Wed Sep 28, 2022
September 28, 2022

Stalinism and Pan-Africanism – Part 2

This is the second in a series of articles we are publishing to combat the ideology that seeks to equal Stalinism, Marxism and Pan-Africanism, as the neo-Stalinists are trying to do. In this second article, we’re taking up what led to George Padmore’s break with Stalinism, the holding of the 5th Pan-African Congress, the points of agreement between Pan-Africanism and Marxism, their differences and what we consider to be its biggest mistakes.

By: Asdrubal Barboza

Stalin leads the Comintern to the abandonment of the struggle for colonial independence

George Padmore’s split with Stalinism became the most important representative of a whole sector of the world black vanguard that broke with this current due to its betrayals, as a result of the abandonment of the perspective of the “Black Question” that had been built by Marx, Engels and Lenin.
Unfortunately, this progressive break led Padmore towards Pan-Africanist ideas and proposals which did not make a categorical class demarcation and which maintained expectations of imperialist politics. Padmore’s Pan-Africanism or Communism?, published in 1954, explains these standpoints.
On the one hand, his aim was to demonstrate Komintern’s criminal policy, whose main leader at the time was Georgi Dimitrov, a faithful disciple of Stalin. He took a different stance from that of some writers such as Hakim Adi [1], who considered the differences to be only circumstantial, particularly with the organisations that suffered the most pressure from imperialism, such as the French and British CPs, which were criticised for inactivity and for not openly demanding the independence of the colonies. For Padmore, these parties’ politics was part of the general Stalinist policy of abandoning the colonial struggle.
Padmore’s Pan-Africanism or Communism? begins by vindicating the Leninist positions adopted at the first congresses of the Third International, even citing as a positive example the Terms of Admission into the Communist International, as well as Lenin’s work, Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism. Mainly with regard to characterisations of the internationalisation and export of capital, the formation of monopolies, and the transformation of countries and continents into economies dependent on the imperialist countries, among other concepts. According to it, Marxism was “allied with the National and Colonial Question as a tactical weapon of capital importance in the advancement of communism in backward and undeveloped countries populated largely by coloured races.” [2]
From there, it criticises the turn taken by the International and its sections in the 1930s, which constituted the abandonment of the struggle for colonial independence, due to subordination to the Stalinist policy of “socialism in one country” and “peaceful coexistence.” In particular, it exposed the desertion of the British and Indian communists from the struggle for national liberation of India, which was eventually led by the Congress Party, as well as their failure to play a significant role in the struggle in Pakistan and Ceylon [now Sri Lanka]. And the attitude of the French communists to weaken the League Against Imperialism and Colonial Oppression (founded in 1927), who had a much greater penetration and organisation than the British CP. This resulted in little action in the nationalist movements in Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco, which in general developed autonomously and came into conflict with the communist policy subordinated to the French party. In Black Africa, this was reflected in the weak involvement in the independence processes in Sudan, the Gold Coast and Nigeria. About South Africa, it says that if the Comintern had “allowed the South African party more freedom to assert its initiative and developed according to local conditions, it would have become a real force among the Bantus.
It concludes that Stalinismthatuntil the liquidation of the Communist International in 1943 dictated the policies of the foreign parties – put their interests “first and that of one’s own [colonial] country last.

A rather different view from that presented in Hakim Adi’s book that “The Comintern’s Pan-Africanist perspective created the conditions for the new Marxist-influenced Pan-Africanism during the 1930s and perhaps reached its apogee with the convening of the Manchester Pan-African Congress in 1945. (…) Most importantly, perhaps, the Comintern powerfully reinforced the internationalist and revolutionary perspectives in the Pan-African movement (…).” [3]

On the other hand, in breaking with Stalinism, Padmore began to propagate the idea that if African independence movements were not linked to the USSR and did not have a communist strategy, he could rally support and allies for the black independence cause among the “progressive” sections of the imperialist countries.

Eventually, Padmore argued that Stalinist policy could only be fought by Pan-Africanism, as well as tribalism, although considering that Communism was not an “immediate threat”:

The only force which can combat this danger effectively [i.e. tribalism] is Pan-Africanism, which advocates the formation of democratically based nation-wide political parties on a non-tribal nonregional membership. The best example of a nonregional, non-tribal organisation in Africa today is the Convention People’s Party in Gold Coast (…) In our struggle for national freedom, human dignity and social redemption, Pan-Africanism offers an ideological alternative to Communism on the one side and tribalism on the other. It rejects both white racialism and black chauvinism. It stands for racial co-existence on the basis of absolute equality and respect for human personality. Pan-Africanism looks above the narrow confines of class, race, tribe and religion. In other words, it wants equal opportunity for all. (…) Its perspective embraces the federation of regional self-governing countries and their ultimate amalgamation into a United States of Africa.

The Fifth Pan-African Congress
Understanding that “the Negroes had been thrown to the ‘wolves’,” [4] Padmore moved towards the poly-classist positions of Pan-Africanism, abandoning the class-based approach that he had advocated until the 1930s. [5] The focus of his politics became the struggle to build an “anti-imperialist peoples’ front” with nationalists and reformists. [6] He participated in the founding of the Pan-African Federation (PAF) in 1944 in Manchester and organised the Fifth Pan-African Congress in 1945.
This Congress represented a profound political change in the Pan-African movement. It is considered the most significant of all congresses since the London Conference in 1900. It was different both in its social composition and in the resolutions adopted.
For the first time, representatives from international trade union organisations, such as the World Federation of Trade Unions, and trade union leaders from the Caribbean and Africa were delegates. In addition to the presence of African cadres such as Azikiwe Nandi [7], Jomo Kenyatta and Kwame Nkrumah, DuBois was the only African-American present.
We can say that the Congress established a “new kind” of Pan-Africanism, anti-imperialist and internationalist, with an anti-capitalist perspective but, in essence, with social-democratic and reformist positions: seeking to base itself on the popular masses of the colonies, seeing them as the main force in the anti-colonial struggle, despite not having class boundaries and adopting a poly-classist understanding in the perspective of seizure of power. Previously, the political stand of Garvey and DuBois prevailed, which gave more weight to the racial content than to the political and anti-imperialist character of the demands. The progressive elements of the Fifth Congress resolutions were adopted after Padmore’s and Nkrumah’s speeches.
The final manifesto brought the determination of the African peoples to fight for their independence and freedom, denouncing the capitalist monopolies. It specifically demanded the immediate independence of the French and British colonies in West Africa, Sudan, North Africa (Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco) and Libya from Italy. It also advocated constitutional reforms in all countries, civil rights for all native peoples and the abolition of racial discrimination.
Just as it demanded the withdrawal of British troops from Egypt and an end to racist discrimination in South Africa, it also supported the struggle for civil rights for African-Americans in the USA, calling for the fulfilment of the “Atlantic Charter” for Africa. It also incorporated the struggle for universal suffrage and the achievement of multi-party democracy, freedom of the press, and an end to repression of social movements.
The 5th Congress also broke with pacifism and admitted the use of force and self-defence for the achievement of colonial independence. Finally, transferring the focus for the action of the anti-colonial struggle to the African continent and not only to the European continent.
After the Congress, Nkrumah launched his book Towards Colonial Freedom, in which he rejected the “civilising mission” of British imperialism and returned to the Gold Coast (Ghana) in 1947, where he was imprisoned. In 1957, the country gained its independence with Nkrumah as prime minister, and Padmore joined him again that year in Accra to organise the Pan-Africanist struggle.

Mistakes and differences with Pan-Africanism

Some authors find it difficult to give a clear and precise definition of Pan-Africanism. But this can be applied to all schools of thought, including Marxism, because of all the differences in approach and interpretations presented by various authors and political currents.

Nevertheless, we can establish that the essence of this political thought stems from the struggle for African unity and liberation, against colonialism, slavery, and the struggle for the need for African unity. Therein also lies its great weakness, for it considers that all Africans, on the continent or in the diaspora, are united in the struggle alongside all oppressed and exploited peoples. This, in fact, is the meeting point between Pan-Africanism and Stalinism, which by different paths ended up abandoning the policy of working-class independence from sections of the bourgeoisie and discarded the centrality of the working class as the social subject of the revolution, believing in a “pan-black” community, synthesised in the formulation “one race, one people.”

Their other mistake is to create expectations that the imperialist powers might have some kind of progressive attitude towards the struggle for independence when exactly the opposite is true: they are its greatest and most dangerous enemies, as they survive thanks to their colonial exploitation.

Certainly, there are points of contact and confluences between Marxism and Pan-Africanism, such as the condemnation of racism and black slavery; the need to liberate Africa from imperialist colonialism and to build autonomous African governments in African nations. But, for revolutionary Marxists, these governments must be constituted by members of the black working class, independent of the black African bourgeois sectors and of any alliance or expectation of concessions from imperialist countries.

From a practical point of view, the belief in the possibility of these poly-class alliances and the underestimation of the possibility of imperialist intervention [8] in defence of their interests led to the overthrown of Kwame Nkrumah [9] from the government in 1966 by the same social forces that promoted the assassinations of Patrice Lumumba in 1961 and Thomas Sankara in 1987.

Meanwhile, the actions of Stalinism and the Moscow government were instrumental in driving the degeneration and transformation of organisations that initially played a progressive or revolutionary role into pro-imperialist bourgeois organisations, associated with all that is worst in world politics. This is the case of the MPLA in Angola, Frelimo in Mozambique, the CP and ANC in South Africa, PAIGC (African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde) in Guinea, SWAPO in Namibia and Zanu-PF (Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front) in Zimbabwe. We will come back to this later.

In the next article, we will deal with the Stalinist zigzags in their politics in the U.S.


[1] Hakim Adi, Pan-Africanism, a History, chapter 4.

[2] George Padmore, Pan-Africanism or Communism? All citations by Padmore in this article are taken from this book.

[3] Hakim Adi, Pan-Africanism, a History.

[4] Hakim Adi, Pan-Africanism and Communism: The Communist International, Africa and the Diaspora, 1919-1939. London: Africa World Press, p. 158.

[5] George Padmore, The Life and Struggle of Black Workers.

[6] Berber Jin, George Padmore’s African Revolution: Reviving Marxist-Leninism in the Pan-African Tradition.

[7] First President of Nigeria, 1963-66.

[8] The imperialist countries could not survive without colonial exploitation and for that, they needed corrupt puppet governments, their allies in these countries. In this way, they acted in Zaire (formerly Belgian Congo) to overthrow Patrice Lumumba.

[9] First Prime Minister (1957-1960) and President (1960-1966) of Ghana, having led the Gold Coast to independence from Britain in 1957.

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