Monday, June 30, 2008

Something Worse: My 4th of July Mix

While driving home from Milwaukee, Wisconsin last Friday after talking to people outside of the food pantry where the near food riot occurred and some antiwar students, I was appalled to stumble upon the local oldies radio station's "4th of July Request Hour". Expecting to be bombarded by jingoistic drivel a la 'Proud to Be An American' (which was eventually requested), I was more pissed to hear a proud request for Springsteen's 'Born in the U.S.A.'. Now, any person who has actually read the lyrics to the song can readily tell that the Boss is not lavishing Uncle Sam with praise, but railing against a country that sends its poor and dispossessed to die in foreign wars and then kicks them when they return (prison, no jobs, no healthcare, etc). Given that Springsteen has been probably the only artist to consistently take up the issue of war vets in the US (from Vietnam to Iraq) throughout his entire career ('Lost in the Flood', 'Highway Patrolman', 'Nothing Man', 'Devils and Dust' and most of Magic) this misconception from the Right–and more frustratingly from the Left–really pisses me off. So, I was inspired to create a mix that helps to musically undercut the flag waiving nonsense and ideological underpinnings of the 4th and the American Dream.

I'm not going to comment on all of my selections, but the first warrants it:

Born in the U.S.A. - Bruce Springsteen (Original recording - found on Tracks)

So, part of the misconception of this tune, in my opinion, revolves around the instrumental/synth/foot pounding rock affirmation of the popularized version. However, this song was oringally recorded during the Nebraska sessions. It has a haunting, acoustic, desperate feel to it like the rest of that album and really drips with a palatable disgust and rejection of what it means to be born in the USA. Especially given the nature of the rest of the material that made it on to Nebraska - songs dealing with people pushed to desperate actions or completely crushed by a system that has forgotten them - it is impossible to miss Springsteen's intentions. So, I highly recommend getting a copy of the song.

Inner City Blues (Makes Me Wanna Holler) - Marvin Gaye

Today's Empires, Tomorrow's Ashes - Propagandhi

Crushed Again - Son of Nun

Pusherman - Curtis Mayfield

I Should Be Proud - Martha Reeves and the Vandellas (great, fairly obscure antiwar song about a woman who loses her partner in Vietnam)

The Inquisition - The N.O.M.A.D.S. Vs the Philistines (two great Palestinian American hip hop groups. Props for a brilliant sampling of Mel Brooks' History of the World)

Strange Fruit - Billie Holiday

Fortunate Son - Creedence Clearwater Revival

The Bourgeois Blues - Leadbelly

Revolution (feat. Busta Rhymes) - 2pac (The interviews with Pac on this track are DEVASTATING!)

Underdogs - The Coup

The Backlash Blues - Nina Simone

Welcome to the Terrordome - Pharaohe Monch

Living for the City - Stevie Wonder

Talkin' 'Bout a Revolution - Tracy Chapman

Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos - Public Enemy

Down in Mississippi - Mavis Staples

Tomorrow's Justice - The Arab Summit (This hip hop act's album is entitled "Fear of an Arab Planet". Nuff said).

Maria - Rage Against the Machine

The River - Bruce Springsteen

With the utter meltdown of the American Dream that's taken place over the last 30 years, Bruce's question posed in The River - and one which must be considered by all the 47 million uninsured Americans, thousands of downtrodden vets, 12 million undocumented immigrants and millions of struggling working families every day - and especially on the 4th - must be answered: Is a dream a lie if it don't come true or is it something worse? It's worse. Much worse.

**** Please post your suggestions to add to the list/comments/criticisms. Many more warrant a place. This is the link to download a copy of the mix. I apologize in advance for all of the sexist advertising on the upload site.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

US Imperialism's Summer Vacation: Next Stop Iran?

CNN reports that a forthcoming article in the New Yorker by Seymour Hersh indicates that Congress has authorized $400 million for covert CIA operations in Iran aimed at intelligence gathering and undermining the government. This escalation once again reveals that nuclear weapons are not the issue as the Bush administration and Congress clearly are ignoring the National Intelligence Estimate and International Atomic Energy Agency reports that Iran's enrichment programs do not pose a military threat to the region.

Hersh also argues that the US is using Afghanistan as a staging ground for military and covert action against Iran. Following the recent 'surge' in Afghanistan (post forthcoming) and Israel's military exercises in the Eastern Mediterranean earlier this month, the pieces seem to be fitting into place for an Israeli strike against Iran coupled with a tried and true CIA destabilization campaign.

Iran, however, is no Iraq insofar as it has not suffered from a decade of bombings and sanctions, like pre-war Iraq. This conflict would cost the US and its allies heavily:

In the semi-official Mehr news agency Sunday, an Iranian general said his troops were digging more than 320,000 graves to bury troops from any invading force with "the respect they deserve."

"Under the law of war and armed conflict, necessary preparations must be made for the burial of soldiers of aggressor nations," said Maj. Gen. Mirfaisal Baqerzadeh, an Iranian officer in charge of identifying soldiers missing in action.

The full Hersh article is here.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Narratives Under Siege

The Palestinian Center for Human Rights has begun collecting narratives from ordinary Palestinians about what life is like under the siege. These stories are all the more noteworthy right now, during the "truce," because they expose what peace looks like to the Israelis. While Tzipi Livni, that rising star of Israeli politics, is calling for military responses to rocket attacks that result in no casualties, leaders of Hamas are declaring their intent to stop all rocket attacks from Gaza, not just those launched by its members. As Hamas clamps down on violence, Israeli leaders call for more. And as the PCHR narratives show, this negotiating takes place on top of the slow, grinding violence of the occupation. The picture at left is a drainpipe which empties into a beach where Palestinian children swim.

Food Crisis and Economic Meltdown

Elizabeth Terzakis on the Global Food Crisis and Economic Meltdown:

Friday, June 27, 2008

What is Tony Karon Smoking?

This makes no sense. Tony Karon, who runs the normally very high-quality Rootless Cosmopolitan, has an article comparing al-Qaeda to...Trotsky?! The gist of this bizarre line of thought is that al-Qaeda refuses to compromise with nationalism, remaining ideologically "pure," while groups like Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood, the clerics of Iran provide a more pragmatic and ultimately successful model for Political Islam. Supposedly, this is where Trotsky fits in. While Trotsky remained ideologically pure and had to go into hiding, representing no real organized force, Stalin(ism) embraced nationalism and was able to mobilize millions of people behind it.

There is a basically endless list of things wrong with this argument. First of all, there are no shortage of politically irrelevant forces. First among these in the United States, in my opinion, is the Communist Party, the representative of official Stalinism in this country. If one goes to the CPUSA's website of national political meetings, the last one is from 2005. One could also bring up Patrick Buchanan, or any number of other irrelevant hacks. The decision to pick Trotsky seems to me explicable only by some kind of anti-Trotsky tack. To be sure, there's nothing disingenuous about being anti-Trotsky, but this article really does nothing to advance such an argument; it merely asserts it in a kind of rhetorical bad faith (equivalent to "when did you stop beating your wife?").

Second, and more importantly, the picture of Stalin as a pragmatist deserving our praise is positively dangerous, though not entirely untrue. It's true that Stalin was a pragmatist. He was perfectly willing to compromise with the entire project of socialist revolution to industrialize Russia, at a cost of millions of lives. He was willing to compromise and sign a treaty with Hitler that resulted in the decimation of Poland. He compromised after the war, agreeing to tell the Communist parties of Western Europe that revolution was off the agenda, squandering the tremendous cache those parties had built in the Resistance. Far from being a point of praise, Stalin's pragmatism had the most gruesome consequences.

To be honest, I'm still not sure why Karon wrote what he did. It's true that al-Qaeda is largely irrelevant, but this point could be made perfectly well without giving Stalin a hand up from the dustbin of history.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

"It's called the American Dream, because you have to be asleep to believe it."

It seems to be a vast oversight that we here at the General have failed to pay tribute to a great political mind. Here's G. Carlin at his finest...

Interview with Ilan Pappe: "Occupiers Cannot Also be Liberal"

Electronic Intifada has a great interview with the anti-Zionist Israeli historian Ilan Pappe, now exiled to Britain because of his support for a boycott of the Israeli academy. I'll post a few choice excerpts:

Q: During his last visit to the region US President George W. Bush described Israel as an example of progress and democracy in the Middle East. How objective do you find his view?

Ilan Pappe: A society that endorses a 40-year occupation of another people cannot be a liberal one. A society that discriminates against 20 percent of its population because they are not Jews cannot be described as progressive. The problem in Israel is not the role of religion or tradition; it is the role of Zionism, a very clear ideology of exclusion, racism and expulsion. This ideology allows the army to play a significant role in most of the domestic and foreign policies, and it is probably right to say that Israel is not a state with an army, but an army with a state.

Q: Can Barack Obama's victory make a difference?

Ilan Pappe: I think people who strive to hold the post of the strongest person in the world are not interested in moral issues, or are really moved by suffering and oppression. Obama is no different, and the morality of the issue or the suffering of the Palestinians would not move him. He would move in a different direction if he and his advisors would feel that showing less support for Israel enhances their political power. So far this is not the case. It is better to be pro-Israeli to win American elections and be re-elected for the second term. If there is any hope, this is from a second term, when the powerful men are brought back to their normal human size again, and may begin to think like you and me about injustice, oppression and occupation.

More on the situation in Milwaukee

Today's Milwaukee Journal Sentinel provides more backdrop to the near food riot that took place earlier this week. Milwaukee is the eight poorest city in the country and has the fourth highest number of children in poverty said Sherrie Tussler, executive director of the Hunger Task Force of Milwaukee. According to Tussler, government food donations have dropped 31% since 2001. In the first five months of 2007, the Task Force was forced to spend $3,400 on food. This year, however, between January and May alone, the group has spent $94,000. Regarding child hunger, the government only provides free food to summer school children under the age of 12, so the Task Force needs to provide snacks for children 13 and over. Another food relief organization, Second Harvest, reported that donations were down 1 million pounds, or 15%, from last year through May.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Near Food Riot in Milwaukee, WI, USA

The wave of food riots against skyrocketing food prices that has rocked the developing world from Haiti to Egypt is knocking at the door in the United States. Earlier this week in Milwaukee, nearly 3,000 hungry people showed up at 3am to receive emergency food coupons. The cops had to show up in force because several people were trampled in the desperate scramble for the woefully inadequate aid. While the offer was initially extended to the victims of the recent flooding in the state, officials reported that the majority of the people who showed up were not flood victims but victims of poverty and the weak economy. This is just one more example of how working people in the industrialized nations are not immune to the global food crisis. Hopefully working people in the US will take after their brothers and sisters in other countries and aim their outrage at the government that has proven to be criminally negligent to the plight of people suffering from economic recession, rising food and fuel costs, lack of health care and rising unemployment.

Irony of ironies: Clinton calls for help with personal debt

I couldn't believe my eyes when I read this headline : "Clinton wants help with her campaign debt". Apparently Clinton is over $20 million in debt because she had to donate heavily to her own campaign and is now asking supporters to lend a hand to help her recover before the late August deadline. In a video appeal, Clinton's campaign wrote:

“By helping us pay off our campaign debt, you’re not just helping Hillary elect a Democratic president and grow our majority in Congress. You’re making it possible for her to work as hard as she can on the issues we care about.”

Are you shitting me?

Monday, June 23, 2008

Obama and Black Fathers: Targets of Opportunity

There is no rhetorical maneuver in American politics that comes more naturally than blaming Black men for the problems of society. The foundation of the republic upon the slavocracy in the South and that regime's rationalization of the brutality of slavery with the alleged indolence of Africans, the use of tropes of Black irresponsibility to motivate the overthrow of reconstruction, the segregation and race riots fed by myths of Black sexual depravity, and the shadow of the Black criminal constantly projected onto the white imagination today have given those who would scapegoat African Americans an incredible arsenal of oratorical tactics. The latest politician to wield this arsenal? Barack Obama.

Obama's now-famous Father's Day speech, as Glen Ford points out, falls into his now familiar routine of throwing Black folks under the bus in order to prove his allegiance to corporate America. First Reverend Jeremiah Wright, then Obama's entire Trinity United Church of Christ, and now fully half the Black race finds itself slandered in the interests of passing the test of political correctness for the ruling class. In African American history, there is an old and developed discourse of "lifting as we climb": that is, Black folks who manage to achieve prosperity in spite of racism have a duty to help those of the race who are not so fortunate. Obama is not so much lifting as he climbs as tossing Black America onto a mound from which he can climb to the presidency.

Indeed, the cynicism of the Father's Day speech was so naked that even the New York Times reporter felt compelled to comment "While Mr. Obama’s remarks were directed at a black, churchgoing audience, his campaign hopes they resonate among white social conservatives in a race where these voters may be up for grabs." (Note: the Times removed this passage from the version of the article accessible from its website.)

The irony of all this is that in performing the useful service of legitimizing racism for the ruling class, Obama is lending a helping hand to the McCain campaign, which will most certainly employ every trick in the book to demonize Obama as "the Black candidate." While the right wing certainly has no lack for racist lunacy, in this election cycle it has undoubtedly been the Democrats (led first by the Clinton campaign, and now by Barack) who have done the most to resuscitate racism on the campaign trail. To prove his worthiness of being head of the "committee for managing the common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie," Obama must debase himself by providing the slings and arrows of his opposition. Such is the lot of the Black Bourgeoisie.

To round out the critique of Obama's speech, Michael Eric Dyson has written a wonderful article in which he debunks the main propositions put forward by the candidate of "change." Dyson points out several relevant details. First, Black fathers are much more likely than those of other races to maintain contact with children from a former relationship. Second, the reason said fathers often leave such relationships is not, as Obama suggests, some lack of "manhood," but a real and devastating despair over being unable to provide for their families due to the lack of economic opportunities afforded to African Americans. As Dyson puts it, "these men needs jobs, not jabs." Finally, the reference to Black men as "boys" is belittling in the extreme, reminiscent of the rhetoric of racist Southerners in the early twentieth century. If Obama continues in this direction, it will be an open question as to how long he can maintain the mantle of "change" and avoid the company, in Black opinion, of Condoleeza Rice and Clarence Thomas.

Keeanga Yamahtta-Taylor from Socialist Worker and Ishmael Reed both have excellent articles thoroughly debunking Obama's speech.

CNN: Iraqi city councilman shoots US troops

Well, at least one guy in the Iraqi government was on the right side.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Michael Yates on Paul Krugman and Race

Great polemic against Krugman's ridiculous claims of a color blind nation.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Socialism 2008!

Where I'm at this weekend:

What unity looks like to Obama's campaign

According to the AP, at a Detroit, Michigan event, the Obama campaign denied two Muslim women wearing hijabs seats behind the candidate because of the 'sensitive political climate.'

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Obama's Advisors

Two new articles this week expose just who is sitting in Obama's inner circle. In the Nation, Naomi Klein points out Obama's main economic advisor, Jason Furman, is a neoliberal in the Milton Friedman tradition. Furman has called Wal-Mart a "progressive success story," and slammed union activists trying to raise wages: "efforts to get Wal-Mart to raise its wages and benefits" are creating "collateral damage" that is "way too enormous and damaging to working people and the economy more broadly for me to sit by idly and sing 'Kum-Ba-Ya' in the interests of progressive harmony." Perhaps this guy just hasn't heard of Wal-Mart refusing to pay the medical costs of disabled employees, deceiving its workers to get them to donate to its PAC, locking immigrant workers in it's stores, or its long record of gender discrimination that has earned it the label of 'merchant of shame' from the National Organization for Women. Maybe Furman (and Obama) are simply unaware of all of this. But I doubt it.

On foreign policy the picture is much the same. Socialist Worker has a detailed article on the hawks who make up Obama's 'war cabinet.' I don't have much to add to this, except to conclude with a broadside against former top advisor Samantha Power. Power, an advocate of humanitarian intervention, receives fawning accolades from liberals wherever she goes. This is because her narrative is one of victims all around the world that the US has not done enough to save. As Edward Herman points out, however, she is all too willing to ignore those victims of the US empire:

The cruise missile left also adheres closely to the party line on genocide, which is why its members thrive in the New York Times and other establishment vehicles. This is true of Paul Berman, Michael Ignatieff and David Rieff, but I will focus here on Samantha Power, whose large volume on genocide, "A Problem From Hell": America and the Age of Genocide won a Pulitzer prize, and who is currently the expert of choice on the subject in the mainstream media (and even in The Nation and on the Bill Moyers show).

Power never departs from the selectivity dictated by the establishment party line. That requires, first and foremost, simply ignoring cases of direct U.S. or U.S.-sponsored (or otherwise approved) genocide. Thus the Vietnam war, in which millions were directly killed by U.S. forces, does not show up in Power's index or text. Guatemala, where there was a mass killing of as many as 100,000 Mayan Indians between 1978 and 1985, in what Amnesty International called "A Government Program of Political Murder," but by a government installed and supported by the United States, also does not show up in Power's index. Cambodia is of course included, but only for the second phase of the genocide: the first phase, from 1969-1975, in which the United States dropped some 500,000 tons of bombs on the Cambodian countryside and killed vast numbers, she fails to mention. On the Khmer Rouge genocide, Power says they killed 2 million, a figure widely cited after Jean Lacouture gave that number; his subsequent admission that this number was invented had no effect on its use, and it suits Power's purpose.

A major U.S.-encouraged and supported genocide occurred in Indonesia in 1965-66 in which over 700,000 people were murdered. This genocide is not mentioned by Samantha Power and the names Indonesia and Suharto do not appear in her index. She also fails to mention West Papua, where Indonesia's 40 years of murderous occupation would constitute genocide under her criteria, if carried out under different auspices. Power does refer to East Timor, with extreme brevity, saying that "In 1975, when its ally, the oil-producing, anti-Communist Indonesia, invaded East Timor, killing between 100,000 and 200,000 civilians, the United States looked away" (146-7). That exhausts her treatment of the subject, although the killings in East Timor involved a larger fraction of the population than in Cambodia, and the numbers killed were probably larger than the grand total for Bosnia and Kosovo, to which she devotes a large fraction of her book. She also misrepresents the U.S. role: it did not "look away," it gave its approval, protected the aggression from any effective UN response (in his autobiography, then U.S. Ambassador to the UN Daniel Patrick Moynihan bragged about his effectiveness in protecting Indonesia from any UN action), and greatly increased its arms aid to Indonesia, thereby facilitating the genocide.

Power engages in a similar suppression and failure to recognize the U.S. role in her treatment of genocide in Iraq. She attends carefully and at length to Saddam Hussein's use of chemical warfare and killing of Kurds at Halabja and elsewhere, and she does discuss the U.S. failure to oppose and take any action against Saddam Hussein at this juncture. But she does not mention the diplomatic rapproachement with Saddam in the midst of his war with Iran in 1983, the active U.S. logistical support of Saddam during that war, and the U.S. approval of sales and transfers of chemical and biological weapons during the period in which he was using chemical weapons against the Kurds. She also doesn't mention the active efforts by the United States and Britain to block UN actions that might have obstructed Saddam's killings.

The killing of over a million Iraqis via the "sanctions of mass destruction," more than were killed by all the weapons of mass destruction in history, according to John and Karl Mueller ("Sanctions of Mass Destruction," Foreign Affairs, May/June 1999), was arguably the greatest genocide of the post-World War 2 era. It is unmentioned by Samantha Power. Again, the correlation between exclusion, U.S. responsibility, and the view that such killings were, in Madeleine Albright's words, "worth it" from the standpoint of U.S. interests, is clear. There is a similar political basis for Power's failure to include Israel's low-intensity genocide of the Palestinians and South Africa's "destructive engagement" with the frontline states in the 1980s, the latter with a death toll greatly exceeding all the deaths in the Balkan wars of the 1990s. Neither Israel nor South Africa, both "constructively engaged" by the United States, show up in Power's index.

Samantha Power's conclusion is that the U.S. policy toward genocide has been very imperfect and needs reorientation, less opportunism, and greater vigor. For Power, the United States is the solution, not the problem. These conclusions and policy recommendations rest heavily on her spectacular bias in case selection: She simply bypasses those that are ideologically inconvenient, where the United States has arguably committed genocide (Vietnam, Cambodia 1969-75, Iraq 1991-2003), or has given genocidal processes positive support (Indonesia, West Papua, East Timor, Guatemala, Israel, and South Africa). Incorporating them into an analysis would lead to sharply different conclusions and policy agendas, such as calling upon the United States to simply stop doing it, or urging stronger global opposition to U.S. aggression and support of genocide, and proposing a much needed revolutionary change within the United States to remove the roots of its imperialistic and genocidal thrust. But the actual huge bias, nicely leavened by admissions of imperfections and need for improvement in U.S. policy, readily explains why Samantha Power is loved by the New York Times and won a Pulitzer prize for her masterpiece of evasion and apologetics for "our" genocides and call for a more aggressive pursuit of "theirs."

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Juxtapose This

CEO Pay New Records as Economy Tanks.

More Americans Going Hungry.

I Promise I'll Start Writing Again Soon...

Meanwhile, here are some useful articles on Iraq.

Rich Lowry from National Review giving the usual triumphalism, claiming that Iraq has become a Vietnam - for al-Qaeda.

Tom Englehardt on the massive land grab underway in Iraq, in the form of 106 US bases, some of which cover 16 square miles.

The ruling class press is taking its by now standard tack of pointing out corruption in the occupation without drawing any larger conclusions.

Lenin's Tomb on Fallujah after the siege.

Finally, a little story on Iraqupdates about Sadr's move to get around Iraqi laws designed to keep them out of electoral politics.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008



Alain Locke’s attempt to wrest control of the term “New Negro” away from the radicals was indebted to the Russian revolution in two key ways. First, the revolution was a major force behind the formation and radicalization of the New Negro movement, the growth of which was the primary explanation for the term’s widespread usage after World War I. Without the movement of A. Philip Randolph, Marcus Garvey, and Cyril Briggs, the New Negro would not possess nearly the cultural resonance which Locke sought to harness. Similarly, the tremendous energy for change in Black America which Locke was addressing would have been of a markedly different character without the movement’s inspiration. Second, as long as the New Negro movement represented the dominant politics of Black America, Locke’s attempted redefinition of the term could not succeed. It would take the movement’s decomposition before Locke’s preferred strategy of racial uplift through cultural achievement could attain hegemony. As I have shown, that decomposition was influenced in no small part by the movement’s different wings’ reaction to the Russian Revolution. Locke’s shift of the New Negro away from Bolshevism was, ironically, dependent on Bolshevism.

If Locke’s (unacknowledged) dependence on Bolshevism was ultimately a negative one, the New Negro activists’ engagement with it was far stronger. As this study has demonstrated, the Russian revolution was a key factor in the formation of New Negro movement, a source of the movement’s internal coherence, and ultimately a factor in its dissolution. Publications like the Negro World and the Messenger used the Russian revolution to further their own goals, even as the revolution’s allure shifted those goals. For Cyril Briggs, the revolution’s agent in the United States, the Communist Party, eventually became a more attractive means of racial liberation than his own African Blood Brotherhood. The Russian revolution changed the careers of all these activists.

For all of the depth with which the New Negro movement engaged with the Russian revolution, the time in which that engagement occurred was quite brief. This study has focused on a mere seven year period, a miniscule conjuncture in the four hundred year struggle for Black freedom. However, despite its brevity, the New Negro’s turn towards the East had ramifications well beyond its own short life. As I have indicated, the movement’s formation and demise were both crucial to the development of the Harlem Renaissance. That the Renaissance itself was characterized by a very different political strategy does nothing to diminish its debt to the New Negro movement. In further studies I hope to trace in greater detail the residual processes by which the revolution continued to exert influence on the Renaissance.

Even stronger than the revolution’s legacy in the Harlem Renaissance was its impact on the radical wing of the Black freedom struggle, for here is the revolution’s primary legacy in Black life. The entry of the African Blood Brotherhood’s leadership into the Communist Party, inspired by the Russian Revolution, gave the Party its first core of Black leadership. This core would eventually expand into a Black membership of one-tenth the total Party at its height. In addition to providing a base for further recruitment of African Americans, the ABB cadre and other Black Party members pushed the CP to take up Black demands in a far more militant manner than it previously had. In the 1920s, the Party would take a stand for full social equality for Blacks, a position the NAACP hadn’t even yet adopted. As other scholars, led most recently by Glenda Gilmore in Defying Dixie: The Radical Roots of Civil Rights, the legacy of those activists inspired by the Russian revolution extends well into the “mainstream” civil rights movement.

Though Alain Locke’s redefinition of the New Negro established its dominance in a more complete fashion than the movement from which he took the name, that emergent movement exerted still effected major changes in Afro-American life. Today, as racial discourse has become increasingly obfuscated by the dominance of “color blind” ideology and charges of reverse racism, perhaps we can look to the legacy of the New Negro radicals as a political resource for the present. We could do worse than to begin with the Messenger’s inversion of Wilsonian discourse: “To make the world unsafe for hypocrisy!”

Chapter Three

Chapter Three: Cyril Briggs and the Crusader

More than any other newspaper, Cyril Valentine Briggs’ Crusader exemplified the spirit of the New Negro. Dedicated to an uncompromising resistance to white supremacy, the paper was the textual representative of the image of the New Negro as armed defender of Black rights. Especially as it became associated with Briggs’ underground self-defense organization, the African Blood Brotherhood, the Crusader was marked by its militancy of both rhetoric and argument when polemicizing against the enemies of the race. More racially focused than the Messenger and more militant than the Negro World (most of the time), the Crusader struck out something of a middle ground that represented a unique distillation of New Negro ideology centered around active resistance to white supremacy on both the physical and ideological levels.

Though Briggs’ militancy remained a constant in editorship of the Crusader (and throughout his entire life as well), the theoretical underpinning of that militancy was to undergo a profound shift during his tenure as editor. The first issues of the Crusader are marked by a deep acceptance of the reality of racial difference and, following this, the impossibility of white acceptance of Black rights. While the rhetoric of “fighting” is prominent throughout the paper’s early issues, the actual praxis suggested consists of eliminating the influence of “Alien [white] Education” and building independent Black states. Briggs would eventually abandon the core of this theoretical position (while retaining many parts of it) in favor of a more classically Marxian position in which racial antagonisms were primarily the result of a capitalist economic system based on imperialism abroad and oppression at home. This shift is inexplicable without an understanding of Briggs’ engagement with the Russian Revolution.

For Cyril Briggs, the Russian revolution provided the intellectual tools with which he could move beyond his racialist conceptualization of American politics. Later, in the context of a retreating Left and disintegrating New Negro movement, the American Communist Party, linked as it was to the prestige of the Russian revolution, appeared to be a more viable route to Briggs’ goals than the shrinking ABB. The decision to enter the party, however, enmeshed Briggs and the other ABB members who joined in an organization rife with factionalism left over from its members’ experiences in the Socialist Party. Ultimately, entering the Party took Briggs and co. out of the Harlem activist milieu in which they had been most effective, even as it paved the way for the party to become a significant factor in Black politics in the late twenties and beyond. This chapter will trace the evolution of Briggs’ theoretical engagement with racial politics, paying close attention to the influence of the Left in general and the Russian Revolution in particular.

Briggs and the Early Crusader

Though Cyril Briggs was to become known for his political radicalism, the early issues of the Crusader are marked by two theoretical positions which were deeply resonant with dominant American political ideology: a belief in the intractable reality of race and an acceptance of the broad legitimacy of the American state. The first position is evident in the many Crusader articles which extol the necessity of racially based organizing as well as explicit formulations on the permanence of white racism. The second position consists in a broad acceptance of the American war aims in World War I, as well as a conceptualization of racist brutality as an aberration from the true nature of the American state. Though Briggs would later abandon both of these positions (the second in a much more thorough fashion than the first), they present a picture of the magnitude of the Crusader’s political shift.

Briggs’ acceptance of racialism is first presented in his “Race Catechism” from the Crusader’s first issue. There, in a series of five questions and answers, he advances a view firmly grounded in the biological reality of race. For example, Briggs explains the “sentiment which unites all [of the race]” as

The sentiment that the Negro Race is of all races the most favored by the Muses of Music, Poetry, and Art, and is possessed of those qualities of courage, honor, and intelligence necessary to the making of the best manhood and womanhood and the most brilliant development of the human species.[1]

In this passage Briggs clearly accepts as valid the differentiation of the Negro race from others. The qualities which he lists as those possessed by Black folks form an effective marker of the reality of race. Later, Briggs even explicitly grounds these differences in biology, arguing that “in the veins of no human being does there flow more generous blood than in our own.”[2] This unmistakable reference to the biological reality of race commits Briggs to a discourse in which the conclusions of white supremacists may be challenged, but not their premises.

Two issues later, Briggs expands on this to offer a general theory of racial antagonism, firmly grounded in human nature and thus, immutable. In the third part of his multi-installment article, “The American Race Problem,” Briggs attacks the Washingtonian position that economic achievement would lessen white antipathy. Describing this position as “diametrically opposed to human nature,” Briggs goes on to argue that “the white race (nor, in truth, any other race) has never been just in its dealings with unorganised and (therefore) weak peoples.” In the final analysis, the race problem is “[e]mbedded…in the natural fortresses of human nature (caucasian nature in particular).”[3] As Minkah Makalani notes, “the subordination of black people in the U.S. was, for Briggs, a product of inherent racial differences.”[4] Here Briggs commits himself to an ideology I call Hobbesian racialism – the view that the immutable differences of race will inevitably translate into a bellum omnium contra omnes conducted along racial lines. What is clear in such an ideology is that any alliances with whites are necessarily transitory and provisional, a position directly opposed to the interracial workers’ movement in which Briggs would later invest his hopes.

Equally opposed to the ideology of such a movement was the basic acceptance of the legitimacy of the American state that the Crusader would advance in its early issues. In the first article of the first issue, for example, Briggs discusses the necessity of extending Wilsonian self-determination beyond Europe to Africa as well. The article’s closing sentences are “We are fighting for Democracy. We must see to it that it is applied to African as well as to European, to the Negro as well as to the white man.”[5] The phrase “as well as” implies in both cases that democracy really was being granted to both the white man and Europe. Such a conclusion is, at best, highly arguable. Whatever its truth value, however, Briggs’ article accepted the basic assumptions of Wilsonian foreign policy rhetoric, arguing that they needed to be extended rather than combated. Such acceptance was not universal throughout the New Negro movement, as the Messenger published several denunciations of Wilson and exposés of the real war aims. Briggs’ acceptance of Wilson’s argument that a capitalist state could bring self-determination would stand in marked contrast to his later denunciations of imperialism.

Andy Razafkeriefo also wrote for the Crusader at this time, and displayed many of the same theoretical commitments as Briggs. In his poem “Why I Am Proud” from the October 1918 issue, Razaf recapitulates the acceptance of racialism from Briggs’ “Race Catechism.” He describes his color as standing for loyalty, “a race which has given an ‘Attucks’/But never an ‘Arnold’ or ‘Booth.’” [6] Here Razaf uses synecdoche to argue that Black loyalty to the United States is a source of pride for him. Later, in the poem “Police Brutality in Harlem,” Razaf accuses racist officers of betraying “Democracy/Their uniform and state.”[7] He portrays white supremacist police brutality as an aberration from the American state, not something fundamental to it. The political conclusion of both these poems is that Black folks should align themselves with the American state, seeking to combat those who are disloyal to it[8].

These aspects of the Crusader’s early ideology are explicable in terms of the institutions of which Cyril Briggs was a part. When Briggs founded the Crusader he was a member of a group called the Hamitic League of the World, a culturalist group which sought to “inspire the Negro with new hopes; make him openly proud of his race…and to place in the hands of every race man woman and child the facts which support the League’s claim that the NEGRO RACE IS THE GREATEST RACE THE WORLD HAS EVER KNOWN.”[9] The HLW based itself on racialist logic, from its titular allusion to the Curse of Ham to its strategy of making Black folks aware of the achievements of their race. Briggs’ association with the League helps to explain the extended presence of racialist ideology in the Crusader. Indeed, for a time, the Crusader was even the official organ of the League. The culturalist assumptions of the League also provide an insight into the nearly-patriotic side of the Crusader in its early issues. The ideology which sees racial difference as innate leads away from any rigorous analysis of existing institutions. Actions of the US state which oppress African-Americans are simply manifestations of white antipathy. Such a paucity of analysis leaves far greater space for dominant ideologies to assert themselves than the rigorous class analysis used by the Messenger at the same time, for example. Thus the racialist logic Briggs took from the League left uncontested the major assertions of the white supremacist ideology he was dedicated to fighting.

Before examining the ways the Crusader would change with its engagement with the Russian revolution and the broader Left, I would like to note that while I’ve focused on the less radical underpinnings of the Crusader in its early phase, this should not detract from the paper’s actual radicalism of the time. As Makalani argues, Briggs’ “understanding of race and imperialism was ultimately in tension with his racialist view of the world.”[10] Briggs’ constant rhetoric of fighting was an indication of the paper’s New Negro spirit, for example, even if how that fight would be waged remained unclear. Andy Razaf was similarly contradictory, as his poem, “Why I Am Proud,” in addition to affirming American patriotism, also contained a wonderful subversion of white supremacy, as Razaf writes, “My color stands for a people/Whom you have called evil and wild/Yet never a land have we stolen/Or a weaker race defiled.”[11] Whatever the ambiguities and contradictions of the Crusader in its early issues, it was a radical New Negro publication. I have focused on the less radical theorizations of Briggs and Razaf in order to emphasize the change which the paper underwent through its engagement with the Left. It is to this engagement that I now turn.

Moving Leftwards

The first sign of the Crusader’s engagement with the Left came in September 1918, in its first issue. In an article, entitled “The Negro Candidates,” Briggs endorsed the Socialist Party’s ticket in the 19th and 21st Assembly districts. The ticket consisted of Messenger editors A. Philip Randolph, Chandler Owen, and George Frazier Miller. Though such an endorsement may imply sympathy with the socialist cause, the article indicates nothing of the sort. Briggs describes the three candidates as serving “but one master, but one Race.” Congratulating them for not seeking “the white man’s favor,” Briggs encouraged “Every Negro who is pro-Negro before he is anything else” to vote for the SP candidates. Throughout the article, Briggs couched his endorsement of the candidates in distinctly racial terms. His persistent capitalization of the word “Race” is a further indicator of the racialist underpinning of the article. Indeed, the actual platform of the SP is not even mentioned in the article. Aside from mentioning the candidates “radical character,” no indication is given of their actual views. Briggs’ endorsement then, was not based on actual agreement with the Socialists, but support for radical Black candidates in general.[12]

Despite the racialist underpinning of Briggs’ endorsement of Miller, Randolph, and Owen, the article signaled the beginning of a “relationship with black Socialists”[13] which would move Briggs away from the logic which led him to endorse them in the first place. The first sign of such a move was the appearance of socialist epithets in his articles. In the December, 1918 issue of the Crusader, Briggs is careful to distinguish his enemies in the “capitalist-junker class” from “the masses” when describing the acceptance of Wilson’s Fourteen Points. Such a distinction was no where to be found in articles like the “Race Catechism.” The next article in the December issue was targeted at “Profiteering Landlords,” accusing Harlem real estate agents of “demanding and receiving extortionate rents.” This article also drew attention to a problem which could not be explained by racialist theory, as Briggs himself pointed out the fact that Harlem landlords were “aided and advised by their Negro hirelings in fleecing Negroes.” Both of these articles show Briggs drawing on theories which were ultimately in conflict with racialist logic.[14]

The appearance of Leftist rhetoric and analysis in the Crusader did not mark the displacement of Briggs’ racialism, however. The December issue which first showed Briggs’ use of Leftist rhetoric, for example, was also the first issue of the Crusader to bear the subtitle “Publicity Organ of the Hamitic League of the World.” What is clear in the winter of 1918-1919 was that Briggs was beginning to engage the theories of the Left alongside his own racialist ideology.

As the Crusader moved into its first spring, the same contradictory mix of racialism and Leftist thought continued to define the newspaper’s ideological terrain. The April 1919 issue contained two of the most directly contradictory articles ever published in the same issue. In an editorial entitled “Amalgamation,” Briggs used the case of Stanley Braithwaite, a Black poet who advocated interracial marriage as a solution to the American race problem, as an opportunity to go on a tirade against the “amalgamation” of the Black and white races. “Negroes who preach amalgamation,” Briggs wrote, “must be either ignorant of its logical consequences or are lower than we have ever dreamed that human beings could be.” He went on to argue that the white man “rightly will not lend his women to such an infamous scheme.” Though the article would end on a militant note (“The sword has won the way to Freedom for others. It can and will do the same for us.”), such radicalism was ultimately undercut by the deep acceptance of both racialism and patriarchy the article evinced.[15]

A mere two editorials later, however, Briggs would put forward an analysis of government repression and labor based on far more radical principles than those present in the “Amalgamation” piece. Linking the deportation of foreign-born radicals with the deportation of Black steel workers from Coatsville, Pennsylvania, Briggs argued that

The capitalists who would bring the Negro North during a crisis and then shuffle him back willy nilly to the old hateful conditions and to Lynch Law…are the same capitalists who would send out of the country all workers who dare to talk against the system.

In this single sentence Briggs brought forth a tremendous amount of analysis new to the pages of the Crusader. First, in discussing the deportation of European radicals, Briggs acknowledged the reality of governmental oppression of white workers, a fact which undermined a racialist analysis of the US state. Second, by linking the fates of Black workers with those of white radicals, the article moved towards an understanding of the common interests of a multiracial working class. Finally, in discussing the capitalists’ “system,” Briggs began an attempt to analyze the workings of capitalism as a specific economic system, instead of merely another racialist regime. The article would go on to explicitly argue for interracial unity, observing that “In both cases the mailed fists of capitalism was [sic] aimed at the worker.” Briggs would close by decrying the situation of “the Negro uninterested in what was being done to the whites and the whites ignoring the blow struck at the colored.” This analysis was in profound contradiction to the racialist analysis described above. If the road to freedom for both Black and white lay in linking arms with the other, what precisely was to be lost from “amalgamation?”[16]

Curiously lacking from the Crusader’s engagement with Leftist thought in this period is any mention whatsoever of the Russian Revolution. Before the May issue, the only appearance of Russia in the Crusader is in a review of H. Grattan Donnelly’s play, “Darkest Russia.” The play is set well before the October revolution, and is primarily concerned with portraying the outrages of czarist brutality against the peasants. In his review, Briggs makes a brief note that “the Bolshevik regime even as painted by the capitalist press is a blissful era” compared to the czar’s rule. At this point Briggs’ attitude toward the revolution is guardedly neutral. While implying that the capitalist press may be exaggerating the hardship of postrevolutionary Russia, Briggs makes no effort to contest such exaggerations. Briggs’ disinterest in the revolution at this point is in keeping with the majority of the paper’s articles, which paid little attention to happenings in foreign countries which did not affect Blacks. This lassitude would change rapidly however, as the Soviet State would commence its foreign policy endeavor with the formation of the Comintern in March, 1919, an attempt to spread the radicalism of October across the globe.[17]

The May issue of the Crusader, the first with any extended engagement with the Russian revolution, concerned itself primarily with this international spread of the revolution. The paper’s first editorial, “High Rents and Bolshevism,” humorously argued that “The landlords…of Harlem are doing their merry best to increase the converts of Bolshevism in that district. So far they have been highly successful.” Here Briggs positions Bolshevism as the rational response of Black Harlemites to exploitative landlords, the first positive reference to the Russian Revolution in the Crusader. Later, Briggs signaled his awareness of Bolshevism as a global movement, musing that perhaps landlords will find interests beyond price-gouging when “the Negro seeks relief in the class war of the proletariat against the conscienceless capitalists and makes common cause with the Bolsheviki of the world.” Though this article marks the first awareness of the Russian Revolution as being central to the world revolutionary movement, it still contains precious little engagement with happenings inside Russia itself.[18]

The July issue would begin this engagement by presenting a positive evaluation of the Soviet state’s race relations. In an editorial entitled “Make Their Cause Your Own,” Briggs described how the USSR was “the only government outside of our own in African and democratic South America in which a Negro occupies a high and respectable position.” He goes on to celebrate the Soviet state’s lack of “Negro ‘colonies,’” showing for the first time an analysis of what the revolution in Russia had actually achieved. Immediately following this, Briggs observes that the New York Call “is the only paper in New York City which is perpetually and honestly concerned about the Negro and which nearly every day comments upon his wrongs and calls the nation to task for their existence.” Following this, he argues that the Socialist Party is both the only party with an anti-lynching plank in its national platform and the only party to call for self-determination for African colonies. As such, “Make Your Cause Their Own” marks Briggs’ own evaluation of the socialist cause as his own. That he chose to place a description of Soviet policy first in his argument to convince African-Americans to become socialists is an indication of the weight it received in Briggs’ own decision to whole-heartedly endorse socialism. Briggs’ commitment to socialism in this article also signaled a displacement of his earlier racialist ideas. The editorial’s last line, “We need not fight alone if we breast the sea upon the irresistible tide of liberalism that is at present sweeping the world,” was an explicit revision of his earlier Hobbesian racialism. The international revolutionary movement and the racial policies of the Soviet Union helped to convince Briggs that the class war could indeed supplant the racial war of all against all.[19]

Briggs’ engagement with the Russian Revolution would only grow after this point, as would his use of Leftist analysis and rhetoric. In the October, 1919 issue, Briggs used Karl Marx’s pamphlet on economics, Value Price and Profit, to argue that despite Andrew Carnegie’s popular image as a humanitarian philanthropist, he had actually “accumulated his vast wealth by the inhuman and grinding exploitation of other men and of weak women and children.” To understand the roots of Carnegie’s millions, Briggs suggests to his readers that “they read Karl Marx’s work on ‘Value, Price, and Profit’” which demonstrates “in unanswerable logic…that labor receives only enough of the wealth it creates to live and reproduce its kind for further capitalist exploitation.” For Briggs, Marx’s work was a tool with which he could most effectively advance the political arguments he thought necessary.[20]

As Briggs moved towards a deeper engagement with socialist theory, he also drew increasingly on the happenings in Russia as tools he could use. In the October issue, when describing a reactionary journalist, Briggs made the offhand remark, “The Kolchaks are not all in Russia.” In a mirror inverse of Razaf’s earlier use of synecdoche to argue for African-American patriotism, Briggs uses the counter-revolutionary Russian admiral (who the United States government was funding and arming) as an image of reactionaries everywhere.[21]

In the December issue Briggs would use the Russian Revolution to make his most fundamental break yet with Hobbesian racialism. Briggs’ article, “Bolshevism and Race Prejudice,” pointed out that under Lenin’s government, “all men are equal, of whatever race, and nearly all races are represented in high offices,” while “[t]he only pogroms against the Jewish race being committed in Russia today are taking place” in regions controlled by the White Army. Briggs then generalized from this observation, arguing that in the USSR “pogroms are no more because there are no reactionary capitalist influences at work to pit worker against worker and race against race.” This analysis moved well beyond Briggs’ earlier revisions of Hobbesian racialism, for here he not only wrote of the possibility of interracial revolution, but provided a theoretical understanding of where white supremacy came from, locating it not in “human nature,” but in an economic system dependent on dividing oppressed classes. The Russian Revolution was the event that gave Briggs the tools he needed to move decisively beyond a racialist conception of the world.[22]

Briggs’ deepening Leftist commitment also led him to break with the second conservative underpinning of the Crusader’s early issues: the legitimacy of the American state. While earlier Briggs had published Razaf’s poetry celebrating Black loyalty to the United States, by December, 1920 he was describing African-Americans who flew the American flag as “the most pathetic sight.” Briggs described the flag as “the national symbol of the white nations which have so greatly wronged [the Black man] first by theft of his people and their enslavement and later by theft of his land and eventual dispossession.” Though the editorial was phrased in racial terms throughout, indicating the remaining presence of racialist ideology, it contained a militant attitude towards the American state that was utterly foreign to the paper’s early issues. Even in the instances in which Leftist analysis failed to displace racialist ideology, the militancy accompanying Briggs’ leftward move still impacted his writings. The turn towards socialism, while never complete, shifted the entire ideological terrain of Briggs’ thought.

Into the Party

The turn towards socialism would also alter the organizational terrain on which Briggs worked. Throughout the entire period I’ve described, Briggs’ primary organizational context was the African Blood Brotherhood, a secret fraternal organization based around principles of armed self-defense. At its height, the ABB could boast of only about 3,000 members. However, the organization’s historical importance extends beyond its own accomplishments, which were many. The leadership of the ABB provided the American CP with its first group of Black leadership, giving the Party an ability to reach African-Americans well beyond any it previously could claim. Though there has been academic controversy over the exact date on which Cyril Briggs joined the Party[23], scholars of the ABB now generally agree that Briggs didn’t become a member until mid-1921.[24] By 1922, “the majority of the leaders of the Supreme Council [of the ABB] had joined the Party.”[25] These activists, Cyril Briggs, Claude McKay, Grace Campbell, Richard Moore, were all drawn to the promise of the Soviet Union as an ally of anticolonial movements and land free of race riots. Though their decision to enter the party would eventually draw them into a context from which it was difficult to reach Black workers, their initial enthusiasm for the Revolution makes it clear that they regarded it as a vehicle with which to advance their politics to that very audience.

Briggs’ growing acceptance of the CP’s political perspective was reflected in his writings in the Crusader during this period. In July, 1920, Briggs wrote an editorial praising “The Soviet Successes.” Particularly noteworthy in this article was the linkage he drew between the Soviets and various anticolonial movements. For Briggs, “Bolshevik inspiration” was behind the recently acquired momentum of the independence movements in Afghanistan, Persia, and India. Briggs even likened these movements to a “rising tide of color,” inverting Social Darwinist Lothrap Soddard’s dire warning to the white nations. Briggs’ attribution of these movements’ successes to the inspiration they received from the Bolsheviks indicates the harmony with which he had come to view his own goals of a free Africa with the intentions of the Soviet Union. For Briggs, the USSR’s anticolonial foreign policy was a major point of attraction.[26]

Domestically, Briggs’ presence in the orbit of the CP is visible in his increasing hostility to the Socialist Party[27]. In August, 1920 Briggs was still telling his readers to “Vote Socialist!” [28] In November of that year the newspaper carried ads from the SP supporting the Socialist slate, which both A. Philip Randolph and Grace Campbell were on, in the state elections[29]. The first notices of the difference between the Soviets and Socialists came in the April, 1921 issue. In a plug for the Liberator, a Communist aligned magazine, Briggs took notice of one of its articles detailing “the struggle between the Socialists and the Communists” in Italy.[30] Two pages later, in the “News at a Glance” section, Briggs made brief mention of the split in Mexico between the Mexican Proletariat Communist Congress and the Mexican Socialist party.[31] In neither of these notes does Briggs give any indication of taking sides in the split, although by this point he was surely aware that the Communists were the official representatives of the Soviet Union and the Comintern.

By August, 1921, however, Briggs had shifted his stance to one of clear alignment with the Communists against the Socialists. Following the SP’s National Convention in Detroit, after which it was clear that the party was firmly under the control of right wing leaders like the pro-lynching Victor Berger, Briggs published an editorial decrying “The Socialist Surrender.” Accusing the party of abandoning “the banner of International Labor” in favor of that of “One Hundred Percent Americanism,” Briggs made perfectly clear his final break with SP. Hinting towards his new commitments, he took particular note of the SP’s rejection of the Third International.[32]

No more would the Crusader contain enthusiastic reports on different Socialist campaigns. Now, Briggs paid particularly close attention to pro-Communist activity in the United States. Several pages after the attack on the SP, Briggs reprinted a piece from the Metropolitan Press detailing police efforts to uncover “a nation-wide propaganda effort intended to stir up Negro discontent throughout America.” Though the article itself was printed from the standpoint of the police, Briggs recontextualized it by titling the piece “Communists Champion Negro” and providing a subtitle, “American ‘Reds’ Issue Stirring Call to White Labor to Make Common Cause with Colored Workers.”[33]

The Socialist Party was not the only enemy of the Communists at which Briggs would direct his fire. As detailed earlier, after his 1921 convention Marcus Garvey began his attempt to reconcile his movement with the American state by any means necessary. While the American CP had earlier approached Garveyism with an open mind, they now sought to expose him thoroughly as a reactionary petty bourgeois nationalist. Briggs was more than happy to follow suit, especially after Garvey’s meeting with the KKK. In the October, 1921 issue, Briggs launched his most blistering polemic against Garvey yet. Leading with the question, “Is Not This Treason?”, Briggs began a long recounting of Garvey’s “unenviable record.” Among the acts which most incensed Briggs were Garvey’s repudiation of social equality, his assertion that Black folks “had done nothing praiseworthy…in the last five hundred years,” and his advice to “Negroes to be loyal to all flags under which they live.” This editorial precipitated a historic feud between Garvey and the ABB, leading to lawsuits and countersuits over everything from claims about the Black Star Line’s finances to Garvey accusing the light-skinned Briggs of being a white man.

Though the Crusader’s attack on Garvey would help to bring Briggs and the ABB leadership closer to the CP, it alienated much of the ABB across the country, which, as Winston James notes, “largely shared its constituency with the UNIA.” Indeed, Post Pushkin in Chicago, the largest ABB post outside of the Supreme Council’s Post Menelik in Harlem, was formed by four previous members of the UNIA, three of whom left the ABB after it allied itself with the Communist Party[34]. As James describes, “With every salvo fired at Garvey…members would leave the Brotherhood and complain.”[35]

The ABB’s hemorrhaging of membership during its anti-Garvey campaign presented the organization with a major problem. The loss of support for the ABB and the Crusader constituted first and foremost a fiscal problem for Briggs and his comrades. The recession of the early 1920s had already reduced the Crusader’s finances to dangerously low levels. The January-February 1922 issue would be the newspaper’s last. The ABB itself was also teetering near the edge of fiscal insolvency, jeopardizing the ability of its leaders to support themselves.

After an attempted campaign for ABB owned cooperative stores, Briggs turned to the Party for help. Eventually a deal was reached in which the Party would provide the ABB with financial support in return for the group’s leadership agreeing to direct its campaigns along Party lines, which, as the examples above show, it was already doing anyways. Nonetheless, this fateful deal effectively marked the beginning of the end of the ABB. As Mark Solomon notes, the Brotherhood was “virtually dissolved in early 1924.”[36] Though members of the ABB would play a crucial role in the Communist movement, their days as an independent organization were over, thus silencing the collective voice of the embodiment of the New Negro.

Briggs and the CP

It is easy to impose on the story of the Crusader the traditional anticommunist narrative of white radicals suppressing Black independence. However, to do so would do tremendous violence to the actual facts. As Winston James notes, “Nothing could be further from the truth” than the view that the ABB-CP merger was “a sordid bartering of independence for a few dollars.”[37] Briggs and the other leaders of the ABB had been increasingly viewing the politics of the Soviet Union – and its representative in the United States, the CP – as those politics which could bring the liberation of Black people for which the ABB so stridently worked. Though financial troubles were ultimately the motive force behind the Brotherhood’s move into the Party, the potential energy behind such a move had been growing for a long time.

Additionally, the Party’s ineffectiveness in dealing with African American issues in its early days was not the product of a Eurocentric ideology incapable of dealing with Black life and culture, but instead was the result of the specific history of the American CP. The CP was formed, after all, out of a split in the Socialist Party in 1919, and most of its leadership had gotten its experience inside the SP. This history was directly relevant to the way that leadership would conduct itself in the CP.

The key experience of the Socialist activists who would go on to form the CP was the immense factionalism of the SP. This factionalism was directly related to the grounds on which the party was organized. The Socialist Party was open to “anyone who called himself or herself a socialist.” Its key leaders agreed that they “had to have a broad tent in which all trends within the socialist movement were represented in the same organization, because it would organize more people.”[38] The consequence of such a conception of organization was that people with diametrically opposed views of the world were forced to work together in the same organization. Victor Berger, who viewed socialism as little more than municipal ownership of firms, had to work alongside Eugene Debs, who argued for working class self-emancipation. Such a party configuration was clearly not stable, and came to an end when Berger and his allies attempted to have the Left Wing of the party arrested at its 1919 convention. The Socialists who would go on to join the CP thus were used to organizing in a party in which differences of opinion could get an activist incarcerated.

The tremendous amount of mistrust resulting from such experience translated into the intense factionalism of the early days of the CP, in which faction leaders would do whatever possible to out maneuver their opponents. As Duncan Hallas notes, this resulted in the American CP becoming, for a time, “one of the very worst parties in the Comintern – and that’s really saying something.” Hallas continues to describe the party as “internalised, fraught with problems arid ineffective” until the onset of the Great Depression.[39] This was the party into which the ABB leadership entered, a party that could not help but cool the dynamism of its members.

The silencing of the ABB was not the inevitable result of Black radicals adopting Marxist ideas. As the history of ABB members in the party would go on to show, Black Marxists could play a tremendous role in the Black Freedom Movement. The last thirty years have seen scholars reconstruct the deep history of the Party’s fight for Black liberation, a fight in which former ABB members played a central role. The engagement of Briggs and the other ABB leaders with the Russian revolution was a key step towards making that fight possible.

[1] Crusader September 1918 pg 11.

[2] ibid

[3] Crusader November 1918 pg 12.

[4] Minkah Makalani “For the Liberation of Black People Everywhere: The African Blood Brotherhood, Black Radicalism, and Pan-African Liberation in the New Negro Movement.” Ph.D. Dissertation, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 2004. pg 67

[5] Crusader September 1918 Pg 4

[6] Crusader October 1918 pg 11.

[7] Ibid 14

[8] This position became particularly problematic after Red Summer, when every Black assertion of basic rights became attributed to a Bolshevik conspiracy against the government. Given white supremacist dominance of the means of ideological production, any attempt by Black organizations to rhetorically align themselves as “True Americans” was destined for failure.

[9] Qtd. In Makalani Pg 64.

[10] Ibid 68.

[11] Crusader October 1918 pg 11.

[12] Crusader September 1918 pg 8.

[13] Makalani 72.

[14] Crusader December 1918 pgs 5-6.

[15] Crusader April 1919 pg 9.

[16] Ibid pg 10

[17] Crusader March 1919 pg 25.

[18] Crusader May 1919 pg 4.

[19] Crusader July 1919 pg 6.

[20] Crusader October 1919 pg 13.

[21] Ibid p 23.

[22] Crusader December 1919 pg 9.

[23] See James 160-163 for a brief summary of the arguments.

[24] This is the view endorsed by Theodore Draper, Minkah Makalani, Winston James, and Mark Solomon.

[25] James 163.

[26] Crusader July 1920 pgs 10-11

[27] The American Communist Party grew out of a split in the SP in 1919.

[28] Crusader August 1920 pg 5

[29] Crusader November 1920 pg 3.

[30] Crusader April 1921 pg 21.

[31] Ibid 23.

[32] Crusader August 1921 pgs 8-9

[33] Ibid pg 12

[34] Makalani 145

[35] James 179

[36] Mark Solomon The Cry Was Unity: Communists and African Americans, 1917-36. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1998. Pg 29.

[37] James 179.

[38] Todd Chretien. “Lenin’s Theory of the Party.” International Socialist Review 56 Nov-Dec. 2007.

[39] Duncan Hallas “The American Working Class.” Socialist Review 88 June 1986. Accessed online at