(Richard Wright, circa 1928)
The Role (?) of the Black Intellectual in the Black Struggle
by Comrade Malik Sekou Osei (ed. by M.S. Tucker)
The following is Malik's response to some private conversation points I'd been making about dialectics and politics:
We are living in the shitty eddy of a roving sewer called “culture”. Our daily lives are hammered in a vast stupidity of self-objectifying backwardness. While I understand culture and art play very real roles in human social development, with that being the case, they must be examined as such. Nonetheless,
this endeavor may be beyond the realm of a lot of thinkers around me, because here our community (at least our middle class) has never generated the ability to confront anything - socially, intellectually, artistically, and most of all politically. I know this is a very unflattering indictment, but truth has to be faced in order to deal with the African American scene.
This contradiction of the African American is that its leadership has always been the Black petty-bourgeoisie and any who aspired to it. This has been the homogenous African American experience and perspective, ultimately the aspiration of the African American people as a whole. Their music, theater, arts, and social sensibilities have been defined by aspirations of accommodation to that class and eventual inclusion in it.
This is an objective assessment, not a disparaging indictment of the Black middle class, for all people must try to live a stable life. The contradiction of the Black middle class in the US, as in most places in the West, is that its struggle was precisely that: the motions of accommodation, laying prostrate to achieve the position. To achieve this, they had to appear to be, or actally become, non-threatening to white economic interests. Thus, they had to appear more than distant from the ways of the Black urban working class experience.
It then must be noted that the Black working class has and had a number of contradictions in lacking social discipline beside an infantile materialism of validation while having no resources to pursue its objective. This wasn't a reflection of social immaturity as such, though, because the object place of Black workings and Black workers was as the reserve army of a labor force having no real job security and thus developing a social culture of always living in the present…with little thought of the future. This created a sociology of immediate gratification.
It must be noted that this working class in history could be mobilized in the most militant way, from the first threat of a march on Washington in 1943 around segregation in the US armed forces, all the way up to the 60s and beyond. Then came such instances as the role of union organizer in the Bus Boycott that created the momentum and infrastructure of the Dallas County Voter Registration League by Mr E.D. Nixon and the motion of Dodge Revolutionary Union Movement (DRUM). It was through material conditions that the Black working class had to confront institutional racism head on. The Black middle class, on the other hand, had to accommodate racism in order to gather job security as a concession.
The Black working class has had a dual character as being the most on-point radical force or of being the most self-involved most undisciplined force, a front that suffered a very long period of demoralization. Then there was the problem of militants of the Black middle class who would never organize to keep status in a material way for class power but instead collapse into the magical thinking of cultural nationalism, living in the world of revisionistically portrayed lives of Ancient African kingdoms postured out for contemporary Black communities, vehicles addressing Black self esteem and no more than that. Thus these "militants" only worked at forging “correct” symbolism as political and social work/theater.
This is why we see a long host of cultural nationalist forces giving full support to Obama as he begins the process of starting the re-colonization of the African continent while, at home, putting the lives and earnings of the working class on the chopping block and actually gutting the programs of the New Deal. He ignores all the violent tragedies worked upon Black people while crying sentimental tears for the white communities who have suffered nowhere near the same problems.
What has to be done in a more than dialectical way is to show the history of the Black middle class disarming the Black working class through its behind-the-scene actions, its obscurations of the objective realities in American social and political life, the sort of environment where so-called militants would call a Million Man March at the end of the 20th century to protest themselves. The only thing that came from any of that was the regal feel-good of distraction as demonstration.
While the Black middle class has produced - and producted - a number of important activists and thinkers, these people only represented individuals and not the true middle class perspective. Black middle class intellectualism is actually quite socially retarded (i.e, “Chip” Gates and others). Because of its need to posture, the first thing it throws out is intellectual rigor, calling any number of militant Black conferences only to celebrate some Black achievement or bring up a host of so-called "needed questions" no one seeks to answer, intellectualizing and ruminating over them in touchy-feely ways, proud of themselves as grand "cutting edge" intellectuals servicing the do-nothing of Black validation.
What they always seek to ignore is that Black people involved in the founding of America through slavery was the first contradiction of labor and capital - in this case, not wage labor or wage-slave labor but actual slave labor. Disappointingly, the Black role historically has been to celebrate the color of the clock but never to see the actual time.
In such things, I think we are forced to understand what the material conditions are for profound levels of irrationality and to try to explore and understand subjective factors, to see them dialectically. One of those struggles is the reflection of the actual truths of history and its practices. Black people, being an oppressed people, more than anyone else have a struggle on two levels. The first on the objective level of capitalist exploitation and the stifling of life chances amid racialist state violence, the prison youth pipeline, gentrification, lack of access to needed resources, and on and on and on. The second level is the subjective level, where the oppressed learns to objectify him- or herself to appear as "good" and non-threatening, "naive," in order to hopefully have access to and share in the corruptions of those in power.
Oppressed people must ever dance to the vulgar music of 'containment', which itself, of course, contains against acts of explicit resistance. Then there's the matter of joining dogmatic religious orders, secret societies, and other such devices where there are no goals, only articles of faith. The social lives within our communities almost always reflect this outside whatever circles of social and culturally conscious groups there may be. The play of dynamics is interesting on both sides of the fence but most often collapses when it comes to methods of organization within culturally aware formations, replaced by "grand" and "angry" charismatic spokesmen who at times seem brilliant for their informed empirical observations, but, when it comes to history, who forward the theory that the world only has conspiracies of secret white power. This may or may not be true to varying degrees, and we must understand the symbolism within such manifestations lest we fall into the dead-end of a pseudo-science of such "secrets" and such "white power". Containment tends largely to give rise to speculations leading to political dead ends. That's part of what it was designed to do.
The most onerous aspect of it is that it breeds further irrationalisms of escape but never any motivations to confront. The science of such pursuits may indeed be empirical but never dialectical. The goal of such research is never the science of history or of creating the conditions for seeking and seizing power but to live in one's own hierarchy of isolated secret privilege hosting and bringing forth an ugly, profane, personal alienation of the oppressed. This "leadership" maintains itself not through establishing actual goals outside of fundraisers but instead only involuted personal validation in isolation among the weak of mind, will, and emotion. Such an act breeds social corruption and the perversion of personal power in the eternal objectification of the self seeking ever greater validation, and no amount, no matter how outsized, is ever sufficient. For all power that is based on exploitation and the objectification of the self must negate science and always use pseudo-science to subjectively rationalize stations of privilege as "leadership".
A bit later, Malik interpolated elements of illumination on recessed factors in what was discussed above, so I’m including his response to a re-statement I made in my V.V. take on dialectics a few issues back:
Mark, your elucidation on the question of synthesis in dialectics was more than enjoyable, but I hadn't told you that my viewpoint last time around came from sitting in at an 88 year tribute to Malcolm X...on the question of Malcolm himself. I had to lecture a socialist guy from the Socialist Workers Party on dialectics, a man who argued that because Malcolm at the end of his life spoke at SWP functions, then Malcolm was obviously a dialectian in thinking, actually a mass leader like Lenin. I could only reply: "WOW!, are you serious???"
This a-historical child of redundancy, posturing, and sloganeering could never explain to me how Malcolm was dialectic in thinking nor quite address how Malcom was a mass leader or anything else. In lieu, Mr. Ass-Wipe gave me titles to read: Marx, Lenin, Trotsky, and a bunch of dead members of the SWP who had written articles for their paper The Militant. Well, okay, but I had read all of that years ago. I informed this indivdual that Malcolm was never in any socialist formation before the Nation of Islam and before prison. In fact, among so-called "socialists", he was to be murdered when he got back from Africa because he had met a number of African heads of state, an exercise that brought him a broader view of international politics and leadership of color. Malcolm, however, would never come to understand the economics of imperialism or the coming crisis of people of color and neo-colonialism, for he never had the time to engage the true use of political theory at the time of his murder. This kinda put my opponent's theories under the knife, didn't it? Regardless, while Malcolm's view of imperialism was just a recognition of the military arrogance of European powers, I had to talk to this emasculated nut about the dialectic of language and thought.
The contradiction is that a lot of white left formations and their flanking members of color feel are simply militant around the questions of colour and race and not really revolutionary around the questions of actual power and society. What they do for the most part is recite titles of books as substitues for real questions and answers. I know that a number of their members had written tracts on dialectics, so I asked this guy "Have you read Novack on Dialectics", to which the misemotional nut screamed "YES!!!!!!", and to which I merely nodded, adding "Good…so explain his work to me". All this socialist dogmatist could do was avoid the matter and, by way of being seeming cryptically knowledgeable, invite me to an SWP study group. Good grief.
That day, at the 88th tribute, I took notes on the event and speakers, and it all was about as important and cogent as watching wet paint dry, a flaccid orgy of non-stop sentimental romanticizing of an important man's life, an exercise that didn't put him in the context of his time so that a better and deeper understanding of the political catalysis he provided for mid-century Black radicalism, and furthe, for American radicalism, could be had. Sigh! This has resulted in my writing an article will probably be titles the "The Dead End of Sentimental Sloganeering and the Life of Malcolm X", though I'm undecided on that.
However, another very troubling aspect of the tributory program was the fact that the speakers were trying to also romanticize the recent death of Malcolm's grandson, Malik Shabazz. If we were to tell the truth, though, it's a matter of open fact that Malik was the person who set the fire to the house in the incident that killed his grandmother Betty Shabazz. Such knowledge, however, is forever taboo in such circles.
I will always use dialectical method in relation to history, Black or White. If people really understood there is no White history or Black history but only a dialectical history that at times becomes somewhat "colored", everyone could discuss matters a lot more coherently.