Wednesday, February 4, 2009

W.E.B. Du Bois speaks

On my Vox blog, I’m streaming a 12-minute excerpt of a 1960 speech given by W.E.B. Du Bois. The title: “Socialism and the American Negro.” To listen, click here.

Amazingly, Dr. Du Bois was 92 years old at the time.

The man had a brilliant mind. But you can’t help but be stunned by the warm, sweet kisses he blows toward the Soviet Union and Red China.

Du Bois describes those totalitarian states as “astonishing[ly] successful” paragons of Communism.

While Du Bois was speaking these words in Madison, Wisconsin, the People’s Republic of China (unbeknownst to the world) was in the middle of a man-made famine that would take many millions of lives.

And the Soviet Union would authorize construction of the Berlin Wall the following year... to prevent East Germans from fleeing Communism.

Du Bois joined the Communist Party USA in 1961. He died in 1963 as a newly naturalized citizen of Ghana.


Ryan S said...

Speaking of W.E.Dubois, you might be interested in Jonathan Yardley's recent review of a new biography of Booker T. Washington, in which Dubois plays a role.

Undercover Black Man said...

^ Thanks, Ryan. There's a movie to be made about the rivalry between Du Bois and Washington.

How about Laurence Fishburne as Booker T. and Jeffrey Wright as W.E.B.??

estiv said...

I've always thought that the political opinions of Du Bois in his final years were an example of how even the strongest of us can be worn down, given enough time. I think that after devoting seventy years of his life to working within the system, and with very little to show for it, he finally gave up and decided that the system must be replaced. To have faced the fact that, despite their avowed ideals, the governments of Russia and China treated their citizens even worse than the US treated its citizens, would have meant that there really was no system on earth that could be trusted to bring dignity to all its people. And as strong a personality and brilliant a mind as he possessed, admitting that would have broken him. So he didn't admit it.

His move to Ghana, the first black African nation to emerge from a colonial past, showed that he was looking to the future. It's fascinating to think that he, who personally knew many former slaves, was still alive when President Obama was born.

eeaster said...

Everything in the context of the times I suppose. The notion of equality, even if it wasn't completely fulfilled, had to look better than the hypocrisy of words of equality matched with lynching. The grass obviously wasn't very green anywhere at that time except in a whorehouse in Paris.

Undercover Black Man said...

^ But if DuBois couldn't see the difference between 1890 and 1960... and if he lacked the imagination to picture the next 50 years for black people in America, then fuck him.

I think the problem was the particular poison of Communist ideology... and the mechanisms of mind that allow highly intelligent people to believe all kinds of bullshit.

verb said...

Not only was DuBois exhausted by the hypocrisy of the US system, by the 1950s he was done with the Talented Tenth. See his 1954 speech given at Wilberforce in Ohio.

He was a theoretical intellectual. On paper, socialism/communism, not so bad. Application, as well all know, is another thing entirely.

Undercover Black Man said...

^ But he brags on this audio of having been there... having seen life in the Soviet Union and the PRC with his own eyes.

Were he so finely attuned to sociopolitcal hyprocrisies... you think he might've noticed some red flags (so to speak)?

I'm a bit through with excusing ultra-leftists because of their good intentions.

Michael Fisher said...


"But if DuBois couldn't see the difference between 1890 and 1960... and if he lacked the imagination to picture the next 50 years for black people in America, then fuck him."

Did you just actually put "Fuck W.E.B. DuBois" in your filthy ass mouth?

Whatever the man's failings, and they were many, he stands so much above you intellectually, as a writer, as an activist, and as an historian, and as a mensch,.. compared to that you're a poodle pissing against the wind.

You should be asshamed (thats no typo) of yourself.

Undercover Black Man said...

^ I'm sure Dr. Du Bois's ghost appreciates your idolatry, Michael, even if it's irrelevant to everybody else.

Brilliant as Dr. Du Bois was, courageous as he was, as much as he accomplished for black Americans and for the nation of his birth, the fact remains: At the end of his life, W.E.B. Du Bois propagandized on behalf of totalitarian states that killed millions of their own citizens and ruthlessly dominated their neighbors.

And Du Bois spoke lovingly about the ideology in the name of which those totalitarian states did it.

Michael Fisher said...
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Michael Fisher said...
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Michael Fisher said...
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Michael Fisher said...


"I'm sure Dr. Du Bois's ghost appreciates your idolatry, Michael..."

I doubt Dr. DuBois would appreciate what I wrote about him here,here, and here.

Nonetheless, DuBois' contributions to the struggle for freedom of black folks far outweighs any mistakes he made.

Besides, were you around in 1960? Nope. So what the hell do you know?

Undercover Black Man said...

^ Stop comment-stuttering, Fish! It makes you look silly.

verb said...

well, believe or not, dubois's intense turn to the left was at the cusp of what we now understand as "black nationalism." the change from delany to seale/newton.

a great documentary that speaks to this turn is "negroes with guns," featuring bob williams and his gorgeous wife mable. (who, if not have succumbed to her struggle with lung cancer) lives with her minister son in detroit/idlewild, mi.

the williams were ridiculed for taking up arms against their enemies as they were members of the non-violent NAACP. the couple "defected" and went to live in china and cuba. they returned to the states in the late 1970s/early 1980s (?). bob taught at michigan state in the political science dept. on socialism/communism.

the arguments you are using UBM are similar to those dubois used against booker t. washington, malcolm used against martin, stax used against motown...that black folk made against fredrick douglas when he married a white woman.

even great thinkers (sometimes more than others) have blinders. i am sure the bloggers of the future will wonder why this conversation was relegated to cyber realm?

i hope that i will never feel the exhaustion, the isolation, nor the disappointment that dubois felt at the end of his life.

Malik Shabazz said...

You raise a good point, David. Earlier in his life, Du Bois praised Imperial Japan.

He was head and shoulders above most other civil rights leaders of his time, but he had some very big blind spots.

Anonymous said...

Wow, thanks for posting the clip. Never hear WEB's voice before. If I didn't know better I'd say he's West Indian by way of Ireland. Love how archaic he sounds.