Luis J. Rodriguez respnds to the Nelson Peery interview, published in Platypus Review Issue 81.
Nelson Peery was active in revolutionary politics for 76 years until his death on September 6, 2015. Peery’s death prompted members of the Platypus Affiliated Society to recover and transcribe the recordings of two interviews conducted some years earlier.
Ben Blumberg For the American Left in the first half the 20th century—commonly referred to as the “Old Left”— the task of advancing freedom entailed a thoroughgoing critique of the racist institutions in American society, a socioeconomic and historical analysis of their origins and contemporary function, as well as practical efforts to eradicate these structures. In other words, racism was the challenge faced by the American Old Left. However, to a large extent it evaded the very challenge it set for itself by accepting the characterization of the black population’s political situation as “the Negro problem.” Only the best of the Old Left pushed against this characterization. The New Left, seeking to overcome the Old Left’s shortcomings and receiving a great impulse from the demands of the Civil Rights movement to do so, would nevertheless come to reenact the previous generation’s failings. This brings forth an uncomfortable question: if Marxists in the United States were unable to meet the challenge of raising racism to the level of a transformable reality, then to what extent can we speak of an American tradition of Marxism—a Marxism adequate to the situation of American capitalism—at all?
RANDI STORCH’S RED CHICAGO takes to task prevailing caricatures of American Communism during the so-called “Third Period” of the late twenties and early thirties, a period in the history of American Communism frequently criticized for its growing ideological rigidity, its organizational Stalinization, and its ultimate failure to revitalize the flagging world revolution and to check the threat of fascism. Against such views, Storch argues historians have been unfair to the early Chicago Communists, falsely constructing them either as mannequins manipulated by Soviet puppeteers, or else as heroic defenders of the city’s working class, a collection of hyper-romantic organic radicals whose every breath stood in defiance of both employers and the party itself.