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Where Does It End?: Left Political Correctness

The activities of the Black Justice League at Princeton to rid the University of any traces of Woodrow Wilson from its history, identity, and entablature are no doubt meeting with wide acceptance among radicals as the prideful admiration of Black Autonomy and Consciousness, a step toward the further eradication of racism, and a modern-day expression of the spirit of Dr. King. As one who has been through the civil-rights wars of the 1950s-60s, beginning with the seemingly harmless act in 1951 of inviting a black student from Morehouse College in Library Science up to my dorm room to discuss Myrdal’s American Dilemma in the segregated University of Florida (word spread after we walked into the Main Library together and went up to the circulation desk where I handed him the volume), the result, an early evening visit from six or seven drunken members of Kappa Alpha who tried to break down the door of my room—instead filling it with boiling water through the open transom– and lynch me, to Mississippi Freedom Summer in 1964, the preliminaries to Selma in 1965, which I described in my CounterPunch article, “Education of a (Sometime) Radical,” while teaching at Yale, to my banishment from Yale for radical activities to Detroit and Wayne State for numerous protests in the late 1960s, thence to Michigan State where I tried to fuse civil rights and antiwar activities, I quietly/solemnly DISSENT from the current Princeton experience—and expect a chilling response from CP readers and the radical community.

My image of Black radicalism, beyond a supreme love for Dr. King, is Paul Robeson, both men going well beyond racial consciousness for a wider indictment of America, capitalism, and militarism, all of which is lacking in the Princeton protesters, who cannot see beyond an obvious symbol of racism, Woodrow Wilson, and neglect/ are ignorant of Wilson’s larger viciousness in international affairs, starting with the League of Nations (matched by his Siberian Intervention), to build the US as a Leader of the “free world,” i.e., counterrevolutionary, anticommunist, pro-monopoly capitalist (Federal Reserve System, Federal Trade Commission, War Industries Board, all under his watch), in sum, a principal architect of America as we now know it, seeking unilateral global dominance for its advanced stage of industrial-financial-military capitalism, hovering on the edge, and ready to take the plunge into, out-and-out fascism, whose hallmark is the interpenetration of business and government, an elitist social-cultural formation, at the expense of the nation’s working class and poor.

Of this, the Black Justice League is apparently wholly ignorant, content instead to sound off in simplistic political correctness to assuage feelings for slights and injured pride. TS. There’s a world out there far uglier than what they are encountering at Princeton, and instituting mandatory sensitivity classes is like asking the Nazi executioners at Belsen-Belsen to say “Please” as they shoved Jews into the ovens. In other words, BJL and especially its white supporters are superficial young people mounting imaginary barricades as, from what I’ve seen from my own experience with some black leaders obfuscating protest to, consciously or not, shield capitalism and militarism (but NOT Dr. King) as part of courting popularity with a wider audience, on an ego trip haughtily puffing away at their supposed base condition.

Given the prominence of Woodrow Wilson at Princeton, why did they go there in the first place? If they are so mindful of racism, including its symbolism, why not, while still in high school, research their college choices—perhaps even, for the sake of racial purity, choose a Black school? If I may be contumacious, especially as judged by fellow radicals, I would subordinate, indeed, always have subordinated, race to class as the societal foundation for transformative freedom and democracy, and that means, as the object of principled, focused agitation, subordinating racism to the basic confrontation with capitalism itself, the source, ultimately, for racism in the first place. Capitalism = hierarchy + exploitation, regardless of race, the place of Blacks in the Grand Schema merely adding zest, profits, ease, and normalization to the exploitation.

By the logic of the Black Justice League, not only should Blacks at Princeton leave the institution lest their presence signifies complicity with racism, but the same standard should be consistently applied across the board, e.g., Black football players at southern universities such as Ole Miss, Alabama, LSU, Texas, Georgia, etc., schools from day one which were segregated until well into the postwar period, for by attending, let alone playing for, these schools they add to their prestige and indirectly legitimize their past. Ditto, the application of purging the past from all associations which directly or indirectly have or still do justify racism—which takes in practically all of the American experience. Political correctness in any form is pernicious by its negation of class consciousness. (I think Oliver Cromwell Cox, a Black sociologist, recognized this in his seminal work, Race, Caste, and Class. Simply, BJL had best get over its simpering, short-sighted, however sincere, way, and get down to business.) This is not an attack solely on Black protest, for Occupy Wall Street and other manifestations of pseudo-radicalism, do not, despite the latter’s title, go directly against war, capitalism, generic exploitation, all of which underlay the political-social-economic dynamics of racism.

I’m disgusted with posturing, while the woods are burning, the rapid descent into political hell of both major parties in America, a president whose objective policies could well touch off the Third World War through his threatening confrontations with China and Russia, as meanwhile kissing the derriere of Wall Street and assorted reactionaries, as in his latest DoD appointment, on the domestic and world scene. Sure, Wilson was a bad guy. But so was John Fitzgerald Kennedy, so was practically every US president (I partially exempt FDR), if not avowedly on civil rights, then on the structural-social context on which racism thrives: a hierarchical system of wealth and power, founded on corporate concentration, an ethic of superiority for those benefiting from such a system, a glorification of war and force, a contempt for those held to be weak and/or inferior. If Black students at Princeton are serious, let them excel in their studies first, last, and always, and then go out into the world to change it for the better—yes, as radicals who perceive the larger picture of oppression and repression. Paul Robeson knew that Blacks will not be free until ALL men and women are free; racial feeling is a device of Capital to split the protesters apart, or to keep them together on carefully sanitized lines, so one takes down entablature while the other applauds. It sounds like Christopher Eisgruber, the president of Princeton, is just such a patsy for giving in to demands of political correctness. I term such a phenomenon, for he is not alone among university presidents, liberal fascism, in this case, placating the disaffected through political cosmetics that bring them back into the consensus. Rather than sensitivity sessions for students and faculty alike, send both out to the slums of America, to the countries that America has devastated and need rebuilding, and challenging the corporations and arms factories sucking the blood out of humanity. For these, too, are part of a good liberal education in the best sense of the phrase, a well-grounded cosmopolitanism not afraid of being a part of radical social change.

Wake up, BJL and study like never before, to see that Woodrow Wilson is the mere surface of a society which discriminates not only against Blacks, but humanity and Nature all for the sake of filthy lucre and the thrill of conquest. Wake up, all Blacks who possess a passion for freedom (whose historical deprivation makes them uniquely suited for a vanguard role in transforming America, while much of the white working class has succumbed to the blandishments of hate—yes, against Blacks, but all immigrants and those at home who lack the requisite patriotism and martial spirit), many of whom nonetheless forming a core constituency of Hillary, possibly the most dangerous person among the current presidential contenders. I have written recently about the power of saying No—No to the ethnocentrism/xenophobia on which ruling groups thrive and capitalism keeps the population in line by scaring into their arms for protection. At Princeton, instead of a Milque-toast occupation of the president’s office, stand firm against military recruiters when they come to campus, or representatives of Morgan, Chase, or the armament crowd, etc. etc., the vultures who feed on all of us, if you want to see the props of racism knocked out. Racism thrives on freezing the status quo; a far nobler task than you are presently involved with, viz., removing a mural, changing the name of a residential college and that of the School for International Affairs, would be to fashion your individual strengths, skills, personal commitment to the democracy of the many, and come out swinging.

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Norman Pollack Ph.D. Harvard, Guggenheim Fellow, early writings on American Populism as a radical movement, prof., activist.. His interests are social theory and the structural analysis of capitalism and fascism. He can be reached at pollackn@msu.edu.

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