W.E.B Du Bois – Letter to Kwame Nkrumah on Peace Program, February 1957

I came across this letter from Du Bois to Kwame Nkrumah and wanted to share it with you. In it, Du Bois apologizes for his absence in Ghana upon Nkrumah’s invitation due to restrictions placed upon his passport, which the State revoked in 1952. I was reminded once more of the biographical contiguities between the trajectories taken by Du Bois’s and Robeson’s lives—the deep politics of their friendship and their common persecution by the white-ruled government of their country. In 1950, Robeson applied for a passport renewal so that he could fulfill his acting and singing committments and continue his crusade for peace in the world. However, the State Department presses him to submit an affidavit renouncing his affiliation with the Communist Party and confirm his allegiance to the United States government. Robeson roundly refused and drew upon his legal acumen to conduct his own defense.

Du Bois takes the letter as an opportunity to comment upon the state of affairs in Ghana and what role it ought to play in the future of Africa. Looking forward to a New Africa under a leadership accountable to the people and committed to the development of Pan Africa and Pan Asia and the preservation, above all, of human civilization, Du Bois observes that

with a program of Peace and no thought of force…Pan Africa will seek to preserve its own past history and write the present account, erasing from literature the lies and distortions about black folk which have disgraced the last centuries of European and American literature; above all, the new Pan Africa will seek the education of all its youth on the broadest possible basis without religious dogma and in all hospitable lands as well as in Africa and for the end of making Africans not simply profitable workers for industry nor steel-pigeons for propaganda, but for making them modern, intelligent, responsible men of vision and character.

The letter is both a plea to Nkrumah and a paean to Africa’s rich history as a decisive power in the world and its always flowering civilization. Semper novi quid ex Africa: Always something new comes out of Africa. He also shares important insights about his organization of the PAC’s following the First World War, after which he sought in earnest to “establish some means of cooperation between the peoples of African descent throughout the world.” Other notable details include his insights about early modern African history and the founding of Timbuktu and ancient Ghana’s connection to the Roman Empire—Bernal’s thesis which he develops in the three volumes of Black Athena echoes Du Bois.

This seemed particularly important, given our conversations in our Year of Du Bois World And Africa Reading Group and I will be sure to share with participants next time we meet. I also found it significant that Du Bois impresses upon the necessity of Ghana’s alliance with sub-Saharan Africa and the special oppression faced by “Black Africa below the Desert” under white rule. More comment on this later. Sharing here, too, Anthony Monteiro’s reading of this letter on WURD this morning.

UN Special Committee Against Apartheid, Tribute to Paul Robeson, April 1979

Muhammad Ali at a press conference with the Chairman of the Special Committee Against Apartheid. April 13, 1979

“Paul Robeson entered our consciousness at an early age, during the years before the Second World War, when Asians were struggling to regain their nationhood from Western imperialism. We remember him as a great American, great in every sense, in body and soul larger than life. It is not only the things that he stood for, but the manner in which he said and sang about them that compelled the attention of the world… This interrelationship between him and the peoples fighting for freedom everywhere was bound in the same web of history, human suffering and human aspiration. Inevitably, he became a part, and indeed a symbol, of the world movement for freedom and liberation. His songs were the purest expressions of the essence of humanity. Like the rest of us, he too was a victim of the white man’s law and the white man’s world. But not for long, because the victims of yesterday have now become the children of destiny of today and tomorrow.

There is in every country a separate third world of suffering and sacrifice, of struggle and liberation, and Paul Robeson belonged to that third world. For us of the third world today. his life is a shining symbol of the collective human effort to break down the barriers that have held back the coloured people for centuries. Paul Robeson wanted very much to go to the Bandung Conference in 1955, but he was denied a passport and so he sent a message of greetings. In it he stressed the urgent necessity of preventing another world war and the common duty to humanity of the peoples of Asia and Africa to support disarmament and to save mankind and civilization from wholesale destruction. He said ‘ Discussion and mutual respect are the first ingredients for the development of peace among nations and an end should be put to the policy of force and the threat of nuclear war.’ He fully supported the principles of Bandung and proclaimed that he took his stand on the Bandung platform.”

—Rikhi Jaipal, Permanent Representative of India to the United Nations, UN Special Committee Against Apartheid, Tribute to Paul Robeson, April 1979

A Tribute to Paul Robeson

Philadelphia honors Paul Robeson in all of his radiance

On April 28, Philadelphia will honor Paul Robeson in all of his radiance and I am knee-deep in his music and speeches. I was lucky to have come across the proceedings of a special meeting of the United Nations Special Committee Against Apartheid on April 10, 1979,  wherein many comrades of Robeson offered tributes to his life and the legendary contributions he made to humanity in politics, sports, law, literature, history, music, and folklore. These loving reports of his prodigious talent, immense generosity, and boundless faith in humankind inspired me to compose my own tribute to this great revolutionary.

Robeson brought light and life to the twentieth century. He dreamt of the grandest future for the dark nations of the world and compelled humanity to act with honor, courage, and grace. Art, he averred, was a weapon of love, for he could never separate his progress as an artist from his capacity to love and grow as a human being. It is often said that he is a “Renaissance” man, but we must be more specific: he strove to will into being a renaissance of black civilization in America and throughout the world. It is for this reason that he pushed himself to surpass the bar in virtually every dimension of human achievement: he excelled in law, literature, athletics, theater, folklore, linguistics, and many other subjects. He also knew more than twenty languages. Above all, Robeson saw himself as a son and defender of African peoples and their civilizations throughout the world. He cultivated the highest moral standard for Communists and humanity, in general. During the Second World War, he stood with the Soviet Union against fascism, like Du Bois. He valiantly struggled for the freedom of the people of Africa through his role in the Council for African Affairs with W.E.B Du Bois. He championed the Chinese people’s movement for a people’s republic and he praised the Indian masses in their dignified opposition to white rule. As Rikhi Jaipal, the Permanent Representative of India to the United Nations said during a commemoration of Paul Robeson’s eightieth birthday, organized by the UN Special Committee Against Apartheid:

Paul Robeson entered our consciousness at an early age, during the years before the Second World War, when Asians were struggling to regain their nationhood from Western imperialism. We remember him as a great American, great in every sense, in body and soul larger than life. It is not only the things that he stood for, but the manner in which he said and sang about them that compelled the attention of the world… This interrelationship between him and the peoples fighting for freedom everywhere was bound in the same web of history, human suffering and human aspiration. Inevitably, he became a part, and indeed a symbol, of the world movement for freedom and liberation. His songs were the purest expressions of the essence of humanity. Like the rest of us, he too was a victim of the white man’s law and the white man’s world. But not for long, because the victims of yesterday have now become the children of destiny of today and tomorrow.

There is in every country a separate third world of suffering and sacrifice, of struggle and liberation, and Paul Robeson belonged to that third world. For us of the third world today. his life is a shining symbol of the collective human effort to break down the barriers that have held back the coloured people for centuries. Paul Robeson wanted very much to go to the Bandung Conference in 1955, but he was denied a passport and so he sent a message of greetings. In it he stressed the urgent necessity of preventing another world war and the common duty to humanity of the peoples of Asia and Africa to support disarmament and to save mankind and civilization from wholesale destruction. He said ‘ Discussion and mutual respect are the first ingredients for the development of peace among nations and an end should be put to the policy of force and the threat of nuclear war.’ He fully supported the principles of Bandung and proclaimed that he took his stand on the Bandung platform.

He brought to life the rich musical, spiritual, and literary traditions of black folk in America. He tirelessly believed in the capacity of the human spirit to overcome great adversity and prevail in freedom’s glory. He was also a profoundly gifted actor, that most complicated of arts. Theater plays a crucial role in human civilization. Playing a role is a way of imagining what it is like to be someone other than yourself, and traversing the dialectic of  the self’s relation to humanity. The actor stands as synechdoche of a people, encapsulating in his mien, their manners, cosmology, morality, world-thoughts, and aspirations. As a witness, watching a dramatic production requires the audience  to reflect on the fundamental questions that motivate human existence. As Robeson knew, the actor is important because it is he who imagines new ways of being in the world, new directions for human action, and, most importantly, new prerogatives for human compassion. It is for this reason that we must properly contend with his interpretation of Othello, which was a historic achievement in the Shakespearean theatrical tradition in that it insisted upon the necessity of seeing Othello as an African nobleman and ruler in Italy, an insight which sheds light not only on the role of Africa in the early modern world but also, the origins of Western civilization in Africa, out of the contestations between Christian Rome and Islamic Afro-Asia.

His disappointments with the mainstream film industry made Robeson keenly aware of the limitations placed on roles black actors could play in Hollywood and it was through these experiences that he came to realize what role he—as artist and revolutionary—needed to play in history in order to secure the freedom of his people. Thus, in every speech he gave and every song he sang, Robeson conveyed that he spoke for the African-American people, guiding world opinion in their favor and bending it towards justice. In testimonies such as the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) hearing, during which he is the subject of the U.S. government’s vile scrutiny, Robeson plead the fifth amendment rather than betray his comrades. In maintaining this firm position, he vowed that he would never be moved by the chauvinism of white people, that he would not be cowed by the virulent anti-communism and racism of the U.S. government, which basely seized his passport for his role in the struggle for peace in the world.

His voice cries out of the past holding us spellbound in the deep timbres and hollowings of his tremendous basso profundo, and in the end he left us with more than a body of musical and dramatic interpretations: they are meticulous enactments, offerings, of what it means–and has meant–to ache and agitate for a world where the liberation of humanity from white civilization and imperialism is not only a concrete possibility, but an inevitability. Such was the mettle of his hope and the tenacity of his exhortation.  Long live Robeson. His spirit prevails and his songs will follow us to the heavens.

Western Zionism and the Promise of Peace in Palestine

From the time of the Balfour Declaration (during World War I) Palestine was under five British mandates, and England promised the land back and forth to the Arabs or the Jews, depending on which horse seemed to be in the lead.  The Zionists – as distinguished from the people known as the Jews – using, as someone put it, the ‘available political machinery,’ i.e., colonialism, e.g., the British Empire – promised the British that, if the territory were given to them, the British Empire would be safe forever…the state of Israel was not created for the salvation of the Jews; it was created for the salvation of Western interests.  This is what is becoming clear (I must say it was always clear to me).  The Palestinians have been paying for the British colonial policy of ‘divide and rule’  and for Europe’s guilty Christian conscience for more than thirty years…The collapse of the Shah not only revealed the depth of pious Carter’s concern for ‘human rights,’ it  also revealed who supplied oil to Israel, and to whom Israel supplied arms.  It happened to be, to spell it out, white South Africa.”

—James Baldwin

The contests between European nations for world imperial hegemony in World War I–whose causus belli, as Du Bois crucially observes, lay in Europe’s scramble for Africa and suffocation of Asia–created the conditions for the rise of fascism in Germany, which subsequently conducted a pogrom against its Jewish citizens in the name of advancing whiteness which it erroneously named Aryanism, an ideology that emerged out of Europe’s colonization of India and a desire to recognize the common origins of so-called “Indo-Aryan” civilizations so as to suppress the historical connections between African and Asiatic civilization. However, as I make clear in an earlier post, this is not the case, for Indian and Asiatic civilizations are more akin to African civilizations than Western civilization in their political struggle. moreover, from a sociological standpoint, share distinct patterns of continuity with respect to art, religion, cosmology, science, amongst other civilizational developments over time.

Shortly after the First World War, the British government, under the leadership of Lord Balfour led the way in recognizing Zionist aspirations for a national homeland for European Jews. Arab Christians, Jews, and Muslims have lived in this region for many centuries; the Zionist crusade in Palestine was thus a racial program in that it created a home for European Jewry in the name of preserving their whiteness. It is no wonder, then, that the state of Israel would form a military alliance with apartheid South Africa, as Baldwin pointed out.

Too often Hitler’s rise and the outbreak of the Second World War are unmoored from historical hindsight. Particularly, the rise of German cultural nationalism–Nazism–is deliberately severed from the crisis of European imperialism, which was rapidly collapsing in the mid-twentieth century as the dark nations emancipated themselves from European bondage. In 1929 the world found itself in a serious depression not unlike our own. Those who believed in communism and the planned production and distribution of goods were severely persecuted. Indeed, there were many Jews who stood against imperialism, particularly in the United States; many joined the Communist Party in the 30s which witnessed a new lurch towards socialism under Roosevelt. We think of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg, Herbert Aptheker, and others who heroically stood with African-Americans in their struggle against segregation and lynching.

Hitler, we must not forget was not simply an anti-Semite; he was an anti-communist, seeing communist internationalism as an obstacle to German expansion–the rationale of seeking lebensraum. In the wake of the Second World War, Europe needed Israel to rebuild itself and the anger and humiliation faced by Jews under Hitler was quickly converted into nationalism chauvinism as the Europeans flocked to Palestine, Perpetrating all manner of evils against Arab citizens who we must remember we’re also being oppressed by the British and other European powers. For this very reason, Mahatma Gandhi whose own country was being exploited by the British wrote in a series of letters that it was historical folly on the part of European Jews to impose themselves on the Arabs whose own civilization was being suppressed by Europeans:

My sympathies are all with the Jews. I have known them intimately in South Africa. Some of them became life-long companions. Through these friends I came to learn much of their age-long persecution. They have been the untouchables of Christianity. The parallel between their treatment by Christians and the treatment of untouchables by Hindus is very close. Religious sanction has been invoked in both cases for the justification of the inhuman treatment meted out to them. Apart from the friendships, therefore, there is the more common universal reason for my sympathy for the Jews.

But my sympathy does not blind me to the requirements of justice. The cry for the national home for the Jews does not make much appeal to me. The sanction for it is sought in the Bible and the tenacity with which the Jews have hankered after return to Palestine. Why should they not, like other peoples of the earth, make that country their home where they are born and where they earn their livelihood?

Palestine belongs to the Arabs in the same sense that England belongs to the English or France to the French. It is wrong and inhuman to impose the Jews on the Arabs. 

White America, on the other hand, needed a steadfast business partner in Western Asia in order to assert hegemony Asia Europe collapsed in the wake of two world wars.

Finally, it is worth remembering that it was not the Allies but the Soviet Union that defeated Adolf Hitler, precipitating his suicide. Herein lies the failure of Hannah Arendt’s argument: she mistakenly conflates Hitler’s Germany with Stalin’s Soviet Union, which though attacked by the German military in Leningrad, heroically routed it from Russian soil, drastically diminishing Hitler’s power. Israel as it was envisioned by the world communist movement differed markedly from its present form. As W.E.B Du Bois, a Pan-African socialist, warned at the close of the war, Israel should align itself in the struggle against imperialism–not join with it. As he put it, Jewish and African history have been intertwined for more than 3000 years. It was the Soviet Union, which Du Bois also supported, as a black man in segregated America, which defeated Hitler’s army under the leadership of Josef Stalin.

Gandhi similarly argued that if the Jews were to settle in Palestine, they ought to offer satyagraha to the Arabs. He had encountered the Jews in South Africa and had many beloved friends in the Jewish community, including Herman Kallenbach, with whom he established Tolstoy Farm, in South Africa. He, like Du Bois, saw that it made more sense for European Jews to cast their lot with colored Asiatics and Africans. Thus, he recommended that they offer Satyagraha in Germany and as a last case scenario offer satyagraha to Arabs in the interest of their own cause against the British Empire. As he noted,

It is hardly necessary for me to point out that it is easier for the Jews than for the Czechs to follow my prescription. And they have in the Indian satyagraha campaign in South Africa an exact parallel. There the Indians occupied precisely the same place that the Jews occupy in Germany. The persecution had also a religious tinge. President Kruger used to say that the white Christians were the chosen of God and Indians were inferior beings created to serve the whites. A fundamental clause in the Transvaal constitution was that there should be no equality between the whites and coloured races including Asiatics. 

While he is careful not to endorse the violence of the Arab either in their struggle for freedom, as a proponent of ahimsa, he also points out that is utter hypocrisy for the European Jew to visit the same injustice on the Arab as was done to him by Hitler’s Aryanism:

And now a word to the Jews in Palestine. I have no doubt that they are going about it in the wrong way. The Palestine of the Biblical conception is not a geographical tract. It is in their hearts. But if they must look to the Palestine of geography as their national home, it is wrong to enter it under the shadow of the British gun. A religious act cannot be performed with the aid of the bayonet or the bomb. They can settle in Palestine only by the goodwill of the Arabs. They should seek to convert the Arab heart. The same God rules the Arab heart who rules the Jewish heart. They can offer satyagraha in front of the Arabs and offer themselves to be shot or thrown into the Dead Sea without raising a little finger against them. They will find the world opinion in their favour in their religious aspiration. There are hundreds of ways of reasoning with the Arabs, if they will only discard the help of the British bayonet. As it is, they are co-shares with the British in despoiling a people who have done no wrong to them.

I am not defending the Arab excesses. I wish they had chosen the way of non-violence in resisting what they rightly regarded as an unwarrantable encroachment upon their country. But according to the accepted canons of right and wrong, nothing can be said against the Arab resistance in the face of overwhelming odds.

In hindsight however, The state of Israel chose, however, to establish itself as a bastion of Western imperialism which is organized around the twin turpitudes of Western supremacy and capitalism.Today, the liberal Jew bemoans the treatment he received in Nazi concentration camps, rather than join with the struggles of the darker races for self determination against Western civilization. Following the Second World War, after immigrating to America, European Jews assimilated into the white world and became its chief gatekeepers, and in Palestine, Jewish settlers drove brown Arabs from their homes, destroyed their fields, and began the process of creating a white supremacist state not unlike America and South Africa. And all this with the ardent approval of America and Europe.

In the face of these historical truths, the descendants of European Jews in America continue to invoke the tale of Nazi atrocity to corroborate their special victimhood–and this at a time when the darker races continue to remain in a most depressed socioeconomic stage throughout the world. Thus, the problems of the European and now, American, Jew are problems of their own making, problems created by America’s and Europe’s greed, barbarism, and avarice in its relentless pursuit of the rape of Africa, the plunder of Asia, and the devastation of the black man and woman in America.

I dare say that we do not need any more Holocaust monuments that do not come to terms with the truth that European Jewry, which claimed the status of an oppressed nation, did not join with the struggle of the dark proletariat for self-determination, peace, and freedom, though the promise remains. Rather they contented themselves with preserving imperialism–like the white worker of the American South, the European Jew in the twentieth century strove to advance the project of Western imperialism by settling and partitioning Palestine. And it was base Britain–the so-dubbed bastion of liberal democracy and Germany’s arch foe and leader of the Allied Powers in the Second World War–which paved the way for the Palestinian demise.

We are by now altogether too familiar with the false prophets of Christianity who angle after the souls of the darker races in order to reinforce the cosmology and morality of white civilization. Baldwin said it best: “all that a slave can learn from his master is how to be a slave, and that is no morality at all.” We must look to the poor, the disinherited for moral guidance, not the morality of the master. Today, liberal and Zionist Jews alike continue this work through their direct and indirect support for the state of Israel, which was established–I hope I have adequately demonstrated–as a colony of Britain and though embarking upon the promise of democracy and freedom, chose the route of oppression. In America, Jews now constitute the new elite, heading publishing houses, university administrations, public health, prisons, public housing, banking, sports, arts, Wall St., Congress. This new class, though positioned to help the oppressed, has sadly become the new oppressor, financing Israeli violence against a decimated Palestine. This is also true of upper crust of Asian immigrants in America, who rank among the wealthiest. Of course, a class of poor exist among all races. In the United States, the advancement of newcomers like Asians and Jews who arrived in large numbers following the Second World War Is achieved at the expense of the African-American and even the white poor, though the latter continue to uphold their traditional role as peons, police, and overseers of black workers.

Finally, the partition of Palestine during this crucial moment follows the general strategy deployed by the British in Africa and Asia which were also summarily partitioned in an utter betrayal of their national independence movements. As such, the colonization of Palestine by Europe must be treated as part of the same broad pattern in the movement of history: one discovers a similar motif in historical developments in India and the Congo in the wake of decolonization as Africa and Asia were partitioned in the interests of Western empire and against the interests of their native peoples.

This profound obfuscation of the continuity of political developments in western Asia (code: “Middle East”) with its eastern and southern reaches and Africa contributes to a fragmented understanding of their conjoined history and moreover, the unity of the imperial system. Indeed, it is this ideological confusion that the West continues to exploit in its quotidian game of divide and conquer today as we enter the twentieth year of the War on Terror.

Given that there is greater contiguity between the laws of social development in Asia and Africa than either to Europe or America, it behooves us to see the civilizations of these two continents in terms of their longer history of relations before the rise of Western dominance in the world and examine the similarities in the strategies used by whites to gain social and economic control over both continents. Only then will we see peace between Jews and Arabs in Israel. Only then will we see the current struggle of Palestinians as an anti-colonial struggle whose only resolution is freedom from Euro-American intervention and unity with the rest of Asia and its longtime neighbor, Africa.

Paul Robeson’s Othello

“Othello came from a culture as great as that of Ancient Venice; he came from an Africa of equal stature.”

—Paul Robeson

Soft you; a word or two before you go.
I have done the state some service, and they know’t.
No more of that. I pray you, in your letters,
When you shall these unlucky deeds relate,
Speak of me as I am; nothing extenuate,
Nor set down aught in malice: then must you speak
Of one that loved not wisely but too well;
Of one not easily jealous, but being wrought
Perplex’d in the extreme; of one whose hand,
Like the base Indian, threw a pearl away
Richer than all his tribe; of one whose subdued eyes,
Albeit unused to the melting mood,
Drop tears as fast as the Arabian trees
Their medicinal gum. Set you down this;
And say besides, that in Aleppo once,
Where a malignant and a turban’d Turk
Beat a Venetian and traduced the state,
I took by the throat the circumcised dog,
And smote him, thus.

I kiss’d thee ere I kill’d thee: no way but this;
Killing myself, to die upon a kiss.