Category: Gerald Horne
Scandalize my Name…

Scandalize my Name…

– from Greg Godels is available at:

For the owners, publishers, and editors of the The New York Review of Books anti-Communism is still alive. The periodical occupies a unique, indispensable role in fostering and sustaining Cold War myths and legends.

The New York Review of Books has embraced rabid anti-Communism since its opportunistic birth in the midst of a newspaper strike. Founded by a cabal of virulent anti-Communists with identifiable links to the CIA through The Paris Review and the American Committee for Cultural Freedom, NYRB maintains the posture of the popular intellectual journal for academics, high-brow book clubbers, and coffee shop leftists for over half a century. Seldom would an issue go by without an earnest petition signed by intellectual celebrities pointing to human rights concerns in some far-off land that was coincidentally (perhaps?) also in the crosshairs of the US State Department. To be sure, the NYRB would muster a measure of indignation over the most egregious US adventures, particularly when they threatened to blemish the US image as the New Jerusalem.

Even with the Cold War behind us, the NYRB maintains an active stable of virulent anti-Soviet writers, partly to hustle its back list of Cold War classics and obscure “dissident” scribblers, partly to pre-empt any serious anti-capitalist thought that might emerge shorn of Red-dread.

Paul Robeson on Trial

In a recent essay/book review (The Emperor Robeson, 2-08-18), the NYRB brought its Red-chopping hatchet to the legacy of Paul Robeson in a piece transparently ill-motivated and poisonous.

Paul Robeson was nothing if not an exceptional, courageous political figure who galvanized US racial and political affairs in mid-century. Yet NYRB assigned Simon Callow, a UK theater personality, to the writing task despite the fact that he reveals in an interview cited in Wikipedia that “I’m not really an activist, although I am aware that there are some political acts one can do that actually make a difference…” And his essay bears out this confession along with his embarrassing ignorance of US history and the dynamics of US politics.

Callow begins his essay seemingly determined to prove his inadequacy to the task: “When I was growing up in Britain in the 1950s and 1960s, Paul Robeson was much in evidence… His name was haloed with the sort of respect accorded to few performers…” He then goes on at some length, heaping praise on Robeson. Then suddenly at “some point in the 1960s, he faded from our view…”

Whether Callow’s impressions are reflective of the UK experience is irrelevant. Surely, the important truth, the relevant fact, is that in Robeson’s country– the US– he was, throughout that time, a veritable non-person, the victim of a merciless witch hunt. To fail to acknowledge the fact that Robeson and his work were virtually unknown, were erased by the thought police, underscores Callow’s unfitness to discuss Robeson’s career. Indeed, members of the crowd that sought, at that time, to put lipstick on the ugly pig of racism and anti-Communism were soon to found the NYRB.

To say, as Callow does, that before the Cold War Robeson was “…lionized on both sides of the Atlantic…” is to display an unbelievable ignorance of the racial divide in the US. Robeson’s unequalled command of and success at multiple disciplines failed to spare him the indignities and inequalities that befell all African Americans in that era of US apartheid.

As for the post-World War II Red-scare, Callow simply ignores it as if it never occurred. Never mind the harassment, the surveillance, the denied careers, the confiscated passports, and the HUAC subpoenas that Robeson, like thousands of others, suffered from a hysterical, vicious anti-Communist witch hunt. For Callow, Robeson’s problems spring from a meeting granted by then President Truman in which Robeson had the audacity to make demands on his government. “From that moment on…” Callow tells us, “…the government moved to discredit Robeson at every turn…”

What a deft, nimble way to skirt the suffocating, life-denying effects of an entire era of unbridled racism and anti-Communism.

And, from Callow’s myopic perspective, Robeson’s campaign for peace and Cold War sanity resulted in “…universal approbation turned overnight into nearly universal condemnation.” For Callow, standing for peace against the tide of mindless conformity and mass panic is not the mark of courage and integrity, but a tragic career move.

In contrast to Paul Robeson’s life-long defiance of unjust power, Callow attributes a different approach to Robeson’s father, William: “But the lesson was clear: the only way out of poverty and humiliation was hard, hard work– working harder than any white man would have to, to achieve a comparable result.” One waits futilely to read that this reality is precisely what son, Paul, was trying to correct.

Like so many of today’s belated, measured “admirers” of Paul Robeson, Callow cannot resist delving into Robeson’s sexual proclivities, an interest which bears relevance that frankly escapes me. Similarly, Callow raises the matter of Robeson’s mental health and his withdrawal from public life.

Rather than considering the toll that decades of selfless struggle and tenacious resistance might have taken on Robeson’s body and mind, as it did countless other victims of the Red Scare, Callow contrives different explanations. “Robeson, it is clear, knew that his dream was just that: that the reality was otherwise. But he had to maintain his faith, otherwise what else was there?” So, for Callow, Robeson’s bad faith was responsible for mental issues and ill health. It was not a medical condition, the emotional stress of racism, or the repression of his political views that explain his decline. Instead, it was the consequences of bad politics.

Paraphrasing the author of a book on Robeson that Callow favors, he speculates that Robeson’s physical and mental decline “may have directly stemmed from the desperate requests from Robeson’s Russian friends to help them get out of the nightmarish world they found themselves in.” We are asked to believe that a man who resisted every temptation of success, defied the racial insults of his time, and steadfastly defended his commitment to socialism was brought to his knees by anti-Soviet media rumors? Certainly, there is no evidence for this outlandish claim.

Again, using author Jeff Sparrow (No Way But This: In Search of Paul Robeson) as his mouthpiece, Callow reveals his “problem” with Robeson: “…Robeson’s endorsement of Stalin and Stalin’s successors, his refusal to acknowledge what had been done in Stalin’s name, is the tragedy of his life.” In other words, like Budd Schulberg’s fictional snitch in On the Waterfront, if Robeson had only denounced his class, ratted on his friends, and bent to authority, he could have been a “contender” for the respect of liberals and the blessings of bourgeois success. But since he didn’t, his life was “a pitiful spectacle.”

Thankfully, there are still many who draw inspiration from the “pitiful spectacle” of Paul Robeson’s extraordinary life.

One Who Does

As if misunderstanding Robeson were not enough, Callow attacks a prominent scholar who does understand Robeson’s legacy. In contrast with his fawning review of the Sparrow book (“as different as chalk and cheese”), Callow demeans the contribution of one of the most gifted and thorough chroniclers of the page in history that included the life of Robeson. As a historian, Gerald Horne’s prodigious work stretches across books on such politically engaged Robeson contemporaries as WEB DuBois, Ben Davis, Ferdinand Smith, William Patterson, Shirley Graham DuBois, and John Howard Lawson. His writings explore the blacklist and The Civil Rights Congress, both keys to understanding Robeson and his time. In most cases, they represent the definitive histories of the subject.

But Callow prefers the shallow Sparrow account that substitutes the overused literary devices of “in search of../searching for…” to mask its limited scholarly ambition.

Callow is baffled by Horne’s Paul Robeson: The Artist as Revolutionary. Horne’s insistence that Robeson was a ‘revolutionary’ makes Callow apoplectic (“…page after page…”). But if Robeson was not an authentic, modern US revolutionary, then who was?

Callow cannot find a “clear picture of Robeson’s personality” in the Horne account, a conclusion that probably should not trouble Horne who seems more interested in history rather than psychology.

Callow’s sensibilities are especially offended by Horne’s depiction of the odious Winston Churchill, the man many believe to share responsibility for the WWI blood bath at Gallipoli and the two million deaths in the Bengal famine of 1943. It seems that Horne’s words for the short, chubby, Champagne and Cognac-loving prima donna– “pudgy, cigar-chomping, alcohol-guzzling Tory” — struck Callow’s ears as “vulgar.”

But Callow spews his own venomous insults: Horne’s book lacks “…articulate analysis, his account is numbing and bewildering in equal measure, like being addressed from a dysfunctional megaphone…”

Horne’s concluding endorsement of the relevance of Marx and Engels famous slogan– Workers of the World, Unite! –really brings Callow’s rancor to a boil: “I’m sorry to break it to Mr. Horne, but he doesn’t. And it isn’t.”

We surely know which side of the barricades Simon Callow has chosen.

The Legacy

The legacy of Paul Robeson has been maintained for the four decades since his death by his comrades and allies of the left, principally the Communist left. Most of those who worked and fought alongside of him have also passed away. Yet a small, but dedicated group of a few academics and more political activists have continued to tell his story and defend his values against a torrent of hostility or a wall of silence. Through the decades, he has been forced out of the mainstream– the history books and popular culture.

Of course, he was not alone in suffering anonymity for his Communist politics. Another giant who was brought down by Cold War Lilliputians, denigrated by hollow mediocrities, was African American Communist, Claudia Jones. Until recently, her powerful thinking on race, women’s rights, and socialism could only be found by those willing to search dusty corners of used book stores.

Perhaps no one promised to live and further Robeson’s legacy than the young writer Lorraine Hansberry, celebrated before her tragic death for her popular play, A Raisin in the Sun. Her work with Robeson and WEB DuBois on the paper, Freedom, brought her politics further in line with theirs: militant anti-racist, anti-imperialist, pro-socialist, Communist.

Forgotten by those who wish to portray her as a mere cultural critic, she famously called out Robert Kennedy’s elitist, patronizing posture in a meeting with Black civil rights leaders as enthusiastically recalled by James Baldwin.

Ignored by those who would like to see her as simply another civil rights reformer, her speech at a Monthly Review fundraiser, shortly before her death, resounds with revolutionary fervor:

If the present Negro revolt is to turn into a revolution, become sophisticated in the most advanced ideas abroad in the world, a leadership which will have had exposure to the great ideas and movements of our time, a Negro leadership which can throw off the blindness of parochialism and bathe the aspirations of the Negro people in the realism of the twentieth century, a leadership which has no illusion about the nature of our oppression and will no longer hesitate to condemn, not only the results of that oppression, but also the true and inescapable cause of it—which of course is the present organization of American society.

Today, there is a renewed interest in Robeson, Claudia Jones, and Lorraine Hansberry. Articles, books, and documentaries are appearing or are in the works. Some are offering ‘new’ perspectives on the lives of these extraordinary people, exploring aspects of their lives that show that their humanity perhaps reached further than previously thought. Yes, they were Communists, but they were not just Communists. Indeed, they belong to the world.

However, it would be a great tragedy if they were denied their conviction that capitalism– the present organization of American society, in Hansberry’s words– represented the foundation of other oppressions. It would be criminally dishonest if there were no acknowledgement that they were made enemies of the state precisely because they embraced socialism. For an African American, in racist, Cold War mid-century USA, the decision to embrace Communism was not taken lightly or frivolously. Robeson, Jones, and Hansberry knew exactly what that commitment meant to the forces of repression. And they risked it. They should be looked upon as people’s champions for their courage.

New researchers are welcome to explore other dimensions of the lives of these unbending fighters for social justice. But their authentic legacies are needed now more than ever.

Greg Godels
LIVE: Historian Gerald Horne on Trump’s Decision to End DACA and Recovery After Harvey
worker | September 6, 2017 | 12:44 pm | Donald Trump, Gerald Horne | 1 Comment

‘$64 question: Where is US evidence Assad behind Idlib chemical attack?’
worker | April 11, 2017 | 8:14 pm | Analysis, China, DPRK, Gerald Horne, Iran, political struggle, Russia, Syria | Comments closed
‘$64 question: Where is US evidence Assad behind Idlib chemical attack?’
Trump’s ‘Wag the dog’ gambit in Syria echoes the 1983 Reagan invasion of Grenada to distract attention from the tragedy of US marines being blown up in Lebanon. It is also a signal to China and Iran, says historian Gerald Horne.

The US says its missile strike on the Syrian airbase was in retaliation for the chemical attack in Idlib province which killed scores of civilians on Tuesday. However, Damascus firmly rejects any involvement.

America’s UN envoy Nikki Haley held up images, purporting to show child victims of the chemical incident. She said it bears all the hallmarks of the Assad regime’s use of chemicals.

The Russian Foreign Ministry stressed that no probe into Syrian government involvement in the Idlib attack had been conducted yet. Spokesperson Maria Zakharova pointed out that, despite the US calling for an investigation, the country then went on to destroy the planes they wanted to investigate, adding that it has nothing to do with establishing the truth.

The US ambassador to the UN insists though that the evidence exists.

RT: Nikki Haley referred to “classified” evidence proving that Bashar Assad was responsible for the chemical incident in Idlib province. If they really have this evidence, why do you think they are withholding it from the UN?

Gerald Horne: That is the $64 question. It reminds us that after the last chemical attack in August 2013, the highly regarded journalist in the US Seymour Hersh did an investigation which pointed to the culprits in that particular attack was not the Damascus regime or President Assad but in fact, the rebels assisted by their external allies. Then, of course, there is a legal question. That is to say, where the UN resolution that authorized this attack on Syria is? I take it that there was no imminent threat of a Syrian attack on the US. So, I am wondering what is the legal justification in international law for the US attack in Syria. Then there is the question of domestic law. That is to say the US Constitution gives Congress the right and the authority to allow the US to go to war, there is no existing credible resolution from Congress that would have authorized this attack on Syria. And then there is a political question. It is well-known Trump was facing a range of scandals, and it is also well-known that there is a history of US presidents facing difficulties at home waging war abroad. This was the plot of the widely popular movie of 1997 called Wag the Dog and certain pundits are calling this the ‘Wag the Dog’ gambit by Mr. Trump. And I also recall that in 1983, the day after US marines were blown up in Lebanon, Ronald Reagan, the US president invaded the tiny Caribbean island of Grenada to distract attention from that tragedy. This attack on Syria has echoes of 1983.

RT: Despite the bombardment, the al-Shayrat base is still functional, and planes have been taking off from there. Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said it’s a “serious mistake”. What’s the logic behind that? Should Assad be getting permission from Washington to use his own base in his own country?

GH: Obviously, that is ridiculous and ludicrous, but we have to keep our eye on the ball and recognize that there is a larger game at play. Keep in mind that there had been repeated confrontations in the first few months of 2017 between Iranian speed boats and US vessels in the Persian Gulf. It is no secret Mr. Trump is hostile to the Iranian regime. It is no secret that he would like to see regime change in Tehran. And since Iran is a major supporter of the Damascus-based regime, it seems to me that these missiles aimed at Damascus were also incidentally aimed at Tehran. Likewise, I don’t find it coincidental or accidental that President Xi Jinping was in Florida at the same time that Mr. Trump authorized this attack on Syria. Not only because Mr. Trump was placing pressure on China to place pressure on its ally in North Korea…But also there is a lot of hysteria in the US about the rise of China. And this muscle-flexing on the part of Mr. Trump was also a signal to China just as in 1999 the US “accidently” attacked the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade as a way to give a signal, not so subtle, to China.

Iranian political scientist Kaveh Afrasiabi, commented on the US ambassador to the UN’s statement that the US needs to “get the Iranian influence out” of Syria: “I could only conjecture that she means the US is going to increase its creeping intervention inside Syria and throw its weight behind various rebel groups in order to roll back against what the Syrian government, with the backing of Russia and Iran, has made over the past two years.”

“This reflects the roll-backing strategy on the part of the US that is very unfortunate because it transpires at a very delicate time in the peace process when the talks between the Syrian government and opposition in Astana are proceeding as well as a parallel track in the European capitals,” he continued.

In Afrasiabi’s view, the US’ attack on the Syrian airbase “was meant to torpedo the peace process” which is part of the strategy “held by the leadership in Israel, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar.”

“They see growing Iranian influence, and they want to reverse that,” Afrasiabi told RT.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.

The counter revolution of 1776: A book review

By James Thompsoncounter-revolution of 1776

Dr. Gerald Horne, the Moores Professor of History & African-American studies at the University of Houston, has made a major contribution to the field of African-American history by publishing his book, The Counter-Revolution of 1776: Slave Resistance and the Origins of the United States of America.

This book elucidates the rebellious tendencies among Africans in the colonies leading up to the 1776 revolution. He shares a wealth of knowledge which clarifies our understanding of the social upheaval and the events which led up to the 1776 revolution.

This book stands in stark contrast to the typical “whitewashed” accounts of the 1776 revolution written by US historians. Most US students graduate from high school having been immersed in these “bleached” accounts thinking that the 1776 revolution consisted of a white man scurrying through the streets of Boston shrieking “The British are coming! The British are coming!”

Few US historians, with the exception of Herbert Aptheker and W.E.B. DuBois, have anything at all to say about Africans in North America. Professor Horne shines a light on this important but often ignored part of American history.

Karl Marx was one of the first to recognize the complexities and contradictions in the social system of the United States when he wrote: “In the United States of North America, every independent movement of the workers was paralyzed so long as slavery disfigured a part of the Republic. Labour cannot emancipate itself in the white skin where in the black it is branded. (Marx, Karl and Engels, Frederick, Collected Works, Vol. I, Ch. 10, Section 7, pg. 329).

Professor Horne’s book is timely

Dr. Horne’s book is timely in that it appears at the same time Treyvon Martin was murdered for wearing a hoodie, Michael Brown was shot dead by an Anglo police officer for walking in the street and Eric Garner was choked to death by an Anglo police officer. The book also appeared just about the time popular movies hit the screens to include Django and 12 Years a Slave.

Of course, all these events are occurring in the midst of the vilest, right wing bashing of the first African-American president of the United States. Reactionary racism has dominated the mass media in the United States for the past six years and much of the progressive left has responded by retreat into isolation. Perhaps Dr. Horne’s book will be a clarion call to action for people of conscience who oppose the repulsive, poisonous vitriol spewed out by the hysterical, red faced, white fascists. Some analysts say that right-wingers constitute about 1/3 of the electorate of the USA.

The struggle between pro-slavery and anti-slavery forces

Professor Horne shines light on the intrigue which accompanied the development of the new Republic. He discusses the alliances that formed between the Africans, the British and the indigenous population in North America. He notes that the threat that these alliances posed to the slave-holding bourgeois class helped propel the colonists to revolution. Much more research is needed, but Professor Horne’s account of these developments may suggest that these anti-slavery tendencies among the Africans, British, and indigenous people as well as the anti-slavery tendencies among certain leaders of the colonists, and certain elements of the Spanish, French and Mexican governments may have been crucial to the development of the progressive movement in the United States. It is important to remember that Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin were opposed to slavery and were active in the struggle against slavery. Britain abolished the slave trade in 1807, and the United States followed close behind by abolishing the slave trade in 1808. Britain abolished slavery in 1833 and the United States followed in 1865, about 32 years later.

Dr. Herbert Aptheker wrote about the struggle between pro-slavery and anti-slavery elements in the development of the American Republic in a chapter on the Declaration of Independence: “The second major congressional revision of Jefferson’s document resulted in the excision of a long passage-more than 150 words-dealing with slavery and the slave trade. This passage appeared as the final, climactic, item in the listing of abominations brought upon the colonies by George III, justifying resistance to his forcible efforts to retain them. In this passage Jefferson excoriated the King for vetoing repeated colonial efforts to curtail or to ban the African slave trade and denounced not only the trade but the system of production which it served. Due to the heated objections of the delegates from slaveholding Georgia and South Carolina and the somewhat less intense objections from several delegates from Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island, where slave trading had been an important business, this entire passage was excised. In the Declaration not a word is found of the slave trade, and slavery appears obliquely and very briefly in an attack on the King for having “excited domestic insurrections amongst us.” (Aptheker, Herbert, The American Revolution 1763-1783, International Publishers, New York, 1960, p. 101). Prof. Aptheker also wrote: “Especially striking is the fact that while the Declaration spoke of equality, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, 600,000 American slaves-slaves for life, who transmitted their status to all offspring, through the maternal line-were held to labor under the lash. It is indeed one of the most painful and yet most revealing facts in American history that the author of the Declaration of Independence was himself a slave owner (Ibid., p. 108).

Definition of revolution

It is important to note that both progressive and reactionary tendencies in the colonies interacted in such a way that it culminated in an anti-imperialist revolution. Lenin defined revolution as follows: “The passing of state power from one class to another is the first, the principal, the basic sign of a revolution, both in the strictly scientific and in the practical political meaning of that term.” (Lenin, V.I., Letters on Tactics (1918) Lenin Collected Works, Progress Publishers, 1964, Moscow, Volume 24, pp. 42-54). In the case of the American Revolution, state power passed from the feudalistic, aristocratic, bourgeois classes in Britain to the non-feudalistic, non-aristocratic, bourgeois class in the 13 colonies.

Definition of counterrevolution

Professor Horne argues that there were elements among the American revolutionaries who used the revolution opportunistically to postpone the abolition of slavery in North America. Some might argue that these reactionaries were actually counter-revolutionaries.

Counterrevolution may be defined as the passing of state power from an advanced class to a less advanced class, e.g. from the working class to the bourgeoisie. The 1917 Russian revolution was a passing of state power from the bourgeoisie to the proletariat. The end of the Soviet Union was a counter-revolution because state power passed from the working class to the bourgeoisie.

It could also be argued that the pro-slavery tendencies that Dr. Horne writes about may have been an important part of the development of the right wing and fascist tendencies in the United States in more recent years.

Revolution or counterrevolution

Others may argue that since the British aristocracy and bourgeoisie were overthrown in the colonies and state power passed to the bourgeois class in the colonies, the American Revolution was a revolution indeed according to Lenin’s definition i.e. the passing of state power.

In any case, the American Revolution, as any bourgeois revolution must be, was clearly contradictory and complex. These complexities and contradictions are still in effect to this day.

The liberation of slaves was essentially a humanitarian and democratic question since the passing of state power to the slaves is not essential to the concept of the liberation of slaves. This passing of state power is essential to the concept of revolution or counter-revolution. For example, in the middle of the 19th century in the USA there was a liberation of slaves under the regime of Abraham Lincoln, but there was no passing of state power from one class to another. There was merely a consolidation of state power in the bourgeoisie in the Northern states. Similar to the case of the slaves, in the Civil War there was no passing of state power to women, indigenous people and other sectors of the working class. Therefore these were not questions of revolution or counter-revolution, they were questions of liberty, humanitarianism and democracy.

The struggle between pro-slavery and anti-slavery elements laid the groundwork for the struggle between progressive and reactionary forces today.

Dr. Horne points out correctly that David Duke, a racist fascist, received a great deal of support in his campaign to be governor of Louisiana. He did win a majority of the Anglo vote in this race. However, it is important to remember that Duke did not win the election. Even in reactionary Louisiana, a coalition of moderate forces prevailed and repelled this repugnant Nazi.

In recent years we have seen a passing of state power from one sector of the bourgeois class, i.e. the liberal sector, to another sector of the bourgeoisie, i.e. the reactionary sector. Therefore, this passing of state power from one sector to another sector of the same class is not a revolution according to Lenin’s definition. Recently, the reactionary sector has succeeded in rolling back many reforms brought about during the Roosevelt years. Many civil liberties and social programs have been severely limited or eliminated altogether. Violent racist action has increased and many innocent workers and their family members have been slaughtered.

Some on the left confuse the concept of a proletarian revolution with the concept of revolution. It is important to remember that according to Lenin’s definition of revolution, the passing of state power can be from any class to any other class. Once again, the American revolution resulted in a passing of state power from the British bourgeoisie to the American bourgeoisie over the British colonies in North America. Therefore, the exclusion of African slaves, European women, European and Asian indentured servants, the indigenous and Latino populations of North America and other oppressed peoples does not preclude the regime change during the late 18th century from being a revolution.


Thanks to Professor Horne’s work, we now have a better understanding of the various components of the dialectical process in the struggle between proslavery and anti-slavery forces leading up to the foundation of the American Republic. We also can see that the struggle continues for a more perfect union between the reactionary and progressive forces today. Horne’s book enlightens us about the history of the struggle for African-American equality in the United States, the struggle against slavery, the struggle against racism as well as the roles these various struggles played in the development of the country.

Hopefully, many people will read this important book and it will raise their consciousness about the history of the United States of America. This could mark a turning point and further the development of a mass movement against racism, sexism and fascism. People will reject fascism and its negative ideology when they understand that it will lead to war and destruction (perhaps of the whole world). Horne’s book can contribute to this future positive turn of events.