The Negro Worker
A Comintern Publication of 1928-37
by Susan Campbell
Initially called The International Negro Workers’ Review and originally meant to be produced in French as well as English, in March 1931 this publication was renamed The Negro Worker.[*] Its sponsoring organization was the International Trade Union Committee of Negro Workers (ITUCNW), also begun in 1928. The ITUCNW was part of the Red International of Labour Unions, and in turn of the Communist Third International (COMINTERN). While the first head of the ITUCNW was African-American Communist James W. Ford (1893-1957), he was soon replaced by a Trinidadian, George Padmore (1902-1959).
Although an almost-complete run for the English version of The Negro Worker for the years 1931-37 exists on microfilm, issues for 1928-30 are difficult to locate. Quite likely no archive contains a complete set of this obscure but valuable source. This index makes it possible for researchers working on specific countries to see what connections people there had with the COMINTERN. For example, when researching the workers’ movement in Trinidad, I found it useful to know, not only about this part of Padmore’s career, but also about much less well-known Trinidadian radicals such as Charles Alexander, Jim Headley, and Adrian Cola Rienzi, all of whom had some connection with The Negro Worker.
In July 1930 an ‘International Conference of Negro Workers’ took place in Hamburg, in Germany because the Western Secretariat of the COMINTERN was located there, in Hamburg because of its sea-links with the Americas and the coast of Africa. Although the meeting was originally to have been held in London, this had proven impossible due to Britain’s imposition of entrance bans on potential participants. More important, colonial governments had been instructed to stop would-be delegates from leaving their respective territories.
Present in Hamburg were 17 delegates representing six African-American organizations, British Guiana, Trinidad, Jamaica, several west African countries, and South Africa. Information on who these delegates were is both lacking and in some cases (partly because of pseudo-names) contradictory. Jamaica was represented by S.M. DeLeon, Trinidad by Vivian Henry of the Trinidad Workingmen’s Association, and British Guiana/Guyana by pioneer trade unionist Hubert Critchlow. There for Sierra Leone, under the alias ‘E. Richards’, was Isaac Theophilis Akkuna (I.T.A.) Wallace-Johnson; for South Africa, Albert Nzula. Also present were Johnstone (Jomo) Kenyatta, two men identified only as ‘S. Norton’ and ‘Akrong’ from the Gold Coast/Ghana, and Frank Macaulay, who had cooperated with Wallace-Johnson in the Nigerian Workers’ Union. Padmore, although from Trinidad, had counted as an African-American delegate, together with James W. Ford, I. Hawkins, and J. Reid. The Gambian delegate, listed as George Small, was almost certainly E.F. Small, editor of The Gambia Outlook and organizer of one of west Africa’s first unions, the Bathurst Trade Union. In late 1929 Small’s union had led a general strike that tied up the Gambian economy for 18 days. British Colonial Under-Secretary Drummond Shiels, a prominent member of the Fabian Society, had commented “the union has unfortunate affiliations and has been run rather on Communist lines." Otto Huiswoud seems not to have been present; likely he was already off as part of a COMINTERN ‘mission’ to the South African Communist Party he is known to have undertaken around this time.
Resolutions passed by the ITUCNW’s Hamburg conference had termed ‘Negro reformism’ “the most dangerous obstacle to the development of the struggle of Negro workers.” They were even more scathing about the “labour fakers” of the Second/Labour and Socialist International as exemplified by the British Labour Party, whose colonial practice was “the best proof of the real policy of these imperialist agents.” Formulating a detailed list of more immediate demands, the Conference had also called for complete independence for all colonies and the recognition of the right of self-determination for all nations. Following the Hamburg conference, most delegates had gone on to Moscow to attend a congress of the Red International of Labour Unions.
In 1933, immediately after the Nazi seizure of power, Padmore was detained for some months, then deported. British authorities were in close contact with their German counterparts in hopes of getting their hands on Padmore’s ‘yellow trunk’, presumed to contain material that would have been useful to MI5 (the Secret Service branch concerned with Imperial as opposed to foreign intelligence, handled by MI6). At first citing only the ITUCNW’s financial troubles as his reason for leaving, in September 1933 Padmore bid “Au Revoir” to his editorship of the Negro Worker, then begun castigating the COMINTERN for its cynical abandonment of the colonial workers’ cause in the interests of Popular Front rapprochement with Britain and France. Here it should be noted that while the Popular Front era is usually thought of as having begun with the July-August 1935 Seventh (and last) COMINTERN Congress, its start can be more accurately dated to the 13th Plenum of the Executive Committee of the COMINTERN, held shortly after Hitler’s January 30th 1933 assumption of power.
In early 1934 – having, like thousands of other refugees ‘changed countries more often than his shoes’ – Padmore was formally expelled by the COMINTERN. With personal combined with political animus, James Ford went so far as to term Padmore a ‘police agent’. Padmore retaliated by making his criticisms as public as possible, publishing a article on “Ethiopia and World Politics” and an open letter to Earl Browder (General Secretary of the CP U.S.) in the NAACP’s Crisis. Browder’s reply also appeared in the Crisis.
In Paris, Padmore immersed himself in the pan-Africanist movement and worked with Nancy Cunard, who had recently published the monumental anthology Negro. In late 1935 or early ‘36 he transferred to London where he began to collaborate with C.L.R. James (1901-1989), a partnership that lasted until late 1938, when James moved on to his first lengthy sojourn in the U.S. In 1938 Padmore began publishing another interesting but obscure paper, International Africa Opinion, sponsored by the International African Service Bureau. In 1944 the IASB was superseded by the Pan-African Federation.
[*] The journal was launched in 1928 as The Negro Worker. After the First International Conference of Negro Workers and the 5th Congres of the Red International of Labour Unions, both held in 1930, it was relaunched as The International Negro Workers’ Review in January of 1931. However, as noted above, it kept the new name only briefly before reverting to The Negro Worker. - MIA