Communists and Community
Activism in Detroit's Labor Movement, 1941-1956
Publication: May 20
Publication: May 20
Publication: May 20
6 x 9
4 tables, 12 figures, 2 maps
Enhances our understanding of the central role Communists played in the advancement of social democracy throughout the mid-twentieth centuryRead the Introduction (pdf).
Communists and Community seeks to reframe the traditional chronology of the Communist Party in the United States as a means to better understand the change that occurred in community activism in the mid-twentieth century. Ryan Pettengill argues that Popular Front activism continued to flourish throughout the war years and into the postwar period. In Detroit, where there was a critical mass of heavy industry, Communist Party activists mobilized support for civil rights and affordable housing, brought attention to police brutality, sought protection for the foreign-born, and led a movement for world peace.
Communists and Community demonstrates that the Communist Party created a social space where activists became effective advocates for the socioeconomic betterment of a multiracial work force. Pettengill uses Detroit as a case study to examine how communist activists and their sympathizers maintained a community to enhance the quality of life for the city’s working class. He investigates the long-term effects of organized labor’s decision to force communists out of the unions and abandon community-based activism. Communists and Community recounts how leftists helped workers, people of color, and other under-represented groups who became part of the mainstream citizenry in America.
"Communists and Community traces the fortunes of the Communist Party (CP) in Detroit from World War II to the McCarthyite witch-hunts of the 1950s. Ryan Pettengill’s purpose is 'to shed light on leftists’ use of community activism within the labor movement' and to argue its relevance today.... Pettengill has done sterling service in highlighting the positive aspects of CP policy in Detroit."
"Pettengill’s deeply researched book reveals how the influence of the Communist Party in Detroit, at least away from the workplace, rested on its ability to form alliances with organizations and individuals that brought their own stature and networks to joint efforts.... Communists and Community is a valuable addition to the already rich literature on post–World War II Detroit.... Pettengill has given us a rich picture of those years as a base for considering the more general relationship between labor and community in one of nation’s great industrial centers."
—American Historical Review
"(T)he rich detail of the study along with the focus on Detroit—essentially the epicenter of the labor movement—provides real insight into key issues of social movement success, the persistence of racial inequality, and the relationship between class-based politics and a politics of social identity.... Communists and Community is a wonderfully written, impressive history of communist activism in Detroit. The lessons to be learned from that history regarding social movement strategy and social change are invaluable during a time when increasing worker radicalism and black liberation movements are met by calls from liberals to focus on elections and courts."
—American Journal of Sociology
" Pettengill sheds important light on how Communists actually shaped labor relations and the lives of workers and everyday people.... Among the book’s most important contributions is its demonstration of how the party’s activism persisted beyond the point that it is commonly assumed that Communists no longer exerted much influence anywhere in the country.... (T)his is an important volume that should gratify many students of the history of labor and the American Left, of Detroit in the twentieth century, and of the course of civil rights and race relations in America."
—Michigan Historical Review
" (A)n excellent examination of such activism through the lens of perhaps American communism’s most prolific battleground for politics, unionism, and community resistance: Motor City, USA. Pettengill effectively draws the line between communists concerned about community activism versus those more interested in unionism and organizing political rallies.... Arguably one of the most valuable components to Pettengill’s work is his analysis of the continuance of communist community-based activism after World War II and into the periods of the early Cold War and the Second Red Scare.... Pettengill effectively describes the diffusion of localized, radical activism into a broad array in which radical political identities served little purpose."
—American Communist History >
Table of Contents
1. Popular Front Activism and the Communist Cooperative
2. World War, a Community Crisis, and the Communist Cooperative
3. The Roots of Postwar Anticommunism, 1944–1945
4. Community Activism and the Emergence of Postwar Detroit, 1945–1949
5. Anticommunism and the Transition of Labor Activism, 1945–1949
6. Community Activism in the Age of McCarthy, 1950–1956
7. Anticommunism, Local Politics, and the Demise of Community Activism
Conclusion: Community Activism and the Labor Movement