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American Communism Revisited

Accuracy in Academia was recently contacted by University of Maryland at College Park [1] English Instructor Kara Fontenot regarding my coverage of her 2008 Modern Language Association convention presentation [2], “American Hysteria, Civil Liberties, and the Literary Left: Langston Hughes and Lorraine Hansberry.”

Fontenot takes exception to my February article, “2008 MLA Unplugged [3],” in which I write that “Graduate student Kara Fontenot falsely claimed [4] that the Communist Party USA had no connection to the USSR while furthering stereotypes about Senator Joseph McCarthy” (formatting in original).

More specifically, in the linked article [5] I quoted her presentation, in which she said

“Despite Communism’s initial appeal for some, by the end of the 1940’s most black Americans, including Hughes, had distanced themselves from Communist affiliations…However, soon conservative forces began to view the American communist party as the domestic extension of the Soviet threat, choosing either ignorantly or willfully to ignore the inconvenient fact that most American communists and fellow travelers were not spies or traitors but instead citizens with visions of radical political, economic, and social change” (emphasis added).

Perhaps Fontenot did not claim that there was no connection between the CPUSA and Soviet Russia but she did attempt to dissociate the two and attacked the integrity of “conservative forces” who saw the connection (“…choosing either ignorantly or willfully to ignore…”) between Russia and CPUSA members or “fellow travelers.”

In the article, “McCarthy Unplugged [5],” which originally mentioned Fontenot’s lecture, I quote from author M. Stanton Evans, author of Blacklisted by History, who argues that “Far from being mere indigenous radicals working for peace and social justice…the [Communist Party USA] and its members were subservient tools of Moscow—and those who weren’t subservient didn’t stay very long as members.” Examples he gave included Gerhart Eisler [6], Otto Katz, Alger Hiss [7] and Whittaker Chambers [8].

“Ms. Stotts should be ashamed of herself for misrepresenting my claims about the political aspirations of two specific black Americans during the McCarthy era,” writes Fontenot (formatting original).

Langston Hughes [9], one of the Black Americans discussed in her lecture, authored the poem “Salute to Soviet Armies [10],” which states “Mighty Soviet armies marching on the West. Red star on your visor, courage on your breast!/Mighty Soviet armies, warriors brave and strong,/Freedom is your watchword as you forge along! …”

Fontenot described Hughes as “persecuted” and a “target for anti-Communists” in her lecture.  “Due to Hughes’ 1930s communist affiliations, his travels in the Soviet Union, and his communist-themed poetry and prose in the late 1940s he became a target for anti-communists and began to publicly distance himself from his party affiliations,” she argued in her lecture (emphasis added).

“It was important to me to offer [Jonathan Scott’s [11]] evidence of Hughes’ sustained commitment to the black American literary left because I believe it was this combination of art and revolutionary politics that Lorraine Hansberry so admired,” she said.

She spoke about an April 1952 article by Hansberry covering an international peace conference which she attended in lieu of her boss Paul Robeson, “whose passport had been revoked by the U.S. State Department in retribution for his own antiwar leftist activism” (emphasis added).

Robeson was a long-standing supporter of the Soviet Union. “It has been largely forgotten, and perhaps not known at all to many younger people, that my basic views on world affairs are nothing new,” writes Robeson in his memoir Here I Stand [12]. “More than twenty years have passed since I first visited the Soviet Union and voiced my friendly sentiments about the peoples of that land and before that I had expressed a keen interest in the life and culture of the African peoples and a deep concern for their liberation.”

“In retribution for [Hansberry’s] criticism the U.S. State Department revoked her passport which is less surprising than the fact that she was never called before HUAC or McCarthy’s committee to account for her unAmerican activities,” said Fontenot.

As for Hansberry, inspired by Hughes, “While in college she [Hansberry] became involved with the national communist-affiliated labor youth league, which shortly after became one of two hundred organizations listed as subversive by the U.S. Attorney General,” Fontenot said in her 2008 presentation.

Subjects for more reading:

Langston Hughes [13]

Abraham Lincoln Brigade [14]

Sen. Joseph McCarthy [15]

Communist Party USA [16]

Victims of Communism [16]

Bethany Stotts is a staff writer at Accuracy in Academia [17].