The Communist Party USA published my reading/presentation of an essay I wrote on the Black Church for African American History Month. This is an early part of my research addressing the shift of Black folk from religion to atheism, and the Black class struggle. “What was once called the Negro church in the course of the struggle for equality has emerged as a major force advocating, equality, democracy and social change. How did the transition from the Negro church to the black church take place; what were the class and social forces that helped shape it; how did these issues relate to the broader society issues in the U.S. during the 19th and 20th century?
This NY Times article is worth a read. It notes,”Communists believed that organizing the working class would work only if white workers realized that their liberation, too, was bound up with the fate of black workers. Facing this threat, anti-Communists and segregationists worked hard to sustain the fractures. They blamed Communists for fomenting “race mixing,” evoking sexualized fears that social equality would mean black men having sex with white women….The party inspired loyalty for reasons beyond simply an affinity for Marxist ideas. It was the campaigns Communists ran against police brutality, the practice of lynching and the Jim Crow laws that made their politics relevant to the lives of ordinary people.”
You can read it in its entirety here.
In a very early draft, I noted the church — both the Negro church and the white church cannot fully reconcile their racial differences because at the heart of their differences exist capitalism. It was capitalism that transformed the Negro church after 1970 from an agent seeking radical change to one procuring materialism. And because churches love capitalism, they continue to fall short of being revolutionary change agents. Capitalism promotes racism and divides the black and white working class from an achievable world. The white church fails at transforming the weak, poor, and oppressed in their space. While “some” provide food and shelter, they have yet to challenge the status of oppression that keeps the soup lines open. Others have conformed to blaming those who struggle, giving in to the solution of liberalism, as a measure in which capitalism favors them and their paternalism.
The 21st century church must disavow its complacency and promulgate equality through radical preachers who love people more than capitalism, and who will subscribe to what Psalm 82: 3-4 notes: “Give justice to the weak and the fatherless; maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute. Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.” Black academic and radical organizer Melvin Tolson once noted, “Jesus didn’t believe in economic, racial, and social distinctions…. You talk about Karl Marx, the Communist! Why, don’t you know Jesus was preaching about leveling society 1,800 years before the Jewish Red was born?”
Melvin Tolson above discussing Jesus as a radical.
A Marxist analysis is a shared methodology aimed at unifying the working class in the continual fight against capitalism; it offers a sense of solidarity among its exploited members, but in the United States, such analysis has failed at mending the color line. The 21st century challenge, of course, is moving white working class people to a place of understanding the complexities of intersectionality and its importance to Marxism and the potential bonds shared with people of color, which would ultimately offset the racial tension that precludes interracial solidarity.
Much like black activists of the past, who called for unity within the Negro race, and who aimed to walk side-by-side with white people, many white workers continue to resist such solidarity, as they support their own privileges. The potential election of Republican Donald Trump best explains this notion. The American left will continue to struggle for unity, as it has throughout its history, unless workers can draw upon their class solidarity and grasp the need for intersectional understanding. The American left has historically been highly disorganized and, at times, struggled to find a unifying position.
I was moved toward leftist thinking in high school due to an emerging interest in the activism and writings of W.E.B. Du Bois. I would later read the works of Ralph Ellison and Richard Wright, whom made efforts in the left –only to grow frustrated. Then, I was a growing liberal and self-proclaimed Democrat. This was true during my college years — as the president of the Young Democrats; however, by the end of college and into graduate school, I read more about the struggles of black people. And thus grew interested in black Marxism. Though at the time I did not fully grasp Wright’s frustration with the left, I would later come to understand his distrust. This was proclaimed in his essay, I Tried to be A Communist. He noted:
It was not the economics of Communism, nor the great power of trade unions, nor the excitement of underground politics that claimed me; my attention was caught by the similarity of the experiences of workers in other lands, by the possibility of uniting scattered but kindred peoples into a whole. It seemed to me that here at last, in the realm of revolutionary expression, Negro experience could find a home, a functioning value and role. Out of the magazines I read came a passionate call for the experiences of the disinherited, and there were none of the lame lispings of the missionary in it. It did not say: “Be like us and we like you, maybe.” It said: “If you possess enough courage to speak out what you are, you will find that you are not alone.” It urged life to believe in life.
Today I fault individuals with the internal struggles of the left. There are race matters among the left, as there are those who lack the skills to bring about solidarity. Both Ellison and Wright, I suspect, would say those to the left failed to meet them. This is a continual issue today. However, unlike the days of the aforementioned black literary folk, there are those seeking change and who are willing to do so by meeting folks where they are. As that population grows, and the other population dissipates, unity will be achieved.
I say yes. As I study and write some this AM, I keep going back to the landmark 1954 Brown v. Board of Education court ruling that “ended” Jim Crow in schools, but gave further rise to white supremacy and the Christian right. This was the same Christian right that coalesced with the Republican Party under the guise of Christian morality. After speaking to a friend and colleague for a bit about the historiography of the Christian right yesterday, and after a great deal of reading this AM, I am more convinced that the Christian right, which today is housed within the Republican Party, emerged to justify white supremacy and to combat their growing fears of the interracial solidarity of black and white Communist, particularly after the Scottsboro Trial in 1931. In part, the USA government needed this court case to combat the Soviet Union’s argument that American democracy and capitalism were oppressive. The Christian right unified behind the election of Ronald Reagan in an attempt to elevate the racist conservative norm of states rights, and to dismantle a Soviet system that showcased the systematic realities of black and brown people. Thus, making Reagan the golden child of American racism and classism, as desired by the Christian right.
HAMMER AND HOE: ALABAMA COMMUNISTS DURING THE GREAT DEPRESSION by Robin Kelly is a fantastic read. The KKK and those who supported white supremacy in the South and Southwest feared the rise of black communist, who organized with whites to eradicate oppression and hierarchy. This gathering was most noted in states like Texas and Alabama. Richard Wright and Ralph Ellison wrote about this narrative in their books.