The “Great White Hope” and the spread of U$ capitalist hegemony

Reprinted from the Leftist Critic blog, where it was originally printed on Oct 18, 2018.

As I continue to learn more about the world around me, becoming more a fire-breathing Marxist, by reading more Marxist theory and applying it to the world as it exists, I’ve been watching a number of new (and old) films, and listening to music, specifically the whole playlist of the Black rhythmical genius, Gil Scott-Heron, which I updated last year on my faltering YouTube channel. While I will write about control of information by social media outlets in this post, I will explain how films made by Hollyweird push forward a certain ideology, which fits with their evident collaboration with the CIA and the Pentagon, another form of their propaganda hoisted onto the masses. As fellow Marxist thinker Michael Parenti rightly put it in his book, Dirty Truths, “the mass media are class media,” although there is more at play than just that, in a time when “human rights” are distorted in the name of imperialism. In this post there are spoilers, but I doubt most readers people will watch these movies, apart from Sorry to Bother You. In order to fully address this topic, I have divided this article into seven sections:

And then we get to the first section of this article, which gives one a basis in Marxist theory, allowing for entrance into this topic at an informed position.

Hollyweird and cultural hegemony

Hollyweird, as conservatives and Gil Scott-Heron prominently call it, and its profit model fits right into Antonio Gramsci‘s conception of cultural hegemony. He argued that “organic” intellectuals organize relationships to benefit the dominant class (either the bourgeoisie or proletariat), trouncing the “traditional” intellectuals who hold a “long-time monopoly on religious ideology, bonded to schools, education, morality, and other societal values.” For both the bourgeoisie and proletariat, they choose specialized individuals who organize relationships to benefit their class, specifically consisting of “organic” and “traditional” intellectuals, with the former type often being nationalistic. Both types of intellectuals operate in what Gramsci called the two levels of society, also called the superstructure: civil society and political society, with the dominant group (either the bourgeoisie or proletariat) exercising hegemony over society and/or through the state, with their deputies, the intellectuals, trying to garner “spontaneous” consent given by the masses to the general direction the dominant group has “imposed on social life.” In my previous article on cultural hegemony, I argued that the producers of The Simpsons constituted organic intellectuals, as they are not those who “serve as organizers of “masses of men,” “confidence” in their business, consumers in their product, and so on.” This is because the latter group would constitute the so-called “captains of industry” or the capitalists themselves, allowing PR people to serve as such organizers and gain “confidence” in their business (and brand). Rather, organic intellectuals enforce the hegemony of those above them, with a particular division of labor while the bourgeoisie dominates, subjugating and “liquidating” antagonistic views, with these intellectuals possibly coming from private associations. At the same time, the organic intellectuals of the proletariat can come from political parties or other institutions of a proletarian nature. Vladimir Lenin, Josef Stalin, Mao Zedong, Fidel Castro, Kim Il Sung, Thomas Sankara, and many others, would be examples of such organic intellectuals in the annals of human history who have been on the side of the proletariat. However, there are likely no “traditional” intellectuals among the proletariat, as they mainly serve as clergy and other religious figures. As it stands today in our capitalist world, those who exercise the dominant ideology through social institutions, such as banks, universities, TV stations, newspapers, film studios, police departments, courts, prisons, legislatures, and private associations, to name a few, are the bourgeoisie, working to “socialize people to consent” to their dominance. This is done in order to ensure that the masses accept the “beliefs, explanations, perceptions, values and moral norms” of capitalism itself, keeping the bourgeoisie in power, in control.

You may ask, how does this relate to Hollyweird? Well, with producers in Hollyweird, whether in film, TV, or some other form of media, constituting “organic” intellectuals, they are cementing relationships which benefit the bourgeoisie and enforce capitalist hegemony. However, while Elon Musk can be called a visionary and a “thought leader,” he is just a capitalist out for the bottom line, not an “organic” intellectual. Those who are intellectuals, in this case, are the deputies of the bourgeoisie, not the bourgeoisie itself.

The “Great White Hope”: Looking at Back to the Future and Forrest Gump

Some recent films I have watched directly enforce this hegemony. The first one I will cover is the cult classic, Back to the Future, a 1985 sci-fi film directed by Robert Zemeckis, a Chicago-born White male who came to be known as a person who was “well attuned to the nuances of framing and camera movement…fluent and innovative in the visual language of the movies” or what IMDB calls a “whiz kid with special effects.” [1] However, Zemeckis would not be the “organic” intellectual, but rather the movie’s producer, Steven Spielberg would serve this role, although Zemeckis would later end up in this role as he was also a producer during his career, along with being a writer and editor at other points. The movie’s plot is simple: Marty McFly (played by Michael J. Fox) is a White male 17-year-old who doesn’t care about high school, with the strict school administrator, Mr. Strickland (played by James Tolkan), hating his guts. He accidentally gets sent thirty years into the past in a time-traveling DeLorean invented by his friend, “mad scientist” Doc. Emmett Brown (played by Christopher Lloyd), a White guy who kinda looks like Bernie Sanders. The movie is racist almost from the start: the uranium Doc. Brown bought for his time machine is from “Libyan terrorists” whom he paints as a bunch of goofs, but shoot him down in front of Marty, in a mall. Later, when Marty travels back to 1985, after succeeding in his time traveling mission, the Libyans crash their minivan into a shack, which lights up in flames, killing both “Libyan terrorists.” This is talked about by the late Jack Shaheen (of Lebanese descent) in his wonderful book, Reel Bad Arabs, which was later turned into a short film. While I don’t remember exactly what he wrote in his entry for the movie, as I don’t have the book in front of me, I do remember him talking about this main racist element in the movie. The dumb thing about this early onset racism in the movie as there is nothing which necessitates the “terrorists” be Libyan. They could have been angry, White men, just as easily! But, the producers and writers decided they should be Libyan, possibly because they were painted as “terrorists of the week” by the media,but also shows their inherent racism within their thinking.

This is compounded by the setting of the movie itself: a literal White person’s fantasy. There is only one prominent Black person in the whole film, Goldie Wilson, played by Donald Fullilove. [2] Everyone else is White, literally. When Marty goes back to 1955, it is worse: Goldie, who was the town’s mayor in 1985, is a janitor in a restaurant, ordered around by an angry White boss. Every other character is White. Basically, this means that Goldie is a token individual, made to make you think the town is diverse, when it is not at all, and is presumably in the Midwest. Not surprisingly, the audience is obviously supposed to sympathize with Marty, a sort of “down and out” individual who is middle-class, who is portrayed as “cool” for riding a skateboard (and fashioning one in 1955), and playing an electric guitar. The rest of the movie goes on with Marty bringing his parents back together and the “bad” White guy, Biff (played by Thomas F. Wilson) becoming a literal servant to Marty’s parents, who are much better off, in changed 1985. Women in the film are basically second fiddles to the men, either trying to woo them (or fall in love with). Lorraine, Marty’s mother (played by Lea Thompson) tries to do this when flirting with Marty after he messes with the timeline of his parent’s first meeting. Other women are apparently interested in “bad boys” like Marty’s girlfriend, Jennifer (played by Claudia Wells), in 1985, or are just in the background. Basically, the film is a White male fantasy, plain and simple, almost nostalgic of the 1950s and arguably sexist in how it plays out, as women don’t seem to have any strong will, just succumbing to men. Is there any surprise that Ronald Reagan Raygun (as Gil Scott-Heron calls it), loved the movie, especially after the joke referring to him by Doc. Brown, and incorporated a nonsensical line from the movie into his 1986 State of the Union Address? I have a fondness for time travel, and that part of the movie is interesting, which may be part of the reason I like Futurama, the time-traveling episodes of The Simpsons, and other shows. Still, this does not distract from this movie’s message: a nostalgia for a repressive time, the 1950s, as a part of a White male adventure of absurdist proportions. After watching a series of videos on YouTube, along with the parodies of Back to the Future by Family Guy and American Dad, I see no reason to watch the other two movies in the series, which plan to be even dumber, and be, like this one, over-hyped. As Black hip-hop group Public Enemy says in their 1988 hit song, Don’t Believe the Hype, although they are talking about lies about Black people in the media.

Now, onto Forrest Gump, a 1994 film which was also directed by Zemeckis, but produced by Wendy Finerman (a White Jewish woman), Steve Tisch (a White Jewish man), and Steve Starkey (a White man who often produces Zemeckis’s movies). Like Back to the Future, this is also “Great White Hope,” meaning that it is a White male fantasy. The movie follows one major character, Forrest Gump (played by Tom Hanks), a middle-class White boy born in Louisiana, who tested below the IQ level, only getting into a public school after pleading by his mother (played by Sally Field). There is undoubted racism flowing through parts of the movie, like the fact that Forrest was named after Gen. Bedford Forrest, one of the founders of the KKK. As for Forrest, he ends up going to college on a football scholarship at University of Alabama, then enlists in the Army in 1963, fighting in Vietnam before he is wounded and goes back home. Despite the previously mentioned bout of racism, Forrest does, while in the Army, become friends with Bubba Blue (played by Mykelti Williamson), a Black man who can apparently talk about nothing but shrimp, and dying in Vietnam. Forrest later forms a shrimping company with his former commander from Vietnam, Lt. Dan Taylor (played by Gary Sinese). On the one hand, the movie has the positive of criticizing the horrible IQ test, saying that it is not bad to be weird, and points to the physical horrors U$ soldiers who fought in Vietnam had to endure once home (evidenced by Lt. Dan, who is crippled and in a wheelchair). However, apart from the absurd putting of Forrest Gump into archival footage to make it seem like he was there, which takes up a number of scenes in the movie where he meets with at varied Presidents (such as Kennedy and Nixon), talk show hosts, and others. This is compounded by the ridiculous idea that Elvis got his moves from Forrest or that Forrest unintentionally revealed the Watergate scandal. Apart from this, there are a number of other problems.

For one, the movie has what I’ll call a Male Savior Complex. What I mean is that Forrest works to “save” Jenny Curran (played by Robin Wright), with Jenny seeming to be wild and out of control, having a rough life, while Forrest does well, going from being a football star (in college) to an Army Brat, then a ping-pong player, and the head of a shrimping business. Basically, Forrest goes from being middle-class to becoming a millionaire (after investing in Apple Computer), meaning that he is a capitalist by the end of the movie, who is also a “good” philanthropist. While Jenny resists him for much of the movie, leading her own life, she eventually gives up and marries him, perhaps symbolic of the “self-made” man (Forrest) triumphing over the “excesses” of the 1960s (Jenny). Clearly this shows that the film is sexist, falling into line with patriarchal and traditionalist values. Forrest basically preys on Jenny for much of the movie, trying to get her to “love him,” and that apparently works by the end, a disgusting turn of events. The film tries to get you to sympathize with former creep and rule follower Forrest, a White straight man who is strongly traditionalist in his action (and thinking), after Jenny dies, perhaps because she was “conquered” (as opposed to the dynamic in the Oliver Goldsmith’s play, She Stoops to Conquer), leaving Forrest and his son remaining.

There are a number of other problematic elements. While the movie shows the horror of the Vietnam war in that it is bloody and brutal, it does not seem to take an antiwar position like Apocalypse Now, Thin Red Line, Catch-22, Full Metal Jacket (in a unique way), Gallipoli (antiwar to an extent), and Platoon, to give a few examples. Also Forrest is completely obedient of all orders while in the Army, which Lt. Dan himself makes fun of after the war is over, and seems to genuinely love the U$ capitalist system, never taking any efforts to resist it whatsoever. There are other elements of the movie which I have not mentioned here, but the general idea put forward is that anyone can make it in the U$, even though this idea is utterly false since class mobility doesn’t really exist within the U$. As I said earlier, this a Great White Hope. What I mean is that it does not offer a diverse world as one that is held up as a positive. For a movie that is famous for phrases like “Run, Forrest Run!” and “Life is like a box of chocolates, you don’t know what you’ll get,” it is important to recognize its clear reactionary streak. This should be obvious to anyone as apart from the racism in certain parts, strong sexism, and nationalism, the peace movement is made fun of as an utter joke where people don’t know what they are saying. When Forrest speaks in front of them in a rally, he is still treated like a good symbol even though he is wearing his uniform with a Medal of Honor. This even turns Jenny, then a peacenik, on, for some reason, which doesn’t make much sense. Even worse is the scene about the Black Panther Party (BPP), which are treated as a bunch of male chauvinists who condone men hitting women to “discipline” them. There was undoubted problems with sexism within the BPP, but they did work to counter this, and stand against abuse of women, so the scene of him encountering a bunch of angry Black nationalists is an utter joke without question. That’s all I can remember for now. But, the movie is pretty terrible for all the reasons I have explained. As such, Forrest Gump undoubtedly spreads the capitalist ideology, yet more evidence of cultural hegemony.

Such sexism in the Forrest Gump and Back to the Future is not unique. Just take songs by the Beach Boys as one example. Sure, you could say some of them have good beats, but many are about a male urge for a new (or maintained) romantic relationship with girls like as exemplified in their songs “Wouldn’t It Be Nice,” “Don’t Worry Baby,” “Good Vibrations,” “Barbara Ann,” “Kokomo,” “I get around,” “God Only Knows,” and “Surfer Girls.” Also, the idea of a monogamous marriage is reinforced in some of those songs. In this, you could say the sexism is integrated into the songs in that it is all about male urge for something which, if woman don’t reciprocate as they are “supposed to” (by societal standards), it will lead to male anger, although that is not expressed in their songs. You could say this male urge is also sprinkled throughout early songs of The Beatles as well, while their later songs were more diverse in topics.

An antidote?: From Sorry to Bother You to Black Panther

This brings us to Boots Riley’s Sorry to Bother You, a film which really blew me away in its wonderfulness. The film is strongly anti-capitalist, directly talking about exploitation of the proletariat, racism, sexism, and the like. The main character, Cassius “Cash” Green (played by Lakeith Stanfield), is a black man living in present-day Oakland who is renting a room with his uncle, and living with his girlfriend Detroit (played by Tessa Thompson), who works as a sign-twirler. In order to live there, Cash gets a job as a telemarketer for RegalView, where he learns to cultivate his “white voice,” which brings in the money, catapulting him to “power caller.” In the meantime, his fellow comrades (like Salvador “Sal” played by Jermaine Fowler, and varied others) who also work at the company, are trying to organize themselves against their horrible work situation. In almost an act of betrayal, Cash goes to a higher level, where Worry Free, a company which uses literal slave labor, is the main client. He is still a telemarketer, but he is selling capitalists (and governments) the use of WorryFree’s slave labor and weapons, with Langston (played by Danny Glover), a black man with one eyepiece, looking a bit like the monopoly man, as his mentor of sorts. While Cash rises to this level, the workers are striking in front of the building every day, with police having to literally club them out-of-the-way so Cash and other “power callers” can get to work. Undoubtedly, this causes strain and Cash and Detroit’s relationship, leading Detroit to stand up for herself and leave him. This is unlike Back to the Future or Forrest Gump, which are sexist for reasons I have previously explained, a positive to say the least. Detroit does end up going out with the union organizer, Squeeze (played by Steven Yeun) and while she and Cash do come back together, the fact that she drew a line in the sand, standing up for herself in such a manner, is undoubtedly feminist, bucking the general trend of Hollyweird. It is no coincidence that Detroit is most radical throughout, as part of The Left Eye, a group graffiting WorryFree’s posters. This is despite some complaining that the film does not pass the Bechtel Test, when a “feminist piece of media must…have at least two women in it, who…talk to each other, about…something other than a man.” Even through this film does not pass this test, it does not mean it cannot still be a strong and powerful, worthy of praise, despite this shortcoming.

As the film goes into its last stretch, when Cash goes to a party hosted by Steve Lift, the CEO of WorryFree, the capitalist plan is revealed: to turn workers into half horse, half people hybrids (called “equisapiens”) which will be more obedient, by having them snort something that looks like cocaine but is not cocaine. Cash is chosen to as what Lift calls a deceptive “Martin Luther King” of these hybrids who will keep them in line. More likely, Cash would mirror the role of Curtis, a White man, in Joon-ho Bong’s Snowpiercer, who leads the people in a rebellion on the train which turns out to be a ruling class mechanism of population control. That movie is touted as anti-capitalist by some, and while class is a major factor of the movie, it falls short just like Neill Blomkamp’s Elysium, which features a story of capitalists who live in a bubble outside Earth while the masses suffer on the decaying Earth below. Back to the film. Cash is disgusted by Lift’s creation of these beings, but Lift says it just standard capitalist practice. After he leaves his phone behind at Lift’s McMansion, which records equisapiens being abused by Lift, he shares this video on reality show and other networks…but it just ends up with WorryFree’s stock rising! With all seeming to be lost, the union of workers makes one last stand in front of RegalView, with Cash calling on the equisapiens to help as the police beat up the protesters, with these beings freeing Cash and his comrades Squeeze and Sal. With this victory, it seems that everything has returned to normal, with the capitalists suffering this defeat, but Cash turns into a equisapien. He, in the credits, leads a group of equisapiens to Lift’s McMansion, telling him the phrase of “sorry to bother you” used in his telemarketing, attacking Lift to get revenge for the horribleness he has brought upon the world.

In this way, Sorry to Bother You is optimistic about fighting capitalism, having no White savior models or anything like that. As such, the film’s producers, Nina Yang Bongiovi, Kelly Williams, Jonathan Duffy, Charles D. King, George Rush, and Forrest Whitaker, can be said to be organic intellectuals. While they are not serving as deputies who are pushing capitalist ideology on the masses, they are not necessarily from the proletariat either. The movie, which has garnered $17.5 million as of October 11th, has made a profit of about 547%, as the budget for production was only about $3.2 million! Hence, as such, it is still a capitalist product which was distributed by capitalist Larry Ellison’s Annapurna Pictures domestically. Comcast’s Universal Pictures (due to the fact the Universal’s direct owner, NBCUniversal is owned by Comcast) and a Universal Pictures’ subsidiary Focus Features distributed it internationally. Still, the film clearly bucks the overall capitalist ideology, going beyond a criticism just of the orange menace, but of the system as a whole, even talking about the idea of false consciousness throughout. One could say the same of a film like Peter Weir’s The Mosquito Coast, which lost money. As a summary, in that film, the main character, Allie Fox (played by Harrison Ford) criticizes consumerism and believes a nuclear war is imminent, brings his family to Belize, where they try to create a utopian civilization based around an ice machine he builds, but this is later destroyed and his family is basically left destitute, traveling on a boat through the jungle. There is much more than that, but this is still a good summary starting point. Additionally, a film like V for Vendetta, critical to an extent of the current capitalist system, was distributed by Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc., a subsidiary of WarnerMedia, which has been owned by AT&T since earlier this year.

A discussion of Sorry to Bother You connects to two other films this year which prominently feature Black characters: Black Panther and Blackkklansman. The first film has been broadly seen by Black people as a positive and praised as being “progressive.” If we count up the amount of money needed to produce the film ($200 million) plus that which it cost to market it ($150 million), especially in the U$ but also in “certain western Euro markets like Italy, Spain, Germany, and over in Japan,” the film made a total 384% profit, considering that it grossed over $1.3 billion worldwide. Now, this film, has been praised as having “a story that has far more going for it than branding” with “groovy women and Afrofuturist flourishes,” “the first film in the Marvel cinematic universe to center on a superhero of color,” a movie with “a proud Afrocentric twist, featuring a nearly all-black cast” and celebrates “Black Power…in such a mainstream fashion,” and has a broader message. [3] Others call it an “epic that somehow manages to simultaneously be a comic-book blockbuster, a pulsating espionage thriller and an Afro-futurist family saga,” that the film draws “on elements from African history and tribal culture, as well as contemporary and forward-looking flourishes,” and a “rousing Afrofuturistic adventure” which “blow[s] you away with thunderous effects and also tackle ethnic and gender issues, crush racial stereotypes, celebrate women and condemn Trump-era notions of exclusionism.” Beyond that, Time claimed the movie had “revolutionary power,” Carvell Wallace called it a “defining moment” for Blacks in the U$ while reactionary leftist Shaun King called it an important “cultural moment,” historians said it taps into 500 years of Black history, while it got other praise as a “cultural touchstone,” is “revolutionary” somehow, with viewing parties for the film supported by celebrities here, there and everywhere as noted in The Root, The Guardian, and EW.

Not surprisingly, the hype about this film is totally wrong. There have already been questions about if the film is Islamophobic, with others saying Black resistance is liberalized to comfort White people and that the film is plainly counter-revolutionary. These perspectives are not wrong. The film not only adheres to “at least some dubious Hollywood conventions,” as stated by the New York Times, but it is “still a superhero movie,” as stated by Variety, a movie which “never veers beyond the most conventional contours of modern-day movie action,” as admitted by the Washington Post. Should it be any surprise that the film centers on a “militaristic monarchy” called Wakanda, which people claim is “fair and democratic,” which is a faulty statement without question. Bruce Dixon of Black Agenda Report put it well: the movie focuses a “black royal family” and doesn’t show “real people the power they have over the real world.” Christopher Lebron adds to this, writing that the movie

…depends on a shocking devaluation of black American men…N’Jobu…soon understands that his people have the power to help all black people, and he plots to develop weapons using vibranium to even the odds for black Americans…[but] T’Chaka, however, insists N’Jobu has betrayed the people of Wakanda. He has no intention of helping any black people anywhere; for him and most Wakandans, it is Wakanda First…[not having] a vision of global black solidarity…[and using] Wakanda’s privilege to emancipate all black people…[the] contest between T’Challa and Killmonger that can only be read one way: in a world marked by racism, a man of African nobility must fight his own blood relative whose goal is the global liberation of blacks…A white man who trades in secrets and deception [the CIA man] is given a better turn than a black man whose father was murdered by his own family and who is left by family and nation to languish in poverty. That’s racist…Perhaps Killmonger’s main dream to free black people everywhere decisively earns him the fate of death…Black Panther is a movie about black empowerment in which the only redeemed blacks are African nobles…Black Panther is not the movie we deserve.

Abdul Alkalimat adds to this in his review, writing that the film is a “replay of the conflict of the 1960s between cultural nationalism and revolutionary nationalism, the US organization of Karenga and the Panthers of Huey Newton and Bobby Seale” with the king of Wakanda, cultural nationalist, being friends with the CIA, while the revolutionary is a “sort of gangster living a Fanonian fantasy that violence will change the world. He too is the son of a member of the royal family.” He adds that the film is a “commercial hodgepodge of references to other popular films,” ranging from James Bond, Star Wars, the Hobbit, Fast and Furious, and Stargate, concluding by saying that “a movie like this has the bait to pull us in like fish about to be hooked by the system…This film is dangerous and we must be vigilant against culture used to control and oppress.” Paul Street can have the final word here. He argues that the movie is “stealth ruling-class propaganda,” as part of the manufacture of consent by Hollyweird and the broad entertainment media in the U$, because for one, Wakanda is “run by smart, warm, attractive, and benevolent Black royals” but is not a democracy but a hereditary monarchy which is “wedded to absolutism, aristocracy, and tribalism,” with everyday people being “backdrops at best.” He further adds that while “Wakanda could have used its great power to help Black Africa and the Black diaspora abroad,” they decided to keep “the country hidden behind its cloaking devices, keeping the wonders of a vibranium-enriched life…for itself.” The article goes onto say that since Killmonger (T’Chaka’s cousin) is from Oakland, the script writers undoubtedly knew about the Black Panthers, a person who wants to “turn Wakanda into an open revolutionary agent of Black liberation by all means necessary” and export revolution (Street says like Che Guevara and Trotsky, but Trotsky never did this), but that he has “become every bit as evil as – the amoral equivalent of – the racist oppressors he hates.” This means that there are “no warm, attractive, and inspiring advocates of Black pan-African revolution…only the cold and repellent Killmonger,” meaning that this movie is another “Hollywood update of white America’s longstanding distinction between the good Black and the bad Black” with good Black pursuing “moderate ends in dignified and polite ways” and the bad Black “angry, violent, and undignified,” wanting to “wage war on the white oppressors.” In the case of he movie, T’Challa is equivalent to “Booker T. Washington, Sidney Poitier, Colin Powell, Oprah Winfrey, Eric Holder, and…Barack Obama” while Killmonger is equivalent to “Toussaint Louverture, Denmark Vesey, Nat Turner, Bigger Thomas, Malcolm X, Jeremiah Wright, Huey Newton, and the nightly urban crime reports all wrapped up together.” Not surprisingly is that T’Challa gets the “kindly white veteran CIA agent named Everett K. Ross,” which means the movie falsely portrays the CIA as a “friend of an independent and strong African state,” with the movie (despite some exceptions), absurdly portrays the “white senior CIA agent as a friend of an independently developing and autonomous Black African state.” The movie ends with saying global capitalism is good with the “CIA agent smiling as he watches his friend T’Challa tell the United Nations that Wakanda is joining the international community,” and then a teaser “after the full credits, when we see a forgotten white Marvel superhero…emerge from a Wakandan hut.” His article ends by asking: “Did you expect something different and more radical from Hollywood? Why?” He is right to ask this.

The movie also has another purpose: to connect with other superhero movies, getting people hooked another one of Marvel’s Hollywoodized comics. That was the goal of a movies like Wonder Woman, Black Panther, Ant-Man, Ironman, X-Men, and Hulk, and many others. [4] Once everyone is introduced in their own specific movies, then they can make movies where all of them fight together against a “common” enemy. Yet another product which is spread to the masses which reinforces capitalist ideology.

Spike Lee, “respectable” Black politics, and capitalist ideology

With this, it is worth talking about Blackkklansman. A good starting point is Boots Riley’s well-thought criticism of the movie, engaging in what he calls a “political critique of the content of and timing of the film,” even though Spike Lee hugely influenced him and he holds the latter “in highest respect as a filmmaker.” He even says that having a story not being true is not necessarily a problem it is “being pushed as a true story and…its untrue elements that make a cop a hero against racism” with false parts trying “to make a cop the protagonist in the fight against racist oppression.” He goes on to write that the

…real Ron Stallworth infiltrated a Black radical organization for 3 years….where he did what all papers from the FBI’s…COINTELPRO…[working to] sabotage a Black radical organization whose intent had to do with at the very least fighting racist oppression…Ron Stallworth was part of COINTELPRO. COINTELPRO’s objectives were to destroy radical organizations, especially Black radical organizations…when White Supremacist organizations were infiltrated by the FBI and the cops, it was not to disrupt them…It was to use them to threaten and/or physically attack radical organizations…There was no bombing that Stallworth or the police thwarted…That was made up for the movie to make the police seem like heroes. There was no cop that got recorded and/or arrested due to saying things at a bar while drunk about how he’s ok with shooting Black folks…This was put in the movie to make Ron and the rest of the police look like they were interested in fighting racism, like they don’t all protect whatever racist and abusive cops are in there. This is a scene where the whole police force…work together with the fictional Black radical love interest to set the one racist cop up. Never happened…His partner that did the physical infiltration of the Klan was not Jewish and did not look Jewish to other people…If you really went up to Kwame Ture and asked him what we should do right now—as Ron Stallworth does in the film—he would have said what he usually said: “Study!!!” But, it made the Black radical group look more dangerous to have Ture say something that sounded like he was calling for armed insurrection…Ron Stallworth looks like a hero, and so does his partner and the police force…Everything else is simply unverifiable stuff that ex-cop Ron Stallworth wrote in his memoir…the radical girlfriend says that she’s not down with him being a cop, then Stallworth…says that he’s for the liberation of his people at the same time as being a cop. All the fake stuff we just showed him go through argues his point for him. And then they hear something, and go, guns drawn, to investigate. They go down the hall together with the signature Spike Lee dolly…Cops and the movement against racist oppression united. This is the penultimate shot before the film goes to news footage of current White Supremacist attacks…for Spike to come out with a movie where story points are fabricated in order to make Black cop and his counterparts look like allies in the fight against racism is really disappointing…Spike Lee’s, Chiraq, plays into that myth [of black-on-black violence], and how that myth is used against movements for social justice…By now, many folks now know that Spike Lee was paid over $200k to help in an ad campaign that was ‘I aimed at improving relations with minority communities. Whether it actually is or not, BlacKkKlansman feels like an extension of that ad campaign.

After reading this review, I think Boots Riley got it completely right. I did watch the movie myself and thought it was relatively good, but I think his criticism is completely valid. It really did positively portray the cops as “good” for fighting racial justice, specifically as those fighting White supremacists which was stopped by the “bad” police captain who made him destroy all the records. Stallworth is painted as the “hero” who revealed this story, keeping the records of the action. This is despite the fact that he literally participated in White supremacist meetings (via his White colleague) and did nothing to actually break up the group. Even if we accept the movie gospel, he stopped a bombing, but the group continued on. Additionally, while a few White supremacists were killed when the bomb went off in front of their car, they obviously recovered from this, with no effort to break-up the group. The connection to current events, with live-TV images of what happened in Charlottesville, the orange menace, and others, was obviously meant to relate it to the present. The cops were portrayed as positive and “revolutionary” which is an utter joke which doesn’t recognize the role of the cops. Does Spike Lee forget the nature of the cops in his other movie, Do the Right Thing, the nature of Black revolutionaries in Malcolm X, another movie he made? It seems he has, instead making absurdist movies like Blackkklansman and Chiraq, the latter which is like a Shakespearean play with militaristic themes and supposed feminism which reduces men to literally being only about sex, which is just not true as it doesn’t recognize the power they actually hold in society as a whole. The only positive of Blackkklansman is it does not have a white savior element which is shown in Free State of Jones (symbolized by a poor White farmer named Newton Knight, played by Matthew McConaughey) and Selma (symbolized by LBJ), Lincoln (symbolized by Lincoln), and a “respectable” Black man like Cecil Gaines (played by Forrest Whitaker) in The Butler. [4] The last of those films is one of the worst, including a scene where the Cecil’s son, Louis, becomes a Black Panther and he angrily denounces the BPP as being horrible. Sadly, Cecil’s other son, Charlie, dies in Vietnam, and Louis leaves the BPP after they become “violent.” Of course, Cecil, who worked in the White House as a butler from 1957 to the 1980s (from Eisenhower to Reagan), it is not until the end of his time there that he advocates for advancement and equal pay for the Black staff. He only resigns when Reagan doesn’t support sanctions against apartheid South Africa, not anytime before then, later joining an anti-apartheid protest, and of course, celebrating Obama’s victory in 2008. What else would you expect from someone as much into Black respectability politics, growing up as a “house negro” in his early life on a White plantation in Macon, Georgia, in the 1920s and 1930s, as him? His son, Louis, by contrast, is the one who joined the SCLC (Southern Christian Leadership Conference) where he engages in a sit-in at a segregated diner, goes on a freedom ride in Birmingham, participates in the Birmingham Children’s Crusade in 1963, participates in the voting rights movement in Selma in 1965, and runs for a seat in Congress. This is while Cecil just stands by.

There a few other films I’d like to mention here, apart from 12 Years A Slave which is an interesting story to say the least. Spike Lee’s Blackklansman does not focus on race and class which abundantly clear in Fences (based off August Wilson’s novel), police brutality inherent in Fruitvale Station (even with its problems), and about anti-racist activism on campus in Dear White People (in the first season of the show and the movie of the same name). The last media is one of the most interesting, as it slaps racism right in the face, with much discussion about identity either through:

  • the Black rabble-rouser (symbolized by Samantha “Sam” White, played by Logan Browning)
  • the Black gay man who becomes a journalist of sorts (symbolized by Lionel Higgins, played by DeRon Horton)
  • the respectable Black man who becomes student president (symbolized by Troy Fairbanks, played by Brandon B. Bell)
  • the White anti-“PC” student (symbolized by Kurt Fletcher, played by Kyle Gallner)
  • the White male “ally” [only in the TV show](symbolized by Gabe Mitchell, playedby John Patrick Amedori)
  • the resentful Black woman who wants to be “respected” (symbolized by Collandrea “Coco” Conners, played by Antoinette Robertson)

And all the rest. I only say the first season and movie as those are the only ones I have watched presently. There are undoubtedly elements lacking, but the situation of a mostly White university which portrays itself as “diverse” is something which can be universally recognized by many in U$ universities as a whole, so it has power in that way.

To sum up this section, Spike Lee is clearly, as it currently stands, serving his role within the framework of cultural hegemony that Gramsci outlines, perhaps serving as an organic intellectual, or even if not, as a conduit for spreading capitalist ideology to the masses which will weaken any efforts to make the world a better place, especially those who skew to more radical and revolutionary solutions, which are sorely needed.

Some comments on Paths of Glory, varied films, and animated sitcoms

The final film I will talk about in-depth here is Paths of Glory, a film where Kirk Douglas plays a French general (and former lawyer) who defends three soldiers from “cowardice in the face of the enemy,” in an effort to save their (and fellow soldiers) lives from a fruitless charge across no-man’s land to their deaths. While the film is undoubtedly antiwar in that it shows the horror of war, the absurdness of a trial against these three individuals which is meant to just protect the commanders, and their eventual death by firing squad to restore “order.” The latter makes the film pessimistic as the war (in this case WWI) continues on, with the soldiers portrayed as sexist beasts (at the end of the film) toward a captured German woman, who are entranced by her when she begins to sing. At the same time, it makes a point that following orders is not always good, as those who didn’t follow orders and stayed in their trenches are saved from slaughter. The commander who ordered the charge to take “Ant Hill” which killed half of Douglas’s soldiers is sacked, but the person who sacked him does not understand Douglas’s anger, offering him the sacked commander’s job. It is a film very different from other antiwar films, so it is unique in that way. It is unlikely a film like this would be made today.

There were some other movies I have watched recently like The Bullet Train, Woman Walks Ahead, The Syrian Bride, and Chappaquiddick. But, I can’t really say much on most of those. I will say that Woman Walks Ahead is a bit of a white savior story which obviously distorts history (once you look into the actual story). It makes one of the main characters, a white woman named Catherine Weldon, played by Jessica Chastain, out to be a goof when she was actually an advocate for indigenous peoples. It also devalues all those who are said to be part of the Lakota people, rather than calling it the racist name of “Sioux” which was pinned on them by the French, except for Sitting Bull (played by Michael Greyeyes), which could be said to be an unfortunate oversight, but it also yet another way to erase indigenous people and their fight against U$ imperialist killers, with Sam Rockwell, the stuckup colonel, Silas Grove, getting a prominent part. This, undoubtedly supports the dominant capitalist hegemony, with the producer and director, along with anyone below them, and the movie studio itself, complicit in this without a doubt.

Finally there are animated sitcoms, like South Park, created by Trey Parker and Matt Stone, and The Simpsons, which was created by Matt Groening. As I have argued on this blog in the past, the latter animated sitcom has gone way downhill, so much so that it is a zombie form of its original self. The former show has done so as well, or perhaps it was always bad. I recently watched two recent episodes in the show’s 22nd Season (“The Problem with Poo” and “A Boy and a Priest”), to see if anything had changed. Of course, it hadn’t. The latter show involved a literal piece of shit (called “Mr. Hanky”) being pushed out of the town of South Park for his discriminatory sayings, then moving to Springfield, with a hashtag at the end of the show saying “#cancelthesimpsons.” Most commentaries I read on this seemed to take it as a joke, because Parker and Stone support “artistic” freedom or the bourgeois conception of “free speech” which mocks efforts to be “politically correct” or PC. As I understand it, efforts to be “PC” are meant to help disenfranchised and disempowered groups, but they are led by liberals, whom do not recognize the overall context of what they are doing. As such, the efforts are mainly rhetorical, not about changing structures of power and oppression, which is the main problem with “PC” efforts, as they currently stand, which can easily be integrated into the capitalist system.

Back to South Park. I personally feel that the call to “#cancelthesimpsons” is clear trolling because in the other episode I noted there (which happens to be the episode played the week before), a message flashes on-screen at the end of the episode saying “#cancelsouthpark,” which is apparently part of a sort of marketing campaign by Comedy Central and by the show itself. As such, the message in the first episode I talk about here cannot be taken as a serious effort to cancel The Simpsons. Rather, it is an act of camaraderie between shows that now both see themselves as anti-“PC,” although in very different ways, which is becoming the name of the game for a number of people in the same position and strongly trumpeted by those on the “right.”

Closing remarks

The cultural hegemony of capitalist ideology continues to permeate through our society, whether you watch animated sitcoms like Futurama, The Simpsons, or American Dad, watch a movie in a theater, or see an ad on a bus. [5] It cannot be escaped as much as we may see ourselves as “immune,” but it becomes part of our mind, as we recognize the corporate brands which populate the landscape and then begin to accept the state of the world as it stands today. There must be efforts to fight back against such an ideology, something which doesn’t require uniting with the “right” as some have proposed. Rather it involves countering capitalist ideology wherever it stands, working to build a better and more fair world which is free from profit and decadence, without falling into the traps of those who emphasize electoral contests like the DSA, Socialist Alternative, and the Berniecrats, putting those who do this on the road to revolution, standing with the proletariat across the world, regardless of what country they currently reside.


Notes

[1] David Kehr, “FILM; ‘Cast Away’ Director Defies Categorizing,” New York Times,Dec 17, 2000.

[2] According to IMDB’s listing, Henry David Waters, Jr., who played Martin Berry, seemed to be the only other actor of color in the whole movie.

[3] Manohla Dargis, “Review: ‘Black Panther’ Shakes Up the Marvel Universe,” New York Times, Feb 6, 2018; Peter Deburge, “Film Review: ‘Black Panther’,” Variety, Feb 6, 2018; Joe Morgenstern, “‘Black Panther’ Review: An Epic to Pounce On,” Wall Street Journal, Feb 12, 2018; Jimi Famurewa, “Black Panther Review,” EMPIRE, Feb 6, 2018; Ann Hornaday, “‘Black Panther’ is exhilarating, groundbreaking and more than worth the wait,” Washington Post, Feb 9, 2018; Peter Travers, “‘Black Panther’ Review: Marvel’s History-Making Superhero Movie’s a Masterpiece,” Rolling Stone, Feb 6, 2018.

[4] Free State of Jones, however, has its positives in that it follows the struggle for Black rights across a historical timeline from during the Civil War until afterwards into the Reconstruction, which few movies I’ve seen before have done. Despite the White savior element, this did introduce me to the real story, as noted by the Smithsonian:

…in Jones County, Mississippi…Newton Knight, a poor white farmer…led an extraordinary rebellion during the Civil War…[leading a] company of like-minded white men in southeast Mississippi…overthr[owing]…the Confederate authorities in Jones County and raised the United States flag over the county courthouse in Ellisville. The county was known as the Free State of Jones…After the Civil War, Knight took up with his grandfather’s former slave Rachel; they had five children together. Knight also fathered nine children with his white wife, Serena, and the two families lived in different houses on the same 160-acre farm. After he and Serena separated—they never divorced—Newt Knight caused a scandal that still reverberates by entering a common-law marriage with Rachel and proudly claiming their mixed-race children…The Knight Negroes, as these children were known, were shunned by whites and blacks alike. Unable to find marriage partners in the community, they started marrying their white cousins instead, with Newt’s encouragement. (Newt’s son Mat, for instance, married one of Rachel’s daughters by another man, and Newt’s daughter Molly married one of Rachel’s sons by another man.) An interracial community began to form near the small town of Soso, and continued to marry within itself…There was some very modest cotton production in the area, and a small slaveholding elite that included Newt Knight’s grandfather, but Jones County had fewer slaves than any other county in Mississippi, only 12 percent of its population. This, more than anything, explains its widespread disloyalty to the Confederacy, but there was also a surly, clannish independent spirit, and in Newt Knight, an extraordinarily steadfast and skillful leader…[Knight’s] views were not unusual in Jones County. Newt’s right-hand man, Jasper Collins, came from a big family of staunch Mississippi Unionists. He later named his son Ulysses Sherman Collins, after his two favorite Yankee generals, Ulysses S. Grant and William T. Sherman…Although he was against secession, Knight voluntarily enlisted in the Confederate Army once the war began. We can only speculate about his reasons. He kept no diary and gave only one interview near the end of his life, to a New Orleans journalist named Meigs Frost. Knight said he’d enlisted with a group of local men to avoid being conscripted and then split up into different companies. But the leading scholar of the Knight-led rebellion, Victoria Bynum, author of The Free State of Jones, points out that Knight had enlisted, under no threat of conscription, a few months after the war began, in July 1861. She thinks he relished being a soldier…In October 1862, after the Confederate defeat at Corinth, Knight and many other Piney Woods men deserted from the Seventh Battalion of Mississippi Infantry. It wasn’t just the starvation rations, arrogant harebrained leadership and appalling carnage…Returning home, they found their wives struggling to keep up the farms and feed the children…In early 1863, Knight was captured for desertion and possibly tortured. Some scholars think he was pressed back into service for the Siege of Vicksburg, but there’s no solid evidence that he was there…On the night of October 5, Major McLemore was staying at his friend Amos Deason’s mansion in Ellisville, when someone—almost certainly Newt Knight—burst in and shot him to death. Soon afterward, there was a mass meeting of deserters from four Piney Woods counties. They organized themselves into a company called the Jones County Scouts and unanimously elected Knight as their captain. They vowed to resist capture, defy tax collectors, defend each other’s homes and farms, and do what they could to aid the Union…In March 1864, Lt. Gen. Leonidas Polk informed Jefferson Davis, the president of the Confederacy, that Jones County was in “open rebellion” and that guerrilla fighters were “proclaiming themselves ‘Southern Yankees.’” They had crippled the tax collection system, seized and redistributed Confederate supplies, and killed and driven out Confederate officials and loyalists, not just in Jones County but all over southeast Mississippi…That spring was the high-water mark of the rebellion against the Rebels. Polk ordered two battle-hardened regiments into southeast Mississippi, under the command of Piney Woods native Col. Robert Lowry. With hanging ropes and packs of vicious, manhunting dogs, they subdued the surrounding counties and then moved into the Free State of Jones. Several of the Knight company were mangled by the dogs, and at least ten were hanged, but Lowry couldn’t catch Knight or the core group. They were deep in the swamps, being supplied with food and information by local sympathizers and slaves, most notably Rachel…After Lowry left, proclaiming victory, Knight and his men emerged from their hide-outs, and once again, began threatening Confederate officials and agents, burning bridges and destroying railroads to thwart the Rebel Army, and raiding food supplies intended for the troops. They fought their last skirmish at Sal’s Battery, also spelled Sallsbattery, on January 10, 1865, fighting off a combined force of cavalry and infantry. Three months later, the Confederacy fell…The third act of the film takes place in Mississippi after the Civil War. There was a phase during early Reconstruction when blacks could vote, and black officials were elected for the first time. Then former Confederates violently took back control of the state and implemented a kind of second slavery for African-Americans. Once again disenfranchised, and terrorized by the Klan, they were exploited through sharecropping and legally segregated…Ross thinks Knight’s character and beliefs are most clearly revealed by his actions after the war. He was hired by the Reconstruction government to free black children from white masters who were refusing to emancipate them…In 1876, Knight deeded 160 acres of land to Rachel, making her one of very few African-American landowners in Mississippi at that time…In the film, Marsh and Blaylock appear briefly in a courthouse scene. For the two of them, the Knight family saga has continued into the 20th century and beyond. Their cousin Davis Knight, who looked white and claimed to be white, was tried for the crime of miscegenation in 1948, after marrying a white woman. The trial was a study in Mississippian absurdity, paradox, contradiction and racial obsessiveness. A white man was convicted of being black; the conviction was overturned; he became legally white again.

[5] This could be expanded with idea from, as some would say by Noam Chomsky and Ed Herman’s Manufacturing Consent, but probably more powerfully through Michael Parenti’s Profit Pathology and Other Indecencies, The Culture Struggle, Inventing Reality: The Politics of the News Media, and Make-Believe Media: The Politics of Entertainment. I haven’t read any of those books yet, just Parenti’s God and His Demons, Superpatriotism, Democracy for the Few, and the Assassination of Julius Caesar. Parenti’s other books are: The Sword and the Dollar: Imperialism, Revolution, and the Arms Race, Land of Idols: Political Mythology in America, Against Empire, Dirty Truths, Blackshirts and Reds: Rational Fascism and the Overthrow of Communism, America Besieged, History as Mystery, To Kill a Nation: The Attack on Yugoslavia, The Terrorism Trap: September 11 and Beyond, Contrary Notions: The Michael Parenti Reader, The Face of Imperialism, and Waiting for Yesterday: Pages from a Street Kid’s Life, along with varied articles.

The hideous nature of Matt Taibbi: bourgeois trash of the highest order

A photograph of Matt Taibbi. And yes, he did say that as I note later in this article.

Originally published on the Leftist Critic blog on June 11, 2017.

This post was analyzed for mistakes and other content in January 2019, as part of an effort to engage in self-criticism. Some changes have been made.

I could have written about many topics today such as U$ special ops troops in the Philippines, the victory of social democrat Jeremy Corbyn in Britain (which some have discussed at length), or the kerfuffle between Qatar and other Gulf autocracies, among a litany of other topics. Instead, I write here today a criticism of Matthew “Matt” C. Taibbi, a bourgeois writer who claims to care about “income inequality” or the effects of capitalism, while ignoring the system itself.

Tarzie’s criticism

Tarzie has written about Taibbi before, who some call a “fake leftist.” While back in 2011 Taibbi was quoted in a supportive manner, when it came to criticizing columnist Thomas Friedman, three years later, in 2014, that had changed. He described Taibbi as a Rolling Stone reporter who was “the latest trophy taken in Pierre Omidyar’s conquest of the fashionably leftish” and admitted that Taibbi’s work on Wall Street teaches him “things I don’t already know, in a style that frequently makes me laugh out loud” while the same is not the case for Glenn Greenwald (of course). He added that Taibbi has “crossed picket lines during a Writer’s Guild strike in 2008” to appear on late night TV, thinks Roe v. Wade should be overturned, feels that there shouldn’t be a  “Federal ban on anti-LGBQT discrimination” and considers himself a libertarian. Furthermore, Tarzie quotes from Walter Glass, and notes that Taibbi glosses over the effect of the corporate sector on places like Camden, New Jersey, and says that Taibbi is a “rich dude telling tales on the worst-behaved members of his class, while pleading the case for their reformability” and is a perfect “fit for an oligarch, just as he is.” Later that year, Tarzie criticized Taibbi again, saying he would hold a “no-holds-barred discussion” for Greenwald’s book tour.

There are only two other articles, to my knowledge, in which Tarzie criticizes Taibbi. One of them says that Taibbi left First Look by writing a piece earlier that year that “looks unmistakably like a warning and a cry for help” and that “we” missed the signs of this. The final one is written the following year, in February 2015, notes how former First Look writer, Ken Silverstein complained about the latter’s handling of “Racket” which was planned to a “satirical newsmagazine” headed by Taibbi which folded shortly after he left, wasting millions of dollars, which he called “the greatest squandering of money and example of criminal ineptitude in the history of modern journalism.” He goes on to quote Silverstein as saying that Taibbi “is definitely more likable than Glenn” who he says has a troubling role in First Look.

It is there that his criticism of Taibbi ends. From this point, this article will expand and augment what Tarzie had to say with principled criticism.

Taibbi shills for empire

Three days ago, Joe Emersberger wrote an article for Telesur English slamming Taibbi for taking the side of U$ imperialists by calling duly-elected (but embattled due to internal and external pressures caused by the murderous empire) President of Venezuela, Nicolás Maduro, a “dictator.” The article, reprinted on a pro-Chavista and respected news outlet, Venezuela Analysis. Emersberger notes how Taibbi attacked the Venezuelan government as a “dictatorship” by citing US-funded opposition figures like Julio Borges, president of the National Assembly, and Henrique Capriles, the opposition governor of the state of Miranda, who had run against Maduro in the election. Clearly, Taibbi forgets that these individuals are working for the empire, even as he alludes that Borges “has been using his position as head to the National Assembly to try to get economic sanctions implemented against Maduro’s government.” That’s not all.

Emersberger goes on to criticize Taibbi even more harshly. He notes how bourgeois media “has almost unanimously reported from the U.S.-backed opposition’s point of view” evidenced when a “prominent U.S. progressive like Taibbi chimes in from that perspective” (I think he is over-inflating Taibbi’s importance here). Then, he goes into an example about what he would think about direct Russian interference in the U$ political process. He adds that the government of Venezuela “has been very tolerant of U.S.-backed subversion” and that “protests dominated the coverage and that denunciations of the government…were given ample attention.” Hence, he notes that even Reuters admits that private broadcasters give “equal weight to opposition and government leaders and supporters in broadcasts.” He argues that this does “happen in a dictatorship” even though “serious criticisms can be made about Venezuela’s democracy” which I think it too much of a concession to bourgeois media. He ends by saying that “Taibbi should know better than to trust the establishment media within this imperial club to define who should be labelled a dictator.”

Taibbi’s article is even worse (do not read this unless you really want to) than Emersberger makes it out to be. It is titled “Two Vile Names, One Sweetheart Deal: Goldman Bails Out Maduro” with the subtitle “The Vampire Squid rescues an infamous autocrat.” For a magazine like Rolling Stone which has basically lost most if not all of its credibility from the fake rape story to other problematic stories, it is not a surprise that he wrote this op-ed. His short piece makes it seem that Goldman Sachs AND Venezuela’s government are “amoral and corrupt institutions.” This is utterly false. While he makes a valid point that Goldman Sachs is the “symbol of international predatory capitalism,” he seems to miss the point that Venezuela is bad straits because of the murderous empire. He does call Maduro an “infamous left-wing dictator” but he also calls the government of Venezuela “authoritarian,” citing sources such as the New York Times, Forbes (which Taibbi admitted years earlier was “very bank-friendly“), The Telegraph, New York Post, Miami Herald, Times of London, and so on.

That’s not all. He seems to mock the idea that Venezuela’s problems are part of an U$ “economic war” and calls the government of that country “Maduro’s regime,” even though he is only one figure in the government. He then goes on to mock Goldman Sachs as well,and almost “legitimize” the protests against Venezuela’s government by saying “more than 50 people have died in protests over the past two months, with many more injured and arrested.” He also claims that Maduro’s action represents the “ultimate in cynicism, and one likely to have dire consequences for a country already on the brink.” He then snarls at this attempt by the Venezuelan government to save itself…

It’s a good thing Karl Marx is dead, because otherwise this metaphysical mind-loop of a news story would make his head explode. Is this a corruption of capitalism, a corruption of socialism, both, or neither? Maduro himself would probably say this transaction is a perfect example of the “savage capitalism” he says he despises.

Again, this should be no surprise coming from a man such as Taibbi who cannot seem to think beyond capitalism in any way, shape, or form. Saying he is glad Marx is dead is anti-communist in the fullest extent, there is no doubt. As a result, he probably has NOT read the Communist Manifesto and hence does not know this part of the manifesto:

…the Communists everywhere support every revolutionary movement against the existing social and political order of things. In each of these moves they bring to the front, as the leading question in each case, the property question, no matter what its degree of development at the time…they labor everywhere for the union and agreement of democratic parties of all countries.

In my interpretation, the Bolivarian Revolution in Venezuela could fall into a “revolutionary movement.” Hence, it would be a duty of comrades to engage in international solidarity with this  movement and any othrs that stand “against the existing social and political order of things” which does NOT include the “good” Kurds, the ones the U$ backs in Syria.

Of course, as Marx and Engels said in the Communist Manifesto, the bourgeoisie, represented by Goldman Sachs in this case, as the need of gaining an expanding market for its products and hence must “nestle everywhere, settle everywhere, establish connections everywhere.” Hence, countries like Venezuela, that resist U$ and Western imperialism, are affected by global capitalism, so they end up making agreements like this one with Goldman Sachs for their survival. While some may cringe, rightly so at such a capitalist concession, as the saying goes, desperate times call for desperate measures.

The Taibbi who you (should) love to hate

A skimming of his Rolling Stone contributor’s profile shows him as “pro-Democrat,” favoring the milquetoast “resistance” of the orange menace in more ways than one, especially by embracing the whole “Russiagate” cloud of nothingness which is a distraction from the other horrible events instigated by the Orange Menace. Furthermore, he seems to think Vladimir Putin is a horrible, nasty person, again, embracing the Russia hysteria, along with giving social democratic imperialist Bernie Sanders accepting him as “genuine.”

But there is more to Taibbi than that. Tarzie referenced this interview of Taibbi by the libertarian Reason back in 2007. Within this, Taibbi shows that he is a horrid libertarian and supportive of the capitalist system, along with not understanding socialism:

…I think Roe v. Wade should be overturned because I believe in the federalist model; I believe that states should be able to make their own drug laws. The more democracy you have, the more people can make decisions for their own communities, the more freedom people have…There’s more on-the-ground energy for Ron Paul than there is for the rest of the candidates combined…It’s [the war machine] not capitalism at all. It’s more like an authoritarian socialism. It’s forcibly extracting money from the customers and distributing the profits to companies that aren’t selected by market choice but government fiat. Critics call it the free market, but it’s not that at all…America is about getting the government off your back, a reprieve from having your life interfered with, and we keep forgetting that.

With this, not only he endorsing the capitalist ideology but he is also embracing the idea of Amerikan exceptionalism as some call it. Basically he is not OK with progressive efforts to stand against fast food industries or even moves that increase government control in a way to help people’s lives. Of course such governments are usually not socialist and these measures are reformist, but they are not inherently “evil” or “bad.”

There are further viewpoints of Taibbi which are repugnant. For one, he admires Andrew Breitbart to an extent, apart from accepting the story of the orange menace-Russia collusion he thinks that the Attorney General would be “better” if there is a “career investigator, career law enforcement official in that job” which denies the fact that such individuals are just part of the capitalist system, moving it forward. This so-called “award-winning journalist” buys into the Sanders deception, describing him as a politician who is “completely honest….really interested in…standing up for regular working people” even though he has not done this just like other bourgeois progressives, praising the DOJ as having “political” and “talented and aggressive lawyers”and called Molly Crabapple Klein Crapple a “great artist” even though she doxxed someone [1] for supporting Russian intervention in Syria (which was done with the approval of the Syrian government unlike US-led coalition efforts). Crapple also supported white nationalist Weev/Andrew Auernheimer as OLAASM has pointed out on varied occasions (see here and here). Hence, this endorsement by Taibbi is disgusting to say the least.

This is only scratching the surface of his beliefs. He also grumbles about the “government interfering in a market process” (why is this bad?). Even more than that, he whitewashes slavery as the driving force of U$ capitalism:

You know, America used to be—especially the American economy was built upon this brick-and-mortar industrial economy, where we had factories, we built stuff, and we sold it here in America, and we exported it all over the world. That manufacturing economy was the foundation for our wealth and power for a couple of centuries…whereas the old manufacturing economy had the sort of negative effect of spreading around to the entire population

As Edward Baptist writes in The Half Has Not Been Told (scholarship which was started by Eric Williams in his book Capitalism and Slavery), slavery was tied to every aspect of the U$ economy, with almost a million enslaved laborers moved from the “Upper South” (like Maryland) to “Deep South” (Georgia and Louisiana) in coffles. Furthermore, the industrial workers in the North were making products out of cotton, the same cotton that enslaved laborers had worked all day to pick from fields under the whip of the White slavemaster who whipped them if they disobeyed. Hence, Taibbi is acting like slavery was not part of this, or even mentioning indigenous genocide as a further foundation for settler colonialism in the U$ as the “enlightened” empire grew with its tentacles reaching across the continent.

There are other aspects of Taibbi that make one cringe. He seems to accept the “goodness” of corporations in and of themselves, endorses some austerity (“if someone has to tighten a belt or two, let’s start there”), and strangely called Mitt Romney “a revolutionary, a backward-world version of Che or Trotsky,” bemoaning the “roots of the radical economic changes” despite the fact that he is using the word radical incorrectly while portraying Romney in a weird way. He is also a person who has said that “private equity firms aren’t necessarily evil by definition” and seems to have a soft spot for “businesses that were America’s original industrial cornerstones” whatever that refers to.  Apart from endorsing the Occupy movement despite its bourgeois nature (as we all know by now), he calls the high-ranking people at Bank of Amerika “not bankers or capitalists, but a class of person that was never supposed to exist in America: royalty.” Again, his lack of class analysis and any semblance of radicalism means that he makes bizarre and worthless statements like that which are of no use to anyone. The same goes for his declaration that “we’ve just got to get the right people in the right jobs” if that will really change anything at all.

Taibbi and the past

To close out this article I’d like to look at a few articles looking at Taibbi’s past. The first is a 2010 Vanity Fair article titled “Lost Exile” focusing on the death of a Russian newspaper of the same name co-edited by Taibbi and Mark Ames (who now works for PandoDaily). The article notes that both of them would “prove the hardest-partying Moscow media celebrities of their time” and end up embodying post-Soviet Russia’s “hedonism.” It also claims that Taibbi was a “born journalist” but a person who speculated about a possible “connection” between “apartment-building bombings and Putin’s ratcheting up of the Chechen War” which is used by anti-Putin individuals to this day. The article goes onto say that Taibbi has earned a “reputation as the premier bullshit detector and absurdist on the campaign trail” among many, with some saying like Hunter Thompson he also hated politicians. Later, in response to the writer of the story asking Taibbi questions, he grew increasing agitated after they called his book crap, throwing his coffee over their face, which is actually a bit hilarious.

Farther back are a set of articles in 2005. One claims he has a “fairly sophisticated knowledge of the inner workings of Congress” while others criticize his article for the New York Press titled “The 52 Funniest Things About the Upcoming Death of the Pope” panned by organizations and politicians as “hate speech,” “ugly,” and “disgusting.” Maybe this isn’t a surprise for a person who is an “expatriate-journalist-turned-New-York-writer” who “identified with Russia and its writers Nikolai Gogol, M. Saltikov and Leo Tolstoy” growing up, while “Taibbi’s popularity” rose that year.

Taking all of this into account, Taibbi no doubt has a developed ego which supports his self-promotion on places like Democracy Now! and other places. In those secluded areas, no one dare questions him. He is part of, as some have put it, the “Celebrity Left” or the professional left, individuals who are in a sense “above” others, in terms of criticism and status. Some, like Charles Davis (“Chuckles”) only aspire to this level, while others like Ta-Nahesi Coates and Snowden are already at this level.

Concluding thoughts

There really isn’t much else I’ll say about Taibbi at this time. Some may say that an article like this is unnecessary. I disagree. I think it is important to criticize public personalities like this. Too often, these people are barely criticized and given a free pass. That is not OK under any circumstances. Everyone, including this writer should and can be criticized, but fairly and justly. Self-criticism is important for radical and revolutionary politics as the Black Panthers realized, as did Mao and students of Maoist thought. Perhaps I’ll write another criticism of Glenn Greenwald next (or even “The Intercept”), or about some international issue. But for now, I think this article will stand.


Notes

[1] The person who this seems to refer to is a woman named Taryn Fivek. Tarzie seems to have a beef with her. He first accused her of “smearing for Soros” calling her a “Twitter nuisance, shameless liar and justifiably failed citizen journo” (along with “outright troll”) and wanting to shut down debate on this topic of Soros’s influence on “the Left” in his view. He seems to have forgotten these later tweets (standing by his flawed analysis in another post), although she perhaps should be criticized for this stance:

https://twitter.com/fivek/status/798972924598198272

https://twitter.com/fivek/status/798973167716831232

https://twitter.com/fivek/status/798973604457283592

https://twitter.com/fivek/status/798976072633069568

https://twitter.com/fivek/status/798977409508900864

https://twitter.com/fivek/status/798981208357093376

Later, on Tarzie’s blog, one user describes Fivek is a “self professed red who I’ve not really known but from time to time posted at the same places…she wrote a book under a pseudonym (Emma Quangel) which was essentially a direct attack on Molly Crabapple. Crabapple responded by doxxing Fivek” and that in the fallout of this, someone said that she should “monetize it, leading to whatever this nebulous cesspits” and told Tarzie, “knock this stupid transparent bullshit off because we really don’t need this right now. You can, you know, actually work a job instead of hustling mentally ill people on the internet. And if you actually can’t see through the bullshit start reading everything here to start.” Tarzie responded by saying that “Fivek doesn’t need Hopkins because she knows better” and what she is doing looks “like a paid performance.” Hence, he is still stuck in the mud of Fivek. For a person who defended Fivek and then turns on her for saying the “wrong” things about Soros is cruel and pathetic. This is where Tarzie is wrong. He may have good analysis in other realms, but on Fivek he is completely and utterly wrong. Even so, there may be something valid about Tarzie’s criticism after all.

“It is homeland or death”: From British colonialism to the Zimbabwean liberation war

Picture of the Great Enclosure, part of the Great Zimbabwe ruins (courtesy of Wikimedia).

This post was analyzed for mistakes and other content in January 2019, as part of an effort to engage in self-criticism. Some changes have been made.

Originally published on the Leftist Critic blog on Feb 23, 2017.

Every day the Western bourgeois media concocts another story about Zimbabwean President Robert Gabriel Mugabe’s faults. [1] The “human rights” organizations like Amnesty and “Human Rights” Watch join in on the charade, siding with the opposition in the country, which is predictably backed by the U$ and the West. As a result, the state of Zimbabwe is rocked by political turmoil because the opposition leads to polarization, not due to the policies of Mugabe and the ruling Zanu-PF party. The masses of Zimbabwe are “one and together we will overcome. It is homeland or death” as Reason Wafawarova, an Australian political writer for the government-owned newspaper, The Herald, writes at the bottom of many of his editorials. In order to recognize this perspective, this article will examine Zimbabwe’s history from before European contact into the last days of the 1960s, with other articles focusing on other periods.

The history of Zimbabwe dates back to years before the first White imperialist would be  out of their womb. The earliest kingdom in the region may date back to 500 C.E.. with the area known as Great Zimbabwe settled in the 11th century, and more substantially by the thirteenth century, with many states around the region “built around stone forts.” [2] The term “Zimbabwe” can be used to designate, at a minimum, the Zambesi-Limpopo cultures. These cultures, with peoples who were state-builders and iron users, flourished in the region of present-day state of Zimbabwe, in the centuries before European arrival.During the pre-European period, the area was part of the Kingdom of Zimbabwe, an African civilization lasting from the eleventh century (roughly 1220) to the fifteenth century (roughly 1450) which was called “Monomotapa” by the Europeans, with building of large stone palaces, which were known as “Zimbabwe.” This empire had access to mineral resources and coastal trade, mainly with traders from the Asian continent, especially China.

The famous stone ruins at Great Zimbabwe are worth describing. Near the capital of “Southern Rhodesia” in the 1960s, Salisbury (present-day Harare), there were “two outstanding buildings” which were named by Europeans the “Acropolis” and the “temple”/”elliptical building,” with the plain beneath the “Acropolis,” stands a “solid fortress, with strong battlements” which is made from local granite, constructed by Zimbabweans. The complex building is “300 feet long, 220 feet broad” with walls that “were 20 feet thick and 30 feet tall” along with stepped “recesses and covered passages, the gateways and the platforms” which were hewn out elaborately with “soapstone bird-gods” inside and outside the structure. [3] Walter Rodney added that there were “encircling brick walls” at this site, and in other parts of the African continent where Bantu-speaking people were inhabitants, which was “characteristically African” and that undoubtedly a large amount of labor was needed to construct buildings. He added that such workers likely came from particular ethnic groups with possible subjugation and subsequent social class delineations, but that there wasn’t simply “sheer manual labor” because the structures themselves had a level of advanced “skill, creativity, and artistry” which went into construction of the walls, doors, inner recesses, and decorations of the buildings. There were also great brick constructions, which dated back to the 14th century, which were commonly referred to as “temples” which served religious purposes since the religious aspect of development in that society was greatly important, just as it was across the African continent.

The various societies that constituted a developed (and advanced) Zimbabwean culture lasted a total of a thousand years. People constructed dams for irrigation, raised cattle, sowed grain, and traded across the Indian Ocean, with chiefs enjoying “fine pottery or china” while sitting at-top of warring cultures. [4] These cultures, with no system of writing, were “highly stratified,” with chiefs and priests, miners, and specialized craftsmen, the latter who created ornaments with exact skill and lightness of touch. There was also mixed farming, with cattle valued as important work animals, and major terracing and irrigation which is comparable to that of ancient Rome, or civilizations in Asia, making Zimbabweans, what we now would call “hydrologists.” In the society itself, there were several ethnic groups which mixed: Khosian type hunters or “Bushmen” who were long-time residents, and newcoming Bantu-speakers from the north, all of which had varying pottery styles and burials, with certain ethnic groups, likely, relegated to inferior status so that “labor for agriculture, building, and mining” as necessary for societal needs.

While the kingdoms long fought off “barbarian invaders,” they couldn’t stand against the Portuguese. After the collapse of the Kingdom of Zimbabwe, there was the Kingdom of Mutapa, which the Portuguese confronted in the 1500s. This empire, first ruled by Mwene Mutapa, from 1415 to 1450, who appointed governors to rule over numerous localities outside the capital, spreading from Zimbabwe to Mozambique’s hinterland, with the center of the Mutapa empire at Great Zimbabwe at first, and later moving northward. [5] While those living in the region at the time were predominantly Sotho-speakers, many of those in the ruling class were pastoralists who had religious rituals with objects symbolizing cattle, possibly meaning that cattle owners were honored in society, and paid homage to their ancestors. As Immanuel Wallerstein argues, the Portuguese went on the full offensive, sacking coastal cities, reducing Indian Ocean trade, which was a “severe blow to Zimbabwe peoples” as the Portuguese (the first imperialists to visit), with firearms, went into the interior, taking sides, and undermining “the whole structure” of the kingdom. Still, they were too weak to establish a colonial administration, only having enough power to destroy and cause destruction.

This could have been helped by the fact that in Zimbabwe and Congo, social organization was low until the 15th century. This was even the case despite significant political structures in the area as tentacles of the transatlantic slave trade encroached on Africa. [6] In later years, as the Mutapa empire waned and dissipated in 1760, there was the Rozvi empire, lasting from 1684 to 1834. The lords of the both empires encouraged production for “export trade, notably in gold, ivory, and copper” with Arab merchants living in the kingdom. The Zimbabwean region, at the time, was still connected to the “network of Indian Ocean commerce.” A “single system of production and trade,” was organized by collecting tribute from other states. In later years, the Mthwakazi, a Ndebele kingdom, existed until the late 19th century, when the British colonists come into the picture. Despite the fact that indigenous kingdoms in present-day Zimbabwe ultimately faltered, there is no doubt that such development showed that there were advanced societies on the continent before the Europeans arrived. The idea that there was some “dark continent” with people running around like “savages” as European imperialists imagined in their racist, colonialist minds is utterly false.

In 1889, the British South African Company came to Zimbabwe, later naming it “Rhodesia” after British imperialist Cecil Rhodes. Not only did this name override the indigenous name of Zimbabwe, which came from the Shona language and meaning venerated or stone houses, but it showed that the age of imperialist exploitation was at hand. In 1895, African history was whitewashed when a prospector was sent by the South African company to exploit the ruins of Great Zimbabwe, making it harder to know what the gold smelters of Zimbabwe produced years earlier. [7] History was lost to greedy White settler capitalism. Luckily, while most of the “copper and gold objects were largely destroyed and melted down” by 1902, similar objects at the Mapungubwe have been found, objects which were “unravaged by Europeans with a civilizing mission.” As a result, historians can recognize the reality of African and Zimbabwean history, not the whitewashed one “handed down.” Even with this, there is no doubt that Cecil Rhodes, his imperial agents, and “settler pests,” came in to Zimbabwe to “rob and steal,” coming north from present-day Botswana to raise a flag at (Mount) Harare, later renamed Salisbury by the White settlers. While these new invaders marveled at “surviving ruins of Zimbabwe culture,” they assumed, from their Eurocentric perspective, that it had been built by White people.

This exploitation went beyond the erasure of culture. In the economy of Southern Africa and Rhodesia under British colonialism, Africans were treated as cheap labor who were prohibited from growing cash crops so their labor could be exploited by White “owners.” [8] These “owners” included those such as Standard Bank, a financial organization which was founded on loot of Rhodes and De Beers, headquartered in London, which expanded from the Cape Colony to Mozambique, Rhodesia, and Bechuanaland (present-day Botswana) in 1895. Still, this was not accepted without resistance. There were numerous bloody battles between the indigenous African population and invading settlers. During this time, when power began to be exclusively held by Whites, native Africans engaged in rebellions against White settlers, but these rebellions were crushed. This didn’t stop Robert Mugabe, once a Zimbabwean revolutionary (not anymore), who was pivotal in the anti-colonial struggle, to see those who rebelled as first African revolutionaries in Zimbabwe. He remembered how folklore about past struggle was told to them by their parents so they could explain “how White men came to the country, how he grabbed the land.”Mugabe also added that

“In a society where you have a class whose main purpose and accepted privilege is to exploit others, naturally it rebuffs. If the majority of people are being oppressed, being exploited, you can’t avoid, if you have any moral principles at all, the call to do something about it.”

In the years that followed, the British South African Company continued to control the British colony of Rhodesia. In 1923 this changed. As a result of plans made by White British colonists, settler migrants came to the colony after WWI with the London government granting the settlers a “Letters Patent Constitution” which made it a “self-governing colony.” [9] This designation meant that settlers had the right to secede or not, but the British retained “control over defence and foreign policy, certain reserve powers” which included issuing discriminatory legislation to control the African population. Hence, the British colony of Southern Rhodesia was born, the following year, comprising the area of the republic of Zimbabwe, founded in April 1980, splitting from the Northern section, called “Northern Rhodesia,” covering the area of the independent republic of Zambia, formed in October 1964. As the years went on, the oppression mounted. While the idea of “reserve powers” was supposedly to protect African interests, it became ineffective with the Land Apportionment Act of 1930 revised in 1941, and in a number of other times, a law that formed the basis of the “social and racial structure” in Rhodesia.

Even with the settlers with official power, the British monarch in the colony itself is represented by the governor and there were “British errand boys” who lived as White settlers. The greedy mentality of the colonists led to more divisions. Such colonists divided the country into two portions: the “native” area for Black Africans and Crown or European land for White settlers. [10] Predictably, the “rich and fertile land” was occupied by White settlers and the “sandy, semi-dry land” given to Black Africans, land from which they can be expelled from if minerals are found or settlers want to buy a farm in the area. Adding to this insult were laws on the books, enacted in the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s, which evicted Africans from “European land,” gave the government control of all the aspects of African life, and gave each family eight acres for “living in farming.” The latter measure was one of social control, in an attempt to keep Africans poor and give White settlers “cheap and exploitable labor for the mines, farms, light and heavy industries.” This is why the fight over land is so important in present-day Zimbabwe.

In the 1950s there were other sea changes in Southern Rhodesia. While the White settlers celebrated “sixty years of progress” in 1950, oppressed Africans did not see it the same way. African civilization had become the largely the domain of Christian missionaries, with different forms of education (“European,” “African,” “Asian,” and “Coloured”)  “separated budgeted for.” [11] To enforce the inequality, more was spent on European education than on African education. In 1953, officially, the structure of the colony changed, with the creation of the Central African Federation (CAF), comprising the areas of present-day Zambia, Zimbabwe, and Malawi (Nyasaland), in an effort led by Southern Rhodesian settlers under the direction of Godfrey Huggins. To reinforce this, the British colony received, between 1950 and 1958, 10 armored cars, 22 Spitfires, 32 fighter aircraft, 16 trainer aircraft, 8 transport aircraft, 2 light transport aircraft from UK, and 18 bomber aircraft, all from London, while NATO accompanied this by providing bombers and armaments. The latter information comes from the SIPRI trade register.

Of course, this action was done without the approval of Africans. As the settler oppression became even more ruthless, “African resistance rekindled” against racist laws, enacted to maintain settler dominance, and against the idea that racial discrimination was the “order of the day” in Zimbabwe. [12] In 1957, a chapter of African National Congress (ANC) organized in the country, led by Joshua Nkomo, with the chapter joining the ANC in South Africa which had been created in 1912. The following year, as the record shows, Nkomo began his contact with the Soviets, which would prove as a major force in the liberation struggle to come despite the fact they were  revisionist and social imperialist. During this time period, the political aspirations of the Black masses seemed modest, as nationalists only wanted simple political rights which they demanded in clearly nonviolent demonstrations. This perception was also because the struggle was reformist since the major groups were not forceful or anti-capitalist. However, after demonstrations were banned by the colonialist government, there was more frustration, with moderation turning to militancy and passive resistance turning into civil disobedience. The stage was set for set for full-scale civil war.

In the 1960s, the anti-colonial struggle in Zimbabwe heated up. In December 1961, after frustrations with previous nationalist groupings such as the National Democratic Party (NDP), established in January 1960, which pushed for a constitutional conference, with party members demonstrated, rioted and committed acts of arson in hopes of changing the conditions in Zimbabwe, Nkomo formed the Zimbabwe African Peoples Union, or Zapu, just after the NDP was banned. [13] As for the actions of the NDP, as Mugabe put it many years later, some of those in the organization were some of the first to use petrol bombs in 1960 as a “means of pressure, not really to destroy life” and that there were strikes and demonstrations in 1961.

Zapu named Nkomo as President, Tichafa Samuel Parirenyatwa as vice-president, Ndabaningi Sithole as chairman, Jason Moyo as information secretary, and Mugabe as publicity secretary. The organization embarked on pushing the failed policies of the NDP, with Nkomo banned from coming into Zimbabwe under legalistic jargon from the colonialist state. [14] Furthermore, Nkomo wanted to encourage the British government to agree to nationalist demands, and the organization boycotted the settler elections in Dec. 1962, with Nkomo declaring that Zapu must “continue in any form desired by the people at a given time, and under different circumstances. But I must repeat, that we shall never, I repeat never, form any new Party.” In order to back up these claims, Zapu and related freedom fighters engaged in civil disobedience, arson, sabotage, and demonstrations against the White minority government, which they refused to talk with, rightly so. Nkomo was imprisoned and official Black opposition banned in 1962 by the white colonialist government. The Soviets played a part in this liberation struggle by giving massive support for Zapu, which made its first contact with them through the ANC in South Africa, with the Soviets continuing their opposition to the settler government in Zimbabwe at major international forums time and time again, with Nkomo and other top leaders went on troops worldwide in an effort to garner international support. Even so, thy corrupted the struggle as social imperialists, since they did not try to make sure it remained united, backing more moderate forces.

In 1963, the equation changed. The “more radical elements” of the anti-colonial Zimbabwe opposition, who were mostly in prison, broke away from Zapu to form Zanu, the Zimbabwe African National Union. [15] This new grouping, which had come about due to justifed anger against Nkomo by those who accused him of allowing the White settlers to unite and different strategy, was led by Sithole. It believed in immediate armed confrontation with the White settlers and self-reliance while Zapu wanted intervention from the international arena. Broadly speaking, Zapu was aligned with the Ndebele and Zanu was aligned with the Shona. Additionally, those in Zanu, including Mugabe of course, were progressive nationalists who wanted immediate action, while Zapu represented the more conservative nationalists, seeming to only engage in slow maneuvers. Predictably, the Zapu denounced Zanu as dividing the movement, even though the tactics of Zapu, assisted by the revisionist Soviets, led to this result! At a “people’s conference,” supposedly to solve problems within the Zimbabwe liberation movement, attendees resolved that Nkomo was the only leader of the anti-colonial liberation movement in Zimbabwe, that bans on African nationalist organizations. throughout Africa must be denounced, that “divisive tendencies” must combated, and vigilance against the settler regime continued. Additionally, the conference declared that “active resistance” against the settler regime would continue, rejected cooperation with the British, and expelled the “four conspirators” which formed Zapu (Sithole, Mugabe, Washington Malianga, and Leopard Takawira). The attendees declared that these individuals were “dividing” the Zimbabwean people through forming their own party, seeing it as an imperialist divide-and-control policy.

Due to these differences, the conflict between Zapu and Zanu erupted. At times it became violent. While some may be included to do so, it is wrong to discount the Zanu group wholesale. For one, Mugabe, a top leader in the group, spent 11 months in detention which hurt his son psychologically, who later died from malaria. [16] Years later, he summarized, in part, the beliefs of Zanu, by saying that “you cannot fight for grievances by pleading…you can only do so by getting to the root cause of the problem and that’s the problem of power.” As for Zapu, it suffered from the justified defection of members to Zanu. A number of the key figures of Zanu’s armed wing had played a role in leading Zapu’s armed wing, taking with them “operational information and many individual cadré.” This altered the “balance of power in the liberation movement,” leaving Zapu with the short end of the stick, something from which it would not recover from in the years to come, which was good for the people of Zimbabwe. While the idea of reconciliation between the two “wings” of the liberation movement was proposed, it was quickly abandoned within the country as untenable.The same year, the Central African Federation dissolved and military power was handed over to Winston Field, leading to continued oppression.

As the liberation movement in Zimbabwe split, so did the funding. Zapu representatives went to a number of so-called “socialist” countries, including the social imperialist Soviets, and based in Zambia with the military wing of ZIPRA (Zimbabwe People’s Revolutionary Army). [17] As for Zanu and their military wing, the Zimbabwean African National Liberation Army (ZANLA), they received much of their support from Maoist China, which  benefited the Zimbabwean people. The latter socialist state promoted the idea of guerrilla warfare as a way to win the liberation war. Simply put, Zanu, later led by Mugabe, had a pro-China leaning while Zapu, led by Nkomo, had a pro-Soviet leaning, leading to distortion and division. Black leaders in nations such as Mozambique, Botswana, Tanzania, Zambia, and Angola, supported the guerillas with training areas and pitched camps, while the White settler government in Zimbabwe formed “a well trained, moderately equipped, and integrated armed force.” Arguably, Zapu, also supported by Cuba, the short-lived United Arab Republic (U.A.R.), and the German Democratic Republic (GDR or “East Germany”), followed Soviet-influnced teachings while Zanu, with their varying external networks, followed the teachings of Mao Zedong. This meant that Zanu worked to mobilize the rural peasantry, Zapu worked to mobilize those in urban areas.

This manifestation of the Sino-Soviet split, begun in part by Nikita Khrushchev’s traitorous “Secret Speech” denouncing the supposed “wrongs” of Joseph Stalin, meant that China determined more of the direction of the Zimbabwe liberation struggle than the Soviets. Beijing’s association with Zimbabwe goes back to the liberation struggle, a time when Zanu cadres went to China to get guerrilla training and attended classes in Ghana taught by Chinese instructors. [18] As a result of Chinese support, Zanu was transformed from a splinter organization into a full-fledged participant of the liberation struggle, and it became more bold, criticizing the alliance of the Soviet-aligned ANC and Zapu, saying this allowed racists to consolidate their forces. In later years, Zanu revamped its strategy to be more Maoist, with armed struggle based in “support of the people,” by the early 1970s, as Mugabe said years later. As a result of the guerrilla warfare tactics by Zanu and traditional military tactics by Zapu, along with Zanu freedom fighters trained by the Vietcong and Chinese in guerrilla tactics, with the fighters returning from the latter country coming back radicalized, the White settler government adjusted their system of racist terror. China, for their part, was active in aiding liberation in the country, seeing as a way to counter “Soviet hegemonism” and “Sovietism” with their support as part of their anti-superpower and anti-Soviet agenda. Such a viewpoint was undoubtedly right, as the Soviets were utter social imperialists who needed to be countered. Hilariously, this was misread by the White apartheid government as a way to get Western capitalists and China to work together and fight the Soviets, as they clearly did not understand what was happening, but the Chinese would have no part in such an “agreement.”

The Zimbabwean liberation movement was up against a formidable adversary. Between 1960 and 1963, the White settler government had received four transport aircraft, 12 fighter aircraft, and 30 armored fighting vehicles, called Ferret armoured cars, from London, along with three light helicopters from France, as noted by the SIPRI trade register. The colonial organization in 1965, in Zimbabwe, was changed. In 1964, a White minority government, called UDI (Universal Declaration of Independence), was illegally created by Ian Smith, imposing apartheid rule and invalidating the phony 1961 constitution. [19] But the British “lacked the [political] will to put down this constitutional treason,” even as they had the will to disarm those that opposed the new government, so the UN instituted sanctions and gave sympathy to the liberation movement, setting the stage for guerrilla warfare in years following. During the period, Smith’s government received 10 light aircraft and 20 towed guns from Italy, along with one transport aircraft from the United States and 12 armored cars from apartheid South Africa.

Still, the Zimbabwean revolutionaries did not give up. As resistance against the settler government continued to grow, and the Rhodesian Front whipped up White nationalist sentiment, Zimbabweans argued that “freedom can only be achieved by confrontation and determination.” [20] The Soviets, in their social imperialist stance, still backed the moderate Nkomo over Mugabe, who was more radical and Marxist, showing that Maoist China had the right approach. This was also partially due to Mugabe’s call to run his own organization while Nkomo was willing to rely on aid from the Cubans (tainted by Soviet social imperialism) and Soviets. The Soviets also felt this aid was important since they saw China’s aid in this struggle as “hostile” even if that meant supporting someone less radical. It is also worth pointing out that despite Cuba’s misguided support for Zapu broadly, they did, to their credit, help the military wing of Zanu, which also received military training in Mozambique. This shows yet again that Cuba is not some “Soviet satellite,” as ignorant bourgeois commentators will bark.

While one could argue that Zapu was more internationalist since they sought assistance from Ghana, Egypt, the Afro-Asian Peoples Solidarity Organisation (AAPSO), GDR (“East Germany”), and Eastern European nations within the Warsaw Pact, which interestingly gave Fidel Castro more of a role as a “benefactor of third world liberation,” allowing them to be better trained and equipped than the Zanu’s military wing, Zanu connected with exiled Black nationalist Robert F. Williams. [21] They asked Williams to send copies of his publication, The Crusader, in exchange for copies of their paper, the Zimbabwe News. It is worth pointing out that despite charges that Zanu was some U$-backed organ because of their reported skepticism of “accepted” liberation organizations in Southern Africa, the publication criticized Moscow, said that the Soviets were collaborating with U$ imperialism, criticized ANC for being pacifist, took a Black Power stand, promoted those such as H. Rap Brown, and frequently cited Mao Zedong, along with pronouncements of African socialism. This position shows they were  the real revolutionaries in this  fight, not Zapu. Hence, the Zapu claim that Zanu was U$-sponsored falls flat and is almost a joke. Such a claim is also further invalidated by the fact that Zapu’s strategy to discredit Zanu leaders was “based on personal accounts and accusations” in papers such as the Daily News, which effectively served as a pro-Zapu and anti-Zanu outlet.

Despite their differences, there is no doubt that Zapu and Zanu had a tough fight. For Zanu, they engaged in armed struggle, first tested in April 1966 in Sinoia, in an engagement that proved “tactically manageable” but shook the “Rhodesian White community,” as it should! [22] Such events, followed by freedom fighters of Zanu and Zapu going off to socialist countries to train, coming back “to intensify the armed struggle,” were downplayed by the information department of the UDI, who claims that all was well in the country, with news of battles suppressed in their totality. The same was the case for those guerrillas in the Zapu-ANC alliance, which engaged in a rough, bloody battle in August 1967, which resulted in heavily censored news inside of the country. Zanu, pointed this out the same year, arguing that the illegal White government in Zimbabwe was trying to stoke ethnic discord by stressing “ancient wars among Africans” in radio and news commentaries, along with in schools, saying that the government was circulating letters that purport to be from the GDR (“East Germany”) as a way of stirring up mischief. As for the tactics used by Zapu, some argued they had no significant impact, an assessment which resulted in a new strategy formulated, with a plan to send a joint military force across the Zambezi River into northwest Zimbabwe. This was done with the realization of the nature of their enemy as “British imperialism assisted by NATO” while understanding “the savagery role of the Washington government,” vowing the fight until the end.

Internationally, Zapu and Zanu played differently. Zanu members were critical of Stokely Carmichael (later Kwame Ture) leading SNCC (Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee), arguing that Carmichael was partnering with Zapu and ANC, which was only partially true since in his autobiography, he says that he supported the Pan-African Congress more than other organizations, seeing it as mature, principled, and young, a bit like SNCC. [23] Still, it worth noting that this “alliance of convenience” between the ANC and Zapu may have seemed sound by many but also could be arguably “narrow and selfish” with a wider alliance of nationalist parties in the region perhaps a better strategy. In Algiers, the location of the Organization of African Unity (OAU), Eldridge of the Black Panthers met with Charles Chikarema of Zapu who introduced him to an Elaine Klein, an American woman who worked with the Ministry of Information in Algeria, who let Eldridge be officially invited to the country along with a Black Panther Party delegation, removing his dependency on Cuba as a place of exile. Due to this development, and the fact that Sithole of Zanu appeared in court, at one point, saying that he publicly wanted to disassociate himself from “any subversive activities” and from any “form of violence,” it is possible that the Black Panther coalition and support group in Zimbabwe was pro-Zapu. But it could have also been pro-Zanu because Zanu was much more Black nationalist and radical. The latter was clear when the Zimbabwe News declared that “Christianity has been used as a subtle instrument to destroy Zimbabwe culture” which some was a statement that went “too far.”

By 1969, the situation in Zimbabwe was worsening. With financial interests in White-ruled Africa, Africans continued to be oppressed by about two hundred British firms in companies led by a small “White group of capitalists,” while 86% of Zimbabweans worked (and lived) in rural areas on European farms or subsisting as cash-crop farmers. [24] Additionally, education was not free (or compulsory), Whites earned much more than Black Africans by far, and no African nationalist organization could hold weight, with the masses angry about the system of the whole, not just the UDI government. It was clear that the British government would not “stand idle while a truly people’s socialist revolution is on the verge of reality in Zimbabwe” with British intervention in the country either to save their “kin” or to put in place a “neo-colonialist puppet regime” (which ended up happening ultimately) While this did not happen by 1970, the UDI elites consolidated their control. At that time, they had a strong military force, consisting of 3,400 regular troops, 6,400 police troopers, 28,500 reserve police, two infantry battalions, 1,200 Air Force personnel, 4,000 Air Force personnel in reserve, and one field artillery piece. They also had advanced airplanes, helicopters, and other machinery, many from Western capitalist states, along with an alliance with South Africa. This included, in part, South African troops in Zimbabwe, aided by the British and U$ military, along with fascist organizations across the Western capitalist world supporting the White settler government.

There were a number of continuities throughout the 1960s in the Zimbabwean liberation struggle. For one, Zimbabwean women subverted traditional gender roles by fighting as freedom fighters, sometimes in fatigues, along with providing troops with food and clothing, and they later earned praise for their valuable “contributions to the revolution.” [25] This was likely the case in Zanu and Zapu. There is no doubt that the violence of the apartheid government in Zimbabwe led to armed resistance among the liberation movement, along with Nkomo to be imprisoned in a concentration camp, one of the ways the government tried to keep the populace under control, from 1964 to 1970, along with killing of many comrades in the process. It is worth noting that Mugabe was also imprisoned from December 1963 until November 1974, but was still part of the liberation struggle. The bloody battle for liberation in Zimbabwe, between the White settler-rulers and “black guerrilla movements” through the 1960s and until the late 1970s, as even the U$ State Department acknowledged, was part of something bigger. There were liberation groups and revolutionaries across East Africa ranging from The Liberation Front of Mozambique (FRELIMO), the Southwest African People’s Organization (SWAPO), ANC, the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA), Zanu, and Zapu, all of which “utilized Tanzanian training camps” so they could “prepare and plan anticolonial wars” against White settler governments in the region. Such developments interested Black nationalist Robert F. Williams greatly. As John Nkomo of the Zapu grouping, said years later, they worked closely with Nordic countries, such as Sweden, the latter which cooperated with Zanu and Zapu, allowing them to bring equipment back to Zimbabwe, with some equipment later donated to Zambia since they had “sacrificed so much.”


Notes

[1] Such stories have been published in the Zimbabwe Independent, News24, International Business Times UK, New Zimbabwe, The Zimbabwe Mail, NewsDay, ZimEye, and The Zimbabwe Daily, among many others.

[2] Immanuel Wallerstein, Africa: The Politics of Independence: An Interpretation of Modern African History (New York: Vintage Books, 1961), 22;Walter Rodney, How Europe Underdeveloped Africa (Washington, D.C.: Howard University Press, 1982), 65.

[3] Wallerstein, 22; Rodney, How Europe Underdeveloped Africa, 64, 65.

[4] Wallerstein, 23; Rodney, 48, 66-67.

[5] Rodney, 64, 67; Wallerstein, 23.

[6] Rodney, 67-68, 134.

[7] Wallerstein, 23; Rodney, 65.

[8] Rodney, 163, 165, 233;  Zimbabwe: A History of Struggle (ed. Zimbabwe African People’s Union (Zapu), Cairo: Afro-Asian Peoples Solidarity Organization, 1972, second edition), 14; “The Lion of Zimbabwe: Robert Mugabe,” Internet Archive, 1979 British documentary. Sadly, the original name of this documentary or its British announcer, clearly a journalist at the time, is not known. On the webpage for the film, a horrid anti-Mugabe book is linked, a book by a French academic who wants to think “beyond” the Zanu-PF.

[9] Zimbabwe: A History of Struggle, 14-15.

[10] Ibid, 15-17.

[11] Ibid, 17-21.

[12] Zimbabwe: A History of Struggle, 19-21; Chenhamo Chimutengwende, “Zimbabwe and White-Ruled Africa,” The New Revolutionaries: A Handbook of the International Radical Left (ed. Tariq Ali, New York: William Morrow & Company, 1969), 241-242; Ian Taylor, China and Africa: Engagement and Compromise (New York: Routledge, 2006), 107-108; “The Lion of Zimbabwe: Robert Mugabe,” Internet Archive, 1979 British documentary.

[13] Zimbabwe: A History of Struggle, 22-23; “The Lion of Zimbabwe: Robert Mugabe,” Internet Archive, 1979 British documentary. Mugabe also said that his wife at the time, Sally Mugabe, participated in a women’s demonstration in 1961.

[14] Zimbabwe: A History of Struggle, 24-29; “The Lion of Zimbabwe: Robert Mugabe,” Internet Archive, 1979 British documentary; Gerald Horne, From the Barrel of a Gun: The United States and the War Against Zimbabwe, 1965-1980 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2001), 351; Alex Thomson, An Introduction to African Politics, p. 144. There is also an academic article by Dumiso Dabengwa titled “Relations between ZAPU and the USSR, 1960s–1970s: A Personal View” which may shed light on this subject.

[15] “The Lion of Zimbabwe: Robert Mugabe,” Internet Archive, 1979 British documentary; Zimbabwe: A History of Struggle, 24-25, 31-32, 33-37; Chimutengwende, 242. Mugabe himself had declared in December 1962 that it was time to move to armed struggle. Part of this armed confrontation included the conviction that “physical attacks on Whites and their property were necessary.”

[16] “The Lion of Zimbabwe: Robert Mugabe,” Internet Archive, 1979 British documentary; Zimbabwe: A History of Struggle, 38. After this idea of reconciliation was abandoned from within the liberation movement, it became an “external, non-Zimbabwe wish, not worth pursuing” (by those like the Soviets) as Zapu argued in this publication.

[17] Zimbabwe: A History of Struggle, 21-22, 40; Timothy Scarnecchia, The Urban Roots of Democracy and Political Violence in Zimbabwe: Harare and Highfield, 1940-1964 (Rochester, NY: University of Rochester Press, 2008), 141, 146, 161. Despite the futility of the Zanu-Zapu power struggle, reportedly the split between Zanu and Zapu was a “class divide” with Zanu supporters including college students (and peasants) and Zapu supporters being the “old guard.” Also, reportedly, Zapu was better in urban settings than Zanu. It is also worth pointing out that China funded the Pan-African Congress while the Soviets supported the African National Congress in South Africa.

[18] Taylor, China and Africa, 106-110, 113. In earlier years, the Chinese trained and sent arms to Zapu, but this changed after the Sino-Soviet split came into full force in the later 1960s. All in all, supporting Zanu rather than Zapu was the right move.

[19]  Zimbabwe: A History of Struggle, 47-49; “The Lion of Zimbabwe: Robert Mugabe,” Internet Archive, 1979 British documentary. Also, top British colonial personnel continued talks with the regime, allowing it to stand under legal fictions, and putting in the farce of sanctions, reinforcing their “colonial responsibility” in Rhodesia.

[20] Zimbabwe: A History of Struggle, 40-41; Timothy Scarnecchia, The Urban Roots of Democracy and Political Violence in Zimbabwe, 148. Comes from a letter in 1964 from Zimbabwean mothers.

[21] Timothy Scarnecchia, The Urban Roots of Democracy and Political Violence in Zimbabwe, 141; Gerald Horne, From the Barrel of a Gun, 247, 258; Robeson Taj Frazier, “A Revolution is Not a Dinner Party: Black Internationalism, Chinese Communism and the Post World War II Black Freedom Struggle, 1949-1976,” Spring 2009, Dissertation for University of California, Berkeley, p. 179. Zapu guerrillas also reportedly received training in Algeria, Bulgaria, North Korea, and the Congo region. Also, one Zapu guerrilla told a Zimbabwean court in 1968 that in the Soviet Union, guerrillas had classes lasting four months on a wide range of topics including “political science, aspects of intelligence work…use of codes and ciphers.” and given a rundown on work of “the CIA, MI6 and MI5, and the French and Federal German intelligence organisations” along with being taught how to use “explosives, hand-grenades, and how to use and assemble guns, rifles and pistols.” Horne, who obviously thinks more highly of Zapu than Zanu, claims that the US was more skeptical of Zapu than Zanu because Zapu was friendlier to Eastern European socialist nations, claims that Zanu boosted “marginal forces with suspicious origins” like COREMO (Mozambique Revolutionary Committee), and that Nkomo dealt with African-Amerikans more diplomatically than Zanu. These claims should be treated very skeptically

[22] Chimutengwende, 245-246; Gerald Horne, From the Barrel of a Gun, 255; Zimbabwe: A History of Struggle, 60-65.

[23] Thomas Turino, “Race, Class, and Musical Nationalism in Zimbabwe,” Music and the Racial Imagination (ed. Ronald M. Radano, Philip V. Bohlman, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 572; Maxwell C. Standford, Jr., “We Will Return in the Whirlwind: Black Radical Organizations 1960-1975,” January 3, 2003, Union Institute and University, Cincinnati, Ohio, p. 277-278; Zimbabwe: A History of Struggle, 39-40; Gaidi Faraj, “Unearthing the Underground: A study of radical activism in the Black Panther Party and the Black Liberation Army,” Fall 2007, Dissertation for the University of California, Berkeley, p. 197; Robeson Taj Frazier, “A Revolution is Not a Dinner Party,” p. 153, 182; Chimutengwende, 244. It is worth noting that both the ANC and Zapu groups had a “fairly formal structure with a commander and a political commissar,” with both “dressed in semi-military uniforms” from 1966 to 1968, at least.

[24] Chimutengwende, 238-240, 248, 250; Zimbabwe: A History of Struggle, 50-51. Examples cited include those of Sekou Toure or Albert Karume.

[25] Robeson Taj Frazier, “A Revolution is Not a Dinner Party,” p. 156; Zimbabwe: A History of Struggle, 52-55; Linda Lumsden, “Good Mothers with Guns: Framing Black Womanhood in the Black Panther, 1968-1980,” Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly, Vol. 86, No. 4, Winter 2009, p. 908, 919; Taylor, China and Africa, 107-108; Timothy Scarnecchia, The Urban Roots of Democracy and Political Violence in Zimbabwe, 146; Zimbabwe: A History of Struggle, 42, 44-46, 66. In a 1976 article, The Panther extolled the “egalitarian, gun-toting example of women revolutionaries who fought alongside men” in Palestine and Zimbabwe.