At the confluence of the period of racial violence known as Red Summer (1919) and the first Red Scare (1917-1920), Jamaica-born poet and journalist Claude McKay merged black anger with radical politics in his most well-known poem, “If We Must Die.”
McKay’s sonnet initially appeared in the July 1919 issue of The Liberator, a radical socialist magazine published in New York City from 1918-24 by Max and Crystal Eastman. The fame and impact of “If We Must Die” was such that it was soon reprinted as a rallying cry in other progressive magazines such as the September 1919 issue of The Messenger, available in African American Periodicals, 1825-1995.
It’s notable during the run-up to America’s presidential primaries that the candidates include uber-capitalist Donald Trump and the self-described socialist senator from Vermont, Bernie Sanders. Their competing ideologies underscore the great extent to which America’s political economy appeals both to naked self-interest and to popular concerns for social goods—but still goes by the name “capitalism.” Conversely, behind the utopian rhetoric of communism, the Soviet Union regularly appealed to the workers’ acquisitive desires. And when the Communist Party’s vaunted planning didn’t pan-out in the marketplace—out it went!
In this month's highlights from Joint Publications Research Service (JPRS) Reports, we expose some of the arcane machinery underlying the seemingly monolithic communism of the Soviet Union, beginning with the machine shop itself.
In “Just Browsing: Cool Items from the Past,” I shared several unexpected items I recently stumbled upon in America’s Historical Newspapers. I don’t however expect to find such wonderful things in Foreign Broadcast Information Service Daily Reports. What’s cool there comes more from the benefits of hindsight than sheer surprise. And that backward look lets the propagandistic nature of some of the documents shine through. One I recently read is the somewhat hagiographic interview with Kim Philby, the former high-ranking member of British intelligence agent who spied for and later defected to the Soviet Union. The interview, first published in the Russian daily newspaper Izvestiya on Dec. 19, 1967, was translated into English for publication in FBIS supplement “MATERIALS ON 50TH ANNIVERSARY OF SOVIET STATE SECURITY ORGANS, FBIS-FRB-68-007-S on 1968-01-10. Supplement number 2” Titled “Hello, Comrade Philby,” the article starts with a street scene in chilly Moscow:
Buried among the verbiage of a lengthy speech by Nikita Khrushchev from 1960 is a Communist Party plan that I’d never heard before – that the Soviet Union would abolish taxes on workers and employees by 1965, and also shorten their workday! It turns out this was a major Soviet domestic policy in 1960, worthy of headlines in the Trenton Evening Times, as can be seen from this page view.