Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Chapter Two

Chapter Two: Marcus Garvey, the UNIA, and the Negro World

“They are allied with the Bolsheviks and Sinn Feiners in their world revolution” – W.E.B. Du Bois, on Marcus Garvey and the UNIA, 1920[1]

Garvey and the Contradictions of Black Elite Politics

Marcus Garvey and the United Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) were nothing if not contradictory. In 1919, before an audience of 2,500 at Carnegie Hall, Garvey denounced “[t]hose crackers of the South who have been lynching our brothers and sisters, our mothers and our fathers and our children for over 15 years.”[2] Three years later, after repudiating Black aspirations for social equality, Garvey publicly thanked the white South for “lynch[ing] race pride into the Negroes.”[3] On the one hand Garvey could distance himself from white elites, declaring his choice between “be[ing] one of the ‘black-whites’ of Jamaica, and be[ing] reasonably prosperous” or “com[ing] out openly and defend[ing] and help[ing] improve and protect the integrity of the black millions and suffer,” while also affirming that “up to now my one true friend as far as you can rely on his friendship, is the whiteman.”[4] Contradictions such as these were extant in the Garveyite enterprise for its duration as a political force in America.

Garvey’s contradictions were never static. Far from rigid binary oppositions, the contradictions in Garveyite ideology between the militant mass politics of 1919 and a nationalist inflected conciliation with white supremacy were formed from competing ideological tendencies influenced by the political events of the contemporary world. These events, whether the Russian Revolution or state repression of the UNIA, influenced Garvey himself and the broader UNIA to different degrees. While Garvey would never abandon a belief in Black business and would remain skeptical about the possibility of socialism, other UNIA members were quick to argue that capitalism was irredeemably flawed. Though the leftward pull of 1919 exerted greater influence on the UNIA than on Garvey personally, for both it was insufficient to withstand the impact of capitalist restabilization in the early 1920s.

The contradictions in Garveyism ultimately originated in the way the UNIA and Garvey’s early ideological commitments were transformed in the conjuncture of the New Negro. Judith Stein has described the UNIA as an attempt to “transform racial enterprise into a vehicle for militant politics.”[5] In implicitly distinguishing between the form and content of Garveyism, Stein argues that racial enterprises like the Black Star Line were ultimately carriers for the movement’s radical politics. I believe the reverse is more accurate: Garvey sought to transform militant politics and rhetoric into a vehicle for the promotion of racial enterprise. Garvey attempted to use the tremendous energy in the mass politics of 1919 as a dynamo for powering his project of racial enterprise. Although Garvey was initially committed to a Booker T. Washington[6] inspired ideology of racial uplift through industrial achievement, the politics of the New Negro years and the international influence of the Russian Revolution forced Garvey to reorient his politics and organization around mass politics. Throughout this period, lasting until 1921, Garvey worked closely with other New Negro radicals such as W.A. Domingo and the group of Black socialists around the Messenger. After 1921, however, government repression and a retreating Left led Garvey to look towards the other side of his contradictions, causing the UNIA leader to seek rapprochement with white supremacists such as the Ku Klux Klan and to distance himself from his radical former comrades. Garvey’s retreat created an unbridgeable chasm between the UNIA and the other New Negro organizations, and ultimately meant the beginning of the end of the movement.

In order to study Garvey’s contradictions in a coherent manner, Antonio Gramsci’s framework of contradictory consciousness is extremely valuable. Gramsci emphasizes that contradictory ideologies are not merely the result of self-deception, but instead are “the expression of profounder contrasts of a social historical order.”[7] When considered in terms of Gramsci’s framework, Garvey’s contradictions are not the results of a personal failure on his part, but are instead the result of his attempt to navigate real social contradictions between the interests of a Black bourgeoisie committed to conciliation with a white supremacist power structure and a massive Black working class whose interests were deadly opposed to that structure. Gramsci also describes how these contradictions can manifest themselves in mass organizations. He argues that a “social group in question may indeed have its own conception of the world, even if only embryonic” but that group often will “for reasons of submission and intellectual subordination, [adopt] a conception which is not its own but is borrowed from another group.”[8] Such an analysis explains why in “normal times” (to use Gramsci’s Aesopian term for non-revolutionary periods) the conciliatory ideology of Booker T. Washington reigns, while in revolutionary conjunctures such as 1919 that ideology is thrown off and denounced with great rapidity. Finally, Gramsci’s description of the tasks of Marxist criticism of philosophy serve as an excellent statement of the goals of this chapter: “What must next be explained is how it happens that in all periods there co-exist many systems and currents of philosophical thought, how these currents are born, how they are diffused, and why in the process of diffusion they fracture along certain lines and in certain directions.”[9] This chapter will thus trace the lines and directions of the competing philosophies of New Negro militancy and Washingtonian conciliation in Garvey and the UNIA.

Historians have often failed to appreciate the contradictory ideas and notions within Garvey’s thought. Garvey’s own political development has encouraged historians to overlook his more radical tendencies, as those tendencies were ultimately displaced by his more conciliatory nationalism. However, just because his nationalist politics became dominant does not mean that Garvey did not also espouse an emergent radical politics during the time of the New Negro movement. Confusing the commitments which were ultimately dominant with those of Garvey’s entire career obscures both his emergent radicalism and its residual expressions in his later years.

Ahmed Shawki, in Black Liberation and Socialism, is one of those who reads Garvey’s nationalism backwards over his radicalism. Shawki disputes Manning Marable’s characterization of Garvey in 1919 as “profoundly sympathetic with the international left and with mass workers’ movements against capital,”[10] arguing instead that “Garvey adopted militant rhetoric in 1919 because he understood it was necessary to attract members to the UNIA.”[11] While it is true that Garvey’s militant rhetoric failed to displace his conservative commitments, it is also true that that same rhetoric was used to build an organization of two million, primarily working class, Black folks. Garvey may have been cynically using leftist rhetoric to mask essentially nationalist goals, but those who joined because of that rhetoric were most assuredly not. Conflating Garvey with the UNIA as a whole misses this essential contradiction. In addition, as I demonstrate below, Garvey’s engagement with the Left during the period of the New Negro went beyond the mere borrowing of rhetoric to a genuine engagement with Leftist ideas.

Tony Martin is similarly undialectical in his judgment of Garvey. His nationalist study of the UNIA, Race First, contains a level of detail which cannot help but expose the myriad ways in which Garvey was linked to the Left. However, Martin seeks to subsume these details underneath an overarching narrative of Garveyism as an ideology profoundly hostile to integration or cooperation with non-nationalist groups such as the socialists. Martin is aided in constructing this narrative by Garvey’s own statements after his break with the rest of the New Negro movement. Too often, however, Martin accepts these statements at face value, thereby failing to situate Garvey’s reflections on earlier times within the contemporary ideological struggles in which UNIA leader was engaged. For example, in discussing Garvey’s dismissal of W.A. Domingo, a Black socialist, from his position of editor of the Negro World, Martin uncritically cites Garvey’s explanation from 1926, in which Garvey explained that he fired Domingo because of “his dangerous communistic principles.”[12] However, this statement is taken from Garvey’s legal appeal of his conviction for mail fraud. In entreating the U.S. state for clemency, Garvey clearly sought to minimize his own previous radical commitments.[13] At the time of the dismissal, however, Garvey himself was making statements that led the Justice Department to conclude that “the Soviet Russian Rule is upheld and there is open advocation of Bolshevism” in the pages of the Negro World.[14] Garvey’s dismissal of Domingo was not a repudiation of radicalism per se, but rather an attempt to insulate the UNIA from anticommunist government persecution.

What both Martin and Shawki miss in their respective studies of Garveyism is the deeply contradictory commitments of Garvey and UNIA, especially during the New Negro period. From 1918-1921, the UNIA was pulled one way by Garvey’s ideology of uplift through racial enterprise and another by the explosion of mass politics around the globe, particularly the growth of the New Negro movement in Harlem and the Russian Revolution. Before exploring Garvey’s ties and tensions with the New Negro movement, however, it is necessary to examine Garvey’s early years and the ideology with which he founded the UNIA.

Marcus Garvey was born in 1887 in St. Ann’s Bay, Jamaica. His father, as an artisan stonemason, was able to provide Garvey’s family with greater means than those available to most Jamaicans, who worked as sharecroppers. As a young man, Garvey worked as a foreman in a printer’s shop, where he participated in a strike by the shop’s workers. Fired for his involvement in the strike, Garvey got a job as a civil servant in a government print shop in Kingston. In Kingston, he became involved with the National Club, a group of middle class Jamaicans who sought to combat the worst excesses of British colonialism on the island. There he met W.A. Domingo, a fellow member of the club and later editor of the Negro World.

Garvey spent much of the next few years traveling, eventually landing in London as a messenger for the Pan-Africanist publication The African Times and Orient Review. Edited by Egyptian immigrant Duse Mohammed Ali, the journal’s goal was to “lay the aims, desires, and intentions of the Black, Brown, and Yellow Races – within and without the Empire – at the throne of Caesar.”[15] Such an objective was firmly within the consensus of fin de siècle Pan-African politics. Though discontented with colonial discrimination and exploitation, many early Pan-Africanists embraced what Michelle Mitchell has called “the Black Man’s Burden”[16] – the idea that European colonialism in Africa, by bringing the advancements of a “civilized” culture, would lay the basis for a united continent. For example, Edward Blyden, an early theorist of Pan-Africanism, was an enthusiastic supporter of the extension of British rule in Sierra Leone, because he felt that it freed “a great country from the cruel savagery of the ages and [threw] it open to the regenerating influences of an enlightened nation.”[17] As intellectuals whose experiences were forged in the quarter of a century in which Europe went from controlling ten percent of Africa to ninety percent of it, many early Pan-Africanists could not imagine the possibility of a generalized overthrow of European rule. Instead, they attempted to resist the worst depredations of the West while gaining what they could from its rule.

Similar circumstances shaped African-American intellectuals of the same period. Both Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. Du Bois, the two principle Black intellectuals at the turn of the century, agreed that Jim Crow was here to stay, at least for now. The image of the two in popular memory as bitter rivals actually obscures the common ground they shared. Du Bois expressed himself in a classic Washingtonian mode when he wrote that “a little less complaint and whining, and little more dogged work and manly striving would do us more credit and benefit than a thousand Force or Civil Rights bills.”[18] The modesty of the demands of both Du Bois and Washington in the years surrounding the turn of the century was a direct result of the Redemption of the South and the defeat of the interracial Populist movement. In Brian Kelly’s words, the concilliatory ideologies of Washington and Du Bois were the result of “the white South’s enhanced capacity to set the boundaries on [B]lack assertion.”[19]

Marcus Garvey was the inheritor of these aspirations formed in an era of defeat. Working for Duse Mohammed Ali, he found himself near the center of the Pan-Africanist movement of the time. Articles by Edward Blyden, Booker T. Washington, and W.E.B. Du Bois regularly appeared in the pages of the African Times and Orient Review. When Garvey returned home to Jamaica, he sought to put the ideologies he learned abroad to work. On July 20th, 1914, Garvey founded the United Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League. As an indicator of the extent to which Garvey, like his predecessors, had absorbed the ideology of European imperialism, two of the founding goals of the UNIA were “To assist in civilizing the backwards tribes of Africa” and “To strengthen the imperialism of independent African states.”[20] The UNIA’s first year of existence was marked by very slow growth; it could boast only a hundred members a year after its founding. The organization’s lack of growth concerned Garvey, and he sought the help of Booker T. Washington to rectify it.

Garvey’s activities in the UNIA in Jamaica provide an indication of his acceptance of an essentially Washingtonian sensibility. The UNIA was to be, in Garvey’s words, “non-political.” Garvey went so far as to ask his followers “to eschew politics as a means of social change.”[21] Such a request was in keeping with Garvey’s analysis of the problems of the race, which held that “those Negroes who failed to do their duty by the race in promoting a civilized imperialism” were the ones to blame for the “retrograde state of the Negro.” Garvey even went so far as to argue that “[n]o one in the wide world is handicapping the Negro…the sleeping Negro has handicapped and is still handicapping himself.”[22] Political activity would be of no aid in solving the problems of the “the sleeping Negro”. Instead, upper class Blacks needed to aid in the culturation of the lower classes, “so that they might advance into a higher state of enlightenment.”[23]

Garvey’s emphasis on the need of African-descended peoples to help themselves was a constant theme throughout his early years. His slogan, “Race First,” is a declaration of the belief that no one but Black folks can be counted on to help Black folks. In the years before the New Negro movement, however, Garvey’s pronouncements on self-help were of a markedly different sort than those that would come later. As part of the New Negro movement, Garvey and the UNIA asserted the need for Black folks to “help themselves” stand up in self-defense against white supremacist terrorism. “Race first” was a slogan which Garvey thought would mobilize African Americans to take the rights denied them by whites. In Jamaica, however, Garvey emphasized, along Washingtonian lines, the ways in which Black folks needed an ideology of self-help to overcome self-imposed obstacles. Self-help meant that improvement of Black peoples’ lives would not come through the elimination of white-imposed barriers, but through Black folks developing their own abilities. The ideology of self-help would later form the basis for Garvey’s Black Star shipping line, the primary route by which he sought to use racial enterprise as a means of uplift.

Garvey’s early years of political activity were marked above all by an acceptance of the political consensus formed in an era of Black retreat. Whether articulated in the desire for a “civilized” Africa as expressed by the Pan-Africanists or in the Washingtonian belief that Black achievement was the primary means by which racial progress could be achieved, Garvey was a convinced apostle of Black elite politics. However, the hegemony of these politics was soon to be fiercely challenged by the younger generation of Black activists. It is to Garvey’s relationship to these “New Negroes” that I now turn.

Marcus Garvey and the New Negro

Marcus Garvey and the UNIA cannot be separated from the broader New Negro movement. Without the conjunctural determinants analyzed in chapter one (the Great Migration, Red Summer, postwar labor, etc), it is uncertain whether the UNIA would have grown to become the massive organization it was. For it was only in America, under the influence of the country’s explosion of mass politics, that the UNIA moved from the tiny organization it was in Jamaica to the largest organization of the African diaspora in history. The New Negro movement and the Russian revolution were the key vectors through which ideologies of mass politics entered the UNIA.

Garvey’s relationship with the New Negro movement and the Left in general has been one of the most misunderstood aspects of his career. There is a systematic tendency to overstate Garvey’s differences with the movement and understate his similarities. Thus Judith Stein argues that “the UNIA was associated with the popular politics of 1919 only through individuals like Domingo.”[24] The significance of this statement diminishes when one sees just how many individuals like Domingo there were, and how important they were in Garvey’s organization. Indeed, the early years of the American UNIA witnessed a deep institutional connection between that organization and the broader Left. Tony Martin similarly separates the UNIA from the Left when he describes the two’s relationship as “cordial.”[25] Such a description renders the relationship between the two static, ignoring the definitive traces of Leftist presence inside the project of Garveyism. Both of these aspects of Garvey’s relationship with the Left, the institutional and the ideological, are crucial for a full appreciation of that relationship.

W.A. Domingo’s career provides an appropriate starting place for examining Garvey’s institutional links to the Left and the New Negro. As stated earlier, Domingo had been a member of the National Club in Jamaica along with Garvey. When Garvey arrived in New York in 1916, Domingo was one of those to whom he turned. Garvey’s relationship with Domingo would serve the former well. In 1918, when Garvey was trying to launch the Negro World, Domingo put him in touch with Henry Rogowski, publisher of the Socialist Party’s New York Call. It was from the Call that Garvey procured the credit necessary for the establishment of the Negro World. Garvey also offered Domingo editorship of the new paper. Under his tenure, the Call and the Negro World often published each others’ articles, with UNIA meetings often being announced in the Socialist newspaper. The Negro World also endorsed the Black Socialists (A. Philip Randolph, Chandler Owen, and George Frazier Miller) who ran for state assembly and Congress in 1918. The report, “Radicalism and Sedition Among the Negroes as Reflected in Their Publications,” noted the relationship between the UNIA and the Socialists when it remarked how the Negro World condemned nearly the entire Black press, “with the notable exception of the infamous monthly, The Messenger.”[26]

At the time of Domingo and Garvey’s collaboration, Domingo was also an associate editor of the Messenger, as well as an associate of Cyril Briggs, who would go on to form the African Blood Brotherhood in October, 1919 (Domingo would be a founding member, as well as a member of the organization’s Supreme Council). Centrally located within the New Negro movement, Domingo’s editorship of the paper was an indication of Garvey’s orbit within that movement.[27]

There were other individuals like Domingo, who were linked to both the Left and the Garvey movement, among whom, Hubert Harrison was one of the most important. As the foremost Black radical in Harlem (until Garvey’s ascent), Harrison’s editorship of Garvey’s paper from 1920-21 formed another link between the Negro World and the New Negro movement. Though by this time Harrison had severed his ties with the Socialist Party and declared himself a Black nationalist, he retained many of his old theoretical commitments. In 1920 he wrote a challenge to the Socialists in the Negro World: if they will send someone to Harlem to argue “the cause of Karl Marx, freed from the admixture of rancor and hatred of the Negro’s own defensive racial propaganda, you may find that it will have as a good a chance of gaining adherents as any other political creed.”[28]
In addition to political activists like Harrison, militant culture workers like Andy Razaf were also drawn to the UNIA. Razaf, born in Madagascar, was an immensely successful popular songwriter, writing the lyrics to classics like “Ain’t Misbehavin’” and “Black and Blue.” He was also a central figure in the New Negro movement. Razaf was on the staff of the Crusader in 1919, a contributor of poems to the Messenger, and a songwriter and poet for the UNIA. He was also, as William J. Maxwell describes, “a window onto Harlem Renaissance-era [B]lack [B]olshevism.” Razaf saw no contradiction between his “attachment to The Crusader’s [B]olshevik strain” and promotion of Garveyism[29]. In 1920, Razaf introduced Garvey during a speech at Liberty Hall with two songs he had written, “Garvey! Hats Off to Garvey!” and “U.N.I.A.”[30]

Yet another Black Leftist involved in the Garvey project was Claude McKay. McKay, who would become a vital link between the New Negro movement and The New Negro, “was a Garvey supporter and regular contributor to the Negro World in its early period.”[31] McKay was also an enthusiastic supporter of the Bolsheviks. In 1919, in an exchange published in the Negro World, McKay debated the paper’s literary editor, William Ferris, over the Russian Revolution’s significance for Black folks. In the debate he described Bolshevism as “the greatest and most scientific idea afloat in the world today that can most easily be put into practice by the proletariat to better its material and spiritual life.”[32] In response to the debate, one reader wrote in to the Negro World and described his interest in “Mr. Claude McKay’s defense of Bolshevism” as well as “the rejoinder of the distinguished author of the African Abroad.” The letter’s author went on to say that he had “come to the conclusion that capitalism is bad, unconscionably, irredeemably bad.”[33] This letter is especially significant, as its views were opposed to those set by the UNIA leadership which favored Ferris in the debate; yet it was printed nonetheless. Its presence is indicative of both the ideological openness of the UNIA in its radical phase, as well as the influence Bolshevism and its proponents like McKay had on the Negro World’s readership.

In addition to “stars” like Razaf and McKay, there were many lesser known Leftists who were associated with the Garvey movement, including John Sydney De Bourg. De Bourg had been secretary of the Trinidadian Workingmen’s Association in 1919, leading the organization in a massive strike. After emigrating to the United States, de Bourg became a leader in the UNIA and was elected “Leader of the Negroes of the West Indies, Western Province, South and Central America” at the organization’s 1921 convention. As the leader of class-based struggle in the Caribbean, De Bourg illustrates the degree to which the mass politics of the period were incorporated into the UNIA.[34]

A number of Black leftists who didn’t join the UNIA or contribute to the Negro World collaborated with Garvey. In March, 1919 the UNIA held a meeting presided over by Messenger editor Chandler Owen. The meeting was convened to elect a delegate to the Paris Peace talks to represent the race. A. Philip Randolph and W.A. Domingo were also present. The meeting denounced W.E.B. Du Bois, whom the State Department had approved as an “official” Black delegate, and elected Eliezer Cadet to give the truth “of lynching and burning of men, women and children in America because they are Black.” Though the relationship between the Messenger group and Garveyites would later become acrimonious, at this point they worked together to try and put militant Black demands on the world stage.[35]

This short list of Leftists in the UNIA gives some idea of the connections between the various institutions of the New Negro movement. Activists from one or another of these institutions saw no contradiction between supporting the “nationalist” Garvey and the “communist” African Blood Brotherhood. Their presence in the Garvey movement did more than merely link it with the other wings of the New Negro movement, however. Writers like McKay and Domingo changed the ideological content of the Garvey movement, even influencing Garvey’s own thought and rhetoric.

One of the most obvious examples of the influence of the Left on Garvey was his adoption of the rhetoric of “revolution.” Revolution was a term which was surely anathema to the Garvey who had instructed his followers to eschew politics. Yet after the success of the Russian Revolution, the upheaval in Europe, and the explosion of class struggle in the United States around 1919, revolution became a word which fell from Garvey’s lips as easily as those of any other New Negro radical. In November,1918, a Bureau of Investigation memorandum reported that Garvey had given a speech in which he “prophesied a revolution of the [N]egroes in the United States unless their demands were granted.”[36] The Bureau also noted that Garvey had sent invitations to the meeting to the well-known socialists Eugene V. Debs and Morris Hillquit[37]. However, it’s important to note that the appearance of revolutionary rhetoric in Garvey’s speeches did not mark the full displacement of his earlier ideology. This can be seen in his “Advice of the Negro to Peace Conference” from November 1918, where he warned “the statesmen of the various nations” at the conference “to be very just to all those people who may happen to come under their legislative control.” Garvey went on to describe how if these statesmen “were alive to the real feeling of their respective masses four and one-half years ago, Germany would have been intact, Austria-Hungary would have been intact, Russia would have been intact, the spirit of revolution never would have swept Europe, and mankind at large would have been satisfied.”[38] This attitude towards revolution contrasts markedly with the unbridled enthusiasm displayed by both A. Philip Randolph and Cyril Briggs. In Gramscian fashion, Garvey was expressing the revolutionary sentiments of his conjuncture in a language which militated against those sentiments.

The influence of the mass politics of 1919 is also visible in Garvey’s use of the term “capitalist” as an epithet. At a speech Garvey gave in December, 1918 he denounced the “Anglo-Saxon and American capitalists [who] met in London and determined that ‘the nigger’ should pay the cost of the war.”[39] The following April he attacked Du Bois’ attendance at the Paris peace talks, describing him as “never elected by any one except the capitalist class.”[40] Even Garvey’s “Advice” to the peace conference, which portrayed revolution as tragic, blamed the tragedy on the “graft, greed, and selfishness” of the capitalist class, who “were determined to rob and exploit the masses.”[41] Such language would have been equally at home in one of the Messenger’s polemics. Garvey’s use of radical rhetoric, unlike that of the Messenger, coexisted with a strong commitment to Black business as a means of racial uplift. As Garvey began to launch his Black Star shipping line, the radical rhetoric of capitalist malfeasance would soon disappear from his speeches.

Although theRussian revolution was a key influence behind these aspects of Garveyism’s radicalization, his relationship to the revolution was complex. On the one hand, he was tremendously inspired by the Bolshevik revolution as an example of victory by the downtrodden. This victory, he hoped, would give confidence to Blacks fighting for their rights around the world. Garvey sought to inspire his followers with the example of the victory of the lower classes in Russia, exhorting “Negroes…to win their freedom just as the Russians…have done – by revolution and bloody fighting.”[42] Here Garvey also displays the extent to which his methods for liberation have been shifted by world politics – it is now revolution by which Black folks can win their freedom, not education. At this time Garvey’s future editor of the Negro World, Hubert Harrison, was also extolling the virtues of Bolshevism. A report to the Director of Military Intelligence reported on a speech Harrison gave in Washington D.C. in which he claimed “Bolshevism is the salvation of America.”[43] The enthusiasm for the Russian revolution was not limited to the UNIA’s upper echelons. Federal agents investigating the UNIA in Massachusets reported to their superiors that the UNIA attendees at a Russian Club event “sang the Internationale [anthem of the international working class movement] as lustily as the Ruskys.”[44]

Garvey was also influenced by the specific actions of the new Soviet State. His most significant engagement with Soviet policy was in his March 27th, 1919 “Editorial Letter,” in which he commented on the Third International’s newly released Manifesto of the Communist International to the Proletariat of the Entire World, and reflected on the revolutionary movement in general. Garvey interpreted the Manifesto as “a proclamation of sympathy and good will towards the laboring peoples of the world.” He went on to argue that “the revolution among the whites” was progressing because “the masses are not yet free.” His enthusiasm for the revolution was guarded, however. Garvey was careful to note that “[w]e are not very much concerned as partakers in these revolutions.” Despite this avowed non-revolutionary intent, the Russian revolution pushed Garvey leftward insofar as it gave him confidence by providing the Black movement with what he described as “breathing space to then declare our freedom.” Garvey went on to praise Bolshevism’s victories, adding that “it is going to spread until it finds a haven in the breasts of all oppressed peoples, and then there shall be a universal rule of the masses.”[45]

Garvey was also a keen observer of the Revolution’s effects on other international leaders. In January, 1919 Garvey gave an adress to the New York Division of the UNIA during which he commented on a speech Woodrow Wilson made in which the latter declared that “[t]he fortunes of mankind are now in the hands of the people of the whole world.” Garvey argued that Wilson’s speech demonstrated that “labor has forced [Wilson’s] hands,” forcing him into “a direct compromise with Socialistic ideas.” It appears that labor also forced Garvey’s hands to a degree, for he now announced that “[t]he equality of man has become indisputable. There can be but one [aristocracy?] today and that is labor.” Garvey celebrated labor’s destruction of “the privileged aristrocracy in Russia, in Germany, in Austro-Hungary” and prophesized “within the next ten years that Great Britain will be swept away by this threatening revolution.” The speech also saw Garvey’s Pan-African eurocentrism mix with revolutionary influence, as when he contended that “the great centres of civilization” had “enlighten[ed]” African-Americans “of the fact that there can be no abiding peace until all oppression has been removed from the people.” [46]

In this same speech Garvey also revealed the extent to which the postwar labor militancy in the United States had pushed him leftwards. Garvey argued that AFL leader Samuel Gompers had become “a greater force in American national life than even President Wilson.” Gompers’ influence, Garvey believed, was due to his being “an exponent of labor” in the United States. Garvey asked his audience,

How is it that labor has become such a force in the world? Can you not remember in the years gone by when a few men used to strike for higher wages and they were turned down by their employers and forced to accept their conditions? Can you not remember. . . that some years ago trades unionism was regarded as an impracticable thing?. . .How is it that this change has come about then?

Garvey’s answer was that “[a]ll has been accomplished through organization. Organization is the force that rules the world.” Labor’s success stood as “a fair example to us as Negroes, that if we are to impose our wills on the powers that be, we must be as solidly organized as labor is today.” Labor militancy stood as an example to Garvey of the potential success of mass politics, pulling him away from his “anti-political” conception of Black uplift that he held in Jamaica.[47]

The insurgent politics surrounding 1919 forced Garvey to look towards mass politics as a source of power for his movement, opening the UNIA up for greater radicalization. In this period of working class ascendancy, so-called “Old Crowd” Black leaders like Du Bois and James Weldon Johnson “discovered that their hegemony dissolved as former white allies withdrew and the masses adopted new agendas and methods.” Even institutions like the NAACP “moved ideologically to the left, toward working-class methods of protest.” [48] Garveyism moved to the Left as well, although to a far greater degree than older, more established race leaders. The greater degree of Garveyism’s ideological shift is due primarily to two factors. First, Garvey had always focused on the Black working class as his audience, even when his methods for its uplift were profoundly bourgeois. This greater connection with the Black working class meant that its radicalization affected him more than groups further removed. Second, Garvey dove headfirst into organizing in Harlem at precisely the moment that the other forces of the New Negro movement, the Black socialists and the African Blood Brotherhood, were beginning to move. As I have shown above, the tremendous overlap of activists between these different groups both provided the New Negro movement with greater coherence and pulled the Garvey movement to the Left. As Judith Stein observes, when progressive forces were moving forward, ideological differences in the New Negro movement “were not of great significance.” The anti-radical Lusk Committee, writing with some exaggeration, warned that all groups, “be they Socialist, revolutionary, nationalist, communist and anarchist[,] have dropped their differences of opinion on detail for the common purpose of securing a change of government in the United States.”[49] Though the Committee’s members saw common cause in every group which chafed under the burden of white supremacy, in this case they touched upon a conjuncture in which there was a broad coherence among Black radicals towards revolutionary goals. This commonality of purpose was, unfortunately, not to last.

Garvey and the End of the New Negro

The defeat of the American Left in the early 1920s, begun with the failure of the postwar labor insurgency, removed the common momentum which had helped to bind together the various wings of the New Negro movement. As the various actors realigned themselves to meet the challenges of this new period, the differences between them came to be of larger and larger significance. The process of the movement’s decoherence was hastened immensely by government repression, aimed both against the general radical insurgency as well as specifically against the New Negro movement. As Garvey himself came to be a victim of this repression, he moved farther to the right, hoping to place his movement within the limits of acceptable dissent set by the American state. The fact that the radical movement at home and abroad was in retreat hastened Garvey’s rightward shift, as Leftist politics ceased to appear as vital of a source for social change. Garvey soon found a new source of inspiration, however, in the rise of the Ku Klux Klan, an organization which effectively displaced the revolutionary movement in Garvey’s rhetoric as the new source of legitimacy in American politics. Garvey’s retreat from the Left and his alliance with the Klan ultimately dissolved the New Negro movement as a coherent force; both the Messenger and the Crusader would soon be supporting a vicious campaign of deportation against the UNIA leader. This section will trace the general defeat of the Left and Garvey’s responses to the new conjuncture.

Mike Davis has written that “[i]t would be difficult to exaggerate the magnitude of American labor’s defeat in the 1919-1924 period.” While 1919 to 1921 formed an era of advance for working class struggle, that advance was eventually routed to such an extent that “[f]or almost a decade, the corporations were virtually free from the challenge of militant unionism.” [50] This period saw the Socialist Party’s membership decline from 110,000 in 1919 to 12,000 in 1923.[51] A large component of labor’s defeat in this period was the defeat of the great steel strike of 1919, “the failed test of native labor’s ability to unite with the immigrant proletariat.”[52] The domestic defeat of American labor was mirrored in the international situation. Judith Stein provides a short list of Left defeats of this period – “the huge French strikes in the spring of 1920, the American strikes of 1922, the state governments of the left in Germany in 1923”[53] – to which one could add the defeat of the Hungarian Soviet Republic, the failure of the Italian factory councils, and the increasing bureacratization of the Soviet state in Russia. In short, the Left was in a state of retreat both at home and abroad.

The defeat of American insurgent politics in the early 1920s was aided by a massive campaign of state-organized repression. The Industrial Workers of the World, a militant, interracial, industrial union, came under particular attack for its activities. In Arizona, an army of 2,000 deputies forced all IWW members and sympathizers into railroad cars and shipped them into the middle of the New Mexico desert. In Montana, mine owners organized the lynching of IWW member Frank Little, whose body was left hanging from a railway trestle. Many cities utilized wartime laws to continue the persecution of dissidents after the armistice. By 1921, only eleven of eighty-eight major American cities had rescinded their bans on large public gatherings passed during the war. The federal government also participated in the campaign against radicalism; the “Palmer Raids,” named after attorney general A. Mitchell Palmer, deported between five and ten thousand immigrant radicals. This wave of repression served to both disorganize existing Leftist organizations and warn potential recruits about the dangers of dissident activity.[54]

The Left’s retreat opened up political space for the growth of the organized right. The primary expresison of this growth was the explosion of the Ku Klux Klan. In the six years after 1920, the KKK grew in membership from less than two thousand to more than two million.[55] One of these new recruits was President Warren G. Harding, who used the White House Bible for his induction ceremony, which took place in the Green Room.[56] Two-thirds of Klan members in this period lived outside the South. In some states, most notably Indiana, there was no difference to speak of between the Klan and local government. Combined with the retreat of the Left, which included the New Negro movement, the Klan’s growth cast an ominous specter over Black hopes in the 1920s.

The shift to the right in world politics allowed the more conservative side of Garvey’s politics to assert itself. Garvey’s investment in Washingtonian ideology had been growing in parallel with his Black Star Line business venture, first launched in 1919. In its first few years, however, the pull of the Black Star Line away from radical struggle was always tempered by Garvey’s institutional and ideological connections with radical politics. At the same time Garvey could speak of both the rule of the masses and the need for investment in Black businesses. As mass politics were defeated, they became a less viable route for racial progress. Garvey adjusted correspondingly, removing his rhetoric of revolution from UNIA publications.

State repression also played a considerable role in Garvey’s retreat from radicalism. I have already shown Garvey’s essentially appeasing response to repression; when W.A. Domingo came to the attention of federal authorities, Garvey promptly dismissed him from his employ. Despite that dismissal, however, Garvey was still profoundly influenced by the revolutionary politics of the period. Once those politics began to recede, repression could exert a much greater influence on Garvey’s actions.

Though the federal government had displayed an interest in Garvey’s activities since 1919, it took years to finally discover evidence which could be used to prosecute him. The Bureau of Investigation had first placed infiltrators inside the UNIA in 1919, but even with considerable access to Garvey himself agents had been unable to find any criminal activity. A viable pretext for repression finally presented itself in 1921, when Garvey undertook a tour of the Caribbean. The State Department, in cooperation with the Bureau, developed a plan to deny Garvey (who was not a US citizen) reentry to the United States. As a result of this plan, Garvey was forced to spend four months in the Caribbean while filing application after application for reentry. Finally UNIA officials were able to bribe the required federal officials into granting their leader a visa. As Robert Hill notes, “the impact [of the government harassment] was immediate.” On his unexpectedly extended tour, “Garvey was careful to point out his respect for the established order.”[57] The day after his return to the States, Garvey gave an address at Liberty Hall in which he “waxed patriotic, professing his love for America and thanking Secretary of States Hughes for making his reentry possible.” The Bureau’s main informant at the time summarized Garvey’s oratory throughout August, 1921 as “more ‘pro-Negro’ than ‘anti-White.’” [58] In an attempt to both insulate his organization from repression and revitalize the Black Star Line’s flagging finances, “Garvey distanced himself from popular militance,”[59] a move made “all the easier by the fact that it came after Garvey’s protracted absence from America.” As Robert Hill writes, this resulted above all in a “loss of critical contact with the pulse of the movement’s rank and file.” [60]

Garvey’s rapprochment with the Klan had its roots in this same period. After returning from his Caribbean tour, Garvey suddenly shifted to take up the ideological cudgel against campaigns for “social equality.” In August, Garvey wrote a lengthy telegram to the League of Nations informing them of the UNIA’s repudiation of the Second Pan-African Congress. Using language strikingly similar to that of white supremacists such as Lothrop Stoddard, Garvey announced that UNIA members “sincerely feel that the white race like the Black and Yellow Races should maintain the purity of self.” He continued, denouncing “any attempts on the part of dissatisfied individuals who by accident are members of the Negro race, in their attempts to foster a campaign of miscegenation on to the destruction of the Race’s purity.”[61] The next month Garvey prasied a speech by Warren Harding in Birmingham which declared that “race amalgamation there can never be” due to “widely unequal capacities and capabilities.” Garvey even returned to his rhetoric of Black blame, asserting that Black folks “have done nothing praiseworthy on their own initiative in the last five hundred years to recommend them to the serious cconsideration of progressive races.” [62]

Garvey’s ideological shift was based in a reexamination of the political possibilities inside the United States. In an article called “America is [a] White Man’s Country,” Garvey asked “Why should I waste time in a place where I am outnumbered and where if I make a physical fight I will lose out and ultimately die.”[63] Such statements contrast vividly with earlier UNIA attitudes, such as a banner UNIA members made before the 1921 convention which warned, “The New Negro is Ready for the Ku Klux.”[64] By 1922 Garvey felt anything but ready to take on the KKK. Worn down by government harassment and no longer convinced of the vitality of mass struggle, Garvey looked to those espousing doctrines of racial purity as the powers in American politics. Such an assessment led Garvey to describe the Klan as the “invisible government” of the United States.[65]

If this evaluation, while overstated, contained a rational kernel, the political conclusion Garvey took from it, that Blacks should ally with the Klan, was utterly divorced from reality. Yet Garvey took his ideas about the Klan’s power in America to their logical conclusion, scheduling a meeting with acting imperial wizard Edward Young Clarke in June 1922. This move was met with immediate condemnation from other sectors of the Black Left. A. Philip Randolph, whose Messenger had been developing an increasingly anti-Garvey strain in the previous two years, described the UNIA leader as nothing more than the KKK’s “Negro leader.”[66] Cyril Briggs, whose organization had declared war on the Klan, similarly denounced Garvey. While acerbity between the Left of the New Negro movement and the UNIA had been growing, the meeting with the Klan was a qualitative shift, after which the door was forever closed on further cooperation between the various groups.

The disintegration of the New Negro movement as a coherent entity coincided with increased federal repression against the Garvey movement. In the spring of 1922, the Bureau had finally gathered enough evidence that it was confident it could pursue a mail fraud case, based on the alleged financial misconduct of the Black Star Line. The ensuing trial would further exhaust Garvey and his collaborators (especially his seemingly indefatigable wife, Amy Jacques Garvey), as well as divide the UNIA by revealing the extent of government infiltration. By the trial’s end, Marcus Garvey would be found guilty and sentenced to prison.[67]

The collapse of the Garvey movement, more than any other event in the history of the New Negro, took the wind from the sails of Black militancy in the 1920s. As the largest Black organization in the country, the movement’s success had been an inspiration to radicals of all types, regardless of whether they joined. The state’s successful persecution of the UNIA was a tremendous blow to Black activist self-confidence at a time when other sources of confidence, such as the labor movement, were equally troubled. The tremendous role of state repression in destroying the Garvey movement does not, however, render Garvey’s own contributions to the movement’s end irrelevant. The conciliatory politics which had existed in conflict with the radical politics of the New Negro ultimately won out after the collapse of the militancy of 1919. These politics led Garvey to seek an alliance with those forces most hostile to his own cause: white supremacists and the U.S. state. Such an alliance meant the end of the New Negro, in one form or another.

The failure of the Garveyite enterprise can thus be read as a metonym for the New Negro movement in whole. Barbara Foley has argued that the New Negro movement’s transformation into the New Negro represents a “failure of negation,” where radical politics did not succeed in their promise of change. The history of the UNIA is marked by a similar failure, as the radical politics of the Russian revolution and the New Negro were ultimately displaced by a reconciliation with the U.S. state through racial purity.

[1] Qtd. in Marable 116.

[2] Marcus Garvey and UNIA Papers, 514.

[3] Qtd. In Judith Stein The World of Marcus Garvey: Race and Class in Modern Society (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1986), pg 154.

[4] Stein 33-35

[5] Stein 152

[6] As I make clear later on, the political strategy of racial progress through racial achievement was not unique to Booker T. Washington in this period. W.E.B. Du Bois, supposedly Washington’s foil, shared a similar conception of progress. However, it was Washington who set the terms of this debate, and as such, I use his name as a signifier for the broad politics of racial conciliation near the turn of the century.

[7] Antonio Gramsci Selections from the Prison Notebooks. Eds. Quintin Hoare and Geoffrey Nowell. New York: International Publishers, 1971. Pg 327.

[8] Ibid

[9] Ibid

[10][10] Marable 117

[11] Ahmed Shawki Black Liberation and Socialism Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2006. Pg 105.

[12] Martin 236.

[13] Marcus Garvey Philosophy and Opinions Vol II New York: Atheneum, 1992. pg 244. Garvey also describes Domingo in this piece as “a red communist arch enemy” and “a draft evader.”

[14] Qtd. In Kornweibel 106. To be sure, the Justice Department exaggerated when it branded Garvey an advocate of Bolshevism (at least in the United States). He was, however, an enthusiastic supporter of the Bolsheviks in Russia, as well as their comrades in Hungary and the rest of Europe.

[15] Qtd in Stein 29.

[16] Michelle Mitchell “’The Black Man’s Burden:’ African Americans, Imperialism, and Notions of Racial Manhood. 1890-1910.” International Review of Social History 44 (1999), Supplement:77-99.

[17] Qtd. In Stein 10.

[18] Qtd. In Stein 17. Where Du Bois and Washington differed was on the subject of whose achievement would be most advantageous for the race. Washington held that industrial and agricultural work by the African American masses would convince whites of Black worth, while Du Bois thought that the achievements of the “Talented Tenth” were far more effective in ameliorating white oppression.

[19] Brian Kelly “Review of A Nation Under Our Feet: Black Political Struggles in the Rural South, from Slavery to the Great Migration by Steven Hahn.” Labor: Studies in Working-Class History of the Americas 1.3 2004 pg 147.

[20] Stein 30.

[21] Hill lix.

[22] Hill 65.

[23] Hill 55-56.

[24] Stein 62.

[25] Martin 317.

[26] Hill 488.

[27] Hill 528-29.

[28] Qtd. in James 128.

[29] William J. Maxwell New Negro, Old Left. New York: Columbia UP, 1999. Pgs.24, 40

[30] Hill Vol II 230.

[31] Martin 25

[32] Qtd in James 165.

[33] Hill vol II 21.

[34] James 51.

[35] Hill 392-393.

[36] Hill 285.

[37] Ibid 287.

[38] Ibid 302.

[39] Ibid 333

[40] Ibid 395

[41] Ibid 302.

[42] Bid 377.

[43] Ibid 363.

[44] Qtd. In Kornweibel 28.

[45] Hill 391

[46] ibid 354-55

[47] ibid.

[48] Stein 57-58.

[49] Qtd. In Stein 52.

[50] Mike Davis Prisoners of the American Dream: Politics and Economy in the History of the U.S. Working Class. New York, Verso, 1986. 51

[51] Stein 130. A large part of the responsibility for this decline rests with the Socialist Party’s leadership, which chose to expel two-thirds of the Party’s membership rather than allow the Left wing to win control. See Smith 63-101.

[52] Davis 50.

[53] Stein 129.

[54] Smith 94-95.

[55] Marable 118.

[56] Foley 138.

[57] Hill lxxx

[58] Kornweibel 120. The Bureau’s criterion for anti-white, of course, being any statement which asserts white culpability for Black oppression.

[59] Stein 143.

[60] Hill lxxxiv

[61] Hill lxxxi

[62] ibid lxxxii

[63] ibid.

[64] qtd in Martin 345.

[65] Qtd in Stein 159.

[66] Qtd. In Martin 346.

[67] It should be noted, however, that UNIA branches continued to exist all over the country, and carried on a great deal of local activity in Garvey’s absence. That Malcolm X’s father was forced to flee Nebraska in 1926 due to UNIA activities is but one example of the many local continuances of the Garvey project. As a player on the national stage, however, the UNIA disappeared at the same time as Garvey’s incarceration.