The New Red Negro: The Literary Left and African American Poetry, 1930-1946

By James Edward Smethurst | Go to book overview

I
African-American Poetry, Ideology, and the Left during the 1930s and 1940s from Third Period to the Popular Front and Beyond

But I must warn you it's a nasty job you're stepping into, not in line with your pink teas and your coming out parties. It's going to mean contact with people you've only read about. So if there's anyone afraid of realism, this is the time to back out.

-- MOON OVER HARLEM ( 1939 FILM)


The New Type of Party and the New Negro

The Communist Party of the United States of America ( CPUSA) and the New Negro Renaissance originated at roughly the same time. The precise birth dates of both are impossible to fix exactly. Even the start of the CPUSA as an organization is variously put at the foundings of the Communist Party and the Communist Labor Party after a split within the Socialist Party of America (SP) in 1919 and at the unification of the two Communist organizations in 1921. 1 Nonetheless, both the CPUSA and the New Negro Renaissance were products of the post-World War I, post-October Revolution moment that produced an ideological crisis in the capitalist world order, as well as what might be thought of as the prewar world of the Left.

In the years immediately following World War I, an antiradical, xenophobic, racist, antilabor atmosphere reigned in the United States. The postwar years saw the Red Scare and Palmer Raids of 1919-20 that drove the new Communist organizations underground, a largely successful open-shop drive against organized labor, severe legal restrictions on immigration, a resurgence of lynching, a wave of racist riots that swept the United States in 1919 from Chicago to Longview, Texas, and the growth of the Ku Klux Klan into a mass organization with tremendous political power in the North and the South. At the same time a relative prosperity, albeit one that bypassed a significant section of workers and farmers, engendered an optimism with respect to the power of the American economy that affected the leadership of organized labor in the American Federation of Labor (AFL) and the independent Railroad

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