[Marxism] United front between the WSJ and the WSWS

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Mon Dec 23 07:45:49 MST 2019

WSJ, Dec. 17, 2019
The '1619 Project' Gets Schooled
by Elliot Kaufman

'So wrong in so many ways" is how Gordon Wood, the Pulitzer 
Prize-winning historian of the American Revolution, characterized the 
New York Times's "1619 Project." James McPherson, dean of Civil War 
historians and another Pulitzer winner, said the Times presented an 
"unbalanced, one-sided account" that "left most of the history out." 
Even more surprising than the criticism from these generally liberal 
historians was where the interviews appeared: on the World Socialist Web 
Site, run by the Trotskyist Socialist Equality Party.

The "1619 Project" was launched in August with a 100-page spread in the 
Times's Sunday magazine. It intends to "reframe the country's history" 
by crossing out 1776 as America's founding date and substituting 1619, 
the year 20 or so African slaves were brought to Jamestown, Va. The 
project has been celebrated up and down the liberal establishment, 
praised by Sen. Kamala Harris and Mayor Pete Buttigieg.

A September essay for the World Socialist Web Site called the project a 
"racialist falsification" of history. That didn't get much attention, 
but in November the interviews with the historians went viral. "I wish 
my books would have this kind of reaction," Mr. Wood says in an email. 
"It still strikes me as amazing why the NY Times would put its authority 
behind a project that has such weak scholarly support." He adds that 
fellow historians have privately expressed their agreement. Mr. 
McPherson coolly describes the project's "implicit position that there 
have never been any good white people, thereby ignoring white radicals 
and even liberals who have supported racial equality."

The project's creator, Nikole Hannah-Jones, is proud that it "decenters 
whiteness" and disdains its critics as "old, white male historians." She 
tweeted of Mr. McPherson: "Who considers him preeminent? I don't." Her 
own qualifications are an undergraduate degree in history and 
African-American studies and a master's in journalism. She says the 
project goes beyond Mr. McPherson's expertise, the Civil War. "For the 
most part," she writes in its lead essay, "black Americans fought back 
alone" against racism. No wonder she'd rather not talk about the Civil War.

To the Trotskyists, Ms. Hannah-Jones writes: "You all have truly 
revealed yourselves for the anti-black folks you really are." She calls 
them "white men claiming to be socialists." Perhaps they're guilty of 
being white men, but they're definitely socialists. Their faction, 
called the Workers League until 1995, was "one of the most strident and 
rigid Marxist groups in America" during the Cold War, says Harvey Klehr, 
a leading historian of American communism.

"Ours is not a patriotic, flag-waving kind of perspective," says Thomas 
Mackaman, the World Socialist Web Site's interviewer and a history 
professor at King's College in Wilkes-Barre, Pa. He simply recognizes 
that the arrival of 20 slaves in 1619 wasn't a "world-altering event." 
Slavery had existed across the world for millennia, and there were 
already slaves elsewhere in what would become the U.S. before 1619.

But "even if you want to make slavery the central story of American 
history," he says, the Times gets it backward. The American Revolution 
didn't found a "slavocracy," as Ms. Hannah-Jones puts it. Instead, in 
Mr. Mackaman's telling, it "brought slavery in for questioning in a way 
that had never been done before" by "raising universal human equality as 
a fundamental principle." Nor was protecting slavery "one of the primary 
reasons" the colonists declared independence, as Ms. Hannah-Jones 
claims. It's no coincidence the abolitionists rapidly won votes to end 
slavery in five of the original 13 states, along with Vermont and the 
new states of the Midwest.

Ms. Hannah-Jones insists "anti-black racism runs in the very DNA of this 
country." Mr. Mackaman calls that claim "anti-historical." Proving it 
requires her to belittle the most progressive declaration of modern 
history: "that all men are created equal." Ms. Hannah-Jones calls this a 
"lie" and claims its drafters didn't even believe it. The abolitionists 
disagreed. So did Martin Luther King Jr: He saw it as a "promissory note."

Mr. Mackaman also protests Ms. Hannah-Jones's "cherry-picking" of quotes 
to present Lincoln as a "garden-variety racist." He attributes the 
misleading picture to her "totally racialist interpretation." If whites 
and blacks are supposed to be "diametrically opposed to each other," he 
says, "then you have to disregard all the history that runs contrary to 
that -- and there's an awful lot."

Other "1619 Project" essays are similarly tendentious. Sociologist 
Matthew Desmond marshals substantially discredited research to tar the 
whole of American capitalism as a legacy of slavery. Legal activist 
Bryan Stevenson presents the war on drugs and broken-windows policing as 
successors to lynching, the Black Codes and other white "strategies of 
racial control." Times columnist Jamelle Bouie claims Republican 
opposition to raising the debt ceiling in 2011 was of a piece with 
Southern defenses of slavery and Jim Crow.

Joseph Kishore, the Socialist Equality Party's national secretary, says 
the "1619 Project" is aimed at legitimizing the politics of the 
Democratic Party and at "dividing workers" by race. "The interests of a 
black worker on the line in an auto plant and a white worker," he says, 
"are fundamentally the same, and a million miles from the interests of 
an Oprah Winfrey or a Hillary Clinton." He rejects the "pseudo-left 
politics" of identity, which "fight out conflicts within the top 10% or 
so over access to positions of power and privilege" through diversity 
programs, then "denounce white workers for being supposedly privileged 
even as they suffer from a decline in life expectancy and horrific 
social conditions." Nobody is better at deflating the pretensions of 
progressives than the Left Opposition.

To be sure, the Trotskyists have wild ideas of their own: The World 
Socialist Web Site's September essay claims "the event that had the 
greatest impact on the social condition of African-Americans" was the 
Russian Revolution. But the Times's equally extreme ideas are being 
feted by the intelligentsia and turned into lesson plans for 
schoolteachers. "A re-education is necessary," the "1619 Project" 
webpage warns. Even communists now tell the Times to cool it.

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