American Communism and Black Americans: A Documentary History, 1919-1929

American Communism and Black Americans: A Documentary History, 1919-1929

American Communism and Black Americans: A Documentary History, 1919-1929

American Communism and Black Americans: A Documentary History, 1919-1929


The significant impact of communism in combatting racism in the labor movement and in support of Black liberation cannot be ignored by any serious student of United States history and society. This documentary study seeks to substantiate that view.

The editors have tried to select from the mass of primary material they gathered those documents, articles, speeches, and news items that indicate most clearly the formation, evolution, and application of Communist policy with respect to the condition and freedom struggle of Black Americans. The present volume covers the period from the establishment of the first Communist parties in 1919 to the outbreak of the Great Depression in 1929. A second volume will deal with the Depression Decade. Editorial introductions to the items place each in context and supply interpretive comment. The prime material has been gathered almost entirely from the newspapers, journals, and other publications issued directly by the Communist party or identified with it. The editors have restricted themselves to published sources, as the best evidence of the formation of policy and activity based upon that policy. Secondary sources as well as non-Communist primary sources have been drawn upon in the editors' introductions, and occasionally for the text.


The decade of the 1920s may be considered years of transition during which the Communist party was consolidated, having more or less brought together divergent tendencies arising from the different roots of American communism and having overcome the state of internecine war between its two contending factions. This process was made more difficult during the early years of the decade by the illegal or semi-legal status forced on the party by repression, including the Palmer Raids and prosecution under state sedition and anti-syndicalist laws.

The evolution of the party position with respect to the Black Americans was part of the general process of transition, perhaps the most difficult part. The party did not have at hand a substantive Marxist theory to cope specifically with the situation of Black Americans.Marx himself had provided little to serve as a guide for the period after the Civil War.During the course of that war he had seen its revolutionary import clearly, anticipating Charles A. Beard's interpretation of the conflict as the "second American revolution" by some 60 years. He had also forseen the impetus to free capitalist development and the rise of an independent working-class movement imparted by the defeat of the slavocracy. This famous sentence in Capital about slavery in the United States was quoted by Socialists and then by Communists to stress the need for working-class solidarity: "Labor with a white skin cannot emancipate itself where labor with a black skin is branded." But aside from some passing remarks in correspondence with Engels about the importance of the Black franchise, there is no evidence that he paid much attention to the post-Emancipation condition of the ex-slaves during the Reconstruction period or afterward.

The International Workingmen's Association, The First International, penned three addresses on the American struggle--the first to President Lincoln proclaiming full support for the North, the second to President Andrew Johnson conveying condolences on the assassination of Lincoln.The third, written shortly after the war ended, congratulated the American people for abolishing slavery and urged them to "Declare your fellow citizens from this day forth free and . . .

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