'universalism' (was Re: Asia and hormones)

Jim heartfield Jim at heartfield.demon.co.uk
Sat Jun 27 03:26:22 PDT 1998

In message <v04011705b1ba3d1d177b@[]>, Yoshie Furuhashi <furuhashi.1 at osu.edu> writes
>Mat Forstater writes:
>>There was a lot of talk on the list with regard to the BRC
>>employing the term "universalist." (By the way, the Albert or Hahnel piece
>>that said first there was class and then Black liberation came along in
>>the mid-sixties obliterates 500+ years of African liberation struggles.
>I very much agree with Mat Forstater, both on the misleading use of the
>term 'universalism' and historical amnesia that allows many to say, 'Once
>was class unity, and then blacks, women, sexual dissidents, etc. came to
>fragment it.'

But this is jsut to answer one caricature with another. Yoshie and Matthew are right to say that the labour movement was one particular response to the growing domination of capital as the anti-imperialist movement, or the suffrage movement were others. But the interaction between them is as interesting as their sparate development.

The African nationalist Thomas Sankara said that the French revolution made the idea of independence a possibility, and the Russian revolution made it a practicality. National liberation was far from being isolated from class struggle, but neither was it reducible to it.

The promotion of 'African socialism' was viewed with distrust by many revolutionaries, as a return of the policy of 'divide and rule'. When Sekou Toure, president of Guinea was asked in 1963 'What do you think of so-called African socialism?' he laughed and said 'And what do you think of Senegalese mathematics or Moroccan chemistry?' - meaning that these things were not national but belonged to all mankind.

It was a common charge by conservative sociologists that Marxism had failed because it did not take into account nationalism, but in truth the only viable critique of nationalism for the best part of the twentieth century was Lenin's internationalism. If national oppression and racism are today considered reprehensible, that is in no small part due to the popularity of Lenin's 'Rights of Nations to Self- Determination', and the sensitivity of the West to communist inspired criticisms of their race policies.

On another list Andrew Wayne Austin wrote the following about the interaction between anti-communism and race politics in the US:

External forces created a political context where hegemonic elites found benefit in permitting a degree of racial justice. In her article, "Desegregation as a Cold War Imperative," Dudziak documents in detail the concern among US elites that Soviet propaganda was having far reaching effects not only on the international class struggle with world communism but on imperial interests in the Third World. These concerns translated into a concerted state strategy. The Truman Administration argued before the Supreme Court that recognizing the civil rights movement was vital to world peace and national security. After the 1954 decision by the Supreme Court to dismantle apartheid (Brown v. Board of Education), the Republican National Committee (RNC) issued a statement claiming that the Court decision "falls appropriately within the Eisenhower Administration's many-fronted attack on global Communism. Human equality at home is a weapon of freedom." Dudziak writes: "Following the decision, newspapers in the United States and throughout the world celebrated Brown as a 'blow to communism' and as a vindication of American democratic principle. As was true in so many other contexts during the Cold War era, anticommunist ideology was so pervasive that it set the terms of the debate on all sides of the civil rights issue."

Quote ends

The real picture of the interaction between race and class is more complicated than any of the caricature versions allow. -- Jim heartfield

More information about the lbo-talk mailing list