30 January 2012

Ahmed Sékou Touré

African Revolutionary Writers, Part 3c

Ahmed Sékou Touré

Before becoming President of Guinea at independence in 1958 – a position he held until his death in 1984 – Ahmed Sékou Touré led a trade union federation.

At an early stage in his presidency, Sékou Touré led his country to vote against the neo-colonial arrangement known as the “French Community”. Guinea was the only one of many former French African colonies to vote against.

This refusal of neo-colonialism was the heroic act for which Sékou Touré has never been forgotten, or in the case of the French imperialists, forgiven.

Later, Sékou Touré became well-known as one of the leaders of the Non-Aligned Movement. Guinea attracted personalities including the exiled South African singer Miriam Makeba, who became Guinea’s ambassador to the United Nations, and her then husband the US Black Power leader Stokely Carmichael, who changed his name to Kwame Ture.

Yet in spite of the celebrity he enjoyed in his lifetime, there is surprisingly little of Sékou Touré’s legacy visible on the Internet today. Also in hard copy, his output has been difficult to find. A 1979 book of Sékou Touré’s called “Africa on the Move”, published in English, was finally located in a library. From it the quotation in the downloadable document was extracted.

Sékou Touré’s posthumous opponents have been busier than his supporters, so that there is plenty of off-hand denigration of the man to be found, and also plain confusion, as in the current Wikipedia entry, for example.

But there may be other reasons why this man’s memory is now so obscure. He left many volumes of speeches, in hard copy, in French. He was keen to leave a legacy. So why has this one-time giant of African politics, formerly a household name all over the world, shrunk so much in terms of reputation?

His own book, “Africa on the Move”, gives clues as to why this might be so. It is more than 600 pages long, yet it reads like the conference report of the general secretary of a trade union federation. It is the kind of document that has the same predictable headings and the same voluminous narrative time after time, as if it was the “matters arising” of an on-going series of unresolved meetings. “Africa Going Round in Circles” might have been a better title for this book.

Judge it for yourself from the quoted part of the downloadable document. It is clear, at least, that Sékou Touré based his output on “common sense”, and on such touchstones as “efficiency”, “responsibility” and other presumed universal values that constantly crop up in his text. Frankly, it is quite dull and boring. Sékou Touré, contrary to what one might expect after his heroic stand against neo-colonialism in 1958, turns out to be a “neutralist” (his word). His politics are ad hoc and appear personal, but are actually made up of the commonplace platitudes that capitalism holds out in front of itself, to cover itself.

Like a typical reformist trade unionist, Sékou Touré rejects the wickedness of capitalism but takes all of capitalism’s lip-service to morality at face value. He never escapes from the ideology of the bourgeois ruling class.

Sékou Touré never mentions any other politician, contemporary or historical. It is not lack of knowledge or mental capacity that renders his work so unscholarly, but the absence of any correspondence with other thinkers. Perhaps this is evidence of simple vanity (simple, but vast). If so, this would also partly explain the lack of defenders for the memory of a man who quite possibly bored his fellow-Guineans terribly, for the entire 26 years of an egocentric presidency.

For this series, we have sought out the original words of revolutionaries, including Sékou Touré’s. But contrary to our own CU practice, we find that Touré shunned the works of others. He ignores them all. His inclusion in our series therefore stands as an example to show that there are those who hold themselves apart from history, and to whom history consequently tends to return the same kind of compliment: neglect. We include him anyway, and allow his supporters to defend him if they will.

In a part of the book not quoted here, Sékou Touré relates how his party (the PDG) is the one in a one-party state. He says that the one-party rule was brought in for the sake of “efficiency”. Then he says that subsequent to this original act, he has heard of something called National Democracy which he regards as the same thing as the one-party state. Sékou Touré saw something called NDR, but missed the democracy in it.

Sad to say, Sékou Touré missed the point.

29 January 2012

Albert Luthuli


African Revolutionary Writers, Part 3b

Albert Luthuli

Chief Albert Luthuli was President-General of the African National Congress from 1952 until his death in 1967. In 1960, the year of the Sharpeville massacre, Luthuli was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Our sample of his work is his Peace Prize lecture, delivered in Stockholm, Sweden (attached).

This speech fits in well with our course. It followed the first batch of African independence-struggle victories after the World War of 1939-45. In the same year of 1960, 16 African countries achieved independence.

We have already seen material from Paul Robeson and W E B Du Bois, helping us to recall the worldwide uprising of internationalist political will for the end of direct colonialism, which was to a large extent a consequence of the victorious Anti-Fascist World War. Luthuli’s speech shows his consciousness of this internationalism, of which the awarding of his Peace Prize was one expression.

Note that Luthuli’s speech accepting the Peace Prize is not a pacifist speech. It does not condemn armed struggle, but on the contrary, justifies it. Here are some relevant paragraphs from the speech:

“This award could not be for me alone, nor for just South Africa, but for Africa as a whole. Africa presently is most deeply torn with strife and most bitterly stricken with racial conflict. How strange then it is that a man of Africa should be here to receive an award given for service to the cause of peace and brotherhood between men. There has been little peace in Africa in our time. From the northernmost end of our continent, where war has raged for seven years, to the centre and to the south there are battles being fought out, some with arms, some without. In my own country, in the year 1960, for which this award is given, there was a state of emergency for many months. At Sharpeville, a small village, in a single afternoon sixty-nine people were shot dead and 180 wounded by small arms fire; and in parts like the Transkei, a state of emergency is still continuing. Ours is a continent in revolution against oppression. And peace and revolution make uneasy bedfellows. There can be no peace until the forces of oppression are overthrown.

“Our continent has been carved up by the great powers; alien governments have been forced upon the African people by military conquest and by economic domination; strivings for nationhood and national dignity have been beaten down by force; traditional economics and ancient customs have been disrupted, and human skills and energy have been harnessed for the advantage of our conquerors. In these times there has been no peace; there could be no brotherhood between men.

“But now, the revolutionary stirrings of our continent are setting the past aside. Our people everywhere from north to south of the continent are reclaiming their land, their right to participate in government, their dignity as men, their nationhood. Thus, in the turmoil of revolution, the basis for peace and brotherhood in Africa is being restored by the resurrection of national sovereignty and independence, of equality and the dignity of man.

“It should not be difficult for you here in Europe to appreciate this. Your continent passed through a longer series of revolutionary upheavals, in which your age of feudal backwardness gave way to the new age of industrialization, true nationhood, democracy, and rising living standards - the golden age for which men have striven for generations. Your age of revolution, stretching across all the years from the eighteenth century to our own, encompassed some of the bloodiest civil wars in all history. By comparison, the African revolution has swept across three quarters of the continent in less than a decade; its final completion is within sight of our own generation…

“Perhaps, by your standards, our surge to revolutionary reforms is late. If it is so - if we are late in joining the modern age of social enlightenment, late in gaining self-rule, independence, and democracy, it is because in the past the pace has not been set by us. Europe set the pattern for the nineteenth and twentieth-century development of Africa. Only now is our continent coming into its own and recapturing its own fate from foreign rule.

“Though I speak of Africa as a single entity, it is divided in many ways by race, language, history, and custom; by political, economic, and ethnic frontiers. But in truth, despite these multiple divisions, Africa has a single common purpose and a single goal - the achievement of its own independence. All Africa, both lands which have won their political victories but have still to overcome the legacy of economic backwardness, and lands like my own whose political battles have still to be waged to their conclusion - all Africa has this single aim: our goal is a united Africa in which the standards of life and liberty are constantly expanding; in which the ancient legacy of illiteracy and disease is swept aside; in which the dignity of man is rescued from beneath the heels of colonialism which have trampled it. This goal, pursued by millions of our people with revolutionary zeal, by means of books, representations, demonstrations, and in some places armed force provoked by the adamancy of white rule, carries the only real promise of peace in Africa. Whatever means have been used, the efforts have gone to end alien rule and race oppression.”


27 January 2012

Frantz Fanon


African Revolutionary Writers, Part 3a

Frantz Fanon

The extraordinary co-incidence of dates of both birth and death as between Frantz Fanon and Patrice Lumumba, both born in 1925 and both deceased in 1961, highlights the precociousness of Fanon’s critique of the post-colonial regimes which had so recently, from his standpoint, come into existence. Please read the essay “Pitfalls of National Consciousness”, attached.

This essay was published in the book “The Wretched of the Earth” in French in 1961 and in English translation in 1963. The title of the book is a direct quotation from the song, the “Internationale”, written by Eugene Pottier during the Paris Commune of 1871, the lyrics of which in the original French begin: “Debout, Les Damnés de la Terre!” Les Damnés de la Terre became the title of Fanon’s book and was well translated into English as “The Wretched of the Earth” – a phrase since then embraced by generations of militants.

Fanon is so intelligent and so witty that it is easy to be charmed by him to such an extent that critical faculties are put aside. So much of what he wrote nearly fifty years ago has come to pass, not once, but repeatedly, and not in one, but in many countries, that one has to be astonished.

No other writer on this topic has come close to the range and the brilliance that Fanon exhibits with such apparent ease in this essay. To find literary comparisons one has to go far back, to the likes of Voltaire and Jonathan Swift.

Fanon is particularly emphatic here in his denunciation of the national bourgeoisie in the circumstances of the newly independent country. Among other things he says:

“In its beginnings, the national bourgeoisie of the colonial countries identifies itself with the decadence of the bourgeoisie of the West. We need not think that it is jumping ahead; it is in fact beginning at the end. It is already senile before it has come to know the petu¬lance, the fearlessness or the will to succeed of youth.”

Is Fanon right? In South Africa, we certainly have problems of “tenderpreneurs”, “narrow BEE”, corruption and many other manifestations of the premature degeneration of the bourgeoisie, similar to Fanon’s descriptions.

But we also have a theory and practice of National Democratic Revolution involving Unity-in-Action between classes, particularly between the working class and the national bourgeoisie. We have found this class alliance to be indispensible. Fanon did not have this theory.

This document is a great classic and is typical of the best of African Revolutionary Writing.

But it is not a Bible.

  • The above is to introduce the original reading-text: Frantz Fanon, Pitfalls of National Consciousness, 1963, Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.

  • PDF files of the reading text are attached

26 January 2012

Patrice Lumumba


African Revolutionary Writers, Part 3

Patrice Lumumba

This third part of our African Revolutionary Writers’ Series is dedicated to the “Uhuru Years” that followed the 1960 “Year of Africa”, when sixteen countries took their independence. In this instalment we feature Patrice Lumumba’s short, powerful, historic Independence Day speech of 30 June 1960 (PDF download linked below).

In the Western Imperialist literature the independence of all of these countries has been recorded as a “granting” (e.g. thus: “Congo was granted independence by Belgium”). This contradictory view of what happened during the greatest worldwide political change in the 20th Century - the National Democratic Revolutions in the former colonial countries - mirrors the theme of Frederick Douglass’s most famous speech, (“If there is no Struggle, there is no Progress”) where Douglass says that “power concedes nothing without a demand”.

Lumumba’s speech is still famous for making the same point, and particularly because he made the speech in the presence of the monarch of the colonial power, King Baudouin of Belgium (grandson of the original colonist and butcher King Leopold) who had already spoken in a paternalistic and euphemistic manner at an earlier stage during the same event.

Lumumba at once spoke of struggle, and of victory, and he spoke frankly of the vicious colonialism which had been overcome by that struggle.

Congo at that time was on a par with South Africa as a wealthy, quickly-modernising African country. The subsequent history of the Congo has been a tragedy of neo-colonialism including the martyrdom of Patrice Lumumba in the following year, 1961, and the imposition of the stooge dictator Mobutu who ruled until the 1990s.

It is absurd to suggest, as some Imperialist writers continue to do, that the neo-colonial reaction was Lumumba’s fault for being cheeky in front of the Belgian king. No-one must be allowed to forget that these words of Lumumba’s expressed the historical truth, as well as the feelings of millions of Africans at the time, and that these words needed to be said and had to be said, so that they can now be remembered and glorified again in the 21st Century while Africa gains its “second independence” born out of the struggle against neo-colonialism and Imperialism.

  • A PDF file of the reading text is attached

23 January 2012

Martin Luther King


African Revolutionary Writers, Part 2c

Martin Luther King

The main item “Beyond Vietnam” (download linked below) of the late Rev Martin Luther King Junior, is a classic. Nowadays it has become commonplace to refer to “international solidarity” as if it is both a narrow idea, and also a universal one.

But this concept that we have received and then stripped of its particularity, does actually have a tremendous and specific history whose meaning is not fully conveyed by the mere formula-phrase, “international solidarity”.

The anti-Imperialist struggle and the democratic struggle can and should be one. It is not a matter of charity of the rich to the poor. It is also not solely a matter of good-hearted and exceptional individuals, but there have indeed been such individuals, and there will be again. Martin Luther King was such a man.

What Martin Luther King describes, and justifies, is: “why I believe that the path from Dexter Avenue Baptist Church - the church in Montgomery, Alabama, where I began my pastorate - leads clearly to this sanctuary tonight.”

In other words, MLK at the meeting of the “Clergy and Laymen Concerned about Vietnam” in April, 1967, was preaching the intrinsic, organic unity of the struggle of the common people everywhere. It is not an artificial altruism but it is a unity of purpose, in concerted action against the single enemy: monopoly capitalist Imperialism; and it involves personalities, and actual events, and places.

Further than his literal message, there is also the extraordinary power and style of MLK’s oration. In September 1917, just prior to the Great October Russian Revolution that he led, Lenin spoke of “insurrection as an art”. It is an art that goes beyond the military, and encompasses all of our activities. Therefore when reading such a piece, one should regard them as a source of learning of the art of advocacy, which is part of the art of leadership, and essential to the art of insurrection.

Exactly one year after making this speech, King was gunned down by an assassin in Memphis, Tennessee, where he had gone to show solidarity for workers who were on strike there.

Picture: Rev. Martin Luther King, Junior, at the White House, Washington DC, USA

  • A PDF file of the reading text is attached

20 January 2012

Malcolm X


African Revolutionary Writers, Part 2b

Malcolm X

In this speech (“By Any Means Necessary”), linked below, Malcolm X recalls the formation of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) and how inspiring it was to him. The speech goes on:

“So we have formed an organization known as the Organization of Afro-American Unity which has the same aim and objective-to fight whoever gets in our way, to bring about the complete independence of people of African descent here in the Western Hemisphere, and first here in the United States, and bring about the freedom of these people by any means necessary.

“That's our motto. We want freedom by any means necessary. We want justice by any means necessary. We want equality by any means necessary.”

The phrase “by any means necessary” is repeated throughout the speech, and it ends:

“We declare our right on this earth to be a man, to be a human being, to be respected as a human being, to be given the rights of a human being in this society, on this earth, in this day, which we intend to bring into existence by any means necessary.”

Other speeches of Malcolm X include (these are links to PDF downloads): “The Ballot or the Bullet”; “Message to the Grassroots”; and “Confronting White Oppression”. You can also find videos of Malcolm X on YouTube, and MP3 files of his speeches.

Malcolm X, a great revolutionary leader of his people, and an inspiring orator, (Barack Obama tries to fake Malcolm X’s style) was gunned down in 1965.

Reading these speeches confirms the close and active relationship that remained between the struggling masses in Africa and in America.

  • A PDF file of the reading text is attached

19 January 2012

Paul Robeson


African Revolutionary Writers, Part 2a

Paul Robeson

Paul Robeson was the Chairman of the Council on African Affairs, an organisation based in New York from 1937 until it was shut down by McCarthyism in 1955. W. E. B. Du Bois was vice-chair.

The Council on African Affairs was a vital link between the struggles of the African-Americans of the Americas, and the National Democratic Revolutions that were getting under way in those years.

In the Council on African Affairs can be seen the historical and not just the theoretical unity between the descendents of the slaves that had been taken from Africa, and the people struggling for freedom from colonialism in Africa itself. The connection with the South African liberation struggle was direct, via Mr E. S. Reddy and Dr Yusuf Dadoo, among others.

It was a two-way street. Sometimes the African-American (and Afro-Caribbean) leadership was in front, and at other times the African example was to an extent impelling the trans-Atlantic struggles. This is the main reason why this body of literature, called “African Revolutionary Writers” does, and must of necessity, include many African writers from across the sea.

Paul Robeson himself was an extraordinary man who achieved excellence in many fields, including sport and scholarship, before becoming a star of the theatre and the cinema, and becoming a performing, recording and broadcasting artist as a singer.

The document can give a good idea of who Paul Robeson was and the role that he played in the liberation struggle, as well as among the people of the United States of America.

  • A PDF file of the reading text is attached

18 January 2012

W. E. B. Du Bois


African Revolutionary Writers, Part 2

W. E. B. Du Bois

Dr W. E. B. Du Bois is a legend. How much is owed to this man’s life’s work is impossible to over-estimate. He began his political career in the 19th Century and went on through the 20th Century, eventually dying in independent Ghana, where he had gone to serve the revolution, although well into his 90s by that time.

Yet in spite of his eminence and the great amount that he wrote, it has been extremely difficult to find original documents of Du Bois’ on the Internet, especially documents that coincide with his leadership, together with Paul Robeson, of the Council on African Affairs, based in New York, after the anti-fascist war of 1939-1945, when the independence of African countries started to get under way. The first was Libya, on 24 December 1951.

Eventually a friend in New York sent the two rare documents that can be downloaded via the link below. What they at the very least demonstrate is the very broad consciousness that Du Bois had, together with his tremendous sense of history and of historical time.

The 1946 letter to the New York Times is evidence of the unique leadership that Du Bois gave on the national and colonial question, while the article on M. K. Gandhi shows his great understanding of all the difficulties.

Du Bois is also particularly famous for his role as an organiser and participant in several of the five Pan-African Conferences, especially the last one in Manchester in 1945.

  • The above serves to introduce the original reading-text: W. E. B. Du Bois, Two Pieces of His Writing, 1946 and 1956.

  • A PDF file of the reading text is attached

16 January 2012

George Padmore


African Revolutionary Writers, Part 1c

George Padmore

George Padmore was born in Trinidad, in the West Indies. After studying in the USA he spent four or five years, from 1929, based in the Soviet Union, heading the Negro Bureau of the Communist International of Labour Unions (Profintern, or RILU). This organisation held a First International Conference of Negro Workers in Hamburg, Germany on July 7-8, 1930. South Africans W Thibedi and Moses Kotane were elected to the Executive Committee of the organisation at this conference.

In London from 1934, Padmore teamed up with his contemporary and fellow-Trinidadian C L R James, forming the International African Services Bureau.

Padmore organised the 5th Pan-African Congress, in Manchester, England, in 1945. This famous Congress was also attended by Kwame Nkrumah, W E B Du Bois, and Jomo Kenyatta, among others, including a young man called Norman Atkinson, who later became a Labour member of the British Parliament.

After Ghanaian independence in 1957, Padmore moved there to serve under Nkrumah, but died in 1959.

There is a web site dedicated to Padmore, here, and there is a section within the Marxists Internet Archive for Padmore, here.

Apart from the texts that we have of Padmore’s - such as in the attached document - for the purposes of this course Padmore’s story can serve to show that the many National Democratic Revolutions that subsequently took place in Africa had common, inter-twining roots, and those roots were not far from the Great October Revolution in Russia in 1917, the founding of the Communist International (Comintern) in 1919, and the founding of the Communist Party of South Africa in 1921.

As usual, the best remedy for the varying and contradictory interpretations that can be found of the life of a revolutionary like Padmore is to read the person’s own work. The downloadable selection given here contains work written in Padmore’s Profintern days, and also during the Anti-Fascist War when he was in Britain, anticipating the “dollar imperialism” that would follow that conflict.

Padmore brings us from the time of Sol Plaatje through the 1920s and 1930s to the war years and into the great post-war season of national liberation of colonies all over the world.

  • The above serves to introduce the original reading-text: Selections from the writings of George Padmore.

  • A PDF file of the reading text is attached

13 January 2012

Solomon Tshekisho Plaatje


African Revolutionary Writers, Part 1b

Solomon Tshekisho Plaatje

Sol Plaatje was the first Secretary-General of the African National Congress. He was a journalist and a novelist, among other things.

Attached is one of the Chapters of Plaatje’s “Native Life in South Africa” (1916). The full work can be found here.

Sol Plaatje also wrote the epic novel “Mhudi”, published in 1913. It does not appear to be on the Internet, but it does appear to be still available in hard copy.

  • The above serves to introduce the original reading-text: Sol Plaatje’s 1916 “Native Life in South Africa” (Wrong Carries the Day). 

Toussaint L’Ouverture


African Revolutionary Writers, Part 1a

Toussaint L’Ouverture

Toussaint L’Ouverture – “Toussaint the Opening” – was the leader, both military and civilian, of the slave revolt in the French West Indian colony of “Saint Domingue”, which is now the Republic of Haiti.

Toussaint brought his country to the brink of independence. The constitution of which he was the author (download linked below), though not the constitution of an independent republic, was enough to lead to his capture, transportation to France, and death in captivity two years after its publication.

Toussaint’s successor, Dessalines, did achieve independence, though on harsh terms that crippled the country with “reparations” to the French Republic - one of the great scandals of history.

C L R James wrote a famous work about the Haitian revolution, calling the book “The Black Jacobins”. The title was a reference to the bourgeois take-over of the Great French Revolution that had taken place a few years earlier, the “Terror” under Robespierre, and the eventual bourgeois dictatorship that was the consequence of the revolution.

In other words the freed slaves became subordinated to a dictatorship of “their own” black bourgeoisie, of which Toussaint was one of the first. This was hardly surprising, and practically inevitable. The first dictatorship of the proletariat (The Paris Commune) was not seen until seventy years later, in 1871.

Even if a “Jacobin”, Toussaint was still an “Opening” in history, and one of the greatest of them.

The Haiti Constitution of 1801 is the best representation we have of Toussaint L’Ouverture’s writing.

12 January 2012

Frederick Douglass


African Revolutionary Writers, Part 1

Frederick Douglass

This is the first main post of our new series of African Revolutionary Writers. You will receive four instalments in each weekly part, over ten weeks, with each instalment highlighting one revolutionary writer. These are your regular political education posts for the first quarter of 2012. They are distinguished from other posts by the background colour, and are also clearly marked as “African Revolutionary Writers”. We begin with a giant: Frederick Douglass.


The first part of this ten-part series on African Revolutionary Writers covers the period from slavery to Imperialism. The slave trade begun when Portuguese ships passed Cape Bojador on the coast of Western Sahara in 1434, bringing them south of the great desert for the first time.

They immediately took slaves. These, the first slaves of the bourgeoisie, were sold to Spanish colonists on the Canary Islands, where the original inhabitants (the Guanches) had already been enslaved and worked to extinction. The triangular slave-trade pattern: Portugal - Africa - Canary Islands - was soon afterwards scaled up to Britain - Africa - West Indies (or alternatively Brazil or North America). The Atlantic Slave Trade took slaves across the ocean via the “Middle Passage”, and brought back sugar, tobacco, cotton and other plantation-grown commodities.

Christopher Columbus crossed the Atlantic to the West Indies in 1492 and touched the continent of South America in 1498, the same year that Vasco da Gama reached India by the Cape sea route. By 1502 the trans-Atlantic slave trade was in full flow, first as a Portuguese monopoly, later as a British monopoly.

Although Marx notes in “Capital” that capitalism began in the 1500s, yet for more than three centuries the dominant business of the Western European bourgeoisie was not capitalism, but the Atlantic slave trade, and the biggest operator in that business was Britain. This situation lasted until the capitalist “Industrial Revolution” of the late 1700s, also in Britain.

Only when the Western bourgeoisie made its turn towards capitalism did it become expedient for it to avail some blacks, released slaves, to create a literary genre called the “slave narrative”, as part of the capitalist campaign to suppress slavery so as to make room for a new, more productive, exploited class: the wage-slaves or working proletariat. An early example of this genre is the work of Olaudah Equiano, who wrote a book about his “Interesting Life” as a slave and rescued slave, published in 1789. These slave-narrative books tended not only to expose the evils of slavery, but also to praise Christianity and capitalism in equal measure, in order to flatter their sponsors and readers.


In this regard Frederick Douglass’s work was exceptional for the breadth and the rebellious fearlessness of his rhetoric. Douglass broke free from the limits of the slave narrative genre so as to begin to create a truly revolutionary black literature, and this is why our series begins with him.

After escaping by train from twenty years of slavery Douglass wrote an extraordinary slave narrative called My Bondage and My Freedom, first published in 1855. He included, in the same volume, a series of six transcripts of speeches or orations that he had given as a campaigner against slavery. Slavery was abolished in the USA in 1865 at the end of the US Civil War, and ten years after the publication of Frederick Douglass’s book.

These six particular lectures of Douglass’s are contained in one of the two documents prepared for reading. “What to the slave is the Fourth of July?” is a famous one, but they are all outstanding. This was an orator! The reading documents can be accessed via the link given below.

Power concedes nothing without a demand

The main reading is the most immortal of all of Frederick Douglass’s speeches, known as “If There Is No Struggle, There Is No Progress” from 1857, which contains the famous phrase: “Power concedes nothing without a demand.” If you read nothing else of Douglass’s, do read this extraordinary piece of revolutionary literature, for the good advice that it gives: power concedes nothing without a demand.

The American Civil War of 1861-1865 was an armed conflict between one part of the bourgeoisie and another. It represented the real capitalist revolution in the USA, when the specifically capitalist bourgeoisie gained its dictatorship, the same US bourgeois dictatorship that still exists today.

For Africans, the global abolition of slavery was a relief after three centuries of terrible mass-scale atrocity. But the abolition of outright slavery also marked the beginning of wage slavery, and of military invasions, conquest, domination, plunder, settlement and colonialism. In the second half of the 20th century, globalist neo-colonialism and Imperialism followed.

African political writing tracked all these changes. In this week’s part we look briefly at the literature of the period of slavery and colonial expansion. In the next, we will move into the literature of the post-WW2 era of decolonisation.

  • The above serves to introduce the original reading-text - Frederick Douglass’s 1957 “If There Is No Struggle, There Is No Progress”

  • PDF files of the reading text are attached, including six more lectures of Frederick Douglass

09 January 2012

Use Your Head


Pedagogy 2

Use Your Head

This is the last preliminary posting before the courses re-start next week. It is a “conspectus” (overview) of Tony Buzan’s book, “Use Your Head”. Please find the file attached. The first instalment of the course proper will be sent out on Thursday, 12 January 2012.

The original author Buzan does not propose, or proceed from, any overt political premises. He appears at first sight to resemble a utilitarian bourgeois “management guru” or a “motivational speaker”. His work stands out from the others of that kind only because of its great practical effectiveness, and not because of any open political aspect.

But Buzan’s work also fits in very well, politically, with our Communist University pedagogy, because it is dialectical. And it is intentional.


From a practical point of view, Buzan’s appeal is that he offers assistance with faster, more purposeful reading; with memorising; and with note-taking, particularly using his invention, the “mind-map” technique. An example of a mind-map is reproduced above.

These techniques are just what students need to help them get through their studies, and just what conventional education often failed to give them. Students used to be obliged to learn before having learned how to learn. Buzan filled this gap very well.

But what underlies Buzan’s approach? It is not that he was just lucky to stumble upon three techniques, like an old-time prospector discovering gold in a lucky strike.


What distinguishes the mind-map, in particular, from other forms of note-taking characterised by lists and bullet-points, is that it begins and ends as a “unity and struggle of opposites”. It is a representation, in one glance, of the way in which any concrete phenomenon, or discrete system, is the product (or resultant) of many abstract dynamic forces (or vectors) pulling in different directions.

The mind-map is therefore a very good illustration of exactly what is meant by “dialectics”.


The other main underlying characteristic of Buzan’s approach is its “intentionality”, to use a term from Paulo Freire’s vocabulary.

Towards the end of Chapter 1 of Freire’s “The Pedagogy of the Oppressed”, Freire quotes Alvaro Vieira Pinto saying that intentionality is “the fundamental property of consciousness”, remarking that this concept is “of great importance for the understanding of a problem-posing pedagogy”.

Buzan’s approach is full of intentionality. There is no question, for Buzan, of wandering, or learning for learning’s sake, in a random, eclectic way. Buzan says that you must be looking for a result.

Karl Marx, in the 11th Thesis on Feuerbach, said that while the philosophers have interpreted the world, the point is to change it. That’s intentionality.

Intentionality, as well as dialectics and dialogue, are common themes in Freire, Buzan and Marx – and in the Communist University.

  • This introduction serves to introduce the original reading-text which is the CU’s Conspectus of Tony Buzan’s “Use Your Head”.  

05 January 2012

Pedagogy by the method of Paulo Freire


Pedagogy 1

Pedagogy According to Paulo Freire

The Communist University has a tradition of starting every year with a reflection upon our methodology, and on the theory of pedagogy (i.e. theory of learning and teaching) in general, and on the way that practical pedagogy relates to politics.

The great 20th-century theoretician of liberation pedagogy was Paolo Freire. It was Freire who gave us the word “conscientise”. It was Paulo Freire, more than any other, who showed how the bourgeois education system, with its “banking” theory of pedagogy, is not well designed to educate. Instead, its primary purpose is to reproduce the class relations that suit the ruling class. Please read Paulo Freire’s own words about this, in the attached file.

Education, which should by nature liberate the student, is made by the ruling class into a means of repression, said Freire.

How can revolutionaries ensure that education ceases to reproduce oppressive landlord-dominated or bourgeois-dominated class relations, and instead starts to generate socialism and communism?

Problematising Education

To ask such a question is to “problematise” education. To ask such a question is to begin a “dialogue” about education. Freire thought that for the political education of the oppressed, if it was not to be patronising and therefore counter-productive, by reproducing and reinforcing the features of the oppressive state, then the educational method for this revolutionary purpose would have to be different and new.

In the dialogical method that Paulo Freire devised and called the Pedagogy of the Oppressed, or otherwise Critical Pedagogy, there is no elementary, junior, senior, matriculation, undergraduate, post-graduate, doctorate or professor level. Teachers are learners and learners are teachers; yet all are free-willing “subjects”, having “agency”, capable of leadership.

As much as there may be a room and a gathering of individuals, each known by name, and a “codification” which is the text or other object for the occasion, yet the dialogue admits no limits. The Freirean gathering is not sheltered. It is one of the essentials of Freirean Pedagogy that we refuse the fiction of the sheltered classroom. Instead we recognise that the oppressor is around us and even within us, while we strive to liberate ourselves through our mutual, socialising pedagogical dialogue.

In Freirean practice, there is no such thing as a basic level, or an advanced level. All that we can do is to begin a process of “problematising”, beginning with education itself.

As a rule, the CU uses original authors, and not commentaries on their original texts. In that spirit, text attached today is the second chapter of Freire’s “Pedagogy of the Oppressed”, here supplemented with a glossary of “critical pedagogy” terms (the link to the download is below). This text provides an opportunity to reflect upon what you are trying to do by learning and teaching. You may ask each other: What is political education for?

For the late Freire (pictured above), and for the Freireans of today, all education is a political act and a social act, an act of liberation and of self-liberation.

There will be one further preliminary posting. The first instalment of the course proper will be sent out on Thursday, 12 January 2012.

  • This introduction only serves to introduce the original reading-text. In this case it is Chapter 2 of Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed.

  • A PDF file of the reading text is attached

Weapon of Theory


African Revolutionary Writers, Part 0

Weapon of Theory

Next week, the SADTU Political Education Forum begins a ten-part course on African Revolutionary Writers. This will be the first of four ten-week courses to be run through this e-mail channel in 2012.

The course on African Revolutionary Writers will be followed by three further ten-week courses, on Basics, on Anti-Imperialism, War and Peace, and on Hegel’s Philosophy of Dialectics, Logic and Right.

As a suitable introduction to the new course, herewith attached is Amilcar Cabral’s “Weapon of Theory”.

Cabral is the most profound and the most sublime of African Revolutionary writers. He is one of those Africans who contributed indispensable new lessons to the universal revolutionary legacy. “The Weapon of Theory” is relevant to our course as a whole, and to all our courses, for that matter.

At a later stage in this course we will return to Amilcar Cabral and to the great single-volume compendium of his work called “Unity and Struggle”, recently republished in English in South Africa.

The Weapon of Theory

The Tricontinental Conference of the Peoples of Asia, Africa and Latin America was held in Havana in January, 1966, 46 years after the Baku Conference of the Peoples of the East and seven years after the Cuban Revolution.

Forty-six more years have passed since the Tricontinental. A lot has been achieved in that time, including our South African democratic breakthrough, eighteen years ago, and the unbanning of the ANC, twenty-two years ago.

The full defeat of Imperialism has not yet occurred. What we can say is that from early in the 20th Century the historical agenda was set by the liberation movements, and that Imperialism represents the degeneration and the decline of bourgeois class power, and not its heyday.

The great political change in the world in the last century was the taking of sovereign independence by the formerly oppressed peoples of the former colonies, affecting the great majority of the population of the planet and opening the road of democracy for them.

This gigantic movement and huge change was achieved with the weapon of theory.

In 2012 with direct Imperialist armed aggression still taking place on the continent of Africa it is, however, clear that the struggle continues.

In this connection we can note that Amilcar Cabral, in the speech to the Tricontinental that has always been known by the title “The Weapon of Theory”, said the following:

“It is often said that national liberation is based on the right of every people to freely control its own destiny and that the objective of this liberation is national independence. Although we do not disagree with this vague and subjective way of expressing a complex reality, we prefer to be objective, since for us the basis of national liberation, whatever the formulas adopted on the level of international law, is the inalienable right of every people to have its own history, and the objective of national liberation is to regain this right usurped by imperialism, that is to say, to free the process of development of the national productive forces.

“For this reason, in our opinion, any national liberation movement which does not take into consideration this basis and this objective may certainly struggle against imperialism, but will surely not be struggling for national liberation.

“This means that, bearing in mind the essential characteristics of the present world economy, as well as experiences already gained in the field of anti-imperialist struggle, the principal aspect of national liberation struggle is the struggle against neo-colonialism.”

Amilcar Cabral was a true vanguardist. He was both a great leader, and a great intellectual.

The struggle against neo-colonialism continues.

  • A PDF file of the reading text is attached

  • To download the full African Revolutionary Writers course in PDF files, please click here