Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Former Membership in Communist Party

BOND: There was a time when the Communist Party helped you to define your own ideas and to develop your vision of the world and how it was and how it could be. Why are you no longer connected to the Party?

DAVIS: Well, I left the Communist Party not because I felt differently about criticizing capitalism and socialist futures, but because at the time there were constraints against the further democratization of the internal structure of the organization, so much so that a number of us who signed a petition, who circulated a petition, about the need for democratization of the structures of governance of the Party were not allowed to run for office, national office, and so in a sense, we were invited to leave. And many of us became involved in another organization called Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism, but now, of course, a lot of time has passed. There’re been some revelations about the past leadership of the Communist Party, and I’m still close to people who are in the Party. I still work with members of the Party. I have no bad feelings and I certainly hope that we can encourage a vibrant conversation, particularly during this moment, about the nature of capitalism and about possible socialist futures.

BOND: You know, I’ve thought and I’ve also read other scholars talk about how the exclusion of suspected Communists and actual Communists, this red-baiting era that the civil rights movement went through, resulted in creating a movement that looked to the Sermon on the Mount and Gandhi instead of Marx for a critique of American society and that we’ve suffered tremendously because of that because the absence of this critique or the absence of the prevalence of this critique just created a different kind of movement which had different kinds of aims and goals.

DAVIS: I think you’re right, that although despite the red-baiting, despite the anti-communism, I think that some of those ideas that involve the importance of looking at the economic structures continued to influence people. Of course, when Martin Luther King was assassinated, he was working with the sanitation workers in Memphis, Tennessee, so this is an indication of a move from a sense of civil rights being the final answer and more substantive questions of economic freedom. But I absolutely agree with you, and I think it’s just such a disgrace that so many of the people who have given so much to movements for justice and equality in this country have been completely eradicated from the historical record. Of course, now, we’re just beginning to see interest in Paul Robeson and for a long time, nobody who knew W.E.B. Du Bois was, precisely because of the fact that these were two people who did maintain that Marx did offer us something productive for thinking about change, whether it be radical change in the area of race or class — so, yeah. But this is where we have to start playing catch-up, I think.

BOND: Well, Dr. Davis, thanks for being with us.

DAVIS: Thank you very much. It’s been a pleasure.

BOND: Our pleasure.