Claude McKay’s Bolshevisation in London
in The Red and the Black
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Between 1919 and 1921, Claude McKay, best known as a distinguished black poet and novelist, spent fourteen months in London, a crucial and transformative moment in his life and work. Yet this is the least studied and understood period of McKay’s life and oeuvre. Drawing upon newly discovered archival sources, the chapter documents and analyses the extraordinary impact McKay’s British sojourn had on his radicalisation. He met and befriended disgruntled black and colonial veterans of the First World War, and spent most of his spare time at the International Socialist Club in the East End of London, a key venue for radicals of various stripes and nationalities. He became an important member of Sylvia Pankhurst’s Workers’ Socialist Federation, the first British group to embrace and join the Communist International. He was at times the de facto editor of its newspaper, the Workers’ Dreadnought, for which he penned some of his most remarkable articles (including his very first) and radical poems. The moment that McKay arrived in Britain, and the radical milieu in which he lived and worked, turned out to be profoundly influential in the decolonisation of his mind and his full embrace of revolutionary socialism in general and Bolshevism in particular.

The Red and the Black

The Russian Revolution and the Black Atlantic