Month: February, 2010
March 20 Anti-War Rally in Houston
| February 25, 2010 | 2:49 am | Announcements | 1 Comment

Stop the Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan!

Bring All the Troops Home Now!

Money for Jobs, Housing and Healthcare!

Join the National Day of Protest on the 7th Anniversary of the Invasion of Iraq

Saturday, March 20, 2 pm
Rally at Mason Park
S. 75th St. and Tipps St., Houston

Organized by the Progressive Workers Organizing Committee, Harris County Green Party, Proyecto Latinoamericana, International Socialist Organization, Latin American Organization for Immigrant Rights, International Action Center, and CPUSA Houston.

Local Black History Month Event
| February 24, 2010 | 1:55 am | Announcements | No comments

Texas Southern University Museum Volunteer Circle presents A Salute to Black Americans, a Black History Month program.

Friday, February 26, at 6:00 p.m. Donation is $3. Proceeds will benefit the Haitian community. For more information, call 713-313-7145.

The Bourgeois Media Argues the Peasant Militia Does NOT “Already Exist”
| February 23, 2010 | 2:14 am | Analysis, Latin America | No comments

By Arther Shaw via VHeadline

There is no rational reason for these “fears of confrontation” if the cattle ranchers and landholders mind their own business and if the cattle ranchers and landholders stop sending death squads and mercenaries to murder peasants and to evict peasants from land that the peasants or the State own. On the other hand, if the cattle ranchers and landholders continue to send their death squads and mercenaries to murder peasants, the ranchers and landholders should have “fears of confrontation.”

These cattle ranchers and landholders don’t feel any “fears of confrontation” from the US imperialist military build-up in Colombia, next door to Venezuela. These cattle ranchers and landholders seem discriminatory about what developments they allow to excite their “fears of confrontation.”

These big cattlemen and wealthy landowners are key elements of the bourgeois-led opposition in Venezuela. The capitalist press will go to any lengths and tell any lie to disassociate the rural bourgeoisie from their death squads and mercenaries who mercilessly and murderously prey on peasants.

“Faced with the onslaught against peasants through an escalation of aggressions, sabotage and hired killings by the most reactionary forces of our society, the duty of the state … is to protect the poor farmers,” Hugo Chavez wrote in his newspaper column, February 21.

Chavez is right. It is the duty of the State to protect poor farmers because the State in Venezuela is a democracy which exercises power in accordance with the rule of law. These “aggressions, sabotage and hired killings by the most reactionary forces of our society” are not the rule of law, but rather these actions are an attempt by the opposition to rule illegally through the use of violence. These actions are an attempt by the opposition to overthrow the rule of law. The law must suppress violence or the violence will suppress the law. What is being seen, here, is not only opposition-sponsored violence against supporters of the revolution and others, but also an opposition-sponsored “escalation” of violence.

A law … against violence that is not effectively enforced … ceases to be law that rules.

The rural proletariat of Venezuela possesses the right stuff to bring an end to the escalating opposition’s violence in the countryside and to deal with US imperialist savages and mercenaries should they cross the border from Colombia.

The AP wrote “Chavez … has repeatedly warned that the US military could invade Venezuela to seize control of its immense oil reserves. US officials deny that any such plan exists.” The denials of US imperialists are worthless because US imperialist are confirmed and habitual liars. They lied about their non-involvement in the 2-day overthrow of Venezuelan democracy in 2002. They lied about the reasons for their 7-year aggression, occupation, and genocide against the Iraqi people beginning 2003. They lied about their involvement and the reasons for their involvement in the 2-year overthrow of Haitian democracy beginning in 2004. They lied about their involvement in the ongoing overthrow of Honduran democracy in 2009. If “US officials deny that any such plan exists,” that only proves irrefutably that such plans exist and are in some stage of implementation. The bourgeois media report the denials of US officials as if the denials were plausible because the bourgeois media are as worthless and as mendacious as the imperialist regime in Washington.

“The [Venezuelan] government claims that more than 300 peasants have been killed — purportedly by mercenaries for wealthy landholders — since authorities launched a sweeping land reform initiative in 2001,” the AP wrote. The AP and the rest of the bourgeois media are trying to be slick and sly when they talk about mere “claims” and about what “purportedly” happened. The AP thereby denies the occurrence of the massacre of peasants and the complicity of the opposition for the massacres.

Do you know why the AP denies the occurrence of the massacre of 300 peasants since 2001? The AP helped to cover-up the massacres.

Do you know why the AP denies the complicity of the opposition for the massacres? The AP is part of the opposition.

Since 2001, every time the toe of a Venezuelan bourgeois was stepped on, the AP wrote a lot of stories about “repression.” But, when a peasant had his head blown off, the AP said nothing over a nine year period, even though the humanity of the poorest peasant is ten times more worthy than that of the richest bourgeois … the latter a corrupt land thief.

One of the favorite propaganda lines of the bourgeois media, especially the AP, is “The security forces that already exist should provide security for all of those in the countryside.” This is precisely what the security forces are doing. The term “all of those in the countryside” includes the peasants, the vast majority of the people in the countryside.

The bourgeois media argues that the peasant militia does not “already exist.”

So, the bourgeois media says the peasant militia should not provide security! If what already exists has proven unable to provide security for “all those in the countryside,” why should the security forces be limited to what already exists?

When the bourgeois media and opposition say they want to limit the security forces in the countryside to those that already exist and that are unable, so far, to provide security, this shows that bourgeois media and the opposition don’t want to provide security for “all those in the countryside.”

The bourgeoisie doesn’t want the peasants to be secure. Well, tough luck … the peasants want to be secure.

Convention Discussion: The Communist Plus & Plan of Work
| February 19, 2010 | 9:32 am | Analysis, Party Voices | No comments

This article is part of the discussion leading up to the Communist Party USA’s 29th National Convention May 21-23, 2010. All contributions to the discussion should be sent to discussion2010@cpusa.org for selection not to the individual venues.For more information on the convention or the pre-convention discussion period, you can email convention2010@cpusa.org.

Of course, we must update Marx, Lenin, and Gus Hall and apply basic principles to the present. However, we need to ask ourselves if we are discarding “old” ideas because they don’t appeal to the working class or because we are drifting in our ideology. In rereading the following taken directly from Political Report to National Committee/National Council by Gus Hall, September 19, 1992, I would suggest that other than reference to specific events at that time, it is even more applicable today.

THE PLUS

There are a lot of experiences and experiments and good work. But there are weaknesses. The overall level of our work is not high enough.

For example, to the extent that we become more involved in mass work, to the extent the weaknesses of not integrating the concept of the plus shows up, and with it, the lack of recruiting. We still have not yet mastered the art of including the plus concept in all our work. Without the plus we cannot recruit. Without it, we cannot raise class consciousness, and certainly not socialist consciousness. The plus prepares people for the Party.

Take the present economic situation. It is not enough to blame the closing of GM plants on GM in general. It is not enough to blame mass layoffs or the lack of medical care on the Reagan-°©‐Bush years. We have to do that. But it is not enough. It is enough for reformists, but not enough for Communists.

It is interesting to note that years ago the Social Democrats and the capitalist press used to slander the party by saying the Communists always blame everything on the system. Looking back, actually that was a compliment because they were slandering our plus.

Our most important and unique contribution, by way of the plus, must be to explain in the most basic and simple ways how and why the problems the people face are ultimately the results of the capitalist system, the exploitation, racism and oppression.

At the recent steelworkers convention, the delegates from the Canadian section of the union included the plus. They spoke about capitalism as the basic problem and they mentioned socialism. They talked about ‘Rambo” capitalism. They got standing ovations.

One of the residues from the factional period is the lack of focus on industrial concentration, on workingclass concentration. In their petty bourgeois minds industrial concentration was a dirty word. This was related to their non-class position.

The plus gives industrial concentration a deeper meaning. Without the plus we can be involved in mass work all out lives and never recruit anyone.

The Party can only grow on the basis of the influence of the plus. The plus must be a factor in the plan of work. The objective situation is now more open for our plus.

During the ten months since the convention we have made important headway. But there are some weaknesses.

In thinking about what it will take to raise the level of the work of the Party to new levels an old idea comes to mind.”

PLAN OF WORK

There was a time when the Party planned and organized its work on the basis of plans of work. The fact is without a plan of work it is impossible to function on the basis of priorities. It is impossible to have overall direction in our work. Without a plan, it is impossible to deal with concretes. It is impossible to focus on the working class without an overall plan of work. Without a plan, industrial concentration is but one of the many equally important tasks we do. Drawing up a plan forces us to think in concrete terms.

So plans of work, on all levels, are necessary to move to a new, higher level of work. Without plans there can be no checkup or follow‐up, no assessment. Without a plan of work we respond to whatever moves us at the moment. Reading the letters and reports from districts and clubs is a study in just this kind of problem.

The plans of work must respond to the question: how can we raise our work to a higher level?

Whether and how we do this depends very much on how we see the nature and role of our Party today. (Bell’s emphasis)

To measure this we have to take a fresh look at Lenin’s concept of a party of a new type.

Lenin’s concept of a workingclass revolutionary political party was molded in the struggle against liberal, petty bourgeois, social democratic concepts of the Party. In theory, these forces were reformist. Organizationally, they were anarchists. In life, they were discussion circles.

Lenin’s concept was developed in response to the historic role and revolutionary tasks of the working class.

Lenin developed the structure of democratic centralism, with the clubs as the base of the Party’s activities. Without clubs there is no need for democratic centralism.

The Leninist structure presented the idea of active leadership of mass movements and struggles – by clubs. It added the element of active leadership to the concept of influencing mass moods, mass thought pattern and mass trends.

Lenin presented the concept of main concentration on industrial mass production workers as a cornerstone of the Party.

A Party of a new type was necessary in order to fulfill the leading role of the Party. Lenin’s new type party is a party with communist essence, with the communist plus. That has not changed. (Bell’s emphasis)

We must take the political, ideological and structural essence of this concept as a guide to mold our own party of a new type, in response to our present situation.”

CLUBS OF A NEW TYPE

In life what does this mean? It means clubs of a new type. Our criticisms in this area do not mean that we in the leadership have the right answers, but the clubs don’t accept or apply them. If we had the answers, the clubs would have done so. These weaknesses are to a large extent reflections of weaknesses in our leadership. We must also not approach the clubs as if there are no objective problems. There are many.” In the original document there follows many paragraphs on the prerequisites of becoming a club of a new type.

RECRUITING

We have to ask why we don’t recruit more. The objective conditions are ripe. We are certainly in need of new members. People need our party, now more than ever.

To answer this, we should give some thought to why people join our party. Some join for reasons of friendship. Others like the work we do in mass movements or our contributions in mass organizations. But the most solid kind of recruits are those who are convinced ideologically, who are class conscious, who believe socialism is the solution. These are the people recruited by our plus. (Bell’s emphasis) Within our overall plans we have to have specific approaches to recruiting. We have to have timetables and goals. We have to inject the plus. (Bell’s emphasis)”

Recommendations:
  1. Study the concept of the communist plus and how we apply it today.
  2. Reestablish the Organization department.
  3. Charge the Education Department with producing educationals on the communist plus and basic Marxist‐Leninist concepts.
Convention Discussion: It’s Time for Anti-Capitalism
| February 18, 2010 | 5:31 pm | Analysis, Party Voices | No comments

This article is part of the discussion leading up to the Communist Party USA’s 29th National Convention May 21-23, 2010. All contributions to the discussion should be sent to discussion2010@cpusa.org for selection not to the individual venues.For more information on the convention or the pre-convention discussion period, you can email convention2010@cpusa.org.

In my opinion the main discussion documents have strengths but also weaknesses.

Strengths:

  • Emphasis on working with the masses. No impossible ultra-radical demands.
  • Emphasis on recruitment.
  • Emphasis on developing a presence on the internet.

To me the main weakness is working in a communist way. As Chairman Webb said in the teleconference kickoff: “sometimes we have a difficulty in turning our mass work into communist mass work.”

I don’t think the documents will to do anything to solve that problem. I also think their contents will be a hindrance in recruiting. Several interrelated points that I see as problematic:

a. Democratic party, bourgeois politics

The approach to Obama and the Democrats is too amicable. For example, I brought two left-Democrat guests to a Party presentation in my area a while back. One: “First time I went to a meeting of communists, and I realized I was to the left of all of them.” The other: “I figured out what the Communist Party is – a bunch of centrist Democrats.”

It can’t be a good sign that random observers get this impression of the Party.

The style and subjects of many articles in the Party press are admiring of Obama and the Democrats. Since the Democrats are a bourgeois party, class analysis has to be sacrificed in order to praise them.

What about “concrete gains, however minimal or compromised”?

Why is it that the people we’re supposed to be building unity with (Democrats) avoid us like the plague, while the right-wing (Beck et al) wants to put us into the media? A couple first page hits on Google for CPUSA are right-wing pieces hooting about the similarity between the CPUSA and Democratic programs.

Democrats want no association with us, while the right-wing wants to make that association. If you want to play the bourgeois politics game, I’d say we’re hurting more than helping: the aid of a small organization versus a right-wing propaganda coup.

Socialism by the ballot box?

But Marxists have always said that the whole structure of bourgeois democracy is set up to be anti-democratic; to let capital dominate.

Compare to the original Party program, 1919:

Part II, pt. 2: “Although the United States is called a political democracy there is no opportunity whatever for the working class through the regular political machinery to effectively oppose the will of the capitalist state.”

Part II, pt. 6: “Not one of the great teachers of scientific Socialism has ever said that it is possible to achieve the Social Revolution by the ballot.”

b. Class struggle muted

“simplistic” to divide politics up into two opposing camps, one of capitalists and one of workers

Compare to the famous lines of the Communist Manifesto:

“The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles.

Freeman and slave, patrician and plebian, lord and serf, guild-master and journeyman, in a word, oppressor and oppressed, stood in constant opposition to one another, carried on an uninterrupted, now hidden, now open fight.”

On workers: “Separately, neither the president nor the people’s organizations nor the working class can win.”

The working class cannot win alone?

Compare to the insights of the economic theory of Marx – the proletariat is a sleeping giant, controlling the levers of production. That control gives them the ultimate social power, which they can use if they can reach a high level of class consciousness.

Our founding Party program, Part III, pt. 4: “It is our duty as Communists, who understand the class struggle, to point out to the workers that upon the workers alone depends their own emancipation and that it is impossible to accomplish this through capitalist political machinery, but only by the exercise of their united economic power.”

Building anti-capitalist consciousness – where?

I think this should be a critical part of our work, and that it is part of our unique role. But the document says:

“I would not agree, however, that reforms are impossible, or even that the underlying dynamics and laws of motion can’t be modified.”

“Capitalism is more elastic than some believe…”

“Nor should we take the position that our emphasis has to be on the bankruptcy of capitalism…”

In this period of crisis, when the WSJ, Newsweek, etc. are in paroxysms defending capitalism, even though nobody’s really attacking it, just because it’s failing so self-evidently – and the other side of the debate isn’t joined by the CPUSA. Are the WSJs right? We’re willing to let it slide?

c. Practical action

Go out and be progressive

Here’s an example of what a progressive might think it means to be progressive (Cesca of Huffington Post): “I’ve always thought that a successful progressive movement involved three things: an ongoing marginalizing of the far-right; arguing for progressive policies; and promoting and encouraging the careers of politicians and organizations that are best equipped to help pass progressive legislation.”

What more do we have?

Getting people to join

The real imperative is getting people to join.  But as now there’s not a compelling reason to join.

Identifying as communist has a cost – most people think of a totalitarian system that failed. You want to agitate for health care and they’re thinking about Stalin or Pol Pot. There is some risk of being discriminated against, and supposed-ally Democrats will want to keep you away.

To balance this burden what does one get?

The answer needs to be: an independent anti-capitalist program.

The line seems to be that you get the advantage of understanding Marxism if you join – the “strategic insights” and “understanding of Marxism” – mentioned in the document. But you don’t have to be part of the Party to read Marx or Lenin. That’s no answer.

As is, its hard to see why someone would join. I try to recruit people, but it’s a tough sell.

I agree with the YCL comrades who say that it’s important to establish what our “value-added” is. I disagree with their assessment that one source is our supposed capability to build “left-center unity.” Trying to unite with Democrats – who view us as loons and a liability – seems incorrect.

The answer to the value-added question needs to lie not in our unity with a bourgeois party that derides and attacks us, but in our practical – not impossibly radical – anti-capitalism and reputation for consistent class struggle.

Sum

To my mind, being a communist is about bringing an anti-capitalist perspective to the progressive movement. Anti-capitalist class struggle is our best ideological weapon and our best recruiting tool – it should never be sacrificed. The truth is revolutionary. We should never let any strategic policies obscure this.

The anti-ultra-right phase has passed. It’s time for anti-monopoly struggle. This is based not only on the political terrain but also the economic – which as Marxists we should give heavy weight! There is enormous sentiment against monopoly capital due to the crisis and the bailouts. Capitalism itself is debated in mainstream media outlets. We can get our message out there and we can build our Party. If the crisis deepens or drags, which is likely, anti-capitalism may be called on to test forces in a direct encounter.

Cuban 5 International Campaign for Visitation Rights
| February 17, 2010 | 11:18 am | Cuban Five | No comments

Argentinean personalities have sent a letter to Hillary Clinton and Janet Napolitano demanding visas for two Cuban women so they can visit their husbands imprisoned in the United States for more than 11 years.

The letter, delivered early in the morning of February 16th to the US Embassy in Buenos Aires has the signatures of Nobel Peace recepient Adolfo Pérez Esquivel, Estela de Carlotto President of Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo, Nora Cortiñas Mother of Plaza de Mayo – Founder Line, writer and journalist Stella Calloni, Graciela Rosemblum President of the Human Rights Argentinean League, jurists Beinusz Szmukler and Carlos Zamorano, Fray Antonio Puigjané, Capuchino Priest, Sociologist Atilio Borón and Philosopher León Rozichtner. All signers are Argentinean members of the International Commission for the Right of Family Visits.

A copy of this document has been sent to several international human rights organizations.

The signers denounced the United States for violating the right of family visits and for denying visas to the wives of Gerardo Hernández, serving two life sentences and René González serving 15 years.

In the letter, which can be seen on several websites, those who signed asked: Where is justice and the sense of humanity in the US?

As it is publicly known, Gerardo and René are two of the Five Cuban Patriots imprisoned in the United States for monitoring criminal based in Miami.

The letter also denounced the fact that while the Five continue to serve unjust prison terms, on March 1st the international criminal Luis Posada Carriles will appear in a Court in El Paso, Texas for charges of lying to immigration authorities instead of facing justice for the numerous crimes he has committed.

SEND LETTERS, FAXES, E-MAILS
OR MAKE A PHONE CALL

On July 15, 2009 the US denied for the tenth time the visa application presented by Adriana Pérez

We ask you to please contact Secretary of State Hillary Clinton asking the following:

1) To immediately grant a HUMANITARIAN VISA to ADRIANA PEREZ to visit her husband GERARDO HERNÁNDEZ in prison and end the violation of the right of family visits.

2) To grant multiple visas to all family members of the Cuban Five so they can visit their imprisoned loved ones in the US.

To contact the US State Department:

US State Department
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton
2201 C Street, NW
Washington, DC 20520

Fax number: 1-202-647-2283
Phone number: 1-202-647-4000

In July, 2008 Olga Salanueva was classified as “permanently ineligible.” On December 18, 2009, she was denied humanitarian parole.

We ask you to contact Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano asking the following:

1) To immediately grant a HUMANITARIAN VISA to OLGA SALANUEVA to visit her husband RENE GONZALEZ in US prison.

To contact Homeland Security:

Janet Napolitano
U.S. Department of Homeland Security
Washington, DC 20528

Fax number: 1-202-282-8401
Phone number: 1- 202-282-8000
Comment line: 1- 202-282-8495

If possible please send copies of your letters to the United Nation Human Rights Council e-mail: InfoDesk@ohchr.org

Urgent Action e-mail urgent-action@ohchr.org
Complaint Procedures 1503 e-mail 1503@ohchr.org.

How Communism Brought Racial Equality To The South
| February 16, 2010 | 9:14 pm | Uncategorized | No comments

Transcript from National Public Radio, posted for noncommercial, educational purposes.

Throughout this Black History Month, we have been focusing on new news about black history, new scholarship that has emerged in recent decades that sheds new light on the story of black people in America.

Today, we want to hear about communists in the civil rights movement. Now, thats a sensitive subject since those working for equality have often been accused of being communist in this country, but some were.

And were joined now by Robin Kelley, author of Hammer and Hoe: Alabama Communists During the Great Depression. It documents how the Communist Party worked to secure racial, economic and political justice. Hes a professor of American studies and history at the University of Southern California. And this semester, hes the Harmsworth Professor of American History at the University of Oxford. And we welcome you to the program. Thank you for joining us.

Professor ROBIN KELLEY (American History, University of Oxford; Author, Hammer and Hoe: Alabama Communists During the Great Depression): Thanks, Michel. Its great to be here.

MARTIN: How did you get interested in this topic? And as I mentioned, it is a sensitive topic because there are those, for decades, whove worked to tamp down the suggestion that anybody in the civil rights movement was attracted to the Communist Party at all.

Prof. KELLEY: Exactly. And this is a story that actually predates the civil rights movement as we know it, going back to the 1930s. I became interested in this as a doctorate dissertation back in the mid-80s when I was very active in other social movements in actually in the L.A. area. And I wanted to know how the Communist Party organized African-Americans, particularly in places where black people were the majority.

And so, at first, my study took me to South Africa. And I was planning to do a comparative study looking at South Africa and the West South. I couldnt get into South Africa in 1986 because of the state of emergency. And so, I discovered the second blackest place in the world and that is Alabama. And there, I discovered a very vibrant movement that very few people wrote about, there basically are two stories. One memoir by a man named Hosea Hudson and then another story in a book called All Gods Dangers which is about an African-American sharecropper.

MARTIN: All Gods Dangers: The Life of Nate Shaw, I remember that.

Prof. KELLEY: Exactly. But his real name was Ned Cobb. Nate Shaw was a pseudonym. And its a beautiful book that tells his life story and only a portion of it deals with his membership in the communist-led sharecroppers union, which at one point had about 12,000 members in the black belt counties of Alabama.

MARTIN: And were all the members black?

Prof. KELLEY: Well, in Alabama, there was a point when basically all the members, except one, were all African-American sharecroppers and tenant farmers.

MARTIN: How did the Communist Party gets started in Alabama?

Prof. KELLEY: In 1928, the communist position internationally was that African-Americans in the South have the right to self-determination. Meaning: they have the right to create their own nation in the South. In this position that came out of Moscow, it came from other black communists around the globe.

And with that idea in mind, they sent two organizers to Alabama and they went to Birmingham. And they chose Birmingham because it was probably the most industrialized city in the South. And they went there thinking they would organize white workers. And from white workers, black workers would follow. But no white workers had come forward.

And so, the first two organizers was a guy named James Julio(ph), who was a Sicilian worker who had migrated to Alabama, and another guy named Tom Johnson(ph), and together they went out looking for white workers and black workers came.

And black workers came in fairly large numbers right away because to them, they had a memory of reconstruction, the memory of the Civil War. And in that kind of collective memory, they were told that one day the Yankees will come back and finish the fight. Well, when they saw these white communists, they said, oh, good, the Yankees are here. We cant wait to join.

MARTIN: What was the Communist Partys message at that time and why were these black folks so attracted to it?

Prof. KELLEY: Well, there were three things they focused on. One, because it was during the Great Depression, their primary focus was the unemployed. And so their demands were, we want either work or some kind of support from the government. The second thing was, in 1931, we had the famous Scottsboro case, where nine young black men were arrested falsely for raping two white women and they end up going to jail.

Well, these cases happen all the time where black men are falsely accused. The difference was that the Communist Party made the Scottsboro issue an international issue. They put it in the newspapers. They spread the word all over the globe in different languages. And these unknown figures, some of them became a kind of (unintelligible).

And finally, the third thing was basic civil rights: the right to vote, the right to sit on juries, you know, the right to not be Jim Crowed or segregated. These things certainly drew out black working people.

MARTIN: You know, there are civil rights organizations that had the same agenda like the NAACP, for example, which was formed in 1909. Was there overlap between traditional civil rights groups that we know today and the Communist Party or were they are very separate?

Prof. KELLEY: Initially, when the Communist Party arrived and began organizing black workers, the NAACP in Birmingham and all of Jefferson County was just sort of a shadow of itself. They had six dues-paying members. The Communist Party had about 500. And why is that? Because the NAACP at that time, at least locally, was interested in supporting black business and the black elite and the black middle class. They didnt really have a civil rights agenda per se.

And when the Scottsboro case opened up, the leader of the NAACP, Walter White, his concern was whether or not these boys did it. Whereas the communists said, look, we know that theyre class war prisoners. We know that theyre victims. And they made a big case out of it.

So, pretty soon, the NAACP and the Communist Party began competing for the hearts and minds of the parents of the boys. And nationally, NAACP leaders said that, look, whatever you do, dont let the communist win.

MARTIN: At its height, how many members would you say the Communist Party had in Alabama, particularly among African-Americans?

Prof. KELLEY: Well, theres a couple of ways to think about this. One, in terms of actual dues-paying members, they never had more than 600, 700. But then, if you look at all the other auxiliary organizations, the International Labor Defense, which focused on civil rights issues, they had up to 2,000. The Sharecroppers Union had up to 12,000. You had the International Workers Order. You had the League of Young Southerners. You had the Southern Negro Youth Congress. If you add up all these organizations, it touched the lives easily of 20,000 people.

MARTIN: There is a lot about this period that is not talked about today, for example, the way lynchings actually occur, you know, as public spectacle or something. And I mean, a lot of people like to think that these are like isolated incidents when they were not. And so, one of the things that I think people do understand is how violently the political white establishment – lets just say it – would fight back against attempts to organize among blacks. It sort of put down any sort of stirrings of leadership. So, how did all these people function in these organizations?

Prof. KELLEY: Well, we have to divide the history of the party up into two periods. From 1930 to about 35, they were really underground, you know? After 35, they kind of came aboveground and tried to become legitimate. And thats another story. But lets talk about the underground period. On the one hand, they did have public demonstrations and it did confront the police. Many people were beaten during these demonstrations, including white activists who are communists.

But how do they maneuver? What they had to do was basically take advantage of the invisibility as black people to function. Give (unintelligible) example, whenever they had to put out leaflets, sometimes black women who are communists would pose as laundry workers and carry what appeared to be laundry into the house of a white comrade. But inside those baskets, might be paper and a mimeograph machine.

MARTIN: Hmm.

Prof. KELLEY: And then they would make the mimeograph. Then they bring the leaflets out to pass these leaflets on to workers who would go to their jobs. And when no one’s looking, drop the leaflets on the ground, let the wind blow them everywhere and pretend like they dont know anything about it. In the rural areas, they might put up, you know, little posters and leaflets up in trees late at night when no one will see them. And then, you know, if you compare, say, a place like New York City where in the period when so many families were being evicted from their apartments because they cant pay the rent, what they do in New York is they confront the police. They put the furniture back in the house, they’d stand up.

But in Alabama they do little secret things, like if the water was turned off, communists would figure out a way to turn the water back on. Or if the electricity was turned off, they used jumper cables to run electricity. Or, if someone got evicted from their home, the communists, as a group, would go to the landlord and say, look you have a choice, you need to put that guy or that family back into their house or the next day your house may turn into firewood.

My favorite story is, you know, one of the big issues for unemployed people was getting relief from social workers. And sometimes it would be impossible just to get your basic flour and lard and whatever. And whenever workers had trouble with social workers, the Communist Party would get penny postcards and write on these penny postcards, anonymously: The workers are watching you. And send them to the social worker.

MARTIN: Hmm.

Prof. KELLEY: To threatening them to basically give the people what they need. And so, these are all ways in which they maintained an invisibility, but were very, very present on behalf of the working class.

MARTIN: If youre just joining us, youre listening to TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Im speaking with historian Robin Kelley for our Black History Month series. Were talking about African-Americans and the Communist Party in Alabama. He wrote about it in his book Hammer and Hoe. How successful do you think the Communist Party was at brining about a change in Alabama, which is the place that you seem to think it was the most effective or widespread, or at least the most present in this period? And the reason Im asking is that even now, I mean, Alabama has yet to elect an African-American to a state white office, for example.

Prof. KELLEY: Right.

MARTIN: One person who is running now, Congressman Artur Davis. But if hes look he will be the first till 2010. So, how effective do you think the Alabama Communist Party was?

Prof. KELLEY: Well, I think it was very effective in some areas. One, even in training and organizing. Some of the most important organizers in steel, in iron were communists; who, after 1935, were some of the lead organizers in training and organizing, which really made a difference in workers lives in the 50s and 60s. The other thing is that there were many people who were trained in the Communist Party who went on to become Civil Rights activists. Asbury Howard, who was a radical (unintelligible) who went onto to play a significant role in Alabamas Civil Rights Movement.

And then, Rosa Parks. Was does Rosa Parks had to do with any of this? Well, some of her first political activities were around the Scottsboro case, you know? She never joined the party, but as a young woman, she and her husband, in fact, attended some of the meetings. Then the other area is, just in the rural areas – this may seem like a small thing, but imagine if youre picking cotton at basically 30 cents a day and you fight and fight and you can get your wages up to 50 cents or a dollar a day. It took about five years and a lot of blood shed, but they were able to raise the wages as a result.

So, they may not be huge victories, but I know one thing, the infrastructure that was laid forward becomes the Civil Rights Movement in Alabama, was laid in many ways, not entirely, by the Communist Party.

MARTIN: Why do you think this history isnt better known? I mean, these are not the names and the faces that you see on the calendars?

Prof. KELLEY: They are not. And part of it has to do with a long history and the Cold War, and the fact that we think of communist as these terrible horrendous people. But more importantly, if you think of them as somehow outside of American culture and history, when what I and others who have written on similar areas have argued, is that is very much native and home grown. I mean, the Communist Party in Alabama, they began their meetings with a prayer.

These were Christians. These people believed in Jesus, in redemption. And they believed in armed self defense, and they believed that Russia would come and save them if anything got to be really bad. It just made perfect sense to those who lived in that period.

MARTIN: What happened to the Communist Party in Alabama? How do it does it still exist – I guess, maybe it would be the question. I dont know. Are they still there? Is anybody still around?

Prof. KELLEY: They are sort of around actually, but not like they were. What happened to them? Two things. After 1935, the party decided to come above ground and build alliances with liberals and others who are not communists, but who are against Nazi Germany and Italy and that sort of thing. So, what ends up happening is that, you can form alliances with liberals in New York – you cant do that in Alabama because white liberals are not that friendly – southern liberals. And so, what they did was they gave up a lot of the militancy. They gave up their industrial base and other things for the sake of building alliance with people who dont want to form alliance with them.

And so they lost interest. And many of their main activists left the South and moved North. The other thing that happened was, Bull Connor, who was very active (unintelligible) becomes like the man in the 40s and 50s. And Bull Connor and his police force waged a war on the Communist Party in the middle 40s. By that time, the main organization was called the Southern Negro Youth Congress, which was not entirely communist, but it was a group of young black men and women who, in fact, prefigured SNCC, Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. And they had their last meeting in Birmingham in 1948 under enormous police repression and violence.

And that sort of spelled the end of them. And so by that time the Communist Party itself, on a national scale, was declining with the Cold War, and the Smith Act and other things which let people to go underground or go to jail. So, it was part of a national process of snuffing out the Community Party as a whole.

MARTIN: Hmm. So, what would you hope people would take away from all the work that youve done, documenting this history?

Prof. KELLEY: Well, first what I really emphasize is the fact that these were ordinary people, most of whom could not read or write, who were able to, on their own, form a very strong and productive movement that saw not just black peoples problems, but all peoples problems as connected. They saw joblessness and Civil Rights, and the right not be raped or lynched, self-protection – that all these things are part of one big struggle. And they really did succeed in building an interracial movement. Even if the whites were in the minority, those whites were there with them. And that vision, that ordinary people can make change, was a legacy they left us.

MARTIN: Historian Robin Kelley is author of Hammer and Hoe: Alabama Communists During the Great Depression. He is professor of American Studies at the University of Southern California. But he joined us from the U.K. where hes current serving as Harmsworth Professor of American history at the University of Oxford. And his latest book is Thelonious Monk: The Life and Times of an American Original. Thank you so much for contributing to our Black History Month series.

Prof. KELLEY: Thank you, really enjoyed it.

(Soundbite of music)

MARTIN: In a moment, our moms conversation. A collection of essays challenges what many of us think of as requirements for a happy home.

Ms. REBECCA WALKER (Social Commentator; Author, One Big Happy Family): Looking at these families deepened my sense of compassion for my own family.

MARTIN: Rebecca Walker is with us to talk about her new book, One Big Happy Family. Thats just ahead on TELL ME MORE from NPR News.