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The words of Claudia Jones words still resonate today

With growing tensions between nations and the rise of fascism in many parts of the world DAVID HORSLEY reminds us of the case of a great US anti-racist

“YOUR Honour, there are a few things I wish to say. For if what I say here serves even one whit to further dedicate growing millions of Americans to fight for peace, and to repel the fascist drive on free speech and thought in our country, I shall consider my rising to speak worthwhile indeed.

“Quite candidly, Your Honour, I say these things not with any idea that what I say will influence your sentence of me. For even with all the powers Your Honour holds, how can you decide to mete out justice for the only act to which I proudly plead guilty, and for one, moreover by which your own prior rulings constitute no crime — that of being a member and officer of the Communist Party of the United States?

“Will you measure, for example, as worthy of one year’s sentence, my passionate adherence to the idea of fighting for full unequivocal equality for my people, the Negro people, which as a communist, I believe can only be achieved allied to the cause of the working class.

“A year for another vital communist belief, that the bestial Korean War is an unjust war? 
Or my belief that peaceful coexistence of nations can be achieved and peace won if struggled for?

“Another year for my belief that only under socialism will exploitation of man by man be finally abolished and the great human and industrial resources of the nation be harnessed for the wellbeing of the people?

“Still another year’s sentence for my belief that the denial of the exercise of free speech and thought to communists only precedes, as history confirms, the denial of the exercise of these rights to all Americans?”

These were the opening words of Claudia Jones’s statement to the court in New York in February 1953. 

As a member of the political committee of the Communist Party, she, alongside 10 other leading communists, were being tried in a court described at the time as “the thought control trial held under the infamous provisions of the fascist-like Smith Act before a rigged jury, with framed up testimony provided by paid stool pigeons and professional informers and in an atmosphere of hysteria.”

Several years before, 11 leading communists had been tried under similar circumstances and given severe prison sentences. 

This period of McCarthyism saw thousands of communists, trade unionists, black activists and others persecuted and imprisoned by a reactionary US government which preached the threat of communism taking over the country to disguise its attack on democracy and civil rights.

As “black and red,” Jones was one of the main targets of the repressive state machine which for years had tried to deport her as an alien and immigrant. 

Shades here of the present British government which is still actively deporting people who originally arrived here as immigrants. 

Jones, born in Trinidad in 1915, had arrived in the US aged just eight and over the years had had been continually denied US citizenship because of her politics. 

Now the authorities had her in their sights. She was indicted for an article she had written, entitled “Women in the Struggle for Peace and Security” on the grounds that this had broken bail conditions she was under. 

However, the judge refused to allow the article to be read out in court. 

Jones’s response was outstanding. She said: “Introduce a page to show Claudia Jones wrote an article during the indictment period, but you dare not even read a line of it, even to a biased jury, on which sat a lone Negro juror, there by accident, since he was an alternate well through most of the trial. You dare not gentlemen of the prosecution, assert that Negro women can think and speak and write.”

She continued to denounce racism and declare her pride in being a communist. She ended her statement with these words.

“If out of this struggle history assesses that I and my co-defendants have made some small contribution, I shall consider my role small indeed. The glorious exploits of anti-fascist heroes and heroines, honoured today in all lands for their contributions to social progress, will, just like the role of our prosecutors, also be measured by the people of the United States in that coming day.”

Imprisoned and deported to Britain after the trial, Jones is remembered for many accomplishments, not least of which is her historic statement to the court in February 1953. 

Her words then and today, where we are seeing growing tensions between nations, the rise of fascism in many parts of the world and continued oppression of people because of their sex and race as well as class remain valid. 

February 21 1915 is also Jones’s birth date, so the Communist Party of Britain’s Anti-Racist Anti-Fascist Commission plans to celebrate her life with an annual ceremony including an oration beside her grave at Highgate cemetery.

The Communist Party, with broad participation from our friends and allies in the community and abroad, aims to arrange the first commemoration in February 2022 when we all hope the Covid pandemic which has taken so many lives especially from the most vulnerable, the poorest, the oldest and black and Asian people is over.

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