by Richard Wright
Ah, the Communists. These guys are Lenin fan boys. They walk, talk, dress, and act just like Dear Leader over in Mother Russia even though they were born and raised in the good ol’ US of A. They "rolled their ‘r’s’ in Continental style, pronouncing ‘party’ as ‘parrrtee,’" and "stood straight, threw back their heads, brought the edge of the right palm down hammerlike into the outstretched left palm in a series of jerky motions to pound their points home" (2.16.129). Basically, big old poseurs.
Except they’re not just silly. They’re dangerous. They follow the old Soviet rulebook to the letter, and anyone who tries to do otherwise is a traitor. They want to be the heroes of the oppressed, but they don’t actually know any oppressed people. They want to lead the masses, but they refuse to speak their language, saying that they’ll "have to learn the symbolism of the revolution" (2.18.70). If these are the guys leading the Revolution, then it’s no wonder Communism didn’t get much of a foothold in America.
Every group of bullies needs a head honcho, and Buddy is it for the Communist party in Chicago. He comes with an impressive resume: he’s made speeches in the Kremlin, spoken to Stalin, and was basically in charge of everything related to black people for the Communist party (2.19.259). In other words, he’s a big deal.
Before we meet him, we expect to see this big shot. He has this sparkling pedigree and he has been dragging Richard’s name through the mud—specifically, he’s been calling Richard a "petty bourgeois degenerate" (2.19.230), and Richard is as baffled by what that means as we are. But it’s pretty scary sounding, so we’re shaking in our boots when Richard heads off to meat him.
Man, are we disappointed when we meet him. He’s nothing more than a sleazeball. He’s greasy, sweaty, and nervous, with an "ever-ready smile, thick lips, a furtive manner, and a greasy, sweaty look" (2.19.258). When he meets Richard, he "snorts" and bursts "into a loud, seemingly causeless laugh" (2.19.259). No wonder that Richard refuses to play along.
Ed Green is a blockhead. Sorry, there’s no way around it: he’s the muscle of the group, not the brains. Richard describes him as "organically capable of only the most elementary reactions. His fear-haunted life made him suspicious of everything that did not look as he looked, that did not act as he acted, that did not talk as he talked, that did not feel as he felt" (2.19.135). And that little eulogy there is probably more dignity than Ed Green has gotten in his whole life.
Ross is Richard’s subject for his biography project, and no wonder: he’s under indictment for inciting a riot, and he’s gotten on the bad side of the Communists. In other words, someone Richard can relate to.
To Richard, he seems like "a bundle of the weaknesses and virtues of a man struggling blindly between two societies, of a man living on the margin of a culture" (2.19.29). Again, just like Richard. Not exactly into black culture, but not stoked about trying to act white.
But there’s a key difference. Richard is on the bad side of the Communists, and he decides to stand up for himself. Ross doesn’t have the same courage that Richard does. After Ed Green interrogates him, Ross clams up. In the end, he pleads guilty to all charges and scurries back into the warm embrace of the party.
Here’s a funny story to lighten up the unrelenting awfulness that Richard encounters every time he steps outside. One night, a guy shows up at one of the party meetings and asks if he can join their club. He is skinny, confused, and doesn’t answer half of their questions, but, hey, half of them are skinny and confused.
Did we mention that he has no money and wants to sleep on the couch in the club?
From these inauspicious beginnings, Young becomes a respected member of the party. Everyone admires his artwork, although Richard admits that the paintings are way over his head. (Hey, that just means they’re good.)
And then he accuses one the club’s top artists of treachery: he’s an "opportunist, a collaborator with the police, and"—worst of all—"an adherent of Trotsky" (2.18.89). The trial nearly splits the club apart, until, just as suddenly as he appeared, Young disappears.
Surprise: Young was actually an escaped mental patient, and he disappeared because his facility finally caught up with him. Gee, Richard thinks, what does it say about the Communist party and its members, that an institutionalized man rose to the top of their organization? In his own words: "what kind of club did we run that a lunatic could step into it and help run it?" (2.18.110).
Well, Dick, probably nothing good.