Ms. Online's Reviews > Left of Karl Marx: The Political Life of Black Communist Claudia Jones

Left of Karl Marx by Carole Boyce Davies
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Apr 09, 09

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Linda Carty

Review of Left of Karl Marx: The Political Life of Black Communist Claudia Jones
By Carole Boyce Davies
Duke University Press

During the 1940’s and ’50s, Claudia Jones, a Caribbean born poet and journalist, was a major theoretician for the Communist Party USA. As a communist, her struggle was on behalf of workers. As an anti-imperialist feminist, she communicated to her party comrades the multiple oppressions experienced by black women. As a radical black woman, she understood that her struggles would always integrate labor, race and women’s rights. In fact, she used her considerable powers of persuasion to advance positions that would subsequently influence the women’s movement of the 1960s and ’70s. In this analysis of Jones’ life’s work, Carol Boyce Davies examines how a brilliant and popular public figure could have been so thoroughly erased from historical memory.

In the mid-1920s, at the age of 8, Claudia Jones migrated from Trinidad to Harlem, and her coming of age in pre-civil rights America led to a life of activism. In high school, she joined the Junior NAACP and, at 21, the Communist Party. Jones was imprisoned a number of times for her ideological beliefs and for calling the U.S. to account for its treatment of the poor and its de jure apartheid system. Not even FBI surveillance deterred her from her quest for justice, which, of course, was politically unacceptable; in today’s parlance, the government would call her a threat to national security. After a final incarceration in 1955 for nine months in Alderson Women’s Penitentiary in West Virginia, at the height of the McCarthy era, Claudia Jones was deported to Britain—the only black woman among the communists sentenced for crimes against the state and so punished. She carried her activism across the Atlantic, joined the British Communist Party, and continued her work.

Davies’ words exude a warmth toward Jones that the reader will find infectious. And the mounds of documentation on Jones that she has uncovered leave one perplexed that there has been so little written on a woman who was such a shining light for justice. Today, few feminists, whether activists or academics, make any serious attempts to link their struggles across national, racial or ethnic divides. In Jones, we find one who lived to create a better world for all women. Davies’ beautiful and well documented tribute is named not only for Claudia Jones’ politics, but also for her burial place in London’s Highgate Cemetery—to the left of Marx’s tomb.

LINDA CARTY is a professor in the department
of African American Studies
at Syracuse University in New York,
where she teaches courses on gender,
black sexuality and feminism.

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