Stokely Speaks: Black Power to Pan Africanism

Stokely speaks...

This remarkable collection of speeches and essays originally published in 1971 by one of the significant figures to emerge during the civil rights struggle of the 1960s in the United States, has been re-issued in a time period where the ideas put forward between 1965-1971 are just as important today as they were then. The questions of who is qualified to run society and government, the role of resistance in the struggle for genuine democracy, the Arab-Israeli conflict, the role of people in the west in regard to revolutions taking place in the so-called Third World and Pan-Africanism.

With a forward by award-winning journalist from death row, Mumia Abu-Jamal, the book illustrates that it is not only a historical document but a living work in the service of not only understanding the past but bringing its weight to the contemporary challenges faced by conscious people in the 21st Century. In addition, Bob Brown’s preface to this new issue lends the credibility needed from someone who was influenced heavily by Carmichael (Ture) and worked closely with him for over three decades.

Mumia’s points to the importance of the book from someone who was younger than Carmichael but who was influenced by the political tendencies that he was instrumental in developing. Jamal was a member of the Philadelphia Chapter of the Black Panther Party from 1968. He admits that the split within the Black Panther Party in 1969 tainted his earlier view of Carmichael. However, he regrets that things were not different and that how much stronger the revolutionary movement may have been if these differences had not become antagonistic:

” …what would history have been if Ture did not leave the Party? What if the Party was big enough, strong enough, mature enough to include his insights into their own? Ture writes (in “Pan-Africanism”) of the “ideological issues” that separated him from the Party. Although he is not explicit, the issue was working with white radicals, something Ture found untenable. Ironically, the ideological positions between Huey P. Newton and Stokely Carmichael were perhaps closer than first thought. As early as 1971, Newton recognized that the Party’s work with white radicals was unproductive, for “White radicals did not give us access to the White community.” One cannot read Stokely’s trenchant analysis of white liberalism without coming to the same conclusion (see his January 1969 speech, “The Pitfalls of Liberalism”).”

As early as 1966, Carmichael was articulating a view that foresaw the protracted nature of national and class politics in the United States. During the recent period there have been vicious attacks on the political gains made by Africans in America during the civil rights and black power movements of the 1950s through the 1970s. Illustrating this clearly is the recent passage in the state of Michigan of a ballot initiative that changed the constitution to effectively outlaw affirmative action. This took place in the aftermath of a Supreme Court decision in 2003 upholding in principle of the use of race as a deciding factor in both undergraduate and graduate/professional school admissions.

The central role of education in the process of national discrimination or institutional racism is pointed out in the essay entitled: “Who Is Qualified?” originally published in the January 8, 1966 issue of the New Republic. It was written at a time when Carmichael was organizing in Lowndes County, Alabama where the first Black Panther Party was formed with the explicit purpose of building an independent political force backed up by the armed will of the people to defend themselves against racist terror.

In regard to the undemocratic character of the distribution of educational resources in the United States, Carmichael writes that: “The panacea for lack of opportunity is education, as is the panacea for prejudice. But just how available is it? If every sixteen-year-old in the nation were motivated to attend high school, he could not: there are not enough schools, not enough physical space. As for college, less than one-quarter of the population ever gets there. The financial barrier is too high; even the cheapest state college charges fees which are impossible for the poor. Scholarships serve only the gifted. To make matters worse, many universities and colleges are already fighting off the mob by making entry more difficult. It is getting harder, not easier, for the poor to be included here. For the Negro, there is an additional problem. He is not psychologically attuned to think of college as a goal. Society has taught him to set short sights for himself, and so he does.”

In the essay entitled: “Power and Racism”, which initially appeared in the New York Review of Books in September of 1966, explains how this structural oppression of African people spawns resistance. He criticizes the purported non-violent character of the civil rights movement in the early 1960s. He points to the dialetical relationship between the government’s response to the demands of the movement during its early phase to the eruption of urban rebellions which he explains are the natural outcome of the lack of response to peaceful protests:

“None of its so-called leaders could go into a rioting community and be listened to. In a sense, I blame ourselves–together with the mass media–for what has happened in Watts, Harlem, Chicago, Cleveland and Omaha. Each time the people in those cities saw Martin Luther King get slapped, they became angry; when they saw four little black girls bombed to death, they were angrier; and when nothing happened, they were steaming. We had nothing to offer that they could see, except to go out and be beaten again. We helped build their frustration.”

In providing a working definition of black power as an ideology and political program to counter the perceived weakness of the civil rights movement, Carmichael says later on in this same essay “Power and Racism” that: “This is what they seek: control. Where Negroes lack a majority, Black Power means proper representation and sharing of control. It means the creation of power bases from which black people can work to change statewide or nationwide patterns of oppression through pressure from strength–instead of weakness. Politically, Black Power means what it has always meant to SNCC: the coming together of black people to elect representatives and to force those representatives to speak to their needs. It does not mean merely putting black faces into office. A man or woman who is black and from the slums cannot be automatically expected to speak to the needs of black people. Most of the black politicians we see around the country today are not what SNCC means by Black Power. The power must be that of a community, and emanate from there.”

Some four decades later Africans in America have not realized this form of politics which is first and foremost designed to serve the immediate interests and needs of the community. In addition, to the domestic agenda involving education, political power and self-organization, the foreign policy of the United States reflects the internal racism and national oppression against Africans and other oppressed peoples. This is why Carmichael would accept an invitation to address the First Conference of the Organization of Latin American Solidarity in Cuba during July of 1967.

Carmichael begins this chapter entitled: “Solidarity With Latin America”, by stating forthrightly that Africans in the United States share common interests with the peoples of South America and its environs. He says that: “We share with you a common struggle, it becomes increasingly clear; we have a common enemy. Our enemy is white Western imperialist society. Our struggle is to overthrow this system that feeds itself and expands itself through the economic and cultural exploitation of non-white, non-Western peoples–of the Third World.”

These words are still relevant today in light of the continuing threats by US imperialism against the sovereignty of the Cuban Revolution. This lack of respect for Cuban independence is also represented by the continuing occupation of Guantanamo Bay as a naval base on that Caribbean island. One of the most egregious violations of human rights and the dignity of people has been the existence of torture camps where hundreds are held without charge or trial.

In the continental United States a burgeoning immigrant rights movement during 2006 has exploded and opened new avenues for solidarity and mass struggle. The resurrection of May Day in the country where it was formed has once again in the 21st Century been made a reality by recent immigrants as it was during the 19th Century with immigrants from Germany, Ireland and other European nations.

In another significant solidarity effort that has remained essential from the 1960s to the 21st Century is of course the question of the Palestinian’s right of return as well as national independence through the realization of a independent state for the Palestinian people. Carmichael in his address to the Organization of Arab Students in Ann Arbor, Michigan in August of 1968, he lays out the case for African-American solidarity with the Palestinian Revolution. He offers a serious critique of Zionism and the role of the propaganda put forward by this movement that seeks to win sympathy for the continued occupation of Palestinian land and the denial of self-determination for this oppressed and colonized people.

Carmichael says that:”Zionists have a very effective, offensive propaganda. They state their propaganda and everyone accepts it as the truth and they put on the defensive anyone who tries to even question their propaganda by calling him anti-Semitic. It’s a very, very good trick: nobody wants to be anti-Semitic, nobody wants to hate people merely because of their race. The way we found to counteract the offensive propaganda of the Zionists is to state our propaganda, and state it offensively, and state ours as the truth, and not bow down or question or quibble with the Zionists’ propaganda; that is the only way we have found to be able to deal with them. If the Zionists assert that they have a right to Israel, then we assert that the Palestinians have a right to Palestine. And once we assert that, there is never room for discussion. But once we assert that the Palestinians have a right to Palestine because it belongs to them, then there can be room for discussion in this country. That is precisely what we did: try very hard to calculate assertions that would for once put the Zionists on the defensive in this country and let them back up their so-called State of Israel, which we all know to be an unjust and certainly immoral state.”

In 2006 there was the blanket bombing of southern Lebanon by Israel. The United States Senate passed a resolution without opposition supporting this military action that was condemned by people throughout the region and to an increasing degree by popular organizations inside this country. It is the funding from American taxpayers that supply the F-15 and F-16 fighter planes which bomb Lebanon under the guise of fighting the falsely-labelled Hezbullah Party as terrorists.

Even a former US President is attacked by the pro-Israeli lobby and sections of the ruling class for publishing a book describing the social system in occupied Palestine as apartheid-like in its character. Consequently, the notion of solidarity between Africans in the United States and Palestinians goes to heart of challenging the imperialist’s aim of dominating the middle-east through the notion of protecting the security of Israel, a settler-colonial state.

By 1969, Carmichael had re-located in the west African nation of Guinea-Conakry, then under the leadership of the Democratic Party of Guinea (PDG) headed by President Ahmed Sekou Toure. Pan-Africanism utilizes as a principle tenet the international character of the black struggle, the identity of these peoples as Africans and the unity of peoples of African descent around the world.

In a “Message from Guinea” sent in the form of a letter to the founding meeting of the Malcolm X Liberation University in Durham, North Carolina in October of 1969, Carmichael states that: “Now, we must recognize that black people, whether we are in Durham, San Francisco, Jamaica, Trinidad, Brazil, Europe or on the mother continent, are all an African people. We are Africans, there can be no quesiton about that. We came from Africa, our is African…. We have all suffered the same oppression at the hands of white folks, whether in Lynchburg, Virginia; Money, Mississippi; Accra, Ghana; or Johannesburg, South Africa.”

Carmichael views Pan-Africanism as the highest expression of Black Power. Here the evolution is complete from civil rights and black power to the realization that the liberation of Africa is key to the world-wide freedom of all peoples who share the continent as a homeland.

The reprinting of this book comes as an enormous contribution to the ongoing ideological and political discussion among African peoples related to their continuing quest for genuine human emancipation. This book provides the opportunity for an ancestor to speak from the whirlwind, to provide encouragement and guidance to the developing struggle for qualitative change and social transformation.

Review by Abayomi Azikiwe

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