As the Empire declines, as the myths binding together US economic power, social harmony, and international prestige dissolve, many people want answers.
Why is the US political system dysfunctional? Why does inequality of wealth and power march to ever greater heights? Why does the US government assume unwanted governance beyond its borders, while turning a blind eye to the sins of its allies?
These questions appear challengingly complex and intractable. Politicians, academics, and hordes of pundits offer numerous wide-ranging, but unsatisfactory answers.
But few, very few, are disposed to face the twin towers of ignorance that left their indelible stamp on US political progress. Racism and Anti-Communism remain the greatest obstacles facing those hopeful of a better, more just future for the US.
Since its revolutionary, but contradictory beginning as an uninvited settler-colony parting company with an oppressive mother country, the US has been cursed by its reliance on the institution of slavery at the core of its early economic life. That institution could only be justified with a racist, dehumanizing ideology of white supremacy.
After the institution of slavery was violently overturned, the legacy of racism remained deeply embedded in the US, remaining as an often-used tool of class division by the US ruling class. Race as a weapon of distraction and super-exploitation proved invaluable to the maintenance and domination of capitalism throughout the twentieth century.
Likewise, anti-Communism, applied with a broad brush and used against challenges to capital and steps toward racial unity, has been a consistent tactic of the rich and powerful. Red-baiting, like race-baiting, casts a veil of ignorance over the protagonists of progress. By placing a people or an ideology beyond any acceptance, by making them dangerous, barbaric, or adversarial, mass manipulators can conjure fear, stir hatred, and shape behavior contrary to the interests of a vulnerable majority. Fear of the manufactured “other” fosters divisions, distraction, and demobilization, rendering the masses confused and impotent.
Despite the oppressive weight of years of relentless indoctrination, there is a welcome skepticism, a growing questioning of the inherited ideas on race and revolution.
For most people in the US, the Cold War was the source of an enormous body of myths attached to the US and its role in the world. But there are many people hard at work in terminating those myths. A recent event sponsored by Code Pink, Witness for Peace, and Addicted to War is a fine example of that effort. Rachel Bruhnke and Frank Dorrel moderated a ten-hour online COLD WAR TRUTH COMMISSION – A Day of Education, Testimonials & Action on Sunday, March 21. Billed as “putting the Cold War on Trial,” the event engaged over fifty testimonies, challenging the entire spectrum of US Cold War fictions.
The Commission billed the leadoff session as “The Roots of US Anti-Communism and Cold War,” a bold announcement that the organizers were not going to bend a knee before the national dogma of unthinking anti-Communism. Where far too many liberals will condemn the “excesses” of McCarthyism while turning a blind eye to the repression of actual Communists, this event made no such compromise.
The sessions can be viewed here.
Another welcome development is a growing academic “rediscovery” of the essential role of African American Communists in the struggle for both Black equality and the emancipation of the US working class.
The ruling class has gone to great lengths to hide the role of Communists in laying the foundation for the modern-era Civil Rights Movement, anti-imperialist action, and subsequent anti-racism struggles. Moreover, they have sought to erase the leadership of the earlier struggles by Black US Communists. The myriad organizations initiated and/or led by Communists have been buried in the past: Council on African Affairs, Civil Rights Congress, National Negro Labor Council, National Negro Congress, Committee for the Negro in the Arts, and a host of other organizations.
Similarly, the role of figures like W.E.B. Du Bois, Paul Robeson, Lorraine Hansberry in founding, participating, and advancing these organizations has been side-stepped by mainstream scholarship.
As the Cold War receded, historians like Nell Irvin Painter, Robin DJ Kelley, and Mark Naison– part of a “revisionist” wave reconsidering the role of the Communist Party USA– began to reveal the historical symbiotic relationship of the Communists, associated radicals, and Black liberation.
Mary Helen Washington’s 2014 book, The Other Blacklist, does a similar service for Black cultural and artistic figures who moved within or in the orbit of the Communist Party.
No scholar has and continues to plumb the close trajectory of Communism with the Black freedom movement more thoroughly or more diligently than Gerald Horne. Horne’s research has produced over a dozen books on Communists, the Cold War, and radical African American struggles. Horne summarizes the target of his research: “It is easy to see why future generations will be displeased with much of the present history that has been written to this point about the Communist Party because it has been incredibly biased, one-sided, deeply influenced by the conservative drift of the nation – not unlike pre-Du Bois histories of Reconstruction – and, fundamentally, anticommunist.”
And, today, scholars are linking the role of Communism with anti-racism and feminism, importantly through the life and works of deported US Communist leader, Claudia Jones. Scholars like Charisse Burden-Stelly and Denise Lynn are fairly and sympathetically chronicling the contributions of Communists, especially African American Communists, without genuflecting to Cold War shibboleths. See their work (Burden-Stelly) here, here, here and (Lynn) here, here, here.
Also, scholar Melissa Ford has done important research, including Black Women, Black Radicalism, and the Black Midwest.
Much of this research finds its way to the estimable Claudia Jones School for Political Education, an essential source.
Doubtless the pursuit of these forgotten histories will encourage and embolden others to consider Marxism-Leninism as a beacon illuminating the road ahead in the direction of finally defeating racism and achieving socialism.
Equally welcome is a growing hunger among workers– in the labor movement– for something more nourishing than the simplistic slogan of “Throw the bums out” directed at the labor leadership.
Reports grow that workers are discovering the writing of William Z Foster, the mastermind of class struggle unionism as practiced in US labor’s most militant days. Foster’s history in organizing workers in the early twentieth century and in crafting the US Communist Party’s labor strategy until his death in 1961 has been largely smothered by anti-Communism. But, as long-time union activist Chris Townsend reminds us, his ideas are available today with the reissue of his book, American Trade Unionism (International Publishers).
International Publishers now offers another reissue of an essential labor classic, Roger Keeran’s The Communist Party and the Auto Workers’ Union. Keeran’s scholarly book gives the true account of the building of unionism among auto workers without a Cold War spin or the usual Reuther brothers hagiography.
As an eye opener for union militants, Toni Gilpin’s The Long Deep Grudge joins the Keeran book to show how militant, multi-racial class-struggle unionism can be achieved and maintained. What Keeran does for the UAW, Gilpin does for the United Farm Equipment Workers of America in Louisville, KY.
If history is to be a guide to the future, it must be shorn of the illusions, deceptions, and distortions imposed upon it. We must move beyond Cold War myths, restore the missing chapters of race and labor militancy, and reject hysterical anti-Communism, if we are not to be participants in the death throes of a racist, exploitative empire.
We are fortunate that the quest for the truth is an irresistible force.