The Ford Foundation and Black Identitarianism

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By RONALDO TADEU DE SOUZA*

Commentary on an article by Mário Maestri

“Race may not be real, but racism is – this has become something like the catechism of [sectors] of the left; [if that is so the question is] what does racism answer to?” (John-Baptiste Oduor, New Left Review).

“Atheists become Christians on the battlefield” (Marcel Proust, The Fugitive).

In recent years, and especially with the rise of the intransigent right to power, led by Jair Bolsonaro, his family and Paulo Guedes, the public debate of ideas has taken on complex and intense contours, to say the least. It's as if a kind of Pandora's box of conceptions, criticisms, concepts, currents of thought, theories, practices, authors and authors had come out and gained life that had been suffocated for a long time. The consequences of this are a set of approaches on sensitive topics about the Brazilian political and social reality that affect many people, in particular those who suffer the most from this reality, particularly black men and women and the confrontation of racism.

The level and quality of debates, texts, articles and books, interviews, lives, are varied and for all tastes and styles. Making judgments about the qualities or not about it may be to the liking of some, it is not the one who writes these few lines. Furthermore, it takes a lot of self-esteem in the negative sense that Balzac gave to that quality in the XNUMXth century, to undertake such qualifying considerations about other people's work in or in public, and even between four walls.

One of the last moments of this current state of affairs in 2022 was the article published on the website the earth is round by historian Mário Maestri. Dealing with the relationship between racial issues, the Ford Foundation, US interests in it, and what he (and many others) call black identityism. In what follows I make some considerations about Mário Maestri's article. Especially on the topics where I disagree with him, and one of these is his writing style, which is obviously about the public debate of ideas, these are the rules today for this one, which obviously also cannot be asked to agree with him. – which is my position.

As we are, supposedly in the “same field” and fighting the same problems (class, social and racial) if I am inconvenient and/or impolite, I sincerely apologize in advance. There are five critical considerations that I will make, respecting the research and studies that Maestri did on black issues in southern Brazil:

 

1.

I understand that in fact, theoretically, politically and organizationally, the black movement in a broad sense, its hegemonic bloc and the figures that represent it (both the most public ones and the intermediate circles) is going through a moment of definitions. One of the issues to be seriously debated is the asymmetrical relationship established between sectors of the dominant white elite and the devices it has (capital, institutions, prestige, power of ideas and domination temperament) to maintain the current social order and specific groups of the “ black movement” and some personalities that animate it.

In a nutshell, it is necessary to distinguish between what is in the interest of the black middle class that, with all the effort and struggle, lit up the social pyramid (including here sectors of the public university of excellence) in Brazil today and the specific modalities of confronting racism advancing and the insurgent black mass, the nation with black and brown skin, facing the hardships of atrocious, violent, bloodthirsty, institutional, personal and cynical racism.

That said, and to mark a certain position – I vehemently repudiate expressions in the text and Mário Maestri's argument that slip into something that offends black men and women like me who fight against racism – expressions such as “Brizola, the white father…” and “ black autism…” are worthy of unhappiness to put things from a minimal and thoughtful point of view.

 

2.

If Maestri wanted to review Wanderson Chaves' book and mobilize him to debate the current moment of the black movement and its political problems, which are many, he could have done so. What became unnecessary, within the context of the text itself, was making inconvenient comments right at the beginning to Abdias do Nascimento (who in fact had issues to be discussed by us black men and women), and inconvenient because he builds light, impressionistic sentences with an aspect guys. In addition, Abdias do Nascimento is a political and affective reference of the historical Brazilian black movement and touches many militants and black figures – the delicacy is sometimes more revolutionary.

Once things are understood, there are questions that can be left untouched in certain contexts or touched on differently in order to remove all personal bias from political-critical observation. In the days before Lenin's death, when he was forced by the necessity of existence to write his party-political will, he warned that “I only have to remember that the October episode between Zinoviev and Kamenev was by no means accidental; however, like Trotsky's non-Bolshevism, they must not be used as a personal weapon [in future debates]” (See Letter Addressed to the Central Committee of the CPSU, 25/12/1922 – Lenin's Testament, Mexico, Ediciones el Socialista, 1984) than the direct way that slides into sentimental circumstances of individuals and groups.

Abdias do Nascimento, as I mentioned, had complex and problematic issues that every researcher of racial causes and every informed black man and woman knows or should know, there is nothing new here as Maestri seeks to demonstrate.

 

3.

About Florestan Fernandes, his research funding and his work to Integration of black people in class society, again Mário Maestri could be a little more careful with a man who did what he did, and left his academic career because he knew that socialist and Marxist criticism was unviable in it, becoming a radical-subversive publicist. Your research grants for the study of race relations in Brazil are public knowledge, as far as I know (of course, a file here and there can compromise my assertion...) and Integration of black people in class society – any student of social sciences minimally trained in the classics of sociology and anthropology – knows that the book is not a theoretically Marxist work, but the mobilization, seasoned with functionalism, of the comprehensive sociology of Max Weber.

There is nothing new in this debate. Another thing are his texts that could be quoted by Mário Maestri: slave society, 25 years after the white and black survey in São Paulo e Meaning of black protest, in which Florestan Fernandes calls for black rebellion, for black insurgency, for black political organization by and on the left, in a nutshell, those of Florestan Fernandes, for the “black revolution against the order and/or within the order”.

Florestan Fernandes, it must be said, is a figure little appreciated by the current black movement, and obviously no one has to agree with him or with me that I have his work on racism as a fundamental reference: in fact, for the sake of truth and exaggerating my argument, at all the arch of white intellectuals in Brazil Florestan Fernandes was the only one who, due to his theoretical positions and practical action of socialist political intervention from the 1980s (and even earlier in the 1950s, 1960s) until his death was on the side of the causes of black working people.

For this reason, the black movement values ​​him more than any other white literate figure among us, which did not exempt him from criticism by him and even by other researchers. Mário Maestri could, if in fact he is a combatant for the cause of the black people, have made this note without compromising his position before the master of Maria Antônia, and this is not being requested in any way. But he preferred comments without theoretical and political meaning, he preferred his moral court disconnected with any perspective of fighting racism.

 

4.

Leaving the two most emblematic figures that the text touches and entering the background argument of the text/review/book. With regard to funding from the Ford Foundation and other US agencies, the style of Mário Maestri, undoubtedly a skilful writer who seduces, is a subject that is no secret to anyone in Brazilian and world social sciences. The United States finances the academic-intellectual field everywhere since the world began (it financed a good part of the German emigration fleeing Nazism, which did not prevent them from writing notable works for the humanities – political science, social theory, aesthetics, criticism of culture – but with conservative perspectives from the angle of classical socialist theory).

Why wouldn't they do it on the periphery of capitalism and with one of the weak links in that society, the black literate community, with no space in superior public institutions at the time, that is, with scarce resources to research, produce knowledge, work and support their families, if today this is so given the conformation of the homo academicus Brazilian in which anyone who is not a friend of the king will be in trouble and black people, as far as I know, are not friends of the court jester, let alone the king.

Let's imagine in 1970, 1980 and 1990, unless we defend that black men and women had to eat the bread that the devil kneaded for being black and fighting racism, in those days the options were very rare and certain positions were, in a certain way, "legitimate", what I as a black person do not agree with and criticize, but with the due sense of proportion and respect, and talking about the position and attitude of others is always easier, let’s face it (as the popular saying that I learned from my black grandmother in Bahia says, “pepper in other people's tails it's soda” isn't it really Mário Maestri…); and more, the dialectical question to be posed is why was this done and what conditions determined it?

If the London Review of Books did not have a small public-state funding from the british arts council we could be sure that who would be writing in its pages would only be Roger Scruton, the heirs of Michael Oakeshott, Ferdinand Mount and scribes of capital, and he was tempted, because: “indignant right-wing critics, just because the London Review of Books did not fit the established expectations [made the request] – the Sunday Times [then] recently requested that the grant be suspended” (See Perry Anderson, London Review of Books, Spectra: from right to left in the world of ideas).

Mário Maestri could have asked questions of this nature; preferred the rage of accusing without any political weighting (and I insist revolutionary) and tending to be a kind of racial fifth column, black researchers who received funding from the Ford Foundation from imperialists and in the service of the North American white ruling class.

 

5.

The quarrel around identityism and its promotion by hidden forces of the American Empire. Here the problem is divided into three and perhaps it is the intentional core of Maestri's article, its underlying esoteric objective: first, Mário Maestri needs to define, minimally, what he understands by identity and with whom he is, supposedly, debating, say that “since January 1967, identity, ethno-centrism and black radicalism guided the actions of the Ford Foundation”, or “that this militancy [identity] took place through funding, training and co-option of social scientists, intellectuals and [black] leaders” is the same as saying that in the heyday of Stalinism, left-wing intellectuals did not offer the proper criticism, thus legitimizing the Soviet system.

Well, “categories are modes of forms of being, they are [dialectical] determinations of existence” – Marx was not, if we are Marxists evidently, looking for formulations of effect, puffy and astute, but in erecting a political and social theory , accompanied by strategies of struggle, which would enable subordinates and underprivileged people of all colors, races, nationalities and genders to overthrow the current bourgeois social order and its implications (racism, patriarchy, humiliation, pride, snobbery, class arrogance, idiocy, etc. .).

Second, Mário Maestri assumes that every racial struggle, and every modality of combating racism in Brazil, removes the question of class, with the immediate effect of identity, his immanent argument is that the “social classes”, and particularly their proletarian and bourgeois form, predominate or it has to predominate, necessarily and absolutely, in any historical-political situation, whether formed by blacks, whites, women, LGBTQIA+, foreigners – if the classic socialist “tradition”, which is what Maestri seems to prefer, so I thought, would never we would have works like The 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte (Marx), What to do? e Imperialism… (Lenin), Prison Notebooks (Gramsci), Permanent Revolution (Trotsky), Mass Strike (Luxembourg) and History and Class Consciousness (Lukács).

The quivers would be completely empty without the arrows of emancipatory criticism, and more, if we do not seriously reflect on the theoretical, political and strategic frameworks of radical social transformation, we will again face the next katechons (Carl Schmitt) of the dominant Brazilian and world white elite (Lenin had already warned in a text that bears the name of the warning about The historical vicissitudes of the doctrine of Karl Marx – that doing the due work of theoretical effort as the old Althusser suggested, means that the universal history (of the class struggle) is its periods and circumstances, subjects and subjectivities that come and go, in a swirl of advances and defeats, political actions and imposed social peace.

Either we follow it or we will keep arguing that Abdias do Nascimento and Florestan Fernandes are identities in the service of “imperialism”, a concept that, it should be noted, Lenin developed, from the debates of the time, precisely because certain formulations of the socialist theory of the time did not they responded to the aggressive moment of financial capital, the new division of the Third World or underdeveloped world and the intensification of war and world crises, and which has nothing to say to blacks who suffer cruel and bloodthirsty racism in Brazil.

We are the ones who suffer it day and night in our lives and not white people from the middle-middle, upper and bourgeois class – as Paulo Arantes says, hell below is daily (and historical) and not occasional as in the four years of Jair Bolsonaro’s government, let this be clear to anyone who starts talking about it.

Third, Mário Maestri, if he wants to criticize identityism with a view to the real problems of Brazilian black men and women, he must in fact take the bull by the horn, half words are not enough, as well as inconvenient remarks to figures of the Brazilian and world intellectuals who in his analysis are financed for the CIA via Ford Foundation, what I mean by that is that your text only has what Walter Benjamin, in another theoretical axis (literary criticism and aesthetics) observed as the record of the way in which certain figures (Abdias, Florestan, Carneiro) and formulations (the emphasis on racial and color identities) engendered resolutions to the problem (racism) faced.

The question is how we are going to face the internal-immanent structure of the social process which makes possible the existence of the peculiar racism in Brazil – this is the truth as concrete objectivity (See Walter Benjamin – “Dois Poemas de Friedrich Hölderlin”, in: Writings on Myth and Language) that wove scarring (Adolph Reed Jr.) on the black skin (with varied implications, these may, eventually for those who want to truly revolutionize racism, be a way to understand the modalities of self-reference of the identity that predominates in today between the movement black and certain figures) and its effects on the experience of each one in the social totality that we must understand in order to make the racist order that has been in force since the days of the colony among us collapse at the hands of the former slaves.

Mário Maestri, far from that, is concerned with exposing the personal positions of black militants and their white allies, as well as producing nicknames disguised as “Marxist criticism”. What does he want with this in his text? Maybe it's just being Mario Maestri...

*Ronaldo Tadeu de Souza is a postdoctoral researcher at the Department of Political Science at USP.

 

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