Capitalism, Communism, and the Political Trial

In the very first scenes following Bigger’s arrest, it is clear that his criminal trial is already politicized. Two of his first visitors are Jan, Mary’s boyfriend who introduced Bigger to Communism in “Fear,” and Max, another member of the Communist Party who wishes to represent Bigger as his defense attorney. While both Jan and Max hope to help Bigger seemingly out of empathy for his situation, they have political motivations as well. Max even tells the State’s attorney Buckley, “If you had not dragged the name of the Communist Party into this murder, I’d not be here,” (292). Max wants the people of Chicago to realize that the Communist Party is not at fault for what Bigger did, but rather broken American systems are the enemy, which he believes Communism could fix. Max is defending not only Bigger but Max’s political party too. Buckley, on the other hand, is resolved to convict both. When questioning Bigger and Jan, he repeatedly attempts to implicate Jan and the broader Communist Party in Mary’s death. In doing so, he works to protect the racist, capitalist status quo, represented by the Daltons and him. While Mr. Dalton may think his charity work has absolved him of his racism, Max’s cross examination of Mr. Dalton reveals the wealthy man’s unwillingness to help Black communities on a more impactful level. Despite being aware of their destitute living conditions, he refuses to charge them less rent because that would be “underselling [his] competitors” (328). Mr. Dalton’s reasoning illustrates how capitalism enables, and is, in some cases, used to justify racism. 

Meanwhile, the Communists, Jan and Max, show Bigger compassion. When Jan reaches out to Bigger despite what he did to Mary, “for the first time in [Bigger’s] life, a white man became a human being to him” (289). Through Jan and Max, Communism is associated with equality and humanity. During the immense pressure of his cross-examination, Jan sticks to his ideals when asked about Black people. Buckley incredulously asks, “You like Negroes?” as Jan says he “make[s] no distinctions,” telling Buckley directly that Bigger “is human” (320-321). Max repeatedly objects to the relevance of Buckley’s racist, political questions, but to no avail. The trial is not just between the government and Bigger, but between capitalism and Communism. By drawing such a distinction, Wright describes capitalism as an institution that allows racism to persist, while Communism is portrayed as an answer to modern civilization’s deepest problems.