Editor’s note: The following is a background report to Paul Kengor’s The Communist. Frank Marshall Davis: The Untold Story of Barack Obama’s Mentor. It is written by Spyridon Mitsotakis, who is Professor Kengor’s research assistant. To see Part II, click here.
Despite the rhetoric, there are few, if any, ideological movements that have caused more racism, ethnic repression and ethnic bloodshed than Communism – going all the way back to Karl Marx himself. Not long before he produced the Communist Manifesto, Marx expressed his support for “the slavery of the Blacks” in a letter to a Russian acquaintance:
There is no need for me to speak either of the good or of the bad aspects of freedom. As for slavery, there is no need for me to speak of its bad aspects. The only thing requiring explanation is the good side of slavery. I do not mean indirect slavery, the slavery of proletariat; I mean direct slavery, the slavery of the Blacks in Surinam, in Brazil, in the southern regions of North America.
Direct slavery is as much the pivot upon which our present-day industrialism turns as are machinery, credit, etc. Without slavery there would be no cotton, without cotton there would be no modern industry. It is slavery which has given value to the colonies, it is the colonies which have created world trade, and world trade is the necessary condition for large-scale machine industry. Consequently, prior to the slave trade, the colonies sent very few products to the Old World, and did not noticeably change the face of the world. Slavery is therefore an economic category of paramount importance. Without slavery, North America, the most progressive nation, would be transformed into a patriarchal country. Only wipe North America off the map and you will get anarchy, the complete decay of trade and modern civilization. But to do away with slavery would be to wipe America off the map. Being an economic category, slavery has existed in all nations since the beginning of the world. All that modern nations have achieved is to disguise slavery at home and import it openly into the New World.
As is usually the case with Marx, his economic analysis is completely backward. As Thomas Sowell points out, societies with forced labor create an atmosphere where hard work is looked down upon, thereby ruining a society’s potential by stigmatizing the work necessary to realize that potential – something that had for a long time produced a noticeable difference in the prosperity of northern states to the poverty of former slave states.
In addition to his support for slavery, Marx was also a racist. Expressions of bigotry by Marx were so frequent they could fill a whole book – and in fact, they have. Former Communist Nathaniel Weyl filled 283 pages with examples of Marx’s hatred in his 1979 book, Karl Marx, Racist.
Even though American Communism itself has had limited influence, it has had lasting effects on the poor economic and social status of black Americans.
Communists’ efforts to draw black Americans toward Communism started shortly after American Communism’s official founding in the latter half of 1919. Not long after the creation of the Comintern in 1919, the director of its branch in the United States, Ludwig C.A.K. Martens, met with a black American named Lovett Fort-Whiteman to launch the American Communist movement’s first campaign to convince blacks that the promise of freedom from the injustices they suffered lies in revolution and the creation of a Soviet America. Documents from U.S. government intelligence that monitored the Communists during that time period speak for themselves:
Glenda Gilmore, who accessed the archives of the Comintern for her book Defying Dixie writes:
“Lovett Fort-Whiteman, a black man from Dallas, Texas, became the first American-born black Communist. Earning the title the ‘reddest of the blacks,’ Fort-Whiteman came to Communism through socialism, radical labor activism, and race consciousness.”14 When he was released from jail in1924, he officially joined the Communist Party. “In mid-June, 1924, Fort-Whiteman traveled from Chicago to Moscow as one of roughly five hundred delegates to the Fifth World Congress of the Third International. …
“On July 1, a long, warm summer day, Fort-Whiteman rose to educate listeners, including Joseph Stalin and Ho Chi Minh, on the Negro question. … He advised the Party to move into the South and ‘exploit’ rising dissatisfaction among sharecroppers, a strategy that would pay off, since the ‘negroes are destined to be the most revolutionary class in America.’ … Fort-Whiteman did not return immediately to the United States, but enrolled in the school for colonized peoples, the Kommunisticheskii Universitet Trudyashichsya Vostoka, the Communist University of Toilers of the East, known by the acronym KUTV … Audiences everywhere listened raptly as Fort- Whiteman told them of the racial hierarchy in the U.S. South; audiences everywhere disavowed racism in the new Soviet society. Fort-Whiteman became convinced that the USSR had become the ‘first state in the history of the world which ha[d] actually solved the problem of racial discrimination.’
“His studies at KUTV and experience on the ground slowly convinced Fort- Whiteman that he had been wrong when he said that African Americans were discriminated against as a race, not as a class. … ‘Race prejudice is not an inherent thing in the mental makeup of the individual,’ Fort-Whiteman discovered; it was not ‘transmitted thru the blood.’ Instead, ‘race prejudice . . . springs from the capitalist order of the society[.]’”
When he returned to America, Fort-Whiteman went to work recruiting 12 other blacks to go to the Soviet Union – including James Ford, who would be the Communist Party’s Vice Presidential candidate in 1932, 1936 and 1940 – and setting up Communist front groups targeted at blacks. In the course of this effort integrated unions were created in the South. The Communists point to this as evidence of their early enlightenment, but in truth – as Glenda Gilmore explained in an interview with the Charlotte, N.C. radio station WFAE – the Comintern ultimately came to the conclusion that if only white southern workers were “organized” (presumably into unions), there would just be a “reserve” black workforce to take their place. Thus, if there was to be a communist revolution in the south, both would have to be organized at the same time.
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