Reviews of Pan-Africanism and Communism
This stunningly conceived and researched book brings to life the little known contribution of the Comintern to Pan-Africanism during the 1920s and 1930s and its sustained organizing which planted the seeds for the end of apartheid and political independence in Africa, and played a leading role in the unending struggle for equality of Africans and their descendants in the Americas and Europe. It establishes definitively that the Comintern created the conditions for Black Communists to place international Black liberation at the heart of a Communist movement which organized and led struggles to end the imperialist exploitation and terror suffered by the Black population throughout the world.
Gwendolyn Mildo Hall, Professor of History, Michigan State University and editor of A Black Communist in the Freedom Struggle: the Life of Harry Haywood
A rich and textured monograph, which is destined to become the definitive work in the field.
Afua Cooper, James Robinson Johnston Chair in Black Canadian Studies, Dalhousie University, Halifax, Nova Scotia
The full title of this book by Hakim Adi is Pan-Africanism and Communism. The Communist International, Africa and the Diaspora, 1919-1939'. It is a long book – over 400 pages of text, plus index, etc. But every page is worth reading, though you may select those of most interest to you.
The book is the result of many months of research in the Comintern archives in Moscow and also in some French archives, as well as the National Archives here, which, of course, has not released the undoubted voluminous surveillance reports on the activists in the UK. Part 1 introduces the ‘Negro Question’, as taken up by the Communist International, its various congresses, the Committee in Hamburg set up to focus on this, and then the establishment of the International Trade Union Committee of Negro Workers (ITUCNW). Part 2 examines the work of the ITUCNW in Britain, the Caribbean, and West and South Africa.
The ITUCNW was first under the leadership of James Ford, a ’Negro’ from the US Communist Party; and then in 1933 ‘under’ Trinidad-born/ US-educated George Padmore. As they both tried hard to establish contact with workers and the few trade unions in the British and French colonies, there is information on these organisations and their leaders (eg E.F. Small in Gambia), as well as the Negro Welfare Association in the UK. And, of course on Ford and Padmore, who travelled around West Africa and visited the UK in 1932. The Moscow files reveal that the ITUCNW did not receive sufficient help/support from the Comintern, from the Red International of Labor Unions, or the Communist Parties in France and England; the Party in the USA was more helpful. Thus it could not set up branches, but did attempt to support existing organisations and get them involved in the ITUCNW. Nevertheless it took up important issues and published articles in the Negro Worker, its monthly journal, on colonial events/situations, for example in the Belgian Congo, Nigeria, Trinidad, Liberia; and on Blacks in France and the UK, for example the working conditions of Black seamen.
There is full discussion on the resignation/expulsion of Padmore from the Comintern in 1934. The ITUCNW was then put under the leadership of Surinam-born Otto Huiswoud. The Moscow files indicate that Padmore and his successor did manage to make some contacts in the colonies. Research needs to be carried out in the archives there to confirm/enlarge on this. Adi also notes that there was some discussion on the ITUCNW’s scope of work: after all, there were very few trade unions in the colonies and in some they were outlawed: so could there be an ‘international trade union committee of Negro workers’? Could one even be created?
There is much in this book on the communist-led organisation of support for the ‘Negroes’ in the Scottsboro trial, and on the response to Italy’s announced and then actual invasion of Ethiopia. And for those of us most interested in the UK, much on the League Against Imperialism, the CPGB, the Black organisations in many cities, and the work of communist activists – eg Arnold Ward, Peter Blackman, Chris Jones, Desmond Buckle. The French and British governments’ attempts to prevent the distribution of ITUCNW’s Negro Worker and their pamphlets are also discussed.
So a very important book indeed for all of us unable to visit the Moscow archives or read Russian! The very first book to give us all this important history of Black struggles around the world which the ITUCNW and communist activists were involved in, or attempted to support. However, I’m not fully happy with the main title – what did ‘pan-Africanism’ mean in this period? It seems to me that here it just means that ‘Black’ peoples were to some extent homogenised and all were dealt with as ‘Negroes’. The sub-title is much more accurate. I have a few other problems – it is probably in the process of having to reduce the word count that a few sentences are ‘problematic’.
But let me finish with a quotation I just loved on p.176, from the Gold Coast Spectator: ‘The Gold Coast man, down to the schoolboy, knows he has everything in common with Ethiopians’. What percentage of the population there was literate? Maybe two. And could it be partly due to the high illiteracy rates in Britain’s colonies that it proved difficult for Ford/Padmore/Huiswoud to establish and maintain contacts?
Marika Sherwood, Senior Research Fellow, Institute of Commonwealth Studies, London
Based on new materials from the archives of the Communist International in Moscow as well as other established sources, Hakim Adi has given us the very first book that explains the history and activities of The International Trade Union Committee of Negro Workers (ITUCNW) in relation to the attainment of black emancipation, the role of such leading figures as George Padmore, the nuanced discussions within the communist movement on Pan Africanism and how to attain liberation from colonial domination. The book abounds with new insights, original reflections, fresh interpretation and new conclusions on what was generally called the Negro Question.
Toyin Falola, University Distinguished Teaching Professor and the Frances Higginbothom Nalle Centennial Professor, University of Texas in Austin
Hakim Adi has turned George Padmore on his head. In his 1956 cold warrior text, Pan-Africanism or Communism? The Coming Struggle for Africa (both the question mark and the subtitle were dropped from some subsequent editions, but each is there in the original), Padmore posits an antithesis between pan-Africanism and communism, arguing that the latter was a grave danger to the former. It had not always been that way. Padmore was at one point arguably the most notable black person in the Communist International (CI), but in the early 1930s he broke with the CI, accusing it of abandoning the alliance with the global black liberation struggle. At the time he left the CI, Padmore was head of its most important window into the black struggle: the acronym-unfriendly International Trade Union Committee of Negro Workers (ITUCNW) and its organ, The Negro Worker. Now Adi, in a bold repudiation of Padmore's antithesis, has written the most comprehensive account of the ITUCNW to date, much of it based on new sources that only became available after the collapse of the Soviet Union. In so doing, Adi, who is no stranger to the study of global black liberation, has made yet another significant contribution, probably his most significant to date, on the interlocution of pan-Africanism and communism.
Michael O. West, Professor of Sociology and Africana Studies, Binghamton University, New York