Monday, June 11, 2018

Marcus Garvey: A Marxist view

Philosophy and Opinions of Marcus Garvey. Edited by Amy Jacques-Garvey. Arno Press and the New York Times. 1968. 412 pages. $4.50.

Reviewed by Maceo Dixon

All types of racist crackpot theories

about the inferiority of the Black race

were flourishing-finding respectability

and publicity in institutions of

"higher learning."

The Black masses desperately

needed a leadership with a strategy to

repel these attacks and to fight for full


Garvey tried to fill this leadership

vacuum. His strategy was to counter

racist reaction by building a Black

separatist movement. He explained

that so long as Black people had no

control over the land of their birth

(Africa), they would not be respected or

treated .as human beings.

Marcus Garvey was a PanAfricanist.

Until Africa was free, he

theorized, Blacks could not win their

freedom anywhere else. This was the

basis for his slogan, "Africa for the

Africans. At home and abroad."

Pan-Africanists view Africa as the

power base for the liberation struggle

of all Blacks, wherever they currently

live. Pan-Africanists try to unite people

of African descent throughout the

world on this basis for the struggle

against racism and imperialism.

In his book A History of Pan-African

Revolt, Black scholar C. L. R. James

wrote about Garvey: "He made the

American Negro conscious of his African

origin and created for the first

time a feeling of international solidarity

among Africans and people of

African descent. Insofar as this is

directed against oppression it is a

progressive step."

Garvey's movement has its roots in

Jamaica, where Garvey was born m

887. His father was a brick and stone


Garvey moved to the United States

in 1916 and launched the Universal

Negro Improvement Association

(UNIA) the following year.

The UNIA program called for Black

self-improvement and a Black nation.

The organization was based financially

on a structure of developing

Black businesses. The World Community

of Islam in the West (Nation of

Islam) today follows similar ideas

about Black capitalist development.

The UNIA built a fleet of ships

known as the Black Star Line. Its

ships flew red, black, and green flags.

The UNIA newspaper was called

Negro World. Its circulation in 1920

was 100,000.

The World was published in English,

French, and Spanish. In some countries

even possession of the paper was

a crime. In the French African colony.

of Dahomey, possession of the World

was punishable by death.

Garvey's movement won so many

followers that he was often called

"Black Moses."

Garvey estimated that in 1923 the

UNIA had 900 branches around the


The UNIA developed institutions

such as the African Orthodox Church,

the Black Cross Nurses, the African

Motor Corps, and the Black Eagle

Flying Corps.

The UNIA held annual international

conventions between 1920 and 1924.

The conventions usually lasted a

month. At the first one, 25,000 people

turned out to hear Garvey speak at

Madison Square Garden in New York.

Garvey says that during the 1924

convention there were 5,000 delegates

and deputies. He also states that the

UNIA had a worldwide membership of

11 million that year!

But Garvey's strongest base of support

was in the northern cities of the

United States. UNIA membership in

New York, for example, was estimated

at 35,000. About 2,000 UNIA members

lived in Harlem. In 1921 they organized

a street march of 50,000 Blacks

through Harlem.

Black workers formed the bulk of the

UNIA's membership. Among their

ranks were people like Herbert Harrison,

a socialist, and Malcolm X's father.

Garvey spoke widely, denouncing

racism. He blasted the fact that Blacks

were forbidden to vote. He criticized

the second-class education Blacks were

offered. He deplored the rotten housing,

high unemployment, lynchings,

and other acts of racism inflicted on

Blacks in America.

But Garvey wouldn't organize to

fight these evils on their own soil. His

solution? Instead of meeting these

problems head on, Blacks should go

back to Africa, ignoring the situation

in America.

Unfortunately, Garvey would even

unite with the enemies of Black people

if he thought this would advance his

call for an African homeland.

He invited Klan-like racists to speak

at UNIA meetings, where they ex-

plained why as sons of slavemasters

they wished for the "darkies" to go

back to Africa.

He called on the imperialist governments

of Europe and the United States

for support. His strategy was to "get

the American Government, along with

the governments of Europe, to acquiesce

in the demand of creating for

the Negro a government in a nation of

our own."

Garvey had big conflicts with

W. E. B. DuBois, founding leader of

the NAACP. The two Black leaders

hurled fierce polemics at each other.

At the heart of this debate were

differences over the strategy to win

Black liberation-although personal

vilifications also played a role.

Garvey rejected DuBois's concept

that a "talented tenth" of Black professionals

and intellectuals would lead

the Black masses to their emancipation.

In Garvey's view this theory was


DuBois blasted Garvey's refusal to

fight against Jim Crow segregation

and prejudice in the United States. He

also frowned on Garvey's business


Garvey's political opponents also

heaped personal slander on him. They

called him a thief, a short stumpy fool,

a pompous jackal, and other vulgarities.

Garvey's foes based some of these

attacks on the elaborate uniforms

worn by UNIA members during their

parades. His opponents said such outfits

made Garvey look like a clown. But

Garvey responded, "No one would say

that about white people with the same

uniforms, so why should I be treated as


Certainly the U.S. government took

Garvey's movement more seriously

than that. Washington wanted to get ·

rid of him and the mass movement of

Black people that he led.

Government agents arrested Garvey

in 1923 on trumped-up charges of using

the postal service to defraud. Garvey

lost his last appeal in 1925. He served

two years of a five-year sentence.

In 1927 he was released from the

federal penitentiary in Atlanta and

deported to Jamaica. His movement

finally broken by U.S. government

harassment, his health deteriorating

from bronchial asthma, Garvey died in

1940 in London.

Garvey didn't consider the U.S. government

an irreconcilable enemy despite

the persecution against his

movement. He naively believed that

his frame-up was the deed of a handful

of corrupt individuals, not systematic

government policy.

He didn't have the benefit of today's

revelations showing the lengths to

which Washington will go to destroy

the Black freedom struggle. Now millions

of people are aware of repressive

COINTELPRO activities suggesting

that the government may have played

a key role in the assassination of Black

leaders such as Martin Luther King,

Malcolm X, Mark Clark, and Fred


But despite his illusions in the U.S.

government, Garvey gave millions of

Black people the courage to stand up

and fight the racism that the government


In the Philosophy and Opinions of

Marcus Garvey you can study that

proud record for yourself.

This collection of speeches was

edited by Amy Jacques-Garvey, a participant

in the UNIA who· became

Garvey's second wife. His speeches are

part of a collection of thirty-one books

on Afro-American history published by

Arno Press and the New York Times.

There is a fine preface titled "A Short

History of Black Separatism" written

by William Loren Katz. Unfortunately,

the book was not indexed.


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