By Shaun Ajamu Hutchinson
Friday, October 11, 2013.
Several of the most famous African and Caribbean personalities of the Black consciousness Movement, the Pan Africanism Movement and global campaigns of the early to mid 20th century were also active in that era’s international Communist Movement. The list includes well-known personalities like the African American Scholar WEB Dubois, Aime Cesaire [Martiniquan father of Negritude [the Francophone equivalent to Black Consciousness]; Notting Hill Carnival pioneer Claudia Jones, Jamaican writer and Harlem Renaissance figure Claude McKay, Jacques Romain – author of the classic Haitian novel Masters of the Dew and founder of that country’s Communist Party; and the music of their contemporary the singer, actor and Human Rights activist Paul Robeson - whose enduring legacy in Wales was recalled - was fitting entertainment.
The fascinating stories of these writers, artists and activists were profiled at a packed book launch where more than 100 people enjoyed the festive and celebratory launch of Dr Hakim Adi’s recently published book - Pan Africanism and Communism - at Harrow Civic Centre in North West London recently.
Welcoming the audience to a buzzing and lively atmosphere, Dr Adi shared his gratitude towards the many people who had assisted over the decade he had spent researching and writing the book. He paid special tribute to his wife and acknowledged the support of Mayor Nana Asante of the Borough of Harrow, who proofread the draft. Dr Adi also thanked Leslie James an academic specialising in George Padmore - the prominent Pan Africanist leader and one-time Communist, one of the book’s key subjects.
Dr Adi, who is a renown academic and specialist in the history of Africa and its diaspora described how Black Bolshevik the autobiography of African American Communist Harry Heywood – with whose widow he had since formed a friendship - had ignited his interest in this fascinating era of Black consciousness.
In a lecture pulling together the apparently disparate, but actually closely related threads of struggle taking place across the world – in the African Diaspora against colonialism and racism and exploitation and in defence of the rights of all - the audience was introduced to several noted names. All were influenced by, and were active in the Communist movement in the before the McCarthy witch hunts of 1950s America, and none of these important Black leaders were ashamed of their association with communism.
Dr Adi’s insight and expertise - the result of a decade long research project across several continents - revealed a hidden history of global rivalry and political activity in the period leading up to the Second World War.
This goldmine of historical exploration and insight sourced from Russia, Africa, the Caribbean and the Americas, the academic’s book is an important historical legacy which underlined the lasting influence of the period – especially on the anti-colonial movement of the 1950s and US Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s.
During the question-and-answer session, Dr Adi contributed to searching interventions about identity, disillusionment with communism and the apparent limitations of the ideology, as well as the controversial approach of the Communist Party [USA] to the struggle against racism and discrimination (The Negro Question as it was then described – that African Americans constituted an oppressed nation within the Black Belt of the country and had the right to independence through secession from the USA) - and whether the ideology holds the same hope and inspiration now as it did in the 20th Century.
The similarity between the two decades under the spotlight [1919-1939 and the 21st century was clear. The highlight is that those who are defending civil rights in this new millennium can learn lessons from the path walked by the old champions of civil rights and freedom. The adversaries then are also the same now - as embodied by global powers who have designated themselves as international champions of democracy whilst trampling on every positive and laudable achievement of humankind.
Dr Adi’s book, whilst focusing on a particular era in which communism was the framework, left the audience to ponder the viewpoint that enduring campaigns for a new society necessitated a modern approach, within the same ideological framework.
If you missed this session you’ll get another opportunity to hear Dr Adi deliver his presentation at London’s School of Oriental and African Studies [SOAS] on 31 October.
Pan Africanism and Communism
Published by Africa World Press