Thursday, July 25, 2013

Marked Sensation

I'm not a very good tourist, which is one of the reasons I'm often content to travel alone.  I've been to Chicago many times since I was a child, so I saw the museums and galleries and such about as many times as I want to.  I love walking around, I love investigating used bookstores and record stores, I enjoy trying out restaurants, and I love seeing movies that haven't yet come to Bloomington and maybe never will.  I saw two on this trip, Twenty Feet from Stardom and Fruitvale Station, both of them excellent.  But I also enjoy reading, and I do a lot of that when I travel. Oddly, I've done a little less reading this time than usual, and I've spent a little less time online than usual.

I just started reading Richard Seymour's recent book American Insurgents: A Brief History of American Anti-Imperialism (Haymarket Books, 2013).  I've enjoyed his previous works, The Liberal Defence of Murder and Unhitched: The Trial of Christopher Hitchens, and this new one already looks very promising.  In the preface he mentions that,
far from anti-imperialism being a strictly middle-class affair, or one led by pampered college students, left-wing working-class Americans -- particularly African-Americans -- have usually formed, if not the vanguard, then the avant-garde of resistance to imperialism.  Contemporary research on American peace movements finds that class is an important factor in motivating antiwar activism, more so than for those earning less than $40,000 dollars a year than for those earning more.  The experience of racist and sexist oppression is also central to galvanizing activists.  This would tend to corroborate the findings of studies of the anti-Vietnam War movement, which was (in defiance of the caricature of "rich college fucks" using their privilege to subvert America, as Daniel Patrick Moynihan characterized radicals at the time) largely working-class and disproportionately African-American [xviii-xix].
It was when Martin Luther King, Jr. started focusing on class issues and opposing the Vietnam War, remember, that many of his white liberal supporters began to back away from him.

Seymour also criticizes the libertarian anti-imperialist position:
Often compromised by hewing to racist and antiegalitarian principles, its anti-imperialism has been neither reliable nor internally consistent.  Pat Buchanan, a classic Old Right figure who positions himself as a non-interventionist, was a member of the Nixon White House, a supporter of the Vietnam War, and later a co-architect of Reagan's aggression in Central America, who steered the administration's propaganda toward unequivocal endorsements of the white-supremacist regime in South Africa [xix-xx].
And at the beginning of the first chapter Seymour quotes the escaped slave and abolitionist Frederick Douglass, from an 1849 speech I'd never heard of before:
I would not care if, tomorrow, I should hear of the death of every man who engaged in the bloody war in Mexico, and that every man had met the fate he went there to perpetrate upon unoffending Mexicans.
The Mexican War, you may recall, was waged to expand slavery in the South by stealing Mexican territory and turning it into the slave state of Texas.  Douglass's anger at first upset his Boston abolitionist audience; the transcript I linked to says that his remarks were met with "(Applause and hisses.)"