Marxism in Culture Seminar 
Friday, 29 April 2016
Wolfson Room NB01
Institute of Historical Research
Senate House, University of London

Free and open to all

Cathy Bergin (University of Brighton)

‘Internationalism and black agency in the African American radical Press (1918-1924)’

For at least two generations of black activists in the United States, the concept of internationalism was one which not only enabled a very particular type of anti-colonial politics, it was a concept which placed  ‘race’  at the centre of a visionary anti-capitalism.  This paper looks at the impact of two key moments of anti-imperialist resistance in the early 20th Century on emerging black radicalism in the United States.  Both the Bolshevik Revolution and the Irish anti-colonial struggle are ubiquitously drawn upon in the black radical press of the period.  This is not an uncomplicated story of breezy inter-racial solidarity or indeed transnational solidarity.  The battles against racism both outside and inside the Left are integral to the formation of this anti-racist, anti-colonial, class conscious politics.  The tensions between African American born and Caribbean migrant activists inform the contours of the expressive polemics of the radical press.   The strains that emerge in the context of the race apathy, if not racist hostility, of the organised Left and the driving race consciousness of black activists are instrumental in shaping the form of the models of black internationalism which materialise in the  black radical press.  Indeed the palpable fervour of these writings evidence a politics forged as much in the intricacies of local conflicts as in the powerfully imagined global solidarities.

Cathy Bergin lectures in the Humanities Programme at the University of Brighton. She has published on the relationship between African Americans and Communism in the US between the wars, Bitter with the Past, But Sweet with the Dream: Communism in the African American Imaginary (Brill, 2015).  In collaboration with Anita Rupprecht, she has edited a special issue of Race and Class on the theme of Reparative History published in January 2016.  Her current research focuses on African American anti-colonial thought and traces the complex formations of internationalism which proliferate in the black radical press in the 1920s and 1930s.  Her forthcoming book African American Anti-Colonial Thought: 1917-1937 (EUP, July 2016) re-publishes key texts produced by African American anti-colonial activists.