In the Cause of Freedom: Radical Black Internationalism from Harlem to London, 1917-1939

In the Cause of Freedom: Radical Black Internationalism from Harlem to London, 1917-1939

Minkah Makalani

Language: English

Pages: 328

ISBN: 1469617528

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


In this intellectual history, Minkah Makalani reveals how early-twentieth-century black radicals organized an international movement centered on ending racial oppression, colonialism, class exploitation, and global white supremacy. Focused primarily on two organizations, the Harlem-based African Blood Brotherhood, whose members became the first black Communists in the United States, and the International African Service Bureau, the major black anticolonial group in 1930s London, In the Cause of Freedom examines the ideas, initiatives, and networks of interwar black radicals, as well as how they communicated across continents. Through a detailed analysis of black radical periodicals and extensive research in U.S. English, Dutch, and Soviet archives, Makalani explores how black radicals thought about race; understood the ties between African diasporic, Asian, and international workers' struggles; theorized the connections between colonialism and racial oppression; and confronted the limitations of international leftist organizations. Considering black radicals of Harlem and London together for the first time, In the Cause of Freedom reorients the story of blacks and Communism from questions of autonomy and the Kremlin's reach to show the emergence of radical black internationalism separate from, and independent of, the white Left.

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social, and political order.” A radical is always historically contingent, Moore argued. For example, he offered, “a ‘radical’ in relation to chattel slavery . . . was one who 14 Introduction advocated [the] abolition of the system of chattel slavery and its replacement by another system such as the free wage labor system. In respect to the system of capitalism,” the emphasis shifts, and “a ‘radical’ is one who advocates the replacement of the capitalist system by a socialist order of

places, including Sanina’s, a 7th Avenue speakeasy he remembered “always humming like a beehive with brown butterflies and flames of all ages from the West Indies and from the South.”5 But while many young male intellectuals and artists were excited about Harlem and took comfort in the security provided by living in such a large enclave of black people, the experiences of African American migrants and Caribbean immigrants in Harlem could be trying. Racial and class dynamics Uptown were complex,

womanhood, German whiteness, and, indeed, the worldwide racial order. That outrage peaked in April 1920, when France sent an advanced guard of Moroccan troops into Frankfurt to quell local unrest. McKay was hardly surprised that the British and American governments, white suffragists, and liberals expressed anger and shock at France’s use of African troops.65 But he had not anticipated that English radicals would be among those lodging the most belligerent protests or that the Daily Herald, the

asked him to address the crowd. Listeners were so moved by his eloquent denunciation of exploitative landlords and the problem of soaring rents that they elected him president of the Harlem Tenants League (HTL). Campbell was also selected as one of the group’s leaders. Hendrickson, a Communist and clubwoman who had previously worked with Campbell, likely had a radical organizing agenda in mind when she joined Ely and Gasper in calling the meeting. For Moore, however, the HTL represented a

November 1930 an enthusiastic supporter of greater ties between the LDRN and the Comintern. Whereas he had once been concerned that too close an association would infringe on the LDRN’s autonomy, he now “presented the Third International as . . . a means toward international Negro unity, a Negro International through the Workers’ International.”15 By the time he returned to Paris, however, the LDRN had suffered a split between those members who sought to shield the Ligue from charges of being a

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