"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.