Rethinking Communism

Having never been a student of recent history, my understanding of the complex social movements of the 20th century is limited. Yet the extent of how ignorant I was, and still am, about the philosophical and political thought driving these movements has been a surprising revelation.  High school’s American history class just never seemed to put African-American history and American communism into the same chapter.

When viewing the ideals of Communism and the possibilities that it could hold for society through a racial lens, the draw of the ideology for African-Americans becomes clear.  It’s philosophy looks beyond race, focusing instead on class struggle making race inconsequential.  Until recently communism has always been presented to me in the context of the Cold War and how the system played out in Eastern European. Never have I made the connection between a classless society and racial equality.

In class this past week we read Richard Wright’s short story “Bright and Morning Star.”[1] The debate between mother and son over whether to include whites in their local black communist meetings speaks to the concerns among African-American activists at the time: were their efforts better served by finding solidarity in race or class?

With each week of class, I’ve learned a little more about this complex, difficult, and muddied history that was simply been ignored in my own studies as an undergraduate.  I now wonder, if I had read his and his contemporaries’ works during my undergraduate days, would it have made the same impact as it has now? And would the way I now think about African-American resistance and activism in the 20th century still remain the same?

[1] Richard Wright, “Bright and Morning Star,” in Uncle Tom’s Children.

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