Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Claudia Jones: A life of struggle

by Ben Soton

 The Political Life and Times of Claudia Jones: David Horsley; CPB Books & Pamphlets; London 2020, £4.95.

This pamphlet is both an insight into the life of a remarkable woman and a history of the struggles of black people in the Caribbean, the USA, and Britain. It describes the life of Claudia Jones, famous for the establishment of the Notting Hill Carnival.
     Claudia was born in Trinidad in 1915 and as a child immigrated to the United States where she joined the Communist Party of the USA (CPUSA). She was deported to Britain in 1955 where she became involved in progressive and anti-racist politics as a member of the Communist Party of Great Britain.
    The pamphlet discusses how the CPUSA tried to tackle racism within its membership as well as US society as a whole. It also covers the highly contentious issue of whether or not Black Americans in the Deep South constitute a separate nation, a view once upheld by the CPUSA which supported self-determination for the Black Belt in the 1932 election.
     The anti-fascist nature of World War II strengthened revisionism within the CPUSA under the leadership of Earl Browder. However, Browder, who attempted to liquidate the Communist Party, was removed from the leadership and replaced by William Z Foster.
    Browder’s class collaborationist position was further weakened with the Cold War and the emergence of the pro-fascist Joseph McCarthy and the growing influence of the Congressional House Un-American Activities Committee. McCarthy, who defended Nazi war-criminals, led a wave of persecution against progressives and communists in particular.
    I have often asked why it is acceptable or even patriotic to fly the Confederate flag in some parts of the United States. Surely the Confederacy, a state based on slavery, was not only a thoroughly reactionary one but one based on a rebellion against the United States? Perhaps our comrades on the other side of the pond should call for the banning of the Confederate flag as well as statues of slave owners on the grounds of their ‘Un-American’ activity.
    The McCarthy era with its fascist persecution led to Claudia’s deportation to Britain in 1955. Whilst in this country she was able to travel to the Soviet Union; a country that had solved its own race relations problem in a matter of years. I am told that the United States is still working on theirs.
     Throughout her life Claudia suffered from the effects of childhood tuberculosis; a condition exacerbated by her time in prison during the McCarthy era. The effects of condition led to her untimely death in 1964.
    The recent upsurge in the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement has led to an interest in Black History. If the BLM is to take a class based, anti-imperialist direction, rather than a corporate logo used to promote the latest pair of trainers then it is important to promote the lives of people like Claudia Jones. I strongly suggest all comrades of all colours read this pamphlet that can be ordered online on the Communist Party of Britain (CPB) website.

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