‘It suffices but to mention the chauvinist ideology which still penetrates the core and culture of our national life, rendering many people susceptible to infliction from this social disease.’—Claudia Jonesfootnote1

‘It kills one if one has something to give and the world is not ready to accept it.’ G. Elias, eulogy for Claudia Jonesfootnote2

Upon her death in 1964, G. Elias wrote that Claudia Jones’s ‘tragedy was that she wasn’t a mediocrity’ and hinted that her last years as a lecturer and thinker had been spent alone and isolated from her comrades in the London wing of the British Communist Party.footnote3 Elias’s bittersweet remarks are in mysterious contrast to the numerous celebratory descriptions of Jones that appear in the American Communist press which still frequently describe the Trinidadian activist as a ‘great black woman’ who was tragically deported to London in the early 1950s and died soon after. These tributes to Jones rarely comment upon her political career in England, nor do they quote Jones’s statements from her days in the cpusa, leaving her as a highly visible symbol of black women’s presence in the Communist Party, while at the same time diminishing her contribution to the history and theory of American Communism. Whatimpact could Jones make on a Communist Party that never republished, recalled or addressed the substance of her work as a Marxist theorist?

In London, Jones is well remembered by black feminist groups as ‘the woman who best epitomizes the fine fighting spirit of the black women activists of the 1950s’ because of her involvement in defence campaigns for those arrested after the Notting Hill riots, the organization of the first Notting Hill carnival, the revival of the West Indian Gazette on which she collaborated with Amy Ashwood Garvey, and the fight against the 1962 British Commonwealth Immigration Act. In addition, Jones was a close friend of Indian Communist, A. Manchanda, who was involved in anti-imperialist activism in Britain.footnote4

When in London, Jones—whose career in the us had led her to important positions of leadership, moved—not within the circles of the British Communist Party’s bureaucracy, but into West-Indian community activism. Her name is easier to find in the acknowledgements sections of books about Caribbean women in England than it is in the indexes of histories of British Marxism, and her us publications after her deportation were more likely to appear in the African-American journal Freedomways than in official Communist Party publications.footnote5

Yet Jones’s American contemporaries seem to tell a different story from what this activism suggests. According to Harriet Magill, of the Congress of American Women, ‘Jones was really weird...guilty of the most awful reverse chauvinism’ which led historian Kathleen Weigand to the conclusion that, like Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, she was ‘only somewhat more advanced on women’s issues than the cp’s more powerful male leaders.’footnote6

These sharply drawn differences point more to the division of black and white feminists in the cpusa, rather than to Jones’s failure to recognize women’s concerns. Like her contemporary and fellow Trinidadian, C.L.R. James, Jones came to view Negro struggles as the most important of the modern era, moving closer to positions of nationalism toward the end of her career. Her published writing almost always focused on Negro struggles and appeared in forums for black audiences. For this reason, it does not seem strange that Jones said, in response to the views of white women leaders in the Congress of American Women (caw), that the ‘Negro Question’ precedes the ‘woman’s question’. An analysis of Jones’s work suggests that what she meant by this was that it was necessary for white women to fight their own racism before they could unite with other women.footnote7