Richard Wright, Black Empowerment and the Delirium of Trotskyism
By Adrian Chan-Wyles PhD
‘The problem is freedom from a dead past. And freedom to build a rational future. How much are we willing to risk for freedom? I say let us risk everything. Freedom begets freedom. Europe, I say to you before it is too late: Let the Africans and the Asians whom you have educated in Europe have their freedom, or you will lose your own in trying to keep freedom from them.’
Richard Wright: White Man. Listen! (Tradition and Industrialisation)
Richard Wright: White Man. Listen! (Tradition and Industrialisation)
I recently acquired a book entitled ‘Black Power, which is a recent compendium of three works by the African-American intellectual – Richard Wright (1908-1960). Due to the Eurocentric habit of teaching history only from the ‘White’ perspective, I had never heard of this man before, but from the Introduction written by Cornel West, I could tell that he was an important historical figure for African-Americans specifically, and the Black diaspora in general. Admittedly, I have not read every single page of this well presented volume (it is well-over 800 pages), primarily because I could not stomach his bourgeois, Trotskyite approach toward Marxism, Marxist-Leninism, Communism, China and the Soviet Union. Do not misunderstand me, I respect Richard Wright for his historical presence and intellectual gravitas, I also acknowledge that for many Black people (as well as White and Yellow), his example serves as an independent course between Eurocentric capitalism and Eurocentric Scientific Socialism (although I personally do not view Marxist-Engelism as ‘European’ in the sense of bourgeois capitalism). I agree with his continuous (Marxist) opposition to imperialism and White supremacy, but disagree with his attitude that capitalism can be reformed from ‘within’ and somehow purged of its divisive essence, or that which perpetually lays the foundation for racism from one generation to the next. I get the distinct impression from his work that if capitalism wasn’t racist, then most Black people would have no problem with it (despite being its mass victims during the era of trans-Atlantic institutional slavery).
Richard Wright claims to have been a Member of the Communist Party of United States from around 1932 – 1942, and yet has very little to say about the rise of Nazi Germany, the brutal Nazi invasion of the USSR, nor indeed, the Nazi holocaust. He also remains deathly silent on the 27 – 40 million men, women and children who died fighting Nazism as allies of the USA. He left the Communist Party in the darkest days of the Nazi invasion of the USSR, because (he claims) his written work was being limited or influenced in directions he did not like. Indeed, his work after this point seems to be a constant ‘apology’ for having once been a Soviet Communist, and the rather obvious pursuance of the Trotskyite critique of the USSR. Trotsky, of course, was a bourgeois opportunist (and latent racist), who was only a convert to Lenin’s Bolshevik path, when it looked like it was going to gain power in Russia. Later, after the death of Lenin (in 1924), Trotsky made a power play to usurp Joseph Stalin, for which he was expelled from the Soviet Union in 1929. From that time onward (until his death in 1940), he actively joined with the capitalist, bourgeois establishment in the West to attack, undermine and vilify the USSR and the philosophy of Marxist-Leninism. In effect, everything about Richard Wright after 1942, is a study in the application of systemic Trotskyism. Whilst opposing White racism on the one hand, Richard Wright actively engaged in the anti-Chinese rhetoric of his mentor Trotsky on the other. Ironically, whilst recognising that oppressed peoples of the world often ‘internalised’ White colonial racism, Richard Wright saw no problem copying Trotsky’s racism toward China and her people (referring to its Maoist Communist Revolution as ‘despotic’, and ignoring the self-determining nature of its over-throw of Western dominance). Prior to 1942, Richard Wright perceived Marxist-Leninism as ‘freeing’ for the ‘African’ and ‘African-American’, but after 1942, he had an abrupt about face and stated that Marxist-Leninism was ‘despotic’ and of no use to people of colour. (In fact, he referred to the entire Soviet Revolution as an exercise in self-serving Russian foreign policy).
It is a shame that so clever a man should have been taken in by Trotskyism and made to play what might be called the ‘White man’s game’. Marxist-Engelism, and Marxist-Leninism exposes the racist roots of capitalism, and rejects racism and nationalism out of hand. This is a fact despite Marx and Engels obviously being of European Ethnic extraction. The eternal relevancy of Marx (and Engels) is that they possessed that spark of genius that enabled them to ‘see through’ their own ethno-centric predicament, condemn European capitalism (and class privilege) thoroughly, and apply a rigorous scientific ‘dialectic’ to the future development of society, once the down-trodden working class can throw-off the shackles of bourgeois, capitalist oppression. The depth of this insight, and the scope of its implications cannot be limited (by comparisons) to the mad rantings of Trotsky, who had nothing new to add, other than to try and artificially ‘divorce’ Marxism from Lenin’s equally genius application of it to a modern world. In this regard, Richard Wright believes that the bourgeois capitalists are ‘right’ about the supposed ‘despotic’ nature of Soviet Communism (in fact, Wright fully engages in this form of discrimination and oppression aimed at another people and their culture), but equally believes that the same bourgeois capitalists are ‘wrong’ when it comes to their negative (and racist) views of Africans and African-Americans. I am, of course, attacking the disgusting duplicity of Leon Trotsky as it appears to manifest through the work and attitudes of Richard Wright, rather than Richard Wright himself, (although I fully acknowledge that as a man, he is responsible for his own viewpoints). This demonstrates the danger that Trotsky (and his bourgeois notion of distorted ‘Socialism’) possesses for all people in the world – but there is more to Richard Wright than this. Before dealing with his particular genius, I felt compelled to tackle his association with Communism, and his diversion from it, simply because Marxist-Engelism and Marxist-Leninism offers the only genuine path open to the oppressed peoples of the world to throw off the racist excesses and crimes of imperialism and capitalism. In this regard, much of what Richard Wright writes is disingenuous toward Communism and a Soviet Union that gave hope to millions for a better future. His attack on Chinese Communism is appalling, and demonstrates how the policy of Trotskyism (whilst superficially appearing to confront racist attitudes), in fact sets one non-White race against another, in the service of retaining hegemony for the White bourgeoisie. As a Black man, Richard Wright possessed a symbolic value that could have been positively used to inspire other non-White people to ‘think’ their way out of oppression, even though these people may not have been ‘Black’. He could also have reached-out to the new generation of ordinary White people who although not necessarily in power, nevertheless, did not adhere to the racist ideologies of their fore-fathers. All these things he could have done because he was ‘Black’ – this was one of the greatest powers that he possessed. Of course, he did use this power throughout his life, which was magnified through his immense intellect, but if he had not so openly rejected Communism, his power could have been so much the greater.
As it now stands, Richard Wright, as a Black intellect, now appeals to a new kind of contemporary bourgeois African-American intellectual and Civil Rights campaigner. For many such thinkers (and they are genuine ‘thinkers’), today’s Black empowerment movements are more about gaining ‘equality’ within the capitalist system, rather than over-throwing or transcending capitalism itself. In essence, whether conscious or not, this is pure Trotskyism. This type of self-empowerment sees Black people more concerned about what the White establishment thinks about them, than about the uprooting of White oppression from within the essence of society (action that would effectively see the end of capitalism, and the ‘freeing’ of the entire working class – Black and White together). What does it matter what the White establishment thinks? It has no moral right to rule over anyone’s life but only does so because of an accident of history. The point is that the White working class, although the majority within European societies, does not possess any real political power. It is the White middle class that holds all the power, (and has initiated heinous crimes throughout history not only upon non-White peoples around the world, but also upon its own domestic working class). Of course, I am generalising to make a point. The White middle class ensures (through education and the media) that bourgeois racist attitudes continue to permeate the White working class, and that through the institution of ‘White privilege’, working class White people will not ‘unite’ with Black, Brown or Yellow members of the same oppressed working class. All this the middle class does to stop the working class coming together in Marxist ‘Internationalism’ and transcending racism. However, there will always be White, Black, Brown and Yellow people who will ‘dialectically’ see through this bourgeois conditioning and fully embrace Marxist-Engelism and Marxist-Leninism for the betterment of humanity. In essence, I believe that Richard Wright was definitely one of these special and revolutionary beings – his dalliance with Trotskyism notwithstanding. His argument with Soviet Communism was not with its Marxism (as Wright willingly admits the usefulness of Marxism even after his break with Communism), but rather with its outer manifestation and functionality. Richard Wright does not seem to appreciate that at the time of his greatest antagonisms with Soviet Communism, the Soviet Union was near to collapse through Nazi German aggression and atrocities. In this regard, it is peculiar that Wright does not sympathise with this disastrous plight of the Soviet peoples, who were murdered in their millions by the international forces of fascism (the same racially motivated fascism that saw Black people ‘lynched’ from trees in the US), because they were Communists, Jews, Disabled, or of an ‘inferior’ race. Richard Wright simply ‘moves on’ and is curiously ‘unconcerned’ about the plight of the Soviet Union. Of course, such indifference toward the USSR, is a primary philosophical marker of Trotskyism – which had striven to bring-down the Soviet Union since Trotsky’s expulsion in 1929. Together with his disdain toward Chinese Communism (following as he does the bourgeois anti-China line) I say that after 1942, Richard Wright was a Marxist-Trotskyist. Karl Marx stated that the sweep of bourgeois capitalism across the world, (destructive as it was toward the traditional pre-modern cultures it encountered), was nevertheless progressive (in that it ushered in new creative power and transformative energy). However, Marx never stated that this historically inevitable ‘destruction’ was either morally ‘right’ or ethically ‘correct’. Richard Wright, being at once the historical victim and product of this Eurocentric, imperialist project, whilst writing in his ‘White Man, Listen!’ states that the invading Europeans, whilst enslaving and brutalising Africans and Asians, also inadvertently assisted their psychological and cultural development by stripping them of their superstitious and religious past, and in so doing, freeing them for the development of a ‘rational’ future, premised upon the spread of the European Enlightenment. This gives the impression that Richard Wright, whilst ably criticising Western colonialism and racism, also views bourgeois rationality as the height of human, evolutionary development. It is a peculiar form of Marxism that does not call for the immediate over-throw of the bourgeois system, but instead seeks to import a sense of ‘nobility’ into its obvious savagery. Wright seems to forget that the force of history does not belong to any one ethnic group or race, and that the historical conditions of today will not be the historical conditions of tomorrow.
Richard Wright’s assertion that he is a Westerner permanently excluded (because of colour prejudice) by the society that created him, marks a perennial genius that permeates his entire literary output. He succinctly sums-up the alienation all non-White people feel whilst living in White society. Every underlying Western value, opinion and cultural practice is shared to a certain extent, but because of skin-colour, Western racism ensures a final ‘rejection’ at the most intimate levels of what it means to be ‘Western’. This means that Wright perceives himself as existing in a state of continuous ‘exclusion’ from his very own identity, although, as a Black man born and living in the West, he never gives-up his Western identity. This ambiguity of belonging allows Wright to view the Western society he belongs to, as if he were a stranger standing outside, looking in. He sees more because he is not granted the permission by White society to comfortably sink into Western identity to the extent that White people do. Being Western and yet simultaneously ‘not Western’, Richard Wright is able to take an objective view of his own identity and personal history (which inevitably ‘merges’ with the impersonal history of imperialism). He is the historical product of victims of Western imperialism, and (according to his own analysis) the benefactor of Western rationality. Richard Wright comes to terms with this ambiguity and alienation by intellectually rising above it. Where others flounder in obscurity and confusion, he intellectually analyses and interprets. He remains painfully aware of all the injustices of imperialism as ‘history’, but gives the impression that he is ‘free’ of the past that created him (with all its horrors), and therefore intellectually ‘independent’ here and now. Richard Wright appears to represent an emancipatory psychology and philosophy that is Marxian based (to a point), but which rejects any modern attempt to express that Marxian philosophy as a living, political and cultural regime. Finally, to be fair to Richard Wright, much of his openly hostile anti-Soviet stance seems to be a reaction to the Communist Party’s denouncement of his opinions. Nevertheless, Richard Wright remains a fine example of a human being who has been positively influenced by the works of Karl Marx, which assisted in the unleashing of a shockingly potent intellect, bordering on the genius with much of its out-put. Whilst aligning himself for a time with the teachings of Marxist-Leninism (and the Communist Party), Richard Wright remained intellectually independent. In this regard he exercises free will, and as a Black man, refused to be told what to do by what he perceived to be ‘White’ people. This represents a type of freedom practised by an outstanding individual, who was part of a group of people that were brutalised oppressed and told what to do by Europeans for centuries. It is unfortunate that the Communist Party of the USA was unable to accommodate the genius of Richard Wright in the early 1940’s – he would have made an excellent working class leader, who would have inspired Black and White equally!
©opyright: Adrian Chan-Wyles (ShiDaDao) 2016.