[Marxism] Communists and Black Liberation
lnp3 at panix.com
Sun Feb 21 10:03:41 MST 2016
We have to look at the CP dialectically. There was a whole other side to
the CP at the grass-roots level that we can characterize as dynamic,
militant and successful. People like Maurice Isserman and Mark Naison,
part of a new generation of historians, have begun to focus on this
aspect of CP history. Studying the writings of historians such as these
is very important to those of us who are trying to construct a new
socialist movement in the United States. More can be learned from their
writings about how socialists can reach the masses than all of the
literature generated by American Trotskyism.
In an essay "Remaking America: Communists and Liberals in the Popular
Front", Naison discusses how the CP made the decision to implement the
Popular Front in a very aggressive manner. Browder and the American
Communists made a big effort to stop speaking in "Marxist-Leninese" and
discovered many novel ways to reach the American people.
They concentrated in two important areas: building the CIO and fighting
racism. There is an abundance of information about its union activities,
but new research is bringing out important facts about its links to the
A "Saturday Evening Post" writer observed in 1938 that CP headquarters
"is a place where every Negro with a grievance can be sure of prompt
action. If he has been fired, the Communists can be counted on to picket
his employer. If he has been evicted, the Communists will guard his
furniture and take his case to court. If his gas has been cut off, the
Communists will take his complaint, but not his unpaid bill to the
nearest office... There is never a labor parade, nor a mass meeting of
any significance in the colored community in which Communists do not get
their banner in the front row and their speakers on the platform."
On the cultural front, the CP dropped its traditional rigidity in the
most amazing fashion. In 1936, for example, the "Daily Worker" actually
polled its readers to see if they wanted a regular sports page. When
they voted in favor six to one, the paper hired Lester Rodney, who was
not even a party member. Rodney, largely on his own initiative, opened
up a campaign to integrate major league baseball.
John Hammond, a friend of the CP, put together a series of Carnegie Hall
concerts that brought the best jazz talent together in an interracial
setting. The success of these concerts inspired Hammond to such an
extent that he started a nightclub called Cafe Society that also invited
a racially mixed audience. On opening night, Teddy Wilson, Billie
Holiday and the comedian Jack Gilford performed.
The party also spawned a new folk music culture. On the west coast,
Woody Guthrie offered his services to California farm workers organizing
under party auspices. Eventually Guthrie wrote a column in the west
coast CP daily newspaper.
On the east coast, the party drew the black folksinger Huddie Ledbetter
(Leadbelly) close to its ranks. He was a fixture at parties and
meetings. Eventually Leadbelly made a disciple of a 21 year old
journalist-musician by the name of Pete Seeger. Naison observes,
"Guthrie, Ledbetter and Seeger, employing rhythms and harmonies harking
back to 16th century England and Africa, but writing of contemporary
themes, created music that both sentimentalized and affirmed the
populist aspirations of US radicals, enabling them to feel part of the
country they were trying to change."
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