Sunday, February 24, 2008

US Imperialism & Africa Conference: PANW Editor's Presentation on the Character of National Oppression and the Class Struggle

The Impact of US-Africa Relations on the Character of Racism, National Oppression and Class Divisions in America

By Abayomi Azikiwe, Editor
Pan-African News Wire

Note: This article is based on a talk delivered on February 23, 2008 at an all-day conference entitled: "US Imperialism and Africa." The conference was sponsored by the Michigan Emergency Committee Against War & Injustice (MECAWI) and held in the city of Detroit. The event featured presentations from members of MECAWI which examined various aspects of the history and contemporary affairs of the African continent and the black Diaspora.

A presentation on the United States Africa Command (AFRICOM) was made by the National Conference of Black Lawyers (NCBL). In addition the documentary film: "Cuba, Africa, Revolution" was screened for the first time in the city.

The conference was held in commemoration of the 140th anniversary of the birth of the scholar and activist W.E.B. DuBois (1868-1963) and in honor of African-American History Month.

United States President George Bush's trip to Africa in February of 2008 was designed to shore up the waning influence of American foreign policy on the continent. Concerns have been voiced for several months over the advent of the Africa Command (AFRICOM), a pentagon project to enhace US military presence on the continent ostensibly to fight terrorism and the growing threat of radical Islam.

As a result of the rejection by leading African states, such as Nigeria and South Africa, headquarters for this military program remains in Germany. Consequently, in recent weeks the overall political framing of the AFRICOM project has shifted to a less threatening approach with the American administration later claiming that the program is designed to enhance the capacity of African states to provided adequate security amid the changing concerns of the 21st century.

This evolution of political spin continued when Bush was in Ghana, the first country south of the Sahara to gain national independence in 1957 from Britain. Kwame Nkurmah proclaimed on March 6, 1957 that the independence of Ghana was meaningless unless it was linked up with the total independence of the African continent. With the overthrow of Nkrumah in 1966 by a US-backed military and police coup, the country has fallen into the grip of neo-colonialism, what the first Prime Minister and President described as the last stage of imperialism.

To further obscure its imperialist aims, the United States Ambassador to the United Kingdom denied over the BBC on February 20 that the Bush administration had any intentions of building military bases in Africa. So what should the people of Africa and the world believe? And what does this apparent new interest in African affairs mean to the anti-war and peace movements in the United States in light of the ongoing occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan?

The Continuing Legacy of Slavery

We must first look at the historical legacy of slavery, colonialism, national oppression, institutionalized racism and segregation in order to understand the link between the imperial past and the present character of domination in the modern era. W.E.B. DuBois, who was born in the immediate aftermath of the civil war and the conclusion of slavery in 1868, wrote extensively on the impact of this peculiar institution on the failure of the American political system to build a genuinely democratic state and culture.

With the independence of the 13 colonies from Britain, the Declaration of Independence and the United States constitution, the African people remained in bondage. Even though the documents proclaiming the new republican democracy declared that all men were created equal, the Africans were designated as less than human. The consolidation of constitutional rule in the United States required the disproportional representation of the southern planters class utilizing the African slaves as an appendage of political control among the whites themselves on a national level.

This dominance of the southern planters class grew from the overwhelming impact of slave labor on the growth and development of the American capitalist system. According to DuBois in his seminal work entitled: "Black Reconstruction in America: An Essay Toward A History Of The Part Which Black Folk Played In The Attempt To Reconstruct Democracy In America, 1860-1880," published in 1935 during the Great Depression, he illustrates the essential role of African labor in the rapid expansion of the United States as an economic powerhouse.

DuBois points this out by stating that:
"The giant forces of water and of steam were harnassed to do the world's work, and the black workers of America bent at the botton of a growing pyramid of commerce and industry; and they not only could not be spared, if this new economic organization was to expand, but rather they became the cause of new political demands and alignments, of new dreams of power and visions of empire." (Black Reconstruction, p. 5).

This system of dominance by the southern planters continued for eight decades and was only severely affected by a bloody four-year civil war. However, it was both the ruling elites of the North and the South that benefited from the exploitation of slave labor. Yet the war was necessary to determine which region would dominate and what the future role of labor both black and white would mean to the rising system of industrial capitalism.

DuBois points out the powerful impact of African slave labor in the process of economic development in the United States:
"First of all, their work called for widening stretches of new, rich black soil--in Florida, in Louisiana, in Mexico; even in Kansas. This land, added to cheap labor, and labor easily regulated and distributed, made profits so high that a whole system of culture arose in the South, with a new leisure and social philosophy. Black labor became the foundation stone not only of the Southern social structure, but of Northern manufacture and commerce, of the English factory system, of European commerce, of buying and selling on a world-wide scale; new cities were built on the results of black labor, and a new labor problem, involving all white labor, arose both in Europe and America." (Black Reconstruction, p.5).

Yet it was the advent of the cotton industry that brought about both the rapid expansion of slavery and the economic growth of the United States. This growth lead to the strengthening of other forms of economic activity such as shipping, banking and the growth in mass production of consumer goods.

DuBois speaks to this phenomena by stating that:
"But in a rich and eager land, wealth and work multiplied. They twisted new and intricate patterns around the earth. Slowly but mightily these black workers were integrated into modern industry. On free and fertile land Americans raised, not simply sugar as a cheap sweetening, rich for food and tobacco as a new and tickling luxury; but they began to grow a fiber that clothed the masses of a ragged world. Cotton grew so swiftly that the 9,000 bales of cotton which the new nation scarcely noticed in 1791 became 79,000 in 1800; and whith this increase, walked economic revolution in a dozen different lines. The cotton crop reached one-half million bales in 1822, a million bales in 1831, two million in 1840, three million in 1852, and in the year of secession, stood at the then enormous total of five million bales." (Black Reconstruction, p. 4).

In order to maintain and justify such a system of gross exploitation and national oppression it was essential to dehumanize the slave community and to create a poor white buffer class between the southern planters and the African slaves. Hence theories of innate African inferiority and depravity arose to provide a rationale for the continuation of the system. With America being a rapidly expanding settler-colonial state, it became necessary to integrate the masses of whites into the exploitative apparatus of the slave system and to link its success and profitability with the suppression of the social and political will of the African people.

In pointing to the special character of the oppression of African slave labor, DuBois states that:
"In this vital respect, the slave laborer differed from all others of his day: he could be sold; he could, at the will of a single individual, be transferred for life a thousand miles or more. His family, wife and children could be legally and absolutely taken from him. Free laborers today are compelled to wander in search for work and food; their families are deserted for want of wages; but in all this there is no such direct barter in human flesh. It was a sharp accentuation of control over men (and women) beyond the modern labor reserve or the contract coolie system." (Black Reconstruction, p. 11).

Consequently, a system of control evolved of containing the African slave community for the purpose of exploitation. This required the participation of the white worker who could be employed in the process of the super-exploitation of African labor. In doing this the poor white was conditioned to see slavery as a mechanism to enhance their own social status and to prevent the competition of the African slave laborer with the white laborer for selling of their respective labor power within agriculture and industry.

DuBois notes that:
"The system of slavery demanded a special police and such a force was made possible and unusually effective by the presence of the poor whites. This explains the difference between the slave revolts in the West Indies, and the lack of effective revolt in the Southern United States. In the West Indies, the power over the slave was held by the whites and carried out by them and such Negroes they could trust. In the South, on the other hand, the great planters formed proportionately quite as small class but they had singularly enough at their command some five million poor whites; that is, there were actually more white people to police the slaves than there were slaves. Considering the economic rivalry of the black and white worker in the North, it would have seemed natural that the poor white would have refused to police the slaves. But two considerations led him in the opposite direction. First of all, it gave him work and some authority as overseer, slave driver, and member of the patrol system. But above and beyond this, it fed his vanity because it associated him with the masters. Slavery bred in the poor white a dislike of Negro toil of all sorts. He never regarded himself as a laborer, or as part of any labor movement.
“If he had any ambition at all it was to become a planter and to own "niggers". To these Negroes he transferred all the dislike and hatred which he had for the whole slave system. The result was that the system was held stable and intact by the poor white. Even with the late ruin of Haiti before their eyes, the planters, stirred as they were, were nevertheless able to stamp out slave revolt. The dozen revolts of the eighteenth century had dwindled to the plot of Gabriel in 1800, Vesey in 1822, of Nat Turner in 1831 and crews of the Amistad and Creole in 1839 and 1841. Gradually the whole white South became an armed and commissioned camp to keep Negroes in slavery and to kill the black rebel." (Black Reconstruction, p.12).

The Failure of Reconstruction

With the dissolution of chattel slavery after the conclusion of the Civil War in 1865 and the crushing of the confederate pro-slavery rebellion in the South, the efforts aimed at Reconstruction were abandoned by the federal government. During the period of Reconstruction the military continued to occupy areas of the South and the former African slaves were granted voting rights and the educational opportunities through the construction of primary and secondary schools, teacher training colleges and some professional institutions of higher learning.

Yet the white terrorist organizations such as the Ku Klux Klan and the White Leagues developed to place the Africans back into conditions that were reminiscent of slavery or even worse. Lynching became a mechanism of social control through mass killings absent of any semblance of due process under the law. Africans were forced off the land that some had been able to obtain after slavery and placed into the system of peonage and tenant farming.

The criminal justice system developed a host of vagrancy laws that lead to the criminalization of the people through penal farms and capital punishment. Many Africans fled the system of lynch law through migration to the west into the states of Kansas and eventually Oklahoma. However, the majority of the former slaves remained in the same states where they had served in bondage. The Africans formed their own independent institutions of religion and social life. Their cultural expressions through music, poetry, storytelling and dance became nationally and internationally recognized as tremendous contributions to the country and the world.

DuBois states in Black Reconstruction that the political involvement of Africans in the electoral system was largely outlawed. He illustrates that the utilization of the vote came under serious attack by the racists:
"First, there was systematic disfranchisement of the Negro. He was kept from voting by force, by economic intimidation, by propaganda designed to lead him to believe that there was no salvation for him in political lines but that he must depend entirely upon thrift and the good will of his white employers. Then came the series of disfranchisement laws discriminating against poverty and ignorance and aimed at the situation of the colored laborer, while the white laborer escaped by deliberate conniving and through the
"understanding" and "Grandfather" clauses. To make assurance doubly sure, the "White Primary" system was built on top of this, by which the "Democratic" party confined its membership to white voters of all parties. The "White Primary" was made by law and public pressure the real voting arena in practically all Southern states." (Black Reconstruction, p. 694).

Gender Oppression and the 20th Century Color Line

By the conclusion of the 19th century a system of political repression, Jim Crow segregation laws, economic exploitation and lynching was instituted to maintain the status-quo in the United States in both the northern and southern regions. An anti-lynching campaign arose which was headed by Ida B. Wells-Barnett who traveled throughout the country and in Europe to spread the word about the inhumane treatment meted out to African-Americans.

Wells-Barnett took the lead in exposing the barbarism of southern lynch law and criminal injustice. Born in Holly Springs, Mississippi in 1862 during the Civil War, Wells-Barnett later went to live in Memphis after her parents died as a result of the Yellow Fever epidemic during the late 1870s. It was after she became a teacher with the Shelby County School system that her political crusade against racism and genocide would emerge.

In 1884 Wells-Barnett was physically removed from a ladies coach in Woodstock, Tennessee aboard the Chesapeake & Ohio Railroad because she was African-American. She would later file suit in the circuit court and win a favorable judgment against the railroad company. However, the railroad company appealed the judgment to the state supreme court and was able to overturn the verdict of the lower court.

During this period, the young school teacher became an active participant in the cultural activities in Memphis as a member of the Vance Street Christian Church. She read poetry, essays, gave recitation and engaged in vigorous debates on contemporary issues of the times. Later she would be asked to contribute to the Living Way news weekly where she wrote a column under the name of "Iola."

In her autobiography Wells-Barnett wrote of the period that:
"...I had observed and thought much about conditions as I had seen them in the country schools and churches. I had an instinctive feeling that the people who had little or no school training should have something coming into their homes weekly which dealt with their problems in a simple, helpful way. So in weekly letters to the Living Way, I wrote in a plain common sense way on the things which concerned our people. Knowing that their education was limited, I never used a world of two syllables where one would serve the purpose. I signed these articles 'Iola'." (Crusade for Justice: The Autobiography of Ida B. Wells-Barnett, pp. 23-24).

As a result of her experience as a columnist with the Living Way, she would soon purchase a share in another African-American weekly publication, the Free Speech and Headlight, in Memphis. Copies of the newspaper were distributed weekly through the Beale Street Baptist Church, which at the time was the largest African-American congregation in Memphis.

She eventually became the editor of the Free Speech after leaving her position as an educator in Memphis. Wells-Barnett, in her autobiography, recounted her experiences at the time:
"I went to most of the large towns throughout the Delta, across the Mississippi River into Arkansas, and back into Tennessee. Wherever there was a gathering of the people, there I was in the midst of them, to solicit subscribers for the Free Speech and to appoint a correspondent to send us weekly news. Wherever I went people received me cordially and gave me their warm support...A woman editor and correspondent was a novelty; besides, Mississippi was my native state." (Crusade for Justice, p.39).

Wells-Barnett's journalistic and publishing career took a sharp turn when in 1892 Memphis would be the scene of a triple lynching of three black men, Thomas Moss, Calvin McDowell and Henry Stewart, who were friends of the newspaper editor. The men owned a lucrative business in Memphis and consequently drew the attention of white racists who sought to attack the establishment. When the African-American men defended themselves wounding three white racists, they were arrested and later removed from the jail and lynched by a mob right outside the city.

Wells-Barnett, outraged by the acts of cold blooded murder, wrote in an editorial for the Free Speech that:
"The city of Memphis has demonstrated that neither character nor standing avails the Negro if he dares to protect himself against the white man or become his rival. There is nothing we can do about the lynching now, as we are out-numbered and without arms. The white mobs could help itself to ammunition without pay, but the order was rigidly enforced against the selling of guns to Negroes. There is therefore only one thing left that we can do; save our money and leave a town which will neither protect our lives and property, nor give us a fair trial in the courts, but takes us out and murders us in cold blood when accused by white persons." (Crusade for Justice, p.52).

For weeks after the triple lynching of Moss, McDowell and Stewart, hundreds of African-Americans would flee the city of Memphis. Two leading pastors in the community, Rev. R.N. Countee and Rev. W.A. Brinkly carried their entire congregations out west to Oklahoma. The migration had a tremendous impact on crippling many commercial establishments owned by whites in the city. Wells-Barnett was approached by some leading businessmen and asked for assistance in encouraging people to return to Memphis.

However, the newspaper editor continued to be an outspoken voice against lynching and racism through the pages of the Free Speech. Eventually the offices of her newspaper were destroyed while she was away in New York on a speaking engagement. During this period racial tensions were extremely high in the city.

Wells-Barnett would later write of the period that:
"Although I had been warned repeatedly by my own people that something would happen if I did not cease harping on the lynching of three months before. I had expected that happening to come when I was at home. I had bought a pistol the first thing after Tom Moss was lynched, because I expected some cowardly retaliation from the lynchers. I felt that one had better die fighting against injustice than to die like a dog or a rat in a trap. I had already determined to sell my life as dearly as possible if attacked. I felt if I could take one lyncher with me, this would even up the score a little bit. But fate decided that the blow should fall when I was away, thus settling for me the question whether I should go West or East." (Crusade for Justice, p.62).

Wells-Barnett would continue to speak out and organize around white mob violence against African people. She would tour England and Scotland in 1893-1894 furthering the agitation work against the southern racist system. Upon her return to the United States, Wells-Barnett would research and publish the first serious study on the question of racially motivated mob violence. This report was entitled: "A Red Record: Tabulated Statistics and Alleged Causes of Lynching in the United States, 1892-1893-1894.”

It has been reported that there was a rapid acceleration of lynching of African-Americans after the collapse of Reconstruction and the rise of the former Confederate political elites in the South. Brutal acts of carnage and brutality took on a public character when thousands of people would travel to witness the horrible spectacle of a mutilation murder of one or more individuals. The majority of these lynchings occured in the South, accounting for 82% of all such killings during the 1880s; and by the 1920s, more than 95% of these murders took place in the former Confederate states.

Between 1880 and 1930, there were 3,200 African-Americans reportedly lynched in the southern region of the United States. These numbers are reflective of those individuals who are officially cited as lynch victims by the white press and other reporting agencies.

However, when one compares and collates the data provided through sources such as African-American newspaper archives, against those provided by organizational reports and papers of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the Association of Southern Women for the Prevention of Lynching and the Tuskegee Institute Research Center, the critical examiner will understand that the criteria for defining a lynching does not totally capture the degree of societal sanctioned terror against African-Americans characteristic of the time period in question.

At this historical juncture the overwhelming majority of Africans still resided in the former slave-holding states of the South. In the aftermath of the disenfranchisement of the majority of this section of the population, people still attempted to organize through the churches, the formation of a National Afro-American Council, and a proliferation of newspapers and journals that spoke against the rise of racial violence.

The United States Government turned a deaf ear to the race terror perpetrated by organized white hate groups consisting of tens of thousands of members throughout the South as well as in northern regions of the country. It would require the intervention of African-Americans themselves to draw real attention to the critical situation prevailing during the late 19th century.

Coinciding with the anti-lynching campaign of Ida B. Wells-Barnett during the 1890s, was the emergence of a national African-American women's movement through the Colored Women's Clubs. These efforts had taken root in communities throughout the United States in both the North and the South. Wells-Barnett played an instrumental role in this movement by intersecting with women's groups throughout the country while carrying out her anti-lynching mobilizations. However, there were many other women who took charge of their political and social agendas to promote self-organization and self-help programs for the African-American people.

One important development of the period was spearheaded by Mrs. Josephine St. Pierre Ruffin of Boston. She is credited with being a pioneer in the Colored Women's Club Movement and the first person to organize a national conference of African-American women in 1895. In 1894, Ruffin started the Women's Era Club that brought together approximately 60 African-American women who conducted charitable and educational work in Boston. In the immediate aftermath Ruffin began to edit the Women's Era monthly publication.

On July 29, 1895 the first National Conference of Colored Women was convened at the Charles Street A.M.E. Church in Boston. Two years after the convening of this conference in Boston, the National Association of Colored Women was founded with Mary Church Terrell of Memphis as the first president and Ruffin as the editor of the Women's Era which became the official publication of the new national organization.

In a speech delivered by Ruffin at the 1895 Boston conference she stated that:
"Now for the sake of the thousands of self-sacrificing young women teaching and preaching in lonely southern backwoods for the noble army of mothers who has given birth to these girls, mothers whose intelligence is only limited by their opportunity to get at books, for the sake of the fine cultured women who have carried off the honors in school here and often abroad, for the sake of our own dignity, the dignity of our race and the future good name of our children, it is 'mete, right and our bounded duty' to stand forth and delcare ourselves and principles, to teach an ignorant and suspicious world that our aims and interests are identical with those of all good aspiring women.

"Too long have we been silent under unjust and unholy charges; we cannot expect to have them removed until we disprove them through ourselves. It is not enough to try and disprove unjust charges through individual effort that never goes any further.

"Year after year southern women have protested against the admission of colored women into any national organization on the ground of the immorality of these women, and because all refutation has only been tried by individual work the charge has never been crushed, as it could and should have been at the first.

"Now with an army of organized women standing for purity and mental worth, we in ourselves deny the charge and open the eyes of the world to a state of affairs to which they have been blind, often willfully so, and the very fact that the charges, audaciously and flippantly made, as they often are, are of so humiliating and delicate a nature, serves to protect the accuser by driving the helpless accused into mortified silence.

"It is to break this silence, not by noisy protestations of what we are not, but a dignified showing of what we are and hope to become that we are impelled to take this step, to make of this gathering an object lesson to the world. For many an apparent reasons it is especially fitting that the women of the race take the lead in this movement, but for all this we recognize the necessity of the sympathy of our husbands, brothers and fathers." (Ruffin Speech to Boston Conference in 1895).

In 1909 the formation of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) was carried out with close involvement of both W.E.B. DuBois and Ida B. Wells-Barnett. However, Wells-Barnett conveys in an autobiography that her participation in the leadership of the new organization was curtailed. The recognition of her work and that of other women activists and organizers would not be fully realized by many of their male counterparts. It would take the emergence civil rights and black power movements some six decades later to bring to the fore the contradictions inherent in a movement of oppressed people that did not fully appreciate the necessity for the total emancipation of women as a precursor to the national liberation of a captive nation.

The Struggle for Pan-Africanism in the 20th Century

Nonetheless, the international character of the black struggle would be recognized by activists and organizers from the United States as evidenced in their participation in the burgeoning pan-african movement beginning in the 1890s and extending into the middle of the 20th century. DuBois as well as women activists such as Anna Julia Haywood Cooper and Addie W. Hunton, were involved in the pan-african gatherings in 1900 in London as well as the post-World War I meeting in Paris.

In fact DuBois admitted in later years that the pan-african movement faced collapse in 1927 when the women's society, the Circle for Peace and Foreign Relations, took responsibility for the funding and organization of the Fourth Pan-African Congress held in New York that year. The significance of the Fifth Pan-African Congress in Manchester, England in October of 1945, in the immediate aftermath of the conclusion of World War II, was that it took on a mass character with the greater involvement of labor and youth. The independence movement in Africa and the Caribbean would accelerate after World War II.

DuBois and other activists saw the black struggle in the United States as being part and parcel of a broader movement against racism, colonialism, imperialism and for national liberation and socialism. With the onslaught of the Great Depression in 1929, the impact on African-Americans was tremendous. DuBois involvement with the NAACP and the Pan-African Congress gave him decades of experience as a political agitator, a scholar and journalist. As a result of the collapse of the capitalist system in the United States, DuBois began to rethink the plight of the African people and sought to define the struggle of the masses as a collective one aimed at social, political as well as economic independence.

In an essay published in 1935 entitled: "A Negro Nation Within the Nation," he stated the following:
"No more critical situation ever faced Negroes of America than that of today--not in 1830, nor in 1861, not in 1867. More than ever the appeal of the Negro for elementary justice falls on deaf ears.

"Three-fourths of us are disenfranchished; yet no writer on democratic reform, no third party movement says a word about Negroes. The Bull Moose crusade in 1912 refused to notice them; the LaFollette uprising in 1924 was hardly aware of them; the Socialists still keep them in the background. Negro children are systematically denied education; when the National Education Association asks for federal aid to education it permits discrimination to be perpetuated by the present local authorities. Once or twice a month Negroes convicted of no crime are openly and publicly lynched, and even burned; yet a National Crime Convention is brought to perfunctory and unwilling notice of this only by mass picketing and all but illegal agitation. When a man with every qualification is refused a position simply because his great-grandfather was black and there is not a ripple of comment or protest." (W.E.B. DuBois Reader, p.69).

In this same essay DuBois reviews the historical racist class structure that Africans were subjected to in the South of the United States. He recalls that:
"Long before the depression Negroes in the South were losing 'Negro' jobs, those assigned them by common custom--poorly paid and largely undesirable toil, but nevertheless life-supporting. New techniques, new enterprises, mass production, impersonal ownership and control have been largely displacing the skilled white and Negro worker in tobacco manufacturing, in iron and steel, in lumbering and mining, and in transportation. Negroes are now restricted more and more to common labor and domestic service of the lowest paid and worst kind. In textile, chemical and other manufactures Negroes were from the first nearly excluded, and just as slavery kept the poor white out of profitable agriculture, so freedom prevents the poor Negro from finding a place in manufacturing. The world-wide decline in agriculture has moreover carried the mass of black farmers, despite heroic endeavor among the few, down to the level of landless tenants and peons." (A W.E.B. DuBois Reader, p. 70).

As a result of the developments during the post World War II period, W.E.B. DuBois would move further towards the political left in the United States. During the concluding years of the War, DuBois increased his involvement in the Council on African Affairs (CAA) under Executive Secretary William Alphaeus Hunton and the patronage of Paul Robeson. DuBois participated in the deliberations of the United Nations during the early years of the late 1940s. An attempt to put forward a petition on the plight of Africans in America, was suppressed by the Truman administration with the assistance of the former first lady Eleanor Roosevelt.

DuBois would leave the NAACP for the second time in 1948 over support for the progressive presidential campaign of Henry Wallace and for a greater internationalization of the African-American struggle. In the early 1950s he would be indicted and tried for being an advocate of a anti-American doctrine and not registering as a foreign agent. The prosecution failed, but he would be denied a passport for eight years and was unable to travel abroad.

In the meantime DuBois would marry left-wing writer and activists Shirley Graham, who furthered his invovlement in socialist-oriented and anti-imperialist causes. However, in 1958, the DuBois' were able to retain their passports and travel to Africa, China, the Soviet Union and western Europe.

The Future of All-Africa Lies in Socialism

After regaining the right to travel outside the United States, the DuBois' were invited to participate in the All-African Peoples Conference (AAPC) in December of 1958. The conference was organized by George Padmore, veteran pan-africanist and socialist, who at the time was serving as the head of the African Affairs Bureau in the government of Dr. Kwame Nkrumah in Ghana. Padmore was the government's chief adviser on African affairs.

The conference attracted representatives from 62 nationalist organizations from throughout Africa. The objective of the gathering was to form a united front of nationalist organizations and movements in order to advance the struggle for a unified African continent. Nkrumah, in his speech to the gathering declared: "Forward to independence, independence now. Tomorrow, the United States of Africa."

Nkurmah, Padmore and DuBois had worked together in various pan-african forums since the 1940s. At the Fifth Pan-African Congress at Manchester in October of 1945, all three of these organizers and theorists helped to chart the modern-day movements for national independence and socialism in Africa. Dubois was scheduled to deliver a speech to the AAPC but while visiting the Soviet Union, he was advised by physicians not to travel to Ghana at that time. Instead his wife, Shirley Graham DuBois, traveled to Accra to read W.E.B.'s address to the historic meeting.

In this address DuBois states that:
"In this great crisis of the world's history, when standing on the highest peaks of human accomplishment we look forward to peace and backward to war, when we look up to heaven and down to hell, let us mince no works. We face triumph or tragedy without alternative.

"Africa, ancient Africa, has been called by the world and has lifted up her hands! Africa has no choice between private capitalism and socialism. The whole world, including capitalist countries, is moving toward socialism, inevitably, inexorably. You can choose between blocs of military alliance, you can choose between groups of political union; you cannot choose between socialism and private capitalism because private capitalism is doomed!

"But what is socialism? It is a disciplined economy and political organization in which the first duty of a citizen is to serve the state; and the state is not a selected aristocracy, or a group of self-seeking oligarchs who have seized wealth and power. No! The mass of workers with hand and brain are the ones whose collective destiny is the chief object of all effort....

"For 400 years Europe and North America have built their civilization and comfort on theft of colored labor and the land and materials which rightfully belong to these colonial peoples.

"The dominant exploiting nations are willing to yield more to the demands of the mass of men than were their fathers. But their yielding takes the form of sharing the loot--not of stopping the looting. It takes the form of stopping socialism by force and not of surrendering the fatal mistakes of private capitalism. Either capital belongs to all or power is denied to all." (W.E.B. DuBois Reader, pp. 254-255).

The National Question in the United States

In 1959, DuBois in an essay, addressed the question of what direction the burgeoning African-American movement would take as it relates to the struggle against racism and national oppression. Having left the NAACP some eleven years earlier and experiencing the vast contributions of socialism in the Soviet Union and China and the national liberation struggles in Africa, DuBois reinforced his positions that had been developing since the Great Depression during the 1930s.

DuBois did not see the elimination of laws governing racial separation as the ultimate objective in the social transformation of the United States. In an article published after his death (1963) in Freedomways journal during 1965, he challenges the civil rights movement to think deeper in regard to long term solutions to the national oppression of African people in America.

In the article entitled: "India's Relation to Negroes and the Color Problem," he writes that:
"To most Indians, the problem of American Negroes--of twelve million people swallowed in a great nation, as compared with the more than three hundred million of India--may seem unimportant. It would be very easy for intelligent Indians to succumb to the widespread propaganda that these Negroes have neither brains nor ability to take a decisive part in the modern world. On the other hand, American Negroes have long considered that their destiny lay with the American people; that their object was to become full American citizens and eventually lose themselves in the nation by continued intermingling of blood. But there are many things that have happened and are happening in the modern world to show that both these lines of thought are erroneous. The American Negroes belong to a group which went through the fire of American slavery and is now a part of the vast American industrial organization; nevertheless, it exists as a representative of two hundred or more million Negroes in Africa, the West Indies and South America. In many respects, although not all, this group may be regarded as the leading intelligentsia of the black race and no matter what its destiny in America, its problem will never be settled until the problem of the relation of the white and the colored races is settled throughout the world." (W.E.B. DuBois Reader, pp.283-284).

Therefore, the solution to the national question in the United States will be a collective one, rooted in a struggle against capitalism and imperialism on a world scale. Irrespective of the machinations of the Bush administration's Africa policy, the fact that the problem of race, class and gender oppression in the United States has not been resolved speaks volumes to the peoples of the continent and other oppressed and struggling peoples around the globe.

The deepening crisis of capitalism and imperialism requires the heightening of the struggle of working people and the nationally oppressed against exploitation, racism and gender oppression. In the tradition of DuBois and other luminaries of the 20th Century, the present generation must continue the fight to achieve genuine political freedom and social emancipation.
Abayomi Azikiwe is the editor of the Pan-African News Wire.

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