Communist workers movement versus
Pan-Africanist socialism, an exchange
Following is an exchange between Sobukwe Shukura and Steve Clark on issues raised in 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 Clark at a panel discussion in Atlanta last May of the book Malcolm X, Black Liberation, and the Road to Workers Power by Jack Barnes. The event was hosted by the Auburn Avenue Research Library of African American Culture and History.
The Militant invited Shukura to reply to Clark’s article. We also invited Clark to write a further reply for this week’s paper. Both are included here so readers have the full exchange in the same issue.
In defense of Pan-Africanism
BY SOBUKWE SHUKURA
In June there appeared in the Militant an article by Steve Clark on a book talk at the Auburn Avenue Research Library on African American Culture and History in Atlanta that featured the latest Malcolm X offering from Pathfinder Books, Malcolm X, Black Liberation, and the Road to Workers Power. Steve Clark and myself had very different readings on the book. This article gives us revolutionary Pan-Africanists a second chance 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 by Jack Barnes and edited by Steve Clark, in the first full sentence says, “Malcolm was on the road to becoming a communist.” He goes on to say on page 345, “Recognizing and embracing the world-class political leadership of revolutionists who are Black—whether an African American such as Malcolm X, or leaders such as Maurice Bishop and Thomas Sankara—doesn’t lead militant workers and youth in the political direction of nationalism or Pan-Africanism.”
These statements say volumes about first, Jack’s arrogant dismissal of revolutionary Pan-Africanism, and second, his attempts to rewrite and appropriate the history of El Hajj 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: The Organization of Afro-American Unity (OAAU) and the Muslim Mosque, Inc. The OAAU was the political organization he formed, but Jack Barnes tells us on the bottom of page 357 that we should ignore the “Statement of Basic Aims and Objectives” from 1964 and the ‘’Basic Unity Program” of 1965.
Both documents call for unity between Africans in the West, and Africans in Africa. Even if we were to ignore Malcolm’s own organizational documents, we have to listen to his speeches that call for not only unity among Africans in the U.S., but for Unity for Africans (Afro-Americans) in the Western Hemisphere. He states that what will advance African peoples’ struggles in the U.S. “is the independence of Africa.”
Malcolm X and communism
On the night we reviewed the book, what is not mentioned in the article is that I played a recording of El Hajj Malik El-Shabazz (Malcolm X) in his own words, a speech “You Can’t Hate the Roots of a Tree.” It emphasized the importance of African identity and other 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 on communism, recorded in his final interview, was a negative one, placing it one step above Zionism. So if he were to evolve toward communism it would most probably have been through revolutionary Pan-Africanism.
Steve Clark, the editor of the book who penned the article in the June 21 Militant, again attacks Pan-Africanism. He first inaccurately accuses Mangaliso Sobukwe of creating the slogan “One Settler, One Bullet,” a slogan used by some of the armed wing of the Pan-Africanist Congress of Azania (South Africa). Sobukwe died in 1978 and the slogan was coined in the ’80s and was never an official slogan of the Party, no more than was the African National Congress’s (ANC) slogan after the death of Chris Hani, “Kill the Boer, Kill the Farmer.”
Mangaliso Sobukwe, who said “that there is one race, the human race,” challenged the Freedom Charter promoted by the ANC, which said the land belongs to all who live there, negating the European minority settler/colonial occupation that took 80 percent of the land. In contrast, Mangaliso Sobukwe upheld that The Land Belongs to the African People. Malcolm would support this. It’s Malcolm who informed us that the basis of revolution is land. Today after 14 years of freedom-charter politics, 93 percent of the farmland still belongs to the European Settlers.
Two facts were misquoted by the editor of Malcolm X, Black Liberation, and the Road to Workers Power in the public discussion, and were repeated in the article. The notion was Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana and Sékou Touré of Guinea-Conakry were men who simply led their national liberation struggles. Clark implies that they had no class analysis and had not worked with the working class.
First off, Sékou Touré, a self-taught working-class clerk, was a union leader who helped organize national strikes and helped merge the labor movement with the revolutionary party. He led the party through several congresses and led the country toward a socialist road to development. He wrote volumes—including works like Africa on the Move, Strategy and Tactics of the Revolution, and United States of Africa, works on dialects, etc., but most importantly on revolutionary Pan-Africanism.
Sékou Touré supported a unified socialist Africa, which we know no socialist or communist could be against because that would sound like racism—unity is good for the Soviets, but not good for Africa, hmmm. Guinea-Conakry gave bases to Amilcar Cabral 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 was meaningless without the liberation and Unity of Africa. He gave assistance to Algeria, Guinea, Mali, etc. He wrote the line on revolutionary Pan-Africanism, including books like Class Struggle in Africa, Handbook of Revolutionary Warfare, Neo-colonialism: The Last 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 socialist government must be the primary objective of all Black Revolutionaries throughout the world. It is an objective which, when achieved, will bring about the fulfillment of the aspirations of Africans and people of African descent everywhere. It will at the same time advance the triumph of the international socialist revolution, and the onward progress towards world communism, under which every society is ordered on the principle 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 a communist, is being portrayed as a communist. In Steve Clark’s Militant article, Kwame Nkrumah, who says he is a communist, is portrayed as simply a nationalist. To minimize the contributions of Kwame Nkrumah, Sékou Touré, and Mangaliso Sobukwe is counterrevolutionary. To talk about Maurice Bishop, Thomas Sankara, and Ben Bella, and to not see their contributions in the context of revolutionary Pan-Africanism is criminal neglect. Revolutionary Pan-Africanism is Africa’s contribution toward communism.
As Kwame Ture (Stokely Carmichael) was fond of saying: Karl Marx did not invent communism, no more than Newton invented gravity.
Response to Sobukwe Shukura
BY STEVE CLARK
What 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 word about the responsibility—and ultimate test!—of revolutionists living, working, and practicing politics in the United States.
There’s not a word, not one, about building a revolutionary organization capable of leading the working class—of all skin colors, sexes, and national origins—to conquer state power from the exploiters and oppressors in the United States.
In contrast, Jack Barnes, national secretary of the Socialist Workers Party, in his introduction to Malcolm X, Black Liberation, and the Road to Workers Power, points out that 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 a disproportionately weighty part of the ranks and leadership of the mass social movement that will make a proletarian revolution.”
It is a book, Barnes says, about why that new state power “provides working people the mightiest weapon possible to wage the ongoing battle to end Black oppression and every form of exploitation and human degradation” brought over from the imperialist epoch.
It’s important to note the inaccuracy of Shukura’s statement that Malcolm X, Black Liberation, and the Road to Workers Power is “the latest Malcolm X offering from Pathfinder Books.” That’s false. Yes, Pathfinder is the only publisher that does keep Malcolm’s speeches and writings in print and distributes them—in English, as well as a growing number in Spanish, Farsi, and soon French.
But the title we’re discussing, like many published by Pathfinder, is a book by a leader of the Socialist Workers Party and communist movement. And it doesn’t pretend to be otherwise.
Shukura scolds Barnes for alleged “attempts to rewrite and appropriate the history” of Malcolm X. In response to this falsification of the character of the book, I’d urge readers to get a copy and judge for themselves.
“Since the day Malcolm was killed in February 1965, nobody can prove where he would have gone next politically,” Barnes says. But SWP leaders were “convinced by Malcolm’s course”—by Malcolm’s political course—”that he was moving toward becoming a communist.”
What led them to that conclusion? “Politically [Malcolm] was converging with the Cuban Revolution,” Barnes writes, “with the popular revolutionary government in Algeria led by Ahmed Ben Bella (and with the course of the SWP), that is, with the historic line of march of the working class toward power worldwide.”
Shukura’s second objection is Barnes’s supposed “arrogant dismissal of revolutionary Pan-Africanism.” In Shukura’s view, any rejection by a communist of Pan-Africanism as a road forward is “arrogant.”
In looking at the world that shaped Malcolm as a revolutionary leader, Shukura, unlike Barnes, doesn’t begin with the victorious revolutions of those years. The Cuban and Algerian revolutions not only overturned murderous capitalist regimes but destroyed the old bourgeois state structures and replaced them with workers and farmers governments. Malcolm saw those revolutions as examples of what the exploited and oppressed need to do here in the United States.
Shukura complains that Barnes “minimizes the contributions” of three Pan-Africanist political 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—which has dealt as harsh blows to revolutionary and popular struggles in Africa as it has everywhere else in the world.)
Pan-Africanism, Shukura says, “is Africa’s contribution toward communism.” But the examples he gives represent a political course distinct from and counterposed to proletarian 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 to the Freedom Charter of the African National Congress (ANC) that “South Africa belongs to all who live in it, black and white.” In early 1959 he split from the ANC over that course.
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 forebears had been forcibly transported to South Africa as indentured laborers.
The struggle in South Africa, Sobukwe said, must be organized by “an All-African organization” with no interference from “minorities who arrogantly appropriate to themselves the right to plan and think for Africans.”
As for Nkrumah and Touré, there’s no mystery as to the standing they once had among working people across Africa and elsewhere. In face of the brutality of London and Paris, they were central leaders of struggles resulting in the first independent nations in sub-Saharan Africa: Ghana in 1957 and Guinea the next year. They championed anticolonial struggles across the continent and gave them concrete aid.
But the Nkrumah regime was not based on advancing the interests of peasants and workers. To the contrary, its state apparatus and armed forces acted on behalf of rising bourgeois and petty-bourgeois layers in Ghana. By the mid-1960s his increasingly repressive and cultish regime was so alien to the toilers that there was virtually no popular 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 and emerging rural and merchant capitalists. At his death in 1984 Touré was aligned with reactionary neocolonial regimes in Morocco and Saudi Arabia, as well as with Paris and Washington.
Sankara: a different direction
Thomas Sankara, the leader of the popular revolutionary government in Burkina Faso in West Africa from 1983 to 1987, described the class trajectory of such radical-talking neocolonial regimes in a March 1985 interview with the New York-based socialist magazine 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 buying expensive clothes and big cars… . They give big salaries to the military, government ministers, and the praetorian guard.” Referring to nearby Guinea, Sankara pointed to “the situation under Sékou Touré, who talked about revolution” but never carried one out.
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 and Washington, 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 1987 military coup that resulted in Sankara’s murder and destruction of the popular government he had led.
When Sankara explained the roots and continuity of the political course he fought for in Burkina, he didn’t point to Pan-Africanism. “We wish to be the heirs of all the revolutions of the world and of all the liberation struggles of the peoples of the Third World,” he said in 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 to the proletariat, shook the foundations of capitalism, and made possible the realization of the Paris Commune’s dreams of justice.”
What about Shukura’s claim that it is “criminal neglect” not to view the political contributions of Maurice Bishop “in the context of revolutionary Pan-Africanism”? Bishop was the central leader of the 1979-83 workers and farmers government in the Caribbean island of Grenada
All 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 Jewel Movement, came from “the ideas of ‘Black Power’ that developed in the United States and 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 teaching us, on the practical level of day-to-day political struggle, the relevance of socialism as the only solution to our problems.” That’s when “our party began to develop along Marxist lines,” Bishop said.
And in an interview with Bishop I conducted along with two other SWP members in July 1980, run in full in the Militant, the Grenadan revolutionary leader called on working people in the United States of all skin colors to “get together and wage a consistent fight against the real enemy. Don’t spend time fighting each other.”
How Bishop’s political course can be shoe-horned into “the context of revolutionary Pan-Africanism” is, to say the least, difficult to discern.
In Malcolm X, Black Liberation, and the Road to Workers Power, Barnes notes that overcoming “national divisions in the working class—through mutual solidarity and uncompromising struggles using any means necessary—remains the single biggest task in forging the proletarian vanguard in this country.”
Revolution in the United States
Yet 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 the Student 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 invent communism, no more than Newton invented gravity.” Fortunately for humanity, however, Newton did discover some fundamental laws of nature, just as Marx discovered fundamental laws of the class struggle, capitalist social relations, and the line of march of the proletariat, which is toward the conquest of political power.
But 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 comrade and collaborator, noted, “Just as Darwin discovered the law of development of organic nature, so Marx discovered the law of development of human history,” as well as “the special 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”—not even half.
“For Marx was above all else a revolutionist,” Engels said. “His real mission in life was to contribute … to the overthrow of capitalist society and of the state institutions which it had 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 few could rival.”
Since the founding in late 1847 of the Communist League and its adoption of the Communist Manifesto, that has been the measure of a proletarian revolutionist. And that is what Malcolm X, Black Liberation, and the Road to Workers Power makes a contribution toward realizing.