31 January 2013

Patrice Lumumba


African Revolutionary Writers, Part 3

Patrice Lumumba

This third part of our African Revolutionary Writers’ Series is dedicated to the “Uhuru Years” that followed the 1960 “Year of Africa”, when sixteen countries took their independence. In this instalment we feature Patrice Lumumba’s short, powerful, historic Independence Day speech of 30 June 1960 (attached).

In the Western Imperialist literature the independence of all of these countries has been recorded as a “granting” (e.g. thus: “Congo was granted independence by Belgium”). This contradictory view of what happened during the greatest worldwide political change in the 20th Century - the National Democratic Revolutions in the former colonial countries - mirrors the theme of Frederick Douglass’s most famous speech, (“If there is no Struggle, there is no Progress”) where Douglass says that “power concedes nothing without a demand”.

Lumumba’s speech is still famous for making the same point, and particularly because he made the speech in the presence of the monarch of the colonial power, King Baudouin of Belgium (grandson of the original colonist and butcher King Leopold). Baudouin had already spoken in a paternalistic and euphemistic manner at an earlier stage during the same event.

Lumumba at once spoke of struggle, and of victory, and he spoke frankly of the vicious colonialism which had been overcome by that struggle.

Congo at that time was on a par with South Africa as a wealthy, quickly-modernising African country. The subsequent history of the Congo has been a tragedy of neo-colonialism, including the martyrdom of Patrice Lumumba in the following year, 1961, and the imposition of the stooge dictator Mobutu who ruled until the 1990s.

It is absurd to suggest, as some Imperialist writers continue to do, that the neo-colonial reaction was Lumumba’s fault for being cheeky in front of the Belgian king. No-one must be allowed to forget that these words of Lumumba’s expressed the historical truth, as well as the feelings of millions of Africans at the time, and that these words needed to be said and had to be said, so that they can now be remembered and glorified again in the 21st Century while Africa gains its “second independence” born out of the struggle against neo-colonialism and Imperialism.

29 January 2013

Martin Luther King


African Revolutionary Writers, Part 2c

Martin Luther King

The attached “Beyond Vietnam” (download linked below) of the late Rev Martin Luther King Junior, is a classic. Nowadays it has become commonplace to refer to “international solidarity” as if it is both a narrow idea, and also a universal one.

But this concept that we have received and then stripped of its particularity, does actually have a tremendous and specific history whose meaning is not fully conveyed by the mere formula-phrase, “international solidarity”.

The anti-Imperialist struggle and the democratic struggle can and should be one. It is not a matter of charity of the rich to the poor. It is also not solely a matter of good-hearted and exceptional individuals, but there have indeed been such individuals, and there will be again. Martin Luther King was such a man.

What Martin Luther King describes, and justifies, is: “why I believe that the path from Dexter Avenue Baptist Church - the church in Montgomery, Alabama, where I began my pastorate - leads clearly to this sanctuary tonight.”

In other words, MLK at the meeting of the “Clergy and Laymen Concerned about Vietnam” in April, 1967, was preaching the intrinsic, organic unity of the struggle of the common people everywhere. It is not an artificial altruism but it is a unity of purpose, in concerted action against the single enemy: monopoly capitalist Imperialism; and it involves personalities, and actual events, and places.

Further than his literal message, there is also the extraordinary power and style of MLK’s oration. In September 1917, just prior to the Great October Russian Revolution that he led, Lenin spoke of “insurrection as an art”. It is an art that goes beyond the military, and encompasses all of our activities. Therefore when reading such a piece, one should regard them as a source of learning of the art of advocacy, which is part of the art of leadership, and essential to the art of insurrection.

Exactly one year after making this speech, King was gunned down by an assassin in Memphis, Tennessee, where he had gone to show solidarity for workers who were on strike there.

Picture: Rev. Martin Luther King, Junior, at the White House, Washington DC, USA

27 January 2013

Malcolm X


African Revolutionary Writers, Part 2b

Malcolm X

In this speech (“By Any Means Necessary”, attached), Malcolm X recalls the formation of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) and how inspiring it was to him. The speech goes on:

“So we have formed an organization known as the Organization of Afro-American Unity which has the same aim and objective-to fight whoever gets in our way, to bring about the complete independence of people of African descent here in the Western Hemisphere, and first here in the United States, and bring about the freedom of these people by any means necessary.

“That's our motto. We want freedom by any means necessary. We want justice by any means necessary. We want equality by any means necessary.”

The phrase “by any means necessary” is repeated throughout the speech, and it ends:

“We declare our right on this earth to be a man, to be a human being, to be respected as a human being, to be given the rights of a human being in this society, on this earth, in this day, which we intend to bring into existence by any means necessary.”

Other speeches of Malcolm X include (these are links to PDF downloads): “The Ballot or the Bullet”; “Message to the Grassroots”; and “Confronting White Oppression”. You can also find videos of Malcolm X on YouTube, and MP3 files of his speeches.

Malcolm X, a great revolutionary leader of his people, and an inspiring orator, (Barack Obama tries to fake Malcolm X’s style) was gunned down in 1965.

Reading these speeches confirms the close and active relationship that remained between the struggling masses in Africa and in America.

25 January 2013

Paul Robeson


African Revolutionary Writers, Part 2a

Paul Robeson

Paul Robeson was the Chairman of the Council on African Affairs, an organisation based in New York from 1937 until it was shut down by McCarthyism in 1955. W. E. B. Du Bois was vice-chair.

The Council on African Affairs was a vital link between the struggles of the African-Americans of the Americas, and the National Democratic Revolutions that were getting under way in those years, in Africa.

In the Council on African Affairs can be seen the historical and not just the theoretical unity between the descendents of the slaves that had been taken from Africa, and the people struggling for freedom from colonialism in Africa itself. The connection with the South African liberation struggle was direct, via Mr E. S. Reddy and Dr Yusuf Dadoo, among others.

It was a two-way street. Sometimes the African-American (and Afro-Caribbean) leadership was in front, and at other times the African example was to an extent impelling the trans-Atlantic struggles. This is the main reason why this body of literature, called “African Revolutionary Writers” does, and must of necessity, include many African writers from across the sea.

Paul Robeson himself was an extraordinary man who achieved excellence in many fields, including sport and scholarship, before becoming a star of the theatre and the cinema, and becoming a performing, recording and broadcasting artist as a singer.

The attached document can give a good idea of who Paul Robeson was and the role that he played in the liberation struggle, as well as among the people of the United States of America.

W. E. B. Du Bois


African Revolutionary Writers, Part 2

W. E. B. Du Bois

Dr W. E. B. Du Bois is a legend. How much is owed to this man’s life’s work is impossible to over-estimate. He began his political career in the 19th Century and went on through the 20th Century, eventually dying in independent Ghana, where he had gone to serve the revolution, although well into his 90s by that time.

Yet in spite of his eminence and the great amount that he wrote, it has been extremely difficult to find original documents of Du Bois’ on the Internet, especially documents that coincide with his leadership, together with Paul Robeson, of the Council on African Affairs, based in New York, after the anti-fascist war of 1939-1945, when the independence of African countries started to get under way. The first was Libya, on 24 December 1951.

Eventually a friend in New York sent the two rare documents that can be downloaded via the link below. What they at the very least demonstrate is the very broad consciousness that Du Bois had, together with his tremendous sense of history and of historical time.

The 1946 letter to the New York Times is evidence of the unique leadership that Du Bois gave on the national and colonial question, while the article on M. K. Gandhi shows his great understanding of all the difficulties.

Du Bois is also particularly famous for his role as an organiser and participant in several of the five Pan-African Conferences, especially the last one in Manchester in 1945.

19 January 2013

George Padmore


African Revolutionary Writers, Part 1c

George Padmore

George Padmore was born in Trinidad, in the West Indies. After studying in the USA he spent four or five years, from 1929, based in the Soviet Union, heading the Negro Bureau of the Communist International of Labour Unions (Profintern, or RILU). This organisation held a First International Conference of Negro Workers in Hamburg, Germany on July 7-8, 1930. South Africans W Thibedi and Moses Kotane were elected to the Executive Committee of the organisation at this conference.

In London from 1934, Padmore teamed up with his contemporary and fellow-Trinidadian C L R James, forming the International African Services Bureau.

Padmore organised the 5th Pan-African Congress, in Manchester, England, in 1945. This famous Congress was also attended by Kwame Nkrumah, W E B Du Bois, and Jomo Kenyatta, among others, including a young man called Norman Atkinson, who later became a Labour member of the British Parliament.

After Ghanaian independence in 1957, Padmore moved there to serve under Nkrumah, but died in 1959.

There is a web site dedicated to Padmore, here, and there is a section within the Marxists Internet Archive for Padmore, here.

Apart from the texts that we have of Padmore’s - such as in the attached document - for the purposes of this course Padmore’s story can serve to show that the many National Democratic Revolutions that subsequently took place in Africa had common, inter-twining roots, and those roots were not far from the Great October Revolution in Russia in 1917, the founding of the Communist International (Comintern) in 1919, and the founding of the Communist Party of South Africa in 1921.

As usual, the best remedy for the varying and contradictory interpretations that can be found of the life of a revolutionary like Padmore is to read the person’s own work. The downloadable selection given here contains work written in Padmore’s Profintern days, and also during the Anti-Fascist War when he was in Britain, anticipating the “dollar imperialism” that would follow that conflict.

Padmore brings us from the time of Sol Plaatje through the 1920s and 1930s to the war years and into the great post-war season of national liberation of colonies all over the world.

18 January 2013

Solomon Tshekisho Plaatje


African Revolutionary Writers, Part 1b

Solomon Tshekisho Plaatje

Sol Plaatje was the first Secretary-General of the African National Congress. He was a journalist and a novelist, among other things.

Attached is one of the Chapters of Plaatje’s “Native Life in South Africa” (1916). The full work can be found here.

Sol Plaatje also wrote the epic novel “Mhudi”, published in 1913. It does not appear to be on the Internet, but it does appear to be still available in hard copy.

17 January 2013

Toussaint L’Ouverture


African Revolutionary Writers, Part 1a

Toussaint L’Ouverture

Toussaint L’Ouverture – “Toussaint the Opening” – was the leader, both military and civilian, of the slave revolt in the French West Indian colony of “Saint Domingue”, which is now the Republic of Haiti.

Toussaint brought his country to the brink of independence. The constitution of which he was the author (download linked below), though not the constitution of an independent republic, was enough to lead to his capture, transportation to France, and death in captivity two years after its publication.

Toussaint’s successor, Dessalines, did achieve independence, though on harsh terms that crippled the country with “reparations” to the French Republic - one of the great scandals of history.

C L R James wrote a famous work about the Haitian revolution, calling the book “The Black Jacobins”. The title was a reference to the bourgeois take-over of the Great French Revolution that had taken place a few years earlier, the “Terror” under Robespierre, and the eventual bourgeois dictatorship that was the consequence of the revolution.

In other words the freed slaves became subordinated to a dictatorship of “their own” black bourgeoisie, of which Toussaint was one of the first. This was hardly surprising, and practically inevitable. The first dictatorship of the proletariat, the Paris Commune, was not seen until seventy years later, in 1871.

Even if a “Jacobin”, Toussaint was still an “Opening” in history, and one of the greatest of them.

The attached Haiti Constitution of 1801 is the best representation we have of Toussaint L’Ouverture’s writing.

Frederick Douglass


African Revolutionary Writers, Part 1

Frederick Douglass

This is the first main post of our new series of African Revolutionary Writers. As a rule, you will receive four instalments in each weekly part, over ten weeks, with each instalment highlighting one revolutionary writer. These are your regular political education posts for the first quarter of 2013. They are distinguished from other posts by the background colour, and are also clearly marked as “African Revolutionary Writers”.

We begin with a giant: Frederick Douglass.


The first part of this ten-part series on African Revolutionary Writers covers the period from slavery to Imperialism. The slave trade begun when Portuguese ships passed Cape Bojador on the coast of present-day Western Sahara in 1434, bringing them south of the great desert for the first time.

They immediately took slaves. These, the first slaves of the bourgeoisie, were sold to Spanish colonists on the Canary Islands, where the original inhabitants (the Guanches) had already been enslaved in situ and worked to extinction. The triangular slave-trade pattern: Portugal - Africa - Canary Islands - was soon afterwards scaled up to Britain - Africa - West Indies (or alternatively Brazil or North America). The Atlantic Slave Trade took slaves across the ocean via the “Middle Passage”, and brought back sugar, tobacco, cotton and other plantation-grown commodities.

Christopher Columbus crossed the Atlantic to the West Indies in 1492 and touched the continent of South America in 1498, the same year that Vasco da Gama reached India by the Cape sea route. By 1502 the trans-Atlantic slave trade was in full flow, first as a Portuguese monopoly, and later as a British monopoly.

Although Marx notes in “Capital” that capitalism began in the 1500s, yet for more than three centuries the dominant business of the Western European bourgeoisie was not capitalism, but the Atlantic slave trade, and the biggest operator in that business was Britain. This situation lasted until the capitalist “Industrial Revolution” of the late 1700s, also in Britain.

Only when the Western bourgeoisie made its turn towards capitalism did it become expedient for it to avail some blacks, released slaves, to create a literary genre called the “slave narrative”, as part of the capitalist campaign to suppress slavery. This was being done so as to make room for a new, more productive, exploited class: the wage-slaves or working proletariat.

An early example of the “slave narrative” genre is the work of Olaudah Equiano, who wrote a book about his “Interesting Life” as a slave and then rescued slave, published in 1789. These slave-narrative books tended not only to expose the evils of slavery, but also to praise Christianity and capitalism in equal measure, in order to flatter their sponsors and readers. But Frededrick Douglass took the genre to a new level, transcended it, and left an incomparable and permanent liberatory resource.


Frederick Douglass’s work was exceptional for the breadth and the rebellious fearlessness of his rhetoric. Douglass broke free from the limits of the slave narrative genre so as to begin to create a truly revolutionary black literature. This is why our series begins with him.

After escaping by train from twenty years of slavery, Douglass wrote an extraordinary slave narrative called My Bondage and My Freedom, first published in 1855. He included, in the same volume, a series of six transcripts of speeches or orations that he had given as a campaigner against slavery.

Slavery was abolished in the USA in 1865 at the end of the US Civil War, and ten years after the publication of Frederick Douglass’s book.

These six particular lectures of Douglass’s are contained in one of the two attached documents. “What to the slave is the Fourth of July?” is a famous one, but they are all outstanding. This was an orator!

Power concedes nothing without a demand

But the main reading, attached, is the most immortal of all of Frederick Douglass’s speeches, known as “If There Is No Struggle, There Is No Progress” from 1857, which contains the famous phrase: “Power concedes nothing without a demand.” If you read nothing else of Douglass’s, do read this extraordinary piece of revolutionary literature, for the good advice that it gives: power concedes nothing without a demand.

The American Civil War of 1861-1865 was an armed conflict between one part of the bourgeoisie and another. It represented the real capitalist revolution in the USA, when the specifically capitalist bourgeoisie gained its dictatorship over the slaveholding part, and also over the new proletariat that it had created. In this way the US bourgeois dictatorship that still exists today came into being.

For Africans, the global abolition of slavery was a relief after three centuries of terrible mass-scale atrocity. But the abolition of outright slavery also marked the beginning of wage slavery, and of military invasions, conquests, domination, plunder, settlement and colonialism, including a “scramble for Africa” in the second half of the 19th Century. In the second half of the 20th Century, globalist neo-colonialism followed.

African political writing tracked all these changes. In this week’s part we look briefly at the literature of the period of slavery and colonial expansion. In the next part, we will move into the literature of the post-WW2 era of decolonisation.

9 January 2013

Weapon of Theory


African Revolutionary Writers, Part 0

Weapon of Theory

Next week, the Communist University begins to post a ten-part course on African Revolutionary Writers. This will be the first of four ten-week courses to be run through this e-mail channel in 2013.

As usual, the CU gives you original texts, attached to a short introduction or “opening to discussion”. You are welcome to reply to the CU postings, continuing the discussion, or adding your own new comments on the text.

As a suitable introduction to the new course we are using Amilcar Cabral’s “Weapon of Theory”.

Cabral is the most profound and the most sublime of African Revolutionary writers. He is one of those Africans who contributed indispensable new lessons to the universal revolutionary legacy. “The Weapon of Theory” is relevant to our course as a whole, and to all our courses, for that matter. At a later stage in this course we will return to Amilcar Cabral and to the great single-volume compendium of his work called “Unity and Struggle”, recently republished in English in South Africa.

The Weapon of Theory

The Tricontinental Conference of the Peoples of Asia, Africa and Latin America was held in Havana in January, 1966, 46 years after the Baku Conference of the Peoples of the East and seven years after the Cuban Revolution.

Forty-eight more years have passed since the Tricontinental. A lot has been achieved in that time, including our South African democratic breakthrough, eighteen years ago, and the unbanning of the ANC, twenty-two years ago.

The full defeat of Imperialism has not yet occurred. What we can say is that from early in the 20th Century the historical agenda was set by the liberation movements, and that Imperialism represents the degeneration and the decline of bourgeois class power, and not its heyday.

The great political change in the world in the last century was the taking of sovereign independence by the formerly oppressed peoples of the former colonies, affecting the great majority of the population of the planet and opening the road of democracy for them.

This gigantic movement and huge change was achieved with the weapon of theory.

In 2013 with direct Imperialist armed aggression still taking place on the continent of Africa it is, however, clear that the struggle continues.

In this connection we can note that Amilcar Cabral, in the speech to the Tricontinental that has always been known by the title “The Weapon of Theory”, said the following:

“It is often said that national liberation is based on the right of every people to freely control its own destiny and that the objective of this liberation is national independence. Although we do not disagree with this vague and subjective way of expressing a complex reality, we prefer to be objective, since for us the basis of national liberation, whatever the formulas adopted on the level of international law, is the inalienable right of every people to have its own history, and the objective of national liberation is to regain this right usurped by imperialism, that is to say, to free the process of development of the national productive forces.

“For this reason, in our opinion, any national liberation movement which does not take into consideration this basis and this objective may certainly struggle against imperialism, but will surely not be struggling for national liberation.

“This means that, bearing in mind the essential characteristics of the present world economy, as well as experiences already gained in the field of anti-imperialist struggle, the principal aspect of national liberation struggle is the struggle against neo-colonialism.”

Amilcar Cabral was a true vanguardist. He was both a great leader, and a great intellectual.

The struggle against neo-colonialism continues.

  • A PDF file of the reading text is attached
  • To download the full African Revolutionary Writers course in PDF files, please click here