Left of Karl Marx: The Political Life of Black Communist Claudia Jones

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    Carole Boyce Davies

    Publisher: Duke University Press

    Year: 2008

    Format: Paperback

    Size: 344 pages

    ISBN: 9780822341161

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In Left of Karl Marx, Carole Boyce Davies assesses the activism, writing, and legacy of Claudia Jones (1915–1964), a pioneering Afro-Caribbean radical intellectual, dedicated communist, and feminist. Jones is buried in London’s Highgate Cemetery, to the left of Karl Marx—a location that Boyce Davies finds fitting given how Jones expanded Marxism-Leninism to incorporate gender and race in her political critique and activism.

Claudia Cumberbatch Jones was born in Trinidad. In 1924, she moved to New York, where she lived for the next thirty years. She was active in the Communist Party from her early twenties onward. A talented writer and speaker, she traveled throughout the United States lecturing and organizing. In the early 1950s, she wrote a well-known column, “Half the World,” for the Daily Worker. As the U.S. government intensified its efforts to prosecute communists, Jones was arrested several times. She served nearly a year in a U.S. prison before being deported and given asylum by Great Britain in 1955. There she founded The West Indian Gazette and Afro-Asian Caribbean News and the Caribbean Carnival, an annual London festival that continues today as the Notting Hill Carnival. Boyce Davies examines Jones’s thought and journalism, her political and community organizing, and poetry that the activist wrote while she was imprisoned. Looking at the contents of the FBI file on Jones, Boyce Davies contrasts Jones’s own narration of her life with the federal government’s. Left of Karl Marx establishes Jones as a significant figure within Caribbean intellectual traditions, black U.S. feminism, and the history of communism.

What People Are Saying

Left of Karl Marx by Carol Boyce Davies is an engaging and long over due scholarly treatment of the life of one of most important and yet obscure Black radicals—Claudia Jones. . . . Overall, Left of Karl Marx is a fascinating study of a political figure that deserves recognition. Carol Boyce Davies has done a service to Black Studies and Women and Gender Studies by resurrecting this champion of justice. Now that this difficult work has been done, it is our job to engage it.” Rashad Shabazz, Wagadu

“[I]t is a must-have for activists and academics alike.” — Brittany Shoot, Feminist Review

“[W]hat Boyce Davies offers to her readers with this book, is a masterful piece of scholarship, made accessible by the author’s skilful presentation of facts, narrative and analysis.” Madeleine Kennedy-Macfoy, European Journal of Women's Studies

“Carole Boyce Davies offers a critical intervention for understanding how the life and work of black communist, activist and intellectual, Claudia Jones illuminates the interlocking trans-Atlantic histories of leftist politics, feminism, anti-colonialism and black internationalism in the twentieth century. . . . much like Claudia Jones, Davies reminds us that the history of twentieth-century Britain is indeed a history that encompasses the Caribbean, the Atlantic and the African Diaspora.” Kennetta Hammond Perry, Twentieth Century British History

“Davies conducted extensive ethnographic and archival research to write Left of Karl Marx and her work successfully situates this Caribbean black radical intellectual and activist within a history of black radical thought. . . . The most important lesson we learn after reading Left of Karl Marx is that black women’s writings are fundamental to our discussions on black diasporic formation and political radicalism. How many other Claudia Joneses are in need of scholarly recovery?” Keisha-Khan Y. Perry, International Feminist Journal of Politics

“Davies makes a strong case for taking Jones seriously as a militant intellectual whose work shaped radical thought in her lifetime and prefigured the currents of change in the decades after her death in 1964.” Marian B. Mollin, Journal of American History

“Davies makes an important contribution to the history of Caribbean, communist, feminist women, such as Hermie Huiswoud and Grace Campbell, who have tended to figure only at the margins of their male counterparts’ political profiles. Her book is especially compelling in the chapters that discuss Jones’s deportation, her carnival and diaspora activism, and her work in the interest of peace. . . . [E]ssential reading for students of the broader Caribbean community.” Linden Lewis, New West Indian Guide

“Davies’ words exude a warmth towards 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. . . . Davies’ beautiful and well-documented tribute is named not only for Claudia Jones’ politics, but also for her burial place in London’s Highgate Cemetary—on the left of Marx’s tomb.” Linda Carty, Ms.

“In addition to expanding our understanding of Jones as a person, Davie’s discussions of Jones’s journalism, political writing, and poetry make an insightful and well-documented case for Jones’s status as a significant intellectual leader within the Caribbean intellectual traditions, black US feminism, transnational feminism, and the history of Communism. . . . Readers interested in black feminism, the left, the Afro-Caribbean diaspora, and transnationalism will benefit a great deal from Davies’s efforts to tell Claudia Jones’s story and restore her activist and intellectual contributions to those discourses.” Kate Weigand, Women's Review of Books

“This is a dense, academic, and thorough book about the life of a Black feminist theorist that more people should know about. It is my hope that this is the start of a revival of Jones’ life and work. This is a must read for any women’s studies class, as well as American history, politics and other disciplines. Highly recommended.” Henry Meanwell, Good Intentions Blog

“Carole Boyce Davies has rendered a unique service in restoring to proper recognition the life and achievements of the Trinidad-born political activist and feminist Claudia Jones. From the turbulent struggles of Harlem, U.S.A. in the 1930s and 1940s to London in the 1950s and 1960s, Claudia Jones became a symbol of resistance and the standard by which others would measure their own integrity of commitment. Left of Karl Marx is the biography of an era of the most intense ideological combat—where reputations were assassinated and careers erased by a single rumor of incorrect political affiliation. Here is the story of a singular triumph whose legacy has nourished the lives of another generation.” George Lamming, author of In the Castle of My Skin and The Pleasures of Exile

“Carole Boyce Davies has vividly brought to life the work and struggles of Claudia Jones in the U.S.A. and Great Britain in her new book, Left of Karl Marx. Boyce Davies possesses that unique combination of being both a scholarly researcher and a writer capable of clear and persuasive language. The reader is presented with a remarkably readable and informative study of a woman who was equally adept in her writing and public speaking on feminism, and as a social pioneer, a political analyst, and an avowed adversary of racism. This book removes Claudia Jones from the shadow of the great bust of Marx to the front row of the black activists and thinkers of the twentieth century, and that is where she belongs.” Donald Hinds, author of Journey to an Illusion: The West Indian in Britain

“This book fills a lacuna in the historical understanding of black left radicalism and socialist-oriented feminism in the United States and the Caribbean. In this era of twenty-first-century corporate globalization, it reunites us with a transnational radical and anti-capitalist past through the examination of the extraordinary life, work, and political philosophy of Claudia Jones. This work reminds us that the U.S. and British radical traditions had diverse memberships, which included black, communist, and feminist women of whom Trinidad-born Claudia Jones was a remarkable example. Carole Boyce Davies has given us a well-researched, detailed analysis of this communist, feminist, intellectual, activist, and artistic woman of Caribbean origin. This is a long-awaited treasure for which many will be eternally grateful.” Rhoda E. Reddock, author of Interrogating Caribbean Masculinities

About the Author

Carole Boyce Davies is Professor of African–New World Studies and English at Florida International University. She is the author of Black Women, Writing, and Identity: Migrations of the Subject; the editor of the Encyclopedia of the African Diaspora (forthcoming) and Decolonizing the Academy: African Diaspora Studies; and a coeditor of The African Diaspora: African Origins and New World Identities.

Tags: anticapitalism ....... Black Liberation ....... Caribbean ....... Carole Boyce Davies ....... Duke University Press ....... feminism ....... maoism & marxism-leninism ....... marxism .......