A Tool for Our Times: Legacies of Black Radicalism and Communism

Otto Huiswoud (left) and Claude McKay (right) at the Fourth Congress of the Third International in Moscow in 1933. Photo: Claude McKay Collection, Yale Collection of American Literature, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library.


Speaking recently about “Mapping Communist Internationalism and Class Struggle Then and Now” at the social movement incubator that is The People’s Forum, historian Margaret Stevens spoke directly about the utility of her recently-published book. Red International and Black Caribbean, Stevens told her audience, was written not only to unearth an historical record overlooked, but also for purposes of praxis. Her book succeeds on both counts, speaking as it does to the interwar scene while prompting us to connect the politics of that period to the demands of the present.

Subtitled “Communists in New York City, Mexico and the West Indies, 1919-1939,” Red International chronicles the importance of Communist organizations to freedom struggles of the twenties and thirties, and the centrality of Black workers to those organizations across a geographic expanse that encompasses Cuba, Puerto Rico, Haiti, the British West Indies, Mexico, and New York, with the Soviet Union sitting somewhere just off stage. Arriving amid a growing and dynamic list of titles that bring Black studies into conversation with Soviet cultural studiesRed International advances four principal arguments: it places Black workers at the center of the Black radical tradition, it emphasizes the importance of the Black Caribbean to the international Communist movement, it posits a non-dichotomous relationship between Garveyism and Communism, and it opposes anticommunism in evaluating Communism’s inconsistencies from the perspective of collective subalternity.

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