(Greensboro) I’ve felt heavy doses of anticommunism most of my professional life as a journalist and historian, and politically and personally as a community activist here and elsewhere. I’ve even been nudged by musicians to keep politics out of conversations during breaks on gigs or at rehearsals. Keep the radical stuff to yourself, man, they will say, or you’ll fuck things up for yourself. Guys just want to play. They don’t want to hear about your philosophy of revolution, or the necessity for socialism to replace capitalism, or what Karl Marx, Che Guevara, or other Marxist revolutionaries did in their struggle against all forms of capitalist domination – and the ideology of white supremacy that held it together – in what used to be called the Third World.
Closer to home, there remains the great tragedy of Nov. 3, 1979, when five members of the Communist Workers Party were murdered by Klansmen and Nazis whose actions were facilitated by government agents, infiltrators, and local police who stayed away. Read the back of the monument in Maplewood Cemetery where four of the five comrades are buried, especially in the context of the current moment, and you begin to understand why they were killed and by whom.
Okay. So I figured I’d listen up, shut up, and call my new band BAZOOKA! Non-musician friends like it a whole lot, especially after I asked my printer friend Martin at Bulldog Press to turn the exclamation point into a conga drum. Most people who know me pretty well can guess what kind of band I still want, post-covid, and playing music I believe people around here would like to hear. I even tested it out during the early bright moments on Grove Street when friends came by. I’d play them a tune and ask if they thought they’d like to hear it one night in LeBauer Park downtown, and for free. Hell yeah, they said.
Anyway, I am deeply alarmed at the embedded anticommunism now routine in the United States. I have felt this increasingly doing political work in the community or even in tracking down leads for this column. I have also recognized a growing trend among academic and literary circles, and shared by some of my friends and peers, whose peculiar form of radical socialist scholarship actually denies the essence of Marxism, which is the theory of class struggle in history and the science of political economy upon which the theory rests.
Well, who else cares about any of this? Be realistic, Michael, someone very close to me and a fearlessly loyal Democrat told me earlier this year when he feared a Sanders candidacy would result in Trump’s re-election because Trump would chew up Sanders as a socialist and turn the whole election into a witch hunt. This, I think, reveals a unique form of anticommunism perpetrated by American liberals who want capitalism without its contradictions by ignoring economic science, i.e. political economy, and thus succumbing to the false dichotomy of good vs. bad capitalism. Even an American president embraced this viewpoint in 1938 when he pitted good democratic, free-market capitalism with bad monopoly and finance capital – which he called fascism!
This is why I got angry last Thursday afternoon when I tuned in to the only station I watch consistently, CNN. What does this say about my life? Actually, I had taken in more than usual that day because William Barr was testifying before the House Judiciary Committee and, boy, he and his Republican toadies made me sick. But I tell myself I have to watch when I can because I am a journalist of sorts. At the same time, it feels increasingly remote. I’m observing, not participating. Whew! This is just too much, I decided. Then, Jake Tapper came on as anchor during Vice President’s Joe Biden’s press conference. When Biden exited, Tapper did something that caused me to email him a few days later:
Dear Mr. Tapper,
Late Thursday afternoon, July 28, after Vice President Biden’s press conference, you were introducing the panel when you said Joe Biden “was not known as a bomb-throwing Marxist,” or something to that effect. This is what I have in my notes. I have not reviewed the video.
As a citizen I am appalled at your deeply embedded anticommunism. I am a Marxist and would never throw a bomb at anyone unless it was in self-defense, or in the necessary defense of the people. I think you know what I am saying since you are a highly educated man, a very clear thinker, and perhaps the most consistently articulate man on CNN.
As for me, I am a former journalist (12 years) and retired historian from the largest public HBCU in the country where I taught contemporary world history to thousands of students over nearly 20 years. Also, I am the author of The Coming of The American Behemoth: The Origins of Fascism in the United States, 1920-1940 (Monthly Review Press, 2018). I ask you to read it in concert with your deepening analysis of Trump.
So please consider this a friendly admonishment of what was clearly a red-baiting remark that adds fuel to flames. Republicans keep booming that Democrats are socialists, or that the Democratic Party has been hijacked by Bolshevik Bernie and the Left.
Thanks and best wishes,
Michael Joseph Roberto
As a Marxist, terms like socialist, communist, anti-fascist, etc., are cross-characterizations of my political and philosophical assumptions, none of which negate core principles of democracy and the right of every individual to pursue his or her destiny. In fact, Marxism only strengthens them. I learned this in part from writing a doctoral dissertation on Karl Marx’s concept of progress, which one of my mentors called an opening to postmodern social and political theory. This and a lifetime of study and activism, more recently based on a conviction that we should always try to do the right thing for the right reason, only confirms for me that real progress in the twenty-first century is not possible under capitalism, and whatever great steps that have occurred in the course of its 500-year old history always benefited the few at the great and tragic expense of the multitude. The capitalist world system, the grand vehicle that carried science and technology forward in the Atlantic World, occurred because the slave trade made possible a great market for goods and services in Europe that led to the Industrial Revolution and the Age of Capital. This is what history demonstrates to Marxist historians and scholars like me.
I can speak safely for many Marxists who would likely agree that Mr. Tapper’s seemingly-off-the-cuff remark is dangerous stuff. Was he merely being glib as they all are these days recycling the same stuff over and over and among almost all the same people? No wonder people I know cannot watch any of it or tune in at the end of the day for the highlights. Problem is that when you do this you miss the stuff going on in the world of corporate media. Daily remarks by anchors, correspondents, and pundits often suggest the most deeply embedded anti-communism by omitting capitalism and systemic contradictions in their feeble attempts to explain the great underlying causes of the pandemic and the great economic depression it has created. And they still call it a recession!
Tapper is among them. As CNN’s leading authority on Trump’s authoritarianism – they gave him an hour-long special almost two weeks ago – he is one of the ablest point men for the network’s crusade against Trump. His introduction to Biden should be understood in relation to CNN’s struggle with its arch political and business rival, FOX. It’s the equivalent of a media fight to the death in a twenty-first century Coliseum called cable news. So its Jake, Erin, Anderson, Chris, and Don as the meat of the centrist lineup with Wolf as player/coach matched up against Fox’s cavalcade of fascists, ably led by Bret, Tucker, Sean, and Laura, so tight and cocky they don’t need coaching because they’re all their own anchors. Whatever struggles go on between rival wings of America’s ruling class can be grasped by watching both networks interchangeably until you understand what I am saying. Believe me, it won’t take long.
In fact, the history of American anticommunism is synonymous with the rise of American Behemoth a century ago. Eugene Debs, the great socialist who ran for president five times, managed his last campaign from a prison cell because he had refused to support America’s participation in an imperialist war and was convicted under the Sedition Act of 1918. Anyone suspected of being a Bolshevik during the great strike wave of 1919 – and a ravaging flu epidemic – was beaten, killed, deported or forced into hiding during what is known as the Red Scare. Anticommunism in the United States was central to Warren Harding’s campaign promise in 1920 to return the nation to “normalcy” and one way to do it as he told Congress shortly after he took office was to make the Republican Party political mantra of “less government in business and more business in government” a reality. Two years later, the Soviet Union came into existence and with it the certainty of a conflict between capitalism and socialism on a world scale that became the Cold War. The history of anticommunism since then is well documented by historians and others.
And to you, Mr. Tapper, the history of Marxism is more than bomb-throwing or bomb-throwers, but of men and women who have struggled for what they believed was a giant step toward a better way for all of us to live. Many fought and died when it came time to act against their colonial masters, against global fascism, and against American imperialism. All the while, some Americans who embraced Marxism were engaged in anti-capitalist struggles they also understood to be anti-fascist. How about the Black Panthers of the 1960s until they were murdered and decimated? How about Martin Luther King, Jr., who was assassinated in Memphis while supporting striking city sanitation workers, and exactly one year after he gave a historic speech declaring war against America’s imperialist war in Vietnam? King had studied Marxism as a graduate student at Boston University where he earned his doctorate in systematic theology in 1955, and it was also during this time that letters to his wife Coretta reveal a fundamental questioning of capitalism as a revolutionary Christian in the making who clearly was moving toward a socialist alternative when he was assassinated 13 years later.
Has the recent past proved them wrong?
For a century, Marxists in this country have repeatedly waded into troubled waters to swim in the stream of history. They have done this knowing that capitalism revolutionized the world and made everything we now have possible – and yet created its own antithesis, its own gravedigger, the modern working class, because its very existence made it subject to the domination of capital and the capitalists. Like Karl Marx himself, Marxists like me comprehend that in all their wonder and often in the worst of times, the working classes of the world are the great motor of change and progress – or not, since Marx understood that every crisis in history had led either to a revolutionary alternative forged from struggle or the whole society goes to ruination and death.