Race and Radicalism: The NAACP and the Communist Party in Conflict
by Wilson Record
Cornell, 237 pp., $5.95
The American Communist Party has always been one of the weakest and least important links in the international Communist movement, yet, ith the exception of the Russian branch, it has been studied more exhaustively than the Party of any other country. This paradox may in part be traced to the continued wish of many former Stalinists or fellow-travelers to re-examine their past and to discover what went wrong. But there are other reasons. American Communism, though it never amounted to a major force in American politics, was yet responsible for the destruction, waste, and misdirection of a great deal of political idealism and moral passion in this country. The Communist betrayal is largely to be blamed for the contemporary eclipse—except in the Negro movement—of the very idea of radicalism, of the notion that men might be able, by a radical effort of the collective will, to make the world over in the image of their desires. The fact that once unambiguous notions like socialism, community, or equality have become deeply problematical in our times can be traced in no small measure to the impact of the cynical misuse and exploitation of these terms by the Communist movement. Hence the continued concern of historians, political scientists, and sociologists with American Communism.
Record’s book is essentially a narrative history of the American Communist attempt to penetrate and subvert the Negro movement. He recounts the early indifference of the Communist Party to specific Negro problems; the fantastic, somewhat ludicrous period after 1928, when the Communist International imposed a new program, “Self-Determination for Negroes in the Black Belt”; the wartime period in which the Party practically abandoned all efforts to defend Negro rights because of its concentration on furthering the war effort; the subsequent twists and turns of a Party increasingly isolated not only from the Negro movement but from all vital political forces in American life. Record shows how the tactics of the Party shifted back and forth between efforts to infiltrate the NAACP, and denunciations of its leadership as agents of Wall Street and American imperialism.
All this might have been an important story had it been previously unrecorded. But the fact is that we have already several specialized studies on the largely unsuccessful attempts of the American Communist Party to gain a foothold among American Negroes. In addition, more general histories of American Communism have paid a good deal of attention to the subject. Indeed, Wilson Record himself has previously written a book on The Negro and the Communist Party (1951) which came close to being the definitive study in the area. What then is the justification for this new volume? Record brings the earlier study up to date, but, as he himself admits, the American Communist Party has been so weak in recent years that its policies in the Negro field, just as in any other, are hardly of any significance. Record’s earlier book dealt with Communist attempts to infiltrate the whole Negro minority; this volume …