Blacks and Reds: Race and Class in Conflict, 1919-1990

Blacks and Reds: Race and Class in Conflict, 1919-1990

Blacks and Reds: Race and Class in Conflict, 1919-1990

Blacks and Reds: Race and Class in Conflict, 1919-1990


In this important new study, Earl Ofari Hutchinson examines in detail the American Communist Party's efforts to win the allegiance of black Americans and the various responses to this from the black community. Beginning with events of the 1920s, Hutchinson discusses at length the historical forces that encouraged alliances between African Americans and the predominately white American Communist Party. He also takes an indepth look at why, and how, issues of class, party ideology, and racial identity stood in the way of a partnership of black leaders and communists in the United States. Blacks and Reds addresses landmark events surrounding associations between communists and black activists. Hutchinson examines, among other things, how Paul Robeson and W.E.B. DuBois's support of party activities affected their lives and how the Communist Party used the trial of Angela Davis to promote its own interests. His scope ranges from oft forgotten signs of misdirection, such as how communists' efforts to express racial sympathy in the early 1950s contributed to their own near destruction during the McCarthy era, to a thorough discussion of how the Party's effort to gain a foothold in Stokely Carmichael's SNCC, Malcolm X and Elijah Muhammad's Nation of Islam, Martin Luther King's SCLC, and Huey Newton and Eldridge Cleaver's Black Panthers shook up the civil rights movement by triggering the FBI's secret war against King, Malcolmi X, and others considered to be black radicals.


In 1990, millions of Americans watched with fascination and hope the battle between democracy and communism in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. But few Americans know that Communists fought another battle here at home. It was an intense battle in which the American Communist Party used all of its organizational and propaganda weapons. At stake was the allegiance of black Americans.

During the Depression years, Communists achieved some success in influencing black leaders and their organizations, but as they soon discovered, race and class in America are complex and thorny issues that do not lend themselves to easy solutions. Like its counterparts in Eastern Europe, the American Communist Party discovered that its policies and practices, despite the idealism of many of its members, could not withstand the challenge of American democracy.

Founded in 1919, the American Communist Party was modeled on Lenin's Bolshevik Party in the Soviet Union. Following the lead of the Bolsheviks, American Communists set out to organize American workers into a powerful movement to overthrow capitalism and establish an American Soviet state. Communist leaders were dimly aware that they could not attain their goals without attracting sizable numbers of black workers to their banner. But how?

Party leaders spent the better part of the first decade of their existence trying to decide whether blacks were simply economically exploited workers, as they considered whites. If so, they did not need to formulate any special programs to appeal to them. They would simply exhort them to join with their white labor comrades and fight as "exploited proletarians" against capitalism. But was this enough?

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