le 17 décembre 2013
This selection only covers the American period from 1917 to 1925, that is to say from the Harlem period to his imprisonment in Atlanta, Georgia. This is the essential period of his life when he really brought his thought to its full expression and development. This book is thus crucial to understand the present prestige of the man in the world and to evaluate his impact at the time in the USA of course but also around the world and first of all in Jamaica and the West Indies. I have to apologize for the numerous N-words used by Marcus Garvey who requested the recognition of this word as the only valid to speak of the blacks in the world and the capitalization of the word.
The dates of his political rise are simple.
1- The foundation of the Universal N**** Improvement Association (UNIA) on June 15, 1914 in Jamaica.
2- His arrival in the USA on March 23, 1916.
3- He starts the UNIA in Harlem and the USA in 1917 and in three years he brings that organization to the forefront of black political action with
e. the development of UNIA branches all over the country,
f. the launching of The N**** World, his newspaper,
g. then the the Black Star Line, incorporated on June 27, 1919,
h. and of course his real triumph with the First International Convention of the N****es of the World during the full month of August 1920, the mass rally of more than 25,000 people and the parade in the streets of Harlem with his various organizations in their uniforms and with their bands and fanfares.
After that he will be the “victim” of mismanagement, of police plotting and infiltration (under the guidance of J. Edgar Hoover, of the rivalry from the National Alliance for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and particularly the strong if not aggressive polemical invectives from W.E.B. Du Bois both answered by and answering to Marcus Garvey’s own invectives. The Black Star Line will bring his doom with bankruptcy first and then the federal lawsuit against Marcus Garvey for mail fraud because of his using the US Post Office mail service to circulate some advertising for this Black Star Line that was at least untruthful. That will mean his conviction and a sentence to five years in federal prison in Atlanta Georgia, and later in 1927 President Coolidge’s pardon officially for health reasons and his immediate deportation back to Jamaica. The year before the 1928 presidential election in which Coolidge was planning to run.
And yet he leaves behind him a heritage that is tremendously persistent and resilient. He was declared a prophet by the Rastafarians in the 1930s and he has become a myth in many forms and shades. This book can cast some light on the man and his ideas. We are going to follow some of these political reflections and try to characterize the man who is a lot more charismatic than his plumed hats and embroidered uniforms could look.
DECLARATION OF THE RIGHTS OF THE N**** PEOPLES OF THE WORLD
We have to start with the first milestone of this brief but dense political life and that is the Declaration of the Rights of the N**** Peoples of the World, adopted on August 31, 1920 by the First International Convention of the N****es of the World. It is a hefty with meaning but also slightly messy document with repeats (plain repetition weakens arguments as if they needed to be repeated to get any value or force) and some fuzziness in the structure. It is divided in two unequal parts. First twelve complaints and then fifty-four rights or demands. But let me be more detailed.
The twelve complaints concern (some of them are double complaints):
1- segregation in public hotels and inns,
2- the denial of public trial and the practice of lynching and burning,
3- the possession of nearly all of the continent of Africa by the European nations,
4- the denial of all voice in the making and administration of the laws in the southern portion of the USA,
5- taxation without representation in the southern portion of the USA,
6- being Jim-Crowed on public conveyances and common careers in the southern portion of the USA,
7- the obligation there to accept separate and inferior accommodations,
8- the denial of the right for black physicians to serve in public hospitals,
9- the obligation for black children to attend inferior separate schools,
10- the denial to blacks of an equal chance to earn wages for the support of their families,
11- discrimination in Civil Service and departmental offices,
12- discrimination in the British and other West Indian Islands and colonies,
13- the obligation for blacks to accept to work for lower wages in the same,
14- acts of injustice against blacks in the courts of justice of the same.
And the conclusion falls with the twelfth complaint:
“XII. Against all such inhuman, un-Christian and uncivilized treatment we here and now emphatically protest, and invoke the condemnation of all mankind.”
The fifty-four demands are often repetitive like the several mentions of lynching and burning in these demands, and what’s more it is a multiple repeat of the complaint against these practices. Yet some general themes come out strong.
First of all the N**** has to be understood as purely racial in essence. The N**** is a race per se and has to be considered on its own. When the declaration asks for equal rights for N****es and the right to have black representatives, they do not position themselves within a general electoral system like the one we know in most countries nowadays: the Blacks are supposed to be represented as such in all assemblies and councils, hence separately. They clearly demand the right for black people to self-organize the race itself as such, the right to self-protect themselves as a race (note this right to carry guns in public will only be conquered in the 1970s by a systematic action on that claim by the Black Panther Party, and that is only the implementation of the Second Amendment to the US Constitution: there was no need to have any law or rule to be instated or changed) and the right to reclaim Africa even with wars of liberation is necessary. The reasoning is simple. The Black race is a nation and as such they have the right to have their own country, and this can only be Africa for all blacks in the world who are encouraged to go back to Africa. The demand is clearly stated as “Africa for Africans.” And we must keep in mind African means N**** or black and it includes: Moroccans, Algerians, Egyptians, Ethiopians, the Pharaohs, etc. This Africa is often identified as Ethiopia. Hence the great fame of Marcus Garvey among Rastafarians.
The whole world and human species are divided in three races: the whites, the yellows and the blacks. These races are supposed to have as such their own countries because they are nations, and they are supposed to have the same rights based on their own countries because they are separate and equal nations. At the same time some realism is present in this document and the existence of black people all over the world is not questioned and some racial demands are made for these people, which may seem to be contradictory to the unity of the race-nation-country. The refusal of “alien teachers” to teach black children is one instance since it accepts the idea of black children being educated where they are and not being sent back to Africa. Another instance is the refusal of the draft and to serve in military operations for these alien races, and at the same time black soldiers must be equal in treatment and promotion to white soldiers in these armed forces they refuse, yet taking part in war is only accepted for national defense, without any specification if it is the national defense of the blacks or the national interest of the countries they live in. Marcus Garvey has never rejected the 1914-1918 war as being purely imperialistic.
That leads this document to setting the essential symbols of the black nation all over the world: a tricolor flag (black, red and green), a national anthem that starts as follows: “Ethiopia, thou land of our fathers. . .” and a national holiday celebrated all over the world on August 31. They even go as far as rejecting the League of Nations in the name of the blacks who are a race of people, hence a nation that is not represented as such in this League of Nations.
This general demand of equal rights for blacks is yet expressed in the forty-sixth demand in a strange way:
“We demand of all men to do unto us as we would do unto them, in the name of justice, and we cheerfully accord to all men all the rights we claim herein for ourselves.”
They don’t have to accord anything to white people because these whites, according to the document itself, already have these rights .But the most surprising phrase is the rewriting of the Christian maxim: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39 or Mark 12:31). This “commandment” (it is rather either a request or a recommendation from Jesus) is individual and not generic: it applies to each individual and not to any group of people. The present document applies it to the blacks as a race and to the whites as another race. Strangely enough the return clause is then not equivalent to “as [you love] yourself” but equivalent to “as we love you.” We are not dealing with the self love an individual develops about himself but with the treatment the black race is granting to the white race that has to treat the black race the same way. But as we have seen the black race cannot grant any right to the whites because the whites have always conquered these rights on their own. The humanistic Christian recommendation becomes a racial political exchange that can hardly be considered as realistic, as being an exchange of respectful mutual grants and gifts between two collective bodies seen as antagonistic. And this racial dimension is clear in the fifty-fourth concluding demand:
“54. We want all men to know we shall maintain and contend for the freedom and equality of every man, woman and child of our race, with our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor.”
Beyond the rhetorical ternary structure of the second part of the demand that crowns the binary structure of the first part of the demand, hence showing a progression that builds the power of this demand:
Maintain AND contend binary
The freedom AND equality binary
Man woman AND child ternary
Our lives our fortunes AND our sacred honor ternary
we can definitely consider this battle is founded on a racial definition of the struggle that will have to be organized and fought. I mean here that Marcus Garvey is defining his hinterland, the basis of his fight, and the objective of it as being the black race as such, separate, equal and nationally recognized and endowed with all national symbols and insignias.
When this much has been said, the rest of the documents in the book are only specifying or amplifying the same ideas.
THE LIMITS OF RACIAL THINKING
When Marcus Garvey defines Africans as being blacks or N****es, and then when he includes in this race Moroccans, Algerians, Egyptians including Pharaohs, and Ethiopians; we can wonder about his racial, for him synonymous to national, definition of the blacks or the N****es. He considers that the color is not enough to define the race and for him the race is defined by the continent considered as the country of the black nation, hence Africa and the Africans. All Africans are black, which is of course wrong genetically but it is all the more debatable because he does not take into account the differences in languages, laws, traditions and pasts that he declares page 122 “the pride of every race of mankind.” If he had done so he could have found that he puts together people who are from different linguistic families, Semitic languages, Bantu languages, click languages, etc. The past of these “Africans” are very different from the Maghreb to South Africa, and he ignores the fact that all humans came out of Africa at a time or another of ancient archaeological history, proving that what he calls races are nothing but minor accidental mutations within one biological species, Homo Sapiens. We could of course consider Marcus Garvey could not know that in his life time, but nevertheless today this claim that Africa is one “race” and Africans are all “black” sounds very biased.
What’s more the concept of race has no biological foundation: it is a purely human concept invented by herd-raising and animal husbandry. To select better sub-species within one species, man has manipulated the genetic crossing of various species or individuals of one species to produce individuals that have one particular characteristic: milk cows, meat cows for two examples, or draught horses and racing horses for two more. That’s what we, human beings, called races. This is artificial whereas the differences between the various types of human beings are the result of natural mutations and selection according to environmental elements that make one characteristic more or less positive for the survival of the species here or there. We can even think that some variations are purely accidental mutations that were kept as Darwin would say because they were endowed with some positive dimension (that might only be “beauty” or “sex appeal”) by the women who are the real agents of human natural selection.
That racial bias leads him to contacts and negotiations with the Ku Klux Klan (you can easily imagine the scandal it created in the USA among black militants at the time, June 15, 1922) because they defend the same racial purity ideal for the white race as Marcus Garvey for the black race. Still page 122 he writes:
“For once we will agree with the American white man, that one drop of N**** blood makes a man a N****.”
This is absolutely racist and absurd because we could say the same way: one drop of white blood makes a man a white man.
His dividing the whole world in three main races, N****, white and yellow, explains that he considers Native American Indians, as dead and he never speaks of them. That is one tradition in the black movement up to even today that what we call Black Indians are a myth and anyway rejected by most black militants in spite of the fact that a tremendous amount of Indian blood got mixed with black blood since Indian tribes welcomed black fugitives who escaped slavery by taking refuge among these tribes where they could marry and have children, and in which they could practice their know-how or crafts, and that was miuch appreciated by Indians. But we are back here to the one-drop of black blood makes the man black and a Black Indian is black in that perspective and not Indian.
That leads him to a political vision of “colored people” as nothing but a buffer between the blacks and the whites in South Africa, and as traitors to their race due to blood mixing in intermarriages in the USA and the West Indies.
To go back to the narrow, and even narrow-minded, definition of the black race – beyond my refusal of this concept of race anyway – Marcus Garvey never considers the differences in religions. He does not see the importance of Islam in Northern Africa or along the eastern coast of Africa. He of course neglects the fact that black Africans were very systematically sold as slaves to the Muslim Northern Africans and Arabs, and this slave r=trade had been going on for centuries, and probably millennia because it already existed in the Roman Empire and under the Pharaohs in Egypt. He does not consider the vast palette of animistic religions in black Africa that produced the famous Voodoo or Vodun religious practices in the West Indies and some southern sections of the USA, or Mesoamerica and Latin America. His adoption of Christianity as the basic religious reference in, his ideology and project is surprising since it is not African, though in some other documents not present in this book Jesus is said to be black, his mother to be the Black Virgin, and the blacks to be the descendants of Noah’s cursing his youngest grandson Canaan for the crime committed by his own youngest son who had “seen” him naked when he was drunk once. Note that here instead of integrating the Christian characters in the African religion as blacks did in Vodun, the Christian characters are made black, which is of course debatable, just like the pretention of the Mormons that the blacks are the descendants of Cain cursed by God for having killed his brother Abel.
Beyond religion Marcus Garvey never considers the tremendous contribution to American and later universal culture the Africa slaves brought along into the USA: their musical contribution, African polyrhythm that produced jazz, but also gospels and later on blues, rock and roll and many other shades of that black music that was adopted by the whites in the 1920s already (not to mention the Black Minstrels at the end of the 19th century) thanks to the new communication medium that the radio was becoming in the 1920s precisely.
Such a mental attitude that only considers one side of the problem leads him to an extremely un-acceptable racial “theory” page 184 in 1925, one year after the publication of Mein Kampf by Adolf Hitler, a book that he obviously did not know, at least we will assume he did not know it.
“As the Jew is held together by his RELIGION, the white races by the assumption and the unwritten law of SUPERIORITY, and the Mongolian by the precious tie of BLOOD, so likewise the N**** must be united in one GRAND RACIAL HIERARCHY. Our UNION MUST KNOW NO CLIME, BOUNDARY or NATIONALITY. Like the great Church of Rome, N****es the world over MUST PRACTICE ONE FAITH, that of Confidence in themselves, with One God! One Aim! One Destiny! Let no religious scruples, no political machination divide us, but let us hold together under all climes and in every country, making among ourselves a Racial Empire upon which ‘the sun will never set’”
Apart from the great rhetorical style of this paragraph, the meaning is dreadful. To call the Jews a race in 1925 is at least debatable. History has alas shown that it was the inspiration and motivation of one of the worst crimes of humanity ever performed, maybe only after (both in number and in time) the genocide of American Indians that Marcus Garvey ignores totally.
Just a quick note on this subject. For Marcus Garvey the National Alliance for the Advancement of “Colored” People (NAACP, the quotes on Colored are his) is advocating social integration by inter-marriage of rich black men with poor white women or by white men raping black women, killing in both cases the black race in doing so, and they are thus traitors to the racial struggle that is defined in other documents with a reference to Lenin and Trotsky and their “social democracy,” as a race or racial war that has to be implemented race against race on the model of what was to become the KOMINTERN and Stalinist model of class struggle performed class against class.
This basic position that considers race purity, the separate and equal ideal, the triple equality race = nation = country and the double reversing equality N**** = African = N****, leads Marcus Garvey to stating in a short text entitled “What We believe” (page 164-165) the following principles:
“. . . [UNIA is for] the uniting and blending of all N****es into one strong, healthy race. [UNIA] is against miscegenation and race suicide. . . [UNIA is for] the purity of the N**** race and the purity of the white race. . . [UNIA] is against rich blacks marrying poor whites. . . against rich or poor whites taking advantage of N**** women. . . [UNIA is for] the spiritual Fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of Man. . . [UNIA is for] the social and political separation of all peoples. . . [UNIA is for] the promotion of a strong and powerful N**** nation in Africa. . . [UNIA] believes in the rights of all men.”
We can see that W.E.B. Dubois’ approach in the NAACP is plainly qualified as “race suicide” and when we know that Marcus Garvey insisted on the fact that W.E.B. Dubois was a mixed blood, or a mulatto, to use the West Indian Spanish word he systematically used along with “colored” as meaning for him the same thing: impure blacks, he considered this W.E.B. Dubois as the result and the perfect example of this “race suicide.” This leaves only one solution (page 163) to prevent the racial war that is bound to explode in the world:
“There is but one solution . . . The N**** must have a country and a nation of his own. . . Let the N**** have a government of their own. . .”
W.E.B. Dubois certainly blew on these embers of strife by calling Marcus Garvey all kinds of names, including “ugly” which is not exactly intellectual and philosophical. Marcus Garvey of course then considered he was justified in his rejection of this social equality project that aimed at integrating the blacks in the American society by conquering for them the basic human and civil rights, and that struggle will take more than 30 years after Marcus Garvey to start becoming a reality, and Marcus Garvey called W.E.B. Dubois many names in his turn.
This prevented the coming together of two basic political and social movements and it was a historical drama, if not tragedy, but definitely a betrayal of the fundamental black dream of total equality and cooperation in the same society, and history will have to wait till Martin Luther King, and produce MLK, for this ideal or dream to become a reality and find an expression in 1963 in Washington DC. In the meantime the Garveyites were tempted by the Communist Party in the 1930s like Richard Wright (who will move towards a more self-sufficient though not completely locked up racial definition at the end of the 1930s) or by some extreme racial self-imprisonment like James Baldwin. The Civil Rights inspiration was then expressed marginally for a long period by people like Ralph Ellison and some others.
These texts prove, if it is necessary to do so, the depth of the tragic consequences of the Post Traumatic Slavery Syndrome that was identified at the beginning of the 21st century. This PTSS imprisons the person who suffers from it in a totally locked up mental and behavioral jail, in this case the jail of an exclusive racial definition of everything.
The first element is the nearly total negation of any African or even human heritage due to slavery and the absolute belief that the descendants of the slaves now they are free can on their own stand tall and walk up to their own free future as he says page 142 in 1923:
“The abuse of our race [slavery] was, up to eighty-five years ago in the West Indies and fifty-seven years ago in America, beyond our control, because we were then but chattel slaves of our masters, but since emancipation we have had full control of our own moral-social life and cannot, therefore, complain against anyone other than ourselves, for any social or moral wrongs inflicted upon us.”
The negation of the trauma slavery has been for the slaves over at the very least ten generations if not twenty if we consider the early deaths of slaves, blocks in the descendants the possibility to understand their minds have been shaped, formatted and informed with all kinds of a priori beliefs about the inferiority of black people and the necessity for black people to lock themselves up into themselves and hide all their inner thoughts that can only be inferior anyway, hence unacceptable.
What Marcus Garvey proposed is just untenable, both for the whites and for the blacks because of this totally unconscious and tyrannically structuring mental heritage: And Marcus Garvey’s vision page 161 is in many ways mis-inspired and typically carrying the PTSS I have just quoted.
“Let black and white stop deceiving themselves. Let the white race stop thinking that all black men are dogs and not to be considered as human beings. Let foolish N**** agitators and so-called reformers, encouraged by deceptive or unthinking white associates, stop preaching and advocating the doctrine of “social equality” meaning thereby the social intermingling of both races, intermarriages, and general social co-relationship. The two extremes will get us nowhere, other than breeding hate, and encouraging discord, which will eventually end disastrously to the weaker race.”
This folly of the non-considering of this PTSS leads Marcus Garvey to predictions that are, nearly one century later, absolutely unrealistic and pathetic. Africa is not one nation, far from it and will probably never be one nation though it may little by little and over many more decades find some way to get into some harmonized union. But his prediction that there would never be a black president in the USA has been proved wrong and that black president was even reelected for a second term. He may say it is an illusion because he is a mixed blood, a mulatto as he would assert, but his endorsing the one-drop-of-blood theory makes such an objection absurd.
Nevertheless it is essential to take Marcus Garvey into close consideration if we want to understand what happened in the world, and not only in the USA (and I will never dare to say America for the USA) starting in 1918 and the Versailles Treaty, even if Marcus Garvey thought of 1917 and the social democracy of Lenin and Trotsky. But his racial approach of the problem is not only a transference from the Stalinist conception of class struggle but it is also in direct continuation of the eugenics and race-cleansing many people from H.G. Wells to Hitler advocated in many European countries up to 1945. Such eugenic ideas and practices survived here and there, the latest to come to public knowledge being the forced sterilization of criminal women in Californian prisons that was apparently still going on at the beginning of the 21st century.
Dr Jacques COULARDEAU