[Marxism] Grappling With the Racism of the DSA’s Founders
jbustelo at gmail.com
Sun Sep 9 11:15:51 MDT 2018
On 9/7/2018 7:51 PM, Steven L. Robinson via Marxism wrote:
> On the other hand, the legacy of Irving Howe - who is mentioned in the post that started this thread - is a real one, at least before the influx of new members. Even so, whatever influence Howe's ideas - or those of Harrington, for that matter - might have on the 50,000 DSA members, would seem to be negligible.
I'm not sure "the legacy of Irving Howe" --the real one, whatever it may
have been -- needs to be dealt with at all because, as you point out,
90% of DSA's members have joined in the last two years and I doubt they
have been influenced by the legacy of Irving Howe.
And although I, too, am a new member, I cannot claim political
inexperience and especially not of currents and groups tangentially
related to or descended from the Trotskyism in the United States.
Yet, when I saw the name of Irving Howe my reaction was: "Irving who?
The guy who wrote World of our Fathers?" So I'm not the one to judge him.
I had forgotten about him completely, and mind you, I remember covering
some aspect of the change of the SP into SDUSA for the Militant because
I was very proud of the headline, "Not socialist, not a party" and then
talking to Peter Camejo about it and his idea to change our name to
"Socialist Party" since it was now available (not sure he was totally
serious about that, BTW, but he might have been --Camejo was like that).
So that was the first reason I didn't include him. The second reason is
that the charges he lays against Howe are that he was a Zionist
(perfectly true, I gather), that he was part of the cold-war
anticommunist social democratic current years before DSA was founded,
and that he never completely abandoned some of those views.
So? When the proof of the pudding is mainly Shanker's 1968 strike and
something about Jack Newfield purging Cockburn from the Village Voice,
it left me little to comment on, the Shanker thing having already been
Also it is really hard to take up statements that seem so random.
Consider this passage. After describing the 1968 conflict in New York
and Shanker's reactionary role, he goes on:
* * *
“And so Shankerism, hammered out against a background of both middle
class yearnings and ghetto rage,” writes Paul Buhle, “became the oddest
possible American-style parody of ‘democratic socialism.’ The debates
raged from New Politics and Dissent to the New York Times, with curious
undertones which formal politics alone cannot fully encompass.”
In a 1984 essay by Howe titled “Reaganism: This Too Shall Pass” (could
he have been more tone deaf?), we read “During the early 1960s, the
country experienced a moment of good feeling. Sentiments of racial
fraternity were in the air. By the late 1960s, blacks felt outraged.
Searing conflicts broke out between black groups (a few committed to an
extremism of imagery) and some of their allies of yesterday. The idea of
‘going it alone’ took hold among black youth and intellectuals.
Meanwhile, an ugly sentiment spread through white America.” Obviously
playing in the background when those lines were composed were his
memories of 1968.
Indeed, this is illustrative of the truly scandalous nature of DSA at
its start. Rather than being beneficial as a counterforce to Reaganism
and the Democratic embrace of neoliberal political economy, its founding
leaders instead broke apart old community alliances that favored the
Keynesian paradigm, such as between Blacks and Jews, which in turn
created the opening for neoliberalism to go full-throttle with its
pillage of the American welfare state.
* * *
Let's unravel that if we can. The DSA's "truly scandalous nature ...
at its start" in 1982 is proven by the 1968 teacher's strike 14 years
earlier led by someone who had nothing to do with the DSA, neither
before it existed nor afterwards, and to boot was closely associated
with a hostile political current. Howe's guilt, who in fact was in DSA,
is shown by some very generic thing he wrote 16 years after the strike
because "Obviously playing in the background when those lines were
composed were his memories of 1968," which, given the context of this
article, must have been about Oceanhill-Brownsville.
But I too, have memories of 1968.
That was the year of the Vietnamese Tet Offensive, the "clean for Gene"
campaign and Johnson's surprising withdrawal from the presidential race
as a result, Martin Luther King's assassination, the massive wave of
Black urban rebellions that followed, the grape Boycott and César
Chávez's fast, the SDS/SMC student strike against the war, the Columbia
University student uprising which led to SDS becoming a mass
organization, the French May, Bobby Kennedy's assassination, Warsaw Pact
tanks crushing the Czech spring, the Chicago Democratic Party
convention, the Tlatelolco massacre of hundreds of students in Mexico on
October 2, and Nixon's election after George Wallace broke up the
traditional alliance of northern liberals with southern racists.
I do not think Shanker's reactionary strike was what Howe *must* have
had in mind: It was not the most important political clash that happened
in 1968 nor the one that most deeply affected the Black community. Then
again, given the metaphor "playing in the background," Howe's memories
could well have centered around "Hey Jude," that year's #1 song.
And then Stewart gives us an extraordinary pseudo analytical, metaphor
laden word salad about Keynesian paradigms, beneficial counterforces,
Reaganism, neoliberal political economy, community alliances and full
Which is illustrative of DSA's "truly scandalous nature," and I am
thankful he was specific about "truly" so that no one can accuse the DSA
of having a *falsely* scandalous nature.
So anyways, it did not seem to me worth taking up Howe, once I had
established that Shanker had nothing to do with the DSA and the group
was not founded until 14 years after Oceanhill-Brownsville anyways.
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