Since the early part of the 20th century the best way to diss a politician was to call him a “Socialist.” Even the mere suggestion of a dude being red was sure to guarantee a 20% drop in the polls. This is what the Conservatives are counting on as they continuously sling “Commie” accusations at President Obama. While the president’s so called “socialist” programs may not play in Peoria, they seem to be a big hit in the ‘hood.
For most middle class Americans who are heavily invested in the system, the mere mention of Socialism is like someone with nine inch nails ,repeatedly, scratching a blackboard but for the black community the promise of a more socially equitable society has been music to the ears of an oppressed people who have been denied the American dream of Capitalism.
We must remember that the African American attraction towards Socialism did not start with the Obama administration but has existed in this country for over 70 years.
Many of the early black leaders were heavily influenced by Socialist theory if not members of the Communist party, themselves. It must be noted that while Dr. WEB DuBois is most known for being a founding member of the integrationist NAACP, by 1934, he was singing the praises of Karl Marx. Also, the head of the Civil Rights movement , Martin Luther King had Socialist theorists on his staff such as Bayard Rustin. Not to mention the fact that that the good reverend’s Poor People’s campaign raised a middle finger in the face of Capitalist exploitation.
DMX – “Stop Being Greedy”
During the late 60’s the Marxist -Leninist philosophy of scientific Socialism was used as a blueprint for the Black Panther Party and their many community programs. The idea of the people owning the means of production resonated well with black folks who were tired of the slave-master relationship.
The impact of Socialism has been felt in the world of black entertainment, as well, as performers such as Paul Robeson got “blacklisted” for their political beliefs.
Though less overtly, rhythm and blues artists recorded tracks that favored Socialism over Capitalism as exemplified by the Isley Brothers asking “when will there be a harvest for the world,” in 1976.
While many of today’s Hip Hop moguls like Shawn “Jay Z” Carter and Sean “Puff Daddy” Combs are, unashamedly, black Capitalists, Hip-Hop has challenged the doctrine of Capitalism since its inception. Many rappers have penned Socialist inspired lyrics, whether knowingly or not.
In 1982 Kurtis Blow yelled, “I don’t want a lot, I just want enough. So why does it have to be so damn tough?” Later in 1984, rap group Divine Sounds critiqued the pitfalls of Capitalism with “What People Do for Money.”
Although more known for run ins with the law than revolutionary ideology, rapper DMX presented a musical manifesto of his own with the 90’s hit, “Stop Being Greedy,” when he demanded, “ya’ll been eatin’ long enough, stop bein’ greedy. Just keep it real partner, give to the needy.”
The Coup’s album artwork for Party Music came out before the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center. It was later changed.
Perhaps the most overt disciples of Socialism are “the Black Panther of Rap,” Paris who frequently calls for revolution on his CD’s and the group, Dead Prez, whose People’s Army Movement urge followers to “bang on the system.”
Also, the fear of a bland, monolithic society forced to dress in matching uniforms that was used to scare previous generations is lost on a Hip Hop Nation whose members wear the traditional “gangsta” gear of white T-shirts and blue jeans on a daily basis, anyway.
So, why is scientific Socialism still relevant to a Hip Hop generation far removed from the days of the McCarthy hearings?
The reason is simple. The condition of the masses of black people has not changed since that era nor has Capitalism.
Most black folks still have neither “a pot to pee in nor a window to throw it out of “, so Karl Marx’s idea of “from each according to his ability, to each according to his need,” is appealing to residents of the ‘hood who, constantly, see the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer.
This does not mean that Marxism nor Communism has been seen as a perfect fit for African Americans.
It must be remembered that writers such as Harold Cruse (Crisis of the Negro Intellectual) have argued that Marxists underestimated the depths of racial superiority in the psyche of the white working class. It must also be noted that, according to Tony Martin in his book “Race First,” the early American Communists were opposed to Marcus Garvey and all forms of Black nationalism as they saw this ideology as a barrier between their movement and the black working class and unemployed (the proletariat and the lumpen-proletariat).
Paris “Side Affect” – a rap song about Health Care.
Also, the Marxist rejection of organized religion did not sit well with an African culture based on spirituality, even though the principals of Socialism do not differ much from the “corporate responsibility” of Judaism, the “love thy neighbor” ethic of Christianity nor the “universal Brotherhood” of Islam. All of which are opposed to the amoral nature of Capitalism.
That is why black leaders such as Kwame Ture (Stokely Carmichael) and ,to some extent ,Dr. WEB Dubois presented Socialism through the lens of of traditional African communalism which predated Marxism by centuries. Dubois wrote in “Dusk of Dawn” that ” in the African communal group, ties of family and blood, of mother and child, of group relationship, made group leadership strong.” Ture suggested that African Americans look beyond the short comings of the practitioners of Marxism and apply the principles of Socialism to struggle for black empowerment.
What the Conservatives have not realized is that black folks aren’t that endeared to labels. We have always been more concerned with a way to get food, clothes and shelter then getting into a philosophical debate over the merits of opposing ideologies.
We’ll save that for the talking heads on Fox and CNN.
For us, be it Capitalism, Socialism or any other “ism,” as we say in the ‘hood, at the end of the day,
“We’re just tryin’ to eat.”
Paul Scott writes for No Warning Shots Fired.com He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.