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Nationalism, Marxism, and African American Literature between the Wars

Nationalism, Marxism, and African American Literature between the Wars: A New Pandora's Box

Anthony Dawahare
Copyright Date: 2003
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    Nationalism, Marxism, and African American Literature between the Wars
    Book Description:

    During and after the Harlem Renaissance, two intellectual forces --nationalism and Marxism--clashed and changed the future of African American writing. Current literary thinking says that writers with nationalist leanings wrote the most relevant fiction, poetry, and prose of the day.

    Nationalism, Marxism, and African American Literature Between the Wars: A New Pandora's Boxchallenges that notion. It boldly proposes that such writers as A. Philip Randolph, Langston Hughes, and Richard Wright, who often saw the world in terms of class struggle, did more to advance the anti-racist politics of African American letters than writers such as Countee Cullen, Jessie Redmon Fauset, Alain Locke, and Marcus Garvey, who remained enmeshed in nationalist and racialist discourse.

    Evaluating the great impact of Marxism and nationalism on black authors from the Harlem Renaissance and the Depression era, Anthony Dawahare argues that the spread of nationalist ideologies and movements between the world wars did guide legitimate political desires of black writers for a world without racism. But the nationalist channels of political and cultural resistance did not address the capitalist foundation of modern racial discrimination.

    During the period known as the "Red Decade" (1929-1941), black writers developed some of the sharpest critiques of the capitalist world and thus anticipated contemporary scholarship on the intellectual and political hazards of nationalism for the working class.

    As it examines the progression of the Great Depression, the book focuses on the shift of black writers to the Communist Left, including analyses of the Communists' position on the "Negro Question," the radical poetry of Langston Hughes, and the writings of Richard Wright.

    eISBN: 978-1-60473-041-8
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. xi-xx)

    Marxism and nationalism constitute two of the most influential ideologies of the last century. They have generated many cultural and political movements worldwide and have radically transformed conceptions of self, culture, and society in the modern period. The goal of this study is to evaluate the great impact of Marxism and nationalism on a relatively small segment of writers from the twentieth century, particularly black writers from the Harlem Renaissance and the Depression-era proletarian literary movement. Living during those tempestuous years of economic crisis and war, many black writers found common cause with nationalist and internationalist ideologies and movements that...

  5. Part I: Nationalism in the Harlem Renaissance

    • 1 Black Nationalist Discourse in the Postwar Period
      (pp. 3-29)

      Like other wars of the twentieth century, the exigencies of World War I unleashed a torrent of nationalism around the world. By the end of the war ethnic nationalism had triumphed as a principle ideology by which people conceived of their social identity (Hobsbawm,Nations and Nationalism130). President Woodrow Wilson, especially in the “Fourteen Points” speech he addressed to the U.S. Congress in 1918, was particularly instrumental in devising the type of nationalism that would affect the peace settlement, lead to the formation of the League of Nations, and inspire many oppressed peoples with hopes of freedom. For Wilson,...

    • 2 The Dual Nationalism of Alain Locke’s The New Negro
      (pp. 30-47)

      In 1925, Alain Locke published what he hoped would be the founding anthology of the Harlem Renaissance.The New Negro: An Interpretationinstantly established a literary canon bound by values and interests that, to this day, direct popular views toward African American literature and life. Locke firmly believed the literary works composingThe New Negrowere of great importance, for they embody “a renewed race-spirit that consciously and proudly sets itself apart” (xxvii). Unashamed of their race and culture, his black contributors stand as ideal representatives of the “New Negro,” a postwar generation of black Americans whose cultural contributions Locke...

    • 3 The Dance of Nationalism in the Harlem Renaissance
      (pp. 48-70)

      While Alain Locke was perhaps the most important dual nationalist ideologue of the Harlem Renaissance, he certainly was not the only one. He could never have achieved his editorial coup had he lacked the support of other black writers who also shared his perspective of the New Negro. Indeed, many writers of the period subscribed to Locke’s belief in the power of a national literature to effect a progressive ideological change in America. Certainly, such idealism must have been highly attractive to a generation of writers (most born around 1902) who sought to make an impact on American society and...

  6. Part II: Internationalism and African American Writing in the 1930s

    • 4 Marxism and Black Proletarian Literary Theory
      (pp. 73-91)

      The postwar optimism and hope for national and racial self-determination began to sour for many black intellectuals by the 1930s. Aside from the failure of Garveyism to deliver on its promises, several nationalist movements became outright fascist and racist and were responsible for the subjugation and murder of millions of people. The examples of the German “National Socialists” and the Italian Fascists (the latter which had been fascist as early as 1922) readily come to mind, but it is also important to note that nationalistic, militaristic, and reactionary governments took power throughout Latin America and in Japan as well. By...

    • 5 Langston Hughes’s Radical Poetry and the “End of Race”
      (pp. 92-110)

      For a number of reasons, Langston Hughes’s radical poetry, the bulk of which he wrote between 1932 and 1938, has received little scholarly attention and has yet to make its way into many anthologies of African American and American literature (with the notable exception of a few poems in the vanguardThe Heath Anthology of American Literature). The origins of this benign and not-so-benign neglect lie in Hughes’s own retrospective ambivalence toward his earlier radical activities and poetry. As early as 1940 he substantially repressed the memory of his involvement with the proletarian literary movement in his autobiography,The Big...

    • 6 Richard Wright’s Critique of Nationalist Desire
      (pp. 111-134)

      While serving as Director of the Harlem Bureau of theDaily Workerbetween 1937 and 1938, Richard Wright wrote an article for the newspaper praising the launching ofNew Challenge, a black American literary quarterly that published writers such as Ralph Ellison, Margaret Walker, and Langston Hughes. Wright was particularly excited about the quarterly because “[f]or the first time in Negro history problems such as nationalism in literature, perspective, the relation of the Negro to politics and social movements were formulated and discussed” (“Negro Writers Launch Literary Quarterly” 7). For those familiar with Wright’s “A Blueprint for Negro Writing” (1937),...

  7. Afterword: Beyond Twentieth-Century Nationalisms in the Study of African American Culture
    (pp. 135-140)

    In spite of the powerful critiques of nationalism by black socialists and the black literary Left, not to mention the enormous body of socialist political and literary theory available for study, most scholars of black literature and culture remain entrenched in anticommunist and pronationalist theoretical paradigms. One indicator of the predominance of this nationalist perspective is the tendency of editors of African American literature anthologies to exclude from consideration radical black texts that fall outside of its parameters, thus leaving us with a skewed sense of black literary and political history. A good example of political/literary exclusion can be found...

  8. Bibliography
    (pp. 141-156)
  9. Index
    (pp. 157-161)