Black History Month Special
Part of a series on African American communists in US history.
Application for Membership in the Communist Party by W.E.B. Du Bois
Communist Party of the USA
New York, New York
On this first day of October 1961, I am applying for admission to membership in the Communist Party of the United States. I have been long and slow in coming to this conclusion, but at last my mind is settled.
In college I heard the name of Karl Marx, but read none of his works, nor heard them explained. At the University of Berlin, I heard much of those thinkers who had definitely answered the theories of Marx, but again we did not study what Marx himself had said. Nevertheless, I attended meetings of the Socialist Party and considered myself a Socialist.
On my return to America, I taught and studies for sixteen years. I explored the theory of socialism and studied the organized social life of American Negroes; but still I neither read nor heard much of Marxism. Then I came to New York as an official of the new NAACP and editor of The Crisis magazine. The NAACP was capitalist-oriented and expected support from rich philanthropists.
But it had a strong socialist element in its leadership in persons like Mary Ovington, William English Walling and Charles Edward Russell. Following their advice, I joined the Socialist Party in 1911. I knew nothing of practical socialist politics and in the campaign on 1912 I found myself unwilling to vote for the Socialist ticket, but advised Negroes to vote for Wilson. This was contrary to Socialist Party rules and consequently I resigned from the Socialist Party.
For the next twenty years I tried to develop a political way of life for myself and my people. I attacked the Democrats and Republicans for monopoly and disenfranchisement of Negroes; I attacked the Socialists for trying to segregate Southern Negro members; I praised the racial attitudes of the Communists, but opposed their tactics in the case of the Scottsboro Boys and their advocacy of a Negro state. At the same time, I began the stud Karl Marx and the Communists; I read Das Kapital and other Communist literature; I hailed the Russian Revolution of 1917, but was puzzled by the contradictory news from Russia.
Finally in 1926, I began a new effort; I visited the Communist lands. I went to the Soviet Union in 1926, 1936, 1949 and 1959; I saw the nation develop. I visited East Germany, Czechoslovakia and Poland. I spent ten weeks in China, traveling all over the land. Then this summer, I rested a month in Rumania.
I was early convinced that socialism was an excellent way of life, but I thought it might be reached by various methods. For Russia, I was convinced she had chosen the only way open to her at the time. I saw Scandinavia choosing a different method, halfway between socialism and capitalism. In he United States, I saw Consumers Cooperation as a path from capitalism to socialism, while in England, France and Germany developed in the same direction in their own way. After the Depression and the Second World War, I was disillusioned. The progressive movement in the United States failed. The Cold War started. Capitalism called communism a crime.
Today I have reached my conclusion:
Capitalism cannot reform itself; it is doomed to self-destruction. No universal selfishness can bring social good to all.
Communismthe effort to give all men what they need and to ask of each the best they can contributethis is the only way of human life. It is a difficult and hard end to reachit has and will make mistakes, but today it marches triumphantly on in education and science, in home and food, with increased freedom of thought and deliverance from dogma. In the end communism will triumph. I want to help bring that day.
The path of the American Communist Party is clear: It will provide the United States with a real third party and thus restore democracy to this land. It will call for:
- Public ownership of natural resources and of all capital.
- Public control of transportation and communications.
- Abolition of poverty and limitation of personal income.
- No exploitation of labor.
- Social medicine, with hospitalization and care for the old.
- Free education for all.
- Training for jobs and jobs for all.
- Discipline for growth and reform.
- Freedom under law.
- No dogmatic religion.
These aims are not crimes. They are practiced increasingly over the world. No nation can call itself free which does not allow its citizens to work for these ends.
W.E.B. Du Bois
Response by Gus Hall, General Secretary, Communist Party USA
Dear Dr. DuBois:
In reply to your letter of October 1, in which you make application for membership in the Communist Party of e United States, allow me to relate the following:
I read it before our National Board on October 13th, where it was greeted with the highest enthusiasm and responded to with many heartfelt testimonials to the titanic labors which you have performed over a glorious span of 60 years of dedicated services and leadership in the cause of human progress, peace, science and culture.
Already in 1906 in your historic Address to the Country of the Niagara Movement, you had perceived the main line of development of our century, and wrote these prophetic words:
The morning breaks over the hills. Courage brothers! The battle for humanity is not lost or losing. The Slav is rising in his might, the yellow minions are testing their liberty, the Black Africans are writhing toward the light, and everywhere the laborer is opening the gates of opportunity ad peace.
And so it has come, and is coming to pass. And knowledgeable people everywhere are mindful of the fact that your selfless labors and mighty works have been a powerful contribution to the dawn of our new epoch, the epoch of the final triumph of man over all manner of oppression, discrimination and exploitation.
You (the first Negro to receive the Doctor of Philosophy degree from Harvard University in 1895) are the acknowledged Dean of American letters and most eminent living American scholar.
As editor, sociologist, historian, novelist, poet, publicist, lecturer and organizer you have made enduring contributions. Your life is a monumental example of achievement for all Americans.
For 50 years you have been a tireless champion of the national liberation of the African peoples and new Africas wise counselor and elder statesman.
For more than 60 years you have been the foremost philosopher, theoretician and practical organizer of the Negro peoples glorious freedom struggle.
You have authored numerous books, each of which is a weapon against colonialism, racism and imperialism, and for the victory of the cause of peace, freedom and brotherhood of peoples.
You have raised your voice powerfully and incessantly against war machinations, for world peace and disarmament, for friendship with the socialist countries and coexistence between the two world social systems.
Your act of joining the Communist Party at this time not only expresses that recognition of the new world reality, of the great turn of the people of the world toward socialism for the solution to mankinds need for peace, brotherhood and well-being, but it constitutes an invitation and a challenge to men and women of science and culture, to creative thinkers of all countries, to the Negro masses and their outstanding leaders, both here and aboard, to avail themselves of the social science of Marxism-Leninism and the fraternity of the Communist Parties to give new to their cause and their works.
You have chosen to join our Party precisely at the time when with brazen effrontery to the trends of the times, the most backward, ultra-reactionary forces in our countrys national life have temporarily dragooned the Supreme Courts majority into upholding the most flagrantly unconstitutional thought-control lawsthe McCarran and Smith Actsdesigned to muzzle free speech, ban freedom of association, persecute Communists and suppress our Party.
This is symbolic of the personal courage and heroics exercise of social responsibility which have characterized your service and leadership to the peoples cause throughout your life.
Dear Dr. DuBois, welcome in to the membership of our Party! The title of Party member is an honorable and worthy title, worn with pride b the most dedicated and farseeing, the best sons and daughter of the workers and peoples of all lands in the first ranks of the struggle for mankinds happy future.
With comradely greetings,
(Reprinted from Fighting Racism: Selected Writings by Gus Hall, International Publishers, 1985)