Buy this book at! Dr. Gerald Horne: The Blackberry Interview

The international research, authorship and teaching responsibilities of Dr. Gerald Horne make him a busy man that’s very difficult to catch. Were it not for his new Blackberry, the opinion here is that this much anticipated interview would not take place! We began this email interview on the heels of Dr. Horne’s appearance at the Southern California Library for Social Studies and Research, promoting his new book, The Final Victim of the Blacklist: John Howard Lawson, Dean of the Hollywood Ten. Let’s see what one of the finest minds of our times, thumbs and a tiny keyboard can do!

Bryan Wilhite : What are the generative forces behind your work? A few weeks ago, I wrote a Blog entry about bell hooks reminiscing about Buddhists “over 30 years ago.” This reminded me of a famous ‘Marxist Buddhist’ from over 30 years ago, Amiri Baraka. So I see a distinct unapologetic Marxist theme in your work and am led to ask out of youthful ignorance, were you a member of some Baraka-like gang back in the day?

Dr. Gerald Horne: Nope, never associated with Baraka back in the day. In fact, I remember disagreeing sharply with his pro-China views in the 1970s and 1980s. I come from a different tradition, that of Paul Robeson, Shirley Graham Du Bois (of whom I’ve written on voluminously), W.E.B. Du Bois,

I simply want to point out to Africans in North America that, inter alia, there is a world beyond these shores that needs to be engaged. The international community can be—and have been—of maximum aid to our struggle here: and vice versa.

Buy this book at! rasx(): For the sake of full disclosure, it must be said that I am much honored to have been one your history students at the University of Santa Barbara during the Reagan 1980s. Where are you teaching now?

GH: Right now I’m teaching at the University of Houston. I was in Santa Barbara last week and had more than a hint of nostalgia; the place is so lovely, so stunning with the mountains facing the ocean.

rasx( ): The assumption here is that your research and your major writing projects are under very little institutional influence. You seem to write about what you want to write about… Is this assumption correct?

GH: Generally, this is a correct assumption. I have many interests. I would like to write a book on sports since I feel that is the subject I have studied the longest. It is all a matter of finding the proper archive.

Buy this book at! rasx( ): The Gerald Horne titles that stand tall here for me are Black and Red and Race War! What is the actual size of your bibliography? I’m seeing about 18 Gerald Horne titles on Do you have time to appear in any periodicals, journals?

GH: Oh sure, I write for many journals, some of which can be found on-line. I’m not sure how many books I’ve written—18 sounds about right.

rasx(): What is interesting is that Marcus Garvey makes an appearance in Black and Red and Race War! I’m going to take wild guess and assume that Garvey appears again in Red Seas: Ferdinand Smith and Radical Black Sailors in the United States and Jamaica. Do you see the possibility that the world-class role Marcus Garvey played in the 20th century is often overlooked—even by self-described Black writers?

GH: Yes, Garvey makes an appearance in Red Seas. Is Garvey overlooked? Hard to say… certainly since Robert Hill published his multi-volume edition of the writings of Garvey and the UNIA—it constitutes scholarly malfeasance to ignore this source.

rasx(): Your Race War book tour included engagements in Asia. In telling the story of Imperial Japan, were there some misunderstandings, say, from people in the audience eager to remind you of the “Rape of Nanking”?

GH: Yes, you are correct. Though I kept saying in this book that I was simply seeking to examine Japan’s impact on e.g. Black America and not make an apologia for Japanese Imperialism, I’m not sure if that message got across to all.

Buy this book at! rasx(): When we read a title like The Color of Fascism: Lawrence Dennis, Racial Passing, And the Rise of Right-wing Extremism in the United States. We have to speculate that filmmakers of fiction and non-fiction have, at least, talked with you about presenting your work for the big and small screens. I find it hard to believe that not one NYU Film School graduate wants to make a film with a character like Lawrence Dennis. Any activity in this arena?

GH: Obviously, I agree with you in thinking that this topic could translate easily to the silver screen. Think about it—the ‘brain’ behind U.S. Fascism was a “Negro”—was “passing for white.” And he started off as a famed Negro child preacher! Truth is stranger than fiction.

rasx(): My Hollywood influences beg me to ask about Class Struggle in Hollywood, 1930–1950: Moguls, Mobsters, Stars, Reds, and Trade Unionists and your latest book The Final Victim of the Blacklist: John Howard Lawson, Dean of the Hollywood Ten. Is it productive to see a relationship between these books? Is there some kind sequel or trilogy in progress? By the way, is Hollywood finally “cleansed” of ‘true’ leftists?

GH: Yes, the purges worked, any leftists in Hollywood are so hidden in the closet that they are hard to find. And, yes, there is a tie between the two works—trying to ascertain the impact of radicalism on this industry that massages consciousness.

Horne, a history professor at North Carolina University, chooses as his starting point the film industry dispute in 1945 when the Conference of Studio Unions (CSU) went on strike in Los Angeles. It was a highly charged period with strikers confronting police and strike-breakers—one of whom, an actor called Ronald Reagan, recalled later that ‘homes and cars were bombed… workers trying to drive into a studio would be surrounded by pickets who’d pull open their car door or roll down a window and yank the worker’s arm until they broke it’. Reagan, once a union firebrand himself, crossed the lines and saw the strike as a ‘Soviet effort to gain control over Hollywood and the content of its films’.

—“How the Mob Broke Movie Pickets,” The Observer

rasx():The opinion here is there is a firm link between issues of “digital rights management” and “’Net Neutrality” with the historical issues you detail in your books about Hollywood in particular and imperialism in general. The foundational capitalist concept of property is threatened by an ‘open,’ ‘free’ Internet. It is quite amusing and disheartening to see young tech geeks surprised about the lengths established entertainment companies will go through to “rough up” little kids trying to share “intellectual property.” Do you resonate with this view?

GH: Yes, this view resonates with me. Just look: the CEO of VIACOM, which controls CBS-tv, Paramount was just bounced, not least since Fox, controlled by the evil Rupert Murdoch, beat him to the punch in grabbing up hot new Internet properties. These major corporate interests recognize that the Internet could “disintermediate” many of their prized possessions, be it film distribution or distribution of sitcoms, not to mention threatening newspapers. So they have invaded the Internet in a huge way. It would be naive to think that the Internet can exist above the fray, beyond the reach of those who presently massage consciousness, buy and defeat politicians and the like. I hope these “geeks” read the business journals for if they do, they must know that at one point, for example, Microsoft too had this naive view of technology—before they were hit by anti-trust lawsuits driven by their competitors. Rather quickly, they beefed up their lobbying operation in Washington. Google is going through a similar process as I write. In short, technology does not stand in a pristine manner above politics—certainly not in this society where moneyed interests reign (thus far)…

rasx(): Can you distinguish your research style? I notice that you are a Blackberry user! Does technology play a dominant role in your research/writing process?

GH: Oh yes. The Blackberry helps in terms of instant communication, which can be important. But actually it is my “laptop” that has been key to my productivity. Certainly, the existence of the World Wide Web simplified certain research tasks—though for some time to come, I think, it will remain necessary to trek to archives globally…

Think about it—the ‘brain’ behind U.S. Fascism was a “Negro”—was “passing for white.” And he started off as a famed Negro child preacher! Truth is stranger than fiction.

Gerald Horne Store by rasx(): How do you discover the archives you mentioned scattered throughout the world? I fail to see the addresses of these places just falling into your lap, with the campus newspaper. Is there an international “research community” out there freely exchanging the relevant information?

GH: Well, it depends on the topic. Obviously, if one is going to research the role of U.S. nationals in the illicit mid-19th century slave trade to Brazil, the subject of my book to be published next year—The Deepest South: The U.S., Brazil and the African Slave Trade, NYU Press—one must visit Brazil itself, as I did in the Spring of 2004. A little poking around on the web reveals that the documents that might be of interest are at the Foreign Ministry—as opposed to the National Archives. Likewise, a visit to Cape Town, South Africa, a key listening post during that unlamented era, is a must. Similarly, one knows instinctively that a visit to the U.S. National Archives at College Park, Md. is a must. Likewise, for a book of mine to be published next spring—The White Pacific: U.S. Imperialism and Black Slavery in the South Seas after the Civil War, Univ. of Hawai’i Press—it is obvious that one must visit Honolulu, not to mention Fiji and Queensland, Australia to track the trade in Melanesians and Polynesians and the role of U.S. nationals, i.e. Euro-Americans.

Yes, there is an international research community but tracking documents really requires thinking and intuition.

rasx(): Do you place recent events, including the current administration in the White House and the death and destruction in Iraq and, say, Haiti, as the signature of an almost rhythmic historical pattern—or do you find recent events, including 911, shocking, surprising?

GH: Actually, as I have written more than once—some of this can be found online—9/11 was an inevitable outgrowth of the largest CIA intervention since the end of World War II: the ‘covert’ war in Afghanistan in the 1980s where the U.S. and Osama bin Laden were on the same side (see Stallone’s “Rambo” movie on this).

Criticism should also be accompanied by self-criticism and there’s plenty to go around, particularly among African-Americans where we have our own militant right-wing nationalist forces, as the event of mid-October 1995 exemplified. Interestingly, these forces only began to flower in the mid-1950s, coincidentally when progressive figures like W.E.B. Du Bois, Shirley Graham Du Bois and Paul Robeson were coming under fierce attack in a global pattern that mimics what has occurred in Afghanistan, Nicaragua, Iran and elsewhere. As we bask in the justifiable after-glow of our historic participation in the Durban anti-racism conference, we should ask ourselves why our participation in the prior two U.N. sponsored anti-racism conferences was so sparse, though the question of apartheid and hatred of Africans was much more at center-stage then than at this year’s gathering.

—Dr. Gerald Horne,

rasx(): Do you see the rise of the left in Latin America, featuring a relatively youthful Hugo Chávez, a harbinger of what’s to come in North America? Will the election fallout in Mexico precede a possible future of election warfare in the United States?

GH: Yes, both Venezuela and Mexico present hopeful signs hemispherically—though whether either augurs similar events in the U.S. is questionable, given the inured conservatism of this nation. Still, with the declining dollar and the rise of China, many things are possible that before were hard to imagine.

In turn, China and Russia have welcomed Iran into an organization little-known in this nation but which, inevitably, will come to influence global trends: the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. SCO was initiated in June 2001 by Beijing and Moscow not long after tensions had risen between the US and China after the downing of Washington’s spy-plane on Chinese soil and the clear enunciation by the incoming Bush administration that it intended to ratchet up tensions. Also included in the founding of SCO were Kazakhstan, Kyrgystan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, an indication that Beijing and Moscow were concerned about these struggling nations being deployed against them in a policy of encirclement. After all, NATO, the aggressive cold war vehicle that was so instrumental in the destabilization of the Soviet Union, now has thousands of troops imbedded in Afghanistan, not far from Chinese and Russian territory.
—Dr. Gerald Horne, “Russia, China and the New Cold War

rasx( ): One perceived architectural element in your research is the cosmopolitan, multi-cultural diversity of peoples of strong African features. You effortlessly bring African peoples into the center of attention all over the world, from Mississippi to Micronesia. Is this structure merely a by-product of your research regimen, or is this of a hypothesis?

GH: I simply want to point out to Africans in North America that, inter alia, there is a world beyond these shores that needs to be engaged. The international community can be—and have been—of maximum aid to our struggle here: and vice versa.

rasx(): Your foundational history lectures for me includes the revelation that The Constitution of the United States is, arguably, obsessed with enslaved African people instead of being benign and ignorant. My 24-year-old struggle with this revelation is archived here in the kinté space. It reveals a seed change in perception that goes a long way toward my mental health as an African in the United States. Have others attempted to link your work to “building character in Black youth”? What do you say to the youth that cries out in pain, “Blacks have done nothing since Martin Luther King”?

GH: Hard for me to say what others have done with my work since I have not paid that much attention; I have been too busy. As for the pained Black youth, well, I understand the frustration but that view simply does not accord with the facts. I would urge a serious regime of reading and reflection—and struggle—to disabuse said youth of such opinions…

I could go on but I think you get the point.

Confronting the right’s organized censure, and the popular patriotic flare-ups it inspires, it’s easy to become demoralized. In the face of such effective pressure, says Gerald Horne, young people like his students at the University of North Carolina—who were born during Reagan’s presidency—easily learn to distrust the very idea of dissent out of a feeling that the right always wins. “They have a pragmatic, if not very deep, sentiment that’s the political version of ‘Nobody ever got fired for buying IBM’: If you want to lead a comfortable, hassle-free life and not be a loser, be with the right,” he says. “Unlike in the Vietnam period, we’ve all become sadly familiar with TINA—There Is No Alternative.” In such a univocal world, dissent can seem downright futile.

—Alisa Solomon, “The Big Chill

Dr. Gerald Horne is a contributing editor for Political Affairs Magazine. A summary of his articles are found online.

Listen to Dr. Horne discuss his new book, The Final Victim of the Blacklist: John Howard Lawson, Dean of the Hollywood Ten, with Farai Chideya on NPR.

A small selection of Gerald Horne books is compiled online.