Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

April 20, 2021

Looking past the plant-gate to understand white supremacy

Filed under: Adolph Reed Jr.,Jacobin,New Deal,workers — louisproyect @ 10:52 pm
Inside a Russian factory before the revolution

In a recent Jacobin article titled “Jim Clyburn Is Wrong About FDR and the New Deal,” Paul Heideman made the case that despite FDR’s failure to use his presidency to take on Jim Crow and the KKK, he was good for Black America. The article was prompted by Clyburn’s quip that that “if [Biden’s] going to have credibility, [he] must be much closer to Harry Truman than to Franklin Roosevelt. . . . I hear people talking about Joe Biden all the time comparing him to FDR. FDR’s legacy was not good for black people.” For Clyburn, Truman was a marked contrast to FDR since he was the first Democrat in the 20th century to begin to challenge white supremacy, even if in a cautious manner.

As I pointed out in a 2008 article that relied on Kenneth O’Reilly’s “Nixon’s Piano,” it was not just that FDR tried to placate the Dixiecrats to maintain an electoral edge against the Republicans; it was also how his patrician racist attitudes might have made this north-south bloc other than practical politics. I quoted O’Reilly to this effect:

At the advice of Howe, Farley, and other members of the palace guard, especially appointments secretary Marvin Mclntyre and press secretary Stephen Early, [Franklin Delano] Roosevelt initially closed off the White House. Black newspaper editors and NAACP officials could not get in, let alone an International Labor Defense delegation whose members wanted the president to meet with the mothers of the Scottsboro boys-the nine Alabama teenagers sentenced to death for the alleged rape of two white women. Mclntyre and Early either referred everyone to Howe, who looked at communist involvement in the Scottsboro boys’ legal defense as a convenient excuse for refusing White House involvement, or turned them back in the waiting room. The president’s men would ask black visitors, whether newspaper editors or NAACP officials, “What do you boys want?”

To further avoid offending white southerners, Roosevelt banned black reporters from his first press conference in 1933 and every other press conference for the next eleven years. His idea of communicating with blacks, concluded John H. Sengstacke, publisher of the Chicago Defender and founder of the Negro Newspaper Publishers Association, was to tell Walter White and “Walter would tell everybody else.” When Attorney General Francis Biddle “suggested that the President admit Johnson of the Associated Negro Press … he said I should take it up with Early, but I rejoined that Steven certainly would be against it. He has in mind that this might run into unfavorable congressional opinion as they have excluded Negroes from the Press Gallery.”

Heideman cannot deny that FDR did little to challenge racist terror and segregation since that would be impossible. He writes, “Before discussing the New Deal’s importance for racial equality, however, it’s important to acknowledge some of the real points its critics have made. Many New Deal programs did deepen racial inequality by offering a hand to white workers while denying one to black workers.”

Once that disclaimer is out of the way, Heideman proceeds to list all the gains Blacks made as workers in programs that were nominally race-neutral. One, for example, was the Public Works Administration that employed black workers proportionally more than white workers. Wow! Affirmative action before its time.

While nobody would gainsay the value of making sure that Black workers were first on line for a PWA job, you also have to take into account what the jobs were for. Basically, housing created under the PWA were segregated. White housing projects could only be built in officially designated white neighborhoods, and black projects in officially designated black neighborhoods. In the past, many lower-middle-class neighborhoods were integrated, something the PWA did not recognize. Under its watch, integrated neighborhoods were razed to the ground. In an interview with the Smithsonian Magazine , Richard Rothstein, the author of “In The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America,” details what took place:

In the Great Depression, many lower-middle class and working-class families lost their home. They couldn’t keep up with their payments. So the Public Works Administration constructed the first civilian public housing ever in this country. Initially, it was primarily for white families in segregated white projects, but at some point, a few projects were built for African-Americans in segregated African-American projects. This practice often segregated neighborhoods that hadn’t previously been that way.

In Langston Hughes’ autobiography, he describes how he lived in an integrated neighborhood in Cleveland. His best friend in high school was Polish. He dated a Jewish girl. That neighborhood in Cleveland was razed by the WPA, which built two segregated [ones], one for African-Americans, one for whites. The Depression gave the stimulus for the first civilian public housing to be built. Were it not for that policy, many of these cities might have developed with a different residential pattern.

Adding my own disclaimer at this point, I do have to give credit to FDR’s Fair Employment Practices Committee (FEPC) that banned discrimination in the defense industry, something Heideman describes as “soliciting complaints about discrimination, holding public hearings into particularly recalcitrant employers, and working behind the scenes with employers, unions, and black workers to find ways to integrate the latter into the defense workforce.” That was real and reflected Black pressure on the White House.

As I was reading Heideman’s balance sheet on FDR, the one thing that struck me how the ultimate acid test was whether Black people got jobs or not. It is understandable why one might find the trek north from the Deep South into northern industrial cities, where former sharecroppers got well-paying union jobs, sufficient grounds for calling the New Deal a “overall hugely egalitarian impact on workers of all races, including black workers.”

However, “egalitarianism” does not go very far when Black people continued to lag behind whites on matters of police brutality, redlining their neighborhoods, being subject to factory and refinery toxins, exclusion from prestigious colleges, and a thousand other ways in which white supremacy rules. This could not be more relevant as the killer cop Derek Chauvin was found guilty of all charges today.

Although it might not seem immediately relevant to the Heideman-Clyburn clash, it is useful to remember what Lenin wrote in “What is to be Done,” a polemic against the “Economists” who had little interest outside of what took place inside the plant gate—the fight over wages, working conditions and the length of the working day. Lenin wrote:

The overwhelming majority of Russian Social-Democrats have of late been almost entirely absorbed by this work of organising the exposure of factory conditions. Suffice it to recall Rabochaya Mysl to see the extent to which they have been absorbed by it — so much so, indeed, that they have lost sight of the fact that this, taken by itself, is in essence still not Social-Democratic work, but merely trade union work. As a matter of fact, the exposures merely dealt with the relations between the workers in a given trade and their employers, and all they achieved was that the sellers of labour power learned to sell their “commodity” on better terms and to fight the purchasers over a purely commercial deal.

To sell their commodity on better terms and to fight the purchasers over a purely commercial deal? Isn’t it possible that Heideman is a latter-day Economist? After he became part of the ex-ISO conversion to Sandernismo politics, the focus of his articles have been exclusively about bread-and-butter issues of the sort that are unfortunately equated with socialism.

As a Jacobin contributor, who is as “economical” as Dustin Guastella, Heideman clearly reflects the magazine’s close ties to the academic clique around retired professor Adolph Reed Jr., who basically wrote the same article as Heideman in 2019 for The New Republic titled “The New Deal Wasn’t Intrinsically Racist.” There’s the same disclaimer about the “bad” New Deal, followed by all the “good” aspects that tipped the scales into seeing FDR as some sort of rough analog to European social democratic leaders. He even touts the WPA without mentioning its role in destroying integrated middle-class neighborhoods.

Before Heideman drank the Sandernista Kool-Aid, he was able to see what was wrong with Reed’s combination of class-essentialism and neo-Economism. In a 2016 article co-written with ISO comrade Jonah Birch titled “The Trouble With Anti-Antiracism,” they cite CLR James, who along with Cedric Robinson, Robin DG Kelley, and WEB Dubois, saw the relationship between race and class dialectically. Heideman and Birch were far more clear-headed when they were in the ISO but there must be a powerful attraction to join a group with 90,000 members even if it is wrong on the most urgent question of the day—the need to break with the Democratic Party. CLR James:

Nearly seventy years ago, the Trinidadian Marxist C. L. R. James wrote that “the independent Negro movement is able to intervene with terrific force upon the general social and political life of the nation, despite the fact that it is waged under the banner of democratic rights.” James was referring to the declared aims of many of the movements for black equality of his time, which were mobilized on behalf of basic, apparently non-radical goals of equal citizenship.

Yet what James saw in these struggles was that the course of their development tended to take them well beyond the bounds of their seemingly moderate goals. Then as now, the struggle for the basic rights promised by the nation’s official ideology brought the black movement into conflict with the forces of American capitalism.

Adolph Reed’s recent analysis, unfortunately, stops where James begins, with the apparent political moderation of demands for black equality. Because such demands are, at least in principle, compatible with a system of vicious class exploitation, Reed believes that movements based on these demands are destined to do little more than shore up the basic system of class inequality.

September 17, 2020

The Julius Krein/Adolph Reed Jr. Correspondence

Filed under: Adolph Reed Jr. — louisproyect @ 9:22 pm

September 13, 2020

Why Julius Krein was ready to pay $2,000 to Adolph Reed Jr. for a book review

Filed under: Adolph Reed Jr. — louisproyect @ 8:28 pm


Julius Krein

On September 9th, Useful Idiots podcaster Katie Halper featured Michael Moore and Adolph Reed Jr. as examples of cancel culture victimization. Only a Reed fan like Halper could have seen an equivalence between corporate Greens trying to suppress “Planet of the Humans” and Reed begging off a Zoom talk because some DSA members opposed to his views on BLM might stress him out.

A brief moment in Reed’s segment with Halper revealed a most peculiar incident. He said that he had been approached by Julius Krein, the editor of American Affairs, to write a book review for $2000, which is a hefty amount. Initially, Reed assumed that Krein was “a Jew” living somewhere out in Brooklyn who had been involved with Partisan Review. Pretty good stereotyping from a Marxist professor, no? Eventually, he learned that Krein was an 18-year old from South Dakota, who went to Harvard and was a “Nazi basically.” Odd that an 18-year old would be a Harvard graduate, let alone being the editor of a magazine in a position to pay Reed $2,000. It turns out that Krein is 34 years old and hardly a Nazi.

All Reed drew out of this encounter was that Krein was trying to sow discord on the left by seducing an “iconoclastic” Marxist to write for his magazine, just as he had done with Angela Nagle who wrote her infamous nativist screed on American Affairs in 2018, titled “The Left Case Against Open Borders”.

Reed evidently didn’t want to be associated with a magazine that published Nagle but did not dwell on why Krein set his sights on him. The answer is simple. Having Reed as part of his burgeoning stable of left-of-center contributors will deepen his influence. Despite Reed’s disparaging of Krein as a Nazi, his politics overlap with Bellows, a self-described Marxist magazine that published an article arguing “You can either have open borders or a welfare state. You cannot have both.” Krein is likely smart enough to recognize that if Bellows could do a softball interview with Reed and Walter Benn Michaels, he might be enticed into connecting with American Affairs, especially for $2,000.

It is not as if American Affairs has anything in common with a real neo-Nazi website like UNZ Review, where the only leftist articles are written by schmucks moving rapidly in Unz’s direction like Mike Whitney and C.J. Hopkins. A brief survey of American Affairs indicates the political breadth. There’s an article co-written by Peter Juul and Ruy Teixeira titled “Toward the Next Frontier: The Case for a New Liberal Nationalism” that starts off sounding as if it could have been written by Reed, whose main lesson for the left is that it took a wrong turn in the 60s by embracing Black Power rather than sticking with A. Philip Randolph and Bayard Rustin:

When labor and civil rights leaders A. Philip Randolph and Bayard Rustin put forward their ambitious Freedom Budget for All Americans in 1966, they couched their political argument in the powerful idiom of liberal nationalism. “For better or worse,” Randolph avowed in his introduction, “We are one nation and one people.” The Freedom Budget, he went on, constituted “a challenge to the best traditions and possibilities of America” and “a call to all those who have grown weary of slogans and gestures to rededicate themselves to the cause of social reconstruction.” It was also, he added, “a plea to men of good will to give tangible substance to long-proclaimed ideals.”

To the detriment of the nation as a whole, the Democratic Party and left-wing political elites abandoned the successful and compelling idiom of liberal nationalism espoused by the likes of Randolph and Rustin, as well as by political leaders like Franklin D. Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, and Hubert H. Humphrey. Instead, party and intellectual elites have retreated into an ideological hall of mirrors that has left them adrift at a critical time in the nation’s his­tory. They lack the political language required to move the United States beyond the rolling crisis it finds itself in as it barrels toward the 2020 presidential election.

Juul and Teixeira are long-time liberal on the staff of the Center for American Progress, a leading liberal think-tanks. Like Reed and Walter Benn Michaels, they view “identity politics” as a dead end. They write:

Yet the multicultural Left somehow deludes itself into believing that it can cobble together a winning political coalition by encouraging identity-based segregation and deploying empty academic jargon. This is incorrect; strong majorities of Americans dislike political correctness and oppose extravagant demands associated with the multi­cultural Left, such as reparations for the descendants of slaves, de­criminalizing the border, and defunding the police.

The rest of their crappy article is a paean to FDR, using language associated with the Sanders campaign even though they showed disdain for “democratic socialism” in the article. The best way to understand Juul and Teixeira is as the advance guard of the Biden campaign trying to turn the wretched neoliberal candidate into potentially the most progressive president since FDR, a ridiculous notion that Sanders himself took seriously.

Like Ron Unz, Julius Krein is a man on a mission. He is no neo-Nazi, however. Politically, there’s not much to distinguish him from Bellows or Quillette, two other contrarian websites that endeavor to amalgamate left and right politics.

He launched American Affairs in 2016 to serve as an intellectual handmaiden to the Trump administration. At the time Krein, had some years behind him in finance, including for the Blackstone Group, run by the swinish Stephen Schwarzman. One supposes that he felt an affinity for Trump’s white nationalism like fellow financier Peter Navarro but bailed out in 2017 when it became obvious that Trump was not acting in the national interests of the USA despite his “America First” rhetoric. He wrote an op-ed for the NY Times on August 17, 2017 titled “I Voted for Trump. And I Sorely Regret It” that included conventional Mitt Romney type talking points.

Krein fancies himself some sort of intellectual. These financiers read a bit here and there, then spew their nonsense far and wide. You got that from George Soros and Felix Rohatyn before him. In an article titled “The Real Class War”, Krein dismisses the working class as being decisive in shaping politics for the foreseeable future despite its downward mobility. Instead, it will be up to the “elite” to shape policy. Those elites have nothing to do with Marxist class analysis, even if this birdbrain has read Marx. He writes:

The socioeconomic divide that will determine the future of politics, particularly in the United States, is not between the top 30 per­cent or 10 percent and the rest, nor even between the 1 percent and the 99 percent. The real class war is between the 0.1 percent and (at most) the 10 percent—or, more precisely, between elites primarily dependent on capital gains and those primarily dependent on professional labor.

This might sound familiar. What Krein calls the “elites”, other politically confused people refer to as the Professional Managerial Class or PMC, a term coined by John and Barbara Ehrenreich in the 1970s. They theorized a social class that through its control of production processes through superior management skills was neither proletarian nor bourgeois.

This crap is pretty familiar. I used to hear it all through the early 60s at Bard College that despite its radical reputation was no place to learn about Karl Marx. Ironically, the most sophisticated version of this theory came from someone with a past in the Trotskyist movement. In 1941, James Burnham wrote a book titled “The Managerial Revolution” that saw similarities between FDR, Hitler and Stalin. Like Burnham and countless other sociologists obsessed with the white-collar middle-class, Krein does not understand how capitalism works. The class struggle is muted because the working-class, unlike the ruling class, does not see itself as a class. The whole point of the socialist movement is to help serve as a midwife to the birth of that recognition. Krein writes:

At bottom, the economy that has been constructed over the last few decades is nothing more than a capital accumulation economy. As long as returns on capital exceed returns on labor, then the largest capital holders benefit the most, inequality rises, and wealth becomes more and more narrowly concentrated. Labor—including elite labor—is inevitably left behind. Marxian thinkers have been analyzing these dynamics for almost two centuries, but they have often misread the political effects of these developments, which play out primarily among the elite managerial class, rather than within the binary of capitalists and proletarians.

Well, he’s dead wrong. It is within the “binary of capitalists and proletarians”. This might have been easier to miss when he wrote this preposterous article but it is becoming clearer every day with mass evictions, hunger, destructive wild fires, floods, war, wage stagnation and unemployment. Someone like Krein, who must have made millions as a financier, must understand that this is a class-divided society. Like other magazine owners desperate to paper over class distinctions, he has to work much harder nowadays as the curtain concealing the Wizard of Oz drops to the floor. When he tried to line up Adolph Reed Jr., he pinned his hopes on using Reed as another prop, even more effectively than Juul and Teixeira. After all, there’s no greater authority on Marxism than Adolph Reed Jr. Just ask him.

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