James S. Allen

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James S. Allen
Born Sol Auerbach
Died 1986
Other names Jim Allen, James Allen
Citizenship American
Alma mater University of Pennsylvania
Years active 1928-86
Employer International Publishers
Predecessor Alexander Trachtenberg
Political party CPUSA

James S. "Jim" Allen, born Sol Auerbach (1906–1986), was an American Marxist historian, journalist, editor, political activist, and functionary of the Communist Party USA. Allen is best remembered as the author and editor of over two dozen books and pamphlets and as one of the Communist Party's leading experts on African-American history.

Allen is credited with helping to save young black men charged in the Scottsboro case from execution through his prompt and relentless publicity of the case, which helped to make the trial a cause célèbre.


Early years[edit]

Sol Auerbach, later known by the pseudonym James S. Allen, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1906, the son of ethnic Jewish parents that arrived in America from the Russian empire in that same year.[1]

Upon completion of high school, Allen enrolled at the University of Pennsylvania, an Ivy League university in Philadelphia, where he studied philosophy.[1]

A committed radical from his collegiate days, Auerbach traveled to the Soviet Union in 1927 as part of the first American student delegation to the Soviet Union.[1]

Auerbach was expelled from college 1928 for radical activities.[1] He joined the Communist Party and began writing for the party newspaper, The Daily Worker. Auerbach succeeded Whittaker Chambers as "foreign news writer," who had in turn succeeded Harry Freeman.[2]

The intelligent Auerbach was soon promoted to the editorship of Labor Defender, official organ of the International Labor Defense — the Communist Party's mass organization dedicated to civil rights and legal aid matters.[3]

Party work in the South[edit]

The so-called "Black Belt," consisting of counties with a majority African-American population.

During his formative years in Philadelphia Auerbach had developed a strong interest in African American life, which led to his appointment in 1930 as editor of the Communist Party's first newspaper produced south of the Mason-Dixon lineThe Southern Worker.[4] Auerbach adopted the Party name "James S. Allen" at this time and he traveled to Chattanooga, Tennessee with his wife Isabelle Allen to establish and edit the weekly paper.[5]

Necessarily produced under clandestine conditions, The Southern Worker bore a false dateline indicating it was produced in Birmingham, Alabama in an effort to confuse local police and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.[3] According to the testimony of Isabelle Allen authorities never were able to identify the shop used to produce the paper, owing in part to the struggling printer's simultaneous production of a newspaper for the Ku Klux Klan — an ideal cover for a secret side-job.[6]

The Southern Worker was launched on August 16, 1930, with a print run of 3,000 copies.[3] Although billed as "a paper of and for both the white and black workers and farmers,"[3] in fact the content was heavily skewed towards coverage of the daily life and problems of the region's black population.[7]

In this capacity Allen consistently advocated for the Communist Party's political line of the day, which included a demand for self-determination of the so-called "Black Belt" of the American South, populated at the time by nearly one-half of the country's entire African-American population.[4]

James S. Allen was the editor of The Southern Worker, a regional newspaper of the Communist Party USA targeted particularly to Southern blacks.

Despite breathless speculation at the time and thereafter that the Communist mobilizing slogan "Self-Determination for the Black Belt" was a call for national secession, Allen later dismissed this view with the words "we weren't stupid."[8] For all the brashness of the "self-determination" slogan, in the view of historian Mark Solomon the actual meaning of the phrase was rather more modest:

Self-determination was defined as democracy at its essence: self-government, self-organization, social and economic equality, the right of blacks to run their own lives without the relentless terror and racism that dogged their steps and made every waking day a living hell.[8]

Allen's actual time spent in the South was limited, as he was forced to return to New York in 1931 by the pressure of life in hiding[9] and the "monotonous" and "depressing" job of editing an underground newspaper of which southerners were too frightened to subscribe.[10] Allen remained a member of the Party's Southern District committee, however, and in that capacity he played a prominent role in all of the CPUSA's major regional activities during the early 1930s; the organizing of Alabama sharecroppers, the Harlan, Kentucky miners' strike and the Scottsboro case.

Scottsboro case[edit]

Allen's influence in the Scottsboro case was particularly important, with Yale University historian Glenda Elizabeth Gilmore contending that "we might never have heard of the Scottsboro case if Sol Auerbach, using his Party name, James S. Allen, had not arrived in Chattanooga, Tennessee, in mid-July 1930."[11] Allen was listening to the radio in his Chattanooga apartment in March 1931 when he heard that police in Paint Rock, Alabama had removed nine young black men from a freight train and charged them with rape.[10] Auerbach promptly alerted the Communist Party's legal defense mass organization, International Labor Defense, of the situation, which quickly became involved in the defense.[10]

The nine defendants in the case, collectively called the "Scottsboro Boys" in the case in a nod to the city in which they were indicted, ranged in age from 13 to 20 and had been traveling aboard a freight train to search for work in Tennessee.[12] They were not traveling as a group and some did not know the others until they met in jail, pulled from the train by a mob of 200 whites following false accusations of rape by two women seeking to avoid prostitution charges.[10]

The case was publicized relentlessly by Allen in the pages of the Southern Worker and throughout the Communist Party press, with the story crossing over to mainstream press coverage. "Without the spotlight that Jim Allen quickly focused on the trials it is most likely that the 'Boys' would have been dead by fall, lost among the thousands of unknown southern black men executed legally and illegally," Glenda Gilmore asserts.[10]

Emissary to the Philippines[edit]

Second President of the Philippines Manuel Quezón preparing for an April 1937 radio broadcast. Allen was instrumental in gaining the release of jailed Philippine Communist leaders through Quezón.

At the behest of the Communist International, Allen was sent to Manila, capital of the Philippines (then an American protectorate) on two missions in an attempt to end sectarian squabbling and achieve unity between the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and the rival Socialist Party of the Philippines (SPP), established in 1933.[13] In accord with the strategy of the popular front, the Comintern sought to build broad alliances against the rising tide of fascism and was therefore interested in minimizing conflict between Communist and Socialist forces.

The first of Allen's trips to the Philippines came in 1936. Allen's mission was that of convincing Crisanto Evangelista, General Secretary of the CPP, and his jailed comrades to accept a conditional pardon from Philippine President Manuel L. Quezón and to gain their freedom in order to lead the fight against the rising tide of Japanese militarism.[14] Allen then spoke personally with President Quezón and convinced him of the urgent need for Philippine unity in the face of Japanese expansionism in the region.[14] Allen was successful in making his case both to the jailed Communists and the Philippine President, and Evangelista and other imprisoned Communist leaders were released on December 31, 1936.[14]

Allen returned to the Philippines in September 1938 on a new mission. This time Allen sought to expand the conditional pardons granted to Evangelista and his associates to the full restoration of civil rights so that they might better mobilize radical Philippine workers against fascism through public meetings and mass demonstrations.[14] Allen presented President Quezón with petitions gathered by various labor organizations and successfully made the case for a full pardon for the Communist leaders.[14] This absolute pardon was granted on December 24, 1938, in the context of a Christmas amnesty.[14]

Next Allen sought to broker actual unity between the Philippine Communist and Socialist Parties, conferring both with the CPP leadership and with Pedro Abad Santos, President of the SPP, on the matter.[14] Allen used the utmost diplomacy in making his case to Santos to bury tactical differences with the Communists and to accept merger in the interest of constructing a stronger organization in opposition to fascism.[15] Unity between the organizations was achieved at the 3rd National Congress of the Communist Party of the Philippines, held from October 29 to 31, 1938.[15]

Allen addressed this gathering, conveying the greetings of CPUSA General Secretary Earl Browder, who had himself been a Comintern representative to the Philippines in 1927.[15] The united organization temporarily took the cumbersome name "Communist Party of the Philippines (merger of the Communist and Socialist parties)" until later re-adopting the more simple "Communist Party of the Philippines" again.[15] Crisanto Evangelista was named National Chairman and Pedro Abad Santos Vice Chairman of the newly united organization.[15]

His mission accomplished, Allen returned to the United States and composed a long and detailed report on his trip, a document dated February 13, 1939.[13]

World War and Cold War[edit]

Allen was then assigned a position as the foreign editor of the Sunday Worker — a weekly newspaper launched in January 1936 as an effort to reach a broader audience than did the more intense and authoritative Daily Worker.[16] The Sunday Worker was edited by Al Richmond, who later remembered Allen as "a scholarly, serene man who did the serious political commentary and analysis."[16]

Allen was drafted into the United States Army in 1944.[1]

During the Cold War years Allen was compelled to appear as a witness before the House Un-American Activities Committee.[1]

On February 21, 1952, Allen was called before the Senate Judiciary Committee, chaired by Senator Pat McCarran of Nevada, in conjunction with its investigation of the Institute of Pacific Relations.[17]

During the 1956 to 1958 factional crisis in the Communist Party USA, Allen placed his allegiance with the hardline pro-Soviet wing against a dissident faction favoring liberalization of internal party life and a distancing of the American Communist movement from the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. When the leader of hardliners, Gus Hall, emerged triumphant and was named General Secretary of the CPUSA in 1958, Allen was elected to the party's governing Central Committee at the same time.[18] Allen was also tapped at that time to serve as secretary of the CPUSA's National Program Committee, in charge of developing programmatic and educational documents for the party, remaining in this position until 1966.[1] In this capacity, Allen helped develop early drafts of the party program.

While Allen staunchly the Soviet Union during its armed suppression of the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, he was critical of similar action in 1968 to down the Prague Spring in Czechoslovakia.[18] This perspective, expressed internally at closed meetings of the party leadership, put Allen at odds with Gus Hall and other top officials of the CPUSA. Since he did not express his opposition publicly Allen was not expelled from the Communist Party, but at the next National Convention of the organization in 1972 he was quietly removed from the Central Committee, effectively cashiering him from the ranks of top party leadership.[19]

Book publisher[edit]

From 1951, Allen was working for International Publishers (IP).[2] While Allen had briefly headed International Publishers during Trachtenberg's prosecution in the 1950s under the Smith Act,[20] he found IP in dire financial straits as he began his second stint as a publisher in 1962:

When I returned to IP in 1962 as president and editor-in-chief the house faced bankruptcy. Its publishing program had practically ceased, its debt to the publishers' services was so great without any prospect of payment in sight that the printers refused to undertake new work and the binders refused to release our books in stock. Fortunately, Trachty had some reserve funds that I drew upon immediately. I also arranged small loans from a number of our devoted readers. I also sent out an unprecedented appeal for donations to keep the publishing house going. We were thus able to meet the payroll and office expenses, and also to pay off enough of our debt to resume publishing.[21]

From 1962 to 1972 Allen headed IP, the Communist Party's publishing house.[1] Allen recalled that he initially did not wish to permanently enter the world of book publishing, having no background in business affairs and understanding that the occupation would leave little time for research and writing.[22] However, the retiring founder of International Publishers, Alexander Trachtenberg, had prevailed upon Allen to accept the position as chief of the financially troubled firm.[22]

At IP, Allen was responsible for introducing the production of a series of inexpensive "New World Paperbacks" which made reissues of classic Marxist canon more readily available to a new generation of political activists and college students.[23] During a cross-country sales trip Allen had been convinced that the book trade was coming to be dominated by the paperback format and that if IP were to survive in the new environment it would need to retool its offerings.[21] Old sets of book sheets not yet bound into covers were gathered up at the bindery, some having laid unused for years, and a new set of cover designs was commissioned.[24] Fifteen titles were thus assembled at minimal cost and launched en masse onto the market, promoted by a special catalog.[25] The inexpensive series gained ready acceptance in the market.[25]

Allen worked to expand the number of Black authors on International's list, reissuing works by W. E. B. Du Bois, personally editing the autobiography of Communist New York City Council member Benjamin J. Davis, Jr., and adding works by Henry Winston, Claude Lightfoot, and others.[26]

In 1968 Allen was selected as the American editor of the 50-volume Marx-Engels Collected Works project, a joint publishing project between International Publishers, Lawrence and Wishart in the United Kingdom, and Progress Publishers in Moscow.[23] The 3-way nature of the project was a product of the fact that the project had been proposed to Moscow more or less simultaneously by the Communist Party of Great Britain and the CPUSA.[27] Whereas interest in the project on the American side outside of Allen was tepid, the British assembled a team of top party intellectuals, headed by Maurice Cornforth, to work with the Soviet publishing agency to make the massive project a reality.[27]

Allen and Cornforth were instrumental in the decision to integrate the correspondence between Karl Marx and Frederick Engels with the mass of letters between each of these and other correspondents — a significant change from previously published editions in other languages.[27] The first volume of the edition saw print in 1975 and the 50th and final volume was ultimately published in 2004 — many years after Allen's death.[28]

In 1975, Lou Diskin took over the firm.[29]

Death and legacy[edit]

James S. Allen died in 1986.

Allen's papers are held by the Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives at New York University in New York City.[1] The collection includes approximately 1,500 pages of investigative documents dealing with Allen that were written over the years by special agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.[1] Also included is the manuscript of an unpublished memoir entitled "Visions and Revisions," part of which was published posthumously as Organizing in the Depression South: A Communist's Memoir in 2001.[1]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Peter Filardo and Elliot Silver, "Guide to the James S. Allen Papers, Tamiment LIbrary and Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives, New York University, New York City, 2002.
  2. ^ a b Chambers, Whittaker (1952). Witness. New York: Random House. pp. 241–242. LCCN 52005149. 
  3. ^ a b c d Robin D.G. Kelley, Hammer and Hoe: Alabama Communists During the Great Depression. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1990; pg. 16.
  4. ^ a b Mark Solomon, The Cry was Unity: Communists and African Americans, 1917-36. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1998; pg. 85.
  5. ^ Solomon, The Cry was Unity, pg. 192.
  6. ^ Peter Meyer Filardo, "Introduction" to James S. Allen, "Marxist Publisher," American Communist History, vol. 10, no. 3 (December 2011), pg. 287. According to Filardo, Ms. Allen relayed this fact to him personally in 1970 or 1971.
  7. ^ Kelley, Hammer and Hoe, pg. 17.
  8. ^ a b Solomon, The Cry was Unity, pg. 113.
  9. ^ Filardo, "Introduction" to "Marxist Publisher," pg. 287.
  10. ^ a b c d e Glenda Elizabeth Gilmore, Defying Dixie: The Radical Roots of Civil Rights, 1919-1950. New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 2008; pg. 119.
  11. ^ Gilmore, Defying Dixie, pg. 118.
  12. ^ Gilmore, Defying Dixie, pg. 120.
  13. ^ a b Philip J. Jaffe, The Rise and Fall of American Communism. New York: Horizon Press, 1975; pg. 174.
  14. ^ a b c d e f g Alfredo B. Saulo, Communism in the Philippines: An Introduction. Enlarged Edition. Manila: Anteneo de Manila University Press, 1990; pg. 27.
  15. ^ a b c d e Saulo, Communism in the Philippines, pg. 28.
  16. ^ a b Al Richmond, A Long View from the Left: Memoirs of an American Revolutionary. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1973; pg. 255.
  17. ^ Allen's testimony is found in Senate Judiciary Committee, Hearings, Institute of Pacific Relations — Part 13, pp. 2876–2896.
  18. ^ a b Allen, "Marxist Publisher," pg. 307.
  19. ^ Allen, "Marxist Publisher," pp. 307–308.
  20. ^ Allen, "Marxist Publisher," pg. 295.
  21. ^ a b Allen, Marxist Publisher, p. 301.
  22. ^ a b James S. Allen, "Marxist Publisher," American Communist History, vol. 10, no. 3 (December 2011), pg. 289.
  23. ^ a b Filardo, "Introduction" to "Marxist Publisher," pg. 288.
  24. ^ Allen, "Marxist Publisher," pp. 301–302.
  25. ^ a b Allen, "Marxist Publisher," pg. 302.
  26. ^ Allen, "Marxist Publisher," pg. 293.
  27. ^ a b c Allen, "Marxist Publisher," pg. 311.
  28. ^ Allen, "Marxist Publisher," pg. 310.
  29. ^ Lincove, David A. (2004). "Radical Publishing to 'Reach the Million Masses': Alexander L. Trachtenberg and International Publishers, 1906–1966" (Left History, vol. 10, no. 1 (Fall/Winter 2004). p. 87. 


Books and pamphlets[edit]

  • American Communism and Black Americans : A Documentary History, 1919–1929. Editor, with Philip S. Foner. Philadelphia : Temple University Press, 1987.
  • The American Negro. New York : International Publishers, 1932.
  • Atomic Energy and Society. New York, International Publishers, 1949.
  • Atomic Imperialism: The State, Monopoly, and the Bomb. New York, International Publishers, 1952.
  • The Cartel System. New York: International Publishers, n.d. [c. 1946].
  • The Crisis in India. New York: Workers Library Publishers, 1942.
  • Disarmament and the American Economy: A Symposium. Contributor, edited by Herbert Aptheker. New York: New Century Publishers, 1960.
  • The Economic Crisis and the Cold War: Reports. Edited with Doxey A. Wilkerson, introduction by William Z. Foster. New York: New Century Publishers, 1949.
  • The Lessons of Cuba. New York: New Century Publishers, 1961.
  • Marshall Plan: Recovery or War? New York: New Century Publishers, 1948.
  • Negro Liberation. New York : International Publishers, 1938.
  • The Negro Question in the United States. New York, International Publishers, 1936.
  • The Negroes in a Soviet America. With James W. Ford. New York: Workers Library Publishers, 1935.
  • On Democratic Centralism: Name and Form. n.c: n.p., n.d.
  • Organizing in the Depression South: A Communist's Memoir. Minneapolis: MEP Publications, 2001.
  • The Philippine Left on the Eve of World War II. Foreword by William Pomeroy. Minneapolis: MEP Publications, 1993.
  • The Radical Left on the Eve of War: A Political Memoir. Quezon City, Philippines: Foundation for Nationalist Studies, 1985.
  • Reconstruction: The Battle for Democracy (1865–1876). New York, International Publishers, 1937.
  • Smash the Scottsboro Lynch Verdict. New York : Workers Library Publishers, 1933.
  • Thomas Paine: Selections from his Writings. Editor. New York: International Publishers, 1937.
  • The United States and the Common Market. New York: New Century Publishers, 1962.
  • Who Owns America? New York, New Century Publishers, 1946.
  • World Cooperation for Post-War Prosperity. New York, New Century Publishers, 1945.
  • World Monopoly and Peace. New York, International Publishers, 1946.


  • "America and Neutrality," National Issues, vol. 1 (1939), pp. 13–16.
  • "American imperialism and the war," The Communist, vol. 18 (1939), pp. 1046–1053.
  • "The American Road to Socialism," Political Affairs, vol. 37 (1958), pp. 8–27.
  • "Awakening in the Cotton Belt," New Masses, vol. 8 (1932), pp. 11–12.
  • "The Black Belt: Area of Negro Majority," The Communist, vol. 13 (1934), pp. 581–599.
  • "Bretton Woods and World Security," The Communist, vol. 23 (1944), pp. 1078–1086.
  • "The Communist way out," Crisis, vol. 42 (1935), pp. 134–135.
  • "Democratic Revival and the Marxists," Masses & Mainstream, vol. 8 (1955), pp. 1–11.
  • "Enlightened American Imperialism in the Philippines," Political Affairs, vol. 25 (1946), pp. 526–540.
  • "The Far Eastern Front in the War against the Axis," The Communist, vol. 21 (1942), pp. 143–162.
  • "Farm Production for Defense," The Communist, vol. 20 (1941), pp. 910–916.
  • "The Farmers and the Struggle against the War Program," The Communist, vol. 19 (1940), pp. 628–648.
  • "Lenin and the American Negro," The Communist, vol. 13 (1934), pp. 53–61.
  • "The Negro Question," Political Affairs, 25 (1946), pp. 1132–1150.
  • "The New State in the Far East," Political Affairs, vol. 24 (1945), pp. 441–447.
  • "The New War Economy," Political Affairs, vol. 27 (1948), pp. 1055–1074.
  • "The Pacific Front in the Global War," The Communist, vol. 21 (1942), pp. 1012–1020.
  • "The Policy of Anti-Soviet Encirclement," Political Affairs, vol. 26 (1947), pp. 563–570.
  • "Problems of Foreign Policy," Political Affairs, vol. 36 (1957), pp. 19–31.
  • "Prologue to the Liberation of the Negro," The Communist, vol. 12 (1933), pp. 147–170.
  • "The Scottsboro Struggle,"The Communist, vol. 12 (1933), pp. 437–448.
  • "Some Lessons of the Fateful Decade," The Communist, vol. 22 (1943), pp. 258–265.
  • "The Soviet Nations and Teheran," The Communist, vol. 23 (1944), pp. 206–216.
  • "We Can Win in 1943," The Communist, vol. 22 (1943), pp. 680–687.
  • "The World Assembly at San Francisco," Political Affairs, vol. 24 (1945), pp. 291–301.
  • "Marxist Publisher," Peter Meyer Filardo (ed.), American Communist History, vol. 10, no. 3 (December 2011), pp. 285–315. —Excerpt from unpublished autobiography.