A prime example of what might have been can be seen in the case of the Trinidadian
communist, Claudia Jones. Jones arrived in Britain in 1955, driven out of America,
despite ill-health, during the McCarthy repression and almost shunned by the CPGB
despite her considerable organisational and propagandist record in the CPUSA as the
National Director of the Young Communist League. She lived in Notting Hill in west
London where she was active in campaigns to defend the black community during the
riots against them of 1958, also protesting against the racist killing of Kelso Cochrane.
Claudia was the main initiative behind the progressive, campaigning newspaper,
WestIndian Gazette, printed in London for the Black community. It provided a forum for discussion of civil rights as well as reporting news that was overlooked by the
mainstream media. Claudia worked as editor on the paper until her death.
The outbreak of fascist violence in Notting Hill in August 1958 led to the creation of the
broad front organisation: Claudia Jones and Abihimanyu Manchanda became founder
members of theNational Association for the Advancement of Coloured People, designed
to unite all those who could be united against racist violence and the institutionalised
racism of the British state at a time of rising racist attacks. Ella Rule observed,
In these circumstances, the West Indian Gazette came into its own, as a campaigning tool supporting those organising self defence and anti-racist and anti-fascist campaigns,raising money for the defence of both black and white youths who were being prosecuted for putting up resistance to fascist violence.
In her work within the Caribbean communities, Claudia Jones worked to create links
between political campaigns and cultural activities. The Notting Hill carnival is
undoubtedly Claudia Jones lasting legacy, which she helped launch at St Pancras Town
Hall in January 1959 as an annual showcase for Caribbean talent. She helped launch the
event as a response to the 1958 riots, when tensions had turned violent as racist mobs
attacked local Black residents. Using the West Indian tradition of carnival, the event was intended to create closer relations between all local communities. These early
celebrations were held in halls and were epitomised by the slogan, ‘A people’s art is the
genesis of their freedom’. Then Carnival moved around for a few years; by 1965 it took
to the streets of Notting Hill and has grown ever since, today a lasting legacy of cultural
pride in the Caribbean heritage.
In the early 1960s, despite failing health, Jones helped organise campaigns against the
1962 Immigration Act. This had made it harder for non-Whites to migrate to Britain. She aqlso campaigned for the release of Nelson Mandela, and spoke out against racism in the workplace.
She made a visit to China in 1964, a few months before her death, when she was highly
enthused by everything she saw. On her return from China she wrote:
I observed first hand with my own eyes the magnificent achievements of 15 years of
Socialist Construction and its effect on lives, agricultural industry and society of the 650 million people of the New Socialist China. I talked and spoke to many of China’s leaders– in government, in the People’s Communes, in light and heavy industry –
in the ardent revolutionary men, women, youth and children of New Socialist China who are led by the Chinese Communist Party and their world Communist leader, Chairman Mao Tse-tung… The great achievements in Socialist Construction in New China, based on its policy of Self Reliance which permeates every aspect of its society – in agriculture and industrialisation in light and heavy industry. A new morality pervades this ancient land which less than 15 years ago was engaged in a bitter, protracted anti-imperialist armed struggle to free itself from the ravages of feudalism, semi-colonialism, bureaucratic capitalism and imperialism, and achieved victory over US imperialism, the Kuomintang puppets and the Japanese militarists.”
Claudia Jones died Christmas Eve 1964, aged 49 from a heart condition and tuberculosis.
She was buried in Highgate Cemetery next to Karl Marx. In the nine years in Britain, her
progressive, anti-racist, anti-imperialist politics and her reaction to a visit to China
marked her out as a potentially influential leader of the young anti-revisionist movement.
Her early death meant that she had not cemented a relationship with the newly emergent anti-revisionist movement in Britain. She was working on the West Indian Gazette with Manchanda, [later founder-leader of the Revolutionary Marxist
-Leninist League] and mixing socially within that anti-revisionist scene.
Up to her death, Claudia Jones was still working to lay the foundations of the Campaign Against Racial Discrimination,which was to influence deeply a generation of black leftists. An African mouner at her funeral indicated what her death meant: “We have lost the only person who had qualified as the leader of the Afro-Asian Caribbean peoples in Britain.”
The anti-revisionist movement was poorer without her, and other overseas–born cadre.
The movement was poorer for their absence, their experiences, their relationship with
organisations engaged in struggles in the Third World and their abilities that in a multi-national organisation may have helped steer the young ML movement through choppier times.