by Mark Naison ‧ RELEASE DATE: Oct. 15, 1983
Fordham historian Naison's dissertation, from which this is derived, has already contributed to the new, more positive assessment of black Communism; of the Harlem CP, he writes unequivocally: ""no socialist organization before or since has touched the life of an Afro-American community so profoundly."" The obstacles were massive. Few blacks were attracted to socialism, and fewer originally to international Communism--antithetical, in the 1920s, to Garveyite nationalism and procapitalism. The nascent Harlem CP denounced the community's professional and business leadership as parasitical and regularly disrupted the efforts of black reformers. But a handful of capable recruits, mostly West Indians drawn to Soviet anti-colonialism, were trained and fÃªted in Russia; successive Comintern shifts (1925, 1928, 1930) produced a centralized, interracial American CP committed to revolutionary agitation for Negro rights; ""in a period of economic collapse, the militancy of the Communists, their willingness to risk arrests to make their demands heard, struck a responsive chord on the streets of Harlem."" The fight to save the Scottsboro boys gave the Harlem CP community standing--but it was the 1934 Comintern shift to a ""united front"" strategy, enabling black Communists to work with black organizations, that brought community leadership. At the hearings of the Mayor's Commission on Conditions in Harlem, following the 1935 Harlem Riot, articulate, well-prepared CP spokesmen not only cleared the Party of inciting violence, they provided ""detailed documentation"" of police violence and across-the-board discrimination (in health, housing, education, employment, relief). Within a year, Naison is able to concretely demonstrate, the skepticism of key Harlemites turned to qualified support. ""We can, however, travel with the Communists as far as they go on our road,"" wrote an Amsterdam News columnist, ""and that is a darn sight further than any of the other groups go."" And, Naison points out, the strategy uniting black claims ""with the struggles of other insurgent groups. . . became the property of a new generation of protest leaders,"" headed by Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. and A. Philip Randolph. He takes up the inauguration of the Popular Front, easing the alliance with black liberals, and formation of the National Negro Congress; the Harlem CP turn to electoral politics and trade union work; the ""relaxation of Party discipline, especially among intellectuals""--attracted to an ""internationalist vision."" He also closely examines Party influence on the Harlem cultural scene--on the WPA arts projects and in the schools, particularly. ""Black America's struggle for cultural recognition [came to be seen as] a source of creative energy for the entire nation."" Witness, at length, the career of Paul Robeson; witness ""young Communist scholars like Herbert Aptheker and Philip Foner."" Naison does not ignore internal strains, ongoing frictions, ""the limits of radicalization,"" black-Jewish relations. The book, a notable addition to the Blacks in the New World series, opens up avenues of thought in many directions.
Pub Date: Oct. 15, 1983
Page Count: -
Publisher: Univ. of Illinois Press
Review Posted Online: N/A
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 1983
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