Detroit celebrates Red Books Day, marks Communist Manifesto anniversary
Attendees brows the book exchange table at the Red Books Day event in Detroit. | Heidi Uhlman / People's World

DETROIT—International Red Books Day falls on Tuesday, Feb. 21, and this year marks 175 years since the publication of The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx and Frederick Engels. Designated by the International Union of Left Publishers (IULP) in 2020 as the annual commemoration of Marx and Engels’ legacy, the purpose of Red Books Day is to “encourage people from around the world to go into public places, from the street to cafés and union halls, and read their favorite red books (including the Manifesto) in their own languages.”

Now, in 2023, socialist organizations around the globe host events in their communities to bring Red Books Day into public spaces. This movement has not stagnated in the U.S.—organizations like the People’s Forum in NYC and Red Ink Community Library in Providence, R.I., have planned a lineup of festivities, from art workshops and exhibitions to community readings of the Manifesto and educationals in honor of Red Books Day.

In Detroit, community organizations came together on Feb. 19 to celebrate and consider what the legacy of the Communist Manifesto means to them. Initiated by a grassroots literature distribution called Nox Library, and hosted at the historic Swords Into Plowshares Peace Center and Gallery, Detroit celebrated Red Books Day in light of its own legacy of working-class struggle.

Nox Library arranged a book exchange which encouraged people to bring a book from their personal collection and exchange it for one of the “red” books collected by Nox, including texts by writers such as Clara Zetkin, Claudia Jones, Vijay Prashad, Vladimir Lenin, Charisse Burden-Stelly, and more.

Red books lined up for trading. | Danielle Francisca / People’s World

To tie in the daily struggles of the working people of Detroit, a number of local organizations tabled to provide resources and information about their work. Among them were the Michigan Peace Council, Detroit Tenants Association, Young Communist League (YCL) Detroit, International Publishers, Labor Notes, Hey Y’all Detroit, and the Women’s + LGBTQ Committee of the Detroit Club of the Communist Party USA.

With the range of community members and organizations involved, Detroit’s Red Books Day celebration shined light on issues from tenants’ rights and labor organizing to the right-wing attack on LGBTQ rights and the terrors of U.S. imperialism.

Dr. Charisse Burden-Stelly, editor and author of Organize, Fight, Win: Selected Writings by Black Communist Women, paid tribute to the long list of Black communist women that have shaped progressive movements throughout history. Burden-Stelly read a passage of her book and emphasized the link between anti-communism and white supremacy—a relationship fostered by the far-right that hinders the progress of LGBTQ and Black liberation alike.

Also read: Ruling class still trembling as ‘Communist Manifesto’ turns 175

The Detroit Club of the CPUSA further echoed this point by bringing attention to current anti-trans legislation introduced in the Michigan Legislature in October 2022. House Bill 6454 seeks to charge parents and guardians with child abuse in the first degree should they consent to or assist with a gender transition procedure for a child.

“The LGBTQ community is among the groups of people especially oppressed by the capitalist ruling class. Trans rights are human rights, and we cannot achieve true liberation of all oppressed peoples without the liberation of trans and queer folks,” read one CPUSA document distributed.

Issues like these brought these groups together under the banner of Red Books Day.

Dr. Charisse Burden-Stelly speaks to attendees at the Detroit Red Books Day celebration. | Danielle Francisca / People’s World

The working people of Detroit are increasingly mobilizing, with mass action against the ruling class in the city in the offing. The Detroit Tenants Association is one example. DTA was formed in 2022 by tenants in the New Center neighborhood of the city in response to their landlord’s persistent pattern of evictions and neglect of building conditions.

The group expanded to become a city-wide resource for all Detroit renters, providing education on tenants’ rights and law in addition to eviction defense support. It’s a grassroots cohort of working-class people defending and empowering themselves against predatory landlords.

The Detroit chapter of the Young Communist League is another example. The YCL Detroit ardently carries on the legacy of Marx and Engels’ call to action. The group of young workers has a continued relationship with community initiatives like the DTA and works to bridge the gap between civic issues facing the working class and mass political action.

They do this through educationals, rallies, and injecting a radical perspective at city council meetings. In 2022, the YCL campaigned for voting rights and helped people in Detroit register and learn about the process of voting.

All the organizations which participated in the Red Books Day Event in Detroit embody the struggle and unity of the working class. This was especially apparent during a brief reading of the Communist Manifesto when the words of Marx and Engels resonated with listeners because of a common experience based on class antagonisms.

Both participants and attendees walked away with a newfound appreciation for each other and the movements they are building—the chance to walk away with a new book was an added bonus.


Danielle Francisca
Danielle Francisca

Danielle Francisca is a Mexican-American community organizer from Detroit and Chicago.