October 28, 1893
February 20, 1961
Otto Huiswoud (sometimes spelled Huiswood) was born in 1893 in Suriname, the grandson of a slave. In 1912 he moved to the United States, where he worked as a trader in tropical products and, later, as a printer in Harlem. He then became involved with American socialist and Negro organizations. His earliest known affiliation was with a group surrounding the Messenger, a monthly magazine established by A. Philip Randolph (1889–1979) and Chandler Owen (1889–1967) and published from 1917 to 1928. While urging American negroes to support the Russian Revolution, this group's leaders rejected the Communists' greater emphasis on class struggle, rather than on racism, in addressing the plight of blacks. Also associated with the Messenger were Cyril Briggs and Richard B. Moore, who in 1919 founded a nationalist organization called the African Blood Brotherhood, which Huiswoud also joined briefly. He accompanied its more radical members when they left the Messenger group and joined the American Communist Party, which was just taking shape.
Huiswoud is most often mentioned as the first black member of the Communist Party USA. In 1922 he was a member of the American delegation to the Fourth Congress of the Communist International (Comintern). While there, he was elected an honorary member of the Moscow City Council and had a rare audience with Lenin, who was already mortally ill. Huiswoud was elected to the Central Committee of the Communist Party USA, and later to the Executive Committee of Comintern. In 1927 he studied at the Lenin School in Moscow, one of the political institutions founded to train elite communist leaders. Comintern then assigned him as its primary organizer for the Caribbean region. At the meeting of the Sixth Comintern Congress in 1928 he was one of the several black delegates who helped formulate the official policy on nationalism, urging creation of independent black soviet republics in the southern United States and in southern Africa. This policy, called "Self-Determination in the Black Belt," stressed that the "Negro question" had to be viewed as primarily a class question related to colonialism and not as a race question. It was adopted despite having scant support from black delegates. Two years later Huiswoud openly challenged this position in an article titled "World Aspects of the Negro Question," published in the February 1930 issue of The Communist.
Another important post with Comintern followed in 1934 when he became the editor of the Negro Worker, the organ of the International Trade Union Committee of Negro Workers. In this he succeeded the Trinidadian George Padmore (1902–1957) the founder of the Negro Worker, who was expelled from the Communist Party for failing to follow the party line. This monthly had been based in Hamburg, but flight from the Nazis prompted moves to Copenhagen and then Paris from 1936 to 1938. During these years Huiswoud and his British-Guianese wife, H. A. Dumont, traveled through the European cities with uncertainty concerning the welcome they would receive from nervous local authorities. In 1935 they were in the Netherlands, only to move back to New York in 1938, then back to Suriname in 1941, when Huiswoud's health required a warmer climate. Upon his arrival in Paramaribo in January, however, the authorities arrested him without charges and detained him for twenty-two months in an internment camp whose mixed population of Nazis, Jewish refugees, and antifascists reflected the political uncertainty common to a number of European colonies during World War II. After the war, he and his wife moved finally to the Netherlands. There he took a job with PTT, the national communications company, and he was a leader in the Surinamer community, serving for years as president of the nationalistic association Ons Suriname (Our Suriname), and collaborating with the two other main like-minded groups, Wie Eegie Sanie (Our Own Things) and the Surinaamse Studenten Vereniging (The Surinamer Student Union). He died in the Netherlands in 1961.
Huiswoud, Otto E. "World Aspects of the Negro Question." The Communist (February 1930): 132–147.
Oostindie, Gert. "Kondreman in Bakrakondre." In In het land van de overheerser, edited by Gert Oostindie and E. Maduro. Dordrecht, Germany: Floris, 1986.
Solomon, Mark. The Cry Was Unity: Communists and African Americans, 1917-1936. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1998. Van Enckevort, Maria Gertrudis. "The Life and Work of Otto
Huiswoud: Professional Revolutionary and Internationalist (1893-1961)." Ph.D. diss., University of the West Indies, Mona Campus, 2000.
allison blakely (2005)