During this election cycle the subject of socialism looms large.
The “squad” and Bernie are tarnished anew with epithets and the Democratic Socialists of America are seeing mounting victories across the land. In this regard, HotHouse is hosting a fall series looking at the impact of American Socialism in a variety of cultural product. On Whose Shoulders coincides with the 100th anniversary of the CPUSA ( Communist Party ) and takes particular interest in the cultivation of women and minority leadership development in an era before the civil rights campaigns that are most often in the spotlight
In 2018, HotHouse curated the multi-disciplinary exhibition The Tricontinental ‘66 And Other Acts of Liberation at the Stony Island Arts Bank. The exhibition explored the concept of internationalism through the lens of cultural production. This new series advances some of the same ideas and is designed in part to comment upon the de facto disregard of “communism” as it is dismissed out of hand in the US- and how this disregard limits robust political discourse and debate as well as learning instructive lessons from global history.
Acknowledging the 100th anniversary of the Communist Party USA (CPUSA) “On Whose Shoulders” seeks to excavate the voices and political initiatives of the CPUSA from its foundational years- “The Red Century”. The organizers of the series are particularly keen to reflect upon American grown Communism – a movement that grew out of what the historian Robin D. G. Kelley, the author of “Hammer and Hoe: Alabama Communists During the Great Depression,” calls “the most despised and dispossessed elements of American society.” It was the black workers drawn to the party, Professor Kelley argues, who shaped its political choices as much as the varying dictates that came from the Communist International, Moscow’s directorate for foreign parties.
On Whose Shoulders presents a series of films and audio documents regarding the development of the US working class, the cultural output of the party’s members, the key organizing drives and major galvanizing campaigns in an era prior to the civil rights era.
While most of what passes for discussion of the CPUSA is criticism (both from the right and the left), organizers of “On Whose Shoulders” are foregrounding elements of history that are often obscured by the predominance of this denunciation. Our project focuses primarily on the participation of African-American and women cadre who, early in the 20th century, emerged as rank-and-file leaders and visionary voices for justice in the broader radical struggle. Here we are emphasizing the party’s contribution to racial and gender equality, and its outsized commitments to internationalism and civil rights. The exhibition organizers have produced cultural programming that interrogate how the Communist Party’s mission produced and influenced the century’s broader political and cultural landscape and how that mission effectively fed an iterative progressive political culture.
This series will be produced in multiple venues across Chicago in fall of 2019. It was organized by an ad hoc committee of scholars, community organizers and cultural workers under the direction of Marguerite Horberg for HotHouse.
About the series:
Twenty-two feature films and documentaries look at 20th century communism and related movements. The programs are presented across the city in five separate screening venues in collaboration with our partners; The Rebuild Foundation; Chicago Film Society; Co-Prosperity Sphere; the Illinois District of the Communist Party USA, filmfront, South Side Projections, Puffin West and CANTV. Special thanks to Peter Kuttner, co-curator and to Judy Hoffman, Eric Torres and Floyd Webb for their contributions to the project.