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Book Review: The Ghetto by Bryan Cheyette

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 10/11/2020 - 9:42pm in

In The Ghetto, Bryan Cheyette offers a new addition to the Oxford University Press series of ‘Very Short Introductions’, distilling the long history of the changing meaning of the ‘ghetto’ across the globe and through time over six succinct chapters. With the author’s expertise in modern literature and culture bringing a new angle on the topic, Laura Vaughan highly recommends the book to readers new to the subject, as well as to those who wish to deepen their knowledge through its excellent bibliography.

The Ghetto: A Very Short Introduction. Bryan Cheyette. Oxford University Press. 2020.

The Ghetto, the latest addition to the Oxford University Press series of ‘Very Short Introductions’, distils the long history of the evolution of the ‘ghetto’ as concept in six succinct chapters. While the subject has recently had a comprehensive analysis from a linguistic point of view (see Daniel B. Schwartz, 2019), and from a more traditional historical perspective prior to this (see Mitchell Duneier, 2016), author Professor Bryan Cheyette’s expertise in modern literature and culture brings a new angle on the topic.

The book offers a chronological presentation of the term ‘ghetto’ – from meaning an enforced enclosure to simply describing Jewish quarters following Napoleonic emancipation, its transmigration to the US where it became most commonly associated with poverty, and the latter-day use of the term to label the confinement of African Americans in North American urban neighbourhoods. Through this, the book demonstrates the duality, and frequent multiplicity, of how ghettos functioned: to contain but also to protect; to inhibit economic integration but sometimes to seed financial success; to reinforce religious singularity, yet sometimes to generate rich cultural creativity; to be a uniquely Jewish urban formation, yet on occasion to follow similar rules to those imposed on other minority groups within a city. This extraordinary ‘Janus-faced’ aspect of the ghetto helps explain, Cheyette demonstrates, its ability to shift shape over the centuries.

Cheyette introduces the idea of the ghetto by opening with its foundational origins: the Jewish quarters of Christian Europe. Starting earlier than many previous works (which typically begin with the establishment of the Venice Ghetto in 1516), the book opens with Jewish life during mediaeval times, when frequently Jewish quarters involved the containment, though not necessarily confinement, of the cities’ Jewish inhabitants within semi-autonomous walled areas. Notably it is only from the sixteenth century onwards that such arrangements were termed ghettos, using the Venetian example. New insights into the wider context of European history of this period help explain the subsequent waves of European Jewish prohibition, regulation, physical segregation and, in some cases, expulsion. We thus gain an understanding of the interaction between political, religious, financial, mercantile and occasional public health expediencies that shaped patterns of Jewish settlement over the centuries.

The chapter ‘Ghettos of the Imagination’ provides a fresh take on the subject, with its fascinating tour through the transformation of the meaning of the ghetto in post-Napoleonic literature. By tracing the term’s use in German prose and poetry, the analysis reveals how the popularity of authors such as Heinrich Heine and Berthold Auerbach helped spread the ghetto as an idea – rather than a particular place – throughout the German-speaking world. The breadth of this chapter, covering fiction in French as well as German and English, helps expand the understanding of how the ghetto moved into the modern world. This chapter also reinforces the importance of Israel Zangwill (known as the ‘Jewish Charles Dickens’) in the transplantation of the ghetto to the ‘New World’ via writers such as Abraham Cahan.

This book highlights an important turning point: with the use of the term ghetto during the Nazi period. Cheyette cites Schwartz’s analysis of this shift in meaning, with an increase in the use of the term conceptually after the Nuremberg Laws of 1935 and, after Kristallnacht in 1938, as a matter of policy. Thus, after the invasion of Poland in 1939, the country’s many instances of historically self-governing urban Jewish quarters were, through a cynical distortion of the meaning of the term, renamed ghettos – transformed into a staging post on the road to the ‘Final Solution’. Cheyette writes that ‘by returning Jews to the ghetto […] it was as if [they] were merely reverting back to less troubling times’ (63). In this context, the ghettos of the Polish cities of Łódź and Warsaw are shown to have been prototypical for different reasons: the former, since supposedly productive workers survived for a longer time than others; the latter for its underground activity and, subsequently, its famous uprising.

Yet the chapter also emphasises the temporal and geographical diversity of this period’s ghettos that consequently led to different trajectories of the path to Nazi genocide by bringing into focus the role that Nazi ghettos played in the planned genocide of European Roma. For example, Cheyette states that 5000 Roma (out of 30,000 in Poland) entered the Łódź ghetto towards the end of 1942 at the same time as 20,000 Jews were transported there from major Western and Central European cities, including Berlin, Vienna, Prague and Frankfurt (72).

The penultimate chapter takes us back across the Atlantic, picking up the ghetto narrative by emphasising a critical turning point in its meaning: to inner-city, primarily African American, neighbourhoods, quoting Martin Luther King’s observation that ‘being Negro in America means being herded in ghettos’ (89). This is an important section, given current debates regarding the reasons for the apparent persistence of socioeconomic segregation in majority black neighbourhoods in the US. Cheyette describes how James Baldwin’s famous letter, ‘My Dungeon Shook’, argued that by the 1960s the shape-shifting concept of ghetto had become synonymous with inner-city slums, its connotation now emphasising that these were places from which there was no apparent escape.

Yet Cheyette also shows how African American writers highlighted the need to distinguish between the ‘old ghettos’ of the Nazi era and the ‘new ghettos’ of African American hardship, notwithstanding the severity of conditions in the latter. This chapter’s sections on Chicago and New York each shed light in turn on these apparent exemplars of the new ghetto. Here again, the author’s wide-ranging knowledge of literary texts widens the standard scope of ghetto histories – showing, as we saw in the previous Jewish examples, how the ghetto could be both haven (though rarely heaven) and hell. The passage on Harlem’s Renaissance is especially telling in this context, describing how the district attracted a rich array of musical and literary creativity. Indeed, Cheyette points out that Harlem was the first neighbourhood to resist being called a ghetto. Yet he also shows that the tension between imagined and real ghetto continues to be manifested in contemporary music and fiction, resulting in a deep-set loss of hope in some cases, despite the growth of an African American middle class outside of these areas.

The author argues that the term ghetto has nowadays been appropriated so widely that its use runs the risk of obscuring any specificity of local place and local culture. In other instances, it ‘combines local experience with a global style’ (123). The book closes with an important point: to retrieve the complex meaning of the term, we need to take account of its history. Only by doing so will we achieve a better understanding of whether its use is relevant. This overview of the changing meaning of the ghetto across the globe and through time is highly recommended for readers new to the subject, as well as for those who wish to deepen their knowledge through its excellent bibliography.

Note: This review gives the views of the author, and not the position of the LSE Review of Books blog, or of the London School of Economics.

Image Credit: Crop of photographic print ‘A Scene in the Ghetto, Hester Street’ by Benjamin J. Falk, 1902. LC-DIG-ds-10253. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540. No known restrictions on publication.


French Muslims Form Anti-Terrorist Group to Protect Cathedral

After the recent Islamist terrorist outrages following the Charlie Hebdo cartoons, here’s a much more positive piece of news. Yesterday’s I, for Saturday, 7th November 2020, carried a piece by Angela Charlton, ‘After Nice attack, Muslim group protects cathedral’ reporting that a French Muslim was so angered by the terrorist attacks in Nice that he got together with other local Muslims to protect his town’s cathedral. The article runs

As a French-born Muslim, Elyazid Benferhat’s stomach turned when he heard about a deadly Islamic extremist attack in Nice. Then he decided to act.

Mr Benferhat and a friend gathered a group of young Muslim men to stand guard outside their town’s cathedral, to protect it and show solidarity with Catholic churchgoers. Parishioners in the town of Lodeve were deeply touched. The parish priest said their gesture gave him hope in time of turmoil.

Mr Benfarhat said: “I am also Muslim and we have seen Islamophobia in tis country, and terrorism.” He said he always has a pit in his stomach because every time Islamic extremist violence strikes, French Muslims face new stigmatisation, even though “we had nothing to do with it”.

After the Nice attack, he said “we needed to do something beyond paying homage to the victims. We said we will protect churches ourselves.” They recruited volunteers, and after co-ordinating with police, guarded the church.

This reminds me of the ‘Don’t Touch My Mate’ protests in France a few years ago. This is the English translation of the slogan for a movement a few years ago in which French White youths marched and demonstrated in solidarity with Blacks and Muslims. It was kind of like the White marchers and protesters in the Black Lives Matter demonstrations just a month or so ago. Now Benferhat and his friends are doing something similar for the Catholics in their part of la Patrie.

I’ve also heard of Muslims protecting churches and their worshippers in other countries as well. Such as Israel. A few years ago Channel 4 screened a documentary in which a Black British priest went off examining other religion’s attitude to Christ and Christianity. He talked to an archaeologist excavating a Pagan Roman temple to Mithras, Muslims, and Hindus before going to Israel. Most of those he talked to had positive attitudes to Christ. The archaeologist talked about the supposed similarities between Mithraism and Christianity. The Hindus he met also worshipped Christalongside the traditional Indian deities, showing the syncretistic tendencies within Hinduism. And Jesus is revered by Muslims as the prophet Isa. It was when he went to Israel that he encountered hostility.

The programme showed a mob of Orthodox Jews marching on a church, which I understand was being used by a group of Messianic Jews. Messianic Judaism is a form of Jewish Christianity, in which Christ is worshipped as the Jews’ Messiah but the Mosaic and rabbinical laws are still observed. If I understand it properly, it seems to be rather like the form of Christianity practised by the gospel-writer, St. Matthew. His gospel is traditionally considered the Jewish gospel partly because, according to tradition, he was himself Jewish. But the gospel also shows a particular concern for Christ as the Jews’ saviour and assimilates the Lord’s teachings to that of the ancient rabbis. According to the historian of the early church, Eusebius, Jewish Christians also had their own bishop, Hegesippus.

The Israeli mob were prevented from causing trouble by the church’s Muslim doorman, and apparently that’s not uncommon. As well as attacks on mosques and Muslim Palestinian homes and property, Israeli fanatics and extremists have also attacked Christian churches and monasteries. These have often been protected by their Muslim staff. It’s understandable that, after centuries of Christian persecution, some Israelis have a hatred of Christianity. The inveterate Jewish opponent of all forms of racism, including Zionism, Tony Greenstein, on his blog quoted the comments of one extremist Israeli rabbi. This vile piece of work declared that Christian churches in Israel should be demolished as temples of polytheism and idolatry. The man’s clearly a member of fringe minority, but it is a minority that is closely allied with Benjamin Netanyahu and his ruling Likud coalition.

But you won’t hear about such bigotry from western Zionist groups, such as Pastor Ted Hagee’s Christians United for Israel. In terms of membership, this is the largest Zionist organisation in America. Many young Jewish Americans are turning away from Israel because, along with liberal Israelis, they despise the Israeli state and the Likudniks for its brutality and ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians. It’s why the Israel lobby is apparently concentrating its efforts on winning the support of fundamentalist evangelical Christians rather than Jews.

I applaud Monsieur Benfarhat and his fellows, just as I do everyone whatever their religion or lack thereof, who is attempting to reach across ethnic and religious divides to bring people together against the forces of hate, bigotry and violence. May then win against all the Fascists, butchers and terrorists.

Trump’s Accusations of Electoral Fraud and the Elections that Put the Fascists in Government

Yesterday Trump started flinging around accusations of voter fraud. He had already won, he declared, and so counting should stop. He also claimed that there was massive electoral fraud in states like Nevada and Georgia, where he’d lost to Biden, and stated that he was taking legal action against those states over the result and demanding recounts. These accusations seem to be utterly false, and his proposed lawsuit against Georgia has already been thrown out by the supreme court or whatever. There’s absolutely no basis to these accusations. They’re just an attempt by the megalomaniac man-baby to hang on to power any way he can. But it’s provoked demonstrations by his supporters up and down America, who are demanding that the authorities do exactly as he says.

This is all absolutely astonishing. It amazes me, because it’s less like the actions of an accomplished politician so much as a petulant child demanding that they’ve won a game and that everyone should therefore give in to them. Because. But it’s also a logical progression of Republican attitudes and policies towards voting. I put up a post a week or so ago reproducing and commenting on an article in the I, which reported that in some southern states like Mississippi Blacks and other sections of the population were being prevented from exercising their democratic rights by local legislation. Some of this dated from the era of Jim Crow, and was deliberately intended to limit the Black vote. A few years ago, The Young Turks put up a video attacking legislation the Republicans had put in place. This was ostensibly to combat voter fraud, but there was no real need for it. It’s real purpose was to exclude the poor, Blacks and students from voting. One southern Republican even gave the game away by saying that they passed these laws to stop the Democrats getting in.

It reminds me somewhat of the supposedly democratic election in Italy in the 1920s which saw Mussolini’s Fascists voted into power. At the time none of the parties in the Italian parliament had a clear majority. It had been hoped by Italy’s ruling liberal politicians that by inviting into government, they could form a coalition sufficiently strong to break this deadlock. But Mussolini didn’t want to be a junior partner. He wanted all of it. And so legislation was passed that defined Italy as a single constituency. Whichever party got the most votes nationally, would take something like three-quarters or so of the seats in parliament. The rest would be shared among the other parties. The Fascists won the election, though in many places they lost spectacularly. One of these, ironically, was Mussolini’s home town of Predappia, where he only got 2 per cent of the vote or less. Well, he had an obvious disadvantage there: they knew him.

But the result was that the Fascists became the overwhelmingly dominant party, and Italy began its journey towards dictatorship.

Mussolini had used constitutional methods, as well as brutal force, to gain power. Hitler did the same later in Germany, when the German president similarly hoped that he could break a similar political deadlock there by including the Nazis in a coalition government.

Trump’s wild, unsubstantiated accusations of electoral fraud and demands that voting should be stopped are an attack on democracy. They aren’t as flagrant or grotesque as the colossal gerrymandering that gave Mussolini control of Italy, but they’re definitely on the way there.

I don’t think Trump will get his way with his demands. But they do mark another stage in the gradual undermining of American democracy. And I’m afraid that if Trump does win, he will try to put in place legislation that will further further weaken it so that the Republicans can keep on winning unfairly. And the endpoint of all this, as in Germany and Italy, will be a right-wing dictatorship.

But it will be cloaked in the language of democracy, and protecting the will of the people.

Radio 4 Drama Based on Novel by First Female Labour MP

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 06/11/2020 - 1:35am in

This coming Sunday, 8th November 2020, Radio 4 is broadcasting an adaptation at 3.00 pm of Clash, a political novel by Ellen Wilkinson, Britain’s first female Labour MP. The blurb for it in the Radio Times runs

Drama: Electric Decade: Clash

A dramatisation of the political romance by Britain’s first female Labour MP, Ellen Wilkinson, set during the General Strike. The story looks at the clash between North and South, work and life, tradition and emerging roles. Joan Craig bridges all these divides with energy and talent, but ultimately has to choose whose side she’s on, By Sharon Oakes. (p. 123).

An additional piece about the play on the previous page by Simon O’Hagan says

Ellen Wilkinson was the first female Labour MP yet Sharon Oakes’ dramatisation of her semi-autobiographical novel Clash is more about people than politics, with a beautifully rounded performance by Kate O’Flynn as campaigner Joan Craig. It’s 1926 and the General Strike is looming, but the heart fo the story can be found in Craig’s romance with troubled journalist Tony Dacre (Paul Ready). “She’s opened up a window,” he says of her. “She’s let the air back into my life.” This production is another winner in Radio 4’s season of 1920s-based works.

This could be interesting for those who like political fiction and Labour history. At least it’s different from some contemporary efforts, like Edwina Currie’s A Parliamentary Affair. And I don’t think it’s entirely coincidental that it’s being broadcast when the surname of the journalist hero is that of the former editor of the Daily Heil, either.

The German Communist Party’s 1931 Demands for Women’s Equality

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 05/11/2020 - 2:09am in

One of the other books I’ve been reading during the lockdown is The German Left and the Weimar Republic: Selection of Documents, edited by Ben Fowkes, (Chicago: Haymarket Books 2014). The Weimar Republic was the name given to Germany for the all too brief period from the end of the First World War to the the Nazi seizure of power in 1933/4. It was a tumultuous period which saw the brief rise of workers’, peasants’ and soldiers’ council seize power briefly, the brutal suppression of soviet republics up and down Germany by the Freikorps, the rise of the Nazis, and splits in the majority Germany socialist, the SPD, which produced the USPD (Independent Socialist Party of Germany), the SAP (Socialist Workers’ Party) and the German Communist Party. The book collects a number of documents from these left-wing parties and movements, which reveal their policies and attitudes towards some of the most important issues of the day.

In 1931 the KPD proposed a law to protect and give full equal rights to working women. I’m putting this up, because while I’m very definitely not a Communist, these demands show how far ahead of their time the Communists were. Women’s right to work was attacked by the Nazis, who saw women’s proper sphere as ‘Kinder, Kirche, Kuche’ – children, church and kitchen. And although governments now are keen, or claim to be keen, to promote women’s equality in politics, culture, industry and science, the laws protection working women from exploitation and arbitrary dismissal have been and are being rolled back. This is line with the general attack on worker’s employment rights and job security.

The KPD proposals ran

We call on the Reichstag to demand that the government introduce a bill to protect and give full equality of rights to working women according to the following principles:

  1. Establishment of complete economic, cultural and political equality of rights between women and men. All laws and emergency ordinances that contradict this are to be abrogated with immediate effect.
  2. Women in all enterprises in industry and agriculture, doing the same work as men, are to be paid wages at the same level as men. The longest daily working time for women is to be set at seven hours, with full wage equality, while for unhealthy and heavy work, as well as for young females below the age of 18, it is to be set at six hours.
  3. (Similar provisions for office workers).
  4. Working women are to have a fully equal right to occupy all posts in all professions. Women workers, office employees and civil service officials are not be dismissed because they are married. All working women are to receive free professional training appropriate to their professional capacity.
  5. All unemployed women must have a legal right to full unemployment insurance payments without means testing or reference to the income of family members. Every kind of compulsory labour or compulsory re-training is prohibited. The right to receive social insurance during the whole period of unemployment is to be guaranteed.
  6. All working women employed in industry, agriculture, commerce and transport and domestic work as well as women in the so -called free professions, housewives and the female relatives or working peasants are to be included in the social insurance system.
  7. Dismissal of pregnant women is legally prohibited up to the 12th month after the birth of the child. The pregnant woman is to receive full pay and be exempt from work from eight weeks before until eight weeks after the birth. Nursing mothers are to receive half and hour twice a day for breast-feeding their children, without any reduction in wages. Maternity homes in sufficient numbers are to be made available to all working women, also creches for babies and children up to three years old, nurseries for children from three to school age. These services are to be provided free of payment. They are to be directed and supervised by control committees made up of delegates from the working population, mainly women.
  8. The interruption of pregnancy is to be permitted by law. The contrary paragraphs of the penal code (184 Section 3 and 28) are to be abolished. All persons condemned under the previous abortion paragraphs are to be amnestied immediately, and all current cases are to be terminated. Abortion carried out by a doctor and the provision of the means to avoid pregnancy count as medicate help in the national system of insurance.
  9. When entering marriage, the woman retains her right to decide independently in all legal and personal matters. She is not dependent on the husband in any of her decisions. After marriage, the women may take the name of her husband, but she may also continue to be known under her maiden name. She has the same parental power over her children as the man.
  10. All exceptional provisions dealing with the unmarried mother and the illegitimate child are removed. Every unmarried women has the right to be bear the title of ‘Frau’. In mixed marriages, the choice of nationality is left to the woman.

Obviously, abortion rights are still extremely controversial today. And one of the reasons for the introduction of zero hours contracts and firms insisting that their employees should sign documents stating that they are self-employed is deny women rights like maternity leave. And unemployed women and men are required to go for compulsory retraining and work under Blair’s wretched ‘welfare to work’ initiative. Which is another Tory idea taken from the Americans.

The reduction of the working day for women would be controversial today. More women work part-time than men because they do the majority of work rearing children and running the home. A week or so ago someone proposed that women’s working day should therefore be shortened generally for those reasons. But one of the drawbacks of this would be that women would need to be paid more than men in order to close the gender income gap. Many men on the political right already feel that they will be discriminated against regarding pay rates because of this.

The KPD made these demands nearly 90 years ago, and despite many of them having been introduced over the following decades, we still need to follow their recommendations to defend the rights of all working women along with workers generally.

Cartoon: The right side of history

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 03/11/2020 - 11:50pm in

A serious comic for a serious day in American history. I have been thinking lately about all the sacrifices made by my grandparents and others to stop the Third Reich from taking over the world, and feeling disgusted that all that effort could be undone just one lifetime later. I am obviously not saying that the US was perfect (see George Takei's excellent graphic novel "They Called Us Enemy" about Japanese internment), or that racism didn't exist in the North during the Civil War, or that the US didn’t do some questionable things in the Philippines, or that it has always stood up for democracy. Unfortunately, I can’t address all of US history in a four-panel cartoon. I'm just saying it was a good thing that we stopped the Confederacy and the Holocaust, and that we are tragically faced with the same demons from those eras again.

If you are able, please consider joining the Sorensen Subscription Service!

Follow me on Twitter at @JenSorensen

Why the U.S. Should Convene a 2021 Commission on Truth, Racial Healing, and Transformation

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 02/11/2020 - 11:00pm in

Photo Credit: Everett Collection / Shutterstock “The truth of history may be utterly distorted and contradicted and changed to any...

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Hey-Ho for Hallowe’en

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 31/10/2020 - 8:43pm in

It’s October 31st, Hallowe’en. This is supposed to come from the pagan Irish festival of Samhain, but over a decade ago now Dr Ronald Hutton, a history professor at Bristol University, published an article criticising this view in the Earth Mysteries/ Alternative Archaeology magazine 3rd Stone. One of the postgraduate students in the religion department at Bristol University was studying it, however, and she found that it did come from Ireland. So what the real origin of Hallowe’en is I have no idea.

One of the children’s books I had when I was young was The Beaver Book of Creepy Verse, which had this little rhyme:

Hey-ho for Hallowe’en

And the witches to be seen.

Some black and some green.

Hey-ho for Hallowe’en.

Which is obviously great fun if you’re a small child, but isn’t going to win any literary awards.

In Somerset the Jack O’ Lanterns made at this time of year were called ‘punkies’ and there was a doggerel verse about how this was ‘punkie night’. Not obviously to be confused with punks, however, despite the physical similarity some people might have to pumpkins.

Thanks to the Coronavirus, going to parties is out of the question. Many cities are ascending the tiers of restrictions the government has imposed, and I’ve heard that it’s likely that the government will imposed a general lockdown sometime next week. But I hope everyone will nevertheless have a great day, and a bit of spooky fun if they want. Even if it just watching a horror video with the peeps in your social bubble.

New Labour’s Connections to Fascism

Yesterday the EHRC’s report into anti-Semitism in the Labour party was published, and was spun for all it was worth as confirmation that Jeremy Corbyn was anti-Semitic and so was the party under him. Except for all those brave, Zionist Blairites that spoke out and denounced him and his followers, of course. Followers that included large, vocal numbers of entirely self-respecting Jews, who were attacked and vilified as self-hating anti-Semites themselves.

One of those, who decided to put his oar into all this was Ed Balls, a former New Labour cabinet minister. As Mike has pointed out on his blog, this is very much a case of a man in a glass house throwing stones. Not only did Balls once turn up at a party dressed as a Nazi, he also presented a BBC programme a year ago in which he met real Nazis. Apparently he even said he liked them, and that they were nice. So there’s just a little touch of hypocrisy here.

See: https://voxpoliticalonline.com/2020/10/28/ed-balls-speaks-out-about-labour-anti-semitism-who-cares/

Now dressing up as a Nazi for a student party is obviously tasteless and offensive, but doesn’t necessarily mean that someone’s a Nazi. But some of the accusations of anti-Semitism used against Corbyn’s supporters were far less substantial than such pranks. For example, there was the lad, who posted an image of a Jobcentre with the slogan ‘Arbeit Macht Frei’ on its sign. This was supposed to be anti-Semitic for disrespecting Jewish suffering in the Holocaust. But this ignores the fact that the slogan was used on all concentration camps, including those housing gentile political prisoners. And the slogan accurately describes the Tory mentality towards the disabled and long term sick. Iain Duncan Smith actually said so in an online article, before someone told him that quoting the Nazis approvingly doesn’t look good, and he removed the offending paragraph.

If you want a second example, consider the press feeding frenzy which occurred when Corbyn was seen to nod in agreement when Heijo Meyer, a Holocaust survivor, said that Israel was doing to the Palestinians what the Nazis did to him. Oh, the anti-Semitism! What foul perfidy and Jew-hatred! Except that Nazis don’t usually agree with Holocaust survivors. The Nazi strategy is to try to deny that the Shoah ever happened, or claim that it was somehow smaller than it really was. They don’t usually support Holocaust survivors, who speak about their experiences.

And there’s obviously a profound difference between Israel and Jews. The two definitely aren’t synonymous, and according to the I.H.R.A. definition of anti-Semitism which the Board of Deputies and the Chief Rabbi were so desperate to foist upon the party, it is anti-Semitic to confuse the two. Which is very obviously the case with Corbyn’s accusers. It isn’t anti-Semitic to criticise Israel for its crimes against the Palestinians, any more than attacking Saudi Arabia for its human rights record automatically means that you hate Arabs.

As for meeting Nazis and describing them as nice people, unfortunately, I can well believe that some of them are personally nice people. A German Jewish bloke, who infiltrated a neo-Nazi organisation leading to its exposure in the German media, said the same about some of them when he was interviewed. He said that amongst the Nazis he met were ordinary, otherwise decent Germans, who believed the Holocaust never happened. That’s part of the danger. Murderous, dangerous ideas can be held by otherwise entirely decent people. One of the Islamist scumbags who murdered Lee Rigby all those years ago put up a video telling the world that he was really a nice person, who would help old ladies up the stairs. And I dare say he was right. If all Nazis and jihadis were antisocial, ranting, bullying maniacs, nobody would join them or stay in their organisations for very long. They’d leave because of their noxious personalities. But unfortunately, Nazis and other murderous extremists don’t always behave like their stereotypes, and this does mean that they can appear plausible. That fact that Ed Balls personally liked some of them doesn’t mean that Balls is a Nazi. Just like the fact that because Corbyn appeared alongside Palestinian activists, who had terrible views on killing Israelis, doesn’t mean that Corbyn supported their views. But no such doubts were extended to the Labour leader.

It was almost to be expected that Balls or one of his New Labour colleagues was going to comment about all this. Not only was Balls a former cabinet minister under Blair and Brown, but like Blair and other members of the New Labour clique, he’s also an alumnus of BAP – the British-American Project for the Successor Generation, to give it its full title. This was a Reaganite scheme in which promising British politicos from all parties were sought out and given opportunities to work and study in America in order to cement the Atlantic alliance. After going on one of these BAP jaunts to meet American right-wingers, Blair returned to England convinced of the need to retain our nuclear deterrent, while previously he had believed in getting rid of it.

America supports Israel, and Blair and Brown were ardent supporters of America, and so it follows that they too would support Israel. Apart from the fact that they supported Israel anyway, for which Blair received funding from pro-Israel Jewish businessmen. This was garnered through the efforts of Lord Levi, who Blair met at a gathering at the Israeli embassy. And mentioning that doesn’t make you an anti-Semitic conspiracy theorist either.

But Blair also had personal connections to Fascism. He was mates with Berlusconi, whose Forza Italia party was in coalition with the Alleanza Nazionale. The Allianza Nazionale were former Fascists, after the neo-Fascist party, the Movimiento Sociale Italiano or Italian Social Movement, was dissolved by its leader, Gianfranco Fini, and reformed as a centre-right Conservative party. The best comment I’ve seen on Fini was in the pages of a book I read on Fascism years ago. It showed a photo of Fini when the Fascists were discarding the black shirts and adopting business suits in an attempt to make themselves look respectably middle class. It was called ‘filofascismo’, presumably a portmanteau of the Italian for filofax and Fascism. Fini appeared in a suit and round-rimmed glasses with business jacket slung casually over his shoulder. The photo was captioned ‘Would you buy a used ideology from this man?’ The answer is, ‘No, no, I definitely wouldn’t. Not even dressed up as Conservatism’.

More sinisterly, David Mills, the husband of New Labour minister Tessa Jowell, was a lawyer engaged to defend a genuine Fascist. I got a feeling this guy was one of those responsible for the Bologna railway bombing in the late ’70s. This was a Fascist terrorist atrocity in which the squadristi bombed that Italian town’s railway station, killing and maiming something like 121 people.

This shows up New Labour’s hypocrisy and that of the Tories and their accomplices in the media even more. Corbyn, like other members of the Labour left, was smeared as a supporter of the IRA because of his concern for a just peace in Northern Ireland. He wasn’t, and various Ulster Loyalists have said that he was fair and perfectly civil and friendly towards them. But this was ignored in the scramble to vilify him as a supporter of Irish nationalist terrorism. But obviously, as David Mills’ example shows, it’s perfectly acceptable to the British right for the spouses of New Labour ministers to work for genuine Fascists responsible for killing and mutilation of over a hundred innocents.

And that should also raise genuine questions of anti-Semitism. The Italian Fascists originally hadn’t been anti-Semitic. Mussolini himself had ridiculed Hitler’s biological racism, but as Nazism took over from Italian Fascism as the more influential movement, Mussolini tried to ingratiate himself and his regime by adopting racism. In 1937 the Fascists published their manifesto on race and passed legislation defining the Italian people as Aryans, and banning Jews from certain professions. The Charter of Verona, which set out the ideology of Mussolini’s rump Fascist state in Salo, declared that Jews weren’t part of the Italian nation. And contemporary Italian Fascists, like Fascists everyone, are violently anti-immigrant and racist.

Considering Blair’s and co.’s connections to real Fascism, Balls has got absolutely no business accusing Corbyn and his supporters of anti-Semitism whatsoever.

Feature Essay: Stratification Economics and the Black Radical Tradition

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 29/10/2020 - 11:37pm in

Property, Institutions and Social Stratification in Africa is the first book-length analysis of stratification economics in Africa, a new sub-field of economics that offers alternative political-economic explanations for inequality, not just in terms of income but also regarding group-based wealth and power. In this essay, author Dr Franklin Obeng-Odoom discusses his book’s contribution to the field and contextualises stratification economics within the Black Radical Tradition.

Stratification Economics and the Black Radical Tradition

Stratification economics is a new sub-field of economics which provides alternative approaches for the political-economic analysis of the unequal world order in which we live. Distinctive in both ontological and methodological terms, stratification economics offers new political-economic explanations of inequality, not just in terms of income but also with respect to group-based wealth and power. It is a key field that I both draw on and contribute to in my recent book Property, Institutions and Social Stratification in Africa. William Darity Jr, the leading theorist of stratification economics, has provided the history of the field, its commitments and contentions in many of his writings.

Another way to explain stratification economics is by contextualising it within the Black Radical Tradition. Cedric J. Robinson’s book, Black Marxism: The Making of the Black Radical Tradition (1983), is a useful starting point. Divided into three themed parts, the book starts appropriately with ‘the emergence and limitations of European Radicalism’. Next, it considers ‘the roots of Black Radicalism’, before going on to discuss ‘Black Radicalism and Marxist Theory’. Some of the chapters in this last part are arranged to focus on black intellectuals, avoiding the problem of discussing the Black Radical Tradition without carefully engaging black scholars.

Robinson’s book is magisterial. Consider Chapter Nine on W.E.B Du Bois. Not only does this chapter show that Du Bois was once idealist before becoming a materialist, a radical black scholar and activist, but it also demonstrates how Du Bois exposed the limitations of Western political economy. Neglecting or working against the systematic study of race questions was one of Du Bois’s concerns with the West, the left and Western Left political economists in his time.

Even if Western political economists were supportive of the need to study race and class together, Du Bois was concerned that their key concepts were inadequate. He discussed ‘labour’ or ‘workers’ in Western Marxism, for example, arguing that neither concept fully reflects the conditions of black people in capitalist economic systems nor comprehensively appreciates the contribution of black slaves, labourers or workers to pre-capitalist political-economic organisation and change. Third, in terms of revolutions, Du Bois was also convinced that Western Marxist theories tend to overlook the complexities and peculiarities of black experiences or, if they consider such experiences at all, tend to devalue them. That said, a broad critique of idealism, as can be found in Western Marxism, is useful. Indeed, Robinson himself clearly shows the need to critique the idealism of both black and white intellectuals, while being broadly supportive of black radicals such as C.L.R James, whose work he discusses in Chapter Ten.

In Chapter Ten, Robinson offers a further clarification of what the Black Radical Tradition entails, including a critique of capitalism and chattel slavery, a critique of racists and racism, a critique of Western Marxism and a development of an eclectic third alternative characterised by Pan-African liberation struggles. In the hands of Robinson, James taught me the importance of contradictions. According to Robinson, many black scholars found themselves ‘trapped’ in the British empire without many possibilities of going back home, as the British authorities wanted to contain any spread of radical ideas in the colonies. Yet, black radicals developed their work right in the metropolitan context where they had the opportunity to work with one another, the opportunity to learn together and the opportunity to observe at close range inconsistencies in the claims by the British, while seizing the opportunity to lay bare the contradictions at the heart of the empire. Consequently, they were led in their adversity to reject British, but also other forms of, imperialism. They questioned progressive Western political economy, too, because it struggled to fully reflect the concerns of the black leaders at the time. Even worse, some Western political economists sometimes wavered in their support of the oppressed.

For me, the lesson in these analyses is that we cannot lose hope as political economists, as black political economists. Even in unexpected circumstances and hostile contexts, it may be possible to find oases in deserts, and rays of light and warmth in dark and cold places. Probably the logical analytical conclusion is that, just as the strategies of slavery, colonialism and imperialism that were used to control the oppressed can be used against the oppressor, the principles of spatial, temporal and social analyses found in Marxism can also be used to problematise and reconstruct Marxism. Robinson discusses theories of revolution as one concrete example of an area where the Black Radical Tradition matters. Indeed, he argues that black writers have developed theories of revolution that are qualitatively and substantially different from theories of revolution found in Western Marxism. Robinson mentions The Black Jacobins by James as one such corpus of alternative theories of revolution. Perhaps, as suggested in this discussion of Kehinde Andrews’s Back to Black: Black Radicalism for the 21st Century, the lives and contrasting theorisations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X also offer a counterpunch to Western secular theories of revolution.

A masterpiece, Black Marxism could have been much clearer in some of its exposition, much wider in its discussion of the sources of inspiration for black radicals and much more inclusive of the work of black feminists. Doing so would have widened the book’s analytical power and appeal. However, such notes should not take attention away from Robinson’s lasting contribution to understanding the nature of that Black Radical Tradition, typified by its challenge to orthodoxy, critique of progressivism and development of a third alternative that is truly liberatory.

That tradition can be found in the work of bell hooks, Ama Ata Aidoo, Kimberlé Crenshaw, Amina Mama, Nawal El Saadawi and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, to name but a few. Consider hooks’s work in Ain’t I a Woman (1981) or her book on teaching, Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom (1994), and Stella Dadzie’s A Kick in the Belly (2020). In all these works, the Black Radical Tradition challenges mainstream analysis, but it also questions progressive white feminist interventions (see, for example, ‘Holding My Sister’s Hand’, Chapter Seven of Teaching to Transgress). These theorists have developed a third position of their own: black feminism. That is what bell hooks means when she writes:

Commitment to feminist politics and black liberation struggle means that I must be able to confront issues of race and gender in a black context, providing meaningful answers to problematic questions as well as appropriate accessible ways to communicate them (112).

Historically, the attitude of both mainstream and progressive scholars to the Black Radical Tradition is that it is nothing new, that it does not exist, or if it exists, that it creates distraction or destruction. To the extent that it is valuable, it is merely a poor and deficient imitation of the work of what hooks calls “‘great’’ white men’ (Teaching to Transgress, 32). In the context of Robinson’s attempt to show the nature of Black Marxism, those ‘great white men’ would include Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels.

Yet, there truly is a Black Radical Tradition, sometimes called ‘African political economy’ or ‘black political economy’ – even if there are ongoing criticisms within this body of work, too, such that black radicals critique the work of one another. Marx is commonly referenced, as in Walter Rodney’s work, How Europe Underdeveloped Africa, but these leaders have often found Marx alone insufficient, as Andrews’s Back to Black, reviewed on LSE Review of Books, also shows. So, while this tradition is not necessarily a rejection of Western Marxism, many have been critical of Marx without necessarily denying everything Marx has to offer.

As the analyses of Aimé Césaire and Frantz Fanon show, this Black Radical Tradition is not anti-Marx, but there are also many other influences. Institutionalism is one of them, so the Black Radical Tradition is sometimes considered ‘critical institutionalism’. Personally, I have drawn from both Marx and the institutionalists, but also from Henry George, and many other theorists. There are also subtle and important differences of emphasis. For example, hooks explains in Teaching to Transgress that, even within black feminism, contributory currents are diverse. Literary criticism is one, but there are others in law, women’s studies and English literature. Yet what separates these points of entry and analyses are trivial compared to what unites them: that spirit Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana called ‘total liberation’ of black people and all people of colour in the world.

Stratification economics can be understood within this context. Its specific arrowhead and intellectual oxygen is William Darity Jr, his students and his colleagues within the National Economic Association founded in 1969 as the Caucus of Black Economists. As shown in some of their joint work, the immediate concerns of stratification economics are group-based inequalities, especially the (political) economics of inter-group structural wealth disparities. Yet, no serious stratification economics can lose the spirit of the Black Radical Tradition, nor black feminism, nor African political economy, nor black political economy in general.

It has been a long-standing concern that, while literary scholars, historians, legal scholars, geographers, political scientists and others have made monumental contributions to this Black Radical Tradition, black economists have had relatively little input. This concern applies to Black Studies, African Studies and Postcolonial Studies more generally. Stratification economics can be seen as a formidable response by black economists – that is, those who self-identify as economists, those who use economic methodologies and those educated in and/or those employed by economics departments that usually teach, research and disseminate economic analyses to dominant economic orthodoxies and Western political economy alike. Still, transdisciplinary economics and (political) economic analyses are the central organising themes. Outlets such as The Review of Black Political Economy, The Cambridge Studies in Stratification Economics book series and, increasingly, The African Review of Economics and Finance publish work in this tradition.

Alongside a recent essay in the Review of African Political Economy and my editorial for the African Review of Economics and Finance, my substantive contribution to stratification economics is my book, Property, Institutions, and Social Stratification in Africa, which appeared in Darity’s book series, The Cambridge Studies in Stratification Economics. The book has been reviewed on this platform and other outlets, including the African Review of Economics and Finance and Land and Liberty. Yet, curiously, stratification economics and where it sits within black political economy have not been a focus of any of the published reviews of my book so far.

My book seeks to engage, but ultimately transcend, both orthodox and political- economic attempts to explain and help resolve inequality in Africa. In terms of its contribution to the relatively new field of stratification economics itself, the book strongly emphasises a distinctive theory of land economics, though a focus on land and collective living and land organisation is quite common in the Black Radical Tradition, too. Although primarily focused on the US, this emphasis is evident in From Here to Equality: Reparations for Black Americans in the Twenty-First Century, Darity’s latest book, co-authored with A. Kirsten Mullen, in which he discusses the principle of forty acres and a mule promised to freed black slaves in the US. There are important intersections (to use Crenshaw’s concept, and a central concept in black feminism and the Black Radical Tradition generally) between the oppression of African Americans, Africans in continental Africa and elsewhere, as well as those – whether religious or secular – socially constructed as ‘black’. #BlackLivesMatter is clearly a global movement.

Property, Institutions, and Social Stratification in Africa is the first book-length analysis of stratification economics in Africa. So, the book’s contribution to the new sub-field of stratification economics is clearly distinctive in that respect. Working on the book with Professor Darity, the leading scholar on stratification economics, was both humbling and transformational. The experience has deepened my further engagement with the Black Radical Tradition. It has much to contribute in terms of the global socio-ecological crises often discussed under the rubric of climate change. My forthcoming book, The Commons in an Age of Uncertainty: Decolonizing Nature, Economy, and Society, demonstrates that tradition in action. I am also currently completing a book on global migration for Oxford University Press in which I put this tradition once again to the service of humanity. Thus, to all three great problems of the world – inequality, climate change and global migration crises – stratification economics and the Black Radical Tradition have much to offer.

Note: This feature essay gives the views of the author, and not the position of the LSE Review of Books blog, or of the London School of Economics. 

Author Acknowledgements: I gratefully acknowledge Dr. Deller’s excellent feedback. The article, however, reflects my own analysis. 

Image Credit: Triptych image of photograph of W.E.B. Du Bois by Cornelius M. Battey, 1918. Reproduction Number: LC-DIG-ppmsca-38818 (digital file from original item) LC-USZ62-16767 (b&w film copy neg. Repository: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/pp.print. No known copyright restrictions.