Diary of a Domestic Extremist: Why I hate activism

Originally Posted on Wednesday, October 6, 2010 2:00

What does it really mean to be an "activist"? Are activists deluding themselves about being agents of radical change? In an impassioned polemic, Mikhail Goldman argues that today's activist movements, far from being the creative, truly revolutionary wave they purport to be, risk becoming, themselves, agents of bigotry, sexism, and elitism.

“Now the activist might be just as likely to engage in symbolic acts with the aim of pressuring some authority or other to change its policy.”

I hope that readers of this article will be aware of what I mean by activism. It is the work of that particular sect, “the activists”, who have taken it upon themselves to rid the world of evil. Whilst their peers pursue careers, raise families or lose themselves in hedonism, the activists minimise their commitments to the conventional world, putting their hearts and souls into the furtherance of whatever ideals they hold dear. Inevitably, to some extent, through “dropping out” of the mainstream, the activist seeks solace in doing good deeds. She considers this to be a life more enriched and rewarding than the materialism of those who surround her.

OK – I exaggerate. Not every activist is a modern day nun or monk. That said, the parallels made between activism and religiosity are deliberate and are intended to demonstrate the limitations of the former. Indeed, the adoption of activism as a role or a lifestyle is a significant obstacle to progress towards genuine and far-reaching social and political change. The inflexibility that results from the adoption of an activist role hinders the ability of the activist to adapt to change and remain effective. It also encourages the emergence of “experts” of social change and the formation of hierarchies that impede spontaneous action. Meanwhile, the tendency to associate activism with a particular lifestyle can lead to the estrangement of activists from the general population and the dilution of radical politics.

One of the most influential critiques of activism as a role was the anonymous article Give up Activism, which appeared in the aftermath of the June 18th 1999 anti-globalisation protests in London (J18). Drawing heavily on the work of situationist writer Raoul Vaneigem, the piece emphasised the limitations of activism and even suggested that it was a counter-revolutionary ideology.

Taking on the role of activist, the authors suggested, was to become a jealous guardian of the secrets of revolution. The activist relies on a niche provided by capitalist social relations in order to have relevance and it is thus in his interest to maintain that situation. Whilst I would question whether this tendency is, in itself, sufficient to nullify the activist’s desire to overcome oppressive social relations, it is clear that the activist role sets up a situation in which there is competition between an individual’s status as an “expert” of revolution and the revolutionary change itself. This is particularly true when the former is so much easier to achieve and maintain than the latter.

There is certainly a tendency for ‘activist’ to turn into shorthand for ‘expert in bringing about radical social change’. Even in movements and groups that claim to be against hierarchical social relations there is an unstated assumption that it is the ‘superactivists’ that are best positioned to lead the revolution. This assumption results in the pursuit of getting as many people into activism as possible, with the aim of achieving a critical mass that can then lead the charge against capital/climate change/whatever.

However, this assumes that the activists are a vanguard and thus, somehow, superior to the masses. This theory is certainly not borne out by the evidence of actual insurrections, in which the ‘specialists’ of revolution usually play a rather peripheral role. Even if it were probable that activists could lead such a revolt, the formation of an informal leadership class would ensure the reproduction of hierarchical social values. To form a leadership group within a so-called revolutionary movement is to sow the seeds of counter-revolution.

Another phenomenon that seems to be associated with the adoption of the activist role is an inflexibility around strategy and tactics. Because activism inevitably means perpetuating action, there is often little opportunity for reflection and adaptation within the milieu. An ideology of constant attack is part and parcel of the role and is favoured, even when patience might be more effective.

In addition, the fetishisation of particular tactics results in their mass reproduction, often without regard for the limited period during which they are novel, when no defence against them had yet been formulated. For example, the past decades have seen activists around the western world lock themselves to various things with zeal, because it is what activists do – not, necessarily, because they have determined that it is the most appropriate action to take. By clinging to a heritage limited by culture and geography, the activist reproduces the same routine over and over, without apparent regard to its effects.

It is this culture of activism that is, perhaps, neglected by Give up Activism. The adoption of activism as a lifestyle rather than a medium for bringing about social change serves to alienate those who do not identify with its idiosyncratic culture. The unspoken rules of what hairstyles, clothing, diet and lifestyle choices are and aren’t acceptable in the activist ghetto are major barriers to those who are interested in the same revolutionary aims but don’t share the lifestyle.

The activist subculture is derived from subsections of punk, hippy and other predominantly white subcultures which inevitably makes it harder for non-white people to fit into them. Without being part of the social scene around activism, with its drinking rituals (vegan organic beer only, of course) and crusty clothing choices, the outsider can only get so involved in the movement.

This results in a limbo situation for such people who cannot fit in. Most end up giving up on a scene that they feel they can never be fully part of.

Aside from the obvious cultural bias in activist circles towards whiteness, the disproportionate dominance of student politics (as well as those who have come through the university system) means that those from working class backgrounds often feel a similar alienation from activism. The intellectuals of the movement love to communicate in lengthy theses on this or that particular issue, often lacking direct connections to those on the front line.

Unsurprisingly, there is often a lack of understanding of the harsh realities poor people experience, which can lead to a lifestyle of poverty being fetishised (see, for example, criticisms of CrimethInc). Certain prevalent activist lifestyle choices e.g. clothing, diet, not flying, etc. are easier to adopt for the middle class activist who, after a childhood of luxury, sees these choices as a rejection of materialism. This denial of material wealth is a less comfortable choice to make for the person who has grown up associating such denials with a lack of opportunity.

Last but not least, the culture of activism is often a macho culture. The emphasis on having the best ideas or doing the most daring actions can encourage a competitive atmosphere where those with the loudest voices (usually men) get heard and others (often women) stay silent. Just as in the case in society at large, the speakers are often male and those who are expected to support them are often female. This reproduction of gender roles in activist culture is further evidence that it is not, at present, a revolutionary culture.

The lack of diversity and acceptance, in the activist subculture, of people who are different, is obviously a problem. However, the one area where there does appear to be genuine diversity is also a problem: activism has long been associated with anarchist politics due to the traditional association of direct action with those ideas. However, with the emergence of liberal direct-action movements, particularly around climate change, the political ideals of activism have become muddied and less focussed.

Whilst you might once have associated the activist with the revolutionary politics of anarchism or socialism, now the activist might be just as likely to engage in symbolic acts with the aim of pressuring some authority or other to change its policy. This divergence of political positions around a common lifestyle seems to be the opposite of what is required to bring about wide reaching social change.

Activism, then, is a deeply problematic identity which throws a number of obstacles in the path to radical social change. This inevitably leads to the question of what can be done by those who are committed to that radical change and, out of the lack of alternatives, end up defining ourselves as activists?

One of the most important things is to get over ourselves. Just because we are consciously committed to trying to revolt doesn’t make us the most capable of doing it. We are going to need a lot of friends and allies before we are able to do anything. When spaces open up for the kind of change we wish to see we won’t be the ones leading it because there won’t be any leaders. We can spread useful ideas and skills amongst people who are sympathetic but in the end spontaneity will be vital.

Because we need a massive range of people from all backgrounds to adopt radical ideas before meaningful change becomes possible we need to constantly be aware of the limited diversity of the circles we move in. It is only when these are genuinely open to and supportive of a wide range of active participants that we will grow in any meaningful sense. That means rejecting the white, middle-class, male claim on radicalism that is prevalent at the moment.

It means accepting people who have different lifestyles and different ideas about eating meat, shopping in supermarkets and using fossil fuels to those prevalent in the subculture. There is a need to be open to and welcoming of everyone who is sick of the system of domination.

Whilst there’s a lot to be said for and against that colourful character of an anarchist, Ian Bone, his Bash the Rich book makes excellent reading. In one chapter, he recounts how he and his Class War comrades participated in the Brixton riot of 1981. They saw the riot as an opportunity to engage in the struggle against their class enemies. Rather than trying to set themselves up as some elite group with authority over what was going in, they saw the riot as a moment in the struggle that, with their street fighting experiences, they could contribute to, along with other unknown militants.

As far as I’m concerned activists should be just that – unknown militants who lend their efforts and their solidarity to struggles wherever they find the opportunity.

Mikhail Goldman, (a.k.a. The Domestic Extremist) currently focusses his trouble-making and incitement in the Midlands area. His favourite activities are bringing down the system and enjoying a good cup of tea.

His column appears every Wednesday.


November 27, 2021 at 11:39 AM

By: Whitfield

Organization and Spontaneity

Organization and Spontaneity - Chicago Revolutionary Network\rArticle in response to the Red and Black Notes pamphlet Organization and Spontaneity by the Chicago Revolutionary Network, discussion the need to combine both.\r\rThe following article was written by the Chicago Revolutionary Network. It has been edited for publication. (note from the original)\r\rAfter rereading and discussing the Red & Black Notes pamphlet, \"Organization and Spontaneity,\" and considering our recent article \"Spontaneous vs. Planned Revolutionary Acts in the Coming International, Working Class, Real Socialist Revolution,\" we think that spontaneous revolutionary acts and planned revolutionary actions are flip-sides of the same, absolutely necessary revolutionary coin.\r\rAs we said in our article, mentioned Above, during the summer of 1917 in Russia, in a period of a balance of power between the capitalist (Menshevik) government and the rebellious working class, the revolutionary Russian working class began to spontaneously take over factories and plants; literally kicking out the capitalist bosses, if they had not left already, which were revolutionary acts. The workers set up revolutionary factory committees, which were mass democratically organized, to plan and carry out production, which were also revolutionary acts. So, what started off to be spontaneous by the revolutionary workers, seizing one factory or plant, became more of a planned thing within that factory or plant. But this initial spontaneity became a revolutionary factory committee movement throughout the Russian working class as factories and plants were seized within repeated regularity. Russian workers also set up revolutionary Soviets - councils - in the working class districts to deal with the enormous economic crisis in the places in which they lived. It seems to us that the Bolshevik Party (BP) of Lenin gauged that it would be easier to take over or control the Soviets than the revolutionary factory committees, so they advocated the slogan \"All Power to the Soviets,\" which when acted upon ushered in the October 1917 Revolution with such promise to the revolutionary aspirations of the international working class.\r\rRegardless of motivation, which is particularly slippery terrain to speculate on, the actual history of the Bolshevik Party of Lenin was that the BP bureaucratically took control of the Soviets in late 1917 and early 1918, which is consistent with Lenin\'s theory that \"The Party must rule for [over - Chirevnet] the working class.\" Thus the BP gained a fulcrum of power in the new oppressive state that the BP was constructing: State capitalist, not real socialist, which would have smashed/abolished the state and wage slavery. Meanwhile the revolutionary factory movement planned to organize an all-Russian revolutionary factory committee congress to coordinate worker-run production nationally. The BP countered with power in the workplaces for the capitalist-orientated trade unions, which the BP controlled, and the BP of Lenin did win out there, and the revolutionary factory committee movement was historic-tragically shut down. This led later to the infamous state capitalist \"one-man management\" and the BP dictatorship over the working class in the workplace and society at large; a world historic defeat which the international working class is still recovering from.\r\rWhat we draw from the above is that during a revolutionary situation the working class can be perceptive enough to engage in spontaneously revolutionary acts, chiefly the taking over of the workplaces, organize them mass democratically and carry out planned production accordingly, with the aim of coordinating/organizing production nationally - now we would say internationally!\r\rWe think/feel that the chief danger to the revolutionary, international working class in the coming international working class spontaneously/planned real socialist revolution is political parties - or organizations acting like political parties: hijacking the Revolution and rebuilding dictatorships over the international working class, and organizing state capitalist society globally.\r\rOn a final psychological note, we want to affirm that spontaneous revolutionary acts also contain within them an inherently organizational nature, whereas planned revolutionary acts also, obviously contain an inherently organizational nature; not just one or the other.\r\rSo, the coming international working class real socialism revolution will probably be spontaneous at first, gathering widespread international momentum, but appropriately organized, and after overthrowing capitalism with its capitalist ruling classes, it will increasingly pass over to more planning to achieve a classless/stateless society globally with revolutionary acts, both spontaneous and planned.\r\rPublished in Red and Black Notes #18, Autumn 2003, this article has been archived on from the Red and Black Notes website. Red and Black Notes made a short comment on this piece here.

November 28, 2021 at 5:07 PM

By: John Kugler

Intellectuals and Lumpen

when Intellectuals (non-workers and academics) manipulate Lumpen to destroy and cause crime on working-class resources they are the enemy, not the capitalist.

Remember a capitalist wants profit so there is no reason to destroy a worker's resources or hurt the worker.

Next time someone tells you to go to a protest ask two things:

What are we protesting?

What 5 jobs have you had in your life?

Then make your decision if you should follow that person.


Workers Create

Capitalists Exploit

Intellectuals Manipulate

Lumpen Destroy

December 9, 2021 at 7:55 AM

By: John Whitfield

‘The Bittersweet Science’, A book review

Boxing, crime, and capitalism: Gerald Horne’s ‘The Bittersweet Science’ reviewed

December 8, 2021 BY DANIEL ROSENBERG

It is difficult to defend boxing. It is often brutal, and sometimes deadly. Its less odious, even admirable, traits involve skill, speed, tactics, concentration, and movement. In combination with the strictest safety precautions, and free of criminal control, dubious elements, and economic exploitation, it can be deemed a sport. But its very aggression mandates caution in any assessment.

Boxing pre-dates capitalism. Incitement to murder for a thrill in general, and gambling returns in particular, transcends boxing per se, but emanates from a culture that views workers and oppressed people as things and treats force and violence as casually as drinking milk. Of course, class societies prior to capitalism latched their coattails to combat as entertainment. But incapacitation at a bloody cost is a special money-maker in modern context. Profits infect sports under capitalism. Assault can be a profitable spectacle.

Competitive sport and decay are not one and the same, but competition can also go too far even under non-capitalist circumstances. I attended an amateur boxing tournament in Hungary when it was a socialist-oriented country, at the invitation of longtime Budapest resident and British Communist Charlie Coutts. It involved boxers from Cuba, Nigeria, Italy and Hungary. To an extent it resembled all such competitions of the time: smoke filled the air, one periodically heard invocations to “kill em.” The requirement to slug still held true, but the generally civil conduct between competitors was clear, in the ring no less: they were not prizefighters. Coutts also got me a ticket for a World Cup preliminary between the Soviet Union and Hungary, the latter emerging victorious. In a sign of celebration as well as nationalism, a car outside the stadium was overturned and set afire, a disturbing sight under any social system. Yet the systemic mechanisms driving corruption did not exist and the athletes were not under corporate control.

Most athletes remain true to mutual regard, matching of skill, and sportsmanship, despite the constant drumbeat to humiliate and harm. Critics of capitalism have as much responsibility to evaluate and critique boxing as they do all phenomena under capitalism.

The book under review is a good example of how this can be accomplished. Noted U.S. historian Gerald Horne’s numerous works include The Counter-Revolution of 1776 and The Apocalypse of Settler Colonialism. Insofar as his new book on boxing deals heavily with the role of mobsters and organized crime, his previous Jazz and Justice and Class Struggle in Hollywood established Horne’s insight into the integration of mobsters into U.S. capitalism.

Indeed, Horne focuses on the U.S., though his findings pertain to the control of boxing in other countries, such as South Africa. After all, the professional boxing authorizing bodies—World Boxing Council, International Boxing Federation and others, with their proliferating dozens of new weight classes—are international. Horne employs boxing commission records, minutes of regulatory agencies, oral histories, state gaming commission documents, papers of civil rights organizations and figures, trial testimony and oral histories—a thorough and impressive range of sources.

Horne addresses the historical ties between violence and systems based on class division. Similarly, he demonstrates resistance by officially disarmed lower classes, including weaponless approaches to self-defense. Nelson Mandela was one of many progressive figures with a boxing history.

The peculiar American background

Horne establishes the American background in the origins of racism and slavery in North America. As in ancient Rome, where slave gladiators fought to the death for the entertainment of spectators, U.S. slavery manifested similar obsessions. The latter, notes Horne, “was notorious for the arranging of fighting contests among enslaved men in particular,” where masculinity was honed, evoking “the overriding bellicosity of U.S. culture.” Horne mentions the attendant “theory” that African and African American slaves were impervious to pain. On this score, Medical Apartheid by Harriet Washington is recommended.

Horne also observes that slaves fought the brute force of those who owned and controlled them. He refers to Frederick Douglass, former slave and eventual abolitionist leader in both the U.S. and Britain. Douglass’s autobiography details his repulsing of an attack by Covey, the notorious “slave-breaker” (an unusually accurate job title):

Mr. Covey seemed now to think he had me, and could do what he pleased; but at this moment—from whence came the spirit I don’t know—I resolved to fight; and, suiting my action to the resolution, I seized Covey hard by the throat; and as I did so, I rose. He held on to me, and I to him. My resistance was so entirely unexpected that Covey seemed taken all aback. He trembled like a leaf. —Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave, Written by Himself, 1845, p. 73.

The integration of violence and racism remained a constant, keynoted by lynching and continued with vigor today by police departments.

By the time of the emergence of imperialism at the end of the 19th century, U.S. culture had harnessed theories attesting to the benefits of conquest by “real men,” and other shows of strength apparently bearing out the importance of physically subduing others. Professional boxing went on to display an inherent sexism and latent or blatant homophobia. Horne pithily captures what Emile Griffith did to his homophobic opponent Benny Paret, who mocked Griffith’s alleged sexual orientation: Griffith “methodically executed him in the ring.”

Prizefighting at first inspired mixed reactions as well as criticism as a near-barbaric pursuit. But Horne points out how imperialism served to legitimize physical force: U.S. president and eugenics advocate Theodore Roosevelt successfully produced a merger of intense compulsion as manhood with the virtues of colonial conquest and the laws of racial superiority. Sexism was especially emphasized in the royal treatment of the heavyweight division, where the best incarnations of male domination could allegedly be found—unless those involved were African-American or Jewish. Horne details both the emergence of and discrimination against boxers from nationally oppressed groups. Despite anti-Semitism, Jewish boxers held a certain sway in professional boxing for a while, winning numerous titles while Blacks were essentially excluded. Horne mentions champion Barney Ross as an example, a skilled boxer but controlled by gangster Al Capone.

Racism manifested in the pay differentials for white and Black boxers; stealing black fighters’ promised money outright; and the grave threats and isolation accorded African-American fighters like Jack Johnson, who fought at a time when it was illegal to hit a white man, or for that matter to have a relationship with a white woman.

Hence the calls almost from the get-go for white “hopes”—James Braddock, Gene Tunney, Gerry Cooney—toward the ostensible goal of white race survival and the rescue of white women from the onslaughts of African-American men. Racism extended to the amateur ranks too: The Amateur Athletic Union for a time banned interracial boxing. When Black fighters, often thanks to growing TV markets, became more prominent and often fought each other, both promoters and press created dichotomous images of decent versus savage. When Muhammad Ali came out against the Vietnam War, the advertised clash was between traitors and patriots.

The Mob moves in

At first regarded as unseemly and forced into remote areas of the country, like the emerging state of Nevada, boxing gained traction as it became a clear money-making enterprise in the operation of organized crime in the 1920s. Still, it took a while before the most brutal incidents were investigated and steps were taken to prevent them. Horne mentions that a Mob-associated trainer inserted a layer of cement plaster into Jack Dempsey’s gloves for the consequently sanguineous heavyweight title clash with Jess Willard. The trainer went on to a long career as a boxing “fixer” for crime syndicates. However, adopting a modicum of protective measures did not erase the brutality of the “sport,” the resulting brain damage, and the life-threatening problems engendered by the strenuous effort to maintain weight eligibility for the different boxing classifications.

Nearly all the chapters detail the mechanics of criminal control over boxing in the United States, but Horne brings the matter into clearer focus at certain points. Well established promoters Bob Arum and Don King made arrangements with organized crime organizations. King’s Mob ties were deeper. African-American promoter Truman Gibson was less enthused and more resistant to such connections and, as Horne shows, paid for it in a trial that singled him out for practices far less corrupt than those of his white confreres in the business. Al Capone and the criminal businesses headed by the Jewish-led gang Murder Inc., the Gambinos, Genoveses, and Luccheses circulated naturally in the netherworld of prizefighting. Boxing trainers Lou Duva, Cus D’Amato (who worked with heavyweights Floyd Patterson and Mike Tyson), and Angelo Dundee (Muhammad Ali’s man in the corner) are among those whom Horne specifies as “connected.” Under the jurisdiction of promoters, trainers, and mobsters, boxers were cheated, shortchanged, set up, exploited. Joe Louis, the champion who defeated Nazi Max Schmeling in 1938, lost promised payments and made desperate efforts to find work after retirement; Horne indicates his relationship with Harlem gangster Bumpy Johnson.

Boxing judges also fell into the category of the ethically challenged, along with managers, promoters, and trainers. Most properly, then the terrain shifted to the gambling sites under the greatest influence of criminal syndicates: Nevada, and Atlantic City in New Jersey. Here also were based prominent political and business figures who celebrated the exploitive cause by self-enrichment. As Horne puts it, “Like flies to feces, the odoriferous sport attracted human scum effortlessly.” The slime created Donald Trump, facilitated into boxing prominence by his mentor, the virulently corrupt McCarthyite attorney Roy Cohn, prosecutor of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg.

Boxing and politics

Horne carefully notes the interplay of boxing and politics. Jack Johnson, the first Black champion to inspire a nearly hysterical search for a “white hope,” espoused strong opposition to racism, settling in Mexico during the Mexican Revolution of the early 1900s with its advocacy of land reform and nationalization of foreign companies. He also denounced the rise of Hitler, earning admiration by progressives and Communists. Joe Louis supported several Communist Party USA-led organizations in the 1940s, backed anti-war Progressive Party candidate Henry Wallace in the 1948 Cold War presidential election (Paul Robeson was one of Wallace’s most active campaigners), and endorsed Communist Benjamin Davis’s election to the New York City Council. Davis went to prison during the McCarthy period.

Louis’s interviews with the Daily Worker, the Party newspaper, were a regular feature. He called for the removal of restrictions on African-American voters, and an end to segregation. Lightweight Henry Armstrong enunciated similar principles. Another boxer with leftwing affinities was the future actor Canada Lee, who would later be blacklisted from the film industry. Instances of boxers—including several with random Mob connections—speaking out in support of labor causes and strikes were not uncommon.

However, boxer Sonny Liston, whom Muhammad Ali defeated to win the heavyweight title in 1964, served the Mafia as a violent scab protector in strikes. He also stands as one of the most exploited boxers in history. Horne mentions that three organized crime figures regularly drew 76% of Liston’s earnings.

At the same time, a number of boxing figures held right-wing opinions. One was 1920s champion Gene Tunney, who expressed fascist sympathies and clearly articulated his fervent opposition to fighting Black opponents. Later, this trend metamorphosed into validating the South African apartheid regime as a worthy partner on the world boxing stage, giving recognition to fights held there, and backing its government as an exemplary partner in sportsmanship. The ever-present enterprise of “white hopes” validated apartheid’s boxing champions and fueled their integration into the rankings and the matches. Angelo Dundee, Muhammad Ali’s trainer, organized a number of these fights, as did the promoter Bob Arum. Boycotting and isolating apartheid-sponsored bouts became in turn a component of the anti-apartheid movement internationally.

After Muhammad Ali refused to serve in the U.S. military during the Vietnam War, establishing himself as a principled voice amidst the milieu of a growing peace movement, he was deprived of his heavyweight title and access to all boxing venues for three years. A boycott of the 1968 Olympics by many African-American athletes, as well as protests during the Games, indicated support for Ali and registered outspoken stances for peace and against racism, including by sympathizing white athletes. Writes Horne: “Ali placed himself broadly within the ranks of the mass dissent that bubbled to the surface in the 1960s, driven by the anti-Jim Crow and antiwar movements.”

But rival boxers did not hesitate to criticize Ali, a Muslim, as a traitor to the nation as well as to Christianity. Critics expounding rightwing attacks on Ali included future opponents Joe Frazier and George Foreman. Foreman associated himself with pro-war jingoism as a challenge to Ali’s anti-war position, making Ali’s 8th-round knockout of him politically symbolic.

Horne’s analysis of Ali demonstrates that the boxer was somewhat protected from the sport’s worst practices by the fact that he belonged to the African-American nationalist organization, the Nation of Islam. The organization assumed the role of managing Ali’s career, appointing Herbert Muhammad, a son of the founder, to fulfill that role. Though Muhammad was no model of integrity either, the Nation of Islam’s own security force helped to reduce outside criminal access to the fighter. Nevertheless, it was nearly impossible to avoid discredited forces in prizefighting, and Ali fought more than one Mob-paid opponent, engaging in many bouts organized by the corrupt promoter Don King. Then too, Ali’s trainer had his own criminal associations, as Horne points out while demonstrating certain other contradictions.

Thus, while Ali did not fight South African fighters, he apparently did consider it. Still, the anti-war Ali visited the Soviet Union in 1978, met Communist leaders, and spoke out quite favorably on Soviet life:

Lenin was a common man. He was from the community. Does Communist mean community? Commune, common, or community? What’s wrong with the common man? What’s wrong with helping the community? So communism, it seems to me, if it means community, isn’t a bad word.

But Ali endorsed right-winger Ronald Reagan for president in 1984.

Among the offspring of the political economy of boxing were the innumerable cases of deaths, permanent injury, or brain damage: Horne spares no words on this score. One need only glimpse the films of Briton Henry Cooper’s fights to see mass bleeding at work.

Horne’s exposure of the nexus of profit, racism, and gangsterism is profound enough to conclude that capitalism and organized crime are synonymous. He concludes with a call to unionization. Boxers can only advance and improve their conditions, gain pensions and quality medical care if they organize collectively, even though they engage in singularly individualistic work. At an early 1980s World Boxing Council convention, several boxers supported some form of unionizing. They argued that only a handful earn multi-millions. But what of the care, health, and wellbeing of those who don’t? In a response similarly witnessed by tennis players seeking to organize, managerial representatives insisted that any such group be a joint trade association representing the supposedly mutual interests of boxers, investors, promoters, and managers.

Globally, corporations and governments have made a custom of defining many categories of workers as independent operators, thus undermining union drives in a wide range of industries. Horne concludes: “The admirable proposal—and the swift deep-sixing of it—too were part of the bittersweet reality that continues to animate boxing.”

Gerald Horne

The Bittersweet Science: Racism, Racketeering and the Political Economy of Boxing

New York: International Publishers, 2021

329 pp., $19.99

ISBN: 9780717808298

Daniel Rosenberg earned his Ph.D. in American History. His books include “Racism, Dissent and Asian Americans from 1850 to the present: A Documentary History,” co-edited with Philip S Foner, 1993; “Underground Communists in the McCarthy Period: A Family memoir,” with contributor Gerald Horne, 2008; “New Orleans Dockworkers: Race, Labor, and Unionism 1892-1923,” 2008.

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