Document 25: Clarina Michelson, Directive to the Harlem Section of the Communist Party, [1933], Clarina Michelson Papers, Tamiment Library, New York University.


    The Communist Party struggled with a conundrum posed by the Scottsboro Boys' case. The Party tapped a "tremendous revolutionary upsurge" in the Scottsboro protests, but found itself unable to readily transform a protester into a Party stalwart. Clarina Michelson, organizational secretary of the Harlem Section of the Communist Party, pondered the difficulties presented and set down her conclusion in this poorly typed "directive to the Harlem Section." As an organizer, she put her faith in building the Party at the grass-roots level and saw mass movements, or what she called "general activity," as detrimental.

    Her surviving papers document the inner workings of the party, its struggles to organize, to attract black members and leaders, its educational efforts, its mass demonstrations, and local-level assistance to Depression-era Harlemites. Whether Michelson distributed this particular document or in what form she shared her views cannot be determined. However, her reference to mass meetings at St. Nicholas Arena (Document 17) and the Rockland Palace (Document 19) clearly placed the Party soul-searching in 1933 following the march on Washington.


    With the Heywood Patterson verdict, the Party was able to get in contact with thousands of Negro workers; was able not only to continue the campaign for the defense of the Scottsboro boys; but was to start simeltaniously [sic] an effective drive for the enforcement of the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments to the Constitution and most important a struggle for National Liberation. In this Scottsboro upsurge, the Party has succeeded to establish the International Labor Defense firmly in Harlem. The fact that today, we have over 400 active Negro workers in the International Labor Defense; the fact that we have recruited nearly 100 Negro workers into the Party is to be considered as a great step forward in winning the majority of the Negro masses for the National Liberation movement, for the Communist Party.

    However, it must be recognized that the Party did not get the maximum organizationally out of the tremendous revolutionary upsurge. There have been 4,000 workers signing for the International Labor Defense out of which only about 10% are now active members. In the Party recruiting, only less 10% of the workers xxxxxxxx recruited were placed in units up to date. We, together with the center of (illegible handwritten word inserted) the Party have completely overlooked the possibilities for the establishment of a broad organization to serve as a uniting force in the struggle for National Liberation (L. S. N. R.) We have failed to utilize sufficiently the Scottsboro issue to strengthen our unemployed work and that the gains we have made are now partially lost (2 block committees disorganized). We have completely forgotten about invading the shops of Harlem with the Scottsboro issue, in spite of the fact that we have here large laundries with hundreds of Negro and white workers in them, who were part of the upsurge; who participated in our meetings and demonstrations but about whom we have completely forgotten as a result of our activities away from the shops.

    In the midst of this Scottsboro drive, we have not built the Liberator. At large mass meetings, like the one at St. Nicholas Arena and the Rockland Palace, we had no official xxxxxxx representative of the Harlem Liberator. While we took up collections, we forgot to make appeals for subscriptions for the Liberator; at the time when the getting of these subscriptions would have been easy-ily made. And we would have been able to establish the Liberator as a mass paper from the start.

    What particularly was the cause of all these short-comings? They characterize our work not only in connection with the Scottsboro drive but generally because of the units.

    The units in our Section do not yet play the role of a Bolshevik Party in a given territory; the comrades participating in general activity but fail to specify and concretize the work in the territory in which the unit is located. While our unit members can be characterized as an active membership, this activityxx is mainly in the Mass organization which instead of stimulating the work of the unit hinders it.

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