[Marxism] Re: Role of CPUSA in US Civil Rights Struggle

Brian Shannon Brian_Shannon at verizon.net
Thu Nov 3 07:49:08 MST 2005

It is not his intention, but I think Brian Shannon does in fact 
to some extent the role of the CP when he suggests it's influence was
limited, and in no case greater than that of other socialist groups. My 
cursory reading of accounts like the one above and others previously
suggests otherwise. The CPUSA played an analogous role to the South 
CP in helping spark the black freedom struggle, though of course on a
smaller scale. It had the same catalytic effect on the young industrial
unions. Its energetic commitment to these struggles, the resources it
provided - especially dedicated young organizers - and its association
during the depression with the rapidly industrializing and antifascist 
earned it the respect of movement activists like the Parks' and, as 
notes, of Rustin and Randolph. CP'ers like Hunter Pitts O'Dell and 
Levinson were apparently part of King's circle and helped draft his
speeches. The party, as is well known, also attracted Ellison, Wright, 
other rising black artists. Civil rights and union activists didn't 
have to
belong to the party or even support its "maximum program" to value it 
want to work with it. —Marvin Gandall

I think that MG's correction is well-taken. There is a certain specific 
energy that the CP brought to civil rights struggles and because of its 
size and interest in general it played a bigger role than smaller left 
organizations. It also had ties to the labor movement, attorneys, etc., 
that were exceptionally critical in sustaining the movement, 
particularly in the North.

At the same time, by far the largest number of lawyers involved in 
civil rights work in the South were associated with the NAACP and with 
the social democracy in general. The Freedom Summer project came from 
this tendency, especially Allard Lowenstein and Robert Moses (who was 
independent). Stokely Carmichael originally came out of this current, 
etc. There was no hegemony. However, without the rivalry, "socialist 
competition" if you like, of the united and sometimes un-united fronts, 
the energy would not have been as great.

In the San Francisco Bay Area, young members or more likely young red 
diaper babies whose parents may have been in the CP in the past, were 
involved in the leadership of the Ad-Hoc Committee that led the 
important Fairmont hotel and Auto-Row actions. Yet the International 
Socialist Clubs, through CORE, led the just as successful buy-ins at 
the Lucky Market stores that resulted in jobs for African-Americans.

I have recently learned that Bogdan Denitch, then associated with the 
International Socialists but now not a respected guy among left 
socialists at all, played an important role in getting students and 
ex-students involved in civil rights work in the South during this same 

Brian Shannon

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