Sunday, February 3, 2008

Manufacture of Dissent in Revolution Newspaper: Black Tokenism and White Guilt



Revolution
newspaper is the central organ of the Revolutionary Communist Party,USA(RCP), a Maoist orientated communist party based in the United States. Even though the party has existed for over 30 years it has yet to establish any mass base or revolutionary movement in the United States. Yet, this failure to draw connections with the masses, especially the Black population is cleverly veiled through the usage of anecdotes and black tokenism. These tactics and others, are used to substantiate RCP claims of having "have forged deeper ties with the masses"(1)

At the same time the RCP heavily relies on language that reinforces white guilt in an attempt to win over white liberals. Both these tactics of utilizing, black tokenism and white guilt achieve the exact opposite of the RCP's intentions. Instead of winning over large segments of the black population and white population, the usage of patronizing language can actually distance these groups from the Revolutionary Communist Party.

White Guilt
White guilt refers to a controversial concept of individual or collective guilt often said to be felt by some white people for the racist treatment of people of color by whites both historically and presently. Condescending and patronizing language and tone towards white readers has become a hallmark of the RCP. This can be witnessed no better than a poster placed in Issue #111 of Revolution. The Poster was entitled Attention White People What is your Problem?!? and used words, images and situations that suggested that all white people are the same, in this case racist. It attempts to invoke a sense of guilt in white people by using a harsh tone directing white people to "Wake the fuck up", "Stop thinking with it's[capitalism] racist values" and "Start resisting". (2)

This urgent and harsh tone towards white people is a reoccurring theme in the Revolution paper. One issue of Revolution featured a letter from a white Jena resident saying, "As a white member of the small town of Jena I am calling on the “majority”—those who oppose the oppression of society, the racism, white supremacists are trying to justify—to stand up to protect the future of our youth." The writer attempts to stir up more of a sense of white guilt by asking, "Would you allow our youth, your son, your brother, to go unspoken for? To spend years in prison for standing up for his rights, for protecting himself from the oppression of Black people? I will not and I’m calling on you, every mother and father, to stand up." Her message picks up a sense of urgency while stirring more guilt of inactive whites when she ends the letter by, "I will be there for the ongoing trials, for any protests, supporting the Jena 6 and demanding they be free. Where will you be? What will you do?"(3)

The RCP has habit of playing up on the inactivity of whites in the defense of civil rights for black people. They assert, "To stand on the sidelines is to stand on the wrong side, with the white supremacist status quo, with the nooses, with the powers-that-be."(4) The newspaper also specifically stresses the racial identity of individuals and groups to further it's agenda on creating white guilt among it's white readership. For example, it notes "on November 16 when thousands of people—mostly Black people—marched"(4) in Washington DC and claiming that "It was shameful that hardly any white people—from Jena or anywhere else—were at the “Free the Jena 6” protest on September 20"(5). Revolution also emphasizes the fact, "When ten thousand people got on the bus to Jena on September 20, there were hardly any white people on board. And again, at the march in DC on November 16, there were very few whites or people of other nationalities in the crowd"(4). One letter to the newspaper claims, "There were certainly more than a few white individuals scattered in the Jena protest crowd and other events," and he reasons, " it seemed that not very many of the progressive-minded whites, young people as well as veterans of the ’60s, to put it bluntly, bothered to get involved in this battle, at least not in any significant number"(6). Thus a strange summation is that not many white people were "bothered to get involved". The RCP cure for this is to "get involved in the struggle and take up this paper, and as you do get into the works of Bob Avakian."(4)

Instead of actually organizing white communities, Revolution's approach is to utilize demeaning and patronizing language targeted at it's white readership in the hopes that feelings of white guilt will propel white people into taking up struggle. It calls them "stupid white people", "complicit"and uses harsh tones against them for not being "involved in the struggle" of Black people like supporters of the RCP. However, this begs the question, does the RCP have a real connection with the black masses or does the Revolution newspaper only perpetuate an illusion that it does?

Black Tokenism
The RCP Draft Programme states that the Party will "need tens of thousands of organized ties", yet the Party has failed to "have forged deeper ties with the masses" which it vehemently claims. However, to hide this failure the Revolution newspaper relies on anecdotes and black tokenism to give off the appearance of successfully creating ties with the black masses. Black tokenism refers to a practice of limited inclusion of members of a Blacks, usually creating a false appearance of inclusive practices, intentional or not. It creates this veil by using language that emphasizes difference; utilizing references to race or stereotypical characteristics.

For example, Revolution #47 features correspondences from readers in Los Angeles who had been reading, promoting, and discussing Bob Avakian's memoir, From Ike to Mao and Beyond. In Letter #2, a correspondence says they "spoke with a Black college student who grew up in the Valley ", that "Another really good conversation I had was when I spoke with a youth who lives in the projects" and how yet "Another high school youth from the same housing projects said that it would be really good to get this memoir into classrooms"(7) This same tactic is applied towards Hispanics as well. The first letter, the writer uses language that unnecessarily emphasizes differences, by asserting he talked to "two Latin-American immigrant proletarians, Tony and Pablo". The writer also had to emphasize the fact that "Pablo said that he was at a disadvantage in this discussion because he had lent his copy of the Memoir to a Latina immigrant friend (who finally has a place of her own after being in and out of homeless shelters and losing all of her possessions including her books)". Yet, it is odd that the fourth letter did not identify the person by identity characteristics, only saying, "A youth in the LA Writers Collective wrote a review of the Memoir last year while he was a college student." Revolution conveniently excludes references to race or stereotypical characteristics(blacks live in projects/ghettos, Hispanics in barrios) when it does not fit into their agenda.

This agenda is based on manufacturing an illusion of the RCP creating meaningful ties with peoples of color. Revolution Issue 100, notes that "One middle-aged Black woman had heard that we were going to be out there because of a flyer she had seen the day before and came over in the afternoon to be a part of it". There are anecdotes of RCP supporters befriending Black Jena residents, as in the cases of "Vera and James" in issue #103 and "Frank and Tyrone" in issue #115.

Due to the fact that anecdotes are essentially stories, a literary analysis can reveal striking information. There are many different critical approaches to literature, but in this case, I will assume a black Marxist approach in analyzing the black/white power structure which makes blacks inferior.

First, there are a series of questions one must ask his or herself during the reading of the piece. Questions like, “What stereotypes of blacks do you find.”, “How do the white characters talk to or treat the black characters.”, “Is there any evidence of the traditional binaries of white/black, intellectual/ignorant, objective/subjective and active/passive. The answer to this question helps us either to perform a studies of difference, studies of power or studies of the black experience.

The article by Alice Woodward, dealt with the efforts to win two local Black youth from Jena(Fred and Tyrone) over to joining protests taking place in Katrina. Woodward notes that Fred was "unsure about how the people in New Orleans would respond to someone like him, an outsider, a Black youth, coming to support them. He had a whole negative perception of the inner city youth. Of gangs and violence, of people without hope or any concern for others." Woodward describes in great detail how the youth were "song after song they spit words full of sexist, degrading, and objectifying shit" and how during the ride they had "a big ongoing struggle" with the Jena youth "over using the word “b*tch” and the attitude that women are sex objects" as well as informing the black youth of the "impact of the N word". (9)

Another Jena anecdote by Li Onesto details her experience with black Jena residents Vera and James. She describes that their daughter "knew her parents had been to the protest on Thursday and all the talk about the KKK and the death threats to the parents of the Jena 6 has gotten her upset." They then go on to mention that the girl looked "a bit embarrassed when her mother tells us this, but then smiles when we tell her that she should be very proud of her parents and the other people in Jena who were standing up to the nooses, standing up for what is right, that this is how history changes, when people take a stand and fight for a better world." (10)

In both stories, the black characters take on an ignorant, subjective and passive role, while the RCP supporters take on an intellectual, objective and active role from the traditional binaries. Revolution portrays Blacks as reactionary and hopeless, while the RCP supporters act as Revolutionary saviors, changing the views and instilling hope in the ignorant black masses giving them courage to struggle to change history. The daughter of Vera and James is "embarrassed" over the fact she is scared over KKK death threats, that is until, the RCP supporters tell her she should be very proud of her parents for standing up against the nooses and she instantly feels better. The black youth Fred uses language "full of sexist, degrading, and objectifying shit" until RCP supporters object to it and Fred ultimately agrees it is sexist. These traditional binary roles can not only be found in these two anecdotes, but many other anecdotes scattered in the Revolution paper.

Manufacture of Dissent
In the book Manufacture of Consent, Edward S. Herman and Noam Chomksy introduced a propaganda model that alleges systemic biases in the mass media and seeks to explain them in terms of structural economic causes. Here I introduced a theory that i call, Manufacture of Dissent, which is utilized by the Revolutionary Communist Party through its central organ Revolution.

The paper utilizes demeaning and patronizing language targeted at it's white readership in the hopes that feelings of white guilt will propel white people into taking up struggle. It curses at them, calls them "stupid white people", "complicit"and uses harsh tones against them for not being "involved in the struggle" of Black people like supporters of the RCP. However, the RCP does not have "organized ties" to the masses, particularly the Black masses as it so claims. So in order to hide this failure the Revolution newspaper relies on anecdotes and black tokenism to give off the appearance of successfully creating ties with the black masses. It thus creates a false impression by using language that emphasizes difference; utilizing references to race or stereotypical characteristics.

These tactics are essentially attempting to "manufacture dissent". The RCP claims to be winning over segments of the black population, as "evidenced" by their anecdotes. Next, they try to win over segments of the white population by stirring up feelings of white guilt due to white people's general complicity to the black oppression and not being involved in the day to day struggle of Black America like they are. However, the RCP itself is not involved in the day to day struggle of black America, nor does it have significant ties to the black population, it only casts this illusion in their approach to win over segments of the white population, white liberals in particular by casting a sense of urgency and guilt.

However, this approach fails on many grounds. One, instead of using the paper to have segments of the population "gravitate towards" the RCP, it actually achieves the exact opposite. The RCP's authoritarian stance and harsh, patronizing language towards white's may offend and repel readers from being potential supporters or even future readers. At the same time, the RCP's authoritarian and "holier than thou" attitude towards black America, as evidenced by the binaries intellectual/ ignorant and active/passive found in the many anecdotes, may also offend and repel black readers from becoming active supporters or future readers of the paper.

The Revolution newspaper is a prime example of how wrong line and approach is the main cause towards the Revolutionary Communist Party's inability to "forge deeper ties with the masses". Yet, the RCP explicitly tries to cover up this failure through usage of anecdotes which it uses as evidence of connecting and "winning over" the masses. Instead of lying and using condescending language towards it's readership, to it's white audience in particular, they need to organize within the white communities, instead of neglecting it. Are the white communities at fault for having reactionary views when progressive whites neglect organizing their communities in order to participate in struggles in black community(which evidently can organize themselves)? Can long lasting ties be established in black communities when white progressives only appear in a neighborhood during major social crisis? Certainly not. However, the RCP has yet to correct it's approach in interacting with and organizing the masses. The usage of the Revolution newspaper is just one prime example. Unless it does so, the Revolutionary Communist Party will continue to fail in it's attempt to "win over" and establish permanent ties with the masses.

-blackstone



Notes:
1. “Celebrate the 25th Anniversary of the RCP,USA,” Revolutionary Worker 1076, October 29, 2000, rwor.org
2. "Attention White People What is your Problem", Revolution #111, December 9 2007, rwor.org
3. "Jena and the Big Picture", Revolution #114, December 30, 2007, rwor.org
4. "The Jena 6, the Nooses, And Why We Need a Revolution" Revolution #110, November 25, 2007, rwor.org
5. "KKKluckers with NOOSES marching on MLK Day in Jena, unopposed? NO WAY!" Revolution #116, January 20, 2008, rwor.org
6. "The UNITY WE DO NOT NEED & the UNITY WE DO NEED." Revolution #105, October 21, 2007, rwor.org
7. "Reading, Promoting, and Discussing Bob Avakian's Memoir", Revolution #47, rwor.org
8. "Day of Resistance and Rembrance in Harlem, Revolution #100, September 9 2007, rwor.org
9. "On the Road from Jena to New Orleans", Revolution #115, December 13, 2007 rwor.org
10. "Jena Journal: 48 Hours After a Great Day", Revolution 103, October 7 2007, rwor.org

12 comments:

ulises said...

Check out this RCP Jena blog:

http://januaryinjena.blogspot.com/2008/01/for-immediate-release-statement-from.html

There is some discussion in the comments about the veracity of the RCP's claims and charges regarding the Nationalist's march. The message was reprinted in Revolution under the title "No to KKKluckers! No to Nooses! Free the Jena 6! We Want a Better World!"

http://www.revcom.us/a/118/jena-photos-en.html

Sam said...

I think this post is way off, and also misleading.

The "stupid white people" should be put in context first of all. Avakian says:

"you've got a lot of these stupid white people who write letters to editors in papers like the USA Today and say ignorant things like: "What is all this complaining about slavery --what about the Africans who owned slaves?" Or: "My parents came here from Europe and we never owned any slaves..." All this kind of nonsense that betrays, at a minimum, a woeful ignorance of the horror of slavery and white supremacy and oppression of Black people even after slavery and right down to today in the good ole USA."

Then he goes on to clarify his usage of "stupidity":

"So, when we witness a lot of this "stupidity" from more than a few white people in the U.S., this is not just something spontaneous--it is not just some kind of "personal prejudice" they developed all on their own--it stems from the underlying relations of white supremacy, which are built into the system in the U.S., and it has been consciously and systematically promoted by the ruling class whose system depends on and could not survive without this white supremacy and the corresponding racist ideas."

Also, underlying your entire argument is this point that because the RCP does not have a thousand ties to the black masses they are clearly wrong in line. This is what Lenin would call "Truth as an organizing principle" (referring to your assessment/criteria/etc.)...and he wasn't saying it was good. I have not seen the RCP claim to have these "thousands of ties", rather, they claim the necessity for this in bringing about radical change.

This kind of thinking of yours equates line with numbers. 10,000 white people could have gone down there on the basis of "white guilt" trying to rescue the poor black people (which I don't think the paper was doing) and that WOULD be wrong.

Also found it strange to be CRITICIZING the Revolution Newspaper for having a sense of urgency about the Jena rallies...as if they only use "urgency" to gain support from white people...as if the goal is simply to get more people involved...rather than actually ENDING this fucked up system. But again, I think this goes back to your own projection of 'truth as an organizing principle' on the RCP.

I also happen to think that White people should be called out on this shit. Not for whites to lead blacks...but for coming closer to ending this horrible oppression.

blackstone said...

In the article i said "The RCP Draft Programme states that the Party will "need tens of thousands of organized ties", yet the Party has failed to "have forged deeper ties with the masses" which it vehemently claims."

I said the Party state is will NEED tens of thousands of ties, i never said that the rcp claimed to have those ties. However, the RCP does claim to have forged deep ties with the masses", which is not true.

The fact of the matter is, he still uses patronizing language towards whites, whether he justifies it or not.

The fact of the matter is, false consciousness knows no racial boundaries. Blacks, asians, hispanics, whites will all say ignorant things and hold reactionary views. Yet, i haven't seen RCP calling blacks "stupid black people" or hispanics "stupid hispanic people". Do the RCP struggle with blacks and hispanics for holding reactionary views?Yes, but they exclude harsh tones towards them and reserve that for white people.

Do white people deserve to be talked to in this manner? This is the matter we are investigating now. Because patronizing and offensive tones can do the opposite of what you or the RCP hopes to do, bring white people closer to ending oppression.

Renegade Eye said...

The old line of RCP, was affirmative action divides the working class. That kept them isolated from black struggles in the late 1970s. I doubt if they changed their line.

Why talk about Maoist popular fronters?

Jim Jay said...

I think I agree with Ren's second point - there are serious issues here and we might be better off discussing those rather than a small, ineffectual group of (probably) well intentioned socialists.

My impression is that the US is far more divided along racial lines than the UK is (where I live) with black and white split into different neighbourhoods, far less dating and friendships between the groups - and, to be honest, even the whole idea of black and white communities seems a bit abstract here where we are very mixed.

I'm not claiming there's no racism here - of course not - but the US seems particularly polarised. Do you think that's true - and if so, why might it be that way?

blackstone said...

jim, i think RCP cannot be readily dimissed or ignored. it can be used as a case study to show how and why the RCP remains predominately white even though it claims to have forged deep ties or won over segments of black population.

Yes the US has disenfranchised Black Americans and seperated itself from them for centuries. Of course there was a time period called Segregation. Where certain institutions or public facilities were 'white only'. Once you realize this wasnt that long ago and that are grandparents or parents lived during this time, its not hard to see how those feelings may still be perputated.

Phil BC said...

Being an inveterate sectarian I always think there's plenty of learn from the theory and practice of existing socialist groups, regardless of their size. Sadly most revolutionary groups are case studies in how *not* to do things. The RCP is one of them and overall I thought this was an interesting article on one of the main US left groups. Just one question though, what is it with their rather bizarre personality cult around Chairman Bob?

Jim Jay said...

I'm not saying that learning lessons from others is not valuable - I think you're right Phil. I suppose I'm concerned sometimes when it seems like we're losing sight of the bigger picture.

BS: I think you're right that the history of segregation has a deep impact - but does that really explain hispanic neighbourhoods in the north for instance? I don't know enough about American history to say unfortunately.

blackstone said...

I think so jim because in the north it's more institutionalized racism ,whereas in the South it was more outright in blatant. Coupled with economic factors, and socio-cultural it isn't odd to see same groups living together after being barred from white neighborhoods..

Daniel Owen said...

A blow at white guilt sounds like my cup of tea! Quite honestly, I believe that 80 percent of the crap race-relations issue can be put down to manufactured white guilt. If you can't be comfortable and proud of who are as a white person, you won't be able to interact with blacks as fellow equals. White liberals are the worst racists I've come across because their world-view is warped by (self-hating) racialism. The unabashedly white seem to get on with blacks much better, just from personal experience. For instance, in working class areas where white guilt is around zero, you'll see many more interracial couples, etc.

Middle-class liberals, on the other hand, are too afraid of being racist or "privileged" to associate with blacks except in an apologetic and submissive way. To sort of paraphrase Bakunin, power screws up human relationships both ways.

Whites and blacks should treat each other as equals. No "white skin privilege", no "white guilt", etc. It's poisonous.

Daniel Owen said...

Renegade eye: "The old line of RCP, was affirmative action divides the working class. That kept them isolated from black struggles in the late 1970s. I doubt if they changed their line."

I agree with that. Affirmative action, and all other multiculturalist strategies, increases racialism. That is why Antifascist Action (AFA), Red Action, and the Independent Working Class Association (IWCA) in Britain are against multiculturalism and affirmative action. It divides our country, promotes racialism, and doesn't even help the black working class, it just creates a New Class-educated black elite of professionals.

See this article:

http://libcom.org/library/seperatism-accident-or-design-red-action

blackstone said...

thanks for your comments daniel and the insight your provided.

Renegade, can you go a little more into the old RCP line regarding affirmative action. I am not aware of it.