'Race/class politics: the Liberator, 1929-1934' in Race & Class (April 2006)
This article grew out of work I did on my PhD thesis at Sussex University (2004) which investigated African American representations of the Communist Party in the work of Richard Wright, Chester Himes and Ralph Ellison. My work sought to re-inscribe the dialectic between literary texts and their pre-history in order to access a historically specific model of black identity. This model resisted both separatism and assimilation, and was informed by a political prioritisation of interracial class solidarity.
My methodological approach necessarily incorporated a strong emphasis on the social and political history of the Communist Party of the United States and the intricate ideological and political currents swirling around the CPUSA, black politics and 'race' history which constitute a difficult and shifting terrain.
I was particularly interested in the concept of ‘rage’ as the expression of black historical consciousness and agency and my research on the Liberator yielded a powerful, historically specific discourse of 'rage' and agency. I found that the newspaper articulated an urgent and angry radical black voice which took command of a discursive field in which history/tradition formed a crucial site of symbolic structuring of black political identity in an overt challenge to other narratives of American history the Liberator chooses a heroic model of black agency as paradigmatic in its contemporary struggles against black moderates.
The article was submitted to the multi-disciplinary journal Race and Class and published in April 2006.
The article focuses on a key neglected textual source, the black Communist newspaper, the Liberator which sought to bring Communist politics to the black working class and the black working class into the orbit of Communist politics. My reading of this text yielded complex discursive forms of political agency and interracial solidarity during the Depression.
Although The Liberator has been used as a historical resource, it remains a relatively un-interpreted source. The attempt of the Liberator to fuse Communist theory, anti-racism, black history, interracial class solidarity and race pride produced a potent interventionist paper which focused on the role of black workers in anti-capitalist revolt.
I stress that The Liberator’s insistence on the interracial character of anti-racist struggle points to a black political identity which is sourced in racial pride, but which equally made that pride the source for widening the parameters of political consciousness in Pan-African and internationalist directions. The paper sought to achieve a unity of purpose between the destiny of black Communists and the Euro-American working-class, in the process of distancing itself from the historic alliances between black reformism and American liberalism. I argue that this process was by no means unproblematic; there is a tension in the Liberator between asserting racial pride whilst demanding interracial solidarity in a domestic context. The paper is constantly negotiating between its mode of address to black workers and its theoretical commitment to interracial politics. Yet, I argue, that commitment to interracial politics is predicated on the radical articulation of a form of anti-racism which prioritises the disremembered voices of black struggle in the United States.
Versions of my article were delivered as 'Interracial Class Politics' at the Inter-Conference University of Sussex in (2004) and '"Let hate gather and rumble and rise”: Race and Class in The Liberator’ at Brighton University's 'Philosophy, Politics, Aesthetics' seminar (2007).