Elevate Difference

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

Still unknown to many, the life story of Claudia Jones is equally inspiring and heartbreaking. Guilty of being everything she was labeled, Jones maintained many overlapping identities—feminist, Black Nationalist, Communist, and journalist—working in the early to mid-twentieth century on a wide array of equal rights causes. Her activism a precursor to much of the 1960s American counterculture resistance, for which we often remember recent history’s leaders of color. Jones’s political life in the United States and abroad is memorialized in Carole Boyce Davies’s new book that recognizes this astounding woman and her great achievements. With an excellent academic and personal balance, Davies thoroughly investigates and reveals the short life of a remarkable leader whom we could all seek to emulate for her work in radical, feminism, anti-racist politics.

Originally from Trinidad, Jones moved to Harlem when she was eight years old and grew up in the shadow of the Great Depression. A strong young woman, she became active in the Communist Party and spoke all over the nation about an anti-capitalist agenda. Often persecuted during the McCarthy era, and arrested several times, she maintained a clear vision and held to her beliefs that the Communism she knew was practical and possible. After being deported from the United States in the 1950s, she settled in London and immersed herself in the British Communist Party.

Jones is often noted for having founded both the UK’s _West Indian Gazette _and the Notting Hill Carnival, a Mardi-Gras-like celebration of Afro-Caribbean talent that continues to this day. Working to make Caribbean heritage the active part of British identity it has since become, Jones found solidarity in many radical political circles doing allied work. Her work as a writer, activist, and political leader is on par with many of the greats we know by name today, and this sort of tribute writing should be only the beginning in better understanding her role in the marriage between modern Marxist structures and Black history.

How overdue this chronicle of her life and work truly is. As Davies points out in the introduction, Jones is buried next to Karl Marx—to his left, to be precise, “an apt metaphor…her location in death continues to represent her ideological position while living.” Without spoiling this sometimes-scholarly read, it is a must-have for activists and academics alike. Be prepared for a sad ending, but the tales along the way supplement hope when the unfairness of life can seem too much.

Written by: Brittany Shoot, April 8th 2008