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Nationalism, Marxism, and African American Literature between the Wars

A New Pandoraâ??s Box

Publication Year: 2003

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 Box challenges 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. Anthony Dawahare is an associate professor of English at California State University, Northridge. He has been published in African American Review, MELUS, Twentieth-Century Literature, and Criticism: A Quarterly for Literature, and the Arts.

Published by: University Press of Mississippi


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-x

I would like to thank Barbara Foley for her careful reading of the manuscript; her insights helped to refine several ideas on both African American literature and the interwar American Left. Thanks to Joseph Skerrett, former editor of MELUS, who published an earlier version of chapter 5 and assisted (perhaps unknowingly) in fine-tuning ideas I presented from ...

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pp. xi-xix

Every minority and suppressed group seeks self-expression. Woodrow Wilson let off the lid of a new Pandora’s box when he so eloquently preached this doctrine as the shibboleth of the Hopelessness is itself, in a temporal and factual sense, the most insupportable thing, down-right intolerable to human needs. Which is why even deception, if it is to be effective, must Marxism and nationalism constitute two of the most influential ideologies ...

Part I: Nationalism in the Harlem Renaissance

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Chapter 1. Black Nationalist Discourse in the Postwar Period

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pp. 3-29

The war of 1914–1918 has created a new sentiment throughout the world. Once upon a time weaker peoples were afraid of expressing themselves, of giving vent to their feelings, but today no oppressed race or nation is afraid of speaking out in the cause of liberty. Egypt has spoken, Ireland has spoken, Poland has spoken and Poland is free, Egypt is free, Ireland is Nationalist, like racial and religious conflicts cut, [sic] across class lines and confuse the...

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Chapter 2. The Dual Nationalism of Alain Locke’s The New Negro

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pp. 30-47

But fundamentally for the present the Negro is radical on race matters, conservative on others, in other words, a ‘‘forced radical,’’ a social protestant rather than a genuine radical. In 1925, Alain Locke published what he hoped would be the founding anthology of the Harlem Renaissance. The New Negro: An Interpretation instantly established a literary canon bound by values and interests that, to...

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Chapter 3. The Dance of Nationalism in the Harlem Renaissance

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pp. 48-69

The American Negro must remake his past in order to make his future.A people may become great through many means, but there is only one measure by which greatness is recognized and acknowledged. The final measure of the greatness of all people is the amount and standard of the literature and art they have produced. No people that has produced great literature and art has ever been looked upon by the world as distinctly inferior ....

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

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pp. 70-72

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Chapter 4. Marxism and Black Proletarian Literary Theory

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pp. 73-91

Let us sound the bugle-call for militancy. Let us have strong vital criticism, Marxian criticism. Let us have the poetry of the masses. Let us have an international poetry.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 ...

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Chapter 5. Langston Hughes’s Radical Poetry and the "End of Race"

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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 vanguard The Heath Anthology of American Literature). The origins...

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Chapter 6. Richard Wright’s Critique of Nationalist Desire

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pp. 111-134

Not to plunge into the complex jungle of human relationships and analyze them is to leave While serving as Director of the Harlem Bureau of the Daily Worker be-tween 1937 and 1938, Richard Wright wrote an article for the newspaper praising the launching of New Challenge, a black American literary quarterly that published writers such as Ralph Ellison, Margaret Walker, and ...

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Afterword: Beyond Twentieth-Century Nationalisms in the Study of African American Culture

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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 ...


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pp. 141-156


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pp. 157-161

E-ISBN-13: 9781604730418
E-ISBN-10: 1604730412
Print-ISBN-13: 9781578065073
Print-ISBN-10: 1578065070

Publication Year: 2003