Communism and Freedom

Sudip Bhattacharya

July 20, 2022

W.E.B. Du Bois, one of the premier thinkers the United States has ever produced and the godfather of modern sociology, joined the Communist Party in 1961, nearing the end of his life.

In a letter written to the CPUSA (Community Party of the United States of America), Du Bois expressed a Marxist concept of freedom, one which necessitated the public ownership of natural resources and of all capital, abolition of poverty, and limitation of personal income.

“Communism—the effort to give all men what they need and to ask of each the best they can contribute—this is the only way of human life...”

In his magisterial Black Reconstruction, which outlines the key lessons of the Reconstruction era (1865 – 1877) that followed the end of the U.S. Civil War, Du Bois would conclude that the expansion of freedom in the U.S. had very much depended on federal troops occupying the south, and laws that effectively attacked the remnants of the former confederacy.

In states like Arkansas, members of the Ku Klux Klan were targeted by the government.

In 1869 an anti-Ku Klux Klan law of great severity was passed which prevented all secret political organizations, and declared their members public enemies. Even the possession of a Ku Klux Klan costume was a criminal offense. The law was sternly enforced, and the Klan disbanded after a season of martial law.

As Du Bois recognized, there was no other way to ensure the newly won freedoms, such as the right to vote, for African Americans. Although African Americans were in the majority, or constituted a significant minority, across several states, they and their white allies in the radical wing of the Republican Party, lacked the weaponry, resources, and networks to win power immediately.

To redress this power imbalance, the federal government formed the Freedmen’s Bureau, which helped provide for the first time universally, free public schooling and some modicum of healthcare. This would vastly improve the living standards of African Americans and poor whites in the region, whose existence up until then, was mainly to enhance the pleasure and power of the planter class.

The Realization of Freedom

What Du Bois realized, as he drifted from liberalism to communism over the course of his life, was how freedom for the masses required that government provide people with their material needs, and not just “protecting” them against so-called government intrusion. More importantly, for freedom to be enjoyed by a broader set of people, and not just a class or race or gender, it cannot be simply the right of individuals to think of themselves as such. Freedom needs limitations, or what one could call, the recognition of our individual “responsibilities” to a broader collective, i.e. society.

Thus, freedom for all necessitates forms of dependency and intervention on behalf of the oppressed and exploited. Freedom cannot be conceived of as the freedom to do as what one will, at the expense of the masses. It cannot be the freedom to simply fend for ones