What is Grifting?
“Grifting” is a phenomenon that has attracted a significant amount of attention over the past few years.
Candace Owens is arguably the most well known conservative figure to have been charged with grifting. Her detractors often assert that her rhetoric services white supremacy so as to increase her pecuniary enrichment.
A long standing example of leftwing grifting has been displayed by the widely publicized Al Sharpton. His integral role in the Tawana Brawley rape hoax case, as well as the fatal 1991 Crown Heights Riots, are the most notorious and perhaps nefarious of his many lucrative campaigns.
But what exactly is grifting?
While the dictionary definitions of “grift” are based on swindling in general, the de facto use of the word has been for political figures and organizations whose causes and motivations are purely self serving and at least potentially detrimental to the people the “grifters” claim to help.
To achieve popularity, a grifter often employs high sounding, emotionally charging talking points in order to stir fervor among their demographic. With tensions high and sensibleness low, the grifter is able to drum up support (especially financial support) for their crusade.
Thomas Sowell’s except from Compassion Versus Guilt and Other Essays provides a concise illustration of this occurrence,
It goes without saying that this sort of behavior isn’t confined to the present time. But even the most persistent historical researcher may be prone to overlook Wilson Record’s obscure 1951 exposé The Negro and the Communist Party.
The Negro and the Communist Party Synopsis
Though Record is virtually unknown now a days, he was able to receive, as he puts it, “generous assistance” from contemporaneous luminaries such as C. Wright Mills, author of The Power Elite (1956); Horace R. Clayton, of Black Metropolis fame; NAACP Public Relations Director Henry Lee Moon; and Robert C. Weaver, who would go on to become the first U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development and the first black to be appointed to a U.S. cabinet level position.
The quality of Record’s auxiliary is indicative of the scholarliness of his work. The Negro and the Communist Party chronicles a 30 year effort by the United States based Communist party to capture the support of American blacks.
Through each of the 6 decades covered in his book, Record makes superabundant references to communist produced literature and speeches. In fact, it’s a challenge to go 3 pages without encountering a block quote or lengthy footnote.
While this writing style may be monotonous to a reader with only a slight interest in the topic, it assures that Record’s observations and assessments are in line with the stated plans, intentions, and works of the communists themselves.
The copious references to the communists are supplemented with citations from their opposition, ranging from some less radical socialists to ardent anti-communists such as George Schuyler and Manning Johnson.
Analysis of Communist Activity
It is with great attention to detail and impartiality that Record displayed the activity of the American communists in its purest form, which was a shameless, unforgiving, bombastic, foundationally wavering, conniving politburo pandering grift.
It is impossible to transition through successive chapters, or even the same chapter, without the U.S. communists performing an abrupt about-face on recommended policies, calls to social action, doctrine, or alliances.
The doctrine of self-determination, which claimed that black Americans were distinct enough from white Americans to warrant being considered a separate nation, was sporadically employed by the communists.
According to Record,
Sometimes the American Party pushed it; at other times shelved it. It was strongly advocated from 1928 through most of 1934. But when at the end of this period the Communist International ordered its affiliates to organize and support united front movements against in opposition to Fascism,…the party in the United States dropped the self determination demand…
In 1939, following the Stalin-Hitler pact, the doctrine was revised but not seriously advances, because the party’s efforts were concentrated on rallying the Negroes in opposition to the “imperialist war.”
After the German attack on Russia in 1941, agitation for the program was gradually dropped.
After the Duclos letter of 1945,… the self determination theory was again revised…Wilson Record, The Negro and the Communist Party (p.60-61) (abridged)
High standing dignitaries were also subject to this kind of rapid shifting of position.
Marcus Garvey, W.E.B Dubois, Walter Francis White, Asa Phillip Randolph, along with other well esteemed black pioneering figures and their respective movements/organizations were all, at various times, highly regarded by the communists before being viciously denigrated as malevolent “bourgeoisie” race traitors and/or incompetent obstacles to progress.
This volatile tendency was also extended to black bourgeoisie social classes such as artists, writers, intellectuals, and business owners (yes, even business were owners favored at one point).
Even complex and grave matters such as World War 2 were handled with recklessness.
FDR was portrayed as a war mongering Wall Street imperialist before being rebranded, almost literally overnight, as a heroic crusader against tyranny after the Tehran conference.
In an even stranger twist, this event would spawn a brief moment where “The Communist Political Association renounced Communism, at least officially. It was a bewildering spectacle…Marxists believed in Adam Smith…” as Record reported.
This shift caused a requisite change in the directive regarding the American black, which was originally to disrupt the production of U.S. military goods. Afterwards, it was in the blacks best interest to serve the U.S. earnestly, so the communists claimed.
This wasn’t the first time the communists drastically altered the role of black Americans. In decades prior, there were schemes to use a black American revolution as a catalyst for the colonial liberation of foreign blacks (which obviously didn’t materialize).
Perhaps, the one aim of the communists that was somewhat constant during this time period was the insistence that blacks be promoted to administrative positions in the communist party. This went as far as choosing a black vice president for their U.S. Presidential ticket.
But even these gestures were hypocritically marred by internal conflicts regarding “white chauvinism” and discrimination within the communist ranks.
Since blacks, like anyone else involved, were required to submit to the ever-changing party line religiously and obediently, some referred to the black communists as “red Uncle Toms.”
…the Communist Negro program is designed not to promote the welfare of the Negro but as an adjunct of Soviet foreign policy. The result has been a series of disillusioning zigzags in the party line.
Wilson, upon reflecting on his lengthy research, provides his reasoning for the communists baffling actions,
THE Communist Party of the United States, cast in the image of the mother organization, is a monolithic structure. Its program is shaped by the Party bureaucracy, whose general―and frequently detailed―orientation is supplied by the Politburo. Its analysis of the Negro question, or of any other question, is never an independent one; and it is not an eclectic one, because it does not recognize the possible validity of any opposing point of view…
…It is not possible to characterize any specific interpretation of the Negro question in the United States as the Communist analysis. For the Party, analysis is a function of immediate program rather than its cause.
It would be pointless to search for consistency in the Party program. The well-known vacillations of the Party line have led superficial analysts to the conclusion that the Communist approach is illogical.
But there is an overriding logic to the Party’s various positions: it is rationally grounded in the premise that whatever serves the interests of the “workers’ fatherland” is right for the Negro and for the human race. It is one of the characteristics of a monolithic organization that the usual rules of analysis are never permitted to intrude upon the development of rationalizations for programs of action.
When there is placed in the hands of the organization’s bureaucracy full control of the instruments of communication coupled with the power of censure and expulsion, changes of line, however abrupt or contradictory, can be justified and their acceptance forced. In this the Party bureaucracy is aided by the fact that the dedicated Party member comes in time to feel that the “leader” can do no wrong.
Such an organization as the Communist Party requires that the actions of its hierarchy be considered “right”* without exception—and without question. If error is admitted, it is always error in the past; the possibility of fallacy in the present could not be countenanced.Wilson Record, The Negro and The COmmunist Party, p.287-288 (emphasis added)
Considering the growing animosity within America’s social and political landscapes, it is becoming increasing pertinent for citizens to use keen discernment when choosing which groups to support.
Times of distress and uncertainty are liable to cause excitability, fear, and desperation among the population. This creates ripe opportunities for grifters with ulterior motives to offer their harebrained “solutions” and kickstart their zero sum, exclusively self serving “struggles.”
The Negro and the Communist Party may not cover the most popular subject matter, but it is an invaluable study of one of the most persistent grifting attempts in black American history.
It would behoove anyone who is wary of being used as a pawn to study and learn from Record’s findings, lest they get tricked into the clutches of grifters.
*Record’s implication of “right” is not limited to blatantly disregarding prior policies, calls to action and public statements, but historical facts as well.
Record makes his case that “The Party Historian was a Party man first and a historian second” with a footnote mentioning Herbert Aptheker’s reluctance to address a contemporary until after an appropriate communist policy shift and the disgraceful distortion in Aptheker’s following critique, The Negro People in America.
Aptheker’s dubious intellectual practices are expounded in Studies in Willful Blindness by his former research assistant Anthony Flood. Flood investigated Aptheker’s reluctance to recognize the work of his ideological rival C.L.R James, despite James being a pivotal figure in Aptheker’s research area. Flood displays that Aptheker’s Stalinism prevented him for acknowledging the Trotskyist James.