Monday, November 30, 2020

The World Turned Upside Down: Rodney’s 1972 Masterpiece


November 10, 2020

In 1972 Walter Rodney published his masterpiece How Europe Underdeveloped Africa. Rodney’s book took a similar approach to Eduardo Galeano’s 1971 classic, examining four hundred years of European intervention and occupation in Africa. In this blogpost, Leo Zeilig looks at the context and approach Rodney took in his 1972 book. 

By Leo Zeilig

Walter Rodney was incredibly prolific in the early 1970s. Over a period of barely five years, he wrote on tourism, articles on socialism and development, scholarly papers on slavery, and also developed courses, organised fieldwork, and worked on extensive lecture notes on the Russian revolution for a course (which has become a posthumous book). Rodney was also a father of three children – Asha, Patricia and Rodney’s third and last child, was born in Tanzania in 1971. In this period, Rodney’s crowning achievement was a synthesis of years of historical reading and research in his mighty How Europe Underdeveloped Africa (HEUA), which he finished at the end of 1971 and was published the following year.

Even before the publication of HEUA he was being solicited for contributions to journals and special issues on themes related to ‘underdevelopment.’ On 5 November 1969, for example, Paul Sweezy and Harry Magdoff wrote to him asking for a contribution to a Monthly Review special issue marking the 100th anniversary of Lenin’s birth. Other writers and Marxists had also been approached – including Louis Althusser, Amilcar Cabral, Eldridge Cleaver, Eduardo Hughes Galeano, Eric Hobsbawm and Ernest Mandel. Rodney responded quickly and submitted the paper, ‘The Imperialist Partition of Africa’, and Sweezy wrote to him on 2 February to express his thanks for the ‘very  interesting and useful contribution’, and to inform him that he sent, as Rodney requested, the $50 honorarium to FRELIMO, the leading liberation movement in Mozambique in Rodney’s name.

Rodney was working at the university in Dar es Salaam in Tanzania during the years of the radical projects of President Julius Nyerere.  His habit was to work collaboratively with his friends and activists, sharing and discussing  with comrades. Rodney emphasized the importance of this approach in the preface of HEUA when, after acknowledging ‘Karim Hirji and Henry Mapolu’ – who were both student-activists at the time – for having  ‘read the manuscript in a spirit of constructive criticism’ he continued, ‘But, contrary, to the fashion in most prefaces, I will not add that “all mistakes and shortcomings are entirely my responsibility.” This is sheer bourgeois subjectivism. Responsibility in matters of these sorts is always collective, especially with regard to the remedying of shortcomings. The purpose has been to try and reach Africans who wish to explore further the nature of their exploitation, rather than to satisfy the “standards” set by our oppressors and their spokesmen in the academic world.’[1]

Intellectual work always involves periods of intense concentration and solitude, but in Dar es Salaam in the early 1970s the political environment was profoundly collaborative. This is a far cry from the conveyer-belt of privatised misery which is intellectual and scholarly production today.

Rodney’s 1972 book is notable for its exceptionally accessible style, as it was written with a bright Tanzanian and African secondary school student in mind. In the end the book would be read by a generation in Africa and around the world, and to them, African politics and history would never be the same. Rodney had spent years in preparation for undertaking HEUA. His historical research in London, the heart of the beast, where this ‘unmaking’ of Africa, the bloody pillage of people, wealth and history, had one of its most important bases, and then in the most radical country in newly independent Africa – Tanzania, where history and socialism were being forged. Rodney had been reading and researching HEUA for more than a decade. His intellectual and activist mission was to correct the lies of official history, or, as Galeano described his own undertaking, ‘to tell a non-specialized public about certain facts that official history, history as told by conquerors, hides or lies about’, and to give back to the continent and its people a proper account of how Africa had become ‘underdeveloped’, poor and dependent. [2]

A revolution in a book

One of the striking features about Rodney’s text is its sheer audacity. The book is a breathless journey across the continent, over a period of five hundred years – moving effortlessly from country to country, region to region, providing both nuanced analysis and general overview. The idea of such a volume and confidence to undertake and complete it, could have only come from someone of Rodney’s intellectual strength and self-assurance. He was a young man when he started the book, writing the book in his late twenties – the book was published just before his thirtieth birthday.

Explicitly written for a general audience, Rodney ditched the normal protocol of cluttering the text with footnotes and extensive references. The book was a full-frontal assault on the academic training he had received, the closely guarded protocols of scholarly life – peer-review, referencing, deference to ‘authoritative’ scholarship and, most importantly, the purge of radical political content. Rodney had these elements of his learning explicitly in his crosshairs to, in his words, ‘defeat … attack … and to circumvent’.[3] The book was also an attempt to step out of a form of writing and research that was ‘only accessible to certain kinds of people’.[4]

As Rodney explained about HEUA in 1975, ‘this text was designed to operate outside of the university. It might get into the university, yes. I hoped it would. But it was designed to operate from outside in the sense that it would not to be sponsored by the people who considered themselves, and whom many others considered to the ones at that time who had the last word … on African history and African studies. The aim of this publication was to reach our own people without having it mediate by the bourgeois institutions of learning’.[5] As it turned out, the book was a thunderclap that shook the academic establishment.

The text is free of academic ‘burdens and protocols’, but includes at the end of each chapter ‘Brief Guides to Reading’ with engaging introductions to what is available. At the end of chapter five, on ‘Africa’s Contribution to the Capitalist Development of Europe – The Colonial Period’, Rodney notes that ‘here again, few scholars have treated capitalism and imperialism as an integral system involving the transfer of surplus and other benefits from colonies to metropoles …thus, European or white American Marxists who expose the rapacious nature of modern capitalism within their own countries have not generally integrated this with the exploitation of Africa, Asia and Latin America …’[6]

Rodney’s normal practice was to exercise extreme ‘discipline’ when it came to his scholarly work, to leave absolutely no space to be attacked for sloppy scholarship, or for failing to undertake rigorous study of the topic. Issa Shivji, at one time Rodney’s PhD student, describes a revealing incident: ‘Once I went to him and said, “Walter, comrade, I am fed-up, this business of writing this PhD, quoting this and quoting that and having footnotes, is exhausting. Stopping us from doing the work we want to do.” He said, “No comrade, this is important, this bourgeois discipline is important.”’ It was not uncommon to hear this kind of statement from Rodney – it had been his training in Georgetown, Kingston and London. “We have to be doubly competent, twice as good as the bourgeois scholars”, he told his comrades, “to beat them.”[7] This is what serious Marxist scholarship was, a blood-stained war against a highly trained and hardened enemy – as Rodney’s assassination in Guyana on 13 June 1980 attests. [8]

Yet HEUA was an entirely different project. His journal articles and historical scholarship required these exacting standards, to confront the enemy on the battlefield of bourgeois academia, but now a different audience was intended for HEUA. This volume formed part of his activist contribution – like his 1969 book, Groundings with My Brothers, it was a serious book written for a general audience and, consequently, the format and style had to be different. Rodney was adamant about this. On receiving the ‘readers comments’ for the manuscript of HEUA, Rodney declared to his friend and Tanzanian publisher, Walter Bgoya, “I am not going to make any changes, I have not written an academic book … to hell with these fellows who want to see footnotes and references.”[9]

The book is clear about the theoretical approach he was using, and states this categorically early on – in the first chapter, Rodney details Marx’s method, stating that the 19th century writer, ‘distinguished with European history several stages of development’.[10] He proceeds to describe a certain type of Marxism – common at the time, and still frequently attributed to Marxism – as proceeding stage by stage to socialism (communism), through ‘simple bands of hunters with Communalism’ to slavery, feudalism and capitalism, a system of economic and social organisation, that concentrates ‘in a few hands of ownership of the means of producing wealth and .. unequal distribution of the products of human labor’.[11] Even Marx complained about people taking a series of stages that he had posited tentatively for Western Europe and making them into a universal sequence.  Rodney refused any false solace; development is not linear, China he tells us early on ‘entered the feudal phase of development virtually 1000 years before the birth of Christ.’

Using China as a model for development, Rodney shows that society does not always advance to an ‘economic’ tune – development is not a forward march based on purely economic principles. The growth of beliefs, practices and institutions in China – in what Marxists describe as the ‘superstructure’ set on the economic organisation or ‘base’ of society – profoundly ‘affect’ a society’s development. ‘In China, religious, educational and bureaucratic qualifications were of utmost importance’.[12]

Out of capitalism Marx predicted socialism would emerge, based on a principle of economic equality and from it, eventually, a modern, technologically advanced communism would also develop. Though Rodney adds the vital component of ‘uneven development’ to a Marxist approach. Marx had presented a version of development based on European society, seeing revolution and class consciousness evolving from the contradictions embedded in class society – the collective organisation of production in advanced capitalism, yet private control of production. Rodney writes, ‘What is probably of more relevance for early African development is the principle that development over the world’s territories has always been uneven’.[13]

This unevenness cautions us against seeing development as a simple process of ‘successive stages’. Capitalism is intrinsically international – a world system – and as a consequence it intensifies the unevenness at the centre of human development. ‘Uneven development has always insured that societies have come into contact when they were at different levels – for example, one that was communal and one that was capitalist’.[14] This provokes further development, new forms of social organisation (as well as crisis). Such an ‘uneven capitalism’ inevitably diverges from the model of European development described by Marx in the 1850s and 1860s, Rodney explains.

Contrary to frequent accusations, HEUA could not be further from an orthodox book of either Marxism, or dependency theory. Rodney was writing against the enormous weight of establishment historians, and critics of Marxism; he managed to do this without turning his book into a turgid critique. For Rodney, Marxism is a universal theory, and the complex and diverse elements of Africa’s pre-colonial and colonial history can be explained within a Marxist perspective, but the question of development must be undertaken with the correct historical approach. Rodney was not defending Marxism in a theoretical polemic but with historical research. His work was a challenge to a stubborn faith in progress found in many Marxist accounts.

Rodney wrote an entirely new history of the continent, one that profoundly muddles the ‘stages’ of history. Africa before the arrival of Europeans was a complicated mix of societies and cultures, classes and conflict. Most accounts of those who first visited the continent from Portugal, or Holland, or England, saw in West and East Africa, development which was comparable to the societies they had recently left. Rodney cites a Dutch visitor to the city of Benin who remarked, ‘The town seems to be very great. When you enter into it, you go into a great broad street … which seems to be seven or eight times broader than the Warmoes street in Amsterdam… The king’s palace is a collection of buildings which occupy as much space as the town of Harlem, and which is enclosed with walls. There are numerous apartments for the Prince’s ministers and fine galleries, most of which are as big as those on the Exchange at Amsterdam’.[15] Yet no sooner do we have this comparison then Rodney reminds us against the ‘self-delusion’ that all things between Benin and Holland were equal. Through centuries of slaughtering each other, Europeans had honed the means of destruction to a much higher degree than their African counterparts, and, as history has shown, had few compunctions about using them.

Reception and impact

Quickly Rodney’s life became shaped by the book’s publication – if he was already a well-known, outspoken and sharp-witted socialist, now he became the famous author of a book that challenged the historical record, debunked racist myths and challenged a global economic system. Files of correspondence in the Atlanta archive, the Walter Rodney Papers, provide an eloquent testimony of the astonishing reception the book received: letters, notes and appeals to Rodney for further copies, from his readers, in Nigeria, Tanzania, the United States and the Caribbean.

Early in 1973 Rodney received   an airmail letter from José Dominguez. Dominguez, who was from Argentina and living in London, explained that he was a South American who had also just read HEUA, ‘for which I congratulate you and I am very grateful for the information and analysis that your book provides.’  He stated that the problems and struggles of the Africans ‘are either disregarded or silenced by the press of my country …  I must say that I have found your book quite by chance. Aside from a wish to congratulate you, I would like also to ask you to get in touch with a publisher in some Spanish speaking country … we are almost 300 hundred million Spanish speaking people, and what you say in your book, and how you at it, is of great importance for us all. Therefore, there should be a Spanish translation as soon as possible. Our comrades will be grateful for it’.[16] Like Eduardo Galeano’s book published just a year before, How Europe Underdeveloped Africa, changed a debate, inspired activists and continues to be a vital resource today for all those searching for another world.

I am enormously grateful for the comments and suggestions on an earlier draft by Brian M. Napoletano and Ray Bush. Some of these observations have found their way directly into the text.

Leo Zeilig is editor of Please contact if you want to contribute or have an idea for a blogpost


[1] Walter Rodney, How Europe Underdeveloped Africa (Pambazuka Press, 2012) pp. xi-xii

[2] Eduardo Galeano, Open Veins of Latin America (Monthly Review Press, 1997) p. 559 [This page number from the electronic edition]

[3] Walter Rodney, Walter Rodney Speaks (Africa World Press, 1990) p. 26

[4] Walter Rodney Speaks, p. 26

[5] Walter Rodney Speaks, p. 26

[6] How Europe, p. 201

[7] Interview, 30 November 2018

[8] There is an important contrast between the Northern perception of the academic as privileged and insulated from political strife and the Southern reality of the radical scholar who risks more than just a salary when sticking her neck out to ‘speak truth to power’. However, as Brian M. Napoletano writes, ‘which is not to say that all of us radical scholars here in the South necessarily put ourselves in danger, of course, or that scholars in the North do not face reprisals for their writing.’

[9] Cited by Issa Shivji, interview, 30 November 2018

[10] How Europe, p. 6

[11] How Europe, p.7. Much of this attitude still exists today, for example, Doreen Massey, who, despite being regarded as a sort of post-modernist Marxist, repeatedly criticised Marxism as a stagist interpretation of space and history. Indeed, it is rare to read a post-modernist critique of Marxism that does not bring up stagism.

[12] How Europe, p.9

[13] How Europe, p.8

[14] How Europe, p.11

[15] How Europe, p.69

[16] Walter Rodney Papers, Box 2, Folder 93

 Walter Anthony Rodney, Activism, and African Historiography—Forty Years After



By Ibrahim Abdullah

Walter Anthony Rodney is arguably the most important theoretician cum activist-scholar—in the mold of C.L.R. James and W.E.B. Dubois—who lived and worked in Africa, and approached the troubling question of African identity and liberation from the vantage point of Pan-Africanism.  Born of working class parentage in Guyana in 1942, Walter grew up in his native Guyana, travelled and lived elsewhere in the Caribbean and the US before proceeding to London, England to do his Ph.D. By the time he graduated in 1966, and took up his first academic job in Tanzania, he had visited all the regions that were to occupy a central place in his scholarship and political practice.  To understand Rodney’s ideas as they evolved during the short period when he was active—he was murdered at the young age of thirty-eight—it is necessary to establish a dialogue, a kind of conversation, between his ideas in the making and the important issues/questions which confronted Africans and peoples of African descent, in the Caribbean, the United States, as well as elsewhere in the world.

Walter Anthony Rodney is arguably the most important theoretician cum activist-scholar—in the mold of C.L.R. James and W.E.B. Dubois—who lived and worked in Africa, and approached the troubling question of African identity and liberation from the vantage point of Pan-Africanism.

Brother Wally, as the working peoples in the Caribbean fondly referred to Walter Rodney, grew up in a part of the world where he was forced to learn and appreciate, at a tender age, how to distinguish between class forces in political matters and how to handle the question of race.  These two issues were central to his politics, his ideas, and his teachings.  Coming from a working class background—both parents belonged to the tailoring trade—he had to confront the meaning and significance of the social and political differences constructed around race and class at an early age.  As he himself put it “I grew up in a divided society, in which the majority of one’s day–to-day contacts were with one’s own ethnic group”. This division between peoples of African descent and those of Indian ancestry embedded in the politics of Guyana resonates with the politics of race and class familiar to students of African-American history. And it was the most important political obstacles that the Marxist oriented People’s Progressive Party (PPP) had to confront in the period of decolonization. The radical outlook of the PPP in Guyana helped to mold the young Walter to appreciate race and class in everyday life.  Thus he quickly learned how to distinguish between those Guyanese who were likely to support the party’s program from those opposed to the party by simply looking at where they lived, how the residence is constructed, and whether it was easily accessible.

This realization came as a result of his participation in party activities—distributing leaflets, selling party memorabilia—where his first real introduction to the class question.  The radical political context in Guyana not only exposed Rodney and others, notably Clive Thomas, to socialism but also made them more receptive to the idea of Marxism as an alternative framework for understanding our world. This preliminary political exposure, which was partly due to his working class background and partly the political situation in Guyana, was strengthened when Walter won a scholarship to study at the University of the West Indies, at Mona, Jamaica.

Rodney’s account of his stay in Jamaica, as a student, and later as a faculty, lends itself to an essentialist reading of the Jamaican people.  Emphasizing what he called the dynamism of the Jamaican situation, Rodney concluded that the Jamaican people…’are a breed apart,…of any people’.  This dynamism and energy of the Jamaican situation was not only observable in the Island itself but also in the Diaspora, particularly in England, where Rodney, who moved in and out of the West Indian immigrant community in London, did not fail to observe that Jamaican militancy was crucial in combating British racism.  It was the Jamaicans; he wrote ‘who were out there in the street defending the whole race’.  This experience which was reflected in the role West Indians played in key sectors of British society – the transportation system, the hospital, the schools and so on – confirmed Rodney’s beliefs in the capacity of ordinary people for change and their pivotal role in the historical process.

Rodney historicized the problem of under development, he was able to establish the historical linkages between the present backwardness of the African continent and its history of exploitation.

In Jamaica and later in Tanzania, where he held teaching positions, he was known for his involvement with the popular masses—radical intellectuals, working peoples and Rastafarians.  This eventually led to his deportation from Jamaica in 1968.  Rodney’s practice and belief in the role of the people as the central motive force for historical change was pivotal to the evolution of his political thought and his practice as a peoples’ historian. By the time he won a scholarship to do graduate work in England—he had graduated Summa Cum Laudae in Jamaica—his ideas where decidedly of a leftist persuasion.  Yet it was in England that he was able to unravel the maze of theoretical positions, which then dominated political discussions about the so-called Third World situation and the struggle for political and economic emancipation. And it was also in London that Rodney met the legendary Trinidadian revolutionary and Pan-Africanist idol C.L.R. James, joined their study group, while doing his research for his Ph.D. at the School of Oriental African Studies.  His experience at this imperial institution was as suffocating as it was liberating. “The moment you go there you’re under that load, that you’re not just you, but you are a representative of a whole people, who have been victimized but who are also regarded as the agents of their own victimization and that something is somehow wrong with them” he was to write about this experience.  By the time he graduated with a dissertation on slavery in the Upper Guinea Coast, he was only twenty-four years old; he had mastered the ropes of Africanist imperial discourse on African history that he was to spend much of his academic life subverting.

Rodney expanded the field of enquiry by looking at the direct linkages between Africa and Europe, the African presence in the Americas, and the consequent development of a tri-continental interaction.

His dissertation, published four years later—A History of the Upper Guinea Coast, 1545-1800—challenged the dominant conventional interpretation about slavery in Africanist historical scholarship. Rodney’s grounding in the study of slavery/Atlantic slave trade and how it shaped the then evolving Black Atlantic world—defined as coastal West Africa and Euro-America— laid the groundwork for his two popular publications Groundings With My Brothers written in Jamaica and How Europe Underdeveloped Africa written and published in Tanzania. As the first individual of African descent in the new world to conduct a scientific study of slavery and the slave trade in Africa, Rodney struggled to emphasize the complex linkages between African and the Americas. Whereas Eric Williams’ magisterial Capitalism and Slavery, a Cambridge dissertation penned in the forties, had established the connections between slavery and the rise of capitalism in England by focusing on the West Indies, Rodney expanded the field of enquiry by looking at the direct linkages between Africa and Europe, the African presence in the Americas, and the consequent development of a tri-continental interaction which subsequently laid the foundation for capitalism in the Euro-America.

His analysis was more than a synthesis of existing works; it laid bare the processes through which the continent of Africa was incorporated into the then expanding capitalist system and the consequent underdevelopment and exploitation of its resources.  By historicizing the problem of under development, he was able to establish the historical linkages between the present backwardness of the African continent and its history of exploitation.  Similarly, he was able to demonstrate the intricate connections between the slave trade, racism and capitalism; thus linking the experience of Africans in the continent and those in the Diaspora. He would be the first historian of the African past in his generation to publish original path-breaking essays on four countries (Angola, Ghana, Guinea and Mozambique) outside his so-called area of research. By the time he returned to his native Guyana in 1974, Walter Rodney was an accomplished scholar and a leading theoretician of the African experience. Denied a professorial chair by the Burnham regime after the university authorities had already made him an offer, Walter settled down to an active life of teaching, research, and politics, from 1974 to 1980 when he was brutally assassinated. Rodney was a full time organizer and founding member of the Working Peoples Alliance (WPA).  He travelled extensively in the Caribbean, North America, and Europe giving lectures on the political situation in the Caribbean, and the role of the WPA in Guyana. Rodney combined theory and practice, scholarship and activism. When he was murdered by agents of the Burnham regime in Georgetown, Guyana, on 13 June 1980, he was involved not only in the writing of history but more so in the making of history.  For a couple of days before Gregory Smith’s bomb took his life he had sent the final version of his a manuscript on the Guyanese working class that was published posthumously as A History of the Guyanese Working People. His notes and unfinished manuscript on the impact of Bolshevism in Africa—The Russian Revolution: A view from the Third World—was published two years ago. His path-breaking intervention in West African historiography continues to shape current research questions almost half a century after they were originally formulated/ published. The Rodnian problematic is clearly visible in Toby Greens’  The Rise of the Trans-Saharan Trade in Western Africa, 1300-1589(2013) and his A Fistful of Shells: West Africa from the rise of the slave Trade to the Age of  Revolution(2018).

Ibrahim Abdullah is a professor of history at Fourah Bay College, University of Sierra Leone.

Police Brutality and Racist Violence Intensifies Leading Up to Contested Elections

November 1, 2020

Reprinted from Fighting Words 

Police Brutality and Racist Violence Intensifies Leading Up to Contested Elections – Fighting Words (

Denver Oct. 10 killing of right-wing zealot during confrontation Denver Post photo Denver Oct. 10 killing of right-wing zealot during confrontation Denver Post photo. | Photo: The Denver PostPhiladelphia father Walter Wallace, Sr. speaks after his son was shot to death by police Philadelphia father Walter Wallace, Sr. speaks after his son was shot to death by police. | Photo: Tom Gralishi/The Philadelphia Inquirer

By Abayomi Azikiwe

As millions of people in the United States cast early ballots for the upcoming presidential and Congressional elections, tensions are escalating over the future of racial politics inside the country.

On October 26, the police killing of an African American man in Philadelphia resulted in a rebellion where people fought law-enforcement agents and attacked private property well into the following morning.

Police claim that Walter Wallace, 27, had refused to put down a knife while initially standing on his front porch.  The police therefore used this scenario to justify Wallace being shot ten times by two officers.

Wallace walked away from his porch between two vehicles and after emerging, he was gunned down by the police. Such a rationale for the shooting death of civilians by law-enforcement agents is a familiar one amid ongoing demonstrations and rebellions since the public police execution of George Floyd in Minneapolis on May 25.

Events in Philadelphia represented the second occurrence of violent unrest since late May. The city has a sordid history of police misconduct going back decades where acting with impunity, law-enforcement personnel have utilized lethal force often without any fear of legal retribution or accountability.

Police spokespersons in Philadelphia said that 14 shots were fired at Wallace. The father of the victim, Walter Wallace, Sr., told members of the press that his son was on medications and had suffered with mental illness for many years.

Law-enforcement agents claimed that they had been summoned to the predominantly Black Cobbs Creek neighborhood in West Philadelphia saying that Wallace was armed with a knife in the street. At least two people were seen in a video posted on social media following Wallace urging him to put down the weapon.

After police pumped multiple rounds into his body, a woman, said to have been his mother, began to throw objects at the police. Soon after the shooting and the viewing of the video by many people online, crowds gathered denouncing the police action saying that the killing of Wallace was completely unnecessary.

During the course of the evening, dumpsters and police vehicles were firebombed. Riot police mobilized their units along 52nd street where the community engaged in resistance activities against the cops and local businesses.

In nearby Malcolm X Park, located at 51st and Pine, people gathered in a spontaneous demonstration chanting “Black Lives Matter.” 52nd street was the center of the unrest which erupted during late May.

An article on the October 26-27 rebellion was published by the Philadelphia Inquirer saying:

For hours, protesters confronted officers who stood in a line with riot shields behind metal barricades at the station. People in the crowd could be seen throwing objects at the officers. A group also marched into University City, at least one TV news vehicle was vandalized, and police reported that windows had been broken on Chestnut Street. Between 100 and 200 people then moved to the 52nd Street commercial district and caused considerable property damage from Market to Spruce Streets. Shortly before 1 a.m., a speeding black truck ran over an officer at 52nd and Walnut Street.

The incident was captured on an Instagram livestream. The condition of the officer was not immediately known.

Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolfe has deployed the National Guard in an attempt to control the communities in case of further demonstrations. The White House of President Donald Trump has offered to send in federal troops ostensibly to “restore law and order.”

Social Tensions Escalate Around the U.S.

The recent outbreak of unrest in Philadelphia is by no means an isolated incident. Scores of similar clashes between police, racist vigilantes and thousands of people have taken place leading to many injuries and deaths.

Cities such as Kenosha, Wisconsin, Portland, Louisville, Milwaukee, Chicago, Detroit and others, have been the scene of police and right-wing attacks on anti-racist demonstrators. The administration of President Donald Trump has appealed to law-enforcement agencies to dominate the streets and to liquidate the leadership of the demonstrations and campaigns which have been persistent over the last several months. Trump, and his Attorney General William Barr, have deployed federal forces to numerous municipalities under the guise of fighting crime, anti-racist rebellions and to restore law and order.

In Denver, where demonstrations have been held over the last year demanding justice for Elijah McClain, an African American man killed by the Aurora police, the city has experienced mass demonstrations which have blocked streets and expressways. Only 9.8% of Denver residents are African American while people of Latin American descent represent nearly 30%.

A right-wing demonstration on October 10 in Denver resulted in the death of a participant at the hands of a private security guard hired to protect a camera crew. As Lee Keltner of the pro-police rally used pepper spray against Matthew Dulloff, the guard, he was immediately killed.

Dulloff has been charged with second-degree homicide in the shooting.

Such an incident is reminiscent of previous events in Portland and Kenosha when the activities of right-wing zealots have ended in violent deaths to both Trump supporters and anti-racists.

On October 24 in Shelby Township, Michigan, a suburb northeast of Detroit, 100 people gathered at a shopping mall for a rally and later marched in response to statements made by the local police chief and a board trustee. Both engaged in racist provocations related to the advent during the summer of Black Lives Matter demonstrations and rebellions nationally.

A leaflet circulated by the locally-based Suburban Solidarity for Social Justice (SHIFT!) organization at the rally emphasized that:

“Our cause is to insist that Shelby Twp. take progressive and corrective steps to become an environment of diversity, inclusion, and address its own systematic racism. Our goals speak to a national movement for social change and racial justice that is rooted in a demand for true and thorough responsibility and accountability from leadership. Until our demands are met, we will continue to assemble, march, and protest, as protected by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.”

As the activists from Shelby Township and other communities stepped off into the street for a march, they were immediately attacked by police. Public transport buses were commandeered as potential paddy wagons. Several people were grabbed and thrown to the concrete pavement on 23 Mile Road west of Van Dyke Avenue and placed under arrest.

Activists from SHIFT!, Detroit Will Breathe, Moratorium NOW! Coalition, Detroit Eviction Defense, among others, then marched through residential areas of the Township. At least 30 police cars from several jurisdictions were deployed against a peaceful anti-racist demonstration. As a result of the arrests, five people have been indicted on felony charges while several people suffered injuries due to police action.

Demonstrators later arrived at the Shelby Township police station to demand the release of their fellow activists. The protesters were then subjected to further harassment and arrest. The following day on October 25, members of some of the same organizations staged a press conference outside the Macomb County Municipal Center and Courthouse in Mt. Clemens to denounce the behavior of the police and to reiterate the call for the immediate release of those held in detention. Another march was held through downtown Mt. Clemens as well as residential areas. The five detainees were released on October 26 having to post bond in relation to the charges filed by the prosecutor’s office.

According to an article in the Macomb Daily:

“Congressman Andy Levin, who represents much of Macomb County in Congress, is making a personal plea to interim Macomb County Prosecutor Jean Cloud to drop felony charges against five people involved in racial protests in Shelby Township last weekend. The five were among 10 arrested Saturday (Oct. 24) during a protest by members of SHIFT (Suburban Solidarity for Social Justice) Michigan and Detroit Will Breathe. Of those 10, five were released pending further investigation. The remaining five were charged with various offenses, including assaulting, resisting and/or obstructing a police officer and disturbing the peace.”

These struggles which have unfolded in cities and suburbs over the last five months prompted by state repression and right-wing assaults on democratic rights, portend much for the unfolding social crisis in the U.S. Irrespective of the electoral outcome of the November 3 poll, the heightening contradictions within U.S. society will not be resolved until fundamental changes are realized.

Attention! Refuse to Follow Trump’s Illegal Orders to Overturn the Election


November 17, 2020 Fighting Word Attention! Refuse to Follow Trump’s Illegal Orders to Overturn the Election – Fighting Words ( 

Widespread public support for GIs who refused illegal orders during the Vietnam era. | Photo: Vietnam Full Disclosure

By Moratorium Now! Coalition

At some point, Trump may declare the 2020 election to be “null and void”. He would then order you, U.S. servicemembers, into cities and towns across the country, to suppress the millions of people who pour into the streets to protest his illegal coup d’état. Are you ready to shoot down civilians, just to keep Trump illegally in power despite the election outcome?

Union locals and labor councils across the country are already preparing for a national general strike if Trump refuses to recognize the people’s decision and overturns the election. Are you ready to bayonet workers standing up for our democratic rights?

Some 42 percent of U.S. soldiers are people of color. Are you willing to kill for this racist bigot as he tries to hold his grip of power and unleashes bloody revenge on any who oppose him?

The first thing that Donald Trump did after the 2020 election results showed that he lost by five million votes and the more than necessary 270 electoral votes was to fire his Defense Secretary Mark Esper.  Esper had opposed Trump using the 1807 Insurrection Act to place thousands of federal troops in U.S. cities as a show of force, to suppress the Black Lives Matter protests of the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and so many others.

National Guard and U.S. military helicopters and chemical sprays were used on June 1st against peaceful protestors in Washington D.C. for a photo op showing Trump holding a bible in front of a church. This was clearly a dress rehearsal for Trump using the military to stay in power. Both Esper and Pentagon Chief General Milley condemned this as interference in U.S. politics. Of course, this enraged Trump.

So now Esper is out. Trump replaced a whole slew of top Defense Department civilian officials with his own cronies, ready to order your commanders to disregard the people’s vote and impose martial law, clearly a violation of the Constitution.

You do have a choice. We know that you have been told over and over again that you must follow orders. Trump may be for now the Commander-in-Chief, but you swore an oath to defend the Constitution, not Donald Trump. Article 92 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice dictates that you must follow only lawful orders.

You know that if Trump seizes power by using the military against the people, that would break the law. And “just following orders” would be no excuse.

If that day comes and Trump orders you to attack the people, stand down! Tell your commanders that you will not enable Trump to overturn the will of the people. Join with the people in the streets and help uphold all our democratic rights!

The Military Task Force established by the National Lawyers Guild has set up a system for free, confidential telephone consultations with attorneys to discuss possible illegal orders and related issues. Servicemembers can call the MLTF, at 619-463-2369, for referral to a volunteer attorney. In addition, the Task Force has now posted legal resource material for servicemembers, attorneys, legal workers and law students on this website. An audio Continuing Legal Education (CLE) seminar presented by MLTF attorney James Branum is available on the website.   A comprehensive legal memo is included as part of the CLE which discusses the law regarding illegal orders and alternative methods of avoiding compliance with such orders.

Issued by the   Moratorium Now Coalition – Detroit;  Wisconsin Bail Out the People Movement;  Peoples Alliance – Bay Area

What Happens if Trump Tries to Steal the Election?

November 2, 2020

Reprinted from Fighting Words What happens if Trump tries to steal the election? – Fighting Words (

Republican campaign operatives, congressional staffers and lawyers threaten vote counting in Florida in 2000

Republican campaign operatives, congressional staffers and lawyers threaten vote counting in Florida in 2000. | Photo: Colin Braley/Reuters

By David Sole

With only days left before the November 3 U.S. elections many are focused on turning out voters for their preferred candidates. However some groups and individuals are making plans on what to do if President Donald Trump refuses to accept a possible loss in the voting.

Repeatedly, over the past months, Trump has publicly stated that he will not bow to an electoral defeat. He has proclaimed over and over that mail-in ballots are riddled with fraud, with no evidence to back up his claim. Lawyers for his Republican Party are everywhere filing legal challenges to suppress the vote. And right-wing militias have been shown on TV fully armed and claiming that they will not allow Trump to be voted out. In Houston’s Harris County, Texas, Republicans are again seeking to block nearly 127,000 drive-thru ballots that were cast during early voting from being tabulated until the court issues an order, after having lost the original suit in the Texas Supreme Court. Texas drive-thru-voting hearing.

On October 31, on the last day of early voting in North Carolina, police  and sheriff deputies attacked an “I am Change” get-out-the-vote march of some 200 people trying to get to the polls in the city of Graham. The cops used pepper spray on the crowd which included children as young as three years old. Eight people were arrested, including Rev. Greg Drumwright, organizer of the march. As NPR reported:

Sylvester Allen Jr., an activist in Alamance County, says police had attempted to take a generator being used by people speaking.

“The whole point was to rally and go to the voter polls,” Allen told NPR. “They wanted to send a message that we don’t have any power.”

When asked if he thought this was an effort to suppress the vote, [Reverend] Drumwright said, “I cannot say that that was what it was, but I can say that’s what happened. There are people that did not get to vote today because they ended up in jail.”

In 1870, Wyatt Outlaw, the first African American elected to be Town Commissioner and Constable in Graham, was dragged from his home by the Ku Klux Klan and lynched in the town square in front of that same courthouse. No one was punished for his murder.

According to an October 31 article in the Guardian:

Trucks with Trump signs and flags surrounded a Biden campaign bus on a Texas highway on Friday and attempted to slow the vehicle down and run it off the road, the Biden campaign said on Saturday.

Some of the Trump supporters surrounding the Biden campaign bus were armed, according to Democratic state representative Rafael Anchía and other observers.

Responding to these threats to our democratic rights has been the beginnings of resistance. One of the first to act was a coalition of three community based organizations that called for the formation of “People’s Committees to Defend Democratic Rights.” The “Call to Organize” was issued October 1 and signed by the Moratorium Now Coalition of Detroit, the Peoples Alliance from the Bay Area and the Wisconsin Bail Out the People Movement. This document urged a broad front of labor and community groups to prepare for a General Strike if needed. People’s Committees – Moratorium NOW! Coalition

Only days later, on October 8, the Rochester, NY Labor Council passed a resolution also calling for a General Strike to stop Trump from stealing the election and urging the national AFL-CIO to take up this issue. Rochester Labor Council – defending democracy, opposing authoritarian-rule

The International Longshore and Warehouse Union, ILWU Local 10, in the Bay area passed a resolution which stated:

3) We support the mobilization of the entire labor movement independently of the Democrats and Republicans in worker actions and a united front to stop the growing racist fascistic terror encouraged by Trump and his Neo-nazi cronies. 

4) We need to prepare for mass national working class united front strike action to force Trump out in his efforts to terrorize Blacks and other working class communities in order to prevent them from voting and attempting a coup to stay in office.

In the weeks that followed the Seattle M.L.K.’s Central Labor Council and the Western Massachusetts Area Central Labor Council passed similar resolutions recognizing that trade unions might need to utilize their “nuclear option” to preserve democratic rights in the country.

A progressive caucus inside the American Library Association known as the Social Responsibility Round Table, based in Pittsburgh, PA joined this movement on October 29. Their Action Council urged “information workers to participate actively in peaceful demonstrations and/or strike actions to oppose any coup attempt associated with this election.”

Across the country organizing has proceeded for demonstrations to be held on November 4, the day after the election in anticipation that Trump or his followers might try to declare victory on election night, before mail-in votes are able to be counted in many states.  Groups such as the National Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression, the Southern Workers Assembly,  the United National Anti-War Coalition and Protect the Results have put out calls for November 4 and later actions. Demonstrations were announced in several cities in Wisconsin, the San Francisco Bay Area, Baltimore, and Detroit, among other places.

While not using general strike language, seven Bay Area central labor councils have announced plans for mass protests on November 7 to protect the vote. The action is set to take place on the Embarcadero, the waterfront roadway of the busy Port of San Francisco. This is in line with labor’s and progressive organizations’ across the country concerns that Trump plans to defy a peaceful transfer of power should he lose.

These labor and community groups have laudably been making plans for worst case scenarios so that people are not left unprepared and having to scramble to respond. Unfortunately, it was reported in a Truthout article, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka opposed these actions. In a virtual meeting of national labor leaders on October 23 Trumka was said to have called them premature and urged his affiliates to solely work on getting out the vote for Democrat Joe Biden. But those people with a knowledge of the history of fascism know that waiting can be dangerous.

In Michigan organizing has been going on for weeks led by an impressive coalition of both unions and community organizations. Action Councils of local leaders have been established in 18 cities and counties across the state to build local actions and to coordinate statewide. Virtual meetings of the Detroit Action Council have brought together a wide variety of people and organizations to prepare for demonstrations November 4 and November 7. A real united front against fascism is emerging that notably includes the Detroit Will Breathe group that has led demonstrations almost daily since the May 25 police murder of George Floyd.

While some unions are participating already, much more work needs to be done in that area. It is hoped that once the polls close on November 3, many unions might turn their attention to defending democratic rights, especially if the right-wing and fascist elements, including Donald Trump, commit flagrant outrages.

Even if the worst case threats by Trump  don’t materialize and Biden wins the election, the organizers of the Detroit Action Council, Bay Resistance in the SF Bay Area, and many other coalitions nationwide are already discussing the need to raise strong demands in the streets focused on Black Lives Matter, jobs, health care, the environment and other issues that many believe will not be followed through by the Democratic Party largely controlled by the Wall Street bankers and corporations.

Trump, Biden and the Tasks of the Progressive Movements

November 19, 2020 

Reprinted from Fighting Words  Trump, Biden and the Tasks of the Progressive Movements – Fighting Words (

November 7 Detroit demonstration. | Photo: Abayomi Azikiwe

By David Sole

For months President Donald Trump has been talking publicly about refusing to accept defeat in the November 3 election. And since his resounding loss to the Democrat Joe Biden he has refused to offer the traditional concession speech nor proceed with the legally required steps to ensure a smooth transition from one administration to the next.

However Trump’s actions are what should be raising alarm bells. Only six days after the election Trump fired Secretary of Defense Mark Esper and replaced him with Christopher Miller, former head of the National Counterterrorism Center. Esper, a compliant Trump lackey, came into disfavor in June of 2020 when he publicly opposed the President’s proposal to send U.S. active duty troops into cities to crush Black Lives Matter demonstrations that erupted after the police murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

Miller’s rapid rise (he only was approved by the Senate for his Counterterrorism Center position in August 2020) has been described as “meteoric.” Appointing a relatively inexperienced person to the Cabinet position is noteworthy as is any new Cabinet appointment following an election where the President will be out of office on January 20, 2021.

Trump went on to remove a number of top Pentagon officials, replacing them with loyalists, some of whom have a history of racism and xenophobia. The New York Times said the President’s actions “amounts to a purge of the Pentagon’s top civilian hierarchy without recent precedent.” [ 11/11/20].

Anthony J. Tata was handed the post of Under Secretary of Defense for Policy. Tata’s name was withdrawn from consideration for another position by the U.S. Senate after it was revealed he had called former President Barack Obama “a terrorist leader” and posted Islamophobic comments. His new position will not require Senate hearings.

Douglas Macgregor, a retired Army colonel, is being installed as Senior Advisor to the Acting Secretary of Defense. Trump’s attempt to get Macgregor the position of Ambassador to Germany in August also collapsed. Macgregor had referred to Muslim immigrants as Muslim “invaders” and had urged martial law at the U.S.-Mexico border so that those attempting to sneak across into the United States could be shot.

Tata, Macgregor and several other appointments by Trump were described by the N.Y. Times as “highly ideological Trump foot soldiers.” At the National Security Agency Trump installed Michael Ellis as General Counsel despite the strong objections of NSA Director General Paul M. Nakasone. It is an open secret that Trump is also considering the firing of CIA Director Gina Haspel and FBI Director Christopher Wray.

Much of the media and the Democratic Party transition team are playing down these Trump appointments. It is being noted that some of the President’s loyal supporters in the Republican Party are now urging him to accept defeat. The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Mark Milley, spoke out on November 12 saying that the U.S. military officers and enlisted personnel will be loyal to the Constitution, not to any individual. This was taken as a slap at Trump who has repeatedly hinted at holding onto power or carrying out a coup d’etat.

Take Fascist Threats Seriously

The progressive movement should not and is not waiting for others to defend “democratic rights.” It may turn out that Trump’s threatening words and actions sputter out as January 20 approaches. But it would be wiser to continue to take action and make preparations in case the deranged man in the White House really does make a move. He certainly seems to be placing key figures into powerful positions of the military and the intelligence services.

We can be sure that if Trump decides to attempt a coup it will most certainly be preceded by some major provocation at home or abroad. When Adolph Hitler sought to consolidate his Nazi Party position in Germany in 1933 his operatives set fire to the Reichstag building, Germany’s parliament on February 27. Hitler had only been sworn in as Chancellor four weeks earlier. But he used the fire to create a hysteria, blaming the Socialists and Communists, and then outlawing the opposition parties. Mass arrests of union leaders, radicals and others followed.

How hard would it be for loyal Trump supporters to organize a “terrorist” attack that would be blamed on the left, antifa, Black Lives Matter or some other “fall guy.” It is likely that the U.S. military would then be stampeded into support or at least silenced. Trump’s right-wing followers, many armed, would be encouraged and mobilized. Much of the rest of the public would be confused or intimidated. This possibility should be seriously considered.

Organizing by the progressive movements must continue and not be lulled by the electoral victory of Biden and Harris. Before the election many unions and central labor councils passed resolutions specifically calling for a general strike in the event of any coup by Trump and Co. Coalitions are forming around the country in many states and localities pledged to oppose illegal actions before or after the election. These efforts should be redoubled and not be abandoned thinking Trump is through. Appeals to soldiers citing their right and duty to “disobey illegal orders” are already being circulated via social media.

Intensify the Struggle When Biden Takes Office

Following the Biden-Harris election victory, demonstrations and celebrations in the streets erupted around the country. One can understand the relief many people felt assuming that Trump had been soundly defeated. But those celebrations should have been tempered with the understanding that Biden, Harris and the bulk of the Democratic Party machine are firmly committed to, and under the influence of, the biggest corporations and banks in the United States. They are tools of the ruling capitalist class.

Despite the existence of a small left wing inside the Democratic Party, now and in the past, the Democrats exist to keep a lid on mass struggle by drawing in the majority of workers and oppressed minorities. It has only been days since the November 3 election and news media are already commenting on the conservative leanings being shown in the Biden transition team’s considerations for top spots in the government.

Already the corporate Democrats associated with Biden have viciously attacked progressive members of their own party for the electoral loss of several members of the House and the failure to win back the Senate. They blame the righteous demands for a green New Deal, defunding the police, and Medicare for All for their own failure to win over voters. They fail to note that Biden lost the state of Florida to Trump, while the “radical” referendum for $15 an hour won 60 percent of the vote there.

If anything, the progressive movements need to start early to make sure their followers do not de-mobilize in expectation that Biden’s administration will move in a strong progressive direction. Black Lives Matter activists ought not wait a minute in their transition planning. Biden has a long record of racist positions from opposing integration by busing in the 1970s to his role in the 1994 crime bill which Biden, “as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, largely wrote and shepherded through the legislative process. The Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 received bipartisan support at the time but has been criticized for some of its provisions, such as mandatory minimum sentencing, and its impact on mass incarceration.” [ 7-12-19].

Until 2019 Biden also supported the racist death penalty, only changing that position when he started thinking about running for president in 2020.

Harris also has a record of filling the jails in California with people of color convicted of minor drug charges. At the very same time, she later admitted, she was using recreational marijuana. Despite her attempts to change her image to the contrary, Harris never prosecuted a single killer cop, either during her tenure as San Francisco DA or as California Attorney General.

Biden famously stated after winning the November 3 election that “I have your back” speaking to the African American community. Does anyone believe he will take a strong stand against police terror around the nation?

Housing activists must also keep up the pressure for a moratorium on foreclosures and evictions in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. Reports from many states indicate that the widely proclaimed Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) moratorium has been largely ignored by landlords and judges.

The coronavirus explosion will need more than the Biden task force that has been promised to try to get it under control. The entire country is in need of national health insurance. Anyone familiar with the many deductibles and out of pocket costs in the Medicare program understands that “Medicare for All” is not a cure for the problem. A true free national health care system is what is called for, which could be financed by vast cuts to the bloated Pentagon budget.

The United States has long needed a program that guarantees a decent paying job or else a basic income to the entire working class. The pandemic has made this demand, raised by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in speeches and his last book in 1967 absolutely essential.

Anti-war activists know full well that Biden and the majority of the Democratic Party, along with the Republicans, are firm supporters of United States imperialist foreign policy. The military-industrial complex and the Pentagon are one of the main pillars of the capitalist economy and protectors of the world capitalist system of exploitation and oppression. It isn’t too early to start demanding an end to imperialist wars, the defunding of the Pentagon and bringing U.S. troops home from the hundreds of bases scattered around the globe.

Protection of the environment, decimated by the Trump regime, must be another focus of the progressive movements.. Just reversing Trump’s executive orders will not address the crisis to the climate. The climate change protests from 2019 need to be revived. The lull in protest energy that drew in so many youth was caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and the diversion of the election campaign. Back into the streets!

In the short run the progressive movements must organize against and prepare to oppose any move to overturn our democratic rights by a Trump coup. At the same time we must build the movement in the streets to fight for fundamental change to the many ills of this capitalist system which will soon be headed by Joe Biden. In this protracted struggle our many movements need to merge into a powerful stream that can go forward to overturn the entire capitalist system and replace it with a system designed to meet the needs of the people – socialism.

C.L.R. James  (aka, J.R. Johnson) on Refugees – in Belgium and the Congo– in War, in Peace, June 1940

The Negro’s Fight, Labor Action, Vol. 4 No. 9, 10 June 1940, p. 4.

Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

Millions of Belgians fleeing along the country roads, taking with them just as much as they can carry; women and children dropping down in the gutter, old men and children dying, children being born only to die again from exposure and want want. Tanks, heavy artillery, motorized divisions grinding their way through, for war is war, and when armies fight, they fight to win. Never were there so many refugees on the roads before; and this time armies circling and encircling, were the refugees were caught between bounded by artillery on all sides and from above. This is the fate to which capitalist society has reduced the Belgian people twenty-five years after the war to end war and to make the world safe for democracy.

But that is not the only Belgium. There is another area of this Belgian Empire – in Africa, a huge territory, the notorious Belgian Congo, with eleven million Negroes. All of them are refugees, have been reliable at any time to see their homes destroyed, their crops burned, themselves transported hundreds of miles to do forced labor, with violent death and disease rampant throughout the whole territory.

Bring in Enough Rubber – or Else!

The present Leopold’s grandfather took over the Congo in the second half of the nineteenth century. He took it just as Hitler has taken Belgium to-day, sent his soldiers, murdered and massacred. The Belgian people, the workers and peasants, had nothing to do with it. Leopold didn’t even allow the Belgian government to come in on the deal. He saw that the Belgian Congo was his personal private property. He wanted rubber, and the natives had to get it and if they did not bring in a sufficient quantity, a finger was cut off, then later another finger, often a whole hand. Get the rubber for the greater benefit of King Leopold’s private income.

Some of these people were backward and barbarous, but all were not. Many villages astonished explorers by the high degree of excellence and organization they had attained in agriculture and social life. Strange irony! One of the early explorers noted that the cultivation of certain fields was as fine as anything in – Belgium, of all places. But that did not save them.

It is easy to imagine the ruin and devastation that fell upon these unfortunate people. Wherever Leopold’s rubber-collectors passed, cultivation of food ceased, social organization went to pieces, new diseases swept away whole populations. Life reduced itself to one formula – get rubber.

Natives Benefit Little from World Exposé

This went on for a generation. Then in the early years of the nineteenth [1] century a tremendous campaign was waged all over the civilized world against the atrocities in the Belgian Congo. How pleasant it would be to believe all the ballyhoo that the conscience of mankind had awakened at last! What had awakened was the capitalist conscience. British and French capital didn’t see why Leopold should run this huge colony as a private estate. The Belgian Congo was a monopoly. The Belgian king laid down the conditions of trade for all outsiders. These conditions were hard. Whereupon the capitalists of Britain and France subsidized investigators and propagandists who said to the world: “Look at the poor natives. See how their fingers are cut off to get rubber for the wicked Leopold.”

The scandal was so great that Belgian Congo became a regular colony. The natives didn’t benefit much. Capitalist enterprise began to develop the industrial resources, for instance to build railways. As late a 1928 one piece of railway construction cost the lives of 28,000 men. Life is cheap and therefore the work that is done by machinery in Europe and America is done by muscle and bone in the Congo.

It is not only the drain of men for labor on European enterprises which ruin native life. When the able-bodied men from the village are rounded up for work, life in the village goes to pieces. Only the old men, the children and the women remain. They are refugees who stay at home, suffering from the blitzkrieg of the white labor-contractors.

A Colony by Any Name Smells –

After the war, another portion of Central Africa was handed over to Belgium. Not as a colony, oh no! The war for democracy changed that. Ruara-Urundi was given a new name – mandated territory. In 1932 M. Vandervelde, the late leader of Belgian labor, told what had recently been taking place in the mandate. Belgian officials had raped the wife of a native who, as is customary in native law, demanded compensation. The native was whipped, a fight broke out and one official was killed. White authority and prestige had to be restored. The Belgian governor organized a blitzkrieg. Armed troops swept down on the villages. The natives fled into the forest. Guerilla warfare lasted for weeks with natives using bows and arrows to defend themselves against troops armed with modern rifles. Thousands of natives, men, women and children died from bullets and starvation. The “revolt” was finally crushed.

Now what have the refugees in Belgium to do with all this? Nothing at all. When the Belgian Congo was first taken over they knew nothing at all about it. A small section of the Belgian workers can gel fairly good wages from the profits made by the Belgian capitalists. But of the millions of refugees in Belgium today few gain much, if at all, from the destruction of human life in the Belgian Congo. Now Leopold has made his army surrender, and the Belgian people are delivered to Hitlerite Fascism. Fascism in the colonies, fascism at home; refugees on the Belgian countryside, refugees in the Belgian Congo. That is the future of the Belgian Empire as long as capitalism lasts.

And Hitler? Hitler wants to exploit the Belgian colony himself. So that “war for democracy” or “war for Fascism” boils down to “war for colonies.” That is what the war was about in 1914. That is what the war is about in 1940.

1. It was actually during the early twentieth century, or the early 1900s.

C.L.R. James: Native Son “My Friends”: A Fireside Chat on the War, June 1940

Originally published as a pamphlet by the Workers Party in June 1941.

Republished in Scott McLemee (ed.), C.L.R. James on the “Negro Question”, Jackson (Miss.) 1996, pp. 17–22.

Transcribed by Daniel Gaido.

Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

If We Must Die

If we must die – let it not be like hogs

Hunted and penned in an inglorious spot,

While round us bark the mad and hungry dogs,

Making their mock at our accursed lot.

If we must die—oh, let us nobly die,

So that our precious blood may not be shed

In vain; then even the monsters we defy

Shall be constrained to honor us though dead!

Oh, Kinsmen! We must meet the common foe;

Though far outnumbered, let us show us brave,

And for their thousand blows deal one deathblow!

What though before us lies the open grave?

Like men we’ll face the murderous, cowardly pack,

Pressed to the wall, dying, but fighting back!

Claude McKay

My Friends:

In this moment of crisis, it is proper that the voice of the working man should be heard. The President governs for all, the priests pray for all, the soldier fight for all (so, at any rate, we are told) but it is the working man who pays for all. In times of peace he pays in labor and in sweat. In war be pays in blood. It is always the working man and the farmers who are placed in the front line trenches. The sons of the rich stay behind the lines and direct. I have been to war and I know.

That is why I claim the privilege of a broadcast. I am a black working man, but I am a native son, as American as any white man in this country. My people were here as early as the family of President Roosevelt. We Negroes have labored and helped to make this country what it is. We have fought in all its wars, from the War of Independence to the first World War. In fact Crispus Attucks, a Negro, was the first American to die in the American Revolution. So that when the President talks about preparing America for war I demand my right to be heard. I know how to make a fireside chat. You are all sitting down listening to me and I am sitting down talking to you. You know it, I know it, everybody knows it. But in order to make you feel that you will be getting the real inside dope in a confidential manner, I shall begin by saying: “My friends, let us sit down, you and I, and talk this thing over together.” That piece of baloney being out of the way, we can now get down to business.

Is America in Danger?

The President says that Hitler seems to be winning the European war, and for that reason, this country is in danger of being invaded. Maybe the country is really in danger. But from the start this whole invasion business seemed phony to me. I went to France in the last war, and I saw what it takes to carry a million men across the Atlantic and to keep them there. Germany is very near to England. Yet everybody says that Hitler had to capture Normandy and the Channel ports and get within a few miles of England in order to attempt a successful invasion. Who is such a fool as to believe that Hitler can transport millions of men and all the arms and supplies needed to invade this country, across nearly 3,000 miles of sea? The Yankee Clipper takes only 20 passengers at a time. How many clippers will Hitler need to land a million men in America? Hitler would have to spend years in preparation before he could invade this country.

Furthermore, the Presidents knows that all this talk about invasion is just a lot of hooey. My wife Leonora, who is a Red, told me that the other day the generals of the army and navy made an official statement that this country was in no danger of invasion. And if they know that, and I know it, the President knows it too. When I said to some of my friends, poor trembling Negroes, that they had many things to worry about but that invasion is not one of them, they asked me, “But do you think that the President is lying? Why should he lie? He only wants to protect the people.”

My friends, and particularly my young friends, let me show you how a President can lie. I went to hear President Wilson speak in 1916. He said that we must vote for him because he was the man who had kept us out of war. And as soon as he had won the elections he carried out the plan he had in his pocket for almost a year before the elections, and we were in the war before you could wink. Since that time, my friends, I know how Presidents can lie. Wilson wanted to get us in and he used one jive. Roosevelt wants to get us in and he is using another one. He wants to frighten us with the fear of invasion, although his own generals and admirals tell us the exact opposite.

Defend What Democracy?

My friends, why does the President want us to fight? He and all the writers in the papers say that it is to defend our democracy. Our democracy! My friends, when I heard that I laughed for ten minutes. Yes. Laughed. I’ll tell you why. It was because I was so damned mad that if I didn’t laugh I would have broken the radio. And that radio cost me $4 in the pawn shop and I didn’t want to break it.

Tell me, Mr. President, what democracy do I defend by going to fight Hitler? Hitler is a vile criminal and should be driven off the face of the earth. But I have no democracy and the democracy I haven’t got Hitler didn’t take from me. I know all those who have been taking away democracy from me and my people. They are Cotton Ed Smith, Senator Bilbo, Vice President Garner, all of them aided by you, President Roosevelt, for all of you are in one Party together, the Democratic Party, and if you were any friend of the Negro, you couldn’t be working so closely in the same Party with those Negro-hating, Negro-baiting little American Hitlers from the South. William Green, president of the American Federation of Labor, who discriminates against Negroes in his unions is another.

There are thousands of others I could name. They have been lynching me and my people, giving us the dirtiest jobs, at the lowest pay, Jim Crowing us, taking the taxes we pay to teach white children, treating us worse than they treat their dogs. They were doing all this before Hitler was born, they are doing it now, they will do it long after Hitler is dead, unless we Negroes ourselves put a stop to it. I never heard any fireside chat from you, Mr. President, I never saw any campaign carried out by the Senate, to give the American Negroes democracy – for instance, to pass the anti-lynching bill or abolish Jim Crow and the poll tax, which prevents Negroes in the South from voting. May I tell you Mr. President, politely as suits a fireside chat, that you and the hypocritical scoundrels who rule this country with you, should stop being so active in defense of democracy abroad and pay attention to the crimes against democracy at home. Instead, your newspapers spread a lot of lies about no lynchings having taken place during the past year. As if they don’t know that nowadays the Southern lynchers get together in small bands and murder any Negro whom they want to get rid of, very quietly so as to keep it out of the papers.

The Fifth Column

My friends, the President warns us about the fifth column. I understand that this is the new name for the enemies of democracy. Where have the President’s eyes been all this time? If he wants to find out who these fifth column people are, he just has to ask the Negroes. We know them. We spend our lives fighting against them. If the President sends a reporter to me, with a large notebook, I guarantee that between sunrise and sundown tomorrow I’ll point out to him more fifth column enemies of democracy than he can find room for in all the jails of this country. No, Mr. President, we’ll begin to listen to you about the fifth column when you begin to put in jail some of the really big enemies of democracy in this country, beginning with the United States Vice President, Jack Garner, boss of the Jim Crow state of Texas.

My friends, the President and all the papers say that we must stop aggression. But when Mussolini made his aggression against Ethiopia, you, Mr. President, prevented us from sending arms to Ethiopia. Where was all your hatred of aggression then? But I notice that today you have the American fleet ready to fight Japan for the Dutch East Indies. My wife Leonora, who is a Red, tells me that America wants to fight Germany to prevent Hitler taking the colonies of the Allied countries, and to keep Germany as much as possible out of the fat trade with China and Spanish America. That makes sense to me. But what I know is this, that whatever President Roosevelt wants to fight about, it is not democracy. I have no interests in the Dutch East Indies. The natives there got no democracy from the Dutch. They will get no democracy from America. They will get none from Japan. They will get some democracy only when they drive out all these leeches and take charge of their country themselves.

Democracy Begins at Home

My friends, it is not only the poor Negroes who get no democracy. The other day I saw a picture, The Grapes of Wrath. In it I saw whites, miserable and suffering almost as much as we Negroes suffer. Every week outside the relief station there are whites standing with me, no better off than I am. If these poor Okies and the Negroes and the white workers were to get together we could fight for some real democracy here. That is the fight I am willing to begin. I know who my enemies are. And when these same enemies come telling me about going to fight against Hitler, what I tell them in my mind is what would be very out of place in a fireside chat, so you will have to guess at it.

I know a Negro school teacher who says that we must fight with Roosevelt to defeat Hitler. I want to see Hitler defeated but why should I trust Roosevelt? How do I know that Roosevelt at some time or another wouldn’t turn traitor? Look at the King of Belgium. He must have told the poor Belgians to come and fight with him for democracy. Now he has surrendered to Hitler and next thing he will be helping Hitler to impose fascism on the Belgian people. That is what you get when you listen to these Kings and Presidents and Generals all urging poor people to come and fight against Hitler. I have been watching that school teacher a long time. And I think that what he wants to defend is not democracy but the $35 a week he gets for teaching in the Jim Crow school. If he want to die for democracy and his $35, that is his business. But he isn’t going to lead me into that. When he have defeated the enemies of democracy here, then we can give Hitler a beating. I would be ready to fight against Hitler then.

Unite and Fight!

My friends, Negroes are well known for their belief in God. And I notice that a good fireside chat always has something in it about God and prayers. But I notice too that Hitler in all his speeches talks about God and asks for his blessing. President Wilson, that smooth-tongued rascal, was full of God too. But Roosevelt, Hitler, and Wilson not only pray to God, but see to it that they have guns, battleship, and planes. So tonight, my friends, my dear friends, I want to leave out the prayers and tell you plainly what is my policy for the American people and the Negroes in particular.

It is this.

Unite and fight for our democracy here. What I as a black man want is a steady job. I want good wages, $30 a week for 30 hours a week. I want a good relief check when I am out of work. I want my black children to go to any school in the neighborhood. I want a good house and I want it where I choose to have it. I want to travel where I want, go where I want, eat where I want, join any union or organization that I want. I want this for myself, I want it for all my black people, and if any white man is prepared to join with us to fight for that, I want it for him too. And it isn’t Hitler who is keeping these things from me. It is those who are robbing, cheating, and insulting my people.

My friends, to win those things I am prepared to fight. I may go to jail in that fight. I may get shot down by the police but I’ll die contented. Death is death and I prefer to die fighting here for my rights and the rights of my people and those who will fight with us, than die so that President Roosevelt and his friends might get the Dutch East Indies or the British West Indies or any kind of Indies whatsoever. So, my friends, good night. I shall not quote scripture but I shall end with a piece of personal history. I went to the last war. I was treated like a dog before I went. I was treated like a dog while I was there. I was treated like a dog when I returned. I have been played for a sucker before, and I am not going to be played again.

C.L.R. James (aka, J.R. Johnson) On Native Son by Richard Wright, May 1940

Originally published as The Negro’s Fight, Labor Action, Vol 4 No. 7, 27 May 1940, pp. 1 & 3.

Republished in Scott McLemee (ed.), C.L.R. James on the “Negro Question”, Jackson (Miss.) 1996, pp. 55–58.

Transcribed by Daniel Gaido.

Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

Six weeks after publication, Native Son, a novel about a Negro by a Negro, Richard Wright, had sold a quarter of a million copies. This is not only a question of literature. Whatever brings a nationally oppressed minority to the notice of the oppressing majority is of political importance.

Bigger Thomas, the hero, comes very close to raping a white woman; then, accidentally, it is true, murders her. He burns the corpse in the furnace.

Then he writes a fake kidnapper’s note, demanding ten thousand dollars as the price of restoring her to her home. His crime is discovered and to save himself he cold-bloodedly kills his Negro girl-friend, Bessie. He is caught and is sentenced to death. The action takes place in Chicago.

Crime and the Negro

This is the bald outline of the story, and periodically you can read in the press similar stories about Negro “rapists” and Negro “killers.” Not only the white but the Negro press features such crimes. Whenever the Anti-Lynching Bill comes up in the House you can be sure to hear Southern Senators quoting statistics to show the high percentage of dangerous criminals in the Negro population.

Now, the most dangerous criminals, gangsters and racketeers in America are not Negroes. Al Capone is no Negro. But Richard Wright, the Negro author, has accepted the challenge. He says in effect, “You fill your press with accounts of Negro crime. In the South, you use the Negro’s alleged criminality to prove that he can only be kept in order by extra-legal means, such as lynching and brutal segregation. Very well then, let us take one of the worst possible examples of Negro crime; let us examine the case; let us see who this criminal is; let us see whom he murdered and why; let us see what was his state of mind before he murdered and after. Let us see who were his friends, who persecuted him, who tried to help him before the murders, and who tried to help him afterwards.”

The result is one of the most powerful novels of the last twenty-five years. Wright says: Black Bigger did the things he did because American capitalist society has made an outcast of the black man. Bigger is not the sinner. He is the man sinned against. Bigger stands in the dock and is sentenced but it is the American social order which is on trial.

To conceive such an idea and to carry it out as Wright has done is a tremendous achievement.

Is Bigger “Typical”?

People have criticized Bigger Thomas as not being a “typical” Negro. What is a “typical” Negro? “Typical” of what? In capitalist society at the present time, no “typical” Negro could express the point of view that Wright wished to portray. Bigger Thomas represents the Negro in revolt. He does not quote Marx and say, ’’Workers of the world unite,” or, “Black and white, unite and fight.” He does not even know what the “Reds” stand for. But he is a revolutionary nevertheless, instinctive but none the less powerful. In his eyes, as in the eyes of most Negroes, it is white society which suppresses him, humiliates him, stands over him with a whip and keeps him cowering in holes and corners.

And Bigger will not stand for it. He hates the white skin as the obvious symbol of his oppression. It is an accident which sets him off on his career. It is his intense nature which drives him so far along the path of crime. But in his sense of oppression, his hatred of the whites, and his violence, once he takes that road, he is typical of millions of Negroes.

The great majority of them feel as Bigger feels, think as Bigger thinks, and hate as Bigger hates; but they have learnt to suppress it. The flames burn very low, but they are there. Far more powerful stimuli will be needed to make them act as Bigger acted. That is all.

When Liebknecht said in 1914, “The main enemy is a home,” he seemed a lone figure, a madman. But by November 1918 he was a very “typical” German. In that all important sense Bigger is “typical.” He is not travelling up a by-path. He is on the main road, only further on than the rest of his people. A great social crisis will convert millions of Negroes into Bigger Thomases. Only where he acted against isolated persons, they will act against organized society.

A Novel that Approaches Greatness

Wright shows all but the most supreme confidence in the rightness of his theme and his capacity to carry it out. I say “all but,” because Wright makes Bigger very nearly rape the woman and commit the first murder by accident, at least as far as he acted consciously. Shakespeare and Dostoevsky certainly, and perhaps Tolstoy, would not have hesitated; they would have made Bigger consciously commit both crimes. That Wright was not certain of himself is proved by the fact, among others, that he makes a lawyer deliver a long, bad, and tiresome speech at the very end of the book, saying all over again what the book had already very clearly and powerfully said. He need not have been afraid. The novel contains abundant evidence that he could have carried even this extension of his theme to a triumphant success.

Consider, for example, the main psychological theme of the book. Bigger commits murder. But having committed murder, in the instinct to save himself, he pits his brains against the whites and for the first time is conscious of acting as a man, free, unrestricted, and with a will of his own.

Wright does not only say this in words. He has conceived and executed his novel in those terms. Before the murder Bigger is irresolute, frustrated, longing but hopeless. Once he realizes, however, that he has committed murder and must defend himself, he becomes the embodiment of initiative, endurance, courage, and will.

How the boy fights! I can remember nowhere in literature so magnificent and yet so unrhetorical a determination to fight to the end. It is not merely for his life. Trapped on the roof, he counts his bullets and leaves the last one for himself. It is pride in himself, as a free man with a hardly-bought freedom. He will not capitulate to those white men – it is revolutionary pride.

C.L.R. James (aka, J.R. Johnson) on Native Son and Revolution, May 1940

From New International, Vol. 6 No. 4, May 1940, pp. 92–93.

Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

Black Bigger Thomas, native son, stifled by and inwardly rebellious against white America’s treatment of him, by accident murders a white girl. For him this murder is the beginning of a new life. In striking such a blow against his hated enemies, in the struggle to outwit them and evade capture, his stunted personality finds scope to expand. Before he is sentenced to death, the sincere efforts of two white Communists to save him teach him that all whites are not his enemies, that he is not alone, that there is a solidarity of all the oppressed.

Such, finely audacious and magnificently simple, is the theme, sprung from such a wealth of emotional vitality and presented with such power of literary realization that it forces discussion and unwilling reconsideration of the world’s No. i minority problem, the Negro question in America. The book therefore is not only a literary but also a political event. Here we are concerned with a revolutionary interpretation of Bigger Thomas, an aspect, not unnaturally, neglected or misunderstood by all reviewers, “Marxist” or otherwise. The career of Bigger Thomas is a symbol and prototype of the Negro masses in the proletarian revolution.

Bigger hates white people with a consuming hatred. So do the great masses of Negroes. Quite often the hate is hidden, sometimes it is buried deep out of sight, sometimes it is twisted into its opposite, a passionate religiosity. But it is there, and speakers, particularly Negro speakers, can always elicit it from any Negro gathering. It represents ten generations’ experience of injustice, of humiliation, of suppressed resentment and bitterness. But if Negroes hate whites, they also fear them, their knowledge, their power, their ruthlessness – also the accumulated experience of the generations.

The Sleeping Volcano

This hate will be one of the most powerful forces in the Negro revolution. In the South an iron system holds the Negroes down. But Southern whites know quite well what fires smoulder behind the deference and the humility. “If you let a nigger forget himself, you have to kill him,” is one of their commonest expressions. As long as society in the South maintains its integrity, the Negroes will continue to be docile. But if the solid South does not remain solid, if that society ever goes to pieces, then, wherever the Negroes outnumber the whites, we shall see some of the bloodiest massacres that this continent has known. Whoever doubts this should study the slave revolt of Spartacus, and the black revolt in San Domingo: the end of the San Domingo revolt was the complete annihilation of the white population.

America differs from San Domingo in one important respect: the Negroes are a minority and in a proletarian revolution the white proletariat of the North will be dominant. Its aim will be to tear the poor whites of the South from the leadership of the Southern landlords and capitalists, by precept and example to make them aware of their solidarity with the Negroes. The strength and organization of the Northern proletarians; the extent of the social disintegration in the South driving blacks and poor whites closer together, will shape the course of the struggle.

In a profound sense Bigger Thomas is a “typical” Negro. His hatred of whites, his sense of his wrongs and his forcibly limited life, his passionate desire to strike at his enemies, all this is racial. He is different from other Negroes only in the fact that his nature is such that he cannot contain himself.

Bigger, having killed by accident, now has to save himself. He must match his wits against this whole powerful white world, which has hitherto held him chained, and in this conflict he finds himself. The murder of Mary is an accident, rooted though it is in the social order. But his acceptance of full responsibility for it is a revolutionary act. To scheme, to plan, to fight – this is to be free. In this bold stroke, the central theme of his book, Wright has distilled the very essence of what is the Negro’s future. The great masses of Negroes carry in their hearts the heavy heritage of slavery, and their present degradation. Such has been their past, it is their present, and, as far as they can see, it is their future. It is the revolution which will lift these millions from their knees. Nobody can do it for them. Men, personalities, will be freed from the centuries of chains and shame, as Bigger’s personality was freed, by violent action against their tyrants. It is on the evening after the battle, with smoking rifle and dripping bayonet, that the Negro will be able to look all white men in the face, will be able to respect himself and be respected. Wright notes that Bigger had no confidence in other Negroes; they were too afraid and too conscious of fear to trust one another. That confidence in himself which Bigger earned by the unwitting murder of Mary, millions of Negroes will gain only by the revolution. There is no other way for them.

Digger’s Fight

The finest passages in the book describe Bigger’s fight against capture, and it is curious how blind all have been to the overwhelming significance of this. What hero in what literature ever fought his fight with such courage and such determination? As he reads in the paper that the crime has been pinned on him, “his right hand twitched. He wanted a gun in that hand. He got his gun from his pocket and held it. He read again.” Thenceforward he fights. The murder of Bessie, his girl friend, is subordinate to his great purpose, to fight against these tyrants and torturers. He couldn’t leave Bessie behind, and he couldn’t take her. Therefore he had to destroy her. In the abstract it is a revolting crime. But whoever has entered into the spirit of the new Bigger must see it as he saw it. Eight thousand white men with guns and gas were out looking for him. Without bravado, without self-pity, he fought.

A small black object fell near his head in the snow, hissing, shooting forth a white vapor, like a blowing plume, which was carried away from him by the wind. Tear gas! With a movement of his hand he knocked it off the tank. Another came and he knocked it off. Two more came and he shoved them off. The wind blew strong, from the lake. It carried the gas away from his eyes and nose. He heard a man yell,

“Stop it! The wind’s blowing it this way! He’s throwing ‘em back!”

The bedlam in the street rose higher; more men climbed through trapdoors to the roof. He wanted to shoot, but remembered that he had three bullets left. He would shoot when they were closer and he would save one bullet for himself. They would not take him alive.

“Come on down, boy!”

He did not move; he lay with gun in hand, waiting. Then, directly under his eyes, four white fingers caught hold of the icy edge of the water tank. He gritted his teeth and struck the white fingers with the butt of his gun. They vanished and he heard a thud as a body landed on the snow-covered roof. He lay waiting for more attempts to climb up, but none came.

“It’s no use fighting, boy! You’re caught! Come on down!”

He knew that they were afraid, and yet he knew that it would soon be over, one way or another; they would either capture or kill him. He was surprised that he was not afraid. Under it all some part of his mind was beginning to stand aside; he was going behind his curtain his wall, looking out with sullen stares of contempt. He was outside of himself now, looking out, he lay under a winter sky lit with tall gleams of whirling light, hearing thirsty screams and hungry shouts. He clutched his gun, defiant, unafraid.

More than the mere desire to live was at stake. It was the bursting pride of a spirit long cramped and oppressed that found itself free at last. All students of revolutionary history know it: the legions of Spartacus, Cromwell’s Ironsides, the Paris enragés, the Russian workers defending Petrograd against Udenitch, the Spanish workers defending Madrid, the march of the Chinese Communists across China in 1936. That was the spirit of defiance and determination in which Bigger fought.

In prison, fighting for a clear realization of what has happened to him, Bigger attains the highest stage of his development: he learns that the two white Communists are his friends. They prove it in action. Here again Bigger’s experience typifies another important revolutionary truth. Masses learn by experience, not by propaganda, and the Negro masses in particular will have to be shown solidarity in action and not in logic. There will be many Negroes in the revolutionary party, but the vast majority will in all probability learn the lesson of class solidarity as Bigger learned it.

Wright as A Revolutionary Novelist

Did Wright consciously epitomize Negro revolutionary struggle in the career of Bigger Thomas? The question is irrelevant. The artist, by methods compounded of conscious logic and his own intuition, observes society and experiences life. He comes to his conclusions and embodies them in character, scene, and dramatic situation. According to the depth of his penetration and the sweep of his net, his capacity to integrate and reproduce, he writes his novel, paints his picture, or composes his symphony. Psychologist, historian, politician, or revolutionary, drawing on his own experience, see symbols, parallelism, depth and perspective unsuspected by the creator. The artist can see the truth and nothing but the truth, but no one can expect him to see the whole truth.

In our age literature, especially literature of this kind, cannot be divorced from politics. Wright is a Stalinist. In this novel a scrupulous artistic integrity enables him to draw white Communists, if not with the same success as Negroes, yet without bias or subservience to the Stalinist conception of the party and the party “line.” But he treads a dangerous road. Stalinism has destroyed the literary and artistic life of Russia, it has ruined Malraux, one of the most gifted of contemporary writers. In that evil garden nothing creative flourishes. The artist in uniform soon ceases to be an artist. The Stalinists are past masters in the art of enveloping, suborning, corrupting. It will be a pity if they succeed in perverting and blighting this splendid talent.