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The Political Life and Times of Claudia Jones
by David Horsley
Manifesto Press, £4.95
CLAUDIA JONES (1915-1964) is hardly unsung, given the growing number of books and film documentaries on the woman who, on indisputable merit, is interred immediately to the left of Karl Marx in Highgate Cemetery.
In this account of an extraordinary Caribbean communist, David Horsley’s focus is on Jones’s life in advancing class, race and gender resistance to the racist system of imperialism in what George Jackson called “the belly of the beast.”
He describes her intense engagement as an activist member, first of the Communist Party of the USA (1936-1955) and then, following her deportation as a “dangerous, disloyal or subversive” person, the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB) (1955-64).
In what is a short and well-illustrated pamphlet Horsley handles her experience with admirable economy, keeping in view her ever-relevant Caribbean background. Her origins were in Trinidad and Tobago and migration to the US in 1924 led her into the grinding Harlem poverty inducing the ill health that was her family’s lot.
Her class-based conclusions about the causes and solutions to such social conditions led her to communism and Horsley effectively captures Jones’s early drama training, her rise as a communist activist-journalist and her extensive network of connections to some of the best-known figures in the African-American left, including Paul Robeson.
Jones’s important contribution to the theorisation of the triple oppression of the African-American woman is properly recognised by the author and he goes on to does justice to her years in Britain.
She arrived suffering from long-term chronic illness worsened by imprisonment but embarked on nine years as an immensely varied and militantly creative communist and Caribbean community activist.
She overcame the challenges of mastering a new racist environment, starting and inspirationally running a crucially important Caribbean community newspaper with wide international links. She provided leadership in the aftermath of the Notting Hill and Nottingham anti-black rampages dubbed “race riots” and the murder of Kelso Cochrane, stabbed to death by a white gang in 1959.
She challenged head-on the racist 1962 Commonwealth Immigration Act and drew inspiration from her background to initiate the cultural events that culminated in the street-based Notting Hill Caribbean Carnival.
Through all this, Jones was fully active in the CPGB and was one of the major influences on, if not the author of, its policy statement which declared its opposition to all forms of restrictions on black immigration and declared its readiness to contest every case of discrimination.
It called for equal access to employment, wage rates, promotion to skilled jobs and opportunities for apprenticeships and vocational training.
It also projected the launching of an ideological campaign to combat racialism which, it noted, infects wide sections of the British working class.
Would that the British Labour Party had been even halfway down that road, then or now. Did someone say: “Oh Claudia, thou should be living at this hour. Britain hath need of thee?”
I strongly recommend this pamphlet even to those who already regard themselves as familiar with Jones’s life and work — it has much to offer.
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