27 February 2013

Ngugi wa Thiong’o, academic


African Revolutionary Writers, Part 6c

Ngugi wa Thiong’o

Ngugi the Academic

Ngugi’s (attached) essay “The Writer in a Neo-colonial State”, first published in 1986 in a publication called “The Black Scholar”, and subsequently as part of the 1993 book “Moving the Centre”, helps this project of ours considerably.

Ngugi taught at Nairobi University and later in the USA. As much as he is a novelist, he has also been an academic.

In this essay Ngugi takes a long look back over the period from the end of the Second World War, and divides it roughly into three - the fifties, the sixties, and the seventies; liberation struggle; victory and independence; and neo-colonialist reaction. He considers the way that the literature affected these passages of history, and was affected by them

We have not used such a schema, nor did we start with the Second World War, but Ngugi’s overview does chime in with our series to an extent. Clearly, in nearly all the countries of Africa, neo-colonialism has taken hold, and maintained its grip. Ngugi problematised it in his way, and so have we, in our way.

In 2011, a quarter of a century after Ngugi’s essay was written, an African country – Libya - has been attacked by the imperialists with full-scale military force, bombed, shelled, rocketed and invaded. Libya was the first country in Africa to become independent after the world wars, and it was the only one to have achieved parity, in its general standard of living, with the European countries on the other side of the Mediterranean Sea from Africa.

Now Libya is being catastrophically underdeveloped. Neo-colonialism is still with us but now armed, brutal, direct, naked colonialism is back, as well.

There is an immense amount of wisdom in Ngugi’s essay. Do, please, read it.

Ngugi concludes: “as the struggle continues and intensifies, the lot of the writer in a neo-colonial state will become harder and not easier.”

This is our lot. For as much as heroes have gone before, and for as much as the written record is priceless and indispensable, yet we who remain will have to do it all again, and in conditions of even greater difficulty. We have no right to expect less, or to expect less of ourselves.

25 February 2013

Alex La Guma


African Revolutionary Writers, Part 6b

Alex La Guma

Among the revolutionary writers of Africa, the South African novelist Alex La Guma started relatively early. He was only two years younger than Ousmane Sembène (and died 22 years before Sembène).

The attached document contains two chapters from La Guma’s 1972 book “In the Fog of the Season's End”. Clearly it is a struggle novel: tough, realistic and committed.

Alex La Guma’s works included A Walk in the Night and Other Stories, (1962), And a Threefold Cord (1964), The Stone-Country (1967), In the Fog of the Season's End (1972), A Soviet Journey (1978), Time of the Butcherbird (1979).

Alex La Guma was the son of the outstanding South African revolutionary James La Guma, a member of the Communist Party of South Africa from the year that his son Alex was born – 1925.

It is hard to exaggerate the importance of work like this in the liberation struggle. It is work that leaves no doubt. The reader is compelled. As much as, or more than, the propaganda output of the liberation movement, the communist parties, and the anti-apartheid solidarity movements in the world, novels such as these planted an anchor for the struggle that could not be shifted.

These books need to be read; and new books need to be written, songs sung, pictures painted, et cetera, et cetera, to anchor the struggle again in such a way that it cannot be doubted. This is what Alex La Guma, among other novelists, did. He anchored the revolution in the hearts of the people.

22 February 2013

Ngugi wa Thiong’o


African Revolutionary Writers, Part 6a

Ngugi wa Thiong’o

Ngugi the Novelist

The attached document is the final Chapter of Ngugi wa Thiongo’s great novel, “Petals of Blood”.

Like Ousmane Sembène’s masterpiece, “God’s Bits of Wood”, “Petals of Blood” is a novel of struggle, with many characters. The last chapter debriefs the main characters, one by one.

“God’s Bits of Wood” was set in the past. “Petals of Blood” imagines a future, or a sequel to independence, a kind of “development”, in various senses of the word. The imaginary new town of “Ilmorog” becomes a patchwork, or a concretisation, of different elements of Kenya life in the time of neo-colonialism.

Ngugi was detained without trial in 1977 for a year. Even in his fictional work it is clear that Ngugi is a committed revolutionary, with quite a thorough grasp of revolutionary theory.

This is one of many books of Ngugi’s, and Ngugi is one of many African writers. Those who were relatively more artistic and less politically organised have also been a strong part of the liberation movement.

In this series of ours, Eduardo Mondlane’s writing has already shown how significant have been the artistic productions in the anti-colonial struggles.

In the neo-colonial anti-imperialist struggle the artists are equally as crucial, and perhaps, as writers, they are under even greater pressure.

A new generation of anti-imperialist artists and writers is now needed.

21 February 2013

Ousmane Sembène


African Revolutionary Writers, Part 6

Ousmane Sembène

The 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, when the majority of African former colonies regained their national sovereignty, were also the boom years for the paperback book-publishing business worldwide. Companies such as Penguin Books and Heinemann popularised many African authors in English or in English translation during this time.

Ousmane Sembène’s 1960 “God’s Bits of Wood”, written in French and first published only 15 years after the end of the anti-fascist world war, has an outstanding place in the history of the African revolutionary novel. The download linked below contains characteristic extracts from the novel.

As you will see later in this course, Ngugi wa Thiong’o mentioned “God’s Bits of Wood” in the final chapter of his great novel “Petals of Blood”, and also in his famous essay “The Writer in a Neo-colonial State”.

The novel is about a strike among railway workers on the line between Dakar, Senegal, and Bamako, Mali, in the time of the French colonial empire, and based on a real strike that took place in 1947. It is a wonderful story, full of characterisation, events and atmosphere, and optimistic, full of hope. Large parts of “God’s Bits of Wood”can be read on Google Books.

Ousmane Sembène was also an outstanding film-maker. According to his Wikipedia entry, “he realized that his written works would only be read by a small cultural elite in his native land. He therefore decided at age 40 to become a film maker, in order to reach wider African audiences.” For similar reasons, Ngugi was later to return to writing in his native language, Kikuyu.

Ousmane Sembène died in his eighties, in 2007.

Did the African writers create a “genre”? At least one could say that they were typically open and keen to portray life and personalities as they were. They represented a revolutionary, generally optimistic (but sometimes tinged with disillusion) popular imagination that was widespread in those years, at least among African intellectuals. One of the highlights of those years was “FESTAC”, The Second World African Festival of Arts and Culture, held in Nigeria in 1977, where the young Fela Kuti played, among others.

Is there continuity today? No. It is not the same today. Culture is now more “globalised”, as a result of a reactionary, neo-liberal offensive. The paperback book does not have the same high place in popular culture as it did in the past. The sense of a general African anti-Imperialist popular cultural wave has lost some of its momentum, for the time being.

But we are working on the problems! And Ousmane Sembène’s masterpiece, “God’s Bits of Wood”, remains an inspiration to us.

17 February 2013

Comrade Mzala


African Revolutionary Writers, Part 5c

Comrade Mzala

“Cooking the Rice Inside the Pot” (attached) by Comrade Mzala (Jabulani Nxumalo) was written in 1985, the year of the ANC’s Kabwe (Zambia) conference.  

It is our final item in Part 5 of the African Revolutionary Writers series.

Sixteen years after the Morogoro conference, and nine years after the 1976 events in which Mzala himself took part, victory was clearly certain, yet the path still had to be understood and pressed forward with determination and vigour.

What Mzala shows, and this is even more clear when taken together with the writings of Moses Kotane, Govan Mbeki and Oliver Tambo that we have used in this series, is that the armed struggle initiated on 16 December 1961 was crucial.

Any criticism of the armed struggle as such, whether it concentrates on MK or on any particular operations, misses the point that is made crystal clear by Mzala. The rice was always going to be cooked inside the pot, i.e. inside the country. The armed struggle was the way back to the “pot”. Both by example as well as by direct contact, the adoption of armed struggle by the ANC (which was also a turning away from “passive resistance”) was essential. If there had been contradiction between the liberation movement and the popular masses on this point, it could have been disastrous.

The point is made very strongly when Mzala quotes Che Guevara thus: “…guerrilla warfare is war by the entire people against the reigning oppression. The guerrilla movement is their armed vanguard; the guerrilla army comprises all the people of a region or country.”

Mzala even finds support for his argument from a “racist general”, writing in the Johannesburg “Star” in 1973, saying: “The objective for both sides in a revolutionary war is the population itself . . . military tactics and hardware are all well and good, but they are really quite useless if the government has lost the confidence of the people among whom it is fighting.”

Mzala, writing in anticipation of victory, is careful to note that the popular masses cannot be taken for granted, illustrating this caution by reference to the Spanish experience.

But for us, now looking at the armed struggle in retrospect, this text is a powerful reminder of its crucial necessity and the central part that it has played in South Africa’s liberation, to date.

Comrade Mzala was the author of the book “Gatsha Buthelezi - Chief with a Double Agenda”, published by Zed Books in 1988. An account of the attempted suppression of that book in South Africa from 1991 can be downloaded here (556 KB PDF).

There is a short biography of Jabulani Nxumalo on the SACP web site here, and an obituary written shortly after his death by Brian Bunting, here.

The Communist University’s “Mzala” archive is here.

15 February 2013

Oliver Tambo


African Revolutionary Writers, Part 5b

Oliver Tambo

This thoroughly confident speech of O R Tambo’s in December 1969 (attached) was made not long after the ANC’s Conference in May of that year that had adopted the famous Strategy and Tactics document.

After the banning of the ANC in 1960, an equal or greater set-back had been the arrest of the top revolutionary leadership at Lilieasleaf Farm, Rivonia, Johannesburg on 11th July 1963, including Govan Mbeki who featured here yesterday.

The 1960s, we can see now, were far from being an interlude. What was laid down in those years is what was going to come to pass. That meant, in Tambo’s words, that “the enemy is headed for inevitable and ignominious defeat.”

The speech was broadcast on the anniversary of the formation of Umkhonto we Sizwe, the “new national army” as Tambo called it.

Tambo’s typically broad historical sweep, in this short speech, includes an acknowledgement of PAIGC, the revolutionary liberation movement led at the time at the time by another in this series, Amilcar Cabral, which was about to achieve a stunning victory.

The unbanning of the ANC and the return of Tambo to South Africa were not achieved until more than twenty years later. Yet it is easy to see why the ANC used to say in those years: “Victory is Certain!”

In the next and last item in this fifth part of our African Revolutionary Writers series we will see, through the eyes of Comrade Mzala (Jabulani Nxumalo), how the theory and practice of armed and political struggle drew inexorably towards its goal.

These four pieces of writing from “Africa’s Oldest Liberation Movement”, taken together, should leave no doubt as to the systematic and deliberate nature of the ANC’s project, and the all-round exemplary way in which it has been carried out, to date.

You can read more of O R Tambo’s speeches here.

Govan Mbeki


African Revolutionary Writers, Part 5a

Govan Mbeki

The main item today is Chapter 7, “The New Offensive: The ANC after 1949”, from “The Struggle for Liberation in South Africa” by Govan Mbeki, published in 1992 (attached).

Right at the beginning of this chapter Mbeki recalls the joint ANC/CPSA protest against the Suppression of Communism Act on May Day 1950, and the massacre of 18 people on that day by the National Party regime that had come to power in 1948. This is something South Africans should always remember on the May Day holiday each year.

Consequent to this massacre, 26 June 1950 was observed with a stay-away as Freedom Day. Freedom Day was observed again when the Defiance of Unjust Laws campaign was launched in 1952 and again in 1955 when the Freedom Charter was adopted on that date at the Congress of the People in Kliptown.

Note that 26 June, our original Freedom Day, having to do with the protests against the banning of the Communist Party - is not a Public Holiday in South Africa. 24 September was made a public “Heritage Day” holiday at the insistence of the Inkatha Freedom Party (see here).

Govan Mbeki concludes this chapter with a very good section on the “Africanists”, in terms of events in which he himself, as he records, was involved in a major capacity. The first occasion was when the Africanists tried to hi-jack the ANC leadership from the Treason Trialists, taking advantage of the fact that they were locked up.

“Black exclusivism,” says Mbeki, “presents a misguided solution”.

“What has characterised all groups that claimed to be opposed to government policies - groups that either broke away from the ANC like the PAC, or others like the Liberal Party, Unity Movement (NEUM), Inkatha and Black Consciousness Movement - has been that instead of opposing the government directly, they have mounted campaigns aimed at thwarting those initiated by the ANC,” writes Mbeki, and proceeds to tell the whole Sharpeville story, when 69 people were shot, fifty years ago, on 21 March 1960; and then he relates the immediate aftermath.

“At a meeting of the joint executives of the Congress Alliance in June 1961, the situation was reviewed and a decision was taken that in all future stay-at-homes, the possibility of the use of force could not be excluded,” writes Mbeki

To read Govan Mbeki’s book on-line, click here.

The question of armed struggle was settled by the formation of Umkhonto we Sizwe on 16 December of that year, 1961.  In tomorrow’s item we will see how O R Tambo, as the President-General of the ANC, reflected upon all this heritage in 1969, which was also the year of the ANC’s Morogoro Conference, where the original “Strategy and Tactics” document was adopted.

14 February 2013

Moses Kotane


African Revolutionary Writers, Part 5

Moses Kotane

The African National Congress of South Africa is sometimes called “Africa’s Oldest Liberation Movement”. In this limited series we are not attempting a comprehensive sampling of the abundant South African Revolutionary writing. But in this part we will look at four South African revolutionary writers, together.

Starting with Moses Kotane, we go on to Govan Mbeki, Oliver Tambo and “Comrade Mzala” (Jabulani Nxumalo). The first is a letter, the next is a book chapter, the third a radio broadcast script, or transcript, and the fourth is an article for the ANC publication “Sechaba”.

It is a mistake to think that Kotane’s famous “Cradock Letter” (download linked below) was the origin of the Africanisation of the Communist Party of South Africa. The well-known Black Republic Thesis, imposed on the South African Party by the Comintern, was far earlier in time (1927-1928). From soon after its founding in 1921 the CPSA had been a majority-black Party, though this was not always reflected in the top leadership, and especially not in the beginning.

But Kotane’s plain and direct 1934 letter does perhaps mark a real turning point because of the impact that it had, and because of the consequences. Kotane became General Secretary of the Party in 1939, and then of the SACP, and remained in that office until his death in 1978. He was also Treasure-General of the ANC for several years.

Kotane worked hard to make the Alliance between the Party and the ANC a solid and permanent one, and his name is historically associated with the Party’s approach to the National Question, which has been so influential in South African history up to the present time.

Here is Kotane’s even shorter summary of his short letter from Cradock:

“My first suggestion is that the Party become more Africanised or Afrikanised, that the CPSA must pay special attention to S Africa, study the conditions in this country and concretise the demands of the toiling masses from first hand information, that we must speak the language of the Native masses and must know their demands. That while it must not lose its international allegiance, the Party must be Bolshevised, become South African not only theoretically, but in reality, it should be a Party working in the interests and for the toiling people in S Africa and not a party of a group of Europeans who are merely interested in European affairs.”

The book from which this text was taken (“South African Communists Speak”1981) gives the following note below the “Cradock Letter”:

“The Independent African National Congress (Cape) had been formed in 1931 by Elliot Tonjeni and other left-wing members who had been driven out of the Cape ANC by the dictatorial action of the chairman ‘Professor' Thaele. Tonjeni had been banished to the Eastern Cape by Justice Minister Pirow, and the Independent ANC drew most of its support from country branches in the region.”

Taken all together, the four pieces of writing in this part should provide a good outline of South African revolutionary history, and a good sampling of the South African revolutionary writing style.

12 February 2013

Ruth First


African Revolutionary Writers, Part 4c

Ruth First

Ruth First was a revolutionary leader, in her own right, of the Young Communist League of South Africa, of the Communist Party of South Africa before it was banned in 1950, of the Congress of Democrats, in all the campaigns of the 1950s, and in the clandestine South African Communist Party, before and after being forced into exile in the 1960s.

Ruth First was a lifelong militant of South Africa’s liberation movement, and a martyr to its cause.

But also, Ruth First wrote seriously and profoundly about other countries than her own, and about the African countries in general from the point of view of a scholar, teacher and journalist.

Aquino de Bragança, the Director of the Centre of African Studies where Ruth First had been co-Director at the time she was slain by the South African bomb, wrote after her death of “her personal struggle to unite political militancy and intellectual work”. It is clear that she excelled in both ways.

Revolutionary leaders need to be readers, and also to be writers. Ruth First’s work shows why.

Of the two linked items, the chapter from Ruth First’s book “Black Gold” called “Workers or Peasants?” is the one that relates to Mozambique. Ruth First’s work in other countries was not unrelated to the South African struggle. This particular summary reveals in a way that becomes shocking, the awful effect of South Africa’s predatory relationship with Mozambique on that country as a whole, and on the migrant labourers and their families in particular.

Ruth First draws some conclusions, which might at this stage be challenged, concerning the co-operatisation of rural Mozambique as a component of socialism, or more broadly, of “development”.

It might be that a better course would have been to simply guarantee a market to the peasants, and then to let them organise themselves within that secure market environment, whether through co-operatives or in diverse other ways. In other words, there may have been more than the two ways to go that Ruth First describes in her concluding paragraphs. Read the piece to see what is meant here.

In the chapter, “The Limits of Nationalism”, from Ruth First’s book on Libya, what is described most clearly is the class dynamic of a state that rests upon the support of the petty bourgeoisie (or “petite bourgeoisie” as First tends to call it). This is a class that typically expanded very quickly after the independence of African countries, First says. It is a class that wants to do everything according to its spontaneous, common-sense bourgeois lights. First describes how in Libya, previously existing organisations were disbanded, to be replaced by new ones created from the top down.

There are aspects of this very fine piece of writing that may apply to South Africa today, and which also to some extent explain both the strength and the weakness of the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya of the late Muammar Gaddafi, still in evidence today after the intervention and bombing of Libya by NATO, the sword of the “international community” (Imperialism).

Other books by Ruth First include “South West Africa”, 1963; “117 Days”, 1965; “The Barrel of a Gun: political power in Africa and the coup d'état”, 1970; “Portugal's Wars in Africa”, 1971; “The South African Connection”, 1972 (with Jonathan Steele and Christabel Gurney); and “Olive Schreiner”, 1980 (with Ann Scott). Earlier, Ruth First had worked for the Guardian/New Age, under the editorship of Brian Bunting.

Ruth First’s own archive of her work is available for viewing on microfilm at the Historical Papers Archive, located in the William Cullen Library at Wits University, Johannesburg. The web site of this public institution is at http://www.historicalpapers.wits.ac.za/.

11 February 2013

Agostinho Neto


African Revolutionary Writers, Part 4b

Agostinho Neto

Agostinho Neto, the first President of MPLA and the first President of the independent republic of Angola, was a great writer - a poet - as well as a great revolutionary leader.

The attached document, also linked below, is as good an example as could be found of how, through radio, speech, and eventually through the translation and compilation of the same into a pamphlet by the solidarity movement, the kinds of words which held the liberation movement together, and also publicised it, were made and multiplied.

Now, in 2013, it may be thought that the propagation of such words was easy in those days, or automatic. Nothing could be further from the truth. The liberation movements were outsiders. Their supporters in other countries, whom Neto here mentions and acknowledges, were not in the mainstream. The countries which now parade as “the international community”, as “NATO”, the “ICC”, and in other guises - in other words the governments of the metropolitan Imperialist countries - in those days were solidly and quite openly supporting colonialism. Portugal, for example, was then (and has never since ceased to be) a leading member of NATO, which is actually the armed wing of imperialism.

In these particular writings Neto does not, as the linked writings of Mondlane and Cabral did, reflect explicitly on the place of intellectual work in the national democratic revolution.

Instead, this set of three items, presented together as a pamphlet, directly exemplifies such intellectual work in practice.

It is hard not to be moved by these words even after the passage of 40 years. They still have the immediacy and the urgency that they had when they were spoken by Agostinho Neto and when they were heard by the three different audiences to which they were addressed.

These words carry truths and lessons that still need to be learned and re-learned.

In a different mood, some of Agostinho Neto’s poems, translated into English, can be read if you click here.

  • The above is to introduce the original reading-text: Agostinho Neto, Messages to Companions in the Struggle, 1972, Part 1, and Part 2.

10 February 2013

Amilcar Cabral


African Revolutionary Writers, Part 4a

Amilcar Cabral

The text for this week (attached) is Amilcar Cabral’s speech on National Liberation and Culture. This speech was originally delivered on February 20, 1970, as part of the Eduardo Mondlane Memorial Lecture Series at Syracuse University, Syracuse, New York. That is more than forty years ago, yet the speech is as fresh and as relevant as if it had been written yesterday, and based on appraisal of our present circumstances.

Foreign domination

“can be maintained only by the permanent, organized repression of the cultural life of the people concerned,” wrote Cabral. Attempted assimilation is “a more or less violent attempt to deny the culture of the people in question.” It does not work. In fact there are no ways in which the coloniser can succeed.

“…it is generally within the culture that we find the seed of opposition, which leads to the structuring and development of the liberation movement,” says Cabral.

“…national liberation takes place when, and only when, national productive forces are completely free of all kinds of foreign domination. The liberation of productive forces and consequently the ability to determine the mode of production most appropriate to the evolution of the liberated people necessarily opens up new prospects for the cultural development of the society in question, by returning to that society all its capacity to create progress,” says Cabral.

Cabral develops the idea that “…we must take into account the fact that, faced with the prospect of political independence, the ambition and opportunism from which the liberation movement generally suffers may bring into the struggle unconverted individuals. The latter, on the basis of their level of schooling, their scientific or technical knowledge, but without losing any of their social class biases, may attain the highest positions in the liberation movement,” he warns.

Cabral concludes

“…the liberation struggle is, above all, a struggle both for the preservation and survival of the cultural values of the people and for the harmonization and development of these values within a national framework.”

In Portuguese: A luta continua!

Cabral’s “The Weapon of Theory” was used in the introductory part of this course.

The importance that this outstanding revolutionary Amilcar Cabral placed on cultural and intellectual output is plain to see. The Mozambican scholar Aquino de Bragança, colleague of another intellectual (and like Cabral, martyr) Ruth First, called intellectual work “an instrument of the revolution”. It is the ground upon which the revolution stands.

Aquino de Bragança was himself killed in the 19 October 1986 air crash in which President Samora Machel also died, thirteen years after the murder of Amilcar Cabral.

We are not yet safe enough to think that the killing of political intellectuals and political cadres is a thing of the past, or that attempts at “organized repression of the cultural life of the people” have ceased.

At least 13 of our revolutionary writers were violently killed. One of them was killed since the course was first given, and now.

7 February 2013

Eduardo Mondlane


African Revolutionary Writers, Part 4

Eduardo Mondlane

The attached text, given for reading as the main document of this fourth part of the African Revolutionary Writers series, is Chapter 5 from Eduardo Mondlane’s 1969 book, “The Struggle for Mozambique”. The chapter is called “Resistance – the search for a national movement”. It is the part of the book where Mondlane relates the foundation of the united liberation movement, FRELIMO.

The creation of FRELIMO – the movement that in 1975 achieved victory over the Portuguese colonialists in Mozambique – owed a lot to Mondlane’s work. Yet a large proportion of this remarkable chapter is devoted, not to political manoeuvres and negotiations, but to the cultural and intellectual origins of Mozambican national consciousness, some of them quite small. It is evidence of the high degree of importance that this great revolutionary, Eduardo Mondlane, placed upon all kinds of intellectual artefacts, and not just literature.

The place of intellectual output in revolutionary processes is part of “the point” of this African Revolutionary Writers series. It is notable that in this part, which includes three great Lusophone revolutionaries, Mondlane, Cabral and Neto, and one, Ruth First, who devoted the last years of her life to Mozambique (where she was assassinated by a South African apartheid-regime letter-bomb) they all give us strong cause to think how “to unite political militancy and intellectual work” and make intellectual work “an instrument of the revolution”. These quoted words are from a note by Aquino de Bragança, Director of the Centre of African Studies where Ruth First was working when she was killed by the South African bomb.

Mondlane, too was assassinated, as was Amilcar Cabral. Mondlane’s successor Samora Machel was also killed, in the contrived downing of the aircraft he was in. Aquino de Bragança also died in that crash.

Mondlane relates that in Mueda, Mozambique, on 16 June 1960, over 500 people were shot down by the Portuguese. This was in the same year as the infamous Sharpeville massacre in neighbouring South Africa. The Mueda massacre, he writes, propelled increased numbers of Mozambicans into the armed struggle.  Yet this event is hardly spoken of or written about in the English language.

The rediscovery of the texts used in this series was difficult, and took many months. No suitable text has yet been found to represent the thinking of Samora Machel in this series.  Such texts of Samora Machel do exist – the references in books such as Barry Munslow’s “Mozambique: the Revolution and its Origins” are good evidence of their existence – but they are in Portuguese.

5 February 2013

Ahmed Sékou Touré


African Revolutionary Writers, Part 3c

Ahmed Sékou Touré

Before becoming President of Guinea at independence in 1958 – a position he held until his death in 1984 – Ahmed Sékou Touré led a trade union federation.

At an early stage in his presidency, Sékou Touré led his country to vote against the neo-colonial arrangement known as the “French Community”. Guinea was the only one of many former French African colonies to vote against.

This refusal of neo-colonialism was the heroic act for which Sékou Touré has never been forgotten, or in the case of the French imperialists, forgiven.

Later, Sékou Touré became well-known as one of the leaders of the Non-Aligned Movement. Guinea attracted personalities including the exiled South African singer Miriam Makeba, who became Guinea’s ambassador to the United Nations, and her then husband the US Black Power leader Stokely Carmichael, who changed his name to Kwame Ture.

Yet in spite of the celebrity he enjoyed in his lifetime, there is surprisingly little of Sékou Touré’s legacy visible on the Internet today. Likewise in hard copy, his output has been difficult to find. A 1979 book of Sékou Touré’s called “Africa on the Move”, published in English, was finally located in a library. From it the quotation in the attached document was extracted.

Sékou Touré’s posthumous opponents have been busier than his supporters, so that there is plenty of off-hand denigration of the man to be found, and also plain confusion, as in the current Wikipedia entry, for example.

But there may be other reasons why this man’s memory is now so obscure. He left many volumes of speeches, in hard copy, in French. He was keen to leave a legacy. So why has this one-time giant of African politics, formerly a household name all over the world, shrunk so much in terms of reputation?

His own book, “Africa on the Move”, gives clues as to why this might be so. It is more than 600 pages long, yet it reads like the conference report of the general secretary of a trade union federation. It is the kind of document that has the same predictable headings and the same voluminous narrative time after time, as if it was the “matters arising” of an on-going series of unresolved meetings. “Africa Going Round in Circles” might have been a better title for this book.

Judge it for yourself from the quoted part, attached. It is clear, at least, that Sékou Touré based his output on “common sense”, and on such touchstones as “efficiency”, “responsibility” and other presumed universal values that constantly crop up in his text. Frankly, it is quite dull and boring. Sékou Touré, contrary to what one might expect after his heroic stand against neo-colonialism in 1958, turns out to be a “neutralist” (his word). His politics are ad hoc and appear personal, but are actually made up of the commonplace platitudes that capitalism holds out in front of itself, to cover itself.

Like a typical reformist trade unionist, Sékou Touré rejects the wickedness of capitalism but takes all of capitalism’s lip-service to morality at face value. He never escapes from the ideology of the bourgeois ruling class.

Sékou Touré never mentions any other politician, contemporary or historical. It is not lack of knowledge or mental capacity that renders his work so unscholarly, but the absence of any correspondence with other thinkers. Perhaps this is evidence of simple vanity (simple, but vast). If so, this would also partly explain the lack of defenders for the memory of a man who quite possibly bored his fellow-Guineans terribly, for the entire 26 years of an egocentric presidency.

For this series, we have sought out the original words of revolutionaries, including Sékou Touré’s. But contrary to our own CU practice, we find that Touré shunned the works of others. He ignores them all. His inclusion in our series therefore stands as an example to show that there are those who hold themselves apart from history, and to whom history consequently tends to return the same kind of compliment: neglect. We include him anyway, and allow his supporters to defend him if they will.

In a part of the book not quoted here, Sékou Touré relates how his party (the PDG) is the one in a one-party state. He says that the one-party rule was brought in for the sake of “efficiency”. Then he says that subsequent to this original act, he has heard of something called National Democracy which he regards as the same thing as the one-party state. Sékou Touré saw something called NDR, but missed the democracy in it.

Sad to say, Sékou Touré missed the point.

3 February 2013

Albert Luthuli


African Revolutionary Writers, Part 3b

Albert Luthuli

Chief Albert Luthuli was President-General of the African National Congress from 1952 until his death in 1967. In 1960, the year of the Sharpeville massacre, Luthuli was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Our sample of his work is his Peace Prize lecture, delivered in Stockholm, Sweden (attached).

This speech fits in well with our course. It followed the first batch of African independence-struggle victories after the World War of 1939-45. In the same year of 1960, 16 African countries achieved independence.

We have already seen material from Paul Robeson and W E B Du Bois, helping us to recall the worldwide uprising of internationalist political will for the end of direct colonialism, which was to a large extent a consequence of the victorious Anti-Fascist World War. Luthuli’s speech shows his consciousness of this internationalism, of which the awarding of his Peace Prize was one expression.

Note that Luthuli’s speech accepting the Peace Prize is not a pacifist speech. It does not condemn armed struggle, but on the contrary, justifies it. Here are some relevant paragraphs from the speech:

“This award could not be for me alone, nor for just South Africa, but for Africa as a whole. Africa presently is most deeply torn with strife and most bitterly stricken with racial conflict. How strange then it is that a man of Africa should be here to receive an award given for service to the cause of peace and brotherhood between men. There has been little peace in Africa in our time. From the northernmost end of our continent, where war has raged for seven years, to the centre and to the south there are battles being fought out, some with arms, some without. In my own country, in the year 1960, for which this award is given, there was a state of emergency for many months. At Sharpeville, a small village, in a single afternoon sixty-nine people were shot dead and 180 wounded by small arms fire; and in parts like the Transkei, a state of emergency is still continuing. Ours is a continent in revolution against oppression. And peace and revolution make uneasy bedfellows. There can be no peace until the forces of oppression are overthrown.

“Our continent has been carved up by the great powers; alien governments have been forced upon the African people by military conquest and by economic domination; strivings for nationhood and national dignity have been beaten down by force; traditional economics and ancient customs have been disrupted, and human skills and energy have been harnessed for the advantage of our conquerors. In these times there has been no peace; there could be no brotherhood between men.

“But now, the revolutionary stirrings of our continent are setting the past aside. Our people everywhere from north to south of the continent are reclaiming their land, their right to participate in government, their dignity as men, their nationhood. Thus, in the turmoil of revolution, the basis for peace and brotherhood in Africa is being restored by the resurrection of national sovereignty and independence, of equality and the dignity of man.

“It should not be difficult for you here in Europe to appreciate this. Your continent passed through a longer series of revolutionary upheavals, in which your age of feudal backwardness gave way to the new age of industrialization, true nationhood, democracy, and rising living standards - the golden age for which men have striven for generations. Your age of revolution, stretching across all the years from the eighteenth century to our own, encompassed some of the bloodiest civil wars in all history. By comparison, the African revolution has swept across three quarters of the continent in less than a decade; its final completion is within sight of our own generation…

“Perhaps, by your standards, our surge to revolutionary reforms is late. If it is so - if we are late in joining the modern age of social enlightenment, late in gaining self-rule, independence, and democracy, it is because in the past the pace has not been set by us. Europe set the pattern for the nineteenth and twentieth-century development of Africa. Only now is our continent coming into its own and recapturing its own fate from foreign rule.

“Though I speak of Africa as a single entity, it is divided in many ways by race, language, history, and custom; by political, economic, and ethnic frontiers. But in truth, despite these multiple divisions, Africa has a single common purpose and a single goal - the achievement of its own independence. All Africa, both lands which have won their political victories but have still to overcome the legacy of economic backwardness, and lands like my own whose political battles have still to be waged to their conclusion - all Africa has this single aim: our goal is a united Africa in which the standards of life and liberty are constantly expanding; in which the ancient legacy of illiteracy and disease is swept aside; in which the dignity of man is rescued from beneath the heels of colonialism which have trampled it. This goal, pursued by millions of our people with revolutionary zeal, by means of books, representations, demonstrations, and in some places armed force provoked by the adamancy of white rule, carries the only real promise of peace in Africa. Whatever means have been used, the efforts have gone to end alien rule and race oppression.”

1 February 2013

Frantz Fanon


African Revolutionary Writers, Part 3a

Frantz Fanon

The extraordinary co-incidence of dates of both birth and death as between Frantz Fanon and Patrice Lumumba, both born in 1925 and both deceased in 1961, highlights the precociousness of Fanon’s critique of the post-colonial regimes which had so recently, from his standpoint, come into existence. Please read the essay “Pitfalls of National Consciousness”, attached.

This essay was published in the book “The Wretched of the Earth” in French in 1961 and in English translation in 1963. The title of the book is a direct quotation from the song, the “Internationale”, written by Eugene Pottier during the Paris Commune of 1871, the lyrics of which in the original French begin: “Debout, Les Damnés de la Terre!” Les Damnés de la Terre became the title of Fanon’s book and was well translated into English as “The Wretched of the Earth” – a phrase since then embraced by generations of militants.

Fanon is so intelligent and so witty that it is easy to be charmed by him to such an extent that critical faculties are put aside. So much of what he wrote nearly fifty years ago has come to pass, not once, but repeatedly, and not in one, but in many countries, that one has to be astonished.

No other writer on this topic has come close to the range and the brilliance that Fanon exhibits with such apparent ease in this essay. To find literary comparisons one has to go far back, to the likes of Voltaire and Jonathan Swift.

Fanon is particularly emphatic here in his denunciation of the national bourgeoisie in the circumstances of the newly independent country. Among other things he says:

“In its beginnings, the national bourgeoisie of the colonial countries identifies itself with the decadence of the bourgeoisie of the West. We need not think that it is jumping ahead; it is in fact beginning at the end. It is already senile before it has come to know the petulance, the fearlessness or the will to succeed of youth.”

Is Fanon right? In South Africa, we certainly have problems of “tenderpreneurs”, “narrow BEE”, corruption and many other manifestations of the premature degeneration of the bourgeoisie, similar to Fanon’s descriptions.

But we also have a theory and practice of National Democratic Revolution involving Unity-in-Action between classes, particularly between the working class and the national bourgeoisie. We have found this class alliance to be indispensible. Fanon did not have this theory.

This document is a great classic and is typical of the best of African Revolutionary Writing.

But it is not a Bible.

  • The above is to introduce the original reading-text: Frantz Fanon, Pitfalls of National Consciousness, 1963, Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.