Looking For a Way Out of Hard Times? Try Communism!

Of course people who are struggling financially want to find a solution to their problems.  Listen to this rosy picture that literary critic Edmund Wilson paints and see what you think:

“…unemployment has been wiped out, a gigantic reconstruction of industry to extend a … planned economy has been undertaken, and a cultural revolution of tremendous dimensions has been won on many fronts.  [They have] freed women from age-old social disabilities and discrimination, provided national and racial minorities with an opportunity to develop their own cultural life, broken down the barriers between city and country and adopted the most advanced system of social insurance in the world.” 

A few of those ideas sound like things we might like to see in our country today in the current economic climate, don’t they?  That was Soviet Russia under the Communist Party  in 1932, a time when America was in the midst of its Great Depression.

Writers such as Wilson, Langston Hughes, and Richard Wright used both non-fiction and fiction to spread the word about what they saw as the answer to America’s problems during the 1930s.  Although slavery was legally a thing of the past, poor sharecroppers in the South were facing much the same social, economic, and political prejudices as their forebears.  In Wright’s Uncle Tom’s Children, “Fire and Cloud” and “Bright and Morning Star” both portray the severity of Communism’s threat to white Americans.  While the lynch mobs that seem to always be a part of his writing (at least in Uncle Tom’s Children) are still present, it is fascinating to see the change in attitude of whites toward blacks when there are Reds involved.  

When trying to get information on party members or meeting locations, whites treat African Americans almost as equals, as if they are united in their fight against what they see as an extremely dangerous political group.  For instance, in “Fire and Cloud,” the mayor actually addresses Dan by name, rather than calling him “boy.”  However, when he and his friend are unable to obtain the information they want, as is the case with Sue and Johnny-Boy in “Bright and Morning Star,” African Americans return to their role as sub-human in the eyes of the white man.  While they still have no problem torturing and killing black men and women, their new enemy was the powerful Red, members and followers of the American Communist Party. 

One thought on “Looking For a Way Out of Hard Times? Try Communism!

  1. The relationship between white authorities and the black community in the context of communism is an important topic to address. Deacon Taylor of Wright’s “Fire and Cloud” exemplifies this conflicted and complex relationship. A leader of the black community, he is called upon by local communists to lead a demonstration to inform the government of the extreme poverty and starvation plaguing the poor black and white communities. On the contrary, Deacon Taylor is also contacted by the mayor and sheriff to call off this rumored demonstration. Taylor is conflicted. He wants to help his people by marching, but wants to appeal to white authorities in hopes that he can receive government assistance for the people. As this conflict escalates throughout the story, the tenuous coalitions between the various groups are revealed.

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