A Modern Neo-Leftist Minstrel Show?
Some Reflections on the Black Left
Although I had read, met and talked to the ubiquitous Dr. Cornel West on several occasions – and even spanked him in print on three occasions – I had never heard of Carl Dix until I began to get requests from shills for the Revolutionary Communist Party posing as interested fans of my radio show “Round Bout Midnight,” imploring me to have him on. When I asked them to send me some information on Comrade Dix I got a torrent of propaganda from the RCP.
After quickly perusing the pamphlets my first reaction was to throw them all in the trash and go on about my business; since communist theory had proven not to be the science communist claimed it is, and I once believed it was. Furthermore, the proto-typical communist society – the Soviet Union – had been thrown in the trash bin of history by the people who had lived under it for half a century! But because I am not a knee jerk anti-communist, in the Pavlovian way most Americans have been successfully programmed to react upon mention of the word; plus I believe in giving the devil his due, I carefully read the propaganda tracts……and then quickly threw it in the trash!
Right away I could see that the most impressive thing about these people was not their intellectual grasp of the world situation – I expect that from any communist worth his salt – or their elaborate, albeit mechanistic and dogmatic, critique of capitalist society. What impressed me the most about the RCP was their total lack of any sense of reality!
To begin with, anybody who does not know that the best way to insure that you will not be taken seriously by anybody except a lunatic fringe in American society if you label yourself a “revolutionary Communist,” has probably been living in a cave in the Australian Outback and can’t figure out what time the 3:15 comes in. That’s the most charitable explanation for this clueless communist presenting himself as someone that thoughtful people will take seriously in 21st century America politics.
Furthermore there is an outbreak of religious revivalism sweeping the country – with blacks and Hispanics in the vanguard. Thus standing up and dissing God from the podium, the way Comrade Dix is inclined to do, reduce the already scant appeal he has with what he defines as his core constituency. In America communist and communism was so successfully demonized and discredited in the twentieth century, that identifying oneself as a Communist today is like confessing to child molestation in the public mind…if not worse: a godless blasphemer!
Hence I was naturally hesitant, suspecting that a conversation with the shadowy Comrade Dix would probably be a bit bizarre, and perhaps more than a bit of a bore. So I dragged my feet on the matter and put it on the back burner. After all, it was a weekly show and there were so many fascinating things to discuss in the world of politics and culture. Especially since I was often partnered with Dr. Gerald Horne, whom I believe to be the most versatile and prolific historian presently writing in America …and perhaps the most learned man in the nation on world politics.
However the call for Dix’s appearance by party apparatchiks, who consider him a wise man with a vital message, continued unabated. Communist are relentless in pursuing their agenda once they target you – something the great Afro-American labor Leader and democratic socialist A. Phillip Randolph learned early in the last century. This realization led Randolph to break with the Communist Party, although he had previously considered them an ally.
I guess I was a natural target since I was on the only non-college radio station in New York where a self-confessed communist revolutionary could express his views uncensored. So, just to be rid of them, and because I had begun to suspect it might be interesting to debate with an articulate intellectual anachronism, I invited Comrade Dix onto the show. Just as I expected he turned out to be an impassioned ideologue who thinks in terms of Marxist clichés.
Aside from the gravitas of his argument, which was not wholly without merit, his ideas about how to get his message across were not significantly different from those employed by the Bolsheviks who made the Russian Revolution in 1917! The guy actually thought he could indoctrinate a mass audience and direct a revolutionary movement with a little obscure newspaper. As I recall the on-air encounter it was all I could do to resist the temptation to reduce him to a figure of ridicule. But as I was taken by his sincerity I could not bring myself to do it.
I thought of what the great political theorist and cultural historian Harold Cruse told Max Stanford aka Dr. Muhammad Ahmed and me back in 1967. Committed to a Maoist conception of armed revolution at the time, we were mightily distressed by an essay analyzing the role of mass media in shaping mass consciousness in Cruse’s path breaking book on black political and cultural thought, “The Crisis Of the Negro Intellectual.” Cruise had argued that in the geo-political circumstances of the USA, the mass media was as formidable weapon of the ruling class as the police power of the state.
Professor Harold Cruse
The Premiere Theoretician of the Left
When we confronted him point blank with the question: “Do you think a revolution in the USA is possible or not?” Harold thought for a moment and said with a wry smile:” Sure I believe a revolution is possible…if you can figure out a way to take over or neutralize ABC, NBC and CBS!” That was over forty years ago, before 24/7 cable Television, talk radio networks and the internet. So if the mass media was that formidable back in the day, imagine its power of persuasion now.
However there is a silver lining to some of these developments in terms of providing relatively poor and powerless groups with the means to fight back and get their message out – especially the internet! Judging by his presence on You Tube, Comrade Dix and the RCP seem to be coming into the 21st century – although they could use some lessons in video and still picture production. As Chairman Mao counsels’: “All art is propaganda, but not all propaganda is art. In order for art to succeed as propaganda, it must first succeed as art.” Thus if the RCP posted well produced videos online it would attract more viewers and spark their curiosity.
In any case “The Crisis” is a book that I get the strong impression Comrade Dix either has not read, or is so blinded by Marxist dogma and fantasies of Communist revolution in America he refuses to believe it. However had the intrepid revolutionary read Professor Cruse’s text there are several things he would understand that he apparently does not.
For instance, his relationship to the even more obscure Bob Avakian appears to mirror the subservience of black communist cadres to white theoreticians that Cruse disdainfully describes in the old Communist Party – which by the way was a far more effective organization. For one thing they understood the art of politics far better than Comrade Dix appears too. But more about that later.
Cornell West and Comrade Dix
Plotting the Revolution
Since Dr. Cornel West is academia’s version of a superstar, he is already well known. Thus there is no need for such an extensive introduction. The product of an elite Ivy league education, Dr. West moves easily between the campuses of top tier rich white universities and the black community. He is surprisingly unpretentious in his demeanor, and I believe he is sincere in his commitment to building the Beloved Christian community envisioned by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
As an avowed democratic socialist he is devoted to limiting the power of the capitalist class over our lives and livelihoods, a goal that I share. Despite the fact that, unlike Comrade Dix, Dr. west understands that socialism can only come to America by democratic means, he too is inept at the game of real politics. Since he and Dix appear to prefer abstract theorizing to engaging the actual political realities that presently exists in the US, they make a good team on the talk fest circuit…a veritable movable feast.
Ordinarily I don’t pick fights with Marxist, because aside from the fact that they are true believers not unlike religious fanatics, I see the fascist minded white racist as a far greater danger. Unlike Dr. West and Comrade Dix – who apparently think President Obama and the Democrats pose the greatest danger! However, when these Marxist prophets of perpetual gloom and doom began to spread their nihilistic views to the greater black, Hispanic and student communities, then they must be challenged and critiqued. This is the raison d’être of this essay.
Except for their affection for engaging in abstract analysis – which strikes me as the intellectual equivalent of a group jerk off session – the elegant, dramatic and somewhat eccentric Dr. West, and the droll dumpy Comrade Dix, is about as different as one can imagine. And they come off almost like cartoon characters – Mutt and Jeff for instance; or a more intellectual version of the comedy team Stump and Stumpy. While I am not a Marxist – I have been off that drug for over thirty years now – I am not one of those fools who insist that Marxist revolutionaries have been wrong about everything.
Only an ignoramus or a charlatan would deny that the Marxist Revolutions – along with the rise of African peoples from colonial slavery and apartheid both in Africa and the Atlantic Diaspora – were the most dynamic transformative movements of the twentieth century. The most impressive African liberations struggles were also led by Marxist, with the struggle in Portuguese Africa ranking right up at the top with the most impressive revolutionary struggles of the last century. And I consider the great Chinese Revolution to be the most impressive social transformation in human history!
In spite of attempts to minimize this event by simple minded American Exceptionalists, it was a marvelous example of human will and ingenuity. Mao Tse Tung’s leadership of that protracted struggle of hundreds of millions of Chinese was an elegant combination of iron discipline, art and science, penning complex theoretical treatises with scientific accuracy and poetic language – directing the revolutionary masses by culling proverbs from Chinese culture and employing them as if they were scientific axioms. He may well have been the best ever in the use of slogans to deliver complex theoretical concepts to the masses: “A revolutionary must swim among the people like a fish in the sea;” “Imperialism is a collusus with feet of clay” etc. His use of the graphic metaphor was no less powerful: “The atomic bomb is a paper tiger.”
However as Harold Cruse argued, Marxism, which is a 19th century European ideology, was never a really good fit for American society. This is a question of sociology. The United States is a far more multi-racial and multi-ethnic society than the Russian society which made the first Communist Revolution, an event that served as the model for American communist. In the US the relationship between class, ethnicity and race created a far different social dynamic than was the case in Russia.
For instance, Cruse points out that ones position in the American class structure was determined more by group status than personal qualities like talent and diligence, but the Constitution only recognized the rights of individuals, it was one’s group status that determined the individuals life chances. Dr. W.E.B. DuBois, the father of American sociology, had observed this phenomenon in the 1920’s, when black intellectuals were becoming enamored with Marxist ideology.
Although Dr. DuBois was as enraged by the oppressive racial caste system in America as any communist militant, he concluded that black and white workers joining hands to make a communist revolution was a pipe dream. Because, as the learned Doctor pointed out, white workers were far more likely to identify with millionaires of their own race and ethnic group than unite with black workers to overthrow them. This was a prescient observation that does much to explain the participation of working class whites in the Tea Party Movement today. Herein lay the Achilles heel of what passes for critical analysis with Dr. West and Comrade Dix.
While they blather on ad-nuseum about the short comings of President Obama and the Democrats – with Dr, West often rolling his eyes and mugging for the audience like a minstrel clown – these two ideological iconoclasts have little to say about the nature of the opposition they are up against. To listen to them talk you would think that President Obama really is “Barack the Magic Negro,” and all he has to do is wave his magic wand and make all our dreams come true. Yet whether they actually believe this or not makes little difference in the way they discuss his policy options; which often strikes me as a burlesque on serious analysis.
When Comrade Dix discusses the president he sometimes becomes so excited he appears to be foaming at the mouth. His speeches, such as his response to the President’s Father’s Day admonition to black men, are little more than impassioned diatribes in which facts are manipulated like silly putty to create whatever reality that serves his objectives. He appears to loose his grip on reality as he spews a torrent of invective at the President for challenging black men to man up and act like responsible fathers; stop making babies out of wed lock; committing senseless violence against their communities and get their lessons in school because they “can’t all be Lil Wayne!” Well, I live in the Hood, and I think it is sage advice, and much needed at this moment in our history!
“It was bullshit when that comedian Bill Cosby said it; and its bullshit when President Obama says it!” Comrade Dix declared. Although I wrote a reply to Bill Cosby in the form of an open letter, because I thought he did not sufficiently consider certain critical socio/economic factors in his critique of the black underclass – Lumpen proletariat is the Marxist term of art – I think Comrade Dix is full of shit!
His analysis of the realities facing black youths in this society is every bit as skewered as Bill Cosby’s, and I believe far more dangerous! Black males are in dire straits, every serious study that considers the hard facts of the matter paint a grim picture. However it is also true that much of it is self inflicted! And the advice given by President Obama is exactly what their fathers would tell them…if they are worthy of the name!
If I were a young black or Hispanic person and listened to what Comrade Dix had to say I would conclude that any chance of advancing in this society as a result of hard work, discipline and study was nil. According to the learned communist cadre my only option is to become a revolutionary. Yet if I concluded that this was too risky a business for the dubious rewards, considering the fact that a communist revolution in America is a very long shot, I might just decide to become an outlaw where my prospects would be much better. And if I pondered too much over the grim picture that Comrade Dix paints so well, I might just cut my throat. I know even at my age if I bought the Comrade’s rap hook, line and sinker I’d get up straight away and leap out of my high rise window!
Dr. West’s vision is not so bleak. That’s because as a Christian he is fortified with a heroic optimism based in an unfaltering faith that the Lord will make a way somehow if we keep the faith. Although I believe that both communism and Christianity are equally fanciful; by far the Christian message is the more hopeful and inspiring. It is a life enhancing messages that enables the believer to overcome all manner of adversity and keep on keeping on. It is no accident that Jesse Jackson, a Christian minister whose contribution to the advancement of African Americans is immeasurable, advanced the slogan “keep hope alive!”
Rev Jackson, like Langston Hughes, understood that where there is no hope human beings lose their ability to cope with adversity. And the message from Comrade Dix is that there is no hope for our youths but to become a communist revolution. This is what he advocates, not to fight for the visionary programs President Obama is trying desperately to implement; programs that will create the new industries that will create the good jobs in the future.
Perhaps Comrade Dix has not noticed that Communist countries are experiencing economic stagnation too. In fact the best managed societies in the world, with the highest concern for social welfare and individual freedom, are the democratic socialist societies of Scandinavia. This is a goal that is within reach fror American society if we conciously choose to take the necissary measures and tax the rich to pay for them. People will quiclkly learn to love these benefits and demand more; just like social security, unemployment compensation and other socialistic reforms that were inspired by the great depression paved the way for medicare and Medicaid decades later. This is the only path to real reform in this society. Of course, Dr. West recognizes this; that’s why he is a Democratic Socialist not a revolutionary communist.
In his zeal to convince young black and Hispanic people that Communist revolution is their only option Comrade Dix sacrifices context, nuance, and ultimately truth upon the alter of expedience. Hence his analysis of the life chances of black and Hispanic youths in American society leaves no room for them to envision success in their society; even as immigrants from all over the world flock here because they find it the richest and most open society on earth – a place where they come to realize their dreams. And this hopeless scenario is accompanied by a dismissal of anyone who attempts to counsel our youths against the negative habits that they have bought into; behavior which will insure that Dix’s grim predictions become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
While there is undoubtedly some truth in Comrade Dix’s analysis of America’s racist restrictions on the life’s chances of our youths, it is astonishing that Comrade Dix presents this as primarily a question of race rather than class. Nowhere does he make obvious distinctions. Are the children of the black middle class in just as hopeless a situation? Are white youths who drop out of school, have out of wedlock babies, and do dope all day likely to succeed in this society?
There is a clear path to the middle class under normal circumstances, when the country is not in an economic recession, and that path is a college education. I have a friend in Atlanta, he is a hero of the civil rights movement and a decorated Viet Nam war hero, he was the poorest person in my high school graduating class but is now by far the richest – a multi-millionaire. Life for him wasn’t no crystal stair, and he cannot understand why people don’t get it: “You can move from poverty to the middle class just by obtaining a college education!” he always says.
Countless Americans from all backgrounds have travelled this road to Success. And many black folks did so when there was much less opportunity. But, alas, an accurate analysis of the racial situation in America is not Comrade Dix’s objective; he is, after all, trying to recruit our youths into a Communist conspiracy to overthrow the American capitalist system.
Therefore any suggestion that a young black or Hispanic person might advance in America by turning off the fucking television, reading books, studying hard, avoiding unwanted pregnancies, obeying the law and making college graduation their top priority – all the things President Obama told them – is presented as a fantasy beyond their reach.
Instead, what Dix believes is a realistic goal to which our youths should commit their lives is spelled out by his leader Bob Avakian in their document laying out a new American constitution:
““In the final analysis, as Engels once expressed it, the proletariat must win its emancipation on the battlefield…It will come to this: we will have to face him in the trenches and defeat him amidst terrible destruction but we must not in the process annihilate the fundamental difference between the enemy and ourselves. We must be able to maintain our firmness of principles but at the same time our flexibility, our materialism and our dialectics, our realism and our romanticism, our solemn sense of purpose and our sense of humor.”
This is pure fantasy! Ideological fiddle faddle! It is a reliable measure of just how removed from reality Comrade Dix and his co-conspirators really are. As I write 66% of Americans say they are satisfied with the results of the election. And they were most heavily represented among blue collar white workers! They think the government is too powerful and they want Republicans to put a brake on the critical reforms President Obama is making which would improve their lives. And these are the people the RCP are going to make a communist revolution with?
I’d bet that if the American people ever vote for the kind of super state it would require to implement the kind of radical changes Comrade Dix is advocating they are far more likely to choose some uniquely American form of fascism than communism! Among their target audience of white workers – who comprise the majority of the industrial proletariat – racism will always trump class consciousness.
President Obama won despite these clowns. While we know that the Republicans have no solutions to the problems that face this country, there is no telling what the response of the ignorant, racist white mob will be when they finally realize this. These are truly dangerous times and, as the last election demonstrates, any thing can happen. That’s why the only rational strategy for progressives was to support the President and the democrats, but the combined forces of naysayers on the right and the left has defeated the Democrat’s heroic efforts to tackle the critical problems that are leading the nation to ruin. An astute strategy for the left should have been to try and solidify these gains and press for more.
From what I see comrade Dix is leading our youths down a dead end. He is trying his best to rob our youths of their dreams and substitute them for his dreams of Communist Revolution. Comrade Dix even has the unmitigated gall to quote Langston Hughes poem “A Dream Deferred,” which was written at a very different time; a time when racial restrictions were so severe they are beyond the wildest imagination of today’s youths. However I have a different message for our youths, and a different quote from Langston Hughes. First I’d like to tell the youths: Fuck these naddering nabobs of negativism! And “Hold fast to dreams, for if dreams die/ life is like a bird with broken wings /and cannot fly!”
Then I would point to President Obama, the first Lady, and Dr. Cornel West, et al as examples of what they can become. If the stay sober, set their standards high, and work like hell to achieve their goals. I don’t know if Comrade Dix is a fool or a hustler – or both – but based on the things he is saying I have no doubt that he is one or the other.
Hence I shall do my best to counter his narrative that cast our youths as dead end kids before they ever attempt to realize their aspirations. I want them to know that it is far easier to become a doctor, lawyer, scientist, architect, plumber, or President of the USA, than it is to be a successful Communist Revolutionary in America. O want to convince them that hey are not destined to end up a deluded old fool pushing a passé ideology, trying to rob the youths of their dreams!
Harlem, New York
April 11, 2011