Sunday, July 7, 2013

Pan Africanism: A Two-Line Struggle

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 African community.

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 Walter Rodney. 

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 historical materialism. 

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.

Unfortunately, this 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.
A Luta Continua! (The struggle continues!)

“African Socialism Revisited” by Kwame Nkrumah

Conscienism by Kwame Nkrumah

Revolution, Culture & Pan Africanism by Ahmed Sekou Toure

“A Dialectical Approach to Culture” by Ahmed Sekou Toure

African Socialism or Socialist Africa by Muhammad Babu

Return to the Source by Amilcar Cabral

Marxism and African Liberation” by Walter Rodney

“Tanzanian Ujamaa and Scientific Socialism” by Walter Rodney

Walter Rodney Speaks by Walter Rodney

"Why I Changed My Ideology': Black Nationalism and Socialist Revolution," by Amiri Baraka Black World 24 (July 1975): 30-42.

Pan Africanism or Communism by George Padmore

“Materialist Philosophical Inquiry and African American Studies” by Jonathan H. McClendon

“In Defense of Materialism: A Critique of Afrocentric Ontology,”  by Christopher Williams Race & Class 47(1), 35-48.

The Philosophy and Opinions of Marcus Garvey by Marcus Garvey

Race First by Tony Martin

On African Socialism by Leopold Senghor

"Ujamaa – The Basis of African Socialism" by Julius Nyerere

Pan Africanism in the Diaspora by Ronald Walters

“Marxist-Leninism and the Black Revolution” by Ronald Walters Black Bulletin Books Vol. 5, No. 3, Fall 1977

“Enemy from the White Left, White Right, & In-Between” by Haki Madhubuti Black World 23, 12, (October 74), 36-47.

“US, Kawiada, and the Black Liberation Movement in the 1960s” by Malauna Karenga in Engines of the Black Power Movement: Essays on the Influence of Civil Rights Actions, Arts, And Islam

Black Marxism by Cedric Robinson

Afrocentricity by Molefi Asante

Yurugu by Marimba Ani

Notes Toward Higher Ideals in Afrikan Intellectual Liberation by Mwalimu Baruti