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Between Revolution and the Racial Ghetto

Harold Cruse and Harry Haywood Debate Class Struggle and the ‘Negro Question’, 1962–8

In: Historical Materialism
Author:
Cedric Johnson University of Illinois at Chicago cedjohns@uic.edu

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This article revisits an historic exchange between two black ex-communists, Harold Cruse and Harry Haywood, a debate that prefigured many of the central contradictions of the black-power era. Their exchange followed Cruse’s influential 1962 essay for Studies on the Left, ‘Revolutionary Nationalism and the Afro-American’, which declared that the American Negro was a ‘subject of domestic colonialism’. Written against the prevailing liberal integrationist commitments of the civil-rights movement, his essay called for black economic and political independence, and inspired many of the younger activists who would give birth to the black-power movement. In a series of essays for the Bay Area black radical journal Soulbook, Haywood criticised Cruse’s mishandling of class politics among blacks, and his retreat from anti-capitalism. This forgotten episode is important on its own terms, for what it says about the character and limitations of left-political thinking during the sixties, and equally for understanding and contesting those commonsensical notions of African-American public life in our times which too often remain rooted in the vanished social context and political realities of the twentieth-century racial ghetto.

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