Instructor's Notes by Dr. Troy
Professor of Sociology, New York University & Chancellor's
Professor of Sociology, UC Berkeley
Sociologists of knowledge production are presented with two sharply
contrasting images of the ideal intellectual - as represented
in the works of Karl Mannheim (Ideology and Utopia) and
Antonio Gramsci (The Prison Notebooks). Both theorists
wrote in the first part of the twentieth century, when colonialism,
world war, sharply competing ideologies of fascism, communism,
and other challenges to Western hegemony were all in play. Mannheim's
idealized intellectual was someone "above the battle"
- a "free-floating intellectual" who, he argued, was
best-positioned to ferret out the situated truth of a given time
and place precisely because s/he was not attached to a particular
ideology. For Gramsci, the opposite was true - namely, it was
the very connectedness to a social movement aimed at social transformation
that was the ideal setting for what he would call an "organic
more recent times, Banks' Black Intellectuals sharpens
this contrast for African Americans. Under what conditions, he
asks, can Blacks make their best contributions - and what constraints
push them towards either of these two poles. In this framework,
it will be instructive to consider the full trajectory of Bunche's
intellectual life, and the social and political times in which
he lived. Ralph Bunche came of age in the same period that Mannheim
and Gramsci were struggling to grasp the social and political
origins of intellectual contributions. Bunche was cast in a number
of different roles that variably shaped, opened, directed, and
constrained his ideas about social change. We note that in his
early years, Bunche was vitally and explicitly concerned with
"race betterment" - and in this period seems very much
the organic intellectual. He is the Co-Founder of the National
Negro Congress, and writes pointed and sharp critiques of the
economic and social order of his day. Later, as he moves into
the role of government bureaucrat, and finally onto the stage
as a United Nations mediator, he casts off the role of passionate
advocate -- at least publicly -- and becomes a voice of more moderate
gradualism in the debates as to how, when, and at what rate the
colonial yoke should be lifted.
sociologists might wish to explore in using this film of Ralph
relationship between race and social class in the larger context
of Bunche's life story.
The 1925 rally of the Ku Klux Klan down Pennsylvania
Avenue in Washington, D.C. is but one of the more glaring signal
events in the film which reveals just how much, during Bunche's
formative years, U.S. citizens accepted and normalized deeply
racist practices and assumptions. There are a number of other
such moments in the film that are subtler. What are those moments,
and how might they have helped shape Bunche's views about the
relationship between race and class as stratifying practices?
For example, we learn that Bunches grandfather was college-educated,
a situation that could represent no more than one or two percent
of the entire African American population of this period. Bunche
is located in the upper rungs of the class structure among African
Americans, but "race" blocks certain access routes
to his own mobility.
parallel and related theme of the race-class issue concerns
the political spectrum -- from communism to fascism -- , which
Bunche confronted in his early adult life.
The height of the fascist ascent in 1936 (the racist appeal
resonant between the KKK and the Nazis) was of course countered
at the other pole by communism and the Soviet Union (the appeal
of an unreconstructed Marxist class analysis). It was in this
year, 1936, that Bunche wrote A World View of Race. From
what we can discern from the film and other sources, how might
one fairly capture and characterize Bunche's emerging understanding
of the role of race in colonialism? Does Bunche see race as
trumping class on the international stage, or is there evidence
that he saw a more integral relationship between economic power
and racial domination?
coalition politics of his early years.
As co-founder of the National Negro Congress, a predominantly
Black political group at Howard University, Bunche actively
sought coalitions with progressive whites. This is a very different
segment of the political spectrum than those with whom he would
associate, and to whom he would report, for the rest of his
political career. In this period, he was demonstrably aligned
with those demanding speedy social change. Several interesting
questions now emerge for further exploration and consideration.
In this period, to what extent is Bunche the "organic intellectual"
tying his intellectual resources and talents to the racial stratification
of his people - and to what extent is he the "free-floating"
analyst unencumbered by these constraints, and those that will
soon confront him as he moves into government service? Also,
do any of the social movements, literatures, which pose alternative
models of resource mobilization, provide any analytic or heuristic
purchase in reviewing this period?
role of institutional and organizational constraints on Bunche's
His early career as a college instructor left him relatively
free to express what at the time were quite radical views on
the sources and possible solutions to the massive inequalities
of American economic and social life. When he first moved into
the government-consulting role, he brought his expertise to
policy makers - but in the role of analyst of the existing order.
What are some of the different implications of a policy orientation
(a top-down institutionally encased) attempt at social change
versus an action orientation (a more "bottoms up"
populist organizing strategy) for social change? Finally, Bunche
moved to the United Nations, and was cast into the role of a
mediator between warring factions and fiercely embattled groups.
He increasingly saw himself as a "trouble-shooter"
assigned to put out fires around the world. But this meant that
others were setting the agenda, with Bunche more in the role
of reactor than leader. Despite this, the film captures hints
that Bunche was capable of setting agendas. What were they,
and how did he manage this?
here to download this Document as a PDF file (20K)
charge of co-optation from the Left, and the charge of "Communist"
from the Right.
The greater concern with "peace" at the expense of
"justice" can be seen as an issue that frequently
attends class privilege - but it certainly is one of the more
enduring and vexing issues of conflict resolution strategies.
In the literature on conflict resolution, this joins the debate
about the degree to which mediators (inadvertently or consciously)
have a strong bias toward the preservation of existing institutions.
This had direct bearing for Bunche and his critics in the African
American community on the leadership issue in the increasingly
radicalizing Civil Rights Movement. When that movement turned
its lens on international affairs and de-colonization, its leaders
would criticize Bunche for the more gradualist approach that
was an intrinsic feature of his mediating function at the United
Nations. It was therefore ironic that, at the height of his
diplomatic career achievements, Bunche would be characterized
by those "in the movement" as thoroughly co-opted
by the constraints that attended his move into the bureaucracy.
While he was criticized for not moving as fast as the radicals
wanted him to, McCarthyism had attempted to link the more radical
associations of his past in an attempt to discredit him during
the red scare period. Are there similar political figures and
political situations today that you see as having a parallel
to this feature of Bunches situation?
Home | Early Influences | Scholar-Activist | Drive to Decolonize | Mr. UN
The Peacemaker | Man & the Myth | Timeline | Educational Resources
Making the Movie | Site Credits