African Americans in the 1930s

This video from the USA says about itself:

How the New Deal Left Out African-Americans

26 December 2017

During the Great Depression, unemployment among African-Americans was twice that of whites – mostly due to segregation. One rare opportunity came on the Pullman sleeper trains, where most of the porters were black.

From the series: America in Color: The 1930s.


American art historian Linda Nochlin, RIP

Linda NochlinBy Clare Hurley and David Walsh in the USA:

Art historian Linda Nochlin (1931-2017)

12 December 2017

Art historian Linda Nochlin died of cancer October 29 at the age of 86. Best known today perhaps for the provocative essay “Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?” published in ArtNews in 1971, Nochlin wrote a number of valuable and insightful works on the art of the 19th century in particular. Later, she played a seminal role in establishing a feminist approach to art history through her influential career as a writer, scholar, professor and curator for the better part of five decades.

In her books Realism (1971), Gustave Courbet: A Study of Style and Society (1976) and even The Politics of Vision (1991) to a considerable extent, Nochlin examined the historical and material context of works of art with an eye to the nexus of artistic form and politics, with special regard to the changing class relations of the various periods.

Born Linda Natalie Weinberg in Brooklyn, New York on January 20, 1931, Nochlin grew up as an only child in a left-leaning, wealthy Jewish family. Her father Jules Weinberg made his fortune in the family’s newspaper delivery business, and her mother Elka Weinberg née Heller surrounded her daughter with art, culture, and material privilege. Like many secular Jews of the period, financial success was not incompatible with radical, even Communist sympathies.

“I thought all radicals were rich”, she told interviewer Richard Candida Smith in April 1998, “All the radicals I knew were wealthy Jews who lived either in Westchester or Brooklyn or the Upper West Side, and they were highly interested in politics. Many of them were [Communist] Party members, some were even Trotskyites, others were just left-wing Democrats. … I mean, [Franklin D.] Roosevelt was as far right as people were willing to go.” (“The Feminist Turn in the Social History of Art: Linda Nochlin,” 2000)

Receiving her B.A. from Vassar College in Philosophy in 1951, and an M.A. in English Literature from Columbia University in 1952, she was attracted to the work of French painter Gustave Courbet (1819–1877) who became the subject of her 1963 doctoral dissertation at New York University’s Institute of Fine Arts, where she studied with renowned art historian Walter Friedläender. According to The ArtBook (2000), she began her dissertation “during the McCarthy period, she had been a philosophy major, she was steeped in the political ideas of seventeenth-century literature and she chose Courbet, she now says, because she liked his politics.”

She sought an artist to study who challenged the status quo in both artistic form and content. Courbet, the self-proclaimed “proudest and most arrogant man in France” fit the bill. His Realist manifesto (1855) proclaimed “To know in order to do, that was my idea. To be in a position to translate the customs, the ideas, the appearance of my time, according to my own estimation; to be not only a painter, but a man as well; in short, to create living art—this is my goal.”

Courbet’s materialist approach—in contrast to the idealism of the preceding Romantic and Neoclassical schools—was influenced in no small part by the theories of utopian socialism shared by his friend and co-thinker, the philosopher Pierre-Joseph Proudhon. The latter championed the burgeoning workers’ movement, the writings of Karl Marx, and to a greater extent, the perspective of Russian anarchist Mikhail Bakunin. Appreciating Courbet’s dedication to producing art that was “of its times,” with its emphasis on observation of the objective and, in particular, class character of social reality, Nochlin was also decidedly “of her times” in contradictory ways.

Her Realism is an intriguing work that sets out “to isolate the peculiar implications of Realism, considered as an historical, stylistic movement or direction in the arts.” In the opening essay, “The Nature of Realism,” she observes, for example, that “A new and broadened notion of history, accompanying a radical alteration of the sense of time, was central to the Realist outlook. Furthermore, new democratic ideas stimulated a wider historical approach. Ordinary people—merchants, workers and peasants—in their everyday functions, began to appear on a stage formerly reserved exclusively for kings, nobles, diplomats and heroes.”

The “insistence on the connection between history and experienced fact,” Nochlin writes, “is characteristic of the Realist outlook. As Flaubert pointed out in a letter of 1854: ‘The leading characteristic of our century is its historical sense. This is why we have to confine ourselves to relating the facts.’ A true understanding and representation of both past and present was now seen to depend on a scrupulous examination of the evidence, free from any conventional, accepted moral or metaphysical evaluation.. . . Applying this attitude to art, Courbet declared in 1861 that ‘painting is an essentially concrete art and can only consist of the presentation of real and existing things. It is a completely physical language, the words of which consist of all visible objects; an object which is abstract, not visible, non-existent, is not within the realm of painting.’”

And later, she points out: “A new demand for democracy in art, accompanying the demand for political and social democracy, opened up a whole new realm of subjects hitherto unnoticed or considered unworthy of pictorial or literary representation. While the poor might always have been with us, they had hardly been granted a fair share of serious artistic attention before the advent of Realism—nor had the middle classes, who were now the dominant force in society.”

Nochlin’s essay, “Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?,” may well have been motivated by her own “conversion” to feminism in 1969, but it also contains arguments that are unobjectionable. In her essay, she argues essentially that feminists and others should stop trying to mythologize past artists or claim that world-historical female talents have been suppressed and turn their attention to the fact that there have been no great female painters in particular for social and institutional reasons.

It is clearly not “because women are incapable of greatness.” Art, Nochlin writes, “is not a free, autonomous activity of a super-endowed individual.” She refers instead to “the total situation of art making, both in terms of the development of the art maker and in the nature and quality of the work of art itself,” which “occur in a social situation, are integral elements of this social structure, and are mediated and determined by specific and definable social institutions.” Thus Nochlin argues that “the answer to why there have been no great women artists lies not in the nature of individual genius or the lack of it, but in the nature of given social institutions and what they forbid or encourage in various classes or groups of individuals.”

Nochlin could be a sensitive analyst of artistic trends and an insightful observer of the social process, especially astute, as noted, in her analysis of 19th century Realism from a historical and materialist point of view. However, her application of this philosophical method steered well clear of its practical, political implications. Her version of leftism, informed to a degree by Marxism, was susceptible to the pressures and problems of the postwar period.

Under the impact of America’s economic boom and the McCarthyite witch-hunting of suspected communists in the 1950s—which intimidated and destroyed the careers of many leftists, including one of Nochlin’s uncles … “radical” politics in the 1960s progressively abandoned the working class in favor of the struggles of oppressed groups as defined by gender, race, and nationality—not class. The so-called First Wave of the Women’s Liberation movement originated among more affluent middle and upper class women seeking equal pay, reproductive rights, freedom from sexual harassment, and the redress of a host of discriminatory conditions.

Nochlin was very much of this milieu. Dismayed to discover that her students at Vassar in the 1960s, then still an elite all-women’s college, were interested in knitting and playing bridge, Nochlin describes her “awakening” upon being handed a stack of feminist pamphlets by a friend. From there she organized the first class in Women and Art at Vassar College in 1969. In 1971, as we pointed out, she threw down the gauntlet, as it were, in “Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?” …

Nochlin complains that women “are in similarly powerless or marginalized positions within the operational structure of the art world itself: patient catalogers rather than directors of museums; graduate students or junior faculty members rather than tenured professors and heads of departments; passive consumers rather than active creators of the art that is shown at major exhibitions.”

In any event, as late as her Politics of Vision, Nochlin could still offer illuminating comments on the art of the past. Her essay, “Van Gogh, Renouard, and the Weavers’ Crisis in Lyons”, sheds fascinating light on van Gogh’s indirect connection to the labor and socialist movement of the time.

It is also worth noting that in her extended 1998 interview with Richard Candida Smith, Nochlin noted her legitimate pride in her early work, Realism: “And that I think is one of the best things I have ever done. I still stand by that.”

She commented in 1998 about the general state of the world: “When I think about what’s going on in the political world and the commodity world and the capitalist world and the economic world, I think this is a pretty chilling moment, in many ways. Pretty chilling. People are comfortable, they are buying stuff, they are doing their own thing, but something terrible is happening. The rich are getting richer, the poor are getting poorer, there’s not too much articulated complaint that anyone can hear. There should be.”

In her academic career, Nochlin taught at Yale University, the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, Vassar College, and finally at New York University Institute of Fine Arts where she was the Lila Acheson Wallace Professor Emerita of Modern Art, until retiring in 2013.

Linda Nochlin and Daisy, Alice Neel (1973)

Reputed to be an indefatigably erudite yet engaging speaker with a sharp wit and unabashed sense of style, Nochlin was friends with numerous artists, including Philip Pearlstein and Alice Neel, both of whom painted her portrait, as well as a mentor to younger generations of women artists and feminist critics. She also co-curated several museum exhibitions at the Brooklyn Museum: Women Artists: 1550-1950 (1976), Courbet Reconsidered (1988) and most recently Global Feminisms for the opening of the Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art at the Brooklyn Museum in 2007.

Even after her cancer diagnosis, she continued writing. At the time of her death, she was finalizing Misère: Representations of Misery in 19th-Century Art, to be published in March 2018. Perhaps seeking a connection to today’s conditions, in this final collection of her essays Nochlin will likely bring further insight into her area of expertise: the work of Charles Dickens, Frederick Engels, Thomas Carlyle and Victor Hugo, as well as the painters Théodore Géricault and Courbet, all examined in the context of the Irish famine of 1847 and the effects of the Industrial Revolution.

Dutch Leiden slavery history

This 6 November 2017 Dutch video is about the new book Sporen van de slavernij in Leiden, Traces of slavery in Leiden.

The history of Dutch city Leiden at first sight seems to have little to do with slavery. Already since the 16th century, slavery was illegal in the Netherlands itself; though legal in the overseas colonies until 1863. The ships of the Dutch transatlantic slave trade departed from seaboard harbours; inland Leiden did not have such a harbour. The slogan of Leiden University was and is: Praesidium Libertatis, bulwark of freedom. Slavery surely does not agree with that?

However, recently a book came out, Sporen van de slavernij in Leiden. The book is by Leiden historians Karwan Fatah-Black and Geert Oostindie.

Leiden citizen Johannes de Laet was one of the founders of the transatlantic slave trading Dutch West India Company (WIC), founded in 1621. The Leiden city government invested so much money in that company that it was represented on the WIC board.

Hugo de Groot in Leiden Groot Auditorium

The Couderc-Temming couple were rich slave owners in 18th century colonial Suriname. After her husband died, widow Johanna Baldina Temming moved to Leiden. She had three servants there. One of them free; two others slaves. Not legal; but it still was like that.

How about Leiden university?

This photo shows a stained glass window in the Groot Auditorium, the most important hall of Leiden university. It shows famous Dutch jurist Hugo de Groot (Grotius, 1583-1645), who studied law at Leiden university. In his hands, his book De juri belli ac pacis. In that book, De Groot defended slavery.

Hugo de Groot was not by any means the last ex-Leiden student defending slavery.

Thomas Hees, with his nephews and African slave

This 1687 painting by Michiel van Musscher depicts diplomat Thomas Hees, who had studied philosophy and medicine in Leiden. It also depicts Hees’ two nephews and, in the background, ‘Thomas the negro’, his African slave.

Samuel Arnoldus Coerman, born in Curaçao, studied law in Leiden. In Dutch law, there was no difference between black and white people. Coerman went back to Curaçao as public prosecutor, intending to make that law work. However, the practice of the Curaçao slavery-based society and its court soon disillusioned him. He went back to Leiden, where he died in 1821, 41 years old.

Johan Rudolph Thorbecke (1798-1872) studied at Leiden university and later became a professor there. He became the leader of the Dutch liberal party and managed to limit the power of the monarchy and increase the power of parliament in 1848, when revolutions all over Europe scared the king into making concessions.

However, Thorbecke was not as progressive on slavery as on the parliament-monarchy relationship. He saw slaves mainly as property, and according to his bourgeois liberalism, property was sacrosanct.


Mary Wollstonecraft, my hero, Corbyn says

This 2017 video is called Mary Wollstonecraft – World History.

By Felicity Collier in Britain:

Mary Wollstonecraft is my historical hero, says Corbyn

Thursday 9th November 2017

JEREMY CORBYN has revealed his biggest historical hero: 18th-century feminist Mary Wollstonecraft.

The Labour leader expressed his admiration for Wollstonecraft in an interview with BBC History magazine published today.

An early advocate of women’s rights in the 18th century, she founded a school with her sister in Newington Green, which is now in Mr Corbyn’s north London constituency.

Last March, Mr Corbyn backed the campaign for a statue to the “outstanding writer and women’s rights campaigner” on the green.

He told the magazine that the “opening of a school that aimed to give girls an education every bit as good as that enjoyed by boys — a novel idea at the time” was the first reason he picked her as his historical hero.

“Then there’s the fact that (unlike a lot of people this side of the Channel) she was excited by the radical opportunities the French Revolution could bring,” he said. Having first learned about the writer and philosopher through the women’s rights movement in the 1970s and ’80s, he described her finest hour as the publication of A Vindication of the Rights of Women.

The 1792 text, which advocated equality of the sexes, made her famous and was a blueprint for the future women’s movement.

Mr Corbyn said: “It was Mary who had the vision of women leading lives every bit as full as any man.”

He also said he shared her beliefs in the way she treated people with respect, regardless of their sex, race or religion.

Wollstonecraft died 12 days after the birth of her second daughter, who went on to write the novel Frankenstein as Mary Shelley.


Trump’s General Kelly whitewashes 1860s slave owners’ rebellion

General John Kelly

By Tom Mackaman in the USA:

White House chief of staff blames Civil War on failure to “compromise”

2 November 2017

White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, speaking on Fox News Monday night with Laura Ingraham, declared that the Civil War resulted from a failure to “compromise.” This is a reactionary and discredited interpretation that denies the historical necessity of the struggle that preserved the union, destroyed slavery and, in launching the industrial revolution, gave birth to the American working class.

Kelly rehashed several components of what historians have come to call “The Lost Cause myth”, which centers on the false premise that in 1861 the plantation oligarchy—owners of some 4.5 million slaves—led the southern states out of the Union and into the Civil War over “states’ rights,” and that this fight was conducted by noble figures, epitomized by Confederate General Robert E. Lee.

Kelly said: “Robert E. Lee was an honorable man who gave up his country to fight for his state. One hundred and fifty years ago, that was more important than country—it was always loyalty to state back in those days. Now it’s different. But the lack of an ability to compromise led to the Civil War, and men and women of good faith on both sides made their stand where their conscience had them make their stand.”

The retired Marine general’s praise for the leading Confederate general is a provocative reiteration of Trump’s defense of the August 11-12 fascist riot in Charlottesville, which took place in opposition to the removal of a statue of Lee from a city park and resulted in the murder of Heather Heyer, a 32-year-old anti-racist protester run over by a white supremacist.

Kelly’s comments also reprise a comment made by Trump in a May 1 interview with Sirius satellite radio. “Why was there the Civil War?” Trump asked. “Why could that one not have been worked out? I mean, had [slave owner] Andrew Jackson been [president] a little later, you wouldn’t have had the Civil War.”

The repetition of the same claim by Trump and his chief of staff shows that it is not an innocuous mistake. Trump, and even more Kelly, who has been promoted by the media as a “moderating influence” in the White House and “the adult in the room”, know full well what they are doing. Their aim, inspired by Trump’s former chief advisor Steven Bannon, is to cultivate a far-right, fascistic movement in the United States. The Civil War’s revolutionary and egalitarian essence, which belongs to the whole working class, cuts across this. Its significance must therefore be distorted.

Since this attack is waged in the arena of history, it is first of all necessary to set straight the historical record.

The Civil War was itself the outcome of decades of compromise. The pattern of what Senator William Seward would in 1858 call the “irrepressible conflict” was already perceptible to some as early as 1820, including the elderly Thomas Jefferson, who famously wrote that that year’s Missouri Compromise “like a fire bell in the night, awakened and filled me with terror.” He continued: “I considered it at once as the knell of the Union. It is hushed indeed for the moment. But this is a reprieve only, not a final sentence.”

William Seward, New York Senator and secretary of state under Lincoln

These were prophetic words. Beginning with that compromise, by which the entry of Missouri as a slave state was offset by the entry of Maine as a free state, each new territorial acquisition, and every new state that entered the union—including all of the lands taken from the American Indians and Mexico—only raised again, and on a more intense level, the sectional dispute over slavery.

By 1861, this had reached an end point. Now, only one “compromise” was possible that would have appeased the Southern ruling class and averted the Civil War: a legal guarantee, or “Slave Code,” forever ensuring the inviolability of slavery in all of the United States. In late December 1860, with the Secession Crisis already underway, Mississippi Senator (and future Confederate President) Jefferson Davis, in his “Compromise Proposal” to the Committee of Thirteen to avert war, proposed precisely this:

‘Resolved, That it shall be declared, by amendment of the Constitution, that property in slaves, recognized as such by the local law of any of the States of the Union, shall stand on the same footing in all constitutional and federal relations as any other species of property so recognized; and, like other property, shall not be subject to be divested or impaired by the local law of any other State, either in escape thereto or of transit or sojourn of the owner therein; and in no case whatever shall such property be subject to be divested or impaired by any legislative act of the United States, or of any of the Territories thereof.’

The Slave Code would be the law of the land in all federal territories and all future acquisitions, wherever they may be—including Mexico, Cuba and Nicaragua, each of which were targeted for annexation in the 1850s by southern politicians, including Sen. Albert Gallatin Brown of Mississippi, who in an 1858 speech fulminated against Republicans frustrating the expansion of slavery:

I want Cuba, and I know that sooner or later we must have it. If the worm-eaten throne of Spain is willing to give it for a fair equivalent, well—if not, we must take it. I want Tamaulipas, Potosi, and one or two other Mexican States; and I want them all for the same reason—for the planting and spreading of slavery. And a footing in Central America will powerfully aid us in acquiring those other states. It will render them less valuable to the other powers of the earth, and thereby diminish competition with us. Yes, I want these countries for the spread of slavery. I would spread the blessings of slavery, like the religion of our Divine Master, to the uttermost ends of the earth, and rebellious and wicked as the Yankees have been, I would even extend it to them.’

Secession was not, then, an issue of “states’ rights”—but rather the inability, after Lincoln’s victory in the 1860 election, of the Slave Power to dominate the levers of federal power, as it had done, in alliance with northern Democrats and so-called “Cotton Whigs”, uninterruptedly since the 1820s.

Jefferson Davis

But why did the Southern slaveocracy risk everything by instigating war? Why not accept the Republican Party’s promise from its 1860 platform to uphold “the right of each state to order and control its own domestic institutions”, a promise reiterated by Lincoln in his First Inaugural: “I have no purpose, directly or indirectly, to interfere with the institution of slavery in the States where it exists. I believe I have no lawful right to do so, and I have no inclination to do so.”

In his The Scorpion’s Sting: Antislavery Politics and the Coming of the Civil War, Lincoln Prize Winner James Oakes argues that there was a widespread belief, in both the North and the South, that the restriction of slavery would lead to its ultimate extinction—a position originally upheld by the Founding Fathers, whose efforts along these lines, including the Northwest Ordinance and the ending of the transatlantic slave trade, were upended by the emergence of southern cotton as the staple crop of Britain’s industrial revolution.

To stop slavery’s further expansion, with an eye toward its end—this expressed Lincoln’s politics as well as the dominant anti-slavery current within the Republican Party. In his famous House Divided Speech, delivered in 1858 in the wake of the notorious Dred Scott decision by the Supreme Court, Lincoln said:

‘A house divided against itself cannot stand. I believe this government cannot endure, permanently, half slave and half free. I do not expect the Union to be dissolved—I do not expect the house to fall—but I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing or all the other. Either the opponents of slavery will arrest the further spread of it, and place it where the public mind shall rest in the belief that it is in the course of ultimate extinction; or its advocates will push it forward, till it shall become lawful in all the States, old as well as new—North as well as South.

Abraham Lincoln

This “ultimate extinction” was not thought to be imminent, at least not in the North. According to Oakes, abolitionist congressmen such as Thaddeus Stevens of Pennsylvania and Owen Lovejoy of Illinois thought that full emancipation might take 25 or 50 years. Lincoln thought as many as 100. In 1858, the Chicago Tribune could still predict that “no man living” would see the end of slavery.

Far more than these northerners, the southern oligarchy sensed the imminence of revolution—a word its leaders flung freely at the hated “Black Republican” Party. They perceived Lincoln’s victory as a deadly ominous political expression of the North’s more rapidly growing population and economy, as well as its increasing cultural influence. They were convinced that further compromise would only hasten demise. It was time to strike out against the progress of history.

Noting this, historian James McPherson in his Battle Cry of Freedom has aptly dubbed southern secession the “Counter-Revolution of 1861.” But, as he adds, “seldom in history has a counterrevolution so quickly provoked the very revolution it sought to pre-empt.”

By the summer of 1862, Lincoln recognized it was no longer possible to return to the union of 1860. As the abolitionist Frederick Douglass advised, “war for the destruction of liberty must be met with war for the destruction of slavery.” Lincoln’s promise in 1861 to not touch slavery where it already existed gave way, on January 1, 1863, to the Emancipation Proclamation, which turned the Civil War into a revolutionary war.

Whether the immediate question was union or emancipation, no one living in those years thought that the war was about anything other than slavery. When Lincoln said, looking back on the war’s onset in his Second Inaugural, that “all knew” that slavery was “somehow the cause of the war”, it provoked no controversy.

It was so obvious as to be a truism. The Constitution of the Confederate States of America, ratified in the spring of 1861, copied much of the American Constitution. But whereas the latter maintained a shamefaced silence over slavery—the word itself did not appear—the Confederate version took care to name it no less than ten times, guaranteeing its sanctity in any future territories acquired.

Frederick Douglass

In their various declarations of independence, whatever the precise wording, each of the southern secession conventions joined Louisiana in asserting that “the people of the slave-holding States are bound together by the same necessity and determination to preserve African slavery.” Karl Marx, writing in 1865, observed that this marked the first time in world history that “an oligarchy of 300,000 slaveholders dared to inscribe… ‘slavery’ on the banner of Armed Revolt.”

Indeed, in claiming that the Civil War was a mistake, Trump and Kelly are harkening back to a school of historical falsification created well after the Civil War. First put forward by former Confederates such as Jefferson Davis and General Jubal Early, the Lost Cause became, in all but name, the official narrative of American history in the 1890s, promoted by a wave of elite historians following William Dunning of Columbia University, among them the future American president and liberal icon Woodrow Wilson.

Its basic tenets were these: the antebellum plantation system was a pastoral world of contented slaves and chivalrous owners; secession was not about slavery, but “states’ rights;” the entire South was united against “the War of the Northern Aggression;” Lee, the greatest of all American generals, succumbed to the ruthless Union Gen. Ulysses S. Grant only in the face of vastly superior numbers; and the brief period of African-American political equality after the war, the period known as Reconstruction during the Grant administration, was the darkest hour of American history.

It is no coincidence that this historical revisionism emerged in the 1890s, simultaneous with the consolidation and legal entrenchment of Jim Crow segregation, which became the law of the land in the 1896 Pless y vs. Ferguson Supreme Court case. It is also not coincidental that it emerged simultaneously with the eruption of American imperialism in the predatory Spanish-American War of 1898, in which the conquest of Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Philippines was ideologically justified, in part, by the concept of “the White Man’s Burden.”

Eugene Debs, seated at the right, and other American Railway Union leaders imprisoned for their role in the Pullman Strike. Debs became a socialist after the experience

Finally, it is not coincidental that this reactionary revisionism of the Civil War was promoted at the same time as the eruption of major and violent working class struggles against the new capitalist order, including, in 1894 alone, the Pullman Strike, the Great Northern Railway Strike and the nationwide Bituminous Coal Strike—events that accelerated the emergence of socialism in the American working class from the late 1890s on.

It was under these conditions that the American ruling class, now unified North and South around the imperialist project, found it convenient, even necessary, to hide the revolutionary and egalitarian essence of the Civil War. Kelly, Trump, Bannon, et al., hope that the Lost Cause myth can play a similar role in 2017.