[Marxism] Communists and Black Liberation

Louis Proyect 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 
Black community.

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."

full: http://www.columbia.edu/~lnp3/mydocs/organization/lenin_in_context.htm

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