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Ron Radosh

Monthly Archives: April 2012

If you want to know what is wrong with academia, look no further than a long article that appears in The Chronicle Review, the weekly magazine of the academy’s major publication, The Chronicle of Higher Education. Keep in mind that most professors subscribe to it, as do the presidents and deans of every institution of higher learning.

The article in question is written by the outgoing president of the Organization of American Historians, Prof. Alice Kessler-Harris of Columbia University, who is author of a new biography of playwright Lillian Hellman, titled A Difficult Woman. Using her forthcoming book as the excuse to get some free publicity for her thesis, Kessler-Harris has written a piece titled “Lillian Hellman’s Convictions.” (Unfortunately, the magazine has chosen to put her article under a firewall, and to read it you will have to either purchase it or wait for them to eventually post it.)

What Kessler-Harris addresses is what might simply be called the question of Stalinism, and how she sees anti-Communists using the term to oppose people like Hellman who, she thinks, was unfairly called a “Stalinist” by her opponents. She writes:

I found myself asking the questions that others had posed before me. Did she deserve the epithet? Was she or wasn’t she a member of the CPUSA? How active was she? Did she follow the party line? When did she quit? Did she, in the end, come clean? Did she repudiate her former connections, turn in known Communists? And, finally, the litmus test for morality and ethics: Did she, when she learned about the evils of Stalin and Stalinism, distance herself from the CP, join the anticommunist crusade? Like everyone else, I wanted an answer to the key question: What did she know, and when did she know it?

Let us, for a moment, dissect the above paragraph. The key part is where she asks did Hellman “join the anticommunist crusade?” Obviously, by asking it in this manner, the author makes it quite clear that if Hellman had done that, it certainly was a bad thing to have done. Yes, Kessler-Harris acknowledges that there is plenty in Hellman’s life “to deplore as well as to admire.” But on that question of anti-Communism, she argues that “the cold war is over,” and scholars should neither celebrate or condemn “the virtues of my subject,” but simply ask, “So what?”

What she says she wants to do is “place communism in the context of a dynamic, many-faceted, rapidly changing century; to separate the history we write from our own hopes and fears; to recognize how communism…has shaped our efforts to interpret a difficult century.”

Let us ask another question. Substitute fascism or Nazism for Communism in that above sentence. Would she not condemn without reservation any historian who did not view it with absolute horror, not to speak of celebrating it? At the start of her article, she refers to “the distinguished historian Eric Hobsbawm,” who still in his 90s defends completely his years of subservience to the Soviet Union, and who in his writings regularly bemoans the Soviet Union’s collapse. What, then, makes him so “distinguished”? I know that Hobsbawm was knighted by the queen and is highly regarded, but many writers have written boldly of his giant blind spot about Communism. Aren’t they right to have done that? Is he to be so easily excused for his continuing adoration for Stalin’s leadership of the old totalitarian state?

Kessler-Harris purports to be above all of this. She writes that we no longer have to situate ourselves on the left or the right, “as sympathizers or as apologists, that time is now past.” We can, now that the Cold War is over, “move outside old debates…and…start seeing the 20th century with fresh eyes.”

I’m certain Prof. Kessler-Harris thinks she does just that, especially in her book on Hellman. (I am in the process of writing a review of it for The American Spectator.) So let us evaluate what Kessler-Harris says in this lengthy article, and see whether she is successful in doing what she claims.

First, she says Hellman was briefly a Communist and later a “fellow traveler.” But she writes that this was “in the sense that she remained sympathetic to the broad goals of social justice for which she believed an abstract communism stood, and she courageously advocated peaceful coexistence with the Soviet Union when many people believed that position to be close to treason.”

Now, most people define a “fellow traveler” as an individual who blindly supported the Communist line, and who regularly apologized for actions they knew were morally wrong and the consequences of which were horrendous for those who lived under the reign of Communist regimes. What Kessler-Harris has done is define it as one who supports a wonderful aim — “social justice.” I mean, who can be opposed to that? As for having courage to advocate co-existence with the USSR, is she kidding? Scores of people, including anti-Communist liberals, favored that, and wanted an arrangement that would keep nuclear war from breaking out. This is one of the great myths of our time — that favoring a policy such as “peaceful co-existence” was to brand oneself a Red. Remember SANE — the Committee for a Sane Nuclear Policy — which, by the way, had an anti-Communist clause attached to membership in order to differentiate its members from the Soviet fronts like the U.S. Peace Council, which sought to confuse people who wanted peace to join their group instead?

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In 2001, Michael Walzer, the Princeton professor and editor of the social-democratic magazine Dissent, wrote a much discussed essay called “Can There Be a Decent Left?” He was ambiguous, but hopeful, and very critical of those on the Left who after 9/11 still saw the United States as the only real enemy of the world’s people. There have been since then scores of events that have proven that the only answer to Walzer is that there cannot be, since the raison d’etre of the Left is the opposition to democratic capitalism and to any exertion of American power in the world.

More proof came this weekend, as the internet is abuzz with a short video posted by MEMRI of a conference held in Tehran last February, but which only now is getting noticed. The video consists of interviews with three American professors who attended a solidarity conference arranged by the mullahs to publicize the Occupy Wall Street movement, the key event of the American left.

The professors identified in the video are Albert Vitale and John Hammond, who claim to be on the faculty of Brooklyn College of the City University of New York, and a sociologist from Fordham University’s Lincoln Center campus in New York, Heather Gautney. I was able to find Gautney on the faculty list of Fordham, but the name John Hammond does not come up at the Brooklyn College website. Vitale is a prof. of sociology and an elected member of the PSC, the AFL-CIO affiliated union that represents the faculty and is now led by a very left-wing leadership. (I originally used Memri’s wrong spelling of his name and have now corrected it.)

In a report that appeared on the Fox News website in March, Gautney is quoted as being pleased that the Iranians supported OWS. She said the conference “is quite a welcome development, and speaks to the Iranians’ affection for Americans despite all the political conflict.” She sounded like an advertisement for the existence of American “useful idiots” for the Iranian regime. It seemed not to occur to Professor Gautney that she was being used by the very regime that brutally suppresses its own dissidents and welcomes an alliance with the Western Left, which it woos as allies who oppose the United States of America.

Although Gautney told Fox’s reporter Mike Levine that at first she worried about the regime’s motive for allowing the meeting, her fears were put aside when she studied the conference’s agenda. She concluded that “it seemed like a very legitimate kind of project.” The government media reported the event and ran a story with the heading: “Experts: Occupy Wall Street likely to topple US administration.”

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Who was Robert F. Williams, whom Ann Coulter treats in her recent column as a civil rights hero?  That is true, but unfortunately, it’s only half the story. The main point of Coulter’s column is well-taken—liberals, not to mention most people in America, have little knowledge of what first led to gun control laws. Coulter writes:

Gun control laws were originally promulgated by Democrats to keep guns out of the hands of blacks. This allowed the Democratic policy of slavery to proceed with fewer bumps and, after the Civil War, allowed the Democratic Ku Klux Klan to menace and murder black Americans with little resistance.
(Contrary to what illiterates believe, the KKK was an outgrowth of the Democratic Party, with overlapping membership rolls. The Klan was to the Democrats what the American Civil Liberties Union is today: Not every Democrat is an ACLU’er, but every ACLU’er is a Democrat. Same with the Klan.)

At the end of the Civil War, as most leftist historians know very well, Democratic legislatures enacted the so-called “Black Codes,” which forbade blacks basic civil rights and led to the end of Radical Reconstruction that enabled civil rights for the former slaves. Blacks were also forbidden to own guns, the only recourse they might have had against the newly formed racist Ku Klux Klan, which terrorized black communities throughout the former slave South.

Skipping to the more recent past in the segregated South of the 1950s and 1960s, Coulter turns to the riveting story of an NRA member, a black activist named Robert F. Williams, who first told his story in 1962 in a book he titled Negroes with Guns.  (The full story of his life and impact can be found in the book by historian Timothy B. Tyson, Robert F. Williams and the Roots of Black Power.)

Coulter writes how Williams, head of the Monroe, North Carolina NAACP, got a charter from the NRA and decided to fight head on growing racist activity from a new post-war KKK that beat, lynched, and murdered blacks at will, especially those who belonged to a civil rights group like the then mainstream NAACP. His organization armed itself and built what Williams called the Black Armed Guard, which, as Coulter writes, “stood sentry and repelled the larger, cowardly force.” Their resistance to Klan violence put an end to the vigilante racist whites immediately. As Coulter comments: “The NRA’s proud history of fighting the Klan has been airbrushed out of the record by those who were complicit with the KKK, Jim Crow and racial terror, to wit: The Democrats.”

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Imagine if David Duke were now a Republican Party kingmaker, and Mitt Romney and other presumptive candidates had to go to his organization’s events, seek his endorsement, and stand by his side — just as he was presiding over rallies seeking mainstream support for George Zimmerman, Trayvon Martin’s shooter. Yes, everyone knew Duke was once a Ku Klux Klan leader and had only slightly cleaned up his racist act, but now he came on as a non-partisan fighter for justice on behalf of aggrieved white males, and when he spoke, wore pinstripe suits, especially when presiding over his own TV talk show.

If that scenario existed, every news anchor and reporter, and every single Democrat and liberal, would blast the Republicans non-stop. They would castigate any Republican candidate who dared appear at David Duke’s side. They would use Duke’s past — rightfully so — as an example of very bad judgment on the part of any Republican who gave him even a moment’s attention.

Well, I think you know where this is leading. At the present moment, leading Democrats flock to gain the approval of the racist demagogue and race-hustler Al Sharpton, who, just four years ago, found that the Obama campaign put him at more than arm’s length in order to make it appear that candidate Obama was mainstream and wasn’t part of the divisive racial politics of the past as practiced by Sharpton and company.

It seems 2012 is quite a different matter. Dana Milbank explained Sharpton’s new power in Sunday’s Washington Post:

Everybody wants to be on Sharpton’s good side these days. No fewer than five Cabinet officers and a senior White House official went to this year’s convention [of Sharpton’s National Action Network] to kiss his ring. President Obama spoke at last year’s conference and has sought Sharpton’s advice on policy. Sharpton has a show on MSNBC five nights a week, and he doles out airtime to a procession of politicians and journalists (including me).

How things change in a short four years. From pariah to the equivalent of what the pope is for Catholics. Speaking at the convention of the reverend’s National Action Network (sponsored, as Sharpton pointedly stressed, by Fox News, the New York Post and the Wall Street Journal, all Rupert Murdoch enterprises), Attorney General Eric Holder praised Sharpton for his “tireless efforts to speak out for the voiceless, to stand up for the powerless.”

All but forgotten is Sharpton’s past. He honed his technique of rabble-rousing 25 years ago, when he led the fight on behalf of Tawana Brawley, a black teen who falsely said she had been kidnapped and raped by a gang of white men. Sharpton succeeded in ruining the career of District Attorney Steven Pagones, whom he not only accused of racism but of being one of the perpetrators of the abduction and rape. Later, in 1995, he inflamed black residents of Harlem when a Jewish merchant sought to expand his store. Sharpton called the owner a “ white interloper,” and one inflamed Harlem resident burned down the property, killing eight employees.

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That quip about Hayden’s opportunism was made decades ago by the late social-democrat intellectual Irving Howe, who believed that Hayden was campaigning in the 1960s to be “the New Left’s next Lenin.” It was a barbed, accurate, and insightful comment into what made the principal writer of the Students for a Democratic Society  (SDS) “Port Huron Statement” tick.

Now, writing recently in the cover story of The Nation, Hayden sketches out what he means by the early concept “participatory democracy,” which became the guideline of the early SDS and which he tries to explain has now morphed into the present Occupy Wall Street. He explains his concept in this video:

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There is no way to comb through all of the distortions, innuendos, and exaggerations in this long article, reworked from an introduction to a new book of twelve essays on the meaning of the now half-century old statement of SDS’s intent, which for some reason is not to be found at any online bookstore as yet. (You can read the original “Port Huron Statement” that was first published in 1962 for yourself.)

What is consistent with all of Hayden’s past years of activism (which you can read about here) is his desire to be on the cutting edge of whatever left-wing movement is current and which he still seeks to lead. Tying his old, early ’60s stance with his arguments today is the juvenile, mindless anti-Americanism and anti-capitalism of his youth, and an inability to comprehend how the mindset he held in 1962 led to SDS’s later embrace of totalitarianism and its descent into thuggish extremism.

What is most interesting about his new article, however, is his excitement about the president’s forthcoming election campaign and his obvious belief that it is the vehicle for fulfillment of the vision first announced in the Port Huron Statement (hereafter called PHS). That should not be surprising. Having left SDS soon after its birth, Hayden went on to move from organization to organization. First he favored community organizing in Newark, New Jersey, where he sought to organize an “interracial movement of the poor,” as he called it then, that would organize around demands for things like traffic lights in areas where they were needed. He believed that would develop into demands by a new movement to force city and state and then federal government to act upon their power.

From community organizing — which Hayden dropped as quickly as he began it — he moved to create his own group, “The Indo-China Peace Campaign,” which fought nationally for an end to the war in Vietnam, a cut-off of congressional funding to South Vietnam and Cambodia, and which favored a Communist victory in Southeast Asia. Hayden was able to do this because he had married the film star Jane Fonda, which not only allowed him to use her celebrity to his own advantage, but which gave him access to the money Fonda was making from her exercise videotapes, which were nationwide bestsellers. The profits from those tapes, I recall, were given directly to the organization’s funding.  Together, he and Fonda traveled to North Vietnam, where he took a camera crew and came back with a propaganda film: Introduction to the Enemy. Hayden would write after his first trip to Vietnam that the Vietnamese Communists had created a “rice-roots democracy.” After the war’s end, when Joan Baez passed around a petition protesting the human-rights violations of the winning Communist side in Vietnam, Hayden denounced those who signed it as tools of the CIA.

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This morning, I made the mistake of watching Up with Chris Hayes on MSNBC, since I usually watch Morning Joe on the channel during the weekdays. I highly recommend it, if a daily reading of The Nation website isn’t enough to keep you up to date on what the organized Left is planning. Indeed, watching the program is like a video version of that publication, since Hayes and most of his guests either work for the magazine or write for it.

Its format is similar to that of Joe Scarborough’s program, with one great exception. Scarborough has balanced panels and is himself an unabashed fiscal conservative, who most identifies with the politics and vision of Paul Ryan. But his regulars include certified liberals, and the discussion is most often civil and intelligent.

Hayes’ program fits MSNBC’s chosen left-wing profile. Today’s guests were Joan Walsh of Salon, Ann Friedman of some publication named GOOD magazine, and Van Jones, the now well-known former Obama team energy czar and once self-proclaimed revolutionary Marxist-Leninist. The sole token conservative was Josh Barro from Forbes.com. Including the host, the lineup was 4-1.

Most instructive, however, was the discussion about what the organized Left has in store for us this coming Spring. Called “the 99 percent go to spring training,” the segment revealed a massive plan led by Van Jones to train over 100,000 young people to engage in acts of massive civil disobedience throughout the country. It was a television version of The Nation’s April 2nd issue, devoted to different scenarios for reviving the OWS movement. The introductory article by Richard Kim, the magazine’s executive editor, outlined the possibilities. Kim writes:

Occupy’s working groups are as busy as they were in the fall. Occupy Our Homes has resisted foreclosures and evictions in dozens of cities across the country. Occupy the SEC filed a public comment on the Volcker Rule urging regulators to strengthen this aspect of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform Act. Other groups have been hard at work on issues ranging from student debt to alternative banking to worker-owned cooperatives. Meanwhile, protests—against police brutality; against corporations like Bank of America, Pfizer and Walmart; against budget cuts; and against institutions like the Whitney Museum—have continued at an almost frenetic pace. Organizers have also been using the winter to incubate grander plans, among them a May 1 Day of Action that may turn into a call for a nationwide general strike and proposals to occupy corporate shareholder meetings, the NATO summit in Chicago, and the Democratic and Republican conventions at the end of the summer.

The solitary conservative on the panel, Josh Barro, raised the obvious point. When Martin Luther King, Jr. engaged in mobilization for peaceful civil disobedience, he was doing so against states in our own union that deprived African-Americans of basic civil rights, enforced segregation, and embarrassed the United States throughout the world. By juxtaposing the peaceful protest of non-violent citizens with the police state tactics of Southern police in highly segregated states, he brought pressure on Congress to act on behalf of all the people, not just Southern whites who benefited from segregation. He exposed the hypocrisy which revealed that the principles embedded in the Constitution were not enjoyed by African-Americans a century after the end of the Civil War.

What such principles are being violated by the Whitney Museum, the Pfizer company, Wal-Mart, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, and the political conventions of the Democratic and Republican parties? Yes, we know the answer: they are all either basic institutions of our democratic system — or corporations, which, by the Left’s definition, are inherently evil and oppressive institutions. As two of The Nation writers candidly explain the real goal: “the heart of the movement desires a different society.” That goal, although they do not name it as they used to in the old days, is revolutionary socialism, or the creation of Communism as the real agenda of the movement.

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Many have commented on President Barack Obama’s remarks on the Supreme Court this week, when he stated “I’m confident that the Supreme Court will not take what would be an unprecedented, extraordinary step of overturning a law that was passed by a strong majority of a democratically-elected Congress,” referring to the passage of the unpopular ObamaCare, and the chance that in June, the Supreme Court will rule it unconstitutional.

The Wall Street Journal ’s editors took on the president’s claim that a negative Court ruling would be “unprecedented”:

Presidents are paid to be confident about their own laws, but what’s up with that “unprecedented”? In Marbury in 1803, Chief Justice John Marshall laid down the doctrine of judicial review. In the 209 years since, the Supreme Court has invalidated part or all of countless laws on grounds that they violated the Constitution. All of those laws were passed by a “democratically elected” legislature of some kind, either Congress or in one of the states. And no doubt many of them were passed by “strong” majorities.

The so-called Affordable Care Act, moreover, was not passed with any kind of a strong majority. Democrats pushed it through the Senate on a purely partisan vote, attaining only a drop more than the 60 needed to prevent a filibuster. And in the House the vote was 219-212, despite a Democratic majority.

Now, Obama is too smart to not know about Marbury v Madison. As a graduate of Harvard Law School and later a “senior lecturer” at the University of Chicago, he obviously knew this case very well. Indeed, most students whose high schools still have history or civics have heard about it way before college.

So if we accept that the president was not ignorant of basic constitutional law and the concept of separation of powers, then we have to come up with other theories to try to explain why he made this statement.

The most obvious is that he was both trying to inflame his base before the election and to threaten the Supreme Court justices in advance, especially Judge Anthony Kennedy, the supposed swing vote who many think might side with the liberal justices. The president also said the following while making his remarks:

And I’d just remind conservative commentators that, for years, what we have heard is, the biggest problem on the bench was judicial activism, or a lack of judicial restraint, that an unelected group of people would somehow overturn a duly constituted and passed law.

There are two things wrong with the president’s statement, and it does not take a professor of constitutional law to spot them. First, judicial activism refers to justices making social policy via law, by using their power to mold the law into a mechanism for making policy, rather than leaving that task to Congress.

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