06 April 2008

The King and us

On Friday, the world noted the 40th anniversary of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s assassination. I'm sure I've posted it several times before, but this gave me the opportunity to revisit one of King's last major speeches, "Beyond Vietnam." Here's an audio-only version on YouTube.

It is especially interesting to review King's speech in light of the recent furor over Barack Obama's former pastor Jeremiah Wright. Wright, of course, has been tsk-tsked throughout the Sensible press for his supposedly divisive "anti-American" remarks, yet here is King, who can no longer be opposed in polite company and who even many right-wingers naively believe would be on their side today were he still alive, joining the crusade against Muslims, gays and abortions while telling the whiny Negroes to shut up already. (Though we should not spare our dear generation of Sensibles, who will spare no effort in flowery remembrances of King but are among the most enthusiastic finger-waggers at Wright.)

This is high delusion. If King in 2008 had said "the greatest purveyer of violence in the world today [is] my own government," the same roars of outrage would have poured out of the same squealing outlets which erupted with condemnation for Wright's sermons. These anniversaries give those who should be embarrassed by history a chance to whitewash their involvement. Perhaps no one could be made to confess their disdain for an American saint like King, but no thinking person should believe that none yet exists. Any hard look at King's life and where his ministry was going when it was tragically ended will reaffirm that he would have continued to be a thorn in the side of the powerful white elite.

MLK isn't the only dead radical to have his or her life sanitized for contemporary Sensibility. Mark Twain wrote some of his most vicious satire of his life against imperialism in the Spanish-American War, which would today have him thrown to the curb as "reflexively anti-American." Helen Keller's adult life fighting for socialism and later women's and disability rights is almost completely forgotten or covered up with the great newspaper euphemism "social activism." That Albert Einstein published an essay entitled "Why Socialism?" in the premiere issue of Monthly Review is hardly known to anyone at all. The list goes on forever.

I hear Einstein appears on the cover of Eric Alterman's new book "Why We're Liberals." I've heard an old truism that goes "conservatives are people that worship dead liberals." Perhaps there should be an update. "Liberals are people who worship dead leftists." We've got to stop them stealing our people.


In the current issue of Socialist Worker, Brian Jones covers King's final battle supporting the striking sanitation workers of Memphis in the days before his death.