet to take full effect.  It was such an egregious act a scholar on Dr. Seuss said the author would have been offended by the spectacle because he couldn’t stand charlatans!  He pointed out that Cruz resembles a Dr. Seuss characters due to his cartoonish behavior.  And he pointed out that Dr. Seuss said if he were invited to a dinner with the characters he created “i wouldn’t show up.”

However Teddy looks a lot like the late Democratic Senator Joseph McCarthy to me; a charlatan who threw the nation into crisis with his reckless rhetoric and wild accusations about leading governmental figures being secret members of the Communist Party – he even accused President Dwight Eisenhower of being a secret communist agent.   This is the kind of dangerous nonsense we recently heard from Cruz’s fellow Republican Alan West, a former Congressman from Florida, who claimed that 85 members of the Democratic caucus in the US Congress were secret members of the communist party.

It is a measure of the low regard in which Senator Cruz holds his constituents that he has learned nothing from the fate of former Congressman West, and recently accused the Harvard Law faculty of being dominated by Communist.  It is an absurd charge and no one knows it better than Cruz.

All of this begs the question as to what Teddy Bear is really up to.  Whenever politicians engage in suspicious or inexplicable behavior we should follow the money.  The largest contributors to the Senator’s campaign are the ultra-conservative Club for Growth and the Senate Conservatives Fund, and the fact that 30% of his contributions came from out of state speaks to his appeal to right-wingers beyond the boundaries of Texas – which speaks to his residential ambitions in 2016. Furthermore, all of the people who tweet or e-mail Senator Cruz egging him on are placed on a list from which they will be solicited for money and volunteers in future campaigns.  It’s all about the “Benjamins,” as the rappers say.

This explains why Cruz has taken up repeal of the Affordable Health Care Act as his defining issue rather than issues regarding the state of Texas that he was elected to represent.  Both the Club for Growth and the Senate Conservatives Fund, promote a radical free market agenda that opposes government spending in the public interests and business regulations.

Yet he camouflaged his intentions by posing as the voice of the people speaking truth to power, characterizing the criticism coming from the Republican establishment – including venerable right-wing intellectuals in the punditariat such as Charles Krauthammer and George Will – as “the Empire” striking back, another silly reference to pop culture that insults the intelligence of his constituents along with myriad outrageous lies.

For Yellow Dog Democrats, such as yours truly, there is cause for rejoicing in the follies of Cruz and company.  As I write a big fight is brewing that could inflict deep wounds on the Republicans that they will not be able to recover from enough to win a presidential election in 2016.  For instance Senator Tom Corbin of Oklahoma, who is the highest rated conservative in the Senate, is complaining on MSNBC as I write about his office being swamped with calls from constituents labeling him a RINO – “Republican In Name Only.”

This is the ultimate insult for a right-wing Republican like Corbin, whose agonized complaint prompted Joe Scarborough, a former Republican congressman from Florida who now hosts “Morning Joe” – to declare that it was the likes of Sarah Palin, Rand Paul and Teddy Cruz who were the real RHINOS!  He even suggested that they were in the wrong party.

All of this portends a protracted struggle for the soul of the Republican Party, a soul that they sold in a Faustian bargain with the Tea Party zealots in order to take back the House of Representatives and win several state offices.  Now they have come to claim the party’s soul!  I love it.  Viva Senor Cruz, keep up the good work.  It is a fitting punishment that the big wigs in the Grand Obstructionists Party should be laid low by the wicked wails of a self-serving clown.

Palin and Cruz: Tea Party Darlings
Cruz and palin
Are they the future of the GOP?

**********************

Playthell G. Benjamin
Harlem, New York
September 26, 2013

America, the Bewildered Civilization

Posted in Playthell on politics with tags , , , , on August 10, 2013 by playthell

 Detroit Slums

The Once Great Motor City

     What Happened to the American Dream?

To the rest of the world, America remains a bewildered and troubled civilization.  Often poets have a far more profound understanding of civilization than social scientists or public intellectuals.  The African American poet Langston Hughes wrote in his poem:

What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore–
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over–
like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?

 There are signs that the American dream has been deferred not just for black folks but also for the struggling white working class.  There is much evidence that the bodypolitic has become a festering sore that is chronically infested.  Historically, nothing seems to even get settled in America.  The bodypolitic fell apart in 1860 and the question of slavery was settled by a bloody civil war that left over 300,000 Americans dead on the battlefield and even more shattered by wounds sustained in that catastrophic war.

          The thirteen, fourteenth and fifteenth amendment to the constitution was to settle the issues of slavery, citizenship and the right to vote. With the compromise of 1877, the Union troops were drawn from the South and the defeated Confederate racists were allowed to create the Jim Crow segregated structure that re-institutionalized white supremacy and white privilege.  The Jim Crow system confined the newly unchained black sharecroppers and laborers to an immiserated position in the division of labor.  That dastardly system prevailed, particularly in southern states until the rise of the civil rights movement in the 1950s and 1960s.

Some degree of restoration of rights which were lost after the collapse of Reconstruction in 1877 was restored in the 1960s.  Black folks now could exercise the right to vote and to exercise the human dignity of access to public places. The Jim Crow era lasted from 1877 to 1965, approximately 78 years.  Now the restoration of constitutional rights and the Voting Rights Act are currently imperiled.  The Roberts Supreme Court, over-riding Congress, has struck down the extension of the Voting Rights Act.  The same Jim Crow- inclined court has dismantled affirmative action and given us Citizens United that has allowed corporate money to undermine the democratic process.

The backward notion of state rights has raised its ugly head with a new vengeance.  State legislatures controlled by pea-minded Republicans have used their power not to create jobs, to rebuild the infra-structure or to reduce poverty but to pass legislation on abortion to restrict a woman’s right to choose that was settled in 1973 in the Supreme Court decision, Roe vs Wade.

The same state legislatures have sought to undermine the Affordable Care Act and are oblivious to the benefits of a healthcare system that would include the working poor and the millions of uninsured.  In the same vein, the new Jim Crow political mentality is designing new ways of excluding minority voters from participating in the democratic process.  These measures were adopted by some states like Ohio, Florida and Virginia but the United States Attorney General was able to thwart the undemocratic practices.  In the absence of certain provisions in the Voting Rights Act, state legislatures are already seizing the opportunity to restrict the people’s right to vote.

This bewildering state of dysfunctionalism was vividly manifested in Boehner’s House of Representatives when the Republicans had to appease the Tea Party elements by passing the farm bill bereft of the nutritional programs that feed the working poor and children who benefit from school lunches.  The Tea Party elements in the Republican Party want to gut the food stamp program in an age when inequality is at its zenith in comparison to the decades 1930-1970 that Paul Krugman calls The Great Conveyance.

As we write, the Trayvon Martin jurors have exonerated George Zimmerman.  That case, which resulted in the death of seventeen year old black male, has split black and white America.  The atavistic nature of race in America did not evaporate with the election of Barack Obama to the Presidency of the United States of America.  Like the Civil War of the 1860s, like the post-Reconstruction period in America, white racism is ingenuous in reinventing itself.  It is a persistent theme that recurs at intervals in US history like the chorus of a song.

The same racial dialectics raised its head in the battle for immigration reform.  An onerous bill has been passed by the Senate but the Republicans, inside and outside of the House, are adamant about giving the eleven million undocumented workers a pathway to citizenship.  Nonetheless, the America of the nineteenth century is not the same America of the early twentieth century or the late twentieth century.  The coalition that elected Barack Obama in 2008 and again in 2012 is the America of the future.  The Phyllis Schlaflys represent a dying America.  The Republican Party that has cultivated and benefited from white privilege from 1968 is like a dinosaur that is on its way to becoming extinct.

As the African American poet Langston Hughes exhorted “Let America be America”.  An America, based on the new demographics, will extricate itself from the lingering racism and establish a genuine multi-racial democracy.  That will not be accomplished overnight but it is inevitable.  In the meantime, in the words of the poet, Robert Frost, “We have miles and miles to go before we sleep”.  And there are epic struggles ahead.

A Harbinger of the New America?
Barack's Brown Babies 
What are they Dreaming?
 

*******************

By: Basil Wilson
 August 9, 2013
Queens, New York
Originally published by the Carib News, 7/17/13

But What If They Are Wrong?

Posted in On Domestic Terrorism, Playthell on politics with tags , , , on June 17, 2013 by playthell

New Yorkers running for their lives on 9-11

              New Yorkers Running For Their Lives on 9/11         

Are the Leakers Endangering National Security?

As I listen to the media chatterboxes scream bloody murder over revelations that the National Security Agency has been monitoring the phone calls of US citizens in an attempt to foil terrorist plots, I am amazed at the combination of naiveté and self-importance exhibited by many of the commentators.  To listen to them talk about their fears that the government may be spying on them one is forced to question the extent to which these people have a grasp on reality.

I have some questions for them: If you are not engaged in a criminal enterprise or a terrorist plot what are you worried about?  And if you are worried about someone listening in on an embarrassing conversation, why don’t you just stop whacking off on the phone or dangling your weenie in cyberspace like former Congressman Weiner?   And do you really believe that your personal privacy should be given a higher priority by our government than protecting the nation from a devastating terrorist attack?  Do you believe that the Obama Administration is using the effort to defend the American people against terrorism as a smoke screen to disguise his real purpose, which is to spy on the American people and create files on everybody because he is a tyrant that wants to enslave us all?

If you believe these things you are a paranoid ignoramus, or a self- righteous libertarian, which are dangerous personality disorders that can lead you to do some really crazy things.  Like expose classified documents and other government secrets which are lawfully held and that you have sworn not to disclose as a condition of accepting employment under the threat of severe legal sanction should you violate this agreement.  This is what Edward Snowden agreed to of his own free will when he applied for a Top Secret security clearance and took a job working for the Central Intelligence Agency, and later as an independent contractor providing computer related services.

Predictably conspiracy theorists on the left and right, who view our government as an oppressive apparatus out to reduce us all into some kind of new age slaves – despite the fact that we voted for them and can easily remove them with our votes – have declared Snowden and his ilk to be heroes.  If we listen to the conspiracy mongers in the press and elsewhere one would think we were living in a police state, where a dissenting opinion will land you in a dungeon somewhere or in front of a firing squad – since that’s what happens in a real police state.  It is all absurd!

However people who believe this hysterical Tommy Rot and applaud Snowden for breaking his confidentiality agreement; they view him as a champion of the American people in their struggle to free themselves from an oppressive government.  But I agree with the lawyer/journalist/legal scholar Jeffry Toobin who observes: “For this, some, including my colleague John Cassidy, are hailing him as a hero and a whistle-blower. He is neither. He is, rather, a grandiose narcissist who deserves to be in prison.”  This is also a fitting description of and prescription for Julian Assange of Wikileaks fame and his partner in crime Private Bradley Manning.

Listening to young progressive broadcast journalists like Chris Hayes and others on MSNBC – the liberal/left counterstatement to that burlesque on journalism FOX News – who are all over this story as if they think it is a new Watergate, we see how far afield some of them have gone.  Chris Hayes pronounced with great pomposity that he never gave Facebook and Google permission to give the government access to his information, and conclude that these social media corporations “are in trouble.”

It is hard to imagine how anyone could be more clueless.  If he thinks these companies are going to suffer any substantial loss of business over this he is thoroughly deluded.  Most Americans think thwarting terrorists is more important than the concerns that exercise him.  And they don’t care if the government has to look at their phone and internet records to do it; especially since they feel they have nothing to hide.  I think the response of Lawrence O’Donnell after quietly listening to Chris Hayes’ passionate fulminations on this question is typical of most Americans: “I have heard nothing among the things you point out that scares me,” he calmly pronounced. To which I say “ditto!”

Furthermore, the press doesn’t rank that high in the opinion of average Americans – which is a tragedy because we need a strong independent press – so these Prima Donnas who can’t resist preening before the cameras had better watch their step!  They could be engaging in self-immolation.  Especially if people get the impression that they are endangering national security by publishing classified intelligence documents.  For instance there are claims from the intelligence community that this type of electronic surveillance has foiled terrorist plots in 20 different countries as well as the USA.

When compared to this record, concerns from average citizens about somebody in the government snooping on their lives sounds trite, if not ridiculous, since many of these peopled don’t even find their lives interesting themselves; let alone some government intelligence official trying to uncover a terrorist plot.  As I wrote in “Barack Obama and the Global Jihad, posted on December 16, 2011, “The measures President Obama is taking to wage war against the Jihadists is neither unprecedented nor unconstitutional.

What Americans who are concerned with protecting civil liberties for the majority of law abiding citizens should really be worried about is what will happen to our democracy if the Jihadists should succeed in detonating a dirty bomb or nuclear weapon in a heavily populated American metropolis.  Should this ever happen, we will lose all of our civil liberties with popular consent!  People will be so frightened by the horror of it all they will agree to anything if they it will make them safer.”

The three times Pulitzer Prize winning foreign affairs columnist for the New York Times, Thomas L. Freedman echoes my sentiments exactly in a June 12, 2013 column titled Blowing a Whistle.   “Yes, I worry about potential government abuse of privacy from a program designed to prevent another 9/11 – abuse that, so far, does not appear to have happened.  But I worry even more about another 9/11…not because I don’t care about civil liberties, but because…I believe that if there is one more 9/11 – or worse, an attack involving nuclear material – it could lead to the end of the open society as we know it.  If there is another 9/11 I fear that 99% of Americans would tell their members of Congress: ‘Do whatever you need to, privacy be damned, just make sure this does not happen again.”

They Jihadist are at work recruiting soldiers for Al Islam 24/7

Uprising

To join the fight against the “Great Satan”
 And they have an unlimited number of fanatics to recruit from!
Blog_0 And we have got to keep them and US associates under Surveillance

Those Libertarians and other anti-government hysterics who argue that the NSA survelliance programs are unconstitutional because they violate the privacy rights guaranteed under the 4th Amendment should first of all read the text, and then they should bear in mind that the Constitution “means” whatever the Supreme Court says it means at any given time.

The history of constitutional law leaves no doubt about that assertion.  We have but to consider the courts decisions in Plessy v. Ferguson in 1896, and Brown V. the Board of Education in 1954 to find irrefutable evidence for this claim.  Hence when the text of the 4th Amendment prohibits “unreasonable” search and seizures they purposely left room for interpretation depending upon the conditions that prevail at the time.  And I have no doubt that were they confronted with a shadowy, sinister, deadly, enemy who have already committed mass murder against American citizens and are preparing to do it again  – or far worse – once they get the opportunity, the architects of the US Constitution would find the NSA survelliance program entirely reasonable!

The burden of proof in demonstrating that the program is unreasonable falls on the critics.  For as Abraham Lincoln said during the terrible Civil War: “The constitution is not a suicide pact!”  And as for the likes of Private Bradley, Julian Assange of Wikileaks, and this guy Snowden: I think they should be tried under the espionage act and hung for giving aide to the enemy during war time – preferably on Prime time television in order to discourage others that may be thinking about following their example!

The know it all  whiners who think these leakers are heroes, defenders of our freedom, glibly assure us that Jihadists terror attacks can be checkmated without the kind of electronic surveillance the NSA is conducting………but suppose they are wrong?

********************

Playthell G. Benjamin
Harlem New York
June 17, 2013

  

 

Reflections on the Black Obama Haters!

Posted in My Struggle On the Left!, Playthell on politics with tags , , , on June 10, 2013 by playthell

Barack being fortified with the laying on of hands. 

The Rock on Which he Stands

Barack Must keep Playing Past the Noise

The best thing President Obama has done from a political perspective – which is to say decisions that would help him and other Democrats get elected and then get his legislative agenda passed through both houses of Congress – was to pay the black leftist and nationalist factions no mind!  Having cut my political teeth in those ideological enclaves, I would never have believed that I would one day come to view them as a menace to black progress.  Yet I am convinced that had Barack attended Tavis Smile’s black gabfest, where all sorts of reckless rhetoric was thrown about, and allowed Cornell West to define his administration’s legislative priorities, while adopting the Black Agenda rhetoric of Glenn Ford, he would have never been President and the Republicans would have been able to take over both Houses of Congress!!

What would America have looked like had that happened?   Well John McCain would have been President for the last four years, and there is the possibility that the Republicans would have fucked things up so badly a Democrat would have won the last election.  But it would have been too late to stop the Republicans from adding two more right wing zealots to the Supreme Court, and stacking the Federal Courts around the country with same.  And it would be too late to stop a President McCain from bombing Iran and escalating the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in a futile effort to win the elusive victory that escaped him in Vietnam. (search John McCain on this blog.)

We might also be in a war on the Korean Peninsula, all of which would add another couple of trillion to our war debt – and we could already have completely rebuilt the nation’s infrastructure with half of what we squandered on the Iraq and Afghan wars.  The economy would be in shambles, because there would have been no 800 billion stimulus, the auto industry would have disappeared and McCain’s self-correcting “free market” fiddle faddle would have made the Bush depression deeper – alas chances are we would be in a second “Great Depression” that would be worse than the first one.  And all those now yapping about how the President bailed out the bankers – which was actually done by Bush but Obama would have been forced to do it too – while not addressing black poverty instead, would be singing a different tune.  They would be crying about the collapse of the financial system and how it took everybody they know down with it.

Since McCain would not be a “food stamp President” like Barack Obama, there would be millions more added to the ranks of those Americans who are literally locked in a Darwinian struggle for food, because there is an acute shortage of jobs at a living wage.  The tax code would encourage investment overseas, including those “job creators” who have created ten million jobs overseas while the unemployment rate soars here at home.  And while millions of American workers suffer from structural unemployment these patently unpatriotic acts would be accompanied by super patriotic rhetoric of the sort we hear from the likes of Mitt Romney and Darrell Issa.

Of course there would be no Affordable Health Care Act, no Lilly Ledbetter Act, the social safety net constructed under New Deal and Great Society legislation would be completely shredded, and any form of Affirmative –Action would now be illegal, ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court.  And the way that reactionary racist grease ball Antonin Scalia feels about the Voting Rights Act, which he has called “a racial entitlement,” would be more widely shared by other Judges on the High Court.  And thus the protections afforded minorities against the efforts of white Republicans to scrap the law and rig elections would have succeeded for all intents and purposes.

There would have been no 20 billion dollar fund from British Petroleum to clean up the Gulf oil spill and compensate the businesses that were hurt due to the spill – some of which were Afro-American owned. In fact the Republican Congressman who now heads the committee tasked with oversight of the oil industry apologized to BP and called President Obama’s demand that they set up the recovery fund a display of “Chicago gangster” tactics.  The historically black colleges would be 100 million poorer, and some would be out of business altogether. Plus the banks would still be making millions off unnecessary fees from student loans,  If the Republicans had been in office the last four years, with their aversion to government spending, investment in the scientific community would be a trickle of what it was under President Obama.

Cornel West and Sidekick Tavis Silly
 Cornel West and Tavis Smilie
Heckle and Jeckle: Cackling Mischievous Crows

However listening to the President’s harshest critics you would not know that any of these achievements took place; some of historic proportions, especially the Lilly Ledbetter Act, Affordable Care Act, the Economic Recovery Act, and the Dodd –Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act. All of these monumental achievements are denounced by the President’s detractors on the right and ignored by his critics on the left – once more revealing themselves to be undeclared allies.  Yet this legislation saved the nation from economic ruin, provided health care options for many people who had none and made it illegal for Wall Street bankers to engage in the kinds of practices that led to the crash.

But our verbose Dr. Cornel West, a grandstanding spotlight hog and shameless opportunist, who has set himself up as Barack Obama’s grand inquisitor and moral scold, calls the President a tool of the Plutocrats and Wall Street Bankers.  Since much of what Dr. West has to say regarding politics is little more than mindless prattle and meaningless moralizing, it bears little resemblance to reality.  The fact is that his bad political judgment is clouded by a gargantuan ego, pompous pretentions to piety, plus a tendency toward wishful thinking; all of which renders him irrelevant in the search for effective policy options to effectively deal with the mind boggling problems that confront President Obama.

It never ceases to amaze me how easily the President’s critics forget the disastrous situation he inherited, with multiple crises at home and abroad confronting him upon entering the Oval Office.  And here I am referring to those critics on the left who consider themselves politically progressive, because the right is engaged in subterfuge with no regard for the truth; they are pledged to deny this President any victories even if it means telling the most outrageous lies and manufacturing scandals.

Alas, it is well known that the leaders of the Grand Obstructionist Party, in and out of office, pledged to oppose any policy President Obama proposed.  In fact they met clandestinely in a Washington hotel room the night of his inauguration and took something akin to a blood oath to wreck Obama’s presidency by constant obstruction and thus make him a one term President.

Fancy Nancy and the Chi Town Kid

Barack Obama, Nancy Pelosi

 A Dynamic and Effective Duo

However all these seasoned political pros made a serious mistake: they underestimated their opponent worse than Sonny Liston underestimated Muhammad Ali. Barack won reelection and they Republicans are still recovering from the shock.  They are clearly in a state of panic.  They equally missed their mark in assessing Nancy Pelosi, who will surely be remembered in history as one of the most effective Speakers to ever run the House Of Representatives.  This smart savvy lady from Frisco, in league with the Chi-Town Kid, made a great team and passed historic legislation.

Passing Landmark Legislation….
Barack Pelosi_Obama 
…….And Making history

While there is an embarrassment of riches from which to choose the Wall Street regulation regime is an excellent example of their legacy.  The Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act signed into law by President Obama is the strictest legislation regulating Wall Street in American history.  It ends the kind of reckless speculation and assumption of risks that led to the financial collapse under Bush, when there was hardly any regulation at all and trillions of dollars in American wealth disappeared, throwing millions of Americans out of work.  And there would have been millions more without a massive government bailout.

Dodd-Frank also offers protections to consumers who are victimized by ruthless mortgage bankers and sleazy lenders who charge exorbitant interests for short term loans.  These are critically important developments for the American people, especially Afro-Americans, but the House refuses to fund the agencies that are tasked with enforcing the new regulations, making them the disloyal opposition.   For they have betrayed the trust of the American people by refusing to fund programs acted into law their elected representatives passed in a majority vote.

Alas the great work Of President Obama and Speaker Pelosi on behalf of the American people was halted when the Grand Obstructionist Party took back the House just two years later; little of importance has been passed in the House since. I wrote a commentary titled “Triumph of the Untutored Mob,” which argues that this election proved Thomas Jefferson was right when he warned that “an ignorant electorate would elect and return the worse people to power.”

It was an act of self- immolation to turn the House of Representatives over to a Republican Party with right-wing zealots, who called themselves “Tea Party Patriots,” setting the legislative agenda. Yet millions of Americans voted to sabotage their government by sending 66 people to Congress who had publicly declared their hatred for government and vowed to dismantle it; now they expect their party to govern the affairs of the vast and complex nation effectively.  It is madness.

When the Republicans wrecked the economy with policies that resulted in the crash of 1929 that brought on the Great Depression, it took them over 40 years before gain control of the House again, but two years after the Bush crash they put a Republican Party in charge of the people’s house who were even more incompetent and reckless than the bums who just wrecked the country.  Yet we hear little about this from the cabal of anti-Obama whiners, several of whom sport fancy academic titles but when we actually peruse their writings in search of serious policy proposals instructing us on the route the President should take in order to realize their hopes and dreams, like Mother Hubbard we find the cupboard is bare.  They are all blow and no go!

I could call them out by name but you know who they are….and they do too!  I just don’t want to give them any more publicity; that’s what they live for.  Some of them don’t really care what you say about them so long as you get their names right.  Hence I shall refer to them collectively as the Crazy Coon Platoon; it is the most accurate name I could conjure up for a group of clueless blacks on the left and right who have accused President Obama of everything from promoting sodomy and child murder to destroying the Auto-industry.

Some even denounced the President’s commencement speech to the young men at Morehouse College, a speech which contained time honored themes that has contained the bedrock values of Afro-American culture that I grew up hearing and that black colleges have always stressed.  One of the most boisterous critics of the Morehouse speech, that baldheaded buffon /failed academic Boyce Watkins, thinks its cute to cotunuously refer to the President as “bi-racial” in an attempt to question his blackness.

Well, Herman Caine is black as  midnight in a coal mine and he is what the old folks in Florida used to call “a ass kissin white folks nigger.”  What a silly thing to make an issue of, especially since Boyce looks like his ancestry may well lay in China with his pie face and big Bhudda head. But this crowd, inspite of their blacker than thou posture, have spent their academic careers in white colleges – you couldn’t get them to teach at a black college for love nor money!

Crazy Corny West even called the President a war criminal!  This charge leaves no doubt that the Doctor of Philosophy is a verbose hysteric who appears to know nothing about warfare and the requirements of national security when confronted with an enemy like the Islamic Jihadists: who are transnational fanatics that believe they are carrying out the will of God and do not recognize the rules of war as laid out by the Geneva Conventions.

The Jihadists have repeatedly demonstrated that they care nothing about civilian lives whether Muslim or Christian. In fact they consider their main enemy to be those Muslims with whom they have theological differences, as the 1800 year old conflict between the Sunni and Shiite factions will testify.  While Dr. West decries the regrettable loss of civilian lives as a result of the deployment of drones in the fight against the Islamic Jihadists, he does not offer what he would consider a more efficient and humane way of going about fighting this shadowy and ruthless enemy who spend their every waking hour plotting a more spectacular attack on the US – which is to say us – than the 911 disaster.

Their ultimate objective is to set off a nuclear weapon or at least a high radiation “dirty bomb” in New York City…or some other heavily populated American metropolis.  It is President Obama’s job to see to it that that don’t succeed, an objective that cannot be achieved by moral persuasion!  War has always been an ugly business; those who have experience it first-hand say “war is hell!”  And those who are knowledgeable about its history knows it is by nature a bloody and inhumane enterprise in which atrocities are common fare and for which civilians have little stomach.  Yet when a nation comes under attack the civilians do not hesitate to turn to the soldier for salvation.

That’s why all able bodied civilians should be subjected to a military draft.  For if everyone is required to bear the burdens of war it would accomplish two things: Every family would have to sacrifice their loved ones and would therefore be reluctant to go to war, and we would all be forced to confront the reality of war; instead of the sanitized version the public is getting now.  In the meantime those who are whining about the civilian casualties resulting from drone warfare should spend some time watching the Military Channel on cable television.  There they can see actual films of combat going back to the First World War in the early years of the 20th century.

In World War II fifty million people were killed – most were not soldiers.  Do Cornel West and the rest of the moral scolds who now call President Obama a “war criminal” include all the presidents of the past who have been tasked with waging war in defense of this nation?  There are war crimes to be sure, but to simply say that any actions in which civilians are killed, when that was clearly not the intention, constitutes a war crime?

By any objective measure, drone warfare is the least destructive method of fighting an enemy who hides among the civilian populace. It is certainly less destructive than deploying ground forces, and it cost far less in American blood and treasure. Yet even after I heard a spokesman for Iraq and Afghan war veterans tell Corny West this he keeps on saying (Look under the section titled “On Dr. Cornel West on this blog for a discussion of the incident)

It is precisely because war is the ultimate horror show that it’s details are kept secret – along with the fact that it is wise to keep your operational strategies out of the purview of your enemies.  Hence those who consider Sergeant Bradley Manning – who turned over 700,000, classified American military documents to Wikileaks to be posted on the internet – a hero are at best confused on the issue.

To be sure, some of the information contained in those documents constitutes indisputable evidence of war crimes, and one could sympathize with the crisis of conscience experienced by Private Manning.  But he should have been selective in the documents he chose to expose for public scrutiny.  Indiscriminately dumping hundreds of thousands of secret documents entrusted to his care could imperil the military mission and for that he must, and will, be severely punished.  Furthermore, Bradley Manning is a very confused guy who was undergoing a protracted personal crisis that had but little to do with is military experience.  For a discussion see my review of the recently released documentary “We steal Secrets: The Story of Wikileaks.”

No military organization can function successfully if any of its members along the chain of command can feel free to leak classified documents to the press.  That’s why the Attorney General tapped into the phone messages and e-mails of certain journalists that had written about covert actions which thwarted a terrorist action that would have blown up civilian airliner.  And despite the anguished self-righteous cries of my colleagues in the press: He was right!  And he should stand his ground on this question; turning the tables on the press by putting the question this way: What is of greater importance, the national security of the US or the right of the press to publish secret military documents?

Exposing ongoing covert actions can put the lives of brave Americans who routinely risk everything in the service of this nation in even greater risk.  And when one considers the fact that the reporters motives are often no more exalted than getting a scoop on his competition and gaining notoriety for themselves, the aura of nobility evaporates and the claim of heroism is tarnished.

The question for the American people is what is more important: preventing another Jihadist attack on an American city that rivals or surpasses that on 9-11, or the prerogative of the press to publish anything they want any time they want?  To publish or not to publish: that is the paramount question facing the American people and the fate of the nation might well hang in the balance.

It is instructive that the arguments of Wikileaks’ champions, and those who view Sergeant Manning as a hero who should be hailed not jailed, lack this kind of nuanced analysis of the complex issues surrounding their actions.  What we get instead is an endless stream of self-righteous prattle in which everything is painted is stark black and white Manichean dualities between good and evil.  But, alas, the world is far more complicated than that and the matter of war and peace is rife with contradictions.

In the world of instant mass communications those contradictions are laid bare when secret military documents are made public.  And when you have a reckless political opposition like the contemporary Republican Party, whose motivations rise no higher than to embarrass the President and Attorney General for partisan advantage, it can hamper their efforts to maintaining national security. The hearings now being conducted by that repeat criminal offender Darrell Issa’s Government Oversight Committee is a case in point.

Here the representatives of the Grand Obstructionists Party, unable to win at the polls despite their political dirty tricks that attempted to limit voting opportunities for Democrats, are abusing their Congressional authority to nullify the dramatic Democratic victory in the last presidential election. Nothing demonstrates their hypocrisy more than the hearings around the attack on the American embassy at Benghazi, when it is they who voted to cut $300 million from the budget for embassy security.

The investigation into the Internal Revenue Service that threatens to ruin the careers of civil servants who were just doing their jobs and the ongoing attempts to discredit the Attorney General – who is a saint compared to Nixon’s AG John Mitchell, who was convicted of committing crimes in office – are equally hypocritical.  Not to mention the fact that Republicans blame Barack for not knowing what an IRS office in the mid-west is doing in trying to enforce a complicated law, when a group of Naval and Marine officers – including the notorious colonel Ollie North – ran an illegal operation designed to subvert the Boland Act from the White house basement but accepts President Ronald Reagan’s explanation that he knew nothing of it!

It is the role of serious intellectuals to point these contradictions out; especially Black Intellectuals who have set themselves up as President Obama’s inquisitors.  The recent revelations about the massive domestic surveillance program conducted by the National Security Agency, which again raises the question about the requirements of national security vs. individual privacy in protecting Americans against terrorist attacks. But they are curiously silent on these critical but controversial matters.

Instead, what we get is a bunch of meaningless noise that more closely resembles a collective temper tantrum than a serious analytical discourse. Perhaps the reason they are hollering so loud and saying such crazy things is because nobody is paying them any mind….thank the lord. In spite of their boisterous and incessant caterwauling during the last election, Afro-Americans still voted for President Obama over 90%!  The haters must be quite a frustrated lot after witnessing all of their efforts come to naught despite big help from right-wing white racists.  The question is who did the black haters vote for?   Inquiring minds want to know.

They Can’t Touch This!
Barack after victory!!!!
The GOAT: Greatest of All Times!!!! 

****************

Playthell G. Benjamin

Harlem, New York

June 8, 2013

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