by Walter Rodney
Urgent Tasks No. 12

The African continent today has less turmoil, less violence and a slower rate of social transformation than Asia or Latin America; and these are the elements normally associated with Revolution. Yet those who speak of the "African Revolution" know that African people are more aware and more determined than ever before. It is this consciousness, added to internal contradictions and external forces, which gives the African situation its revolutionary character.

For nearly forty years, C. L. R. James has been interested in the development of political consciousness among African people and in their strivings towards grasping control over their own lives. As an analyst of processes in Africa, James qualifies to be called an "academic" or "intellectual"; and as a participant in the struggle for African advance, he becomes a "revolutionary intellectual." It will be found that anyone confining himself to the supposedly pure academic understanding of Africa will in fact fall short of the objective, because of lack of commitment and failure to relate theory to practice. The value of James's contribution to the African Revolution and to an appreciation of it stems precisely from the blend of committed scholarship and activism.

Quantitatively, what James has written on Africa does not amount to a great deal, and it is certainly a tiny proportion of his numerous writings on a variety of subjects. Similarly, one could say that only a small part of his time was devoted to activity directly concerning the African continent. It is the quality and significance of his writing and political action that really matters. During the 1930's, when the "Western Democracies" were conspiring to make Ethiopia into an Italian colony, James directed from England an ad hoc committee of "In- ternational Friends of Ethiopia." This later emerged as the "International African Service Bureau," having James as editor of its journal, International African Opinion.1 The main platform of this journal was colonial liberation; and it was against this background that James wrote A History of Negro Revolt in 1938.2 It bears the marks of those years when even Black militants inside and outside Africa accepted the language of the European oppressor - "Negro," "natives," "tribes," etc. Beyond that, however, the book is a mine of ideas advancing far ahead of its time.

James began his section on "Revolts in Africa" by citing what historians have come to call (rather disparagingly) the Sierra Leone Hut Tax War of 1898. As James explained, it was a reaction by indigenous Sierra Leone peoples against the imposition of European colonial rule, symbolized by the enactment of legislation taxing dwelling places. It was a war of national resistance and liberation, involving the majority of the ethnic groups in Sierra Leone in unified struggle. Many years elapsed before any researcher seriously undertook investigation of this episode.3 The reason for the disinterest is that African resistance to European colonization was not supposed to have existed as far as colonialist scholars were concerned. As late as 1957, Sir Alan Burns was expressing the orthodox view when he wrote that Africans welcomed the coming of the British. As he put it, "there was, for the most part, little fighting against the local people. In certain cases, slave dealers, pirates and tyrannical rulers were fought and defeated, but the inhabitants of these territories as a whole stood aside during the fighting and willingly accepted British rule." Burns was a colonial governor and wrote on behalf of the British ruling class. The mere mention of a different position in 1938 was an act of defiance and singled out C. L. R. James as a front-runner in the field of African studies devoted to African liberation.

Having cited the Sierra Leone war of resistance in 1898, James proceeded to mention a series of African social movements taking place in the inter-war years, and commonly designated as the African Independent Church movement. James unerringly identified three of the most important of these centered around John Chilembwe (Malawi), Simon Kimbangu (Congo) and Harry Thuku (Kenya). Once more, it was many years before these protests were to gain the recognition they deserved. John Chilembwe is today an African hero known far beyond the boundaries of what was in his day the British colony of Nyasaland, and his service to his people evoked one of the fullest biographies written on an African leader.4 Harry Thuku has also been in the forefront of subsequent historical writings on Kenya, and will undoubtedly continue to attract attention. And it is now accepted that forty years of the immediate pre-independence history of the Congo cannot be understood without reference to the popular forces and aspirations articulated by Simon Kimbangu.

Not only were African Independent Churches neglected as an area of enquiry for many years, but when they were first studied or assessed by Europeans, there was a tendency to portray them as being exclusively related to religion or superstition. By Christian missionaries, they were often presented as the work of the devil, while other social researchers came up with such mystifying terms as "millenarian," "messianic" and "atavistic." James's treatment was very brief, but he captured the essence of these anti-colonial African mass movements in a few lines. He recognized them as revolts against oppression and as part of the socio-political protest engendered by the presence of the Europeans and the system of colonialism. He distinguished between form and content, noting that the language of religion in which the protests were couched should not obscure the fact that they sprung from such things as forced labor, land alienation, and colonial taxation. It was because the leadership had formal schooling from missionaries that they expressed themselves primarily in religious terms. As James put it, "Such education as the African is given is nearly always religious, so that the leader often translated the insurrection into religious terms. . . . To every African [independent church organization] is an instinctive step towards independence and away from the perpetual control of Europeans." (pages 53, 55)

A third segment of James's treatment of African revolt was provided in his analysis of workers' organizations and their militancy. He cited the Sierra Leone railway strikes of 1919 and 1926, the Gambian sailors' strike of 1929, the spontaneous uprising of Nigerian women at Aba in 1929, and the powerful Black trade union activity of the I.C.U. in South Africa. In each instance, he pinpointed phenomena of the greatest relevance to the creation of Africa as it is today, and he was doing so a comfortable twenty years before writings on these subjects generally acknowledged these facts. For that matter, even today the tremendous awakening of the small urbanized African element in the 1920's is recorded only in texts which take the minority Marxist position on African history or as a backdrop to specialist volumes on the African trade union movement.5 In describing the fortunes of a mass organization, James is at his best partly because of the immediacy that he brings to commentary and more so because of his grasp of the dialectics of organization. In 1938, he had obviously had enough experience of political organization at both first- and second-hand to appreciate the strengths and weaknesses of the I.C.U. under Clements Kadalie. James's account is a real tribute to the fighting spirit of the Africans of South Africa who today bear the burden of apartheid. In a most economical manner, he probed the quality of the leadership, examined the relationship of leadership to the mass from which it sprang, reflected on the international context of the strikes and other protests by the African workers of South Africa at that time, and quietly indicated that within a racist situation the category of "class" must be seriously re-examined. A great deal has since been said on the South African labor movement, and much more remains to be written.6 But the following lines by James constitute a judgment that will probably remain unshaken. He observed as follows:

The real parallel to this movement is the mass uprising in San Domingo. There is the same instinctive capacity for organisation, the same throwing up of gifted leaders from among the masses. . . . After 1926 the movement began to decline. It could not maintain itself for long at that pitch without great and concrete successes. It was bound to stabilise itself at a less intense level. Kadalie lacked the education and the knowledge to organise it on a stable basis the hardest of tasks for a man of his origin. There was misappropriation of the funds. He saw the necessity for international affiliation. But though the constitution of the organisation condemned capitalism, he would not affiliate to the Third International. The white South African workers refused his offer of unity, for these, petty bourgeois in outlook owing to their high wages and the social degradation of the Negro, are among the bitterest enemies of the native workers, (pages 70, 71)

European scholarship on Africa in the 1960's was ostensibly more liberal and more concerned with the history of Africans rather than the activity of Europeans in Africa. Yet standard general works carried scarcely a hint of the tremendous armed struggle waged by Africans in the late 19th century before falling to the European enemy.7 It is only very recently that this topic has begun to receive the attention it deserves from African and European historians dealing with the continent in that period. (It is interesting to note that individuals like James and Padmore never receive credit or acknowledgement from later writers.) The same applies to the subject of African independent churches and to the self-mobilization by the small wage earner class in colonial Africa. How come that C. L. R. James was so prescient as to perceive the significance of all these "African revolts" when writing in 1938? And what is the meaning of such manifestations as far as the contemporary African Revolution is concerned?

Most schoolboys would have heard the axiom that each generation rewrites its own history. It does so not merely by giving different answers to the same questions but by posing entirely different questions based on the stage of development which the particular society has reached. Certain scholars will be among the first to raise the new and meaningful issues because of their sensitivity and connection with the most dynamic group in the society. Thus, when African peoples were mounting a struggle for political independence and as they continued that struggle through military means in Southern Africa and politico-economic means elsewhere, they automatically became interested in recalling previous resistance. Initially, only a scholar committed to or at least sympathetic to the present African emancipation drive would find it possible to seek out and unearth the evidence of earlier struggles. C. L. R. James was a participant in some of the earliest pressure groups in the metropoles urging African freedom from colonial rule in the 1930's. That is why he was capable of writing A History of Negro Revolt in 1938.

A people's consciousness is heightened by knowledge of the dignity and determination of their foreparents. Indeed, the African world-view regarding ancestors as an integral part of the living community makes it so much easier to identify a given generation with the struggles of an earlier generation. The perception, therefore, is in terms of self what struggles were we waging in 1885, in 1904, in 1921, and so on? It is also a learning experience in which African people often painfully find out the mistakes of (say) king Lobengula of South Africa or the Maji Maji warriors of Tanzania. To give historical depth to the process of resistance is itself functional within the African Revolution today. James knew this. His major effort to project a past revolt into present consciousness was The Black Jacobins, that remarkable study of the momentous victory of the enslaved African population of San Domingo against white plantation society, against the Thermidorean reaction in France, and against the expansionism of British capital. A History of Negro Revolt fulfilled the same purpose; and one of its most significant features was its emphasis on the continuity of resistance.

Modern nationalist African historians have recently come to the realization that the "nationalism" of the 1950's and 1960's had its roots deep in the African past, and that the political parties which won independence in so many territories were only the end product of a continuous process of resistance which took diverse forms: notably, armed struggle, independent churches, welfare associations, peasant crop holdups and strikes by wage earners. This has been fiercely resisted by a small number of white scholars, basically because they wish to hold to the position that nationalism was a product of colonialism and virtually a gift to the African people from Europe in the period after the last war.8 This is not the time and place to refute such a view, and perhaps there is no context in which there is much value in so doing. However, it is worth pointing out that a perception of links and continuity between popular resistance over a long period of time is not something unique to an African nationalist historian. This is the approach adopted by Vietnamese scholars, by progressive Philippine scholars, and by Cuban scholars.

James's awareness of the continuity of African resistance throughout the colonial era can be illustrated by the following lines. "By the end of the nineteenth century, less than one-tenth of Africa remained in the hands of Africans themselves. This rapid change could not fail to produce a series of revolts, which have never ceased." (emphasis mine) (pages 40, 41) His awareness that this struggle evolved over time and changed form can be observed in these sentences: "in the years before the war [of 1914] the tribes simply threw themselves at the government troops and suffered the inevitable defeat. Such risings could not go on. They were too obviously suicidal. In 1915, however, we have a new type a rising led not by a tribal chief but by a Negro who has had some education." (page 53) Then, moving to the end of the decade of the 1920's, James commented on urban workers' resistance in Congo Brazzaville: "This movement had definite Communist tendencies. What the authorities fear most is a combination of the workers in the towns and the peasants in the interior. Such a movement, however, has not yet taken place. . . . Yet railways are linking the various portions of the territory, and . . . since the war each succeeding revolt has been more fierce, more concentrated than the last." (page 62) And, finally, the brief survey was brought up to the year 1938 with reference to the cocoa hold-up that had just taken place in the British colony of the Gold Coast. James felt that "an extraordinary determination and unity linked the population", but he had no romantic illusions that victory was at hand. His assessment at that point was that, "Militant as was this movement, yet, as in most of the older colonies, there was not that militancy which thinks in terms of throwing out the British. . . . There is no national revolutionary movement." (page 84)

In the years immediately after James wrote the above lines, the tempo of events in Africa quickened, and the various strands of revolt were drawn together. There developed both the combination of urban and rural elements which the colonial authorities feared and the determination to throw the colonialists out rather than merely seek concessions. In England, James remained part of the small group of Black men who constantly agitated on the African independence issue, expressing their confidence that at the end of the last world war the peoples of the continent would not brook much further delay in the quest for independence. The demand for African independence was voiced most insistently at the famous Manchester Conference in 1945, having in attendance both DuBois and Padmore as well as two future African heads of state in the persons of Kenyatta and Nkrumah. James himself reflects that at the time it was felt that their statements about African freedom could only have come from "lunatics or inebriates." It is true that the colonial powers and Britain in particular spoke vaguely of self-government for Africa, but no schedule was set up and the tenor of their pronouncements suggested a delay of some forty or fifty years at least. In 1947, on the eve of Nkrumah's return to the Gold Coast colony, British experts were saying that the 1946 Gold Coast constitution would last for several decades, and exhortations were being made to strengthen the British colonial administration to meet the growing demands that were to be made on it.9 The difference between these two perspectives is that between a peoplecentered approach on the one hand and a blend of racism and paternalism on the other. The Pan-Africanists were expressing confidence in the African people and they were proved right. (Even so, James frequently admitted being surprised by the speed of change in Africa. Other African leaders have made statements to this effect, showing that when the potential of a people is realized in action it literally goes beyond all expectations.)

It is difficult and perhaps unnecessary to try and single out James's role within the Pan-African movement, since it was essentially a collective venture.10 What is well-known is that Africans in the diaspora for many years were the driving forces of Pan-Africanism, and it is important to examine the significance of this for the African Revolution. Garvey was an exception in regarding himself as "an African overseas." DuBois remained American until very late in his life, and James has always consciously identified as a West Indian. He offers the explanation that the West Indian (both French and British) has been steeped in the culture of Europe, has in many instances mastered that culture so thoroughly as to lecture the "mother countries" on it and tear it down from within. Hence Cesaire, Fanon, Padmore, etc. James certainly prided himself on mastery of everything in European culture from Greek tragedy to the Hegelian dialectic. But once in England, he moved instinctively to a Pan-Africanist platform. This is highly intriguing. Today, it is usual for the Pan-Africanist in the New World to be into a heavy culture thing. This is condemned by certain Philistines (white and Black) as being romantic racism, since African culture is supposedly alien to the Americas. What the critics fail to realize is that there are fundamental political realities which draw the conscious Black man in the New World towards the African continent. These realities operate equally whether the individual has arrived at a stage of heightened consciousness via cultural nationalism or through a more conventional approach to the struggle against exploitation and oppression.

Some attempts have been made to explain why articulate and politicized West Indians like James, Padmore, and Garvey found that their field of expression had to be within North America, Europe and Africa rather than in their island homes. The answer is to be found partly in their home environment and the socio-political inadequacies there.11 However, the continuing validity of the Pan-African perspective throughout the years of James's career derives from the incontrovertibly international character of white racism, and the situation of African peoples as integral parts of the international political economy.

After the end of formal enslavement in the Americas, there were a few whites who would have welcomed the massive re-transfer of Africans to their homelands. But of course our labor was still needed by the capitalist systems of Western Europe and North America, so that possibility was never part of the rational calculation of white society. The alternative was to try and placate the former slaves by promises of advance within American and Caribbean society. We were told to forget slavery, forget Africa and forget that we were Africans. The stumbling block to accepting this is that the unique exploitation and oppression of the Black population could only be explained in terms of our color and origins. As young men in Trinidad, James and Padmore read Garvey and DuBois. As young West Indians they were concerned primarily with West Indian politics, but the factor of blackness could not be escaped since it was so pervasive. Similarly, within the United States, Black people were impelled to read about Africa not because of any a priori judgments that they were "African" but because of the necessity to survive and challenge white mythology within the U.S.A. itself. James drew attention to this process, saying that, "The American blacks faced with this view of the past of Africa, a view that has been used not only to justify slavery but also to maintain segregation and oppression found themselves driven to make the most serious studies of the past of Africa."12

Once the African continent was brought under colonial rule by the end of the last century, the racist factor was also evident there as a justification of exploitation and oppression. Racism had become part of the superstructure of the white capitalist world. The drive towards white domination shaped policy as an end in itself sometimes at variance even with the profit motive which is the propellant of capitalism. It became highly probable that any Black man fighting against white oppression in his particular locality would sooner or later realize that all Africans "at home and abroad" were caught up in the same predicament. Pan-Africanism is not simply a unity of color, it is also a unity of common condition and one that retains its validity because the dominant group in the international political economy continue to define things in racist terms for their own convenience. For their own convenience, admittedly, but then they are also playing with revolution. James has more than once commented on this double-edged weapon of racism. He wrote recently that "centuries of Western domination and indoctrination . . . create in the minds of the great majority of Africans and people of African descent everywhere a resentment that is never entirely absent. It may remain dormant for long periods, but it can be depended upon in a particular population at a particular time to create and cement a formidable unity and determination. Imperialism created this feeling; it has paid and will pay dearly for it."13

Identity is both affirmation and negation. It recognizes in the same instant the insider and the outsider. Black becomes relevant to an African at that point when he came into contradiction with white men. The continuing sharpness of that contradiction is due to white domination, and the Black or African identity has become a weapon for emancipation. At the level of organization, it is a common enough principle that unity and the enlargement of scale must be brought to bear against the enemy. It is logical enough, too, that one must maximize strong points, so the freeing of the African continent itself became the first priority for politically active West Indians who knew the limitations of their own societies and knew that the weakness of Africa contributed to indignity and low status abroad. Europeans enslaved Africans and colonized Africa. They could never have imagined that some of the slaves would be instrumental in the freeing of the colonies, but the outcome was an unavoidable consequence of the kind of international political economy that emerged under European guidance from the 15th century onward.

The African Revolution so far has already demonstrated convincingly that what has been used as a badge of servility can be turned into a bond of unity and a liberation tool. James's career is a small illustration of this. It is also an illustration that the given African identification is not sufficient as far as carrying out the African Revolution is concerned. The Revolution is by and of the mass of the people, which means in effect the workers, peasants and such leadership as emerges from the mass struggle. This perception of classes forming within African society and his attachment to the Marxist world-view placed James in a position shared by several Black intellectuals over the course of this century. It required a reconciliation between the African and the World Revolution, as it were, and a plotting of the coordinates of race and class. The manner in which these were resolved by James is instructive.

Time and again, James found his white Marxist comrades reneging on their internationalism when it came to the cause of the Black man be it Ethiopia, the West Indies or the U.S.A. The only course of action compatible with the welfare of African peoples was to break with such compromised crypto-racist whites, as Padmore did, as Sekou Toure did, as Aime Cesaire did. Africans on the continent do not find this course of action hard to follow. There is already a built-in suspicion of "foreign" ideologies which can be carried to irrational lengths but which at least serves as a barrier to accepting white ideological hegemony of any sort. The progressive African who is conscious of what the Christian missionaries did is unlikely to be taken in by Marxist missionaries.

A less obvious lesson which can be drawn from James's double commitment to Marxism and the African Revolution is that certain brands of Marxism have no applicability whatever to our situation, having in fact been exposed as bankrupt in Europe itself. While Stalin-ism dominated the European scene during the late 1920's through to the 1940's, James was attracted to the minority Trotskyite position, which at least questioned some of the monstrosities carried out in the Soviet Union under the banner of Socialism. Later, James broke with the Trotskyite mainstream on the grounds that they too were too wedded to the Soviet State to perceive how completely the Revolution had been betrayed. Without entering into the substance of this argument, it can still be affirmed that the African Revolution cannot afford to draw on Marxist theory in its dogmatic Stalinist or even Trotskyist form. But, conversely, it should be equally clear that Africans can benefit from mankind's ideological heritage just as we can build on the universal technological heritage. James brings out the applicability of Marxist methodology in his analysis of some important features of contemporary Africa: notably in his evaluation of the Ghana experience and in his approach to the transformation taking place in Tanzania.

What happened in Ghana is central to an understanding of modern African politics. Many liberals paid lip-service to Ghana independence, while trying to suggest that it was a gift from Britain and was complete in itself. Such individuals were out of tune with Nkrumah's efforts to achieve genuine all-round liberation for the Ghanaian people; and his overthrow was a welcome opportunity for them to spout anti-African sentiments. In turn, James was prompted to reply in a number of public forums, restating positions he had arrived at sometime before the coup. His first concern was to vindicate the popular and revolutionary nature of the events that transpired in the Gold Coast colony between 1947 and 1957. During this period, the role played by Nkrumah was that of an authentic spokesman of the people, challenging the leadership of the petty-bourgeois educated elite of lawyers and doctors. However, James was equally emphatic that subsequently (i.e. .after 1957) the revolution in Ghana and Africa as a whole was subverted by those forces. In my opinion, this change needs to be reaffirmed not only vis a vis the reactionaries and liberals who always disliked Nkrumah, but also with regard to the ultra-leftists who suddenly decided after the Ghana coup that Nkrumah had never been leading a revolutionary movement at all, but rather a party of the petty bourgeoisie.14

In the many analyses which he has made of the popular movement in the Gold Coast and Ghana, James seldom if ever uses any overt Marxist categorization, or makes any citations from the spokesmen of scientific socialism. Indeed, his favorite comparison is with the French Revolution, and he is quite happy to use Michelet and Lefebvre as the sources of his quotations. But his methodology remains that of historical dialectics; and he was in effect showing the compatibility between the latter and an African nationalist or Pan-Africanist stance.

It is relevant under the present circumstances to explore the limitations rather than the achievements of Nkrumah's regime, since it is the former which have salutary lessons to offer on the nature of Revolution and counter-revolution in Africa. James traces the deterioration of the Ghanaian revolution at some length in his study Nkrumah Then and Now, pointing to political errors and problems such as the following:

Nkrumah's dismissal of the Chief Justice for a politically unpopular decision; the growth of a bureaucracy; the total alienation of the middle classes; the encouragement of a coterie of sycophants; failure to involve the masses politically; and personal degeneration of Nkrumah as he became overwhelmed by forces hostile to his original intentions. Not surprisingly, the strongest part of James's argument dealt with the question of the state and the political party. A correct appreciation of these issues remains one of the highest priorities to be met by the leadership of Africa today.

Among a number of well-meaning people, neo-colonialism is considered as incorporating political freedom unmatched by economic independence. Nkrumah himself fostered this distinction. However, at a much more fundamental level, it should be noted that neo-colonialism is incompatible with political independence, and that the flag-raising ceremonies effected no change on the colonial state. James suggested that, "The first problem was a state, a government. To begin with, he had no independent African government. Like all these new African rulers, he had inherited a colonial government organised for purposes quite different from his own." The African head of state found himself "in charge of a British imperialist colonial government which was constructed for British imperialist purposes and not for purposes of governing an African population." ("Reflections on Pan-Africanism.") This remarkable insight (which James develops at some length in his "epilogue" to A History of Pan-African Revolt) is beginning to gain wider acceptance.

In 1971, such sentiments were officially expressed by the governing party in Tanzania, in a document that declared unequivocally that the people had yet to take political power into their hands throughout the continent.15

In 1966, while writing on Nkrumah to a West Indian public, James made the following comment:

It took Nkrumah six years to win independence by 1957. He could have gone on to independence in 1951. He preferred to wait. But one day he told me he didn't know whether he was right to wait, or if he should have gone forward in 1951 as George Padmore and Dorothy Padmore were urging him to do. I did not know what to think at the time but today I am of the opinion that he should have gone straight ahead. That six-year delay was one cause of the deterioration of his party and his government. A revolution cannot mark time for six years.

More prominence should be given to this idea than James himself gave it. {See another mention in "Reflections on Pan-Africanism.") It was a fundamental aspect of the derailing of the people's aspirations in Ghana and elsewhere on the continent. The struggle for independence was a revolutionary one emanating from the masses of the people and embracing nearly all strata of the population. Colonial governments retreated before the force of popular political organizations, but at the same time they maneuvered and counter-attacked sometimes openly and more often insidiously. A period of "Self-Government" such as that in Ghana between 1951 and 1957 was one of co-option and defusing. It was in that period that the colonialists ensured the perpetuation of the colonial state and of the international imperialist economy.

Within a colonial or neo-colonial state structure the locus of power lies outside the national boundaries, having only a local representation in the form of an administration or through the persons of a small class created by and dependent on capitalism as a system. To break with this, the African revolution must transfer power to the people. In Ghana, this did not happen. The party decayed, the bureaucracy flourished in state and party, and the regime became more authoritarian behind its facade of one-party democracy. James's judgment of Nkrumah on this score is a judgment of the African Revolution.

Nkrumah studied, thought and knew a lot. But one thing he never mastered: that democracy is not a matter of the rights of the opposition, but in some way or other must involve the population. Africa will find that road or continue to crash from precipice to precipice.

After the fall of Nkrumah and the subsequent demise of Modibo Keita, one could well ask "where is the African Revolution?" especially given the fact in the first place that constitutional independence brought nothing but puppet regimes in so many territories. James, as a revolutionary protagonist for nearly half a century, is not unduly perturbed by the apparent weight of the counter-revolution. Insofar as the African leadership is not responsible to the majority of the people, it only means that the African Revolution will be aimed as much against them as against the longstanding alien forces of capitalism and imperialism. James cites Fanon with full approval in this context, paraphrasing him as follows:

In the nationalist revolution of the twentieth century, the people must be against not only the imperialists. Some of the people's leaders who come forward to lead the revolution have nowhere to lead the people, and revolution must be as fiercely against them as against the imperialists. Some of the writers, having learned all they could from Western civilisation, will join the revolution, but bring nothing positive and corrupt the revolutionary movement. The intellectuals must learn that they must dig deep among the mass of the population to find the elements of a truly national culture. (Emphasis mine, taken from "DuBois to Fanon.")

It is the last of the above statements which holds the key to James's present fascination with the Tanzanian situation. James's praise for Tanzania is unstinted:

The impact that the policies of Tanzania have made upon Africa and upon the rest of the world has already established the African state of Tanzania as one of the foremost political phenomena of the twentieth century. Tanzania is the highest peak reached so far by revolting blacks." (page 117, A History of Pan-African Revolt)

What has Tanzania done to receive such unqualified praise, in James's opinion? The government nationalized foreign property, which was good. It began to restructure the educational system in an entirely new way, which was an even better idea. It was planning the future on the basis of socialist rural communities, drawing upon the heritage of the people, since Ujamaa or family living was part of that heritage. This, in James's estimation, was the most revolutionary aspect of the political thought of Tanzania.

Reading between the lines, one can see that James has enriched his own long fruitful career of learning and teaching by turning to the pages of Fanon and moreso Mwalimu Nyerere. Fanon exposed the limits of Western culture and its counter productive aspects as far as a Black revolutionary leader was concerned. Nyerere and the Tanzanian developments undoubtedly rekindled James's interest in African civilization and African culture. The fact that Ujamaa seeks its roots in the African past and in African society must have reinforced James's long-held conviction that Revolution must be of the people. Tanzanian Ujamaa was of the people and about the people.

Because the majority of the Tanzanian population lives in the countryside, it means that any goals for the well-being of the country must relate primarily to the rural areas. A most obvious conclusion, one might say, but it only became obvious after Nyerere had said it often enough. Nkrumah had not discerned this. Economic development under his rule was urban-directed and oriented towards industry, which was viewed as a panacea. In evaluating Nkrumah's economic policies, James did not perceive the weakness. He merely observed that Nkrumah was trying to do too much. It was more than that it was an incorrect strategy for socio-economic development, because it ignored the majority of the population and was encouraging further ties of dependence with the outside world rather than self-reliance, as is Tanzania's goal.

When looking at the appalling economic plight of Africa and the Third World, James at one point tended to place reliance on an external solution: namely in "the regenerative assistance of the accumulated wealth and technical knowledge of the advanced countries." For once James seems to be defeatist when he assesses that "the regimes in Asia and Africa, with their present resources, have no possibility whatever of overcoming constant economic crisis and political and social decay." Undoubtedly, a Revolution within the metropolitan centers would be of inordinate importance to the African Revolution, but it is no pre-condition. It may even be argued that the world revolution must continue to move from the "periphery" to the "center" as far as the imperialist world is concerned. In any event, the trend pointed by Tanzanian Ujamaa is for self-reliance, internally integrated growth, and a self-sustaining economy which can in itself constitute exit from the economic crisis and socio-political decay attendant on neo-colonialism. There can be no guarantee of success of this particular line, but there can never be a guarantee in these matters. James himself is fond of telling political activists to do what they feel has to be done and let the rest take care of itself. In terms of economic policy, therefore, he has taken his cue from the Tanzanian revolution.

Some Marxists are skeptical of what is going on in Tanzania. They cannot separate Ujamaa from the "African Socialism" of the African petty bourgeoisie. A few of these are Africans on the continent or in the Americas a fact worth noting in the present context. More significantly, there are numerous Africans as enthusiastic about Ujamaa as James is, but who refuse to accept that insights can be gained from Marxism which are applicable to the African situation and would strengthen our ideological position. James has always been applying Marxism to the concrete conditions of Black society, irrespective of whether or not he announces this. Occasionally, he makes it explicit. He did so with regard to the Tanzanian Revolution, and it is worth ending with the illustration to that effect.

Drawing on his detailed knowledge of the Russian Revolution, James isolated the two matters on which Lenin placed absolute priority in his last years. The first was the break-up of the old state machinery and the second was educational work among the peasants. Marxism-Leninism was not Nyerere's point of reference, but he decided upon these same two priorities for Tanzania after the experience gained from several years in office as head of state. James holds up this relevant parallel between the Russian and Tanzanian situations as an example to those Africans who misguidedly and maliciously represent Marxism as "something that Marx had to say about the advanced countries." Equally of course one could conclude that Marxist formalism is not indispensable in the task of discerning the movement of society and building the new structures that express the interests of the mass of the people.16 It is significant that a question as seemingly abstract as that of the value of Marxism to the African Revolution has recently been revived among African students on the continent and activists in the Black movement in America. It is a recognition of the fact that, as oppressed people, we cannot afford to overlook any weapon which could contribute to our liberation. One of the many facets of the career of Mzee C. L. R. James is precisely the awareness that African freedom will not be won without building on the positive elements in the history of Man. This is a propitious moment for restating that proposition, because it can be placed in the now firmly established context that the portion of that history most relevant to us is the history of Man in Africa and of Africans in world affairs.

Walter Rodney, an internationally renowned historian of colonialism and a leader of the Guyanese Working People's Alliance, was closely associated with James (and to his memory James's autobiography will be dedicated). Rodney was assassinated June 13, 1980. The above address was delivered at a Symposium on James at the University of Michigan, March 31, 1972. Our special thanks to Richard Small for supplying a copy.


1. John Gaffar La Guerre, "Cyril Lionel Robert James, 1901 An Annotated Bibliography" (Mimeograph, University of the West Indies, 1970).[return to text]

2. This has since been republished as C. L. R. James, A History of Pan-African Revolt (Drum and Spear Press, 1961). (All page references in the text are taken from this second edition.)[return to text]

3. A major monograph has still to make its appearance on this subject. However, see Christopher Fyfe, A History of Sierra Leone (1964) and Robert Rotberg and Ali Mazrui (eds.), Black Protest (1970).[return to text]

4. George Shepperson and Thomas Price, Independent African (1958).[return to text]

5. An example in the first category is Jack Woddis, Africa, the Roots of Revolution In the second category, see loan Davies, African Trade Unions (1966).[return to text]

6. One of the more revealing volumes is that by Edward Roux, Time Longer Than Rope (second edition, 1964).[return to text]

7. This applies for instance to R. Oliver and J. D. Fage, A Short History of Africa, which is still widely in use.[return to text]

8. This view was first strongly advocated by colonial historians such as Lady Margery Perham, and is now being pursued by a younger generation of neo-colonial European scholars.[return to text]

9. See, e.g, Sir Charles Jeffries, Transfer of Power: Problems of the Passage to Self-Government (1960).[return to text]

10. James himself is tireless in giving credit to the others who were involved, such as DuBois, Padmore, Wallace Johnson and Makonnen. See, e.g., his discourse, "From DuBois to Fanon" (1970).[return to text]

11. A number of explanations have been offered for this phenomenon. One of the recent reviews is one by Locksley Emundson, "Caribbean Nation-Building and the Internationalization of Race: Issues and Perspectives," in Wendell Bell and Walter Freeman (eds.), Ethnicity and Nation-Building (Sage Publishers, 1972).[return to text]

12. C. L. R. James, "Colonialism and National Liberation in Africa: The Gold Coast Revolution" in Norman Miller and Roderick Aya, National Liberation: Revolution in the Third World (The Free Press, 1971), page 106.[return to text]

13. Ibid, page 129.[return to text]

14. See, e.g. Bob Fitch and Mary Oppenheimer, Ghana, the End of an Elusion a book with many insights but one marred by oversimplification of the class situation in Ghana.[return to text]

15. The T.A.N.U. Guidelines (T.A.N.U., Dar es Salaam, 19V1J.[return to text]

16. For an extended discussion along these lines, see Walter Rodney, "Tan- zanian Ujamaa and Scientific Socialism," in African Review, Volume 1, No. 4 (1972).[return to text]

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