The article originally appeared in the July 7, 1956, issue of The Nation.
“The love of money,” St. Paul once wrote, with a fairly typical lack of precision, “is the root of all evil.” This formulation seems to leave a great many evils out of account, and it does not even raise the question of just why the human heart, in which this love of money lives, should be so base. Nor does it raise the question of what money is, what is its power, what it means to people or states. With so many knotty questions thus neatly disposed of, people who share Paul’s attitude about money can also believe—as he, being bigoted in quite another direction, did not—that people will be made better as their economic state improves. It is an extremely attractive theory, and most of us have at one time or another espoused it.
Only—in order to bring about this economic utopia, one needs a band of people who do not care about money—or power?—who will carry out the necessary operation of taking the money from those who now have an abundance of it and distributing it among those who have too little.
In this operation—the love of money persisting so tenaciously—blood is likely to be shed. And the shedding of blood will probably prove to be the operation’s most real achievement. When things go back to what may be called normal, it will be seen that the people who were to be made better still persist in loving money and in trying—no matter what it may do to themselves, their neighbors, or their children—to make it.
People who approach the Negro problem from this doctrinaire point of view are always embarrassed by at least two facts. One is that Negroes love money quite as much as whites do, and rather more than they love one another. The other is that the people in America least attracted to the idea of a worker’s state are the workers. They are not interested in themselves as workers—except in their clashes with management, in which they are represented by those other managers, the union leaders. They are interested in achieving what, in fact, can still be achieved at this period in American life: a measure of economic peace. Unless forced by outside pressure, they are not terribly concerned with what may be happening next door—among Negroes, for example.
In the Negro world, as in the white world, Negroes who have money band together and try to ignore the existence of their unluckier brothers. That is the way the love of money works. But neither money, nor the love of it, is the root of all evil. The importance of money is simply that power in the world does not exist without it and power in the world is what almost everyone would like to have.
The love of money thesis is the thesis of Daniel Guerin’s Negroes on The March, and, since I find it impossible to take the thesis seriously, I find it rather difficult to discuss the book—which is, anyway, less a discussion of the American Negro’s situation than a rather shrill diatribe against the capitalist system. No one with any pretension to intellectual honesty claims that the capitalist system is perfect, or is likely to be made so. It may indeed be doomed, and we may all be the slothful and pussy-footing creatures Mr. Guerin says we are. But hls own tone is so extremely ungenerous that I cannot avoid a certain chill when I think of the probable fate of dissenters in his varicolored brave new world. Here he is on Gunnar Myrdal, the Swedish social scientist whose An American Dilemma Mr. Guerin finds "feeble in interpretation". (All italics are Mr. Guerin’s). "…it does not explain how, by whom, and why race prejudice was brought into being." (It certainly does not; I, too, should like to read the book which does.) But Myrdal’s feebleness, it turns out, is blacker than mere incompetence: “Without calling into question Myrdal’s good faith, we must nevertheless make the observation that his method is quite in harmony with the concerns of those who subsidized his work and serves their interests quite well. For what did the trustees of the Carnegie Foundation actually want?” What they didn’t want was a “cause-and-effect relationship…established between capitalist oppression and race prejudice.” Bright students, or people who have heard this song before will already have guessed the reason, as follows: “…victims of race prejudice would be likely to draw conclusions dangerous to the established order.” Nor would the awakened white workers have taken long to realize that their best interests lay in black-white solidarity. Myrdal’s real task, according to Mr. Guerin, was to avoid saying anything which, by leading to such a holocaust, would displease and posslbly destroy the Carnegie Foundation.