Flynn: When Do Anti-Racist Socialists Begin Vandalizing Monuments to Racist Socialists?

AP Photo/Jonathan Drew
AP Photo/Jonathan Drew

Is it more surprising that some socialists spew racism or that other socialists imagine their ideology as synonymous with anti-racism? Your answer reflects your knowledge of history.

Socialist thugs violently clashed in Charlottesville this weekend. One group railed against bigotry. The other group embraced it. The anti-racist group departs more radically from their ideological forebears even if they manage to convince everyone that the nationalist-socialists they brawl with represent the real imposters.

The history of American socialism, until fairly recently, was a history of American racism.

New Harmony, the 1820s Indiana commune founded by the man credited with coining the term “socialism,” banned African Americans. Karl Marx, Margaret Sanger, and John Reed all used the N-word to refer to black people in correspondence. The Communist Party supported the internment of Japanese and relocation of Japanese Americans during World War II. W.E.B. Du Bois, kicked out of the NAACP he helped found by embracing black separatism in the 1930s, traveled to the Third Reich in 1936 only to return to the United States to pen an article entitled “The German Case Against Jews” that uncritically repeated justifications for the persecution of Jews by Hitler.

Victor Berger, the first member of the Socialist Party elected to Congress, openly endorsed white supremacy.

“There can be no doubt that the negroes and mulattoes constitute a lower race—that the Caucasian and indeed even the Mongolian have the start on them in civilization by many thousand years—so that negroes will find it difficult ever to overtake them,” Berger opined. “The many cases of rape which occur whenever negroes are settled in large numbers prove, moreover, that the free contact with the whites has led to the further degeneration of the negroes, as well as all other inferior races.”

Appeal to Reason, the most successful publication in the history of the American Left whose pages gave birth both to Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle and Eugene Debs’s presidential campaigns, unabashedly maintained that socialism meant separatism and capitalism meant integration. The publication that eclipsed the million-reader mark in its brief history informed subscribers that while “private ownership of industries mixes up the races, reducing blacks, whites, and yellows to a common level…socialism would separate the races and lift them up to the highest level each were capable.” The weekly, using ALL CAPS to emphasize its outrage, complained: “IN THE SIGHT OF THE CAPITALIST ALL WORKERS LOOK ALIKE.”

Some socialists (Norman Thomas, to name one), like many Democrats and Republicans, fought against racism. But nothing inherent within the ideology of socialism meant that its adherents reflexively stood up against racists—at least when it really, really mattered. When racism inspired lynchings, blocked blacks from the ballot box, and forced African Americans into separate schools, theaters, and bathrooms, socialists were racists. Once racists became punchlines and human curios appearing on Geraldo Rivera’s daytime talk show and people who looked right and left and right before telling jokes, socialists embarked on a crusade against bigots.

Perhaps some socialist, surely conducting research on the racism endemic to the political foes of his creed and not reading Breitbart for pleasure or edification, stumbles upon this article (or gets sent it by some vile conservative as a taunt) and subsequently reorients the Talibanesque vandalism campaign to targets closer to the hearts of the people who have lost their heads over statuary.

Exactly when do the socialists tearing down monuments to the Confederacy begin tearing down memorials of socialists? A controlled implosion of the 26-story W.E.B. Du Bois library at the University of Massachusetts? A hammer to the bust of Margaret Sanger in the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery? A bonfire for all extant copies of the hagiographic Warren Beatty-Diane Keaton Reds biopic of Jack Reed?

Not likely. Some racists are more equal than others.


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