Theses Master's

Black and White and Red All Over: Communist Editorial Cartoons in the 1920s and the Issue of Race

Dunphy, Alexander M.

The U.S. Communist Party’s (CP) fight for racial justice is one of the most important and neglected chapters in the history of civil rights struggles in the United States. When it is studied the focus tends to be on the 1930s, however this conventional periodization ignores the dramatic growth in the Party’s understanding of race during the 1920s. A focus on this period forces a reexamination of the relationship between the CP and the Soviet–based Communist International (Comintern). Rather than dictated from Moscow, the CP’s understanding of the issues facing African Americans evolved through a dialogue between Communists of all races around the world. This challenges the assumptions of the “Cold War” historians, who paint the Party as puppets of Russia, as well as “revisionist” histories, which tend to ignore the Comintern by focusing on the Party’s grassroots. By neither denouncing nor ignoring the relationship between international and domestic Communists, I show how this exchange provided a catalyst to the CP’s changing position on race. This not only has implications for the historiography of the Communism, but also sheds light on current debates over the feasibility of the political left as a vehicle for addressing issues of race. In this thesis, I address this omission by analyzing previously unexamined editorial cartoons from Communist Party publications during the 1920s to highlight the CP’s changing views on race. Intended to succinctly communicate key policies and dictates to a heterogeneous, mass audience, these cartoons provide unique insights into the evolution of the Communist’s position on racial inequality in America and provide a critical lens through which to understand and rethink the complex domestic and international forces that reshaped the CP’s approach to race during this important period in the history of American racial politics.

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More About This Work

Academic Units
American Studies
M.A., Columbia University
Published Here
May 24, 2016