Pan-Africanism and Communism: The Communist International, Africa and Diaspora, 1919-1939 by Hakim Adi

This ground-breaking book, based on research undertaken in the archives of the Comintern in Moscow as well as archives in France, Britain, the US and West Africa, documents the activities of the Communist International in relation to Africa and the African diaspora. It focuses on a period when the world was in flux, with inter-imperialist rivalry at its height, when African and Caribbean countries, amongst others, were under colonial domination. Black people in Africa, the Caribbean and other western countries were officially considered inferior, had few rights and racism was at the level of open state policy from so-called “Jim Crow” laws and lynching in the US, to pass laws and segregation in South Africa and the colour bar in Britain.

In these circumstances many were inspired by the creation of the Soviet Union, following the October Revolution in Russia in 1917, and the creation of the Communist International in 1919. From its founding under Lenin’s leadership, the Comintern sought to inspire and support the oppressed black people throughout the world to organise and empower themselves and break the shackles of imperialism. The book points out that it was the Communists who were at the forefront of the struggle against colonial rule in this period.

The book plays an important role in chronicling the many African, Caribbean and African American Communists who took up the struggle at that time, in particular those connected with the International Trade Union Committee of Negro Workers (ITUCNW), established in 1928 under the auspices of the Comintern. The ITUCNW acted to strengthen the work of the Communist Parties to take up for solution the question of how the liberation of Africa and the African diaspora might be achieved. The book points out that in that period many key activists gravitated towards or organised in unity with the international communist movement, including Lamine Senghor in France, Isaac Wallace-Johnson in West Africa, Elma Francois in Trinidad and Jacques Romain in Haiti. In this period the Communists were often in the forefront of major international struggles, for example, to oppose fascist Italy’s invasion of Ethiopia in 1935 or to demand the release of the nine African American youth arrested in Scottsboro, Alabama in 1931.

The book also examines several areas of controversy and disinformation about the role of the international communist movement in relation to African liberation. Significantly the information outlined in Dr Adi’s book highlights that disinformation has often become accepted wisdom and part of continuing efforts to undermine the crucial role of Communists of African descent and of the Soviet Union itself in this period. Using his extensively researched material the writer outlines the facts about the activity and demise of the ITUCNW, as well as the changing tactics and analysis of the Comintern in the period leading to the outbreak of World War II, and leaves the reader to make an independent judgement.

This book makes an important contribution to an area of African and Caribbean, as well as Communist history that has long been neglected and which many people are unaware of. Its focus on the activities of African, African American and Caribbean Communists in the period 1919-1939 is to be welcomed. It is an area about which there remains a great deal of confusion not only with regard to the facts but also concerning the lessons to be drawn from this experience.

Dr Adi focuses his attention on the efforts of ordinary African and Caribbean people who decided to take a stand and address the many problems that confronted them in their time. Problems such as Jim Crow in the USA, and racism and violation of human rights all over colonial Africa and the Caribbean disfigured the lives of millions of people. The Communists took up this struggle with the idea of finding a revolutionary solution to it and with an understanding that solving it would be bound up with the struggle of all oppressed people for their freedom. At great personal sacrifice, these activists made a significant contribution to the mass movements for African liberation which were to burst out in the 1950s and 1960s, such as the Civil Rights movement, the Black Power movement and the independence struggles in Africa and the Caribbean. The progress that has been achieved in the struggle for African liberation to date is due in no small part to the efforts of those individuals featured in this book. It shows what a significant impact we can have on changing the world in which we live when we take up the challenges facing us and try to find solutions to them.

This book has great significance for those who are today involved in trying to find a solution to the many problems that continue to confront Africans both on the continent and in the diaspora. The point is not that we should simply repeat what was done in 1919-39 when people were grappling with the problems of the world as it was then. Rather, it is that we should be inspired by their example to courageously take up the challenge of changing the world today and using the scientific approach which modern communism offers us.

Dr. Hakim Adi is Professor of the History of Africa and the African Diaspora at the University of Chichester. He is the author of West Africans in Britain 1900-1960: Nationalism, Pan-Africanism and Communism (London, 1998); joint author (with M. Sherwood) of The 1945 Manchester Pan-African Congress Revisited (London, 1995) and Pan-African History: Political Figures from Africa and the Diaspora since 1787 (London, 2003). He has written widely on Pan-Africanism and the modern political history of Africa and the African Diaspora, especially on Africans in Britain. He has also written three history books for children. He is currently working on a film documentary on the West African Students’ Union http://www.wasuproject.org.uk. His latest book Pan-Africanism and Communism: The Communist International, Africa and the Diaspora, 1919-1939 was published by Africa World Press in 2013. In 2014 his children’s book, The History of the African and Caribbean Communities in Britain, was re-published for the third time.

(Workers’ Weekly, May 24, 2014)

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