In the Cause of Freedom: Radical Black Internationalism from Harlem to London, 1917-1939

In the Cause of Freedom: Radical Black Internationalism from Harlem to London, 1917-1939

In the Cause of Freedom: Radical Black Internationalism from Harlem to London, 1917-1939

In the Cause of Freedom: Radical Black Internationalism from Harlem to London, 1917-1939

Synopsis

In this intellectual history, Minkah Makalani reveals how early-twentieth-century black radicals organized an international movement centered on ending racial oppression, colonialism, class exploitation, and global white supremacy. Focused primarily on two organizations, the Harlem-based African Blood Brotherhood, whose members became the first black Communists in the United States, and the International African Service Bureau, the major black anticolonial group in 1930s London, In the Cause of Freedom examines the ideas, initiatives, and networks of interwar black radicals, as well as how they communicated across continents.

Through a detailed analysis of black radical periodicals and extensive research in U.S., English, Dutch, and Soviet archives, Makalani explores how black radicals thought about race; understood the ties between African diasporic, Asian, and international workers' struggles; theorized the connections between colonialism and racial oppression; and confronted the limitations of international leftist organizations. Considering black radicals of Harlem and London together for the first time, In the Cause of Freedom reorients the story of blacks and Communism from questions of autonomy and the Kremlin's reach to show the emergence of radical black internationalism separate from, and independent of, the white Left.

Excerpt

In July 1929, the black radical lawyer William Patterson boarded a train from Moscow to Frankfurt, Germany, to attend the Second International Congress against Imperialism. Patterson was a student at the University of the Toilers of the East (KUTV), the school run by the Communist International (Comintern) for training Asian and African activists. His route to Frankfurt (and Moscow before that) had begun a decade earlier, when he completed law school at the University of California in San Francisco but failed the California bar examination. Even as a student, Patterson nursed a nascent radicalism, attending Socialist Party meetings, criticizing World War I as “a white man’s war,” and reading every black and left periodical he could find. Indeed, while in law school, he first considered leaving the United States for Africa, which he believed “needed young men who were hostile to colonialism and the oppressors of Black people.” Failing the bar was the perfect excuse to make his way across the Atlantic, but he got only as far as London. The dreary metropolis thrived with colonial subjects from throughout the British empire; its intellectual energy appealed to Patterson and convinced him of how little he knew of the world. Among London’s radical papers, he was particularly impressed with the British Labour Party’s Daily Herald, and he visited the offices of its editor, George Lansbury, only a few days after arriving in the city. Talking with Lansbury convinced Patterson that rather than continue on to Liberia, his original destination, he should return to the United States and join the struggle against racism there.

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