Introduction: Racism and imperialism unite ‘both sides of the aisle’
Responding to criticism of the political system of the newly-independent Tanzania, the great African teacher, revolutionary and theorist Julius Nyerere responded, observing ‘the United States is also a one-party state, but with typical American extravagance, they have two of them.’ He was and is right. Rhetorical differences and popular presentation aside, the two ruling-class parties effectively function as a dictatorship domestically and globally. For concrete and contemporary evidence, look no further than the New McCarthyism and Red Scare promoted by media outlets and politicians on ‘both sides of the aisle,’ from Fox News and Marco Rubio to The New York Times and Chuck Schumer.
On August 5, The New York Times released a report that, in essence, boldly and baselessly suggests that groups or organisations advocating for peace with China are part of an international conspiracy organised by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Despite the absence of any substantive proof, politicians are already using it as ammunition in their broader ‘new McCarthyism’ agenda, which could potentially have devastating consequences for the globe. Fortunately, a variety of institutions and networks are already organising against it by building a fight-back movement in which education plays a key role, and you can too.
Their presentation opens with the racist logic guiding their investigation as they try to discredit the multitude of spontaneous global actions against anti-Asian racism in 2021. They narrate a single action in London where a scuffle broke out, they contend, after activists with No Cold War (one of the event’s organisers) ‘attacked activists supporting the democracy movement in Hong Kong.’ They offer only two words to back up this narrative: ‘witnesses said.’
No Cold War is dedicated to promoting peaceful relations between the US and China, organising in-person and virtual events to advance the global peace movement. Having spoken on their panels and attended others, I can confirm they are educational, generative and productive intellectually and politically. They include a range of perspectives, given they are working toward peace. This principle is unacceptable for the Times and the New McCarthyites, however, as the journalists ‘reveal’ that No Cold War is merely ‘part of a lavishly funded influence campaign that defends China and pushes its propaganda.’ So too, it seems, is any group advocating for peace.
The investigators construct an international conspiracy centred on Neville Roy Singham, a millionaire sympathetic to peace and socialism who donates his millions to left-wing non-profits who, in turn, help finance very active and crucial anti-war, anti-racist and anti-imperialist organisations. This is where the most dangerous suggestion emerges, one upon which pro-war forces quickly seized: that groups receiving funding from Singham could be agents of the Chinese Communist Party and thus violating the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA).
These suggestions are completely devoid of validation. The only ‘evidence’ presented are statements made by a handful of former employees and members of some organisations partly funded and supported directly or indirectly by Singham, including the Nkrumah School, the media outlet New Frame and the Socialist Revolutionary Workers Party in South Africa. Then, of course, there is the fact that Singham supported Hugo Chávez, has relationships with some of the million members of the Chinese Communist Party, is pictured at a CCP meeting (excuse me, ‘propaganda forum’) taking notes in a book ‘adorned with a red hammer and sickle.’ And I almost forgot the nail in the hammer: a plaque of Xi Jinping hanging in Singham’s office.
Fox News and other right-wing outlets and politicians are at the helm of the bandwagon as well. For years they promoted propaganda alleging China is influencing US schools and universities as a method of attacking freedom of inquiry and speech in the US, including in my state of Indiana. In August 2021, Indiana’s Attorney General Todd Rokita (whom most Hoosiers don’t support) threatened to investigate the Confucius Institute at a small college, Valparaiso University, saying it operates ‘to spread propaganda and circulate the mantra of the CCP at both the university and in several K-12 schools in Indiana.’ The University closed the Institute but, importantly, maintained Rokita was lying about its function, which is to promote cross-cultural understanding and dialogue. Unfortunately, almost all such institutes have shuttered.
Old or new, ‘McCarthyism’ is reality, not hyperbole
On August 9, Senator Marco Rubio officially called on the Department of Justice to investigate a range of progressive organisations in the US for violating FARA and acting as unregistered Chinese agents. Rubio’s evidence? The Times ‘investigation.’ Rubio includes but adds to the groups smeared in the Times article. The strategy is to discredit anti-war groups, grassroots movement hubs and anti-imperialist and anti-racist organisations as CCP operatives, thereby silencing opposition to their foreign policy strategy, part of which includes funding separatist movements in places like Hong Kong. In their opening, the Times journalists neglect to mention that most people in that region of China actually oppose the ‘freedom movement,’ partly because of its political character, exemplified by its leaders such as Joshua Wong, a close collaborator of Rubio, who led the charge to nominate Wong for the Nobel Peace Prize.
Rubio’s letter to the Biden Administration’s Attorney General names nine entities, including the anti-war group Code Pink, the Tricontinental Institute for Social Research, The People’s Forum, amongst others. This list will likely expand to include numerous others who either didn’t respond to the journalists’ red-baiting or who maintain some connection to the groups identified.
Already serious, it could potentially be devastating. I don’t know a peace or social justice activist, let alone an anti-imperialist or anti-racist revolutionary organisation, with a substantial base, membership or level of activity, that isn’t somehow related to these organisations (or organisations related to them). The People’s Forum should be of particular concern for educators, as it is the most active and pedagogically innovative popular education institute in the US. Academic journals and publishers work with them to host events and book launches, and a range of professors, including myself, teach classes for them (without getting a paycheck, let alone a ‘lavish’ one, I should add).
There are several continuities between the anti-communist and anti-Black witch-hunts of the 1940s-50s and the new McCarthyism. In both cases, the same ruling-class parties united as outlets like The New York Times recklessly promoted their campaign, slandering heroic Black figures like W.E.B. Du Bois, Langston Hughes and Paul Robeson. Newspaper headlines alone facilitated this work, such as the 1949 Times headline calling Robeson a ‘Black Stalin’ who “Suffered ‘Delusions of Grandeur.”’ This continued with the Civil Rights Era and was a major factor stalling its militancy and has again resurfaced. They never apologised for their role in spreading such racist propaganda.
Imperialism and white supremacy: More than and predating McCarthy
Labelling this wide historical period and its complex political configurations as ‘McCarthyism’ is useful in speaking popularly, but educators should note it can be misleading. The anti-Black and anti-communist/radical crusade preceded Sen. Joseph McCarthy. Historian Gerald Horne cogently locates the foundations of contemporary racist US capitalism in the imbrication of white supremacy and anti-communism insofar as it
is undergirded by the fact that slave property was expropriated without compensation.… [O]ne of the largest uncompensated expropriations before 1917 took place in this nation: African-Americans are living reminders of lost fortunes.
Similarly, Charisse Burden-Stelly’s concept of modern US racial capitalism specifically designates a ‘political economy constituting war and militarism, imperialist accumulation, expropriation by domination and labour superexploitation.’ Like Horne, the system ‘is rooted in the imbrication of anti-Blackness and antiradicalism.’
History proves their theses correct. For one example, take Benjamin J. Davis, the first Black communist ever elected to public office in the US. He served as a New York City Councilman from 1943 until 1949, when he and other Communist Party leaders were arrested under the Smith Act. In Davis’ set of ‘autobiographical notes’ penned while captive in an apartheid federal prison in Terre Haute, an hour’s drive from where I’m writing, the Black Party leader recounts how, following the end of the US’s alliance with the Soviet Union, ‘the pro-fascist, Negro-hating forces which had been held in check during the war, began to break loose.’ The Republicans, Democrats, FBI and other state elements sat idly by as racist attacks, including a mass lynching in Atlanta by the Klan, intensified.
Communists, on the other hand, responded immediately, with the Party’s Black leadership uniting and mobilising broad sectors of society. It was only then that the state responded, and not to the racist lynching but to those fighting them. In other words, while the US state passively accepted racist and fascist groups in the US, they turned to active repression when Black people and their supporters and comrades fought back.
The 1949 conviction and imprisonment of Davis and other Party leaders for violating the anti-communist Smith Act was an example of this repression. The US imprisoned and suppressed hundreds of communist leaders and fellow travellers, with countless others driven underground, blacklisted and deported.
It was not only their organising that threatened the state; it was also their ideology. Thus, prison administrators prevented the publication of Davis’s book for a decade after he was released. Physically and ideologically repressing communism was part of a project to exterminate the revolutionary, internationalist and Black Liberation movements and traditions just as a new wave of US imperialist aggression was kicking into high gear.
Decolonisation and anti-colonialist struggle: A matter of survival, not academic fodder
This leads to one other glaring connection between the Red Scare of today and then, one that demonstrates the historical and ideological continuity of racist US imperialism, helps define the current conjuncture and might convince academics we don’t need new words and more language but action: the US war against the Korean national liberation and socialist struggle.
Seventy years ago, on July 27, the resistance of the Korean masses forced the US to sign an armistice agreement, ceasing the US’s horrendous violence against the peninsula. Despite their military might, new chemical and biological weapons, and bombs that even the Air Force admits inflicted ‘greater damage than German and Japanese cities firebombed during World War II,’ they couldn’t defeat the freedom fighters in the Korean People’s Army (many of whom were from the south).
Before the armistice signing on February 2, Trinidadian-born Black communist Claudia Jones, who at 37 years of age was a high-ranking Party member and leading organiser and theorist, stood before Judge Edward J. Dimrock in a New York courtroom along with a dozen other Party leaders They were all convicted of several charges, including conspiring to overthrow the US government. The pre-sentencing statement is generally used to plea for leniency, but, as a revolutionary communist, Jones saw another opportunity to agitate and raise consciousness.
Jones opened by making it clear it wasn’t meant for the Judge or for the state. No, Jones addressed the real power in the world: the global revolutionary movement. ‘If what I say here,’ she began, ‘serves even one whit to further dedicate growing millions of Americans to fight for peace and to repel the fascist drive on free speech and thought in our country, I shall consider my rising to speak worthwhile indeed.’
Overall, this and other trials that persecuted communists and progressives weren’t about specific articles or actions, although, as Denise Lynn notes, in 1947, J. Edgar Hoover directed the FBI to surveil ‘her every speech, radio interview, mention in the Daily Worker, and all of her written work as well as party functions she attended or hosted.’
The prosecution, Jones highlighted, introduced her articles as evidence but did not read them; actually, they could not read them aloud because, in the first place, doing so would affirm ‘that Negro women can think and speak and write!’
Jones then called attention to the second piece of evidence they could not read: her historic speech delivered at an International Women’s Day rally and published in Political Affairs under the title ‘Women in the Struggle for Peace and Security’ in March 1950, the same year the state obtained her deportation order.
In that speech, delivered months before the ‘barbaric’ war against Korea, as she called it, Jones proposed that ‘a fundamental condition for rallying the masses of American women into the peace camp is to free them from the influence of the agents of imperialism’ by linking them with the new phenomenon of a global anti-imperialist women’s movement spanning 80 countries. This would ‘inspire the growing struggles of American women and heighten their consciousness of the need for militant united-front campaigns around the burning demands of the day.’ Thus, the prosecution could not read it aloud because
it urges American mothers, Negro women and white, to emulate the peace struggles of their anti-fascist sisters in Latin America, in the new European democracies, in the Soviet Union, in Asia and Africa to end the bestial Korean war … to reject the militarist threat to embroil us in a war with China, so that their children should not suffer the fate of the Korean babies murdered by napalm bombs of B-29s, or the fate of Hiroshima.
How terrifyingly presciently Jones’s words resonate with us here today, 70 years on. We face ongoing imperialist aggression against the Korean people and their struggle for peace, national liberation and reunification, the ramping up of US militarism as they prepare for a war against China, and the accompanying ‘Red Scare’ to produce consent, silence dissent and inhibit solidarity efforts.
The US is a … Pacific power?
The US’s ‘Pivot to Asia’ dates at least back to 1898 when they waged a war against and occupied the Philippine Republic, but its current iteration emerged in November 2011, when then-President Barack Obama told the Australian Parliament ‘The United States is a Pacific power, and we are here to stay.’ That month, his Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, published an article in Foreign Policy (the unofficial organ of the US State Department) articulating the US’s new line, that first and foremost entailed ‘a substantially increased investment – diplomatic, economic, strategic and otherwise – in the Asia-Pacific region.’
We all know what Clinton meant by ‘otherwise,’ as did the Chinese people, government and governing Party. For some context, recall that this came out one month earlier Clinton erupted in joy during a CBS interview after hearing of African revolutionary Muammar Gaddafi’s brutal assassination by reactionary forces (whose campaign was based on disproven propaganda and racism against migrant workers from the southern part of the continent). ‘We came, we saw, he died,’ she said laughingly after destroying an independent African nation and its widely popular government.
As the US was waging dozens of wars, occupations, covert military operations and more, China followed the CCP’s line of a ‘peaceful rise.’ They did so as long as they could, and when it was clear the US wasn’t stopping, both China and Russia finally stood up to the US.
Especially since the election of Xi Jinping to the position of General Secretary of the CCP, China has made a sharp shift to the left and now, after decades, finally offers an alternative pole for the world order so the people of the world can finally be freed from the colonial rule of the US through military occupations and other mechanisms like the International Monetary Fund and World Bank. This is why the Belt and Road initiative is critical to formerly colonised states, and why it is falsely labelled ‘colonialist’ by ruling-class figures from Steve Bannon to Clinton.
What would you do then? Do it now! Resisting intimidation is the path to victory
Rubio ended his letter to the DOJ by proclaiming: ‘The CCP is our greatest adversary, and we cannot allow it to abuse our open system to promote its malign influence any longer.’ The threat of war is not rhetoric. The Department of Defence’s new military doctrine is explicitly guided by ‘Great Power Rivalry, a euphemism for an all-out war to recolonise and redivide China.
As US imperialist occupations expand, as they continue conducting military exercises in the South China Sea, China remains remarkably restrained. Can you imagine what the US would do if, say, China sent nuclear-armed submarines to the shores of California, patrolled the Atlantic waters off the coast of New York City, or stationed military bases throughout Mexico and Canada?
It is irrelevant wherever one stands on China, its political system, or any issue or policy. In terms of internationalist solidarity, the least that educators in the imperialist core can do is restrain our government. Even if one of your colleagues supports US imperialism, however, they will hopefully at least stand against attempts to intimidate and silence opposition and free speech. As the petition against the New McCarthyism states:
This attack isn’t only on the left but against everyone who exercises their free speech and democratic rights. We must firmly resist this racist, anti-communist witch hunt and remain committed to building an international peace movement. In the face of adversity, we say NO to xenophobic witch hunts and YES to peace.
Read, sign and share the petition now. Don’t be intimidated. The heroic freedom fighters we teach and write about, the ones we admire, never gave in despite their extraordinary oppression and unthinkable suffering.
For those of us committed to ending white supremacy, capitalism, imperialism, or at the very least, to protecting the freedom of speech and dissent, one small thing to do now is to talk with everyone about it, to sign this petition and affirm that you won’t be silenced or intimidated. Let’s follow the words and deeds of Jones, not Marco Rubio.
Our enemies aren’t in Russia or China, North Korea or Cuba. They are right here in the US, from the Pentagon and Wall Street to the cops who routinely murder and harass the exploited and oppressed. What the police do here, the US military does across the globe. Together, we can defeat them.