"Free The Land!" is the miltant slogan of the New Afrikan Independence Movement (N.A.I.M.). The NAIM is the national liberation movement of Black People in the United States for complete political, economic, and cultural independence. NAIM is one part of the international People's Revolution.
In 1961 sociologist E. Franklin Frazier wrote “We
have no philosophers…who have reflected upon the fundamental problems which
have always concerned philosophers such as the nature of human knowledge and
the meaning of human existence.” To a large extent, this lack of engagement
with philosophy, among intellectuals AND organizers, has produced several
misunderstandings that has even led to fratricidal violence. For example, the fact that many Pan
Africanist do not have a grounding in philosophy has had a negative impact on
ideological struggle in the movement.
This article is a corrective that will, hopefully, provide a brief
history and understanding of the nature of the two-line struggle in the Pan
Kwame Nkrumah stated that two worldviews have
existed in human history: materialism and idealism. Another fancy, academic GRE
word for this concept is ontology.
Ontology asks the question ‘what is the fundamental nature of reality’
or ‘what is real’? Idealists assert that ‘ideas’, ‘consciousness’, or ‘spirit’
are the fundamental reality. For
example, in her book Yurugu Marimba Ani declares “spirit is primary!,”
similar to Hegel in The Philosophy of History who explained that a
‘universal spirit’ or 'consciousness' is primary.
Although they represent two very different set of political interests
and constituency’s, when it comes to ontology, they share the philosophical viewpoint of idealism. A few notable
African idealists are Marimba Ani, Cedric Robinson, Molefi Asante, Mwalimu
Baruti, Asa Hillard, and Marcus Garvey.
Western idealists include Plato, Friedrich Hegel, and Gerald Massey.
However, materialists claim that ‘matter’, ‘nature’,
or the ‘physical world’ that humans perceive with their senses (taste, touch,
sight, hear, smell) are real. Ideas, in
the materialist conception, are principally a reflection of ‘matter’ or the
‘physical world.’ Of course, several
African materialists were scientific socialists influenced by Karl Marx and
Fredrich Engels but, as Theophile Obenga in African Philosophy and S. Radhakrishnan
in Indian Philosophy Vol 1. demonstrate, philosophical materialism as a
distinct school of thought existed in African and other non-western societies
prior to the development of Western philosophy.
African materialist include Kwame Nkrumah, Fred Hampton, George Jackson,
Huey Newton, Claudia Jones, Kwame Ture, Thomas Sankara, Amilcar Cabral, and
Robert Alexander in his Ethiopian
Manifesto (1829) was the first to articulate a form of idealism called
Ethiopianism. The doctrine originates in
a biblical prophecy from Psalm 68:31 “Princes shall come out of Egypt and
Ethiopia shall soon stretch forth her hands unto God.” Ethiopianist believe that Egypt (Kmt) and
Ethiopia (Kush) were great ancient African civilizations and that soon the
Western world will fall and Black people will once again be leaders in world
civilization. Ethiopianism was
influenced by romanticism. Romanticism
was a European reaction to the Enlightenment which asserts that each race or
nation has its own unique characteristics and should follow its own model of
development. For example, Alexander
Crummell was an Ethiopianist who emigrated to West Africa in the nineteenth
century and a self-described Platonist.
He stated “The Negro Problem in the US is a problem of ideas...there is
a present, but fleeting move to give it the respect of materialism.”
By the early twentieth
century, the ideological struggle began to intensify. In 1914, Hubert Harrison left the Socialist
Party(SP) claiming that rhetorically the SP was class first but, in fact, has “insisted
on Race first, and class after.” Later, he would give Marcus Garvey one of his
first platforms at a major speaking event in NYC and become co-editor of the Negro World. Eventually, he broke with Garvey over, what
was in Harrison’s view, utopian idealism.
While espousing a race first philosophy, Harrison remained committed to
The UNIA, under the
leadership of the Honorable Marcus Mosiah Garvey, was the largest mass movement
of Africans in history, before and since. The ideology of the UNIA, African
Fundamentalism, was a direct descendant of Ethiopainism urging Africans to
pursue ‘racial independence’ in art, politics, and all areas of life in order
that a fallen people will rise to their original greatness. At its core, the
UNIA was a spiritual/political movement that attempted to engender in its adherents
a mental transformation and cultural return to Africa.
In addition to Harrison,
the UNIA had major disagreements with the African Blood Brotherhood (ABB). The ABB was a scientific socialist
organization whose objective was to establish an independent Black state in the
US. The debate became so hostile, that
the ABB disrupted the second international convention of the UNIA. Following the merger of the ABB with the
communist party (CPUSA), there were regular street brawls between Garveyites
and the CPUSA in Harlem in the 1930s. In fact, in 1930, one physical
altercation led to the death of a Black communist, Alfred Levy. Therefore, there was a historical precedent
for the shootings at UCLA between the US organization and BPP in 1969. The ideas of Garveyites and Communists
influenced later generations of Black Power advocates and independence leaders.
Similar to the US, the
African continent experienced the two-line ideological struggle. The principle debate was between scientific
socialist and those who advocated African socialism and Negritude such as
Leopold Senghor. Senghor, the first
president of Senegal, asserted that prior to slavery and colonialism Africans
practiced communalism whereby land and resources were shared, therefore, they
do not need to adopt the ideas of Karl Marx but instead must return to the
source. Furthermore, according to
Negritude, all people of African descent, regardless of time and space, have a
spiritual/metaphysical connection which facilitates a shared cultural value system. Negritude is influenced by surrealism. Surrealism was an early twentieth century
artistic and political movement originating in France that was critical of
western rationality and instead emphasized the subconscious, imagination, and
emotion as a means to human emancipation.
Ahmed Sekou Toure, was a
revolutionary leader of Guinea-Conakry who in 1958 rejected membership in the
French community and in 1961 expelled the Soviet ambassador. He was critical of the Negritude ideology promoted in 1966 at the
Festival of Negro Arts organized in Dakar. Toure claimed “the serious
mistake of the champions of Negritude is that they underestimate the very
determinant force of the environment and historical facts on man’s thought and
reflexes.” Toure argued Negritude built
upon a white definition of Blackness which stated Africans are irrational and
savage. Instead, history, not skin
color, should form the basis of the African personality. Therefore, in Toure’s
view, Negritude is an “imperialist ideology.”
As long as Black people
inside and outside the US have a common experience of global white supremacy
and international capitalism, then unity on Pan African lines will continue to
be a historical necessity. Because a similar experience of oppression does not
always produce a general agreement among a group, it is hoped that this article
will add some ideological clarity minus the traditional condescension and acrimony.
In the twenty first
century, old categories such as ‘cultural nationalists vs. revolutionary
nationalists’, ‘class vs. race’, and ‘culture vs. economics’ are increasingly
irrelevant, if they ever really were accurate.
Those who argue that culture and white supremacy are the primary factors
in the oppression of Black people are philosophical idealists. On the other hand, philosophical materialists
view culture and national identities as primarily determined by history and
social environment but, still yet, a cultural revolution is required in order
to ensure the long-term success of a liberation movement.
article cannot cover the totality of a century old debate that cuts across the
Black world but, as a wave of radical activism sweeps the globe, it is
imperative Africans in the millennial generation have a basic knowledge of the
history and scope of the two line struggle.
Django Unchained is
one of the most talked about films among Africans in the US.Any Hollywood
film in which an enslaved African kills Europeans on screen is bound to
generate a favorable response in the Black community.At the same time, Africans have developed an
independent tradition of revolutionary art that stretches back to the
antebellum period.Of course, the
similarities among Black art over time are not the product of a metaphysical or
unconscious influence but instead primarily represent similar responses to the
same social environment.
In fact, two antebellum novels share a similar plot with Django.In 1852, Frederick Douglass published The Heroic Slave.A novel
about an enslaved African who attempts to rescue his wife from enslavement then
leads a successful revolt on a slave ship.Although Douglass is often likened to a nineteenth century non-violent
MLK, in fact, he advocated armed rebellion in his speeches, this novel, and
flirted with emigration to Haiti
A few years later, in 1861, Martin Delany published the
novel Blake or the Huts of America.Blake
is about an enslaved African who, after his wife is sold into enslavement in
the Caribbean, organizes an armed Black
revolution.In the course of his travels,
he organizes freedom fighters in the US South, Western Africa, and the Caribbean. Remember both of these novels were written
when slavery was the law of the land. What enterprising young Black filmmaker
will make a movie based on these novels written by two of our greatest
abolitionists?Only time will tell…..
If enslavement could not stop the production of
revolutionary Black art neither could legal American apartheid.In 1899, Pan Africanist author Sutton Griggs
wrote the militant novel Imperium in
Imperio.Imperium is about a secret
underground Black organization.The
novel climaxes when the organization decides to takeover the US navy and liberate Louisiana
and Texas to
form an independent Black state.To a
large extent, Griggs and his work have been forgotten but his attempt to create
a national Black literature lives on.
The Black Power movement produced a cultural renaissance in creative
expression that is still revered but has some overlooked aspects.The
Lost Man (1969), Uptight (1969), The Spook Who Sat by the Door (1973), The River Niger (1976) are all feature
length films which include Black radical organizations engaged in armed
shootouts with the police.For example,
the entire film Final Comedown (1972)
starring Billie Dee Williams, is an armed shootout with the pigs wherein the
main character has flashbacks to show how society pushed him to become a
The so called ‘blaxploitation’ period produced several films
that could be considered revolutionary or reactionary.The film Boss
Nigger, written and produced by a Black man, features a formerly enslaved Black
Bounty hunter who arbitrarily makes himself sheriff of an all white town.The tagline of the film is “White Man’s Town,
Black Man’s Law.”Hmmm, a Black bounty
hunter who kills white people on screen…sounds eerily familiar.
The enthusiastic response that Django has provoked from Africans demonstrates the desire for art
that inspires a culture of resistance. Simultaneously, it is imperative that
young African intellectuals and organizers familiarize themselves with Black
art that has explicitly political objectives and emphasizes collective
liberation.They are the vanguard of,
not only the political, but the cultural revolution, as well.
After billions of dollars in campaign donations
and thousands of negative ads, the 2012 elections left the legislative and
executive branch virtually unchanged. The Obama campaign energized a coalition
of Blacks, unions, white women, and Latino’s. As a matter of fact, the day
after the election, several Latino groups stated explicitly that Obama owes his
second term to them and should pass comprehensive immigration reform. Unlike in
2008, Black people should not be pacified with the symbolism of a Black
president but must develop a set of tactics, strategies, and objectives to
improve their deteriorating condition, particularly in the arena of mass
In 1948, the US became a signature to the United
Nations Declarations of Human Rights. Similar to previous generations, this
document can be used to demonstrate the gross human rights violations against
US Blacks. For instance, the 13th amendment to the US constitution
states “neither slavery nor involuntary servitude except for crime whereof the
party has been duly convicted shall exist within the United States.” In short,
enslavement did not legally end in the US but was only regulated by the
government. Mass incarceration is slavery.
This runs counter to article 4 of the UN
Declaration which states “No
one shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery and the slave trade shall be
prohibited in all their forms.” This means that not only is the United States
Constitution in direct contradiction to the very notions of equality and
freedom it claims to represent but international law as well.
Due to neoliberal economic policies over the
past thirty years, prisons and other areas of social life have become
increasingly privatized. For example, in 2010 two private management prison
companies had a combined revenue of almost $3 billion. We should demand the
immediate transfer of private prisons into public hands. In addition, a ‘New’
New Deal, that includes a guaranteed job for ALL including the formerly incarcerated.
Specifically, we demand re-entry programs that provide a job and housing upon
release from prison.
An organization that should be studied to
achieve these objectives is the National Negro Congress. NNC was a united front
composed of fraternal and religious groups, civil rights, unions, etc. under
the leadership of the Black Left. In fact, the President and Executive
Secretary were Communists. The primary tactics used were mass demonstrations
and direct action. Their successes include the establishment of a civilian
review board for District police, dealing a death blow to debt peonage, and no
police murders of Blacks in DC during their high point of organizing against
police brutality in 1938-39.
The inherent limitations of this strategy are obvious:
ending neoliberalism does not end white supremacy or the economic system that
created it and the UN is to a large extent controlled by major Western powers.
But a critique of neoliberalism does provide space for a more thorough critique
of capitalism and a human rights paradigm gives US Blacks a common framework
and possibility for alliances with other oppressed people. In addition, this
strategy allows us to publicize our case at the international level. The time
of symbolism has ended and movement building has begun.
The 2008 financial collapse that began in the United States spread almost instantly to rest of the globe.Since the financial collapse, the resistance to the imposition of austerity measures has spread as well.For example, the Arab spring inspired the Indignado movement in Spain which motivated the white Left in the US to form the Occupy movement. Black people in the US must build upon their own history of internationalism in order to abolish the prison industrial complex.
For instance, internationalism was a regular feature of theabolitionist movement.After leaving Fredrick Douglas publication, the North Star, Black abolitionist Martin Delany held several conventions in the 1850s to decide a location for Black people to emigrate from the US.Also, he spoke to the Aleke or so called chief to set up trade between US Blacks and people in contemporary Nigeria.Finally, he traveled to Britain to build international support among abolitionists in Europe.
Almost a century later, Howard alumnus and professor, Alphaeus Hunton helped to lead the Civil Rights Congress.The CRC was a Black radical organization that protected the democratic and human rights of US Blacks. In 1951 they published and delivered to the United Nations “We Charge Genocide” a detailed portrait of the gross human rights violations against US Blacks.
Arguably, Black internationalism is one of the greatest threats to the US Empire.For example, during the anti communist Red scare several Black radicals were blacklisted, called in front of senatorial hearings and questioned about their political affiliations and, like Alphaeus Hunton, imprisoned.Great Black organizations such as the CRC, National Negro Congress, Southern Negro Youth Congress, and Council on African Affairs were destroyed and, worse yet, forgotten.
Perhaps most unfortunately, Black liberal organizations such as NAACP that adopted Black internationalism abandoned it once it was marked subversive by the US government.The NAACP adopted much of the Cold War rhetoric as well.This included condemning uncompromising former allies like Alphaeus Hunton who were prosecuted for their political beliefs
It is time to resurrect the spirit of Black internationalism! Several leaders in Latin America such as Guatemala and Costa Rica have expressed thier support for ending the war on drugs through decriminalization.This region is even more important because of the Left ward shift of its governments and the literally hundreds of millions of the Black people living in Central, South America, and Caribbean.
Due to the numerous embassies in Washington DC, Black students in the area are uniquely situated to build relationships with progressive governments.In addition, Black students in the NY area have access to the United Nations headquarters.Black internationalism will allow us to publicize the condition of Black people across the globe and bring the US on charges of human rights violations and Genocide. Only a few organizations have kept the flame of Black internationalism alive but now we must bring it back to the mainstream of Black political life.
"There is but one evil party with two names, and it will be elected despite all I
can do or say." -W..E.B. Dubois (1956)
“Places everyone, Places” we are entering the final
act of political theatre.The
Presidential debates indicate the eminent conclusion of the 2012 Presidential
elections.This election season has been
equally entertaining as any Broadway show.Whether it’s the pep rally/Sunday revival that is the nominating
conventions or tragic-comedy of Mitt Romney’s comment regarding the “47%.” But
ultimately what makes this election theatre is the fact that the political and
economic system of this society has been structured to restrict the acceptable
terms of debate.How did this happen?
For all those who remember the 2000 elections, in
Florida, a controversy developed concerning which votes would be counted in one
of the closest presidential elections in US history.After the case was sent to the Supreme Court,
the justices in Gore v Bush decided “The individual
citizen has no federal constitutional right to vote for electors for the
President of the United States”.This judicial decision reminds US citizens that in this Republic, not
democracy, the Electoral College determines the winner of the election. In
short, voting is a privilege, not a right.
At the founding of the US, when this drama was
written, only property owning white males could vote.Originally the US senate was decided by the
state legislatures.In fact, in
agreement with several framers of the US Constitution, James Madison in in Federalist
Papers No. 10 explicitly states the he believes the masses should not enter
politics because they would want to redistribute wealth.It wasn’t until Blacks, Women and other
disenfranchised people engaged in dynamic social movements that they gained the
privilege to vote.In a capitalist
society, the poor are denied a voice.
More recently, the Supreme Court facilitated the
corporate sponsorship of this theatrical production per the Citizens United
case.This far sighted judicial decision
allows corporations to spend unlimited amounts in election campaigns.Although in 2008 Obama received a record
amount of small donations, he received many large donations that helped him
reach the record setting $745 million.In a report titled “America for Sale” Sen. Bernie Sanders (D) states the
Koch Brothers alone plan to give $400 million.
To a large extent, in 1972, following the Gary
Convention, the Black movement began to shift its primary focus from militant
grassroots organizing to electoral politics.This strategy has been a major error.The Black Movements primary focus should return to tactics such as the
general strike, non-violent civil disobedience, and independent Black-led
political organizations.Then, we can
end the political theatre and get on the real show called: Liberation!
Goodbye, Christ Jesus Lord God Jehovah, Beat it on away from here now.
-Langston Hughes “Goodbye Christ”
Every year, the Pew Research Center publishes a survey which consistently demonstrates that Black people are the most religious group in the United States. This is not surprising considering that the Black Liberation Movement has been influenced by spirituality particularly Christianity. The historical and contemporary religiosity of Blacks leads many to incorrectly assume spiritually/religion has been at the center of the Black Movement. History tells a different story.
In every stage of the Black movement you can find atheists, agnostics, skeptics or people better known as freethinkers. For example, while a Southern missionary in the 1830s, AME minister, Daniel Payne stated enslaved Africans “scoff at religion itself…Yes, I have known them to even question [God’s] existence.”
Today, young Black people question a God who would allow the persistent violence in their communities or huge disparities in wealth between poor Black and affluent white communities. Therefore, contrary to popular opinion, atheism is not a Eurocentric or “white thing” but is an indigenous intellectual development that organically emerges out of the Black experience. Lastly, this challenges the common held assumption that faith in God was necessary to survive the horrors of slavery, sharecropping, and segregation.
Several Black political leaders and intellectuals have been critical of the Black church, some have completely rejected faith. An example is Black atheist WEB Dubois. Dubois is known as the first African to attain a PhD from Harvard and arguably the most revered Black intellectual of the 20th century. He boldly asserted “I do not believe in the existence and rulership of the one God of the Jews” and “Death is the end of Life.”
Dubois praised the Soviet Union for removing religion from public education. In his eyes the Black church defended the oppression and exploitation of Blacks and a lack of free thinking. Although Dubois is one of the most read Black thinkers in history, his atheist views have been overlooked. Other Black leaders who were also freethinkers include A. Philip Randolph, Langston Hughes, and Howard University’s own Zora Neale Hurston to name a few.
To an extent, the Black church has had better propagandists than Black freethinkers. Most know of the contributions of the church to the Civil Rights Movement but what about the obstacles it has posed? For instance, at the 1961 National Baptist Convention, the largest Black religious group in the US, progressive ministers such as M.L.K. attempted to have the organization support civil rights. The idea of supporting Black human rights was so controversial, that a physical fight ensued and one minister was killed at the convention! Lord have Mercy, chile!
In conclusion, although everyone is entitled to their own personal belief or lack thereof, the Black movement should be secular. Whether it is the independence movements in Africa such as FRELIMO (Mozambique), MPLA (Angola), or the Black Panther Party in the US, spirituality was, at best, a secondary factor. As a Black skeptic examining this information, I ask ‘Do we need spirituality or religion in order to build and sustain a mass movement?’ I doubt it.
This article originally appeared in the Howard University newspaper, The Hilltop.
“Like men we'll face the murderous, cowardly pack, Pressed to the wall, dying, but fighting back!”
“If We Must Die” -Claude Mckay
The Southern Poverty Law Center released its Spring 2012 Intelligence Report titled “The Year in Hate and Extremism,” which described the dramatic increase in the number of radical right- wing organizations.
A few of the groups are described as neo-nazis, neo-confederates, white nationalists, and racist skinheads. According to the report, the number of militia and patriot groups jumped from 158 in 2001 to 1274 in 2011. A similar rise of right-wing groups has occurred in Europe as well.
The publication provides three reasons for the rise of so-called ‘hate groups’: the first Black President, a growing non-white population, and, I think most importantly, the so-called Great Recession.
For obvious reasons, Black people should be especially alarmed by the rise of the radical right. We are subjected to a distinct type of oppression in America. Historically, Black people are defined by America as the opposite of all that is moral, just, beautiful, industrious and divine.
In short, we are the most likely scapegoats in periods of instability, like, I don’t know-- an economic recession. Of course, other groups such as Jews, Arabs, women, homosexuals, etc. are targets as well, but Blacks are the eternal “other.”
The murder of Trayvon Martin should be placed in this context.
However, I don’t think these incidences of white radicalism should be viewed as strictly the province of the so-called lower classes. A large part of this potential raging fire is being fanned by right-wing elites such as the Koch brothers.
The Koch brothers fund politicians like Newt Gingrich who stated, “I will tell black people to demand paychecks instead of food stamps,” and Rick Santorum who enlightened us with “I don't want to make black people's lives better by giving them somebody else's money.”
The Koch brothers, are also behind the voter ID legislation and owners of Georgia-Pacific--you know, all those new paper towel and soap dispensers in bathrooms across the university campus.
White radicalism could not be so widespread and protracted without white elite complicity. In 1919, after the Washington Post ran a story stating a white woman had been raped by a Black man, whites engaged in a rampage through The District for multiple days, murdering Black people throughout the city.
Once it became obvious that the government was not going to intervene, Black folk began to form self-defense units against white neighborhood watchmen, I mean--vigilantes. They even placed snipers on the roof of Howard Theater to defend themselves.
In the 1950s, Robert Williams, head of the Monroe, North Carolina chapter of the NAACP started a gun club to protect civil rights workers. Self-defense was a necessity for survival in Black communities, not a “get-out-of-jail-free,” or rather, a “never-be-arrested-for-murder” card.
Although, for the most part, their methods have changed, this rise in right-wing radical groups reminds us that there was a time when a certain group of people, many of whom now criticize our hoodies once wore different hoods of their own.
In many ways, the self defense aspect of Stand Your Ground law is not foreign to the history of Black people. The answer to our question of what else can we do outside of marches, rallies, and petitions, is there, only if, we listen to the ancestors…..