The Black (& White) Predicament:
Harold Cruse’s The Crisis of the Negro Intellectual (1967)
In 1967 Harold Cruse, the self-taught son of a railway porter, published The Crisis of the Negro Intellectual: A Historical Analysis of the Failure of Black Leadership, which caused a national stir. A Harlem activist specializing in the performing arts, Cruse criticized black intellectuals, “integrationism,” and Jewish influence over the black movement from the 1920s on.
After publication, Cruse was offered a teaching position in African-American Studies at the University of Michigan. Despite lacking even a B.A. degree, he was awarded tenure and taught there from 1968 until his retirement as professor emeritus in the mid-1980s. He died in 2005.
Despite some shortcomings, including lack of focus and failure to offer any clear ideological or programmatic alternatives to those he criticized, Crisis is a thought-provoking book whose critiques of black thought are often applicable to current flaws in white nationalist thought.
I expected Crisis to be more organized and thematically coherent than it was. A major reason for this is that Crisis is essentially a collection of loosely-connected essays, and is best viewed in that light.
Cruse calls for a “cultural revolution by a critical assault on the methods and ideology of the old-guard [Left wing, integrationist] Negro intellectual elite. The failures and ideological shortcomings of this group have meant that no new directions, or insights have been imparted to the Negro masses” (p. 99).
The Negro intellectual, whose job it is to guide the black masses, must acquire knowledge about his black historical antecedents, and “create a new synthesis and a social theory of action” (p. 565). Yet Cruse remains vague about any clear-cut alternatives of his own.
The book covers the period from the 1920s to the mid-1960s, with special emphasis upon events in Harlem, which Cruse regarded as “the intellectual and artistic capital” of black America, “the black world’s key community”: “Harlem is still the pivot of the black world’s quest for identity and salvation. The way Harlem goes (or does not go) so goes all black America” (p. 12).
In 1900, Harlem was a predominantly white community; the black influx did not assume mass proportions until 1905. But soon thereafter it was transformed into a black “city within a city.”
The conflict between integration and black nationalism permeates the book. And though Cruse claims not to reject the ends of racial integration, but only the means used to achieve it (p. 85), there is no doubt that he belongs firmly in the black nationalist camp—though not in an orthodox kind of way.
For Cruse, American Negro history is a conflict between integrationist (civil rights, racial equality, freedom) and nationalist (separatism, accomodationist self-segregation, economic nationalism, group solidarity and self-help) forces in black politics, economics and culture (p. 564).
One tantalizing Cruse proposal not fleshed out in the book: “Black Africa is an underpopulated continent. There may come a time when the race question in Africa will have to be solved by admitting specified numbers of white Rhodesians, Angolans, and South African Afrikaners into the United States, in exchange for an equal number of Afro-Americans to take their place in Africa” (p. 448).
The author particularly emphasizes the arts, especially theater, in which he was involved in Harlem. Indeed, culture and the arts seem to take precedence for him over politics, economics, and race.
A former Communist who wrote drama and literary criticism for the Daily Worker, Cruse details many intense but long-forgotten ideological feuds within obscure front organizations, or between intra-party and intra-Left factions. His thinking is to some extent conditioned by his Marxist background. Thus, he avoids racial biology, and proposals are frequently couched in vague, socially and politically sterile, top-heavy, unproductive bureaucratic collective and cooperative administrative and organizational terms.
The thoughts and activities of many famous leaders are touched upon, though never systematically developed. Frederick Douglass, Martin R. Delaney, Booker T. Washington, W. E. B. DuBois, Marcus Garvey, Langston Hughes, Paul Robeson, Malcolm X, James Baldwin (an “apologist for the Jews,” p. 482), LeRoi Jones (who Cruse knew well), Martin Luther King, Jr., and others pass before our view.
Chapters of especial interest include “Harlem Background” (pp. 11–63), “Jews and Negroes in the Communist Party” (pp. 147–70), “The Intellectuals and Force and Violence” (pp. 347–81), “Ideology in Black: African, Afro-American, Afro-West Indian” (pp. pp. 420–48), “Negroes and Jews—The Two Nationalisms” (pp. 451–75), and “Postscript on Black Power” (pp. 544–65).
Cruse’s narrative is laced with attention-grabbing anecdotes and asides.
Thus, there is a profile of black playwright Lorraine Hansberry, author of the fabled “socialist-realist” Broadway drama A Raisin in the Sun (1959; movie, 1961), about a stereotypically noble and “carefully tidied up” working-class black family desirous of moving into a white neighborhood. The play was lavished with praise by the Jewish and liberal establishment, and translated into more than 30 languages.
Cruse maintains that Raisin was hyped because it served the interests of the “white liberal” (i.e., Jewish) establishment, not because of any intrinsic merit:
We shall give it an award (A for effort) and so they did, amidst a patronizing critical exuberance I would have thought impossible in the crassly commercial institution of Broadway. Not a dissenting critical note was to be heard, and thus the Negro made theater history with the most cleverly written piece of glorified soap opera I, personally, have ever seen on a stage. If this play had ever been staged by white actors it would be judged second-rate.
Lorraine Hansberry emerged like a Saint Joan of black cultural revival, sounding off in journalistic and television debates like a prophetess who had suddenly appeared carrying messages from the soul of the ‘people.'” (p. 278)
Yet Hansberry was not a product of the Negro working- or middle- classes. She was the daughter of a wealthy Chicago family that “owned thirteen slum properties” in the Negro district; in fact, she owned one herself. “This background afforded Miss Hansberry an extensive education at the University of Wisconsin, Roosevelt College in Chicago, and the University of Guadalajara in Mexico” (p. 268). She married a Jew (p. 484).
Throughout the book Cruse emphasizes that Jews in the civil rights movement—including Communist Jews—cultivated only middle- and upper-class blacks who exhibited bourgeois values, mannerisms, and lifestyles, never the black proletariat or underclass. Reading this, one cannot help but remember WASP critic E. Digby Baltzell’s analogous assimilationist ideal: black tennis star Arthur Ashe.
Cruse assailed this “middle-class puritanism that rejects the human dregs in the real social world of pimps, whores, perverts, Uncle Toms, number runners and race traitors from the purview of its practical politics: Come psychologically balanced, socially upright, and morally clean, before you are worthy to be anointed by the holy water of our revolutionary religion!” (p. 237). Which calls to mind another phrase from Cruse: “. . . the proletarians who went into the Nation of Islam to be rehabilitated” (p. 362).
We learn that Negro intellectuals—including Hansberry—hated the “black” opera Porgy and Bess (1935; movie 1959) written by Jews George and Ira Gershwin: “Porgy and Bess should be forever banned by all Negro performers in the United States. No Negro singer, actor, or performer should ever submit to a role in this vehicle again” (p. 103). Cruse does admit, however, that hundreds of working class blacks lined up to see the movie at New York theaters.
Because Cruse was oblivious to Jewish antagonism to whites, he was unable to perceive Porgy and Bess‘s function as a battering ram against white society rather than simply an ersatz expression of Negro culture. Had he fully grasped the extent of Jewish hatred for whites he might have written a far more perceptive critique than he did.
Former French Communist and convert to Islam Roger Garaudy (misspelled Garandy in the index), is best-known to contemporary white nationalists as the author of the government-censored anti-Zionist book Les Mythes fondateurs de la politique israelienne (1996) (Eng. trans. The Founding Myths of Modern Israel), for which he received a stiff fine and a suspended prison sentence in France.
But in earlier times, Cruse informs us,
The official Left line on Sartre and Camus was laid down in 1948 by the French Communist Roger Garaudy, in a pamphlet in which the work and ideas of these two writers as well as of Mauriac, Malraux and Koestler, were condemned as “Literature of the Graveyard.” This pamphlet was immediately translated into English and distributed by the American Communist movement in the middle and late 1950s. (p. 276)
There is a brief footnote in the book to the effect that Jamaican authorities in the 1960s placed Marcus Garvey’s “latter-day followers, the Rastafari cult, [on trial] for preaching Back to Africa” (p. 431).
This is somewhat misleading. Rastafarians actually worship former Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie as God incarnate—a belief presumably concocted out of marijuana-induced fantasies. However, the Jamaican-born Garvey is indeed honored as a religious prophet by the Rastafarians.
As Cruse points out, the majority of Negro intellectuals and leaders have always been integrationists strongly opposed to black nationalism.
But charismatic Back to Africa leader Marcus Garvey was a colorful exception to the rule, an unabashed proponent of black self-help and capitalism. Cruse quotes a speech Garvey made before a black audience in 1922:
When I came down here [from New York City to Raleigh, North Carolina] I had to get on a white man’s train, on a white man’s railroad. I landed in a white man’s town, came out here on a white man’s car, and am now speaking from a white man’s platform. Where do you Negroes come in? If I had depended on getting here on anything that you have furnished I would have been walking for six months.
A black newspaper attacked this speech in an editorial entitled “A Supreme Negro Jamaican Jackass,” and Cruse himself calls it “typical Garveyite pomposity and arrogance” (p. 121).
Garvey’s followers were estimated to number between 80,000 in the US and several million in the US, the West Indies, Central America, and Africa combined. His movement for worldwide unity among blacks, an African racial ingathering, and the complete rejection of integration in countries where blacks were a minority, “touched on the potential depths of sentiments so emotionally profound that Garvey had to be either supported or rejected with equal vehemence” (p. 124).
The result was an internecine black struggle, with outsiders such as Jews, Communists, and the FBI weighing in on the Destroy Garvey side. Garvey was ultimately jailed and deported to Jamaica, where he died in relative obscurity.
Cruse, possibly conditioned by his Communist background and prevailing fashions, is not a biological racialist. He weakens his case considerably by not integrating anthropological facts into his theoretical framework.
For example, there was three-way ethnic tension between “American Negroes,” the influential US community of Caribbean blacks (“West Indians”), and Africans. Intragroup relations between these factions were fraught with discord, and American Negroes generally occupied the bottom rung in the pecking order.
Also mentioned is degree of blackness (comparative darkness of skin) and its social implications, which makes Cruse extremely uncomfortable, despite the fact that he was quite black himself.
Tension between dark- and light- skinned Negroes is of course perennial. In Haiti, a mulatto elite displaced the French, only to be overthrown in turn by a darker group. And years ago the (very) dark conservative Thomas Sowell launched a barb against “light-skinned blacks” who dominate the liberal civil rights movement, causing a very angry stir.
Cruse scolds CORE’s Roy Innis (misspelled Inness in the index and Inniss in the text, despite being mentioned several times), “a [very black] West Indian nationalist,” for his awareness of blackness, and even his opposition to black “genetic destruction” through integration (p. 550). American “West Indians,” Cruse writes (he harbors something of an animus against them), “prefer their converts to be truly ‘black’ in both pigmentation and ideology. There have been several trends who [sic] have tried to exclude Negroes with non-Negroid features and straight hair” (p. 557).
This is an objective factor that a biologically aware person would not dismiss, gloss over, or morally disparage. It demands careful analysis rather than suppression or moralistic dismissal. Sure, such analysis, necessarily groping in nature, will ruffle feathers. But it should not be avoided.
But Cruse dogmatically insists all such discussions are counterproductive:
When one starts with the skin-color premise of a Roy Inniss one is, unfortunately, feeding a strong tendency within the Black Nationalist movement towards black-skin chauvinism. The American Negro group is too large and mixed with too many racial strains for the ideology of black-skin supremacy to function within the group. It can lead to the reasoning that “I’m blacker than you, and so is my mama, so I’m purer than you and your mama. Therefore, I am also more nationalistic than you, and more politically trustworthy than you and your mama, in the interests of Black Power.” (p. 556)
This outrageous caricature of blacks grappling with racial reality comes from a black-skinned, not a light-skinned, Negro! Such PC know-nothingism is fraught with future danger, as illustrated by the case of Haiti. When it comes to race and ethnicity, biological and genetic facts exist; deal with them.
Cruse sees the concerns expressed by Innis as “social” and “ethnic” rather than racial (p. 550, 557). (So what does that mean?) Yet when it suits his purpose he refers to the second Mrs. Garvey (quoting her vivid description of her husband’s love for her long, silky hair), Adam Clayton Powell, and Malcolm X as “racial hybrids.”
Despite seriously undermining his own social analysis, Cruse at least enjoyed the luxury of being wrong because black demographics differ so radically from white. Blacks are in no danger of extinction. There is no prospect that hybridization, replacement migration, miscegenation, demographic collapse, Jewish or governmental hatred, or any other factor will destroy the race. Arguably, blacks even possess greater biological capacity to assimilate members of other races.
Whites, on the other hand, cannot responsibly avoid the fact that an important part of their project is an exercise in human conservation biology, as reflected in the National Alliance’s old slogan “Save the Earth’s most endangered species—the White race.”
For it is the millennia-old genetic makeup of whites that is responsible for our unique physical appearance and psychological, spiritual, aesthetic, moral, cultural, and civilizational attributes. It is precisely this patrimony that is on the brink of disappearing. Therefore, to think in such terms represents strength, not weakness. Doing so would have strengthened Cruse’s case as well.
A final aspect of racial analysis, behavioral analysis relevant to whites as well as to blacks, is the necessity of steering clear of unrealistic expectations, or the hope that people will somehow collectively do what it might not be in their nature to do, or do things that might be unfeasible under existing conditions or against particular types of opposition.
Thus, in urging a viable black economy along the lines laid down by Booker T. Washington, Marcus Garvey, and the Black Muslims, Cruse maintains that such can be accomplished—”with the aid of attributes the Negro has never developed, i.e., discipline, self-denial, cooperative organization and knowledge of economic science.” (p. 310).
Blacks & Jews
Cruse is keenly aware of the dominant role played by Jews in the Negro movement, and its debilitating effect. Often he writes of Jews explicitly, but the majority of his generic references to “white liberals,” the “white leftwing,” “Marxist-Communist influences,” “white business in Harlem,” and so forth, are also references to Jews, as is quite clear from the context.
The interpretation of the Negro is predominantly a white liberal affair, an alliance between white Christian and Jewish reformism. Within the scope of this alliance, the resulting ideology is preeminently of Jewish intellectual origin. In fact, the main job of researching and interpreting the American Negro has been taken over by the Jewish intelligentsia to the extent where it is practically impossible for the Negro to deal with the Anglo-Saxon majority in this country unless he first comes to the Jews to get his “instructions.” (p. 260)
In language that white nationalists should take to heart, but (like Negroes) probably won’t, Cruse asserts that it is mandatory that every nationalist tendency in the Negro movement “take stringent steps” to ban Jewish influence from controlling positions. Jews “inevitably divert leadership energies, distort policies, disorient Negroes, discourage independent creative Negro thinking.” If Negro leaders do not do this, neither social revolution nor social reform will succeed (p. 263).
The parallels with white nationalism are often glaring. Substitute the words “white” or “white nationalist” for “Negro” throughout much of the book and you have a near-perfect template for whites.
“Negroes,” Cruse writes, “have either been uncritically pro-Jewish or critically tongue-tied . . . Negro intellectuals and critics allow [Jews] to deal with the Negro issue on their own terms from their position of social power” (p. 481).
Negroes truly have a Jewish problem. There are far too many Jews from Jewish organizations into whose privy councils Negroes are not admitted, who nevertheless are involved in every civil rights and American-African organization, creating policy and otherwise analyzing the Negro from all possible angles. No matter what motivates such activity [note the hint of perplexed curiosity], the Negro in America will never achieve any kind of equality until more Negro intellectuals are equipped with the latest research and propaganda techniques to move into control and guidance of every branch of the Negro movement. (p. 497)
As an experiment, let us replace a few words in Cruse (who’s speaking here of whites), added in brackets, to illustrate his narrative’s applicability to the prominent role currently played by Jews in many white nationalist publications, organizations, and political parties around the world:
Even before the average [white] attempts to undertake any action himself, he assumes, almost involuntarily, that he must not, cannot, dare not exclude [Jews], because he cannot succeed without them. He has been so conditioned that he cannot separate personal and individual associations with individual [Jews] in the everyday business world of striving and existing, from that interior business that is the specific concern of his group’s existence. . . . The American [white] has never yet been able to break entirely free of the ministrations of his [Jewish] masters to the extent that he is willing to exile himself, in search of wisdom, into the wastelands of the American desert. That is what must be done, if he is to deal with the [Jew] as the independent political power that he, the [white], potentially is. . . . If [whites] were actually thinking and functioning on a mature political level, then the exclusion of [Jews]—organizationally and politically—should be based not on hatred but on strategy. It would be much like the tradition that no one outside one’s immediate family is ever admitted into a discussion of intimate family problems. (pp. 363–65)
This, of course, is precisely what Jews do within their own ranks.
Returning to our narrative. American Jewish intellectuals
adopt as their own the martyr’s mantle of those who were nailed to the German Iron Cross. One cannot deny the horror of the European Jewish holocaust, but . . . Jews have not suffered in the United States. They have, in fact, done exceptionally well on every level of endeavor, from a nationalist premise or on an assimilated status. They have mastered the fine art of playing both ends against the “middle” of group status. . . . [T]he average Negro is not going to buy the propaganda that Negroes and Jews are “brother-sufferers” in the same boat. (pp. 482–83)
One example of playing both ends against the middle: “Jewish Communists seek to work politically with Negroes on the basis of being white Americans in the labor movement. But when ghetto Negroes attack Jewish business exploitation in the ghettoes (because they are white Americans), it is then termed anti-Semitism” (p. 52).
Cruse equates “Jewish nationalism” with Zionism, yet this “Zionism” contains two distinct strands—”Jewish trends that are [at once] pro-Zionist and anti-Jewish-integration-assimilation” (p. 484).
Of three American nationalisms, Anglo-Saxon nationalism, black nationalism, and “Jewish nationalism (Zionism),” the last
is the most highly organized of all—the most sophisticated, scholarly and intellectual, with the most highly refined propaganda techniques—and hence the most successful of the three. A study of Jewish Zionist organizational and propaganda techniques reveals that influential Zionist thought sees Anglo-Saxon nationalism in the United States as its main potential political threat. [Emphasis added.] Zionist thought also correctly sees the Negro civil rights drive for social equality and racial integration as a possible indirect threat to Jewish status, in the event that Negroes drive Anglo-Saxon nationalists into the radical rightist political camp. Hence, Jewish [nationalist] trends are forced to take a pro-Negro integration position and anti-black nationalist position. Thus, pro-Zionist influences within Negro civil rights organizations are strategically aiding and abetting Negro integration (assimilation), albeit Zionists, themselves, do not believe in integration (assimilation) for Jews. [Emphasis in original.] (p. 484)
When Cruse touches upon the role of the mass media in contemporary society he sounds like a black Marxist version of William Pierce:
Nineteenth-century capitalists might have controlled the press, but they did not have radio, television [“television sets brainwash Negroes in their living rooms day in and day out,” p. 311], film industries, advertising combines, electronic recording and computer industries, highly developed communications networks, and so forth. Nineteenth-century capitalism was an industrial system without the twentieth-century trappings of the new industry—mass cultural communications, a new and unprecedented capitalistic refinement of unheard-of social ramifications. Marx never had to deal with this monster of capitalist accumulation. Mass cultural communications is a basic industry, as basic as oil, steel, and transportation, in its own way. . . . Taken as a whole this enterprise involves what [C. Wright] Mills called the cultural apparatus. Only the blind cannot see that whoever controls the cultural apparatus—whatever class, power group, faction or political combine—also controls the destiny of the United States and everything in it. (p. 474)
Blacks & Whites
Although Jews are viewed by Cruse as blacks’ Main Enemy, whites take some hits as well. In the following passage, for example, the Jews vanish. Negro intellectuals
should tell this brainwashed white America, this “nation of sheep,” this overfed, over-developed, overprivileged (but culturally pauperized) federation of unassimilated European remnants that their days of grace are numbered. This motley, supercilious collection of refugees from “Fatherland” poverty worships daily, and only, at the altar of white Anglo-Saxon Protestant superiority. . . . America is an unfinished nation—the product of a badly-bungled process of inter-group cultural fusion. It is a nation of minorities ruled by a minority of one—it thinks and acts as if it were a nation of white Anglo-Saxon Protestants. This white Anglo-Saxon ideal, this lofty dream of a minority at the summit of its economic and political power and the height of its historical self-delusions, has led this nation to the brink of self-destruction. (pp. 455–56)
And: “The South is the main bastion of the efficacy of the dominant Anglo-Saxon ideal. There, its dominance, vis-à-vis the Negro, is most naked and persuasive” (p. 458).
The only completely outlandish claim I found in the book was Cruse’s incomprehensible belief that “the white Protestant Anglo-Saxon in America has nothing in his native American tradition that is aesthetically and culturally original, except that which derives from the Negro presence” (p. 105). “The cultural and artistic originality of the American nation is founded, historically, on the ingredients of a black aesthetic and artistic base” (p. 189).
On balance, though, Cruse does not display intense anti-white hostility. On the few occasions when he briefly mentions Gentile white liberals such as V. F. Calverton, Randolph Bourne, or C. Wright Mills, he is virtually always complimentary. In contrast, he is harshly critical of Jewish Communist overlords such as Michael Gold and Herbert Aptheker.
Cruse relates the story of Mabel Dodge, a bisexual white Leftist who in 1912 ran an elite Greenwich Village salon of whites and Jews that played a crucial role in initiating the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s.
One of the salon’s leading lights was homosexual music critic, novelist, and photographer Carl Van Vechten, the first to establish a link between Harlem and Greenwich Village cultural elites in order to promote blackness among white bohemians, intellectuals, and journalists. Van Vechten, who was Gertrude Stein’s literary executor, married a Jewish woman. He also became the leading white patron of Negro art and artists during the heyday of the Renaissance.
Dodge’s avant-garde circle consisted of both “pro-Negro” and “pro-[American] Indian” segments.
Mabel Dodge described an evening engineered by Van Vechten in which a male and female Negro danced and sang “an embarrassing song”—evidently risqué—before the select white-Jewish gathering. The performance made Dodge extremely uncomfortable, “but Carl rocked with laughter and little shrieks escaped him as he clapped his pretty hands. His big teeth became wickedly prominent and his eyes rolled in his darkening face, until he grew to somewhat resemble the clattering Negroes before him” (p. 27).
What was it that motivated the involvement of the white creative intellectuals of this period with Negro culture? Was it merely “pure mental interest”? Why did white intellectuals take such conflicting, but seemingly principled, positions on matters of art, culture, and race? Was it a kind of idealism peculiar to that era? Was it purely white guilt? Was it white Anglo-Saxon racial and cultural ego? Was it a duty assumed under the obligation of cultural uplift? Did these white intellectuals fully understand the implications of what they were doing? Did they have a definitive cultural goal or were they instinctively groping? Or were their motivations, taken collectively, a confused, spontaneous eclectic mixture? (pp. 31–32)
A few years later Dodge moved to Taos, New Mexico, where she established a literary colony. She married an Amerindian named Tony Luhan (she’s best known as Mabel Dodge Luhan). The marriage, Cruse says, was “not unrelated” to the writings of her friend D. H. Lawrence about Indian-white relations. Lawrence, however, “ignored Negroes in the American democratic equation.” (Dennis Hopper later wrote the script for Easy Rider in Dodge Luhan’s house.)
Cruse recognizes that whites “have not yet decided on their own identity. The fact of the matter is that American whites, as a whole, are just as much in doubt about their nationality, their cultural identity, as are Negroes” (p. 13).
Since the whites are divided into ethnic and religious subdivisions, with the Anglo-Saxons as the dominant and representative group, the Anglo-Saxon group must produce its representative radical-intellectual trend. . . .
But the Anglo-Saxons and their Protestant ethic have failed in their creative and intellectual responsibilities to the internal American commonweal. Interested purely in materialistic pursuits—exploiting resources, the politics of profit and loss, ruling the world, waging war, and protecting a rather threadbare cultural heritage—the Anglo-Saxons have retrogressed in the cultural fields and the humanities. Into this intellectual vacuum have stepped the Jews, to dominate scholarship, history, social research, etc. (p. 468)
Black author Harold Cruse grappled with the Jewish problem more honestly, forthrightly, and courageously on behalf of his people than many whites identified as racial or cultural nationalists are doing today.
Too often the latter resemble Cruse’s philo-Semitic blacks. Unfortunately, they will inflict far more damage on our people than their Negro counterparts ever did. Unlike whites, blacks were never in danger of extinction.
Despite some shortcomings, The Crisis of the Negro Intellectual, 45 years on, still contains valuable lessons for blacks and whites alike.