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Charisse Burden-Stelly and Jodi Dean introduce Claudia Jones

Charisse Burden-Stelly and Jodi Dean introduce Claudia Jone's essay, "An End to the Neglect of the Problems of the Negro Woman!,” an essay that extends and complements the crucial and hard-to-access writings collected in Organize, Fight, Win.

Jodi Dean, Charisse Burden-Stelly18 October 2022

Charisse Burden-Stelly and Jodi Dean introduce Claudia Jones

A leader in the Communist Party of the United States of America (CPUSA) in the middle of the twentieth century, Claudia Jones produced some of the Party’s most compelling theorizations of the struggles against issues confronting the working class, women, and Black people as key struggles against fascism and imperialism. Several of these writings appear in Organize, Fight, Win, and set the stage for Jones’ trenchant analysis in her best-known essay, “An End to the Neglect of the Problems of the Negro Woman!” in which she emphasized the necessity of organizing Black working-class women. Extending Louise Thompson Patterson’s concept of triple exploitation and Esther Cooper Jackson’s examination of Black domestic workers, Jones theorized Black women workers’ triple oppression. The latter described their unique relationship to the mode of production, subordination of the labor market, and experience of social relations that reduced them to the status of absolute “other.” The recruitment of Black women to the fight against fascism and imperialism, then, was invaluable because their responsibility as partial or sole breadwinner, treatment in the labor market, and active participation in the social, political, and economic life of the Black community—in other words, their experience of superexploitation and their tireless efforts to eradicate its conditions— rendered them “the real active forces—the organizers and the workers.”

Unlike the analysis of “intersectionality,” which developed from a concern about recognition before the law and aims for the inclusion of various “identities” within capitalist democracy, Jones’ theorizing emphasized the forms of oppression that must be abolished. Triple oppression is thus a theory for building the strength and unity necessary for ending imperialism, capitalism, and racism. Deeply interconnected in their communities because of their responsibilities to care for and protect their families, Black working-class women were well-positioned to lead this struggle. As Jones writes: “The capitalists know, far better than many progressives seem to know, that once Negro women undertake action, the militancy of the whole Negro people, and thus of the anti-imperialist coalition, is greatly enhanced.” Rather than centering identitarian claims, Jones’ analysis illuminated that effective mobilization of the working class, not least in the fight against fascism, required close attention to the “Negro question” and the “woman question.”

Along with those of comrades such as Thelma Dale, Jones’ writings in CPUSA publications like Political Affairs prior to the publication of “An End to the Neglect” positioned the United States as the pre-eminent fascist threat after World War II. Counter to the image projected during the war, the US was not championing democracy and peace. The concentration of imperial power, intensification of white supremacy, aggression of big business, and reactionary confinement of women to the domestic realm converged into a force as dangerous and oppressive as that which the Allied powers had united to defeat. Arising out of monopoly capital and the semi-feudal economy of the US South, the growing reaction of the late 1940s attested to the fact that fascism had not been wiped out. It persisted as an ongoing threat to peace and progress everywhere. Jones demonstrated how fascist ideology championed white supremacy, the doctrine that women’s place is in the home, and in the case of the United States, the practice of relegating Black women to work in white people’s homes. US imperialism mobilized, and was mobilized by, this ideology as it attacked workers domestically and abroad generally, and subjugated superexploited workers particularly.

Thus, Jones criticized the Party for its revisionist turn away from the analysis of Black oppression as national oppression. She argued for the re-embrace of the call for Black self-determination in the Black Belt as central to the Black-labor alliance. This analysis of the special condition of the “Negro question” in the United States had put Communists at the forefront of the struggle against white supremacy because it showed white workers their interest in securing Black rights. The commitment to Black self-determination had also enabled the Party to offer Black workers an alternative to bourgeois Black nationalism by linking their cause to that of white workers against exploiting bosses. Jones insisted that the Party recommit to this analysis as one step in reinvigorating its struggle against white supremacy.

To the core premise of Black oppression as national oppression, Jones added a theorization of the impact of growing reaction on the material conditions of women following the end of WWII. She noted the “tremendous ideological campaign” put forward by Wall Street imperialism to influence popular perceptions of women.  With its “Hitlerite” slogan that “a woman’s place is in the home,” this campaign cloaked social and economic inequalities, obscuring how the post-war push of women out of industry and into the domestic sphere was undermining gains made during the war. Working class women were being relegated to low-paying clerical, sales, and service work. The last to be hired for industry jobs and therefore the first to be fired from them, Black women were the most heavily impacted by the reactionary intensification of a sexual division of labor. Cuts in social services, particularly of the childcare centers available for wage-earning mothers during the war, accompanied the attack on women, rendering it an attack on the whole working class. Jones argued that employers were trying to create a “sex antagonism” by, for example, encouraging men to support the return of women to the kitchen to free up more jobs for themselves. The effort to divide working-class men and women was part of a large-scale offensive against wage workers. 

This essentially fascist offensive by the ruling class included attacks on women’s social participation in the peace movement—not to mention their engagement in economic struggle. The more confined women were to the household, the less free they were to participate in politics. Jones thus pushed the CPUSA to amplify its organizational work with women. She charged the Party with failing to make the “woman question” a matter of central concern to all Party members and with neglecting the activation, training, and involvement of women in the Party. Such failure and neglect was especially apparent when it came to Black women, and until the Party improved its efforts in this area, she warned, it would fail in its efforts to fight fascism and organize the working class.

We link here “An End to the Neglect of the Problems of the Negro Woman!,” an essay that extends and complements the crucial and hard-to-access writings of Claudia Jones and other Black communist women collected in Organize, Fight, Win.

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Organize, Fight, Win
Black Communist women throughout the early to mid-twentieth century fought for and led mass campaigns in the service of building collective power in the fight for liberation. Through concrete mater...