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Harry Haywood (February 6, 1898 – 1985) was a leading figure in both the Communist Party of the United States (CPUSA) and the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU). He contributed major theory to Marxist thinking on the national question of African Americans in the United States. He was also a founder of the Maoist New Communist Movement.
Harry Haywood was born Haywood Hall, Jr., on February 6, 1898 in South Omaha, Nebraska to former slaves Harriet and Haywood Hall, from Missouri and West Tennessee, respectively. They had migrated to Omaha because of jobs with the railroads and meatpacking industry, as did numerous other southern blacks. South Omaha also attracted White immigrants, and ethnic Irish had established an early neighborhood there. Haywood was the youngest of three sons.
In 1913 after their father was attacked by whites, the Hall family moved to Minneapolis, Minnesota. Two years later in 1915 they moved to Chicago. The younger Hall was radicalized by the bitter Red Summer of 1919, especially the Chicago race riot, in which mostly ethnic Irish attacked blacks on the South Side.
Hall was influenced by his older brother Otto, who joined the Communist Party in 1921 and invited Hall to enter the secret African Blood Brotherhood. In 1925 when Hall entered the Communist Party, USA, he adopted "Harry Haywood" as a pseudonym.
Harry Haywood began his revolutionary career by joining the African Blood Brotherhood in 1922, followed by the Young Communist League in 1923. Soon after in 1925, he joined the Communist Party, USA (CPUSA). After joining the CPUSA, Haywood went to Moscow to study, first to the Communist University of the Toilers of the East in 1925, then to the International Lenin School in 1927. He stayed until 1930 as a delegate to the Communist International (Comintern).
There he worked on commissions dealing with the question of African Americans in the United States, as well as the development of the "Native Republic Thesis" for the South African Communist Party. Haywood worked to draft the "Comintern Resolutions on the Negro Question" of 1928 and 1930, which stated that African Americans in the Black Belt of the United States made up an oppressed nation, with the right to self-determination up to and including secession. He would continue to fight for this position throughout his life.
In the CPUSA, Haywood served on the Central Committee from 1927 to 1938 and on the Politburo from 1931 until 1938. He also participated in the major factional struggles internal to the CPUSA against Jay Lovestone and Earl Browder, regularly siding with William Z. Foster.
Haywood was General Secretary of the League of Struggle for Negro Rights, but he was active in issues involving working class Whites as well. In the early 1930s while head of the CPUSA Negro Department, he led the movement to support the Scottsboro Boys; organized miners in West Virginia with the National Miners Union; and was a leader in the struggles of the militant Sharecroppers Union in the Deep South. In 1935 he led the "Hands off Ethiopia" campaign in Chicago's Black South Side to oppose Italy's invasion of Ethiopia. When eleven Communist leaders were tried under the Smith Act in 1949, Haywood was assigned the task of research for the defense.
Haywood's military career included service in three wars. During World War I, he served with a black United States regiment. In the Spanish Civil War, like many Americans there, he fought for the Popular Front with the Abraham Lincoln Battalion of the International Brigades. During World War II, he served in the Merchant Marines, where he was active with National Maritime Union.
During his four and half year stay in the Soviet Union (1925–1930), Harry Haywood held dual membership in both the CPUSA and the CPSU. As a member of the CPSU, he traveled extensively in the Soviet Union's autonomous republics, and participated in the struggles against both the Left Opposition headed by Leon Trotsky and the Right Opposition led by Nikolai Bukharin. In these struggles and in others, Haywood was on the side of Joseph Stalin.
With the Comintern, Haywood was assigned to work with the newly created Negro Commission. In his major work Negro Liberation, he argued that the root of the oppression of Blacks was the unsolved agrarian question in the South. He believed that the unfinished bourgeois democratic revolution of Reconstruction had been betrayed in the Hayes-Tilden Compromise of 1877. It abandoned African Americans to plantations as tenant farmers and sharecroppers, faced with the Redeemer governments, the system of Jim Crow laws, and the terror of the Ku Klux Klan and other paramilitary groups. According to Haywood, the rise of imperialism left blacks frozen as "landless, semi-slaves in the South."
He believed that a distinct African-American nation had developed that satisfied the criteria laid out by Stalin in his Marxism and the National Question: a historically constituted, stable community of people, formed on the basis of a common language, territory, economic life, and psychological makeup manifested in a common culture. Because African Americans in the South constituted such a nation, Haywood believed the correct response was a demand for self-determination, up to and including the right to separate from the United States. Their "national territory" was historically the Black Belt South, and they deserved full equality everywhere else in the United States. Haywood believed that only with genuine political power, which from a Marxist point of view included control of the productive forces, such as land, could African Americans obtain genuine equality. Their gaining of equality was a prerequisite for broader working class unity.
Most of those in the CPUSA who disagreed with Haywood considered the question of African-American oppression a matter of racial prejudice with moral roots, rather than an economic and political question of national oppression. They saw it as a problem to be solved under Socialism and in no need of special attention until after the institution of the revolutionary Dictatorship of the Proletariat. To this charge, Haywood countered that the category of "race" is a mystification. He believed that relying on race and ignoring economic questions could only alienate African Americans and inhibit working class unity.
Following the Great Migration of millions of blacks to the North and Midwest, accompanied by their urbanization, critics attempted to use statistics to counter the Black Belt theory and show there no longer was a black nation centered in the South. In his 1957 article, "For a Revolutionary Position on the Negro Question", Haywood responded that the question of an oppressed nation in the South was not one of "nose counting."
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Harry Haywood's book, Negro Liberation, published first in 1948, was the first major study of the African American national question written by an African American Marxist. According to Haywood in his autobiography, Paul Robeson subsidized his work on the project by offering $100 a month. It was translated and published in Russian, Polish, German, Czech and Hungarian. It was reprinted in 1976 by Liberator Press, the publishing arm of the October League. According to Haywood, "The position of the book was not new, but a reaffirmation of the revolutionary position developed at the Sixth Comintern Congress in 1928. The heart of this position is that the problem is fundamentally a question of an oppressed nation with full rights of self-determination. It emphasized the revolutionary essence of the struggle for Black equality arising from the fact that the special oppression of Blacks is a main prop of the system of imperialist domination over the entire working class and the masses of exploited American people. Therefore the struggle for Black liberation is a component part of the struggle for proletarian revolution. It is the historic task of the working class movement, as it advances on the road to socialism, to sove the problem of land and freedom of the Black masses." On the other hand, Haywood went on to write, "What was new in the book was the thorough analysis of the concrete conditions of Black people in the post-war period. I made extensive use of population data; the 1940 census, the 1947 Plantation Count and other sources, in order to show that the present day conditions affirmed the essential correctness of the position we had formulated years before." Because of this and other works, Robert F. Williams called Harry Haywood "one of the modern pioneers in the Black liberation struggle."
Especially since 1998, leading historians in the USA have had access to Comintern documents about the "Self-Determination in the Black Belt theory." These demonstrate the pioneering role of the Communist Party in the Deep South from 1929 on. The documents show the Party's efforts toward unity among all workers in the South, the international impact of the defense of the Scottsboro Boys, the organization of inter-racial unions in the Deep South, and a unified Black protest movement in the United States culminating in the formation of the National Negro Congress in 1935 and the Southern Negro Youth Congress in 1937. Inspired by the self-determination theory (and other factors), these movements also contributed to heightened activity of the Civil Rights Movement starting in the 1950s driven by the continuity of what historians are now calling "the long civil rights movement." The pressure of McCarthyism labeled the activity for civil rights as an automatic Communist threat. In the South, even the NAACP was outlawed as a Communist threat.
The Comintern documents are housed at the Tamimment Library at New York University. Some books published using them as source documents are listed below under General Readings.
Following the death of Stalin in 1953 and Nikita Khrushchev's rise to power, the CPUSA followed Khrushchev's policy of destalinization and "peaceful coexistence". Long an admirer of Mao Zedong, Harry Haywood was one of the pioneers of the anti-revisionist movement born out of the growing Sino-Soviet split. He was driven out of the CPUSA in the late 1950s along with many others who took firm anti-revisionist or pro-Stalin positions.
The CPUSA's decision to change its position on the African-American national question was a central factor in Haywood's expulsion. Though the CPUSA had not been as active in the South since the dissolution of the Sharecroppers Union, in 1959 the CPUSA officially dropped its demand for self-determination for African Americans there. (The demand had been dropped earlier when Browder liquidated the party in 1944.) The CPUSA instead held that as American capitalism developed, so too would Black-White unity.
In 1957 he wrote "For a Revolutionary Position on the Negro Question" (later published by Liberator Press) but was unsuccessful at changing the direction of the Party. In 1959, Haywood, although no longer a functioning party member, attempted to intervene one last time. He wrote "On the Negro Question", which was distributed at the Seventeenth National Convention by and in the name of African Blood Brotherhood founder Cyril Briggs. This was not effective, however, as most of Haywood's potential allies had already been expelled from the CPUSA in the name of combatting "left"-sectarianism and dogmatism.
In Haywood's view, "White chauvinism" in the party, rather than an accurate analysis of the economic issues, had caused the change in position. He also argued that the change prevented the CPUSA from giving appropriate leadership as the Civil Rights Movement developed. He believed the Party was left behind actions of Dr. Martin Luther King and the NAACP. The Party was even more alienated from the militant Black Power Movement that was to follow.
Haywood and his wife Gwendolyn Midlo Hall were among the founders of the Provisional Organizing Committee for a Communist Party (POC), formed in New York in August, 1958 by 83 mostly Black and Puerto Rican and White trade unionists, mainly coal miners from Williamsport, PA and maritime workers including Al Lannon, Director of the Maritime Section of the CPUSA for many years, all delegates from the CPUSA. Its membership included Coleman Young, later elected the first black mayor of Detroit, and Theodore W. Allen, best known later for his "White skin privilege" theory and widely acclaimed historical writings. According to Haywood, the POC rapidly degenerated into an isolated, dogmatic, ultraleft sect, completely removed from any political practice. Nevertheless, the (POC) did release many highly trained organizers from the dead hand of the CPUSA as the civil rights and the black power movement began to hit the streets. In 1964, Haywood worked in Harlem with Jesse Gray, leader of the Harlem Rent Strike and Tenants' Union later elected to the New York State Legislature from Harlem. Haywood worked with Malcolm X in 1964 until his assassination in 1965, and with James Haughton and Josh Lawrence in Harlem Fight-Back, then in Oakland California in 1966, then in Detroit, Michigan with the Detroit Revolutionary Union Movement (DRUM) and the League of Revolutionary Black Workers. Haywood then returned to Mexico for a short time and then to the United States permanently in 1970 invited by Vincent Harding, then Director of the Institute for the Black World in Atlanta, GA.
In 1964, Haywood began to become involved with the New Communist Movement, the goal of which was to found a new vanguard Communist Party on an anti-revisionist basis, believing the CPUSA to have deviated irrevocably from Marxism-Leninism. He later worked in one of the newly formed Maoist groups of the New Communist Movement, the October League, which became the Communist Party (Marxist-Leninist). In the CP(M-L) Haywood served on the Central Committee. He published his great autobiography Black Bolshevik although some of his important writings and political life during the 1960s were edited out. For example,the manuscript he wrote with the acknowledged collaboration with Gwendolyn Midlo Hall and was dedicated to Robert F. Williams was not mentioned. This work circulated in mimeographed form from early 1964 throughout California and the Deep South deeply influenced the armed self-defense movement against the Ku Klux Klan during 1964 and 1965 and projected a slogan widely picked up throughout the Deep South that we must pose our own challenge to order and stability to counter the challenge posed by "massive resistance" by southern politicians and racist terrorists. Black Bolshevik became an important book widely cited by scholars and read by the wider public as well. Through it and his other writings, Haywood provided ideological leadership far beyond the New Communist Movement. Haywood's theoretical contributions had a substantial impact on the major, and numerous warring factions of the New Communist Movement well beyond his own CP(M-L), including, for example, the League of Revolutionary Struggle (Marxist-Leninist), the early Revolutionary Communist Party, the Revolutionary Workers Headquarters and the Communist Workers Party. Nonetheless, lack of experience, sectarianism, and voluntarism played a major role in keeping the young Maoist groups from taking a strong leading role. In his last published article, Haywood wrote that the New Communist movement spent too much time and energy seeking the "franchise" of governments and parties outside the United States without validating itself among the people of our own country.
Haywood's theoretical contributions to questions of African-American national oppression and national liberation remain highly valued by the Ray O. Light Group, which developed out of an anti-revisionist split from the Communist Party USA in 1961, Freedom Road Socialist Organization, which was originally formed from the mergers of several New Communist Movement groups in the 1980s, and the Maoist Internationalist Movement as well as by many black revolutionaries and activists today. Haywood's role in the black protest movements during the 1960s through the 1980s can be studied at the Harry Haywood Papers, Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Books Division, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in New York City and Harry Haywood Collection, Bentley Historical Library, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.
In 1920 Haywood married a woman named Hazel, but they separated the same year.
While he was in Los Angeles in the late 1930s or 1940, he married Belle Lewis, whom he had known for years. They divorced in 1955.
In 1956 Haywood married Gwendolyn Midlo, a white activist from New Orleans, Louisiana. She has been active in civil rights throughout her life. She also has developed as a prominent historian of slavery in the United States and Latin America, and the African diaspora. She made her academic career at Rutgers University. They had three children, whom Midlo Hall mostly provided for alone. They are Dr. Haywood Hall (b. 1956), Dr. Rebecca Hall (b. 1963) and a third child from a previous marriage, Leonid A. Yuspeh (b. 1951) who has suffered from chronic mental illness for over 45 years.
Haywood and Midlo Hall remained married until his death in 1985. Between 1953-1964 they collaborated on numerous articles, including some published in Soulbook Magazine, founded in Berkeley, California in 1964. She did not follow him into the New Communist Movement and they mostly lived apart after late 1964. Shortly before Haywood's expulsion from the Communist Party, he moved with his family to Mexico City, Mexico. During these years Midlo Hall earned her bachelor's and master's degrees in history at Mexico City College. She returned with Haywood to the United States in 1964 working as a temporary legal secretary, started teaching in North Carolina in 1965, enrolled in graduate school in 1966 and earned her doctorate in 1970 at University of Michigan. From there she went to work as an assistant professor at Rutgers University, where she made her academic career and advanced to full professor. Midlo Hall now teaches Africans in the Atlantic world at Michigan State University as Adjunct Professor of history.
Haywood died in January 1985, and was buried in Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, VA. He had a service-related disability and spent the last few years of his life at a Veterans Administration medical facility. The Harry Haywood papers are housed at the Bentley Historical Library, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan and at the Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Books Division, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. New York City.
Howard, Walter T. Black Communists Speak on Scottsboro. A Documentary History. Temple University Press, Philadelphia: 2008. 197 pages.
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