Campus events recall Communist Party’s history of fighting racism
Demonstrators take the campaign to free the Scottsboro Boys to the White House in Washington on May 8, 1933. | People's World Archive

RALEIGH, N.C.—Tony Pecinovsky, president of the St. Louis Worker’s Education Center (AFL-CIO), spoke to an audience of 40 people on the campus of North Carolina State University in Raleigh last week. His talk, “Fighting Racism with Solidarity: 100 Years of Radical Struggle,” focused on the often ignored role of communists in the struggle against racism from the 1930s through the 1970s.

The talk opened with a brief discussion of the relationship between capitalism and race, “acknowledging slavery and genocide as capitalism’s midwives.”

Pecinovsky went on to describe the emergence of a strong “Red-Black alliance” under the leadership of Communist Party USA leader William L. Patterson, with the defense of the Scottsboro Nine in the early 1930s.

This alliance continued with the National Negro Congress (late 1930s), the Council on African Affairs, the Civil Rights Congress (mid-1940s to mid-1950s), the National Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression, and the National Anti-Imperialist Movement in Solidarity with African Liberation (both in the early 1970s).

The task of recovering and celebrating this history is difficult, Pecinovsky explained, “especially given the current rightward trajectory of our country, the historical particulars of racial oppression from which our nation was founded, and the uniquely American form of amnesia that has apparently targeted the historical profession,” making “positive appraisals of communists nearly non-existent.”

Highlighting the long reach and strong persistence of the international Red-Black alliance, the CPUSA and labor organizer quoted long-time CPUSA leader Henry Winston who said, “If you are going to defeat the man, you cannot play the man’s game, and the man’s game is Anti-Communism.”

Given the horrors of racism, Pecinovsky asserted, “those with an interest in more radical solutions—socialism in the first place—should at least be given a fair hearing.”

Tony Pecinovsky, author of the forthcoming book, “Let Them Tremble: Biographical Interventions Marking 100 Years of the Communist Party, USA.” | Photo courtesy of the Committee to Elect Tony Pecinovsky

Attendees of the event included faculty, graduate and undergraduate students, and community members. Surprised comments after the talk evidenced Pecinovky’s assertion that the communist history of fighting racism has been effectively erased.

Pecinovsky then joined members of the N.C. State Graduate Student Workers Union, currently organizing under the auspices of the United Electrical workers union, for burgers and discussion at a local pub. The students shared the challenges of organizing in a Right-to-Work state like North Carolina, which has one of the most restrictive bans on public employee collective bargaining.

Pecinovsky urged the students not to be daunted. “The most revolutionary thing you can do is challenge power where you are,” he said. “That’s what you’re doing. Keep doing it.”

The following evening, Pecinovsky spoke to an audience of Communist Party and Young Democratic Socialists of America members at the University of North Carolina-Greensboro, followed by lively discussion over pizza.

“It should not come as a surprise that where we find the struggle against racism, we often also find those who struggle against capitalism,” Pecinovsky pointed out. The link between the two “adds nuance and complexity to today’s righteous demand, Black Lives Matter, a demand which evokes centuries of struggle against racist oppression.”

Tony Pecinovsky is the author of Let Them Tremble: Biographical Interventions Marking 100 Years of the Communist Party, USA, forthcoming from International Publishers. He is available for speaking engagements, book signings, and other presentations. Contact him at tony@workerseducationsociety.org.

2019 marks a century since the founding of the Communist Party USA. To commemorate the anniversary of the oldest socialist organization in the United States, People’s World has launched the article series: 100 Years of the Communist Party USA. Read the other articles published in the series and check out the guidelines about how to submit your own contribution.


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Lorri Nandrea
Lorri Nandrea

Lorri Nandrea has worked as a waitress, barista, pizza cook, English professor, tutor, car wash cashier, punch press operator, gas station attendant, used and rare book dealer, editor, and writer, among other things.

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