Left of Karl Marx: The Political Life of Black Communist Claudia Jones

Article excerpt

Review of Left of Karl Marx: The Political Life of Black Communist Claudia Jones by Carol Boyce Davies, Duke University Press, Durham, 2008.

Left of Karl Marx by Carol Boyce Davies is an engaging and long over due scholarly treatment of the life of one of most important and yet obscure Black radicals-Claudia Jones. The Trinidadian born Jones (1915-1964) was a contemporary of more famous male Black radicals: Du Bois, C.L.R. James and Richard Wright. Jones was deeply informed by Marxism; and like her contemporaries, struggled with Marxism's applicability to Black life. Cedric Robinson's publication of Black Marxism, a path-breaking treatment of Black radicalism and Marxism, provides the historical, political and theoretical context for the emergence of Black radicals like Jones. Yet, despite its genius, Robinson's treatment was preoccupied with men. Gendering the Black radical tradition as male obscures our understanding of the numerous women, who, like Du Bois, James and Wright, rediscovered Black radical traditions and challenged Marxism's hold on radical social change. Davies treatment of Jones is an invaluable corrective to the male-centered analyses of the Black radical tradition, and perhaps more importantly, it resurrects a vital Black radical activist.

Jones' obscurity is by no means a reflection on her political legacy. As Davies points out, it sadly reflects that "women are not generally assigned importance as intellectual subjects" (Davies, p. 34). A valiant fighter for social justice for oppressed people globally, Jones left an indelible mark on the world. Buried in Higate cemetery to the left of her political mentor Karl Marx, Davies illustrates how Jones' spatial location in death continues her lifelong struggle to radicalize, rethink and expand the political limitations of Marxism. To The Left of Karl Marx is "an apt metaphor", writes Davies for this fascinating study (Davies, p. 2). Early in the text Davies argues, her book is not a biography. Left of Karl Marx is part of a unique tradition of critical studies of political figures and artists. Davies' study is reminiscent of Saint Genet, Jean-Paul Sartre's critical biography of playwright Jean Genet. Part biography, part philosophical treaties and part literary criticism, Saint Genet uses biography to explore the art and politics of Genet. Through examining Genet, one gets a sense of France in the post-War years. Left of Karl Marx is part political biography, part Black diasporic analysis and part Black feminist critique. Like Saint Genet, Davies uses Jones' life to unpack the complex political terrain of the mid-twentieth century. Examining the political life of Jones acquaints readers with the radical politics Blacks participated in. Davies denies the links to biography to assure readers, particularly those in academia, that her study is scholarly in its approach and rigorous in its engagement. However, biography is undeniably an important element of her study and does not detract from its rigor nor diminish its scholarship; rather it adds a dynamic interstice to Jones' political and intellectual excavation. Thoroughly researched, Davis treatment of Jones connects her elusive and fragmented life. Scholars and students across disciplines will find something useful in this book. Historians will find Davies archival research pulled from, like Jones herself, multiple sites across the western world, worthy of praise. …