Black and Red Baiting: A Reply to Eric Heinze, ‘Angela Davis’s Racism’

King Communist Training

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It is to be hoped that most readers of Critical Legal Thinking who enjoy a passing ac­quaint­ance with twentieth-​century his­tory or the writing and act­ivism of Angela Davis, will re­cog­nise Eric Heinze’s art­icle ‘Angela Davis’s Racism’ for what it is: a pom­pous and pur­blind character-​assassination, whose ig­nor­ance of his­tory and polit­ical bad faith make old school anti-​communist po­lemics seem like par­agons of fair­ness and schol­ar­ship by comparison.

Heinze’s ‘ar­gu­ment’ is easily sum­mar­ised: Angela Davis cam­paigns against ra­cism, Angela Davis sup­ported com­munist re­gimes, com­munist re­gimes were ra­cist, ergo Angela Davis is a ra­cist and a hy­po­crite. Implicit co­rol­lary: Angela Davis has no le­git­imacy as a critic of ra­cism and should thus not be given a prom­inent plat­form from which to voice her po­s­i­tion. Now, Heinze presents his ar­gu­ment as a kind of cor­rective to a prior, and far more classic piece of red-​baiting, Alan Johnson’s tawdry little blog edit­orial in The Telegraph.1 Though he evid­ently shares Johnson’s polit­ical in­clin­a­tions, he wishes to strike a more soph­ist­ic­ated, aca­demic pose. So we get a su­per­fi­cially reas­on­able pre­amble chiding Johnson for not at­tending to the con­ten­tious­ness of Cold War align­ments, or ac­know­ledging that Davis’s idea of freedom does not be­long to Johnson’s lib­eral canon. Whence Heinze’s Gamble: ‘im­manent critique’.

Perhaps Heinze really doesn’t know what ‘im­manent’ means, in­cap­able as he mani­festly is of in­hab­iting Davis’s po­s­i­tion with a modicum of ac­curacy for even a mo­ment, thus mis­taking cri­tique for in­quis­i­tion. Staking his ground, he writes:

Unlike John­son, I am ask­ing not about an anti-​discrimination act­iv­ist who, by openly sup­port­ing Soviet polit­ics, flag­rantly em­braced at­tacks on other people’s civil and polit­ical rights. Let the world judge that as it may. Rather, I am ask­ing about the anti-​discrimination act­iv­ist who cheer­fully em­braced other people’s dis­crim­in­a­tion.

Now, base­less as this slur is (if not quite as slan­derous as branding Davis ‘the Honorary Queen of Soviet Imperial Apartheid’), it also mis­rep­res­ents Davis as a moral ad­vocate against dis­crim­in­a­tion, rather than a polit­ical (and for a long while openly re­volu­tionary) mil­itant for fem­inist, anti-​racist and anti-​capitalist eman­cip­a­tion. Though Heinze in­sists on seeing her thinking in a moral re­gister (‘con­demning’, ‘pro­voking’, etc.) her idea of freedom and of justice has in­sist­ently been ori­ented to­wards so­cial transformation.

In his only nod to legal mat­ters, Heinze also per­plex­ingly iden­ti­fies Davis’s ‘starting point’ as a ‘cri­tique of legal form­alism’. Rhetorically, this may be ex­pedient: it al­lows Heinze not only to feign dis­tance from Johnson’s Cold War tirade, but to sim­u­late a proper re­spect for Marxian cri­tiques of law. Yet not only is this not ‘im­manent’, it be­trays a stag­gering lack of his­tor­ical at­ten­tion and moral taste. Davis’s starting point, and the en­during do­main of her thinking and act­ivism, is the con­crete ex­per­i­ence of gendered and classed ra­cial op­pres­sion and its em­bed­ded­ness in the on­going US his­tory of cap­it­alist ex­ploit­a­tion and im­per­i­alism. As a mere glance at her in­spiring work on the sys­temic ra­cism that drives the US car­ceral system would re­veal, this has little in common with a cri­tique of legal form­alism blandly con­sidered.2

Heinze evid­ently has no in­terest in or af­finity with this kind of work, or with this kind of politics. So much for im­manent cri­tique. What of the main plank of his po­lemic, Eastern Bloc ra­cism? Here Heinze demon­strates how shallow his ap­parent dis­tan­cing from Cold War diatribes is. The first false step is to follow Johnson in taking his moral au­thority from Solzhenitsyn. Despite the in­dis­put­able force of his nar­rat­ives of the gulag ar­chipelago, Solzhenitsyn was a no­torious Great Russian na­tion­alist who de­fended the Vietnam War, at­tacked Daniel Ellsberg for pub­lishing the Pentagon Papers and, not least, has been re­peatedly cri­ti­cised for anti-​semitic opin­ions. Perhaps not the best source for a mor­al­istic screed against in­con­sist­ency. Heinze then pro­ceeds to present the Soviet Union as some kind of white su­prem­acist Empire, to shore up his re­pug­nant ana­logy between Davis at­tending state cel­eb­ra­tions in her honour in East Germany and politi­cians flying in to praise ra­cist Alabama in the 1950s — even more in bad taste con­sid­ering that this is where Davis ori­gin­ates from, and where some of the most hor­rific vi­ol­ence of white su­premacy struck very close to her.

There is no dis­puting that ethnically-​directed cam­paigns of terror were em­ployed under Stalin, most bru­tally in the mass de­port­a­tion of Chechens and Ingush in 1944 and in the ‘Doctors’ Plot’ episode of 1953, when an ex­plicit cam­paign of state-​led anti-​semitism was halted by Stalin’s death. But presenting the en­tire his­tory of the USSR as a his­tory of white power is ab­surd — even the Sovietological quote that Heinze uses to backup his claims about Soviet ra­cism re­lies on a state­ment by Lenin against Russian chau­vinism. The real, if am­bi­valent, pres­ence of na­tional and ethnic self-​determination in the ideo­logy and prac­tice of the USSR is a matter of his­tor­ical re­cord and only my­opic self-​serving mor­alism would mutate this into the ca­ri­ca­ture of the Soviet Union as a ra­cial state founded on dis­crim­in­a­tion. A re­cent con­sid­er­a­tion of the de­bate, written by a Harvard University scholar who one hardly ima­gines is a Stalinist plant, puts the state of the de­bate as follows:

The views of Western scholars on Soviet na­tion­ality policies have changed over time. In the 1970s and 1980s, most scholars be­lieved that the Soviet gov­ern­ment was en­gaged in an ex­tensive and de­lib­erate pro­gram of Russification that was aimed at des­troying minority lan­guages and cul­tures. This view­point was con­sistent with the dom­inant paradigm of the Cold War, which por­trayed the Soviet Union as first and fore­most a re­pressive state that aimed to erad­icate all dif­fer­ences among its cit­izens in its ef­forts to create a ‘new Soviet man’. With the end of the Cold War and the con­cur­rent ex­plo­sion of na­tion­alism in the Soviet Union and throughout the former Communist world, this dom­inant view was re­placed by its op­posite. The cur­rent dom­inant per­spective among Western scholars is that not just the policies but even the very struc­ture of the Soviet state strengthened ethnic iden­tity among Soviet minor­ities.3

Heinze is clearly an ex­treme and un­in­formed ex­po­nent of the ‘Cold War paradigm’. His in­ab­ility to dis­cern between mor­ality and mor­alism also leads him into ex­treme hy­per­bole. Honecker is re­ferred to at the be­gin­ning in rather purple tones as ‘one of the last century’s over­lords of terror’. Would he add JFK, Lyndon Johnson and Nixon (or Blair for that matter: if we’re doing body counts, he far out­strips Honecker) to this kitsch rubric of polit­ical judg­ment? One won­ders if Heinze, so at­tentive to the moral blind­ness and hy­po­crisy of anti-​imperialists, be­gins every one of his public lec­tures de­noun­cing the US and UK for their crimes, which, un­like those of Stalinism, happen to be oc­cur­ring in the present.

Matters take an even worse turn when, in a splen­etic turn to the seem­ingly im­per­tinent issue of Israeli apartheid, Heinze asks:

How ra­cist should we deem any number of scholars who gladly spent the Cold War branding, for ex­ample, Israel an apartheid state, yet never once thought to use that epi­thet for an em­pire span­ning a co­lossal Euro-​Asian landmass! — and who, to this day, still ‘forget’ to call China an apartheid state? What kind of a brain dis­crim­in­ates in such a way, jus­ti­fying its own ra­cism simply (as we see in the USSR or China) by parading it in the Orwellian news­peak of ‘anti-​racism’?

Curiously, the first person to de­scribe Israel as an apartheid state — which as a schol­arly trope is more of a post–Cold War phe­nomenon — was one of the ar­chi­tects of apartheid, Prime Minister Henrik Verwoerd, be­moaning Israeli hy­po­crisy for dis­avowing their com­mon­al­ities with South Africa.4 David Ben-​Gurion also warned that con­tinued oc­cu­pa­tion after 1967 would gen­erate an ‘Apartheid State’.5 Whether apartheid is the most ap­pro­priate term to define the settler-​colonial forms of rule and ex­clu­sion ex­er­cised by the Israeli state is not our con­cern here, but if the word is to mean any­thing (and not merely be elided with ra­cism, eth­no­cen­trism or dis­crim­in­a­tion) spa­tial se­greg­a­tion, hier­archy and ex­clu­sion based on ascribed ra­cial char­ac­ter­istics would need to be part of it.6 Ethnic dis­crim­in­a­tion and vi­ol­ence in the Soviet Union and con­tem­porary China are a matter of re­cord. But why evoke apartheid, if not to un­der­mine Palestine solid­arity today? Were there Russian-​only roads under Stalin? Are there legal pro­hib­i­tions for Han Chinese na­tionals to marry Tibetans today? Similarly, people have long made claims for ethnic or na­tional self-​determination in Tibet, Chechnya, and else­where in the so­cialist and post-​socialist world, but to lump these ex­per­i­ences of op­pres­sion with the ra­cism of white su­premacy is ana­lyt­ic­ally and polit­ic­ally sterile. Incidentally, the fact that Heinze does not pause to re­flect on how ra­cism has mani­fested it­self with such vir­ulence in Eastern Bloc coun­tries, and par­tic­u­larly Russia, after 1989 — in­cluding in the vir­ulence of ra­cist ideo­lo­gies of white­ness repressed under Soviet rule — shows that his con­cern is with smearing Davis not with fur­thering the cause of prac­tical anti-​racist solidarity.

But the nub of the ques­tion is to be found in Heinze’s cas­tig­a­tion of the GDR’s ‘vis­ceral ap­peal’ for Davis. Puzzlingly, this ethnically-​cleansed bas­tion of white he­ge­mony pub­licly cel­eb­rated the achieve­ments and ex­ample of a black woman. Were there in­stru­mental reasons for this? No doubt. Was the GDR re­pressive? Of course. But it is en­tirely im­possible to un­der­stand the re­la­tion­ship between anti-​racism, black in­ter­na­tion­alism and Eastern Bloc com­munism without a sense of the long his­tory of this re­la­tion­ship, and of the par­tic­ular geo­pol­it­ical and ideo­lo­gical con­junc­ture that framed Davis’s visit.

Davis was wel­comed in the GDR and the Soviet Union at a time when she was being per­son­ally per­se­cuted, the FBI was en­gaged in a cam­paign of murder and re­pres­sion against the Black Panthers and other black and left mil­it­ants, and the US state was in the midst (among other con­flicts) of a vast, ra­cist war against the Vietnamese (the ‘gooks’)7 — in con­trast to which, if we’re playing the ‘what about?’ game, Honecker’s crimes pale. It doesn’t take such a flight of the moral or polit­ical ima­gin­a­tion to un­der­stand how East Germany may have ap­peared as an at­tractive port of call for a black US com­munist woman, just as the Soviet Union could have drawn the hopes — how­ever mis­placed — of black com­mun­ists like Claude McKay in the 1920s, when lynching was still a reality in the US South, or Claudia Jones in the in­terwar period, when the CP was cam­paigning against the frame-​up of the Scottsboro Boys for rape, or of WEB Du Bois in the 1950s, when Jim Crow and McCarthyism defined the American polity.8 We should also not ig­nore that this was not just true for rad­ical in­tel­lec­tuals; it was a lived reality for masses of racially-​oppressed people in the US and abroad for whom Communism rep­res­ented the pos­sib­ility of self-​emancipation. As David Roediger writes in an il­lu­min­ating re­view of Robin D.G. Kelley’s Hammer and Hoe, a study of com­munism among the black Alabaman poor in the 1930s:

the wild, often ultra-​Stalinist and sec­tarian Third Period that pre­ceded the Popular Front better un­der­girded Black or­gan­iz­a­tion among tenant farmers and in­dus­trial workers. The ex­treme con­front­a­tional rhet­oric of the Third Period Communists was not taken ser­i­ously by Alabama’s early Black party mem­bers, who avoided pos­turing and sui­cidal con­front­a­tions whenever pos­sible. But on an­other level, rhet­oric re­garding a “new world”, which prob­ably ap­peared ex­tra­vagant to other working class audi­ences, res­on­ated among African Americans, whose tra­di­tions em­phas­ized both a struggle for sur­vival and the tran­scendent hope of de­liv­er­ance. Help from a powerful ally, even one as far away as Moscow, could seem a source of power and pos­sib­ility.9

Surely, we can re­cog­nise the reality of this hope, and its often pos­itive ef­fects, without for­get­ting the con­tem­por­an­eous and dev­ast­ating vi­ol­ence of the Stalinist Terror.

Heinze ac­cuses Davis (and Mari Matsuda)10 of suc­cumbing to a ‘pe­cu­li­arly American pa­ro­chi­alism’ yet at the same time, en­tirely ig­nores the in­ter­na­tional con­text of the struggle against ra­cism. Precisely be­cause Davis was (and is) not simply an ‘anti-​discrimination’ act­ivist but a polit­ical mil­itant for race, class and gender eman­cip­a­tion, she un­der­stood the struggle of black and other op­pressed peoples in the United States as part and parcel of a broader in­ter­na­tional move­ment in which struggles for na­tional lib­er­a­tion played a prom­inent role. In par­tic­ular, she — and many other black rad­icals of the time — saw the struggle as in­tim­ately linked with the world’s anti-​colonial and anti-​imperialist move­ments. Here, one can hardly say that the stances of the USSR or China were ‘trans­par­ently bogus … anti-​racist plat­it­udes’. Whilst — again — one cannot ig­nore the self-​interested motives at issue here, one equally cannot ig­nore the ma­terial, polit­ical and ideo­lo­gical sup­port that the ‘second world’ gave to anti-​colonial and na­tional lib­er­a­tion move­ments, and the central role that Communist Parties played in them.11 China too was a core part of the Third World movement.

Indeed, as Bill Bowring has noted, many of the anti-​colonial in­ter­na­tional legal in­nov­a­tions were only achieved through the ac­tion of the USSR.12 This is an­other reason why a huge number of rad­ical anti-​racists in the US iden­ti­fied — in com­plex ways — with either the Soviet bloc or the People’s Republic of China.13 One can cer­tainly ob­ject to these iden­ti­fic­a­tions, but on Heinze’s ac­count one would be forced es­sen­tially to write off a huge swath of rad­ical, racially-​oppressed in­di­viduals as ‘ra­cist’.14 To put it mildly, this is perverse.

It is patent that Heinze has no in­terest in Davis’s ac­tual politics. Through a par­tic­u­larly un­subtle sleight of hand, he tenden­tiously ar­gues that Mari Matsuda cri­ti­cises American law in com­par­ison to that of the Soviet Union. Yet at no point does he ac­tu­ally demon­strate that Davis cri­ti­cises the US be­cause it was somehow wanting in com­par­ison to the USSR, or that this was a central ele­ment of her polit­ical vision. Indeed, we ac­tu­ally hear nothing about what the USSR ac­tu­ally had to do with Davis’s politics, simply that she made polit­ical visits to sev­eral coun­tries in the Soviet bloc (it is worth noting that in her auto­bi­o­graphy Davis does men­tion the con­trast in her own ex­per­i­ence of ra­cism in East and West Germany). Davis’s cri­tique of ra­cism and op­pres­sion mani­festly does not rely on com­paring it to some ima­gined standard.

Moreover, Heinze notes that Davis ‘re­nounced her mem­ber­ship of the US Communist Party many years ago’. What he doesn’t note are the cir­cum­stances of her de­par­ture from the CPUSA or what her politics in­side of the Party were. Here, we might simply point out that Davis was part of the re­form wing of the Party, purged after its hard­liners backed the 1991 anti-​Gorbachev coup.15 Hardly the ac­tions of an un­re­con­structed sup­porter of the old Soviet system.

Here Heinze’s mor­alism once again rears its ugly head. One is left won­dering what the ac­tual stakes of his in­ter­ven­tion are. Even if we go along with him in en­tirely de­con­tex­tu­al­ising black rad­ic­alism and black in­ter­na­tion­alism, we have to ask the ques­tion: what ex­actly should Angela Davis have done dif­fer­ently? Presumably she should have stayed in the US and faced whatever the state threw at her, stoic­ally ac­cepting the same fate as Fred Hampton or Bobby Hutton. And now, be­fore she ever speaks, she ought to go through a list of the prob­lems and crimes of the Soviet bloc, ex­press con­tri­tion, wring her hands. One as­sumes that Heinze’s lengthy de­nun­ci­ations of American and British im­per­i­alism (as op­posed to the one or two throwaway plat­it­udes he makes in this re­spect) are to be found in some other article.

It is this ul­ti­mate lack of at­ten­tion to the spe­cificity of Davis’s politics and its his­tor­ical con­text which be­trays some­thing more troub­ling about Heinze’s in­ter­ven­tion. Early in the piece he ar­gues that he is con­cerned ‘not with Davis per se, but with a powerful polit­ical at­ti­tude which she em­bodied back then, and which, in new guises, lives today’. Smearing a rad­ical black woman as a ‘ra­cist’ in pur­suit of some broader ab­stract point is prob­lem­atic in and of it­self. But one is ul­ti­mately left won­dering what Heinze’s real target is. Who now op­er­ates with this ‘powerful at­ti­tude’? In this re­spect, one might note the pre­vi­ously men­tioned ref­er­ence to the idea of Israel as an apartheid state. This re­flects the gen­eral tenor of the piece, namely that one cannot cri­ti­cise any spe­cific op­pres­sions without first con­demning every other op­pres­sion there has ever been. These tac­tics — ‘what­about?’ and ‘will you condemn?’ — are a well-​known hall­mark of those both on the ‘left’ and the right who have sought to blunt and sup­press cri­ti­cisms of im­per­i­alism (up to and in­cluding sup­porting the Iraq war) and to stifle op­pos­i­tion to Israel’s dis­pos­ses­sion of the Palestinians.16

In this re­spect, is it a co­in­cid­ence that Heinze’s smear comes on the eve of Davis’s par­ti­cip­a­tion at an event on Palestine, G4S and the prison in­dus­trial com­plex?17 To launch such a spe­cious at­tack on an elo­quent and cour­ageous fighter against op­pres­sion is bad enough. To do so in order to un­der­mine her de­fence of a people bearing the brunt of un­re­lenting mil­itary, polit­ical and eco­nomic vi­ol­ence would be despicable.

Robert Knox is a PhD Candidate in Law at the London School of Economics. His PhD fo­cuses on the concept of im­per­i­alism in Marxist and Third World ap­proaches to in­ter­na­tional law.

Alberto Toscano is Reader in Critical Theory in the Department of Sociology at Goldsmiths, University of London. He is the au­thor of Fanaticism: On the Uses of an Idea.

The au­thors would like to thank Brenna Bhandar and Adam Hanieh for their com­ments and suggestions.

Show 17 foot­notes

  1. Alan Johnson, ‘What does Angela Davis know about freedom?’, 25 October 2013, avail­able at: http://​blogs​.tele​graph​.co​.uk/​n​e​w​s​/​a​l​a​n​j​o​h​n​s​o​n​/​1​0​0​2​4​3​0​5​8​/​w​h​a​t​-​d​o​e​s​-​a​n​g​e​l​a​-​d​a​v​i​s​-​k​n​o​w​-​a​b​o​u​t​-​f​r​e​e​d​om/
  2. See Angela Y. Davis, Are Prisons Obsolete? (New York: Seven Stories, 2003).
  3. Dmitry Gorenburg, ‘Soviet Nationalities Policy and Assimilation’, in Rebounding Identities: The Politics of Identity in Russia and Ukraine, edited by Blair Ruble and Dominique Arel (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2006). Also avail­able at: Gorenburg does stress the con­tinuity in policies of Russification, rec­ti­fying the new paradigm, but does not frame this in terms of either ethnic cleansing or ra­cism.
  4. Ronnie Kasrils, ‘Apartheid in du­plicate’, Middle East Monitor, 2 July 2011, avail­able at: http://​www​.middleeast​mon​itor​.com/​a​r​t​i​c​l​e​s​/​g​u​e​s​t​-​w​r​i​t​e​r​s​/​2​5​4​5​-​a​p​a​r​t​h​e​i​d​-​i​n​-​d​u​p​l​i​c​ate
  5. http://​mon​do​weiss​.net/​2​0​1​0​/​0​6​/​n​o​t​-​j​u​s​t​-​b​a​r​a​k​-​a​n​d​-​o​l​m​e​r​t​-​b​e​n​-​g​u​r​i​o​n​-​p​r​e​d​i​c​t​e​d​-​a​p​a​r​t​h​e​i​d​-​4​0​-​y​e​a​r​s​-​a​g​o​.​h​tml
  6. Article 2 of the Apartheid Convention defines it as ‘in­human acts com­mitted for the pur­pose of es­tab­lishing and main­taining dom­in­a­tion by one ra­cial group of per­sons over any other ra­cial group of per­sons and sys­tem­at­ic­ally op­pressing them’. See John Dugard, ‘Convention of the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid’, avail­able at: <http://​legal​.un​.org/​a​v​l​/​p​d​f​/​h​a​/​c​s​p​c​a​/​c​s​p​c​a​_​e​.​pdf>. It is worth noting that the USSR and GDR voted in fa­vour of this con­ven­tion. The US and UK, along with Portugal and South Africa voted against. Israel ab­stained. To get a sense of the ideo­lo­gical map over the ques­tion of ra­cism and apartheid in 1973, the year of Angela Davis’s visit to the GDR’s Tenth World Festival of Youth and Students, it is wor­thing casting an eye over this map (coun­tries in green voted to con­demn apartheid): http://​up​load​.wiki​media​.org/​w​i​k​i​p​e​d​i​a​/​c​o​m​m​o​n​s​/​c​/​c​0​/​I​C​S​P​C​A​-​m​e​m​b​e​r​s​.​PNG
  7. http://​www​.dav​idroediger​.org/​a​r​t​i​c​l​e​s​/​g​o​o​k​-​t​h​e​-​s​h​o​r​t​-​h​i​s​t​o​r​y​-​o​f​-​a​m​e​r​i​c​a​n​i​s​m​.​h​tml
  8. This is not to ig­nore the pro­found rifts among black and anti-​racist mil­it­ants about the role of both Soviet Communism and Marxism to their struggle. The in­tel­lec­tual bio­graphies of CLR James and WEB DuBois, to name but the two most im­portant fig­ures in the ‘Black Marxist’ tra­di­tion, at­test to this com­plexity. Anyone ac­tu­ally in­ter­ested in ‘im­manent cri­tiques’ of black Communism could prof­it­ably turn to them. But see also the very stim­u­lating re­cent crop of books on ‘black and red’ en­coun­ters and the com­munist gene­a­lo­gies of black left fem­inism: Kate A. Baldwin, Beyond the Color Line and the Iron Curtain: Reading Encounters Between Black and Red, 1922 – 1963 (Durham: Duke University Press, 2002), esp. Ch. 1 on McKay and Ch. 3 on Du Bois; Carole Boyce Davies, Left of Karl Marx: The Political Life of Black Communist Claudia Jones (Durham: Duke University Press, 2008); Komozi Woodward, Dayo Gore, Jeanne Theoharis (eds.), Want to Start a Revolution?: Radical Women in the Black Freedom Struggle (New York: New York University Press, 2010); Erik McDuffie, Sojourning for Truth: Black Women, American Communism, and the Making of Black Left Feminism (Durham: Duke University Press, 2011).
  9. David Roediger, ‘Where Communism was Black’, in Towards the Abolition of Whiteness (London: Verso, 1995), pp. 56 – 7.
  10. Eric Heinze, ‘Truth, Myth and Critical Theory’, in Reza Benakar (ed.), Rights in Context: Law and Justice in Late Modern Society (Farnham: Ashgate, 2010).
  11. Vijay Prashad’s The Darker Nations (New York: New Press, 2007) de­tails this very well.
  12. Bill Bowring, The Degradation of the International Legal Order (London: Routledge-​Cavendish, 2008), pp. 9 – 38; see also John Quigley, Soviet Legal Innovation and the Law of the Western World (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007), pp. 115 – 24, for an ac­count of how Soviet legal prac­tices im­pacted upon ra­cial equality le­gis­la­tion.
  13. See, for in­stance, Robin D. G. Kelley and Betsy Esch, ‘Black Like Mao’, Souls 1.4 (Fall 1999): 6 – 41. Available at: http://​kasamapro​ject​.org/​r​a​c​e​-​l​i​b​e​r​a​t​i​o​n​/​2​0​0​6​-​3​8​b​l​a​c​k​-​l​i​k​e​-​m​a​o​-​r​e​d​-​c​h​i​n​a​-​b​l​a​c​k​-​r​e​v​o​l​u​t​i​o​n​-​p​a​r​t-1
  14. Max Elbaum de­tails how the US New Left was closely bound up with the na­tional lib­er­a­tion Marxism in Revolution in the Air: Sixties Radicals Turn to Lenin, Mao and Che (London: Verso, 2002).
  15. Erwin Marquit and Doris G. Marquit, ‘Party sur­vives, but as a shell’, Minnesota Daily, 19 February 1992. Available at: <http://​archive​.is/​b​1​L8j>.
  16. http://​de​cent​pedia​.blog​spot​.co​.uk/​2​0​0​7​/​0​8​/​d​e​c​e​n​t​-​b​l​i​t​z​k​r​e​i​g​.​h​tml
  17. http://​www​.waron​want​.org/​n​e​w​s​/​e​v​e​n​t​s​/​1​8​0​1​9​-​o​n​-​p​a​l​e​s​t​i​n​e​-​g​4​s​-​a​n​d​-​t​h​e​-​p​r​i​s​o​n​-​i​n​d​u​s​t​r​i​a​l​-​c​o​m​p​l​e​x​-​a​n​-​e​v​e​n​i​n​g​-​w​i​t​h​-​a​n​g​e​l​a​-​d​a​v​i​s​-​a​n​d​-​g​i​n​a​-​d​ent

  5 comments for “Black and Red Baiting: A Reply to Eric Heinze, ‘Angela Davis’s Racism’

  1. 25 November 2013 at 2:08 pm

    Dear Robert and Alberto,

    Disagreements on fact and dis­agree­ments on method clearly sep­arate us. What strikes me is that we nev­er­the­less agree (al­though you phrase it dif­fer­ently) that the vast and brutal Soviet em­pire was thor­oughly di­vided and re­mained gov­erned along long­standing, en­trenched ethnic lines; and that Angela Davis en­thu­si­ast­ic­ally pro­moted that regime’s public profile.

    Our dis­agree­ment is not on that par­tic­ular fact, but on how to in­ter­pret it. For my part, I re­ject Davis’s choice of such an al­li­ance, which I see as com­pli­city in an odious re­gime of ethnic hier­archy (along with its other sin­ister and co­er­cive hier­archies). In my view, that harm cannot be wiped from his­tory through the fa­miliar apo­lo­getics for Soviet policies (which, yes, al­ways in­clude the ritual nods to Soviet short­com­ings). For your part, by con­trast, you have chosen to ap­plaud Davis’s high-​profile ges­tures of sup­port within the Soviet bloc. So be it.

    I fur­ther agree with you that ‘many of the anti-​colonial in­ter­na­tional legal in­nov­a­tions were only achieved through the ac­tion of the USSR.’ After all, that po­s­i­tion was easy for the USSR to take. Its eth­nic­ally pure Russian elite had de­cided, uni­lat­er­ally, that its own vast roster of sub­or­din­ated na­tions (Chechnya, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, not to men­tion, say, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, or East Germany) did not count as co­lo­nial vas­sals. Abracadabra, the USSR had no one to de-​colonise, and could there­fore spend its time on what you call its ‘in­ter­na­tion­alist’ com­mit­ment to ‘anti-​colonialism’ and in­deed ‘anti-​imperialism’. China has en­joyed that same meta­physics in Tibet. A word might also be thrown in about both state’s suc­cessive roles in cre­ating and then main­taining North Korea.

    Indeed, some proof for that meta­phys­ical — to use your term — ‘trans­form­a­tion’ seems be to that, by the time of Angela Davis’s visits, none of those minority groups in the USSR or in China ever seemed to be ob­jecting to their col­on­ised status! Both of you are cer­tainly right that Davis never needed to worry about what you call ‘eman­cip­a­tion’ move­ments there. No Chechnyan Ghandi. No Estonian Malcom X. The only problem, of course, is that any such leader, let alone any ‘anti-​colonial eman­cip­a­tion’ move­ment would have been ex­tin­guished on the spot. And while we’re praising the art of Soviet ‘anti-​colonialism’, let’s cer­tainly re­call the Soviet re­sponse to Hungary in 1956 or to Czechoslovakia in 1968 (and its later in­va­sion of Afghanistan), as un­dis­puted mas­ter­pieces of their own par­tic­ular ‘anti-​colonialist’ genre. The USSR did in­deed show the West, and the world, how to hear the cries of the voiceless.

    Once again, we can thank Orwell for re­minding us of the news­peak whereby these vast co­lo­nial em­pires mys­tic­ally be­come ‘anti-​colonial’. When it comes to ‘listening to the voice of the col­on­ised Other’, you and I cer­tainly can agree that the Russian and Chinese powers, along with the West, have had loads to teach hu­manity. While Western co­lo­ni­alism was in­deed heinous, the de­fault Soviet remedy, which you call ‘anti-​colonialism’, wit­nessed the Kremlin set­ting up fran­chise one-​party states (mi­ra­cu­lously like its own), not to re­move struc­tures of ar­bit­rary and brutal dom­in­a­tion, but rather to en­trench dom­inant ethnic groups which could repress, im­pov­erish, and even ex­tin­guish less powerful ethnic groups. No, the West often did little better, but those cer­tainly were re­mark­able ‘anti-​colonialist’ ges­tures from the Soviets.

    We can also cer­tainly agree on ‘how ra­cism has mani­fested it­self with such vir­ulence in Eastern Bloc coun­tries, and par­tic­u­larly Russia, after 1989 – in­cluding in the vir­ulence of ra­cist ideo­lo­gies of white­ness repressed under Soviet rule’. Yes in­deed, im­me­di­ately ‘after’. There was no tem­poral break at all. I agree: that is an odd result for so­ci­eties which, for dec­ades, pur­ported to be teaching anti-​racist mes­sages to their cit­izens, from the youngest ages, and to be doing so far better than the West was doing it — not least by using a willing Angela Davis as their per­emp­tory tool for such ‘edu­ca­tion’. Particularly note­worthy is the skyrock­eting of anti-​Semitism im­me­di­ately fol­lowing the de­mise of the USSR. Surely the East bloc’s stu­dious and vi­gilant down­playing of the Holocaust (again, con­spicu­ously un­im­portant to Davis) cannot have had any­thing to do with that? And anyone who thinks the ho­mo­phobia is somehow a break with the Soviet time, rather than an ob­vious se­quel to it, is living a fantasy.

    But now it seems our two ‘ex­perts’ are — among their myriad of either il­lo­gical or poorly re­searched claims — now act­ively choosing to col­lude in the legacy of Soviet anti-​Semitism. They are asking readers of the Critical Legal Thinking web­site to be­lieve that Soviet ‘state-​led anti-​semitism was halted by Stalin’s death’ in 1953! That is a fright­ening fab­ric­a­tion (not­with­standing whatever per­func­tory lip-​service may oth­er­wise be rendered about anti-​Semitism). I can only agree with both of you, once again, that someone cer­tainly does need to ‘pause to re­flect’ on this curious little puzzle of post-​Soviet in­tol­er­ance to­wards minor­ities, and where its roots may lie. Leaving aside per­se­cu­tion of Jews con­tinuing well up to the time of Davis’s visits and beyond, the former two-​star Romanian Securitate Lt. Gen. Ion Pacepa later dis­closed how the Soviets, along with their massive, co­lo­nial em­pire, man­aged to pre­serve yet an­other heir­loom from the tsars: ‘In the mid-​1970s we … started showering the Islamic world with an Arabic trans­la­tion of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a tsarist Russian for­gery that had been used by Hitler as the found­a­tion for his anti-​Semitic philosophy.’

    In a 2006 National Review art­icle, Pacepa ex­plains how the KGB act­ively spread that and sim­ilar ma­ter­ials throughout the Muslim world — ma­ter­ials whose lan­guage, down to the slightest words and phrases, has res­on­ated ver­batim through Muslim media and cul­ture ever since. The then KGB-​chief (later to suc­ceed Brezhnev) Yuri Andropov had told Pacepa that the USSR planned to ‘whip up’ Muslim states’ ‘il­lit­erate, op­pressed mobs to a fever pitch.’ Pacepa adds that, ac­cording to Andropov, ‘We needed to in­stil a Nazi-​style hatred for the Jews throughout the Islamic world, and to turn this weapon of the emo­tions into a ter­rorist blood­bath against Israel’ (See http://​www​.na​tion​alre​view​.com/​a​r​t​i​c​l​e​s​/​2​1​8​5​3​3​/​r​u​s​s​i​a​n​-​f​o​o​t​p​r​i​n​t​s​/​i​o​n​-​m​i​h​a​i​-​p​a​c​epa) I’ll say one thing to Robert’s and Alberto’s credit: that cer­tainly was an in­ter­na­tional ef­fort by the Kremlin.

    Davis, to be fair, could not easily have de­tected that par­tic­ular plot. It speaks volumes, how­ever, about what you, Robert and Alberto, praise as the Soviet Union’s ‘in­ter­na­tion­alism’, par­tic­u­larly in view of your ref­er­ences to the crisis of the Palestinians and its causes.

    A fur­ther note of agree­ment. You both refer to ‘These tac­tics – “what­about?” and “will you con­demn?”’, which you call ‘a well-​known hall­mark of those … who have sought to blunt and sup­press cri­ti­cisms of im­per­i­alism’. Yes that may well be cor­rect, since you have both cer­tainly used that tactic, pur­porting to re­mind me of the at­ro­cities of US gov­ern­ment policy, which I had already clearly re­cog­nised at the outset — and for no ap­parent reason other than to fashion your apo­lo­getics of Soviet and Chinese imperialism.

    But if, des­pite using that tactic ef­fus­ively, you re­main un­able to un­der­stand ques­tions of basic hy­po­crisy as fun­da­mental ele­ments, re­cog­nised over thou­sands of years of philo­soph­ical lit­er­ature, in any reas­oning about ethics and politics (par­tic­u­larly prom­inent, as you have failed to no­tice, in Marx), then, quite frankly, it be­comes hard to un­der­stand what you think you are achieving when you pur­port to reason about ethics or politics. If David Cameron were to cri­ti­cise a Labour MP for tax fraud, only to find out the next week that a Conservative MP had com­mitted the same kind of fraud — well, yes, I cer­tainly would ask “what­about?” and “will you con­demn?”. And I would find it il­le­git­imate, in­deed down­right odd, for Cameron to reply that I was simply seeking ‘to blunt and sup­press cri­ti­cisms of’ the Labour Party.

    In the con­text of Israel, that cer­tainly does not mean that we Israel must re­ceive not an iota more nor less cri­ti­cism than other states re­ceive. Far from it. Rather, at the UN and in other leading fora, Israel has re­ceived ex­po­nen­tially more hos­tility than the co­lossal ab­uses of the USSR and her suc­cessor states, China, and any number of other hideous re­gimes. Here to, either the failure or the sheer re­fusal to see the USSR as one of the chief ar­chi­tects of that per­ver­sion is deny strands of his­tory so de­cisive as to dis­tort that his­tory utterly.

    Finally, as to whatever it is you mean by ‘moral taste’, you write with shock that I ‘present the Soviet Union as some kind of white su­prem­acist Empire’. Although I do not use that phrase, given that the USSR, one of history’s most mul­ti­ethnic em­pires, was ruled by an eth­nic­ally cleansed Russian elite, please do feel free to pro­pose a more ‘mor­ally tasteful’ locu­tion. Did the Kremlin sud­denly be­come mul­ti­ethnic simply be­cause it knew how to shuttle Ms Davis around a stage?

    Your aes­thetic com­plaints stretch fur­ther, re­jecting my con­dem­na­tion of ‘politi­cians flying in to praise ra­cist Alabama in the 1950s’. You call it ‘even more … bad taste con­sid­ering that this is where Davis ori­gin­ates from, and where some of the most hor­rific vi­ol­ence of white su­premacy struck very close to her.’ Yes, that ‘hor­rific vi­ol­ence’ in Davis’s home state was pre­cisely the point of the ana­logy. Did people in the Soviet bloc, not­ably East Berlin, the loc­a­tion of at least one par­tic­u­larly me­di­at­ised visit, not also have homes where state-​perpetrated vi­ol­ence (such as people shot for trying to es­cape) had taken place? If it is bad taste for me to re­call vi­ol­ence in Alabama, why was it good taste for Davis to ig­nore the vi­ol­ence that ruled everyday life in or around the homes of people living under the Soviet empire?



  2. Rob Knox and Alberto Toscano
    25 November 2013 at 3:11 pm

    We have no wish to get in­volved in a tire­some and doubt­lessly sterile ex­change with Prof. Heinze, who is clearly in­tent on de­picting us as apo­lo­gists for Stalinism, so we’ll limit ourselves to two points of cla­ri­fic­a­tion.
    1. Heinze would like to smear us too, with the charge that we are en­ga­ging in a ‘fright­ening fab­ric­a­tion’ re­garding anti-​semitism in the Soviet Union. Are we ‘asking readers of the Critical Legal Thinking web­site to be­lieve that Soviet “state-​led anti-​semitism was halted by Stalin’s death” in 1953? By no means. We were bringing at­ten­tion to the fact that Stalin’s death in­ter­rupted an ‘expli­cit cam­paign of state-​led anti-​semitism’, i.e. of­fi­cial, ideo­lo­gical anti-​semitism, not denying the fact of dis­crim­in­a­tion against Jews in the Soviet Union.
    2. Heinze per­sists in wishing to claim that the Soviet Union was ruled by an ‘eth­nic­ally cleansed Russian elite’. This is a trav­esty. In the 1970s, to stick with the period of Davis’s visit, the Politburo of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union’ in­cluded Azerbaijani, Ukrainian, Georgian, Uzbek, Latvian, Belarusian and Kazakh mem­bers. Needless to say this rep­res­ent­a­tion of eth­ni­cities at the level of Party elites does not deny the real­ities of ethnic dis­crim­in­a­tion in the Soviet Union, but it does re­fute Heinze’s de­pic­tion of the Soviet Union as a ra­cial state founded on Russian supremacy.

  3. 25 November 2013 at 6:18 pm

    (1) Following even the most rudi­mentary know­ledge of the USSR, we are, of course, dis­cussing nothing like ‘Stalinism’. This dis­cus­sion has fo­cussed on both the his­tory and the char­acter of the very dif­ferent Brezhnev era. The types of apo­lo­getics offered in this ‘re­sponse’ piece (like Davis’s own polit­ical ges­tures), right down to Robert’s and Alberto’s sweet fairytales of Soviet ‘in­ter­na­tion­alism’ and ‘anti-​colonialism’, as flag­rant covers for an ever-​churning ma­chine of re­pres­sion and of so­cial di­vi­sion and decay, are vin­tage Brezhnev-​era white­wash­ings of the Soviet im­perial ma­chine. What the au­thors call ‘Stalinism’ is in­deed ir­rel­evant, both to my chal­lenges, and to the spe­cific con­tent of their own apo­lo­getics — and, of course, to Davis’s high-​profile support.

    (2) I am glad we agree, then, that the most odious anti-​Semitism con­tinued dir­ectly until the time of Davis’s visits (its su­per­fi­cial changes after 1953 being ob­vi­ously ir­rel­evant), and that the policy was nev­er­the­less en­tirely un­im­portant to Davis, as it is still to Robert and Alberto. The USSR’s im­perial (or, as we’re so charm­ingly asked to call it, ‘in­ter­na­tion­alist’) pres­ence in the re­gion, as one Middle East state after an­other openly ad­opted Soviet statist models, and fol­lowed the Kremlin’s hideous anti-​Semitic for­mulas, set the stage for a lethal re­gional politics for dec­ades, far beyond what could ever be simple-​mindedly and re­duct­ively at­trib­uted either to one or to the other side of the Israel-​Palestine conflict.

    (3) I am also glad we agree, as I stated earlier, that, yes, em­pires do typ­ic­ally draw on mem­bers of their conquered or col­on­ised peoples to per­form mid-​level func­tions; but that anyone blind to the con­spicuous ethnic ho­mo­gen­eity where the highest Soviet power was ac­tu­ally being ex­er­cised, is, again, dreaming the sweet, Brezhnev-​era fairytales of Soviet ‘in­ter­na­tion­alism’ and, as our au­thors call it, ‘anti-​colonialism’.

  4. Eric Heinze
    4 March 2014 at 9:11 am

    An up­date, of course, now screams out to us, in view of the Ukraine crisis. The au­thors will surely agree that we would have to be, in their words, “pur­blind” to fail to link the cur­rent crisis to what the au­thors deem to be the Soviet regime’s anti-​racist “in­ter­na­tion­alism”, un­re­servedly de­ployed by Davis. Bill Bowring, cited by the au­thors, has kindly au­thor­ised cita­tion of the fol­lowing com­ments from a dis­cus­sion hosted on his Facebook page:

    “I have been ex­pelled from Russia twice (in 2005 and 2007)… and my wife is half Tatar — the other half Mordovian, also conquered by the Russian Empire, But she is Russian and not con­stitutively ra­cist — how­ever Russian re­gimes like their British coun­ter­parts have been and are con­stitutively racist!”

    Bowring’s ori­ginal post:

    “The real vic­tims of Russia’s il­legal and dan­gerous ac­tions in Crimea are the Crimean Tatars, whose home­land this is. A sense of his­tory is in order. The Russian Empire conquered the Crimean Khanate and sub­dued the Crimean Tatars in the 18th cen­tury. The Crimean War (1853 – 1856) was the mil­itary ac­tion and in­va­sion by Britain and France to stop the Russian Empire’s dis­mem­ber­ment of the Ottoman Empire. At the end of the war, Karl Marx wrote a co­rus­cating ac­count of Britain’s con­niv­ance with the Russian Empire — “Revelations of the Diplomatic History of the 18th Century” Marx-​Engels Collected Works Vol.15 (London, Lawrence & Wishart) 25 – 96, ori­gin­ally pub­lished in in­stal­ments in The Free Press August 1856 — April 1857; and London, Swan Sonnenschein; avail­able in Project Gutenberg at http://​on​line​books​.lib​rary​.upenn​.edu/…/​gutbook/​lookup… and in the Marx Archive at http://​www​.marx​ists​.org/…/marx/works/1857/russia/index.htm. Under Stalin the Russian Empire reached its widest ex­tent, and the USSR com­mitted gen­o­cide when in August 1944 half the Crimean Tatar pop­u­la­tion died when the en­tire pop­u­la­tion were de­ported to Central Asia. The first vi­ol­ence of the present events oc­curred when Crimean Tatars, who have been re­turning to their home­land since the late 1980s and are now more than 12% of the pop­u­la­tion, as­sembled to wel­come the Maidan, and were at­tacked by Russians — most of the Russians in Crimea are former mil­itary and in­tel­li­gence. As for the US and NATO, the ob­jective of the US has al­ways been to com­plete the dis­mem­ber­ment of the USSR, with bases in Kyrgyzstan, and (for a time) a client state in Georgia.”

    Perhaps someday our au­thors will ex­plain to us why it would not have been Davis’s role to side with ethnic ma­jor­ities against an em­pire, in­stead of siding with that empire’s Orwellian double-​speak of anti-​racist “internationalism”.

  5. E Heinze
    4 March 2014 at 9:25 am

    Apologies: for “ethnic ma­jor­ities” in that final sen­tence, please read, of course, “ethnic minorities”.

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