New Negro, Old Left: African-American Writing and Communism between the Wars

By William J. Maxwell | Go to book overview

Notes

Introduction

1. Throughout this study, “Communist” with a capital “C” will be used to refer to individuals and movements directly tied to the Third (Communist) International established by the Soviet Bolsheviks in 1919. Like Michael Denning, I will use the word “communist,” with a small “c,” to refer to individuals and movements that “thought of themselves as generic ‘communists,’…the way earlier and later generations thought of themselves as generic ‘socialists,’ ‘feminists,’ or ‘radicals’” (xviii).

2. Though McKay’s party membership is still often mistakenly denied (see Dietrich 47), he spoke freely of it in the early 1920s. In December 1921, for example, McKay informed distant acquaintance Charles J. Scully “that he [was] still a [Party] member” and added that he “intend[ed] rejoining the I.W.W. because he owe[d] about one year’s dues” (United States, 16 December 1921). Unknown to McKay, Scully was an informant for the Bureau of Investigation, the predecessor to the FBI. For this and other such details, I owe thanks to Tyrone Tillery, who shared with me his copy of McKay’s FBI file, patiently obtained under a Freedom of Information Act request.

3. With help from newly declassified sources, Taylor Branch’s Pillar of Fire details how both the FBI and state-based segregationist groups presumed that the civil rights movement was just another face of Communist conspiracy.

4. Barbara Foley sifts the binary anti-Communist logic of Ellison’s “whitewash” of the party in the recent essay “The Rhetoric of Anticommunism in Invisible Man.”

5. I treat specific aspects of Cruse’s argument in chapters 1 and 3. Black Aesthetic editor Addison Gayle, Jr. ‘s history of the African-American novel, The Way of the New World (1975), also articulates a nationalist anti-Communism.

6. See, for example, the approaches to the Hurston-Wright debate in Henry Louis Gates, Jr.’s The Signifying Monkey (1988) and Deborah E. McDowell’s “Lines of Descent/Dissenting Lines” (1991). In chapter 5, I focus on the relationship between recent readjudications of this debate and anti-Communist habits of perception.

-217-

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