Marxism vs. Pan Africanism: A Scholarly Debate

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Marxism vs. Pan Africanism: A Scholarly Debate

  1. 1. Saturday, October 30, 2010Marxism vs. Pan-AfricanismCommunist workers movement versusPan-Africanist socialism, an exchangeFollowing is an exchange between Sobukwe Shukura and Steve Clark on issues raisedin an article in the June 21 issue of the Militant.Written by Clark, the article was titled, “Communist workers movement versus Pan-Africanist socialism.” It addressed the divergent views expressed by Shukura and Clarkat a panel discussion in Atlanta last May of the book Malcolm X, Black Liberation, andthe Road to Workers Power by Jack Barnes. The event was hosted by the AuburnAvenue Research Library of African American Culture and History.The Militant invited Shukura to reply to Clark’s article. We also invited Clark to write afurther reply for this week’s paper. Both are included here so readers have the fullexchange in the same issue. Source: http://marxistupdate.blogspot.com/2010/10/marxism-vs-pan-africanism.htmlMarxism vs. Pan-Africanism
  2. 2. Page 1 of 9In defense of Pan-AfricanismBY SOBUKWE SHUKURAIn June there appeared in the Militant an article by Steve Clark on a book talk at theAuburn Avenue Research Library on African American Culture and History in Atlantathat featured the latest Malcolm X offering from Pathfinder Books, Malcolm X, BlackLiberation, and the Road to Workers Power. Steve Clark and myself had very differentreadings on the book. This article gives us revolutionary Pan-Africanists a secondchance to publicly address questions raised at the library discussion and in the Militant.Page 344 of Malcolm X, Black Liberation, and The Road to Workers Power, written byJack Barnes and edited by Steve Clark, in the first full sentence says, “Malcolm was onthe road to becoming a communist.” He goes on to say on page 345, “Recognizing andembracing the world-class political leadership of revolutionists who are Black—whetheran African American such as Malcolm X, or leaders such as Maurice Bishop andThomas Sankara—doesn’t lead militant workers and youth in the political direction ofnationalism or Pan-Africanism.”These statements say volumes about first, Jack’s arrogant dismissal of revolutionaryPan-Africanism, and second, his attempts to rewrite and appropriate the history of ElHajj Malik El-Shabazz (Malcolm X). We will deal with El Hajj Malik El-Shabazz first.Let’s make it clear, he built two organizations when he left the Nation of Islam: TheOrganization of Afro-American Unity (OAAU) and the Muslim Mosque, Inc. The OAAUwas the political organization he formed, but Jack Barnes tells us on the bottom of page357 that we should ignore the “Statement of Basic Aims and Objectives” from 1964 andthe ‘’Basic Unity Program” of 1965.Both documents call for unity between Africans in the West, and Africans in Africa. Evenif we were to ignore Malcolm’s own organizational documents, we have to listen to hisspeeches that call for not only unity among Africans in the U.S., but for Unity forAfricans (Afro-Americans) in the Western Hemisphere. He states that what will advanceAfrican peoples’ struggles in the U.S. “is the independence of Africa.”Marxism vs. Pan-Africanism“Communist workers movement versus Pan-Africanist socialism, an exchange”
  3. 3. Page 2 of 9Malcolm X and communismOn the night we reviewed the book, what is not mentioned in the article is that I played arecording of El Hajj Malik El-Shabazz (Malcolm X) in his own words, a speech “YouCan’t Hate the Roots of a Tree.” It emphasized the importance of African identity andother concepts of Pan-Africanism. He called Ghana the fountainhead of Pan-Africanism.Yet, nowhere does he call himself a communist. In fact, his last statement oncommunism, recorded in his final interview, was a negative one, placing it one stepabove Zionism. So if he were to evolve toward communism it would most probably havebeen through revolutionary Pan-Africanism.Steve Clark, the editor of the book who penned the article in the June 21 Militant, againattacks Pan-Africanism. He first inaccurately accuses Mangaliso Sobukwe of creatingthe slogan “One Settler, One Bullet,” a slogan used by some of the armed wing of thePan-Africanist Congress of Azania (South Africa). Sobukwe died in 1978 and the sloganwas coined in the ’80s and was never an official slogan of the Party, no more than wasthe African National Congress’s (ANC) slogan after the death of Chris Hani, “Kill theBoer, Kill the Farmer.”Mangaliso Sobukwe, who said “that there is one race, the human race,” challenged theFreedom Charter promoted by the ANC, which said the land belongs to all who livethere, negating the European minority settler/colonial occupation that took 80 percent ofthe land. In contrast, Mangaliso Sobukwe upheld that The Land Belongs to the AfricanPeople. Malcolm would support this. It’s Malcolm who informed us that the basis ofrevolution is land. Today after 14 years of freedom-charter politics, 93 percent of thefarmland still belongs to the European Settlers.Two facts were misquoted by the editor of Malcolm X, Black Liberation, and the Road toWorkers Power in the public discussion, and were repeated in the article. The notionwas Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana and Sékou Touré of Guinea-Conakry were men whosimply led their national liberation struggles. Clark implies that they had no classanalysis and had not worked with the working class.First off, Sékou Touré, a self-taught working-class clerk, was a union leader who helpedorganize national strikes and helped merge the labor movement with the revolutionaryparty. He led the party through several congresses and led the country toward asocialist road to development. He wrote volumes—including works like Africa on theMove, Strategy and Tactics of the Revolution, and United States of Africa, works ondialects, etc., but most importantly on revolutionary Pan-Africanism.Sékou Touré supported a unified socialist Africa, which we know no socialist orcommunist could be against because that would sound like racism—unity is good forthe Soviets, but not good for Africa, hmmm. Guinea-Conakry gave bases to AmilcarMarxism vs. Pan-Africanism“Communist workers movement versus Pan-Africanist socialism, an exchange”
  4. 4. Page 3 of 9Cabral and PAIGC (African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde),and many other forces in Africa.And Kwame Nkrumah began by saying that the independence of Africa wasmeaningless without the liberation and Unity of Africa. He gave assistance to Algeria,Guinea, Mali, etc. He wrote the line on revolutionary Pan-Africanism, including bookslike Class Struggle in Africa, Handbook of Revolutionary Warfare, Neo-colonialism: TheLast Stage of Imperialism, Challenge of the Congo, and Dark Days in Ghana.In Class Struggle in Africa Nkrumah wrote:The total liberation and the unification of Africa under an All-African socialistgovernment must be the primary objective of all Black Revolutionaries throughout theworld. It is an objective which, when achieved, will bring about the fulfillment of theaspirations of Africans and people of African descent everywhere. It will at the sametime advance the triumph of the international socialist revolution, and the onwardprogress towards world communism, under which every society is ordered on theprinciple of—from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs.In Jack Barnes’s book, El Hajj Malik El-Shabazz (Malcolm X), who never says he’s acommunist, is being portrayed as a communist. In Steve Clark’s Militant article, KwameNkrumah, who says he is a communist, is portrayed as simply a nationalist. To minimizethe contributions of Kwame Nkrumah, Sékou Touré, and Mangaliso Sobukwe iscounterrevolutionary. To talk about Maurice Bishop, Thomas Sankara, and Ben Bella,and to not see their contributions in the context of revolutionary Pan-Africanism iscriminal neglect. Revolutionary Pan-Africanism is Africa’s contribution towardcommunism.As Kwame Ture (Stokely Carmichael) was fond of saying: Karl Marx did not inventcommunism, no more than Newton invented gravity.Response to Sobukwe ShukuraBY STEVE CLARKWhat is remarkable about Sobukwe Shukura’s article on Malcolm X, Black Liberation,and the Road to Workers Power by Jack Barnes is that it contains not a single wordabout the responsibility—and ultimate test!—of revolutionists living, working, andpracticing politics in the United States.Marxism vs. Pan-Africanism“Communist workers movement versus Pan-Africanist socialism, an exchange”
  5. 5. Page 4 of 9There’s not a word, not one, about building a revolutionary organization capable ofleading the working class—of all skin colors, sexes, and national origins—to conquerstate power from the exploiters and oppressors in the United States.In contrast, Jack Barnes, national secretary of the Socialist Workers Party, in hisintroduction to Malcolm X, Black Liberation, and the Road to Workers Power, points outthat the book is “about the last century and a half of class struggle in the United State …and the unimpeachable evidence it offers that workers who are Black will comprise adisproportionately weighty part of the ranks and leadership of the mass socialmovement that will make a proletarian revolution.”It is a book, Barnes says, about why that new state power “provides working people themightiest weapon possible to wage the ongoing battle to end Black oppression andevery form of exploitation and human degradation” brought over from the imperialistepoch.It’s important to note the inaccuracy of Shukura’s statement that Malcolm X, BlackLiberation, and the Road to Workers Power is “the latest Malcolm X offering fromPathfinder Books.” That’s false. Yes, Pathfinder is the only publisher that does keepMalcolm’s speeches and writings in print and distributes them—in English, as well as agrowing number in Spanish, Farsi, and soon French.But the title we’re discussing, like many published by Pathfinder, is a book by a leaderof the Socialist Workers Party and communist movement. And it doesn’t pretend to beotherwise.Shukura scolds Barnes for alleged “attempts to rewrite and appropriate the history” ofMalcolm X. In response to this falsification of the character of the book, I’d urge readersto get a copy and judge for themselves.“Since the day Malcolm was killed in February 1965, nobody can prove where he wouldhave gone next politically,” Barnes says. But SWP leaders were “convinced byMalcolm’s course”—by Malcolm’s political course—”that he was moving towardbecoming a communist.”What led them to that conclusion? “Politically [Malcolm] was converging with the CubanRevolution,” Barnes writes, “with the popular revolutionary government in Algeria led byAhmed Ben Bella (and with the course of the SWP), that is, with the historic line ofmarch of the working class toward power worldwide.”Marxism vs. Pan-Africanism“Communist workers movement versus Pan-Africanist socialism, an exchange”
  6. 6. Page 5 of 9Pan-African socialismShukura’s second objection is Barnes’s supposed “arrogant dismissal of revolutionaryPan-Africanism.” In Shukura’s view, any rejection by a communist of Pan-Africanism asa road forward is “arrogant.”In looking at the world that shaped Malcolm as a revolutionary leader, Shukura, unlikeBarnes, doesn’t begin with the victorious revolutions of those years. The Cuban andAlgerian revolutions not only overturned murderous capitalist regimes but destroyed theold bourgeois state structures and replaced them with workers and farmersgovernments. Malcolm saw those revolutions as examples of what the exploited andoppressed need to do here in the United States.Shukura complains that Barnes “minimizes the contributions” of three Pan-Africanistpolitical leaders of the time: Kwame Nkrumah, Sékou Touré, and Mangaliso Sobukwe.Shukura goes so far as to call Barnes’s views of these figures “counterrevolutionary.”(Smearing those you disagree with in working-class and national liberation struggles as“counterrevolutionary” may be a practice Shukura picked up from Nkrumah and Touré.Be that as it may, their teacher was Joseph Stalin and the Stalinist movement—whichhas dealt as harsh blows to revolutionary and popular struggles in Africa as it haseverywhere else in the world.)Pan-Africanism, Shukura says, “is Africa’s contribution toward communism.” But theexamples he gives represent a political course distinct from and counterposed toproletarian internationalism and communism, not a contribution that enhances it.Shukura seeks to assure us that Mangaliso Sobukwe, founding leader of the Pan-Africanist Congress (PAC) of South Africa, said “there is one race, the human race.”More important politically, however, Mangaliso Sobukwe opposed the slogan central tothe Freedom Charter of the African National Congress (ANC) that “South Africa belongsto all who live in it, black and white.” In early 1959 he split from the ANC over thatcourse.Addressing the PAC’s founding congress, he designated as “foreign minority groups”not only all those of European origin but also those of Indian origin—whose forebearshad been forcibly transported to South Africa as indentured laborers.The struggle in South Africa, Sobukwe said, must be organized by “an All-Africanorganization” with no interference from “minorities who arrogantly appropriate tothemselves the right to plan and think for Africans.”As for Nkrumah and Touré, there’s no mystery as to the standing they once had amongworking people across Africa and elsewhere. In face of the brutality of London andParis, they were central leaders of struggles resulting in the first independent nations inMarxism vs. Pan-Africanism“Communist workers movement versus Pan-Africanist socialism, an exchange”
  7. 7. Page 6 of 9sub-Saharan Africa: Ghana in 1957 and Guinea the next year. They championedanticolonial struggles across the continent and gave them concrete aid.But the Nkrumah regime was not based on advancing the interests of peasants andworkers. To the contrary, its state apparatus and armed forces acted on behalf of risingbourgeois and petty-bourgeois layers in Ghana. By the mid-1960s his increasinglyrepressive and cultish regime was so alien to the toilers that there was virtually nopopular resistance to a reactionary 1966 coup by top army brass and privileged families,aided and abetted by Washington and London.Sékou Touré’s regime, too, was dominated by middle-class and professional layers andemerging rural and merchant capitalists. At his death in 1984 Touré was aligned withreactionary neocolonial regimes in Morocco and Saudi Arabia, as well as with Paris andWashington.Sankara: a different directionThomas Sankara, the leader of the popular revolutionary government in Burkina Faso inWest Africa from 1983 to 1987, described the class trajectory of such radical-talkingneocolonial regimes in a March 1985 interview with the New York-based socialistmagazine Intercontinental Press. It is reprinted in Thomas Sankara Speaks.“[I]n certain African countries,” he said, “these people talk of revolution, revolution,revolution. But they have gold chains and fine ties. They are always in France buyingexpensive clothes and big cars… . They give big salaries to the military, governmentministers, and the praetorian guard.” Referring to nearby Guinea, Sankara pointed to“the situation under Sékou Touré, who talked about revolution” but never carried oneout.It was Sankara’s determination to pursue an opposite course—one based on peasants,artisans, and the small working class—that earned him the hatred not only of Paris andWashington, but of exploiters in Burkina and bourgeois regimes in the Ivory Coast,Liberia, and elsewhere. They not only welcomed, but many were involved in, the 1987military coup that resulted in Sankara’s murder and destruction of the populargovernment he had led.When Sankara explained the roots and continuity of the political course he fought for inBurkina, he didn’t point to Pan-Africanism. “We wish to be the heirs of all the revolutionsof the world and of all the liberation struggles of the peoples of the Third World,” he saidin an October 1984 address to the UN General Assembly.“We draw the lessons of the American revolution… . The French revolution of 1789… .The great October [Russian] revolution of 1917 transformed the world, brought victory tothe proletariat, shook the foundations of capitalism, and made possible the realization ofthe Paris Commune’s dreams of justice.”Marxism vs. Pan-Africanism“Communist workers movement versus Pan-Africanist socialism, an exchange”
  8. 8. Page 7 of 9What about Shukura’s claim that it is “criminal neglect” not to view the politicalcontributions of Maurice Bishop “in the context of revolutionary Pan-Africanism”? Bishopwas the central leader of the 1979-83 workers and farmers government in theCaribbean island of GrenadaAll one needs to do is read what the Grenadan revolutionary leader himself had to say,easily found in another Pathfinder title, Maurice Bishop Speaks. In a 1977 interview,published in Cuba’s Bohemia magazine two years before the Grenada revolution,Bishop explained that the initial political inspiration for his organization, the New JewelMovement, came from “the ideas of ‘Black Power’ that developed in the United Statesand the freedom struggle of the African people in such places as Angola, Mozambique,and Guinea-Bissau.”But it was the example of the Cuban Revolution, Bishop said, that “has been teachingus, on the practical level of day-to-day political struggle, the relevance of socialism asthe only solution to our problems.” That’s when “our party began to develop alongMarxist lines,” Bishop said.And in an interview with Bishop I conducted along with two other SWP members in July1980, run in full in the Militant, the Grenadan revolutionary leader called on workingpeople in the United States of all skin colors to “get together and wage a consistent fightagainst the real enemy. Don’t spend time fighting each other.”How Bishop’s political course can be shoe-horned into “the context of revolutionaryPan-Africanism” is, to say the least, difficult to discern.In Malcolm X, Black Liberation, and the Road to Workers Power, Barnes notes thatovercoming “national divisions in the working class—through mutual solidarity anduncompromising struggles using any means necessary—remains the single biggesttask in forging the proletarian vanguard in this country.”Revolution in the United StatesYet on this decisive question for the working class and oppressed in the United States,including many millions of workers who are Black, Shukura has nothing to say.Instead, he ends by quoting Kwame Ture (Stokely Carmichael), former chairman of theStudent Nonviolent Coordinating Committee in the 1960s and a founder of the All-African People’s Revolutionary Party of which Shukura is a longtime leader.According to Shukura, Kwame Ture “was fond of saying: Karl Marx did not inventcommunism, no more than Newton invented gravity.” Fortunately for humanity,however, Newton did discover some fundamental laws of nature, just as Marxdiscovered fundamental laws of the class struggle, capitalist social relations, and theline of march of the proletariat, which is toward the conquest of political power.Marxism vs. Pan-Africanism“Communist workers movement versus Pan-Africanist socialism, an exchange”
  9. 9. Page 8 of 9But that’s not the main reason Kwame Ture missed the point.In his talk at Karl Marx’s gravesite in 1883, Frederick Engels, Marx’s closest comradeand collaborator, noted, “Just as Darwin discovered the law of development of organicnature, so Marx discovered the law of development of human history,” as well as “thespecial law of motion governing the present-day capitalist mode of production.”“Such was the man of science,” Engels said. “But this was not even half the man”—noteven half.“For Marx was above all else a revolutionist,” Engels said. “His real mission in life wasto contribute … to the overthrow of capitalist society and of the state institutions which ithad brought into being, to contribute to the liberation of the modern proletariat… .“Fighting was his element. And he fought with a passion, a tenacity and a success fewcould rival.”Since the founding in late 1847 of the Communist League and its adoption of theCommunist Manifesto, that has been the measure of a proletarian revolutionist. And thatis what Malcolm X, Black Liberation, and the Road to Workers Power makes acontribution toward realizing.Marxism vs. Pan-Africanism“Communist workers movement versus Pan-Africanist socialism, an exchange”

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