How the socialism of W. E. B. Du Bois still matters: black socialism in The Quest of the Silver Fleece--and beyond.
The following essay both describes the early development of Du Bois's socialism and analyzes the significance of that development. We find three ramifications especially for interpretations of Du Bois and, by extension, for an understanding of African American socialism. First, an early date prevents Du Bois's radical social democracy from being dismissed as an idiosyncracy of his elder years: instead of being the product of his marginalization by the civil rights establishment, Du Bois's socialism was cultivated and maintained during the period when he was the most visible and influential of black Americans, and it was articulated in the pages of the Crisis whereby it reached tens of thousands of NAACP members. An earlier emergence of Du Bois's socialism thus places social democracy closer to the center of African American politics than has usually been supposed. Second, an early date for Du Bois's socialism counteracts the impression that it was unduly influenced by models ill-suited to black America, particularly the supposedly "color-blind" socialism of the Second Internationale. Therefore, although American socialists of this period were seldom able to recognize fully the theoretical contributions being made by Du Bois and other black socialists, those contributions stand, in retrospect, as vital and original developments in American socialism. Moreover, our understanding of Du Boisian socialism has a third important implication, for it helps disentangle Du Bois's socialism from the influence of the Comintern, thereby facilitating a proper emphasis not only on the independence of Du Boisian black socialism but also on Du Bois's commitment to democratic and nonviolent means to achieve social democratic ends.
"The battle is scarcely even begun": The Quest of the Silver Fleece and Black Socialism Before the NAACP
In speaking of socialism during the Progressive Era, we agree with Adolph Reed, Jr., that the central term in question must be clearly specified. After all, "socialism" enjoyed such wide cultural currency that it was "identified variously with support of trusts, public ownership of utilities, corporate regulation, municipal reform, trade unionism, industrial unionism, or any of a myriad of other social and economic policies" (Reed 83). And indeed, the earliest references to socialism to be found in Du Bois's writings do not indicate commitment to any particular political program. They do, however, begin to set Du Bois apart from the more conservative exponents of collectivist ideas, insofar as he saw collectivism as a means to a more equal distribution of wealth as opposed to merely an efficient method for organizing an unruly public. (2) So, for example, in a 1904 letter to Isaac Rubinow, a Socialist party member, Du Bois indicated that he did not call himself a socialist but that he did share the fundamental convictions of the Social Democrats he had met in Germany, convictions about the equitable distribution of wealth and public ownership of industry (letter to Rubinow). (3) By 1908, Du Bois's reasons for endorsing William Jennings Bryan show not only an interest in egalitarian and anticapitalist ideals but also an analysis of those ideals in terms of their impact on black America. Whereas the Republicans offered political patronage, Du Bois argued in the Horizon, the Democrats under Bryan were anti-imperialists, opponents of corporate wealth that held in its "crushing grasp" "no group of Americans ... more than Negroes," and implacable foes of the southern Bourbons by virtue of their "radical socialistic Democracy" (Writings in Periodicals 63, 70).
The fullest expression of Du Bois's early socialism comes, however, not in his nonfiction prose but in his first novel his 1911 romance the Quest of the Silver Fleece, which offers both a specifically socialist critique of US economics and an alternative economic model originating in cooperative, southern black folkways. Without this novel, we might be inclined to concur with Reed that Du Bois's socialism around 1910 amounts to little more than a specimen of a broadly collectivist zeitgeist, not distinguishable in any significant way from the conservative, technocratic socialism of soon-to-be fellow NAACP board members Mary White Ovington, Charles Edward Russell, or William English Walling (83). Given the prominence that these socialists have in various accounts of Du Bois's socialism, not only the novel's portrayal of socialism grounded in African American folk culture but also its completion prior to Du Bois's arrival at the NAACP are critical. For Rampersad, Marable, Moses, and Reed, the white socialists on the NAACP board are seen as significant influences on Du Bois's decision to join the Socialist party and on Du Bois's understanding of the movement. (4) Yet the Quest of the Silver Fleece, while published the year Du Bois moved to New York City and began his tenure as Crisis editor, was completed before Du Bois came North: drafted by 1905, revised shortly after the publication of Du Bois's 1909 biography of John Brown, and sent to the printer prior to Du Bois's assumption of the Crisis editorship (Lewis, Biography 444).
The claim that a fictional text might be used as historical evidence of a socialist commitment might appear surprising, but both Du Bois's choice of genre and his consistent blurring of the lines between fiction and nonfiction, fantasy and polemic, amply support this method. A multi-plot novel in the American muck-raking tradition, Quest of the Silver Fleece joins a fiction subgenre in which virtually all of the novels are written with a definite polemical purpose: most espousing a collectivist political philosophy; many, including Upton Sinclair's The Jungle, also prescribing socialist politics as the path to cooperative economics. As such, it was a subgenre well suited to Du Bois's political-artistic aims. At the height of the Harlem Renaissance, he once proclaimed: "I stand in utter shamelessness and say that whatever art I have for writing has been used always for propaganda for gaining the right of black folk to love and enjoy. I do not care a damn for any art that is not used for propaganda" ("Criteria"). Though one might imagine fictional art to be merely a provisional trying out of alternative realities, Quest of the Silver Fleece constitutes a definite, socialist remedy for socioeconomic ills, coming from the pen of a writer whose fiction like the rest of his writing was meant to be politically purposive.
Within the anticapitalist muck-raking tradition, Du Bois's Quest extends the range of the subgenre from the usual topics--industrial exploitation, white slavery, northern metropolitan politics--to a white-on-black and southern nexus, including such topics as the exploitation of black sharecroppers and poor whites in the South, the combination of northern finance and the southern plantocracy, and the corruption of patronage politics in Washington, DC. In the economically resurgent South, Du Bois insists, a critique of capitalism must also be a critique of racism, for the new North-South economic collaboration purposely divides white mill workers from black farm laborers, while black sharecroppers are kept down perpetually by a narrowing, near-monopoly control over the cotton market. The collaboration is symbolized in the novel through a double romance intertwining two families: the southern Cresswells, who provide land, pedigree, and moral degeneration; the northern Taylors, who provide capital, self-serving philanthropy, New England scruples in small matters and Wall Street ruthlessness in large ones.
While the white, upper-class romance-drama of the Cresswells and Taylors carries the burden of the novel's anticapitalist critique, a black, working-class plot presents the novel's constructive, socialist program. While the "upstairs" Cresswell-Taylor plot is certainly not lacking in interest, the "downstairs" plot involves the more genuine suspense: particularly insofar as the novel's thematic conflict between Talented Tenth social climbing and racial solidarity had the clearest of real-world implications for Du Bois's primary, black audience. Bles Alwyn represents the Talented Tenth: he is the most accomplished scholar in a southern college-preparatory school established by a noble New England schoolmarm and threatened by the misguided actions of Mary Taylor, a teacher at the school. Bles falls in love with the youthful and impulsive Zora, an illegitimate and untutored black woman living on the Cresswell plantation. It is primarily through Zora's folk genius that Du Bois coveys an alternative, communitarian set of values. In an early encounter with Mary Taylor, Zora's well-reasoned unruliness offers a parable about the values that might be cultivated outside capitalism. Confronted by Miss Taylor because one of her brooches has gone missing, Zora admits she has taken it and instigates the following dialogue on property ownership and theft:
Still Zora appeared to be unimpressed with the heinousness of her fault.
"Did you make that pin?" [Zora] asked.
"No, but it is mine." [Miss Taylor replied.]
"Why is it yours?"
"Because it was given to me."
"But you don't need it; you've got four other prettier ones--I counted."
"That makes no difference."
"Yes it does--folks ain't got no right to things they don't need."
"That makes no difference, Zora, and you know it. The pin is mine. You stole it. If you had wanted a pin and asked me I might have given you--"
The girl blazed.
"I don't want your old gifts," she almost hissed. "You don't own what you don't need and can't use...." (79)
Mary Taylor, representing the conventional view of property, owns her surplus of pins by virtue of her belonging to a social class in which pretty adornments can be afforded without regard for their cost or usefulness. Her possession of brooches she does not need is backed by legal "right" and moral sanction: to take one of the pins is to steal; in doing so Zora becomes a "thief," as Miss Taylor has tried to impress upon her. But here Zora introduces three key re-valuations of property promulgated by socialism: products of human culture must be socially useful; they are to be distributed according to need; and if products are "owned" by anyone, they belong to those who actually make them (and then only for the sake of contributing to society those products that are useful and needed). (5) Soon after, the novel even develops the notion of alienated versus unalienated labor. Zora rejects Mary Taylor's suggestion, of domestic service as an attractive wage-earning job, finding the idea of "helping" someone she "loves" incompatible with receiving a wage for it (73). In contrast, her work with Bles, reclaiming swamp land on which they raise a glorious crop of cotton, is literally and figuratively a labor of love.
Reinforcing the importance of Zora's scheme of values is the romance between her and Bles, which though it organizes the "downstairs" plot of the novel actually works to challenge individualistic romance as an acceptable solution to social problems. In brief, when Bles discovers Zora has been "impure," a victim of her mother's trade as a procurer for white men, he at first abandons her and flees to Washington, DC, where he makes his mark in colored society and politics. But he throws it all over and returns to Zora when he realizes the fundamental selfishness of the Capitol's patronage politics and the critical importance of Zora's plans for economic self-help in the South. Significantly, Bles's connection with Zora is renewed not at first as romance but as shared service, as he becomes the manager of the cooperative colony that she has founded on an enlarged swampland tract. Du Bois's reliance on a small, social democratic colony in Quest of the Silver Fleece is, in some respects, a throwback to a 19th-century, communitarian tradition in US socialism; in another respect, it anticipates Du Bois's advocacy of economic co-operatives in the Crisis during coming years, and even the audacious proposals for self-segregation that led to Du Bois's break with the NAACP over two decades later. Whether practical or not (most of the 19th-century communities had been short lived and were seldom self supporting [Berry 238-39]), in fictive terms Zora's colony presents a clear, and clearly socialist, indictment of the present socioeconomic order of the South. Collaborating with Miss Sarah Smith, the white schoolmistress of the threatened college prep school, and using money given Zora by a northern philanthropist (whom she has been able to serve and love), Zora argues against merely paying off the mortgage to gain independence from the education board and then putting the remainder of the money into a conventional, white bank. For the education board was just a single adversary among many others. As Zora tells Sarah, "'[W]e pay off the mortgage, we get enough to run the school as it has been run. Then what? There will still be slavery and oppression all around us. The children will be kept in the cotton fields; the men will be cheated, and the women--' Zora paused and her eyes grew hard." Instead, to address the problem fundamentally, to root out the evil there must be a new economic start: "'We must have land--our own farm and our own tenants--to be the beginning of a free community'" (362).
Zora insists that the cooperative colony that she has founded is itself only the beginning of a movement that must finally encompass white as well as black working people to be fully successful and secure: "'Think of the servile black folk,'" Zora exclaims, "'the half awakened restless whites, the fat land waiting for the harvest, the masses panting to know--why, the battle is scarcely even begun'" (430). Du Bois offers, then, an embryonic plan for implementing socialism in the United States, and particularly a plan for black communities to exercise agency rather than wait for a revolution led by white labor. Cooperative colonies are to serve as a sanctuary for exploited blacks, though only as a temporary refuge and a stepping stone to the liberation of all the exploited masses. For Zora, increasingly a mouthpiece for Du Bois's ideas in the novel's closing pages, alliance within the working class is made certain in the long run by economic forces, yet to hasten its arrival, blacks must focus on their own group development in order to "bring to that alliance as much independent economic strength as possible" (398).
This does not mean, however, that Du Bois underestimates the task of breaking down the color line dividing black and white proletarians. The leading spokesman and perennial presidential candidate of the Socialist party, Eugene V. Debs, had announced that, compared to white workers, black workers were "not one whit worse off"; he had therefore concluded, "We have nothing special to offer the Negro, and we cannot make separate appeals to all the races" (qtd. in Foner 114). (6) In contrast, Du Bois insisted not only that black workers were worse off but also that racism among white laborers was a primary stumbling block to socialist development. White capitalists are presented in Quest as deliberately fomenting division and suspicion between white and black workers to keep both classes down, and racism is too fertile a soil for this plot to be readily foiled (391). A labor organizer from up North, just fired and bolting for home in frustration, speaks the truth about class division that his white co-workers are reluctant to hear: "[I]f you mutts think you're going to beat these big blokes at their own game of cheating niggers you're daffy. You take this from me: get together with the niggers and hold up this whole capitalist gang" (396). Such an antiracist stance is precisely what Du Bois expected of union organizers and of the Socialist party. But Du Bois here also predicts--largely accurately--the unresponsiveness of most southern white labor to true, color-blind labor solidarity.
All of this Du Bois formulated before his career at the NAACP was even underway, prior to his official affiliation with the Socialist party and during a period when few critics have acknowledged the seriousness of his socialism. (7) By the evidence of Quest of the Silver Fleece, Du Bois had by 1911 arrived at several positions credited to him only much later, after substantial contact with Marxism or with Third International socialism. For example, the novel clearly signals that racial division (perpetuated by denials such as Debs's about its reality) also "signifies class," a move that Weinbaum associates with later moments in Du Bois's career, in Darkwater (1920) and Du Bois's turn "toward Marxism" (195, 199). Still more dramatically, Zora's vision of a black cooperative community unmistakably articulates a view of black self-development that Singh finds specified in Du Bois's writing only at the time of his break with the NAACP in 1934: Du Bois's rejection of "the idea that blacks could only progress by standing with another recognized national group, whether it was liberal whites, communist radicals, 'exploiting capitalists,' or striking workers" (59). Although not the most conventional of polemical documents, Quest of the Silver Fleece offers an original and detailed socialist vision, limning many of the socioeconomic proposals offered by Du Bois over the next 30 years.
"What folk are you going to let starve?" Du Bois and the Second Internationale
Interpreters of Du Bois's early socialism should heed Adolph Reed's observation that socialism might mean many things in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. They should also note that this fact raises not only conservative possibilities, highlighted by Reed when he speaks of bureaucratic collectivism, but also radical ones, for it means that specifically socialist ideas and ideals infused themselves through many groups that did not themselves adopt the socialist label. Hence, in the 1890s the People's party adopted a platform calling for public ownership of all major industries but purposely disclaiming the socialist banner. (8) In the same period, the Nationalist party campaigned for the socialization of all industry and equal wage distribution, but party founder and Looking Backward author Edward Bellamy felt that "socialism" was too indeterminate and too moderate a term for his movement ("Socialism," passim). With the formation of the Socialist party in 1901, the US socialist movement was led by an organization that marched unabashedly under the socialist banner. But the older patterns of socialism going under various names and of influencing individuals and groups outside of the party (and even some eschewing the socialist label) persisted.
It is within this context that we understand Du Bois's brief membership in the Socialist Party of America. He was a card-carrying Socialist for less than two years, joining the party in 1911 but resigning after his endorsement of Woodrow Wilson over Eugene Debs in the election of 1912 ("Last Word"). But as Manning Marable notes, Du Bois "remained a Socialist" in principle and practice (90). In effect, the socialism defined in Quest of the Silver Fleece became refined through a long-running, intense dialogue with the socialism of the Second Internationale, an exchange made sharper because Du Bois judged white socialists as not living up to egalitarian principles that they shared--and in which Du Bois's commitment to economic equality was no less strong because he was not a party member.
Du Bois's editorializing on the Socialist party and its labor constituency during the first three years of the Crisis shows ample justification for Du Bois's distanced relationship with the party. The racist practices of organized labor were a perpetual outrage to the Crisis editor, prompting frequent comment. The majority of unions barred black workers from union membership and then cried foul when they worked as scabs. In his 1912 editorial "Organized Labor," Du Bois expressed hope in the trade unions' fight for economic justice, but only if that fight was for the benefit of all workers: "So long as union labor fights for humanity, its mission is divine; but when it fights for a clique of Americans, ... they deserve themselves the starvation which they plan for their darker and poorer fellows" (131). Du Bois recognized clearly enough that the more supportive a union was of the Socialist party, the more likely it was to include blacks. In the second issue of the Crisis, Du Bois published reports that AFL chief Samuel Gompers--an implacable anti-socialist--had recently endorsed the covenants of AFL locals explicitly forbidding black union membership ("Economic"). In contradistinction, Du Bois noted in 1912 that the Industrial Workers of the World, the most radical union associated with the Socialist party, had been successfully organizing "mixed locals" in Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas, and Florida, and "this despite the fact that in some of the southern States the laws prohibit public gatherings of black and white" ("Economics"). But this was about the time the IWW and the party split, and other Socialist labor leaders were less reliable. The Crisis reported in May 1913 that St. Louis labor unions had opposed the Republican mayoral candidate because he had formerly employed blacks on a construction project, and leading the opposition was "Tom Hale, formerly business agent of Union No. 1, and a Socialist, [who] declares that he will throw his vote away on the Democratic candidate rather than vote for a man who would not consent to employ white labor exclusively" ("The colored voters"). Socialist party organizers, Du Bois reported, failed to spread its propaganda to the black masses but complained bitterly when blacks did not support the socialist cause ("Forward").
In 1913, within a year of his break with the party, Du Bois published an article in a journal of socialist theory, The New Review, making clear that the party's tacit acceptance of labor racism lay at the root of his resignation. (9) The article is revealing not only for this reason, but also because it makes clear his own, ongoing reliance on socialist principles and, hence, the possibility that Du Bois remained truer to socialism outside the party than inside it. Claiming social democracy as his guiding principle, Du Bois argued that the party ceased to remain socialist when it failed to practice labor egalitarianism. He maintained that neither the means nor the ends currently promulgated by the Socialist party measured up to its own standards. Du Bois proposed "the test [of] the Excluded Class" as a measure both of who should be included in party activism and of who must be included on equal terms in the eventual socialist state:
If you are saving dying babies, whose babies are you going to let die? If you are feeding the hungry, what folk are you (regretfully, perhaps, but none less truly) going to let starve? If you are making a juster division of wealth, what people are you going to permit at present to remain in poverty? If you are giving all men votes (not only in the "political" but also in the economic world), what class of people are you going to allow to remain disfranchised? ("Socialism" 139)
Time and again, Du Bois would test the genuineness of socialist parties and programs by whether they regarded proletarian blacks and other people of color as equals. He described himself as a pragmatist rather than a theoretician, one of those socialists "who suffer from the present industrial situation and who are anxious that, whatever the broad outcome may be, at any rate the present suffering which they know so well shall be stopped" (138). Yet Du Bois's insistence that social equality regardless of race must be demanded through the process of agitation as well as merely expected as the outcome of revolution amounts, as well, to an important theoretical caution against ends justifying means.
The heterogenous socialists of the Second Internationale attempted to exercise party discipline over few matters save voting behavior: hence the necessity of Du Bois's resignation when he publicly endorsed Wilson. The stubborn pragmatism of Du Bois's electoral strategies in the 1910s is seen by Arnold Rampersad as a point of constant tension with Du Bois's underlying socialist idealism, part of a pattern of divided loyalties in Du Bois that prevents Rampersad from seeing him as an out-and-out socialist (159). Yet in a period when collectivist programs were being adopted to an extent by the major parties under the banner of Progressivism, and particularly given the need for blacks to gain genuine voting rights before they could vote for any party at all, Du Bois might reasonably be understood as being an authentic socialist even while advocating strategic voting for non-socialist parties. In fact, such anomalous voting behavior may even be demanded in view of the special circumstances of black suffrage. A key reason for the party's inattention may have been its strategy of courting voters, whereas the vast majority of African Americans, concentrated in the South, were not voters. From within the Socialist party, Du Bois could criticize the party for its pandering to southern white (and bitterly racist) Populists. But really to gain leverage within the Socialist party meant gaining votes for blacks, and that could best be effected by appealing first of all to the political parties in power. The strategy is reflected clearly in an "Oath" for African American citizens published in the November 1917 Crisis. The first article in the oath stresses the importance of a black voting strategy that wins suffrage for other, disenfranchised blacks--a strategy demanding major party voting. But the second article is socialism, through and through: "I will make the second object of my voting the division of the Social Income on the principle that he who does not work, be he rich or poor, may not eat; and that Land and Capital ought to belong to the Many and not to the Few" ("Oath"). First get the vote by whatever means, Du Bois suggested, then use the vote to achieve socialism.
Already in 1908 Du Bois had expressed interest in endorsing Socialist candidates, even while worrying over the dilemma of third-party voting in the United States (letter to Owens). His endorsements swung from Bryan in 1908 to Wilson in 1912, to the Socialist Alan Benson in 1916, back to the Republican Harding in 1920 ("Presidential"; "Mr. Hughes"). But even while endorsing Wilson, he had praised Debs's "manly stand on human rights irrespective of color," and his tepid advocacy of Harding was further undercut by a 1920 fantasy about outsider coalition-building: Just "suppose," he mused in a Crisis editorial, "the 'dirty foreigners' and the disfranchised Socialists and the disfranchised black should get together and vote together at the next election!" ("Last Word"; "Remember"). When increasing numbers of blacks were able to vote in the 1920s--albeit because of northward migration rather than any substantial gains in southern voting rights--Du Bois's resistance to Socialist candidates steadily broke down. In 1924, Du Bois gave his nod to the Independent-Progressive candidate, Robert La Follette, also the nominee of the Socialist party; in 1928 the Crisis editor favored Socialist Norman Thomas; and in 1932 Du Bois gave his stamp of approval to both the Socialist and Communist nominees, commenting waggishly in the October Crisis, "[H]onest to God, if Herbert Hoover don't quit stopping the crisis, he's going to put [William Z.] Foster and [James W.] Ford in the White House next March" ("Socialists and Communists"; Du Bois, "As the Crow").
Du Bois's thinking on black socialism during his middle career--the 15 years between 1912 and 1926 when the Crisis enjoyed its greatest influence in black America--was by no means limited to theorizing about the relationship between black voters and the Socialist party, either. From the standpoint of black radicalism, his thinking about inter-class relations within black America is crucially important--and surprisingly advanced. Joy James asserts that until the late 1930s Du Bois persisted in regarding the "talented tenth" as a progressive vanguard by virtue of its social and economic privilege; only in his 1940 autobiography, Dusk of Dawn, does she see clear evidence that Du Bois reconceptualized the Talented Tenth as being defined by virtue of "the 'existential wealth' of political and moral leadership" rather than by social and economic distinction conventionally defined (23). But we find evidence of this evolution in Du Bois's thinking about the Talented Tenth already in Quest of the Silver Fleece, in which the ethical turning point for Bles comes when he rejects Washington DC's pigmentocracy in order to labor--physically as well as mentally--in a cooperative colony in the South. And the peasant heroine of the novel, Zora, leads her community (Bles included) regardless of the facts that she has had minimal formal education and is female. Even earlier, two of Du Bois's Atlanta studies, 1898's Some Efforts of American Negroes for their own Social Betterment and 1907's Economic Co-operation among Negro Americans, examined the race's cooperative efforts. In these studies, one of Du Bois's central conclusions was that similarity in incomes throughout the Negro community fostered cooperative efforts in churches, societies, and homes (Economic Co-operation 4). In some of Du Bois's earliest writings in the Crisis, Du Bois found that the shared, "class" interests of blacks were solidified by the common foe of white racism. In an editorial entitled "Baltimore," he exposed the hard truth that, though blacks had been told that "money talks," even upwardly mobile blacks had found it mute when they attempted to move in next door to white neighbors. The importance of altruistic black leadership to Du Bois is evident in his fear that outside capitalist influences threatened the livelihood of black communities by fostering the notion of each man for himself (Economic Co-operation 6). As Du Bois pointed out in "Business and Philanthropy," capitalism lured the best young men to go into business pursuits by teaching the tune "Business pays. Philanthropy begs" (64). There was, of course, some serious wishful thinking in Du Bois's assumption that the majority of upwardly mobile blacks would spurn the capitalist ideology of individual self-interest. But this is quite another thing from the view advanced by James, that for most of his career Du Bois believed upwardly mobile blacks would advance the race regardless of their ideology. Even if, as Adolph Reed points out, Du Bois's earliest sociological studies are marked by the fear that professional blacks will be defined, via racial kinship, by negative stereotypes of working-class blacks, Du Bois's work--almost from the outset--is equally defined by fear that capitalist ideology would undermine inter-class solidarity, and the hope that such solidarity might serve as the basis for general racial progress. (10)
From a relatively early date, too, Du Bois saw inter-class black solidarity as not merely a matter of social courtesy or political exigency but of economic necessity. Perhaps the clearest indication that the cooperative economics in Quest of the Silver Fleece was not a mere, passing fancy comes in a pair of Crisis editorials from August 1917. In the first of these Du Bois concludes: "[E]conomic survival for the Negro in America means the building of his own industrial machine," in which "he must employ labor, ... organize industry, [and] enter American industrial development as a group, capable of offensive and defensive action, and not simply as an individual liable to be made the victim of the white employer and such of the white labor unions as dare" ("Occupations"). If it is difficult to discern here whether the reference to "employing labor" might mean that the black nation within a nation is to duplicate the hierarchy of the white capitalist system, Du Bois's next editorial states explicitly that both the economic structure and the values of independent black industry must be counter-cultural:
Shall we try the old paths of individual exploitation, develop a class of rich and grasping brigands of Industry, use them to exploit the mass of the black laboring people and reproduce in our own group all the industrial Hell of old Europe and America? No! ... [I]f we American Negroes are keen and intelligent we can evolve a new and efficient industrial co-operation quicker than any other group of people, for the simple reason that our inequalities of wealth are small, our group loyalty is growing stronger and stronger, and the necessity for a change in our industrial life is becoming imperative. ("Co-Operation")
Even as, in deference to the varied political affiliations of his readers, Du Bois omits the socialist label, he here expressly renews his call for an Afro-centric socialism that had first been sounded in Quest of the Silver Fleece and remained central to his thought throughout his career.
"The international laboring class of all colors": Du Bois's Transnational Socialism
The other core element of Du Bois's mature socialism, his international critique of capitalism and racism, did not emerge as early as Quest of the Silver Fleece. Yet in 1911 Du Bois did publish a report on the Universal Races Congress in which racist economic exploitation in the United States is linked with its imperialist equivalent abroad, suggesting that an early source for Du Bois's transnational socialism was his contact with Pan-Africanist colleagues: "[A] strong, masterly argument was made to show that the economic foundations of imperialism were as weak as those of the slave barons of the South and as wicked" ("Races" 208). In a 1913 editorial Du Bois still more explicitly links capitalism with imperialism--and presciently identifies the imperial contest as the prime catalyst of war: "The modern lust for land and slaves in Africa, Asia and the South Seas is the greatest and almost the only cause of war between the so-called civilized peoples" ("Peace"). Once the Great War erupted and the European Social Democratic parties all proved failures, Du Bois asserted a still more socialistic and international strategy for the labor movement than he had before the war--and a more truly international socialism, too, than the European social democracy was demanding. In The Negro (1915) Du Bois describes the path to socialism as lying through Pan-Africanism rather than through the narrower, European-led Social Democracy:
The Pan-African movement when it comes will not ... be merely a narrow racial propaganda. Already the more far-seeing Negroes sense the coming unities: a unity of the working classes everywhere, a unity of the colored races, a new unity of men. The proposed economic solution of the Negro problem in Africa and America has turned the thoughts of Negroes toward a realization of the fact that the modern white laborer of Europe and America has the key to the serfdom of black folk in his support of militarism and colonial expansion. He is beginning to say to these workingmen that, so long as black laborers are slaves, white laborers cannot be free. Already there are signs in South Africa and the United States of the beginning of understanding between the two classes. (241-42)
Notably--and somewhat at odds with his domestic prescription of black self-sufficiency--Du Bois envisions the agency of the Pan-Africanists as being directed towards heightened cooperation with (and even some dependency upon) white labor as well as greater racial unity among people of color worldwide. But regarding the emergence and maturation of Du Bois's socialism, the key point here is certainly that Du Bois was linking imperialism and capitalism, and prescribing the solidarity of people of color with international labor, long before either this analysis or remedy was popularized by the Bolsheviks--indeed, well before the Bolshevik Revolution itself. (11)
By Du Bois's 1919 essay collection, Darkwater, the international scene is prominent even when Du Bois writes on domestic subjects. It is evident, for example, in his response to the horrendous 1917 riots in East St. Louis, in which white union workers attacked black neighborhoods in retribution for black workers' accepting strike-replacement jobs. 39 blacks were killed and 600 left homeless in the riots--a cost all the more terrible considering that the white workers were scapegoating black workers whom they had excluded from their unions (Lewis, Biography 537). Intractable as the conflicts represented in East St. Louis were, Du Bois saw clearly the ethical principle demanded by the circumstances: "[O]ne answer looms above all--justice lies with the lowest; the plight of the lowest man--the plight of the black man--deserves the first answer, and the plight of the giants of industry, the last" (91). Du Bois thus joins ranks with labor radicals in faulting the capitalists, first of all; but he adds a thoroughly social democratic theoretical caveat, that the more oppressed of laborers, not the less, should be given priority. In Du Bois's New Review article of 1913, this had been "the test [of] the Excluded Class." But then the "Excluded Class" had been American blacks alone; now Du Bois's editorial cast the "lowest man" as an international class. Du Bois finds the sociological ramifications of this moral test to multiply as its scope extends from East St. Louis to the world:
There are no races, in the sense of great, separate, pure breeds of men, differing in attainment, development, and capacity. There are great groups--now with common history, now with common interests, now with common ancestry; more and more common experience and present interest drive back the common blood and the world today consists, not of races, but of the imperial commercial group of master capitalists, international and predominantly white; the national middle classes of the several nations, white, yellow, and brown, with strong blood bonds, common languages, and common history; the international laboring class of all colors; the backward, oppressed groups of nature-folk, predominantly yellow, brown, and black. (Darkwater 98)
From this point, Du Bois's intellectual career would be increasingly driven by the convictions expressed, or implied, in this passage: The "international laboring class" must stand in solidarity--white workers alongside people of color. "Backward, oppressed groups" must be included in progressive modernity, not exploited. And "the national middle classes"--including Du Bois's favored Talented Tenth--must eschew their class privileges and use their abilities to serve the submerged and exploited classes. These themes are grandiosely elaborated in Du Bois's second full-length novel, Dark Princess (1928), which culminates in the marriage and political partnership of a Talented Tenth representative and an Indian princess who is leader of a Pan-Asian cabal. Both lead characters, however, must first mature politically and socially by immersing themselves in the lowest of the working classes and renouncing the personal rewards in politics and wealth that are readily available to them. Yet these very themes were fully developed by 1919 and had been clearly evident in Du Bois's work before November 1917. (12)
"No chestnuts from the fire": Du Bois and the Comintern
To this point, our argument has centered on Du Bois's socialism before the Bolshevik Revolution, as we have wished to redirect critical attention to the richness and interest of Du Bois's socialism apart from the influence of dogmatic Marxism. Having done so, we would also suggest that a fuller appreciation of Du Bois's early socialism also helps to cast the later socialism in a new light. Specifically, a clearer focus on Du Bois's earlier socialism offers an alternative to his later commitments, which at their worst became an apologetics for mass murder and, even cast in the best light, may seem too closely tied to the Comintern line to suggest a useful politics after the decline of state-sponsored collectivism.
Tentatively in the years immediately following the Bolshevik Revolution, then more eagerly by the later 1920s, Du Bois's writing entered into dialogue with the socialist experiment in Russia. The success of the Bolshevik revolution and the strong leadership exercised by the Soviet Union at the head of the Third Internationale pointed to a new paradigm that accepted the necessity of violence after centuries of bloody oppression by the Czars. In the 1920s, first-hand reports from American socialist visitors to the Soviet Union glowed with praise for the revolution. (13) In 1926 Du Bois went to see for himself, a trip that biographer David Levering Lewis describes as a life-transforming experience: "Never before in life had he been as stirred as he would be by two months in Russia" (Fight 200). Yet already in a Crisis editorial penned prior to his departure Du Bois had seemed more ready than before to excuse undemocratic and violent means if they lead ultimately to the goal of egalitarianism: "If [Russia] succeeds we will all forgive the tyranny as we have forgiven in ages gone many other tyrants. If she fails the End remains great even though the means were terrible" ("Germany"). By the 1950s, Du Bois had become an outright apologist for Stalinism, an entanglement that has provided a considerable challenge for critics who focus on Du Bois's later socialism. In the unpublished manuscript of Russia and America (written in the 1950s) and in an editorial to the Soviet Literary Gazette (26 Sept. 1957; Aptheker 3: 412-15), Du Bois would in fact defend the cruelty of the Stalinist regime in an attempt to validate his conception of the socialist state.
The most direct defense of Du Bois's Cold War politics is suggested by Kate Baldwin's Beyond the Color Line and the Iron Curtain, which asserts that the idealism that led Du Bois and others to extol the Soviet experiment can, in fact, be disentangled from the specific abuses of Stalin and his lieutenants. Another defense is provided by Joy James, who emphasizes Du Bois's abandonment by Talented-Tenth blacks when he was charged with unAmerican activities at the beginning of the Cold War (26-27). By this view, Du Bois's association with the USSR was a natural and excusable reaction to ostracism at home. For Nikhil Singh, too, Du Bois's "bitter disavowals of the United States and willful blindness to Stalin's crimes" were unmistakably a product of Cold War politics, a context in which the best path--a principled radicalism that was simultaneously anti-Stalinist--was also the most difficult to follow (177, 128). These defenses are all persuasive to some degree. But to us, Baldwin's project of separating socialist idealism from Stalinism seems largely unnecessary when the larger scope of Du Bois's socialism is more fully recognized. James's psychological explanation cannot warrant that Du Bois's later socialism should be trusted as a socio-political prescription, while Singh's historical explanation hardly constitutes an endorsement of Du Bois's approach under the quite different international conditions of the post-Soviet era. Our approach, in contrast, is to argue simply that Du Bois's dying legacy need not be taken as his best contribution to social democratic thought. Du Bois's late defense of revolutionary violence need not be excused because, through nearly his entire career, Du Bois himself had refused to make excuses for violence in the name of socialism. (14)
The question of revolutionary violence was not only central to debates between the American Socialist and Communist parties of the 1920s and '30s; it was a prominent issue in Du Bois's work going at least as far back as his 1909 biography of John Brown. Like the majority of American socialists, Du Bois did not advocate nonviolence out of an absolute, unconditional principle--and in this sense there was, from the outset, an opening for acceptance of revolutionary violence in Du Bois's thought (even as there was such an acceptance in the American founding fathers and mothers). But almost always, Du Bois defended violence in a just cause even while realizing that, in virtually all times and places, nonviolence is the best path to justice--even, or especially, for the wretched of the earth. In his 1909 biography, John Brown, he had written sympathetically of Brown's righteous war against slavery, yet Du Bois concluded that Brown's deeds of violence were, in the final analysis, less effective than the "spiritual value" of his martyrdom, his court testimony, and his dying words (174). So, too, in a key scene in Quest of the Silver Fleece when a mob threatens to destroy Zora's cooperative community, Du Bois provides clear backing for the right to bear arms in self defense: Bles and Zora encourage community members to arm themselves in defense of their village commons. But even as Du Bois's plot defuses the situation through the keystone-cops-style bungling of the white mob--a deus ex machina preserving a comic ending--the narrator spells out through Bles's thoughts the more likely, real-world result of such a confrontation: "One desperate struggle, a whirl of blood, and the whole world would rise to crush him and his people. The white operator in yonder town had but to flash the news, 'Negroes killing whites,' to bring all the country, all the State, all the nation, to red vengeance" (423). If the right to self defense is established here in principle, Bles's recognition of vicious racist culture suggests that this right must in many situations be waived. And the improbability of the plot at this point indicates that the struggle for political and economic equality must be long, circuitous, and waged with patience: a series of events far too long and unpredictable to be told in the pages of a potboiler novel.
This line of thinking carries over well into Du Bois's Marxist phase of the late 1920s and '30s. For in spite of his interest in the Soviet experiment during this period, Du Bois determined that Russia, with its long history of Czarist repression and reactionary violence, formed an exceptional case. In America, Du Bois did not give up on the possibility of transforming capitalist society through the existing political system. Though the Sons and Daughters of the American Revolution might blacklist him and his compatriots for believing "in the administration of wealth and of the division of the income for the good of the community, rather than simply for private interests," he was "unaware that such an attitude [was] either revolutionary or dangerous" (letter to Bailey). In a series of letters exchanged between Du Bois and socialist George Streator during April of 1935, the former insisted that Marx had never meant to imply the necessity of bloody revolution in his Manifesto. In practice, insurrection might have worked for Russia, but it would never work in the United States, especially for its people of color (Aptheker 2:87-88). In his 1936 unpublished pamphlet "The Negro and Social Reconstruction," he described the futility of revolution: "This is a silly program even for white men. For American colored men, it is suicidal" (65). Echoing his fictional warning in Quest of the Silver Fleece, Du Bois insisted that whites would seek vengeance against the blacks, giving them no opportunity to rebuild the nation. Political reform gave Du Bois hope that progress could be effected through educated universal suffrage ("Negro and Social" 66). Economic reform in the New Deal was the first step toward more radical changes. If America could pull off the dramatic transformation needed for socialism with just a podium and a ballot box, it could celebrate its most democratic achievement in 150 years. Du Bois believed that it could. In 1938, with the Popular Front booming and one black Communist leader able to boast that "75%" of Harlem's black intellectuals had "party membership" or "regular meaningful contact with the party" (qtd. in Maxwell 1), Du Bois's old colleague Mary White Ovington saw Communism as the last, best hope for the rights of minorities: "I wish I had any hope that a minority group can [achieve] its economic place in a nation against the wish of the majority but since the Nazis['] attitude to the German Jews, exiling Einstein, my only hope is in Communism" (11 Mar. 1938). Although the previous year Du Bois had returned from a second, appreciative visit to the Soviet Union (Lewis, Fight 407-08), Du Bois cautioned Ovington in his reply: "Communism is the hope of us all but not the dogmatic Marxian program with war and murder in the forefront. Economic communism by the path of peace is possible" (Letter to Mary White Ovington).
In his interactions with the Comintern in the 1930s, Du Bois also continued to envision an Afro-centric socialism and defended that socialism against cooptation by white Communists. In effect, Du Bois was continuing with the Communists the same feud he had had with the Socialists, albeit with higher stakes given the role of violence in the Communists' program. Du Bois clashed with the party most spectactularly--and for our purposes, perhaps most instructively-regarding the Scottsboro case. For the Scottsboro struggle--in many ways the beginning of the end of Du Bois's tenure as Crisis editor--also clearly marked Du Bois's difference from Marxism and the party.
In the eyes of Du Bois and other black Americans, there was certainly much to admire in the Communist party's approach to the Scottsboro trials. (15) When the nine "Scottsboro boys" were convicted by a 1931 Alabama court on (false) rape charges, the vigorous and highly publicized appeals of the International Labor Defense (ILD), the Communist party's legal arm, almost unquestionably saved the lives of the defendants, whereas the tardy and timid defense of the NAACP very probably would have permitted their execution (Goodman 82-84). Du Bois's analysis of Scottsboro in the Crisis resembled closely the Communists' contentions about the shared interests of poor southern blacks and whites, even while echoing his previous statement of that common interest in Quest of the Silver Fleece ("Blunders"). Moreover, the Communist party's stance on the Scottsboro boys clearly heightened Du Bois's interest in Marxism, which was discussed prominently in the 1932 and 1933 Crisis and set the stage for Du Bois's 1934 pronouncements that black cooperation ought to replace integration as the NAACP's primary mission. (16) As he had done in Quest, in two of the Atlanta studies, and in the Crisis, Du Bois advocated cooperative economics within the black community, although now he proposed it on a scale that amounted to acceptance, on tactical grounds, of nation-wide segregation. His grander conception of a "nation within a nation" may have been a response to the Stalinist notion of an African American "forty-ninth state"--or to the proposition of the black nationalist socialist Cyril Briggs that blacks in US states where they comprised a majority should exercise "self-determination" (Foner 310). (17) In any case, the NAACP board was even more disturbed by the editor's pro-segregation stance than it had been by his Communist dalliance. After a sharp debate within the NAACP in spring 1934, Du Bois's position on segregation was rejected and Du Bois felt compelled to resign from the NAACP board (Lewis, Fight 342-47).
But Du Bois found at least as much to fault as to credit in the Communists' handling of the Scottsboro trials. Without sharing the anti-Communist bias of NAACP chairman Walter White (Goodman 32), Du Bois shared his conviction that, in making Scottsboro into an international cause celeb and the center of its recruiting drive in black America, the party was subordinating the personal interests of the "boys" to the larger interests of the party. (18) In "The Negro and Communism," Du Bois's defining editorial on Scottsboro and, implicitly, on the ongoing struggle between the ILD and the NAACP over control of the case, Du Bois argued against direct alliance of black Americans with the Communist party under two major heads. First, Du Bois argued that the dictatorship of the proletariat, if established in the United States, would remove capitalists who had on occasion offered philanthropy and shown paternalistic care toward blacks in order to replace them with the poor whites who had historically shown the greatest contempt for blacks and carried out the larger share of mob violence--who had, for example, surrounded the jail on the first night of the Scottsboro defendants' imprisonment and clamored for a lynching. Second, Du Bois asserted that black Americans who joined the Communist party would set themselves doubly apart for persecution--the stigma of radicalism added to the already heavy burden of racism. In spite of the antiracist attitudes displayed by Communist party leaders, and whatever the material interests held in common between white and black workers, racial difference was, and would remain for the foreseeable future, a more essential dividing line in American society than class difference. Therefore Du Bois warned against too close of an affiliation either with the capitalists or with the Communists, as he declared memorably: "American Negroes do not propose to be the shock troops of the Communist Revolution, driven out in front to death, cruelty and humiliation in order to win victories for white workers. They are picking no chestnuts from the fire, neither for capital nor white labor." Were the Communist movement embraced by white labor, he would counsel a closer alliance, but until white workers as well as blacks perceived that "the real interests of the white worker are identical with the interests of the black worker," Du Bois could only advise that "the black worker is compelled in sheer self-defense to refuse to be made the sacrificial goat" ("Negro" 313).
It is the irony of Du Bois's position in the 1930s that he was simultaneously too egalitarian on class issues for the NAACP, whereas he was too egalitarian on race for the Communist party. This position is seen by Robinson, James, Singh, and ourselves as one of Du Bois's theoretical strengths. Yet we would remind critics and admirers of Du Bois that this very stance was articulated not only in the 1930s but in the pages of the Crisis and in his critical dialogue with Second International socialism for many years previous. Moreover, at the very moment in Du Bois's career when other recent commentators are prone to emphasize homologies between Du Bois's thought and that of the Communists, Du Bois's independence from the Communists is about as strong as it had formerly been from the Second International Socialists.
As well as attesting to the originality of Du Bois's social democratic thought, this historical fact underwrites the applicability of Du Bois's thought to an era after the collapse of the Soviet Union and during the transformation of China from state socialism to state capitalism. And while certain elements of Du Boisian socialism are anachronistic to the twenty-first century and certain others disconcertingly utopian, we would do well to hearken to a Du Boisian analysis on more than one contemporary issue. For black America at the start of the twenty-first century, increasingly riven by a class divide between the descendants of Du Bois's Talented Tenth and the majority of African Americans who have remained on the lowest rungs of the socioeconomic ladder, the Du Boisian call to social service and group solidarity remains an important antidote. (19) For those Americans working for social democracy, white as well as black, Du Bois's questioning is prescient: "What folk are you going to let starve? What class of people are you going to allow to remain disfranchised?" These questions, we must recall are especially directed at white labor and white socialists who would seek their own empowerment at the expense of others, still less powerful. (20) As for political leaders of today who have proposed global free trade as a panacea for the social and economic development of all nations--and curiously, also, those who would demand the necessity for utter revolutionary change--the Du Bois who was a fellow traveler of the reformist Second Internationale would encourage a closer look at the social democratic legacy even within our own political economy. At the same time, he would have us look to the developing world--not as a force to be harnessed or checked--but as the birthplace of democratic leaders and values. At the current historical moment dominated by fears of terrorism, this is perhaps the most difficult Du Boisian advice of all to heed. But for Du Bois, not only was peace the surest path to global social democracy, but truly global social democracy was the surest way to peace.
We gratefully acknowledge the National Endowment for the Humanities and Augustana College (Sioux Falls, South Dakota) for their fellowship support in the research and writing of this essay.
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(1.) Singh refers principally to "Du Bois's writings from the 1930s" as the "worldly and radical vision that would remain stubbornly central to the long civil rights era" (214). James sees a radicalized Du Bois as being clearly established only in his 1940 autobiography, Dusk of Dawn (22-23), while a somewhat earlier interpreter, Cedric Robinson, finds that Du Bois "had at last come to the Black radical tradition" with the publication of his 1935 monograph Black Reconstruction in America (322). Among the major critics of Du Bois, the one closest to our account of Du Bois's socialism, and one of the few who considers the Quest of the Silver Fleece in any depth, is Rampersad.
(2.) Here we dispute Reed's contention that the differences between the varieties of collectivism are of less importance than the collectivist themes uniting "socialism, progressivism, managerialism, and social engineering in general" (19), while at the same time asserting that Du Bois definitely allied himself with the more egalitarian and anticapitalist versions of socialism.
(3.) Barkin recounts that Du Bois learned socialism not only from his contact with German Social Democratic politics but also from his principal Berlin University professors, who preached state socialism.
(4.) See not only Reed 83 but Rampersad 158, Moses 139-40, and Marable 89-90.
(5.) Neither in Zora's speech nor in Du Bois's writing of this period are the concepts considered with a high degree of sophistication. But the key point here is Du Bois's conversance with socialist ideas. Rampersad is virtually alone in noting Du Bois's socialist mindset at this relatively early moment in his career, quoting Zora's quip that "You don't own what you don't need and can't use" as a "rephrasing" of "a key Marxist slogan" (122). Zora's speech does indeed reflect some acquaintance with Marx's analysis of exchange, labor value, and use value. Her particular stress upon the claim posed by need reveals, at the same time, the influence of another socialist tradition, specifically American. While Marx's emphasis is on the right of the proletariat to the full product of its labor, American socialists including Edward Bellamy placed special emphasis upon need as the only humane principle of distribution (Bellamy 87, 110-12). Thus Zora's discussion of property reveals Du Bois's familiarity not only with Marxism but also with varieties of socialism outside of Marxism, even a wish to harmonize terms that receive quite different emphases in different socialist theoretical traditions.
(6.) It must also be noted, however, that the Second Internationale Socialist party was far more progressive on the question of race than is usually supposed. As Foner abundantly documents, "few issues were more widely discussed in the party press than the Negro question, and ... significant forces in the Socialist party fought racism in the party's ranks, took an advanced position on the Negro question, and did not confine themselves to parroting the usual line" (xiii).
(7.) Maurice Lee's insightful reading of Quest is one of the few to take seriously Du Bois's first novel as artistic accomplishment and social statement. To his interpretation, we would add fuller content to the "alternative, liminal voice" that the novel speaks. The "nation in the swamp ... a political, material body founded on higher principles," as Lee calls it, has a name and a definite history in American political economy: Socialism. Another of the novel's careful readers, Arnold Rampersad, names Du Bois's socialism repeatedly. With his analysis, our main difference is one of emphasis, for he asserts that the novel's "themes and ideas," including socialism, are "secondary" to his dramatization of "the moral and political consequences of the black situation in America" (132), whereas we would maintain that socialist analysis and ideals are inseparable from the moral and political vision of the novel.
(8.) The Populist movement was widespread and popular enough to threaten seriously the hegemony of the two established parties. Having carried five states for their 1892 presidential nominee and seated multiple governors, US representatives, and senators in the next two years (Kazin 42), the People's party was impressive enough to invite cooptations, with Democrat William Jennings Bryan adopting the Populist platform of "free silver" in 1896 (Goodwyn 523-25).
(9.) The New Review was published beginning in January 1913 by William English Walling, with financial support from Mabel Dodge (Marable 84).
(10.) The elitism Reed describes in his chapter on The Philadelphia Negro, 27-41, is formidable indeed. Moreover, Reed is no doubt correct that Du Bois never abandoned his view of a hierarchy of talent to any extent amounting to absolute democratic egalitarianism. But Reed's assertion that Du Bois recommends the "stewardship" of "intellectuals" loses much of its elitist edge when one considers Du Bois's pronouncements, elsewhere, that black leaders were likely to be of working-class origin. One might as well charge Antonio Gramsci's conception of the "organic intellectual" as being elitist because such a leader might, in his or her present occupation, be an intellectual worker instead of a manual laborer (Gramsci 6).
(11.) Richards takes some pains to argue that Du Bois's socialist critique of imperialism was embryonic in the 1910s whereas Lenin's was fully fledged, yet he acknowledges that "The Negro ... anticipated a view of the labor aristocracy and its relationship to world imperialism which Lenin wrote about at about the same time" (54).
(12.) To gauge the development of Du Bois's socialism, we might consider the parallels between Du Bois's views and those of Cyril Briggs of the African Blood Brotherhood at about this juncture. When founded in secret in 1917, the Brotherhood called for many of the same reforms as did Du Bois. Full voting rights for blacks, guarantees of legal equality regardless of race, and union recognition of black workers-all planks in the Brotherhood's charter (Foner 309)--were also lobbied for by Du Bois in the Crisis. Another plank, "armed resistance to lynching" (309), was anticipated in Quest of the Silver Fleece, but could not readily be advocated publicly by Du Bois (nor could it be by the secret society of the Brotherhood). Only perhaps Briggs's call for "self-determination for Negroes in states where they constituted a majority" (310) definitely preceded Du Bois's call, in the 1930s, for black self-segregation, although, as we have seen, the concept was developed in a more modest and practical form in Quest.
(13.) Among the true believers--at least initially--was Claude McKay, whose account of his trip appeared in two separate feature articles in the 1923 and '24 Crisis ("Soviet Russia" and "Soviet Russia and the Negro").
(14.) Writing in the 1980s, Cedric Robinson makes clear his own approval of violent resistance to colonialism, and he indicates clearly Du Bois's tolerance for righteous violence whether on a small scale (the mutiny of a score of black soldiers stationed in Texas during World War I) or a large one (the participation of black soldiers in the Civil War) (324, 320). But Singh, the most penetrating of the recent critics on Du Bois, treats the political strategy of the Communist party in the 1930s as a Gramscian "war of position" in which the main stakes sought (and lost) were "an independent working-class politics (that is, a Labor Party)" and "public recognition of class division as an enduringly recalcitrant problem of social order and political rule" (84-85). We are more in sympathy with Singh's position than Robinson's, although we find his description of Communist party politics to be less an accurate account of the party's actual 1930s strategy than of Du Bois's social democratic politics.
(15.) Besides the several studies we have mentioned that regard Du Bois's socialist theorizing favorably partly because of Communist antiracism, there have been a number of outstanding recent studies of the Communist left and black American writers in the 1920s and '30s: Maxwell and Dawahare. Foley also includes substantial consideration of black Communists and Communist antiracism.
(16.) For an idea of this progression in Du Bois's editorship in the final three years of his tenure, see the following: "Negro Editors on Communism" (both symposia under this title); Du Bois, "Toward a New Racial Philosophy"; and Du Bois, "Segregation."
(17.) The ideas should not, we would caution, be treated as coterminous, any more than Du Bois's perspective should be thought of as derivative. Singh's account usefully distinguishes between Stalin's conception of the black nation as having specific geographic boundaries and Du Bois's conception of it as a matter of "communication and communal regulation" throughout segregated black America (51).
(18.) On this point, the NAACP officials were probably correct. As Carter argues, the actions of the Communist party almost certainly hardened the authorities of the state of Alabama in their resolve not to free the "Scottsboro boys" even when their innocence was proven (135-36, 332).
(19.) Our application of this tenet to contemporary society essentially seconds an analysis made elsewhere by African American theorists. See James; also bell hooks, who in Class Matters asserts that "Progressive black 'elites' must humanely confront and challenge conservative peers. It is our task to forge a vision of solidarity in ending domination, which includes anti-racist struggle that realistically confronts class difference and constructively intervenes on the growing class antagonism between black folks with class privilege and the black masses who are daily being stripped of their power" (99-100).
(20.) Not only in Black Studies, but in the historiography, political economics, and theory of social democratic movements, the centrality of race as a socioeconomic category is being widely acknowledged. To cite a few instances: Roediger's Wages of Whiteness; Mills's From Class to Race; Part IV of Wald's Writing from the Left,, Weinstein's chapter entitled "Thigh Bone Connected to the Hip Bone: The Women's Movement, Civil Rights, and the War Machine"; Derber's chapter entitled "Reframing Revolution: The Rebirth of the Latin American Left"; and Giddens's two books on "The Global Third Way."
Mark Van Wienen is Associate Professor of English at Northern Illinois University. His books are Partisans and Poets: The Political Work of American Poetry in the Great War (1997) and Rendezvous with Death: American Poems of the Great War (2002). He is currently at work on a study of socialism in American literature, focusing on W. E. B. Du Bois, Upton Sinclair, and Charlotte Perkins Gilman.
Julie Kraft is a doctoral student in Victorian Literature at Indiana University in Bloomington. This is her first publication.
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|Author:||Van Wienen, Mark; Kraft, Julie|
|Publication:||African American Review|
|Date:||Mar 22, 2007|
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