Holger Weiss
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Transnational agitator and union activist
James W. Ford and the communist push into the Black Atlantic
in Global biographies
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In this chapter, Holger Weiss explores the African American communist labour union activist James W. Ford as one of the key global players in the history of interwar Communism in the black Atlantic. Weiss uses space in two intertwined ways: first, by tying together Ford’s activities in Chicago, Moscow, Hamburg and several other places, Weiss traces the vast agitation and propaganda network Ford helped produce, connecting black activists in Africa, the Caribbean, the USA and Europe. Second, Weiss shows how Ford was pushed and pulled from the centre of black transnational Communist agitation, as the many institutions that facilitated their work redefined what the struggle was about. Embedding the case of Ford in a careful exploration of the source material at hand and the layered organisational ‘solar system’ of the Comintern, Weiss probes the possibilities as well as the limitations of a single actor to forge global revolutionary politics. Thus, Weiss concludes, we can discern spaces of agitation that opened and closed across the inter- and immediately postwar years, in the end leaving Ford disillusioned as his older doctrines of class struggle were washed over by radical political pan-Africanism.

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Global biographies

Lived history as method


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