Sun Apr 21, 2024
April 21, 2024

Stalinism and Pan-Africanism

This is the first of three articles we are going to publish to address the discussion on Pan-Africanism and Stalinism. The aim is to combat the reasonings of the new advocates of Stalinism that Marxism and Stalinism would be the same and that they would have the same political positions and theoretical bases, particularly on the black question and the struggle for the independence of African countries. We also intend to combat the idea that Stalinism and Pan-Africanism would be, in essence, based on the same political and theoretical precepts and that, throughout history, they walked together.

By: Américo Gomes

What happened was the opposite: what came to be called “modern Pan-Africanism” – with its errors and weaknesses – was a reaction to Stalinism and its policy of “peaceful coexistence” with imperialist countries, considered progressive. In particular, the Fifth Pan-African Congress and its deliberations went in the opposite direction from what was advocated by the communist parties based on the deliberations of the Third International (Comintern) after Lenin’s death, at the time when it came under the leadership of Stalin and Dimitrov.

Opposing paths

Today, Stalinists and neo-Stalinists, seeking to escape political isolation, continue to develop historical, theoretical and political falsifications to see if they can establish a dialogue with new sections of the vanguard who are in the front line in the fight against the capitalist governments around the world, and to cover up the betrayals of this current within the working-class movement throughout history.

On the Black question and the struggle against colonialism in Africa, they try to equate Stalinism with Pan-Africanism. For instance, Jones Manoel states on his Facebook page: “The history of Pan-Africanism is intertwined with the history of Marxism and the communist movement“. In the book, he organised with anthologies on the African Revolution [1] Manoel tries to amalgamate Pan-Africanism with Marxism and the history and politics of the communist movement of the Third International in the Stalinist era. As a member of the Brazilian CP, he tries to justify the positions taken by the Communist Parties throughout history.

We will show that there are coincidences, but also important differences between Pan-Africanism and Marxism, especially as far as their class character is concerned. Differences that were never omitted by the true Pan-Africanists and which we believe led to the major errors of the followers of this movement.

But we will also show that Stalin’s and the Third International’s policy from the Fifth Congress onwards was to prioritise “peaceful coexistence” and alliances with imperialist nations considered “progressive” to the detriment of the emancipatory struggle for the independence of the colonial peoples, in a real betrayal of these fighters. A policy implemented by all Communist Parties, in particular by the parties headquartered in imperialist countries.

Lenin, the “Black question” and colonial struggle

Lenin was the main driving force for revolutionaries to support and participate in the self-determination movements in the colonies, even when these movements were led by the local bourgeoisie. But, unlike Stalin later, Lenin defended the differentiation and political confrontation with this same local bourgeoisie, when this “unity of action” was performed.

The starting point and foundation of the programme Lenin constructed for the Third International was a direct continuity with Marx’s and Engels’ elaboration on the subject, in particular, the recognition that under imperialism the division of nations into oppressing and oppressed ones is a fundamental, most important and inevitable fact.” [2]. From there it is understood that the struggle for the right to self-determination of the oppressed nations, their right to independence, is fundamentally and essentially part of the struggle for a world socialist society, i.e. the struggle of the colonised peoples for their independence is a component of the world socialist revolution. And as internationalist fighters, it is necessary to put the interests of all nations for freedom and equal rights above all else.

But at the same time, Lenin stated that the obligation of revolutionaries was to imprint a working-class nature and content to this demand – as to all other fundamental demands of political democracy – and to associate it with the direct revolutionary struggle of the masses for the overthrow of the bourgeois governments. For the Russian revolutionary, the struggle for the right to self-determination is an essential part of building working-class unity and the fundamental class delimitation, even as the bourgeoisie of the oppressed nations always transforms the slogans of national liberation into a deception for the workers by using this struggle for deals with imperialist governments. [3]

This led the Second Congress of the III International to include in its Terms of Admission:

8. Parties in countries whose bourgeoisie possess colonies and oppress other nations must pursue a most well-defined and clear-cut policy in respect of colonies and oppressed nations. Any party wishing to join the Third International must ruthlessly expose the colonial machinations of the imperialists of its “own” country, must support—in deeds, not merely in words — every colonial liberation movement, demand the expulsion of its compatriot imperialists from the colonies, inculcate in the hearts of the workers of its own country an attitude of true brotherhood with the working population of the colonies and the oppressed nations, and conduct systematic agitation among the armed forces against all oppression of the colonial peoples.

Stalin against Marxism on the national question

Although Stalin often claimed Lenin’s and the party’s politics, he developed a reverse policy soon after consolidating power, and even when Lenin was on his deathbed. The first attempt happened when Stalin and Dzerjinsky tackled the Georgian question with a policy of Russification of this nation using methods of intimidation and even physical aggression. This methodology was later applied in depth in Crimea, where there was an ethnic cleansing of the Tatar people who inhabited the region.

Lenin categorically rejected these methods and Stalin’s policy – “the Georgian” – in his last writings, in the notes dictated to his secretaries at the end of 1922, which were later published under the title “The question of nationalities or ‘autonomisation‘”.

“(…) a genuinely proletarian attitude makes profound caution, thoughtfulness and a readiness to compromise a matter of necessity for us. The Georgian who is neglectful of this aspect of the question, or who carelessly flings about accusations of “nationalist-socialism” (whereas he himself is a real and true “nationalist-socialist”, and even a vulgar Great-Russian bully), violates, in substance, the interests of proletarian class solidarity (…)

Lenin proposed exemplary punishment for all Stalinist bureaucrats responsible for advocating the implementation of the most severe rules in defence of the use of the Russian language and against the use of the national language of the republics.

However, after Lenin’s death [4], the Stalinist conceptions became effective with Stalin’s control over the Russian state apparatus and the Comintern. That had immediately disastrous and bloody consequences for the Chinese working class, in 1927, when the popular-front policy, i.e. of alliance with nationalist bourgeoisies, was implemented.

Stalin’s policy of forming “Popular Fronts” prevented the working class from implementing an independent proletarian policy on the grounds of the alleged impossibility of seizing power in the colonial countries, because they “were not ripe” for revolution. Its aim was, in fact, the subordination of the interests and the struggle of the most exploited sectors of the society and the working class to local bourgeoisies who wanted to present themselves as “anti-imperialists”. One aspect of this took the form of the theory of “revolution by stages”, an inseparable companion of “peaceful coexistence” with imperialism and the construction of “socialism in one country”. Theories that distanced the III International from the colonial revolutions on the African continent and throughout the world.

Trotsky and the Permanent Revolution

Trotsky had an opposite position to that of Stalin. For the Red Army commander, the historical conditions for socialism have not only ‘ripened’; they have begun to get somewhat rotten” all over the world, including in the colonial countries.

The final contours of his theory of the Permanent Revolution were based on the very serious defeat of the Chinese revolution in 1927, from which he generalised his theoretical conclusions for the colonial and semi-colonial countries in the perspective of the world theory of revolution. Trotsky thus gave continuity to the Leninist-Marxist strategy on nationalities presented in the theses of the Second Congress of the Third International.

Trotsky synthesises this conclusion in his Basic Postulates:

2. With regard to countries with a belated bourgeois development, especially the colonial and semi-colonial countries, the theory of the permanent revolution signifies that the complete and genuine solution of their tasks of achieving democracy and national emancipation is conceivable only through the dictatorship of the proletariat as the leader of the subjugated nation, above all of its peasant masses. [5]; and “11. (…) Insofar as capitalism has created a world market, a world division of labour and world productive forces, it has also prepared the world economy as a whole for socialist transformation. Different countries will go through this process at different tempos. Backward countries may, under certain conditions, arrive at the dictatorship of the proletariat sooner than advanced countries, but they will come later than the latter to socialism.” [6]
It does not matter what the first stages of a revolutionary process are in different countries, i.e., how and which sectors will begin it. For the triumph of this revolutionary process, the accomplishment of the revolutionary alliance between the proletariat and the most exploited sections of the class and the formation of political leadership based on the proletarian vanguard, organised in a revolutionary party, is imperative. With that, the seizure of power by the working class will be aimed, in the first place, at carrying out the tasks of the democratic revolution. [7]

These positions were summarised in the chapter “Backward countries and the programme of transitional demands” of the Transitional Programme:

Colonial and semi-colonial countries are backward countries by their very essence. But backward countries are part of a world dominated by imperialism. Their development, therefore, has a combined character: the most primitive economic forms are combined with the last word in capitalist technique and culture. In like manner are defined the political strivings of the proletariat of backward countries: the struggle for the most elementary achievements of national independence and bourgeois democracy is combined with the socialist struggle against world imperialism.” (…)The relative weight of the individual democratic and transitional demands in the proletariat’s struggle, their mutual ties and their order of presentation, is determined by the peculiarities and specific conditions of each backward country and to a considerable extent by the degree of its backwardness. Nevertheless, the general trend of revolutionary development in all backward countries can be determined by the formula of the permanent revolution in the sense definitely imparted to it by the three revolutions in Russia (1905, February 1917, October 1917).”

Stalin’s and Dimitrov’s peaceful coexistence

Jones Manoel seeks to draw on the studies of Hakim Adi, author of “Pan-Africanism: A History” to try to convey the idea that: 1) the Third International under Stalin and Georgi Dimitrov maintained a line of defence of colonial independence rather than prioritising alliances with the governments of the imperialist countries they claimed progressive against Nazism; 2) there were only minor divergences with the English and French Communist parties on the question of the struggle for colonial independence, not coincidentally in the main imperialist countries.

It is therefore not surprising, as we have already mentioned in previous articles, [8] that in his anthology book on the African revolutions Manoel does not include George Padmore and CLR James, recognised Marxists who made important contributions to the black revolution in Africa. [9]

Adi himself admits that the dissolution of the International Trade Union Committee of Negro Workers (ITUCNW) had to do with a change in the whole practice of the Third International from the deliberations of the Seventh Congress in 1935.

So much so that the Red International of Labour Unions (ISR or Profintern) was dissolved in 1937, and the Comintern was dissolved, on Stalin’s orders, in 1943, during the Second World War. A policy that had been implemented since the entry of the USSR into the League of Nations [10] in 1934 and the Franco-Soviet Pact in 1935. “The rise of fascism and the danger of war had also led the Comintern to re-evaluate its approach to the II International and to seek to form a united front of all workers’ organisations, as well as an anti-imperialist front in the colonies. This also led to a re-evaluation of the need for the ISR, which would eventually be dissolved.” [11]

But the invasion of Ethiopia by fascist Italy in 1935 greatly delimited the fields and differentiated the Black movement and Pan-Africanism from Stalinism.

The abandonment of Ethiopia and Padmore’s split

George Padmore was, by many, one of the “fathers of Pan-Africanism” along with Marcus Garvey and W.E.B. Du Bois, or at least the father of “modern Pan-Africanism”. In 1927, he was active in the Communist Party USA, when the party advocated for racial equality. His front was the American Black movement, in particular the American Negro Labor Congress.

In March 1929, he was a delegate (but without voting rights) to the 6th National Convention of the CPUSA and sent to the USSR to work in the ITUCNW and in the Profintern Black Bureau. He was the editor of the Negro Worker, the ITUCNW newspaper, responsible for producing pamphlets and articles for the Moscow English-language newspaper, as well as being Moscow’s “fund messenger” for various foreign communist parties. In July 1930 he was sent to Germany to organise the First International Conference of Negro Workers in Hamburg.

It was then that he wrote “The Life and Struggles of Negro Toilers“, published in 1931 in London by the Red International of Labour Unions Publishing House. This book presents in a dialectical way the relationship between race and class, and between exploitation and oppression, both in the USA and internationally. It sharply criticises the white reformist trade unionists of the American Federation of Labor (AFL), the Amsterdam International and black reformists such as Marcus Garvey (whom it calls “demagogic and dishonest”, and states that “the struggle against Garveyism is the greatest task of black workers”). With a detailed and impressive account of the situation of black people and their struggles in Africa, Padmore points out the tasks of the proletariat in the advanced countries to join forces with their white brothers against the common enemy: world capitalism. And he ends by exposing the establishment of a “Negro Republic” in Africa “where they [the black landlords and capitalists] would be able to set themselves up as the rulers in order to continue the exploitation of the toilers of their race”. [12]
Faced with the growth of Nazism, Stalin’s policy was to prioritise diplomatic alliances with colonial powers such as France and England. George Orwell, author of the famous The Animal Farm, in his article “Not Counting Niggers”[13], denounced that – behind the “anti-fascist” speech – the Stalinist-CP policy in England was to defend British profits, presenting Winston Churchill as a democrat, and taking a stand against the struggle for Indian independence (claiming that India did not yet have the capacity for self-government), similar to the policy for Africa: “The unspoken clause is always ‘not counting niggers‘. For, how can we make a ‘firm stand’ against Hitler if we are simultaneously weakening ourselves at home? In other words, how can we ‘fight Fascism’ except by bolstering up a far vaster injustice? [14]

Padmore was against turning our backs on colonised Africans in the name of anti-fascism, with the political speech that the enemies of the exploited in the colonies were not the imperialists, but merely the fascist movement. In his words, “the Negroes had been thrown to the ‘wolves’”. [15]

As CLR James, author of the classic book on the Haitian Revolution, The Black Jacobins, wrote:

“[Padmore] once in the United States, became an active communist. He was transferred to Moscow to assume the leadership of the office of propaganda and organisation of the Black people, and there he became the best known and most trusted agitator for African independence. In 1935, the Kremlin, seeking alliances, separated Britain and France, as “democratic imperialisms”, from Germany and Japan, i.e. “fascist imperialisms”, the main target of Russian and communist propaganda. This distinction reduced African emancipation activity to a farce: Germany and Japan in fact had no colonies in Africa. Padmore immediately broke off all relations with the Kremlin.” [16]

Padmore was therefore vilified and persecuted by communists/Stalinists all over the world, as well as by fascists, living under surveillance by the British secret service. In England, in 1935, he worked as a journalist for Black newspapers. Returning to work with C.L.R. James; Wallace-Johnson, a Sierra Leonean trade unionist; Amy Ashwood Garvey and Jomo Kenyatta at the International African Opinion. They formed the International African Friends of Abyssinia (Ethiopia) in that year, campaigning against the Italian fascist invasion, one of the only independent African countries at the time, and seen as representing the ideal of freedom and resistance to imperialism. At that time, two African American airline pilots went to fight against the Italian fascists. One of them, Hubert Julian, became known as the “Black Eagle from Harlem”, the other, John C. Robinson, as “the Black Condor”, both responsible for the founding of the Ethiopian Air Force.

However, the III International refrained from even commenting on the matter; Stalin was banking on cooperation between the USSR, Britain and France through a “united front” to contain Nazi expansionism. [17] It, therefore, developed a stance of neutrality in the face of the explicitly aggressive policy of Hitler’s Germany. As a cover, they denounced Ethiopia as a “feudal monarchy” and King Haile Selassie’s links to the Japanese Empire.

The League of Nations disapproved of the Italian invasion but applied no sanctions. A justification for the Stalinist bureaucracy to continue exporting oil to fascist Italy, which used it to fuel its planes and tanks in Ethiopia.

In an attempt to deny these facts, Jones Manoel [18] relies on Domenico Losurdo [19] to say that Stalin had no responsibility for Nazi advances such as the invasion of Czechoslovakia, nor for the defeat in Ethiopia since the sole and exclusive responsibility lay with the “Western powers”. [20]

Even the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP) in the United States questioned Moscow’s silence. [21] Padmore wrote a violent article against the ITUCNW, ‘Ethiopia and World Politics‘, in the NAACP’s official publication, [22] The Crisis. He then denounced the Soviet-Stalinist hypocrisy of selling wheat, oil and coal to Italy, used in the war against Ethiopia. [23] In this conflict, Mussolini used chemical weapons against Africans and an estimated 500,000 Ethiopians were killed!

In 1936, the League of Nations – with the USSR and the USA voting against, but with the support of the supposedly progressive governments of Britain and France – recognised Italy’s control over Ethiopia, domination that lasted until 1941.

Padmore and C.R.L. James were highly critical of Stalin’s policy of abandoning Abyssinia (Ethiopia). Padmore went on to advocate what would later become known as “class-struggle Pan-Africanism”. [24] In his book World Revolution 1917-1936, James denounced Stalin and the III International, based on fundamental ideas of Marxism, showing that the policy for Ethiopia had everything to do with the policy of “peaceful coexistence” and “socialism in one country”, which were reflected in the anti-colonial struggles, an example of the abandonment of the Leninist revolutionary policy of defending the right to self-determination. The chapter “The Revolution Abandoned” asserts that the mobilisation of the workers was necessary, associating anti-fascist struggle with anti-colonial struggle.

He showed that Soviet workers could have carried out an oil embargo against Italy on the basis of the widespread feeling of workers all over the world repudiating Mussolini, like actions taken by seamen in Trinidad and Tobago and Greece: a strike against the shipment of war materials to Italian troops; or by seamen in Egypt, South Africa and France who refused to load Italian ships. Similar boycotts were organised in ports such as St. Peter’s (USA), Cardiff (UK), Marseilles (France), Bone (Algeria) and Luderitz (Namibia). If the III International were to support the struggle of the Ethiopian people, it would take the building of communist parties throughout the African continent to a more advanced level, with a view to world revolution.

Padmore went on to propose forming a “Black International” to oppose imperialism, fascism, “progressive” capitalism and what he called “Soviet communism”. He linked the anti-Nazi struggle and the anti-colonial struggle as follows: “To defeat Nazism we must be free of colonialism“. [25] He defended the right to independence of African peoples as a fundamental element in defeating the Nazis, linking the two struggles.

In 1941, to win the support of workers in the anti-Nazi struggle, Theodore Roosevelt and Winston Churchill signed the “Atlantic Charter” which advocated self-determination for peoples and the right to decide what government they would have. But, confronted in Europe, Churchill declared that the terms of the “Atlantic Charter” did not apply to the colonies and only to the peoples of Europe who lived under Nazi rule.

Thereafter, Padmore regrettably began to assume purely Pan-Africanist positions, abandoning the class-based approach he had advocated in the 1930s. He participated in the founding of the Pan-African Federation (PAF) in 1944 in Manchester and went on to organise the Fifth Pan-African Congress in 1945.

In the following articles, we will develop what we consider to be the mistaken theoretical and programmatic bases of Pan-Africanism, the organisation of the Fifth Pan-African Congress, but also the actions of the Stalinist communist parties in the post-war colonial struggles, such as in Algeria and the Portuguese colonies, and their “zigzags” policies vis-à-vis Roosevelt in the United States.

We will end this series by pointing out the consequences of both policies for the African continent and its emancipatory struggle, and explain why it is necessary to build a revolutionary organisation on the continent in order to carry out the Black Revolution in Africa.


[1] – Jones Manoel, Revolução Africana, uma antologia do pensamento marxista (African Revolution, an Anthology of Marxist Thought). Ed. Autonomia Literária
[2] – Lenin, The Socialist Revolution and the Right of Nations to Self-Determination (Theses), 1916.
[3] – Idem.
[4] – January 1924.
[5] – Trotsky, What is the Permanent Revolution? Basic Postulates.
[6] – Idem.
[7] – Idem, Postulate 4.
[8] – Pan-africanismo e a perspectiva revolucionária (Pan-Africanism and Revolutionary Perspective).
[9] – Idem.
[10] – According to Lenin, a “Thieves’ Kitchen”.
[11] – Pan-africanismo e comunismo: conversa com Hakim Adi (Pan-Africanism and Communism: Talking with Hakim Adi). The ITUCNW was a section of the ISR (Profintern).
[12] – George Padmore, The Life and Struggles of Negro Toilers.
[13] – First Published: Adelphi – GB, London – July 1939.
[14] – George Orwell, Not Counting Niggers.
[15] – Hakim Adi, Pan-Africanism and CommunismThe Communist International, Africa and the Diaspora, 1919-1939. London: Africa World Press, p. 158.
[16] C. L. R. James, The Black Jacobins: Toussaint L’ouverture and the San Domingo Revolution, Appendix. Ed. Penguin.

[17] – This cannot surprise us after we know that Stalin built the Molotov-Ribertrop agreement, according to him to contain the Nazi advance, in 1939. In fact, it was an agreement between allies that included the division and occupation of Poland, with a total trust in Hitler’s word. And so he disdained Leopold Trepper’s warning when he reported the date of Hitler’s Barbarous Operation to invade the USSR. After WWII, Trepper was sent to jail when he returned to the USSR.

[18] – Jones Manoel, Contra o revisionismo histórico: o pacto de não agressão germano-soviético e a Segunda Guerra Mundial (Against historical revisionism: the German-Soviet non-aggression pact and the Second World War), Blog Boitempo.
[19] – Domenico Losurdo. Stalin, uma história crítica de uma lenda negra (Stalin, a critical history of a black legend). Editora Revan.
[20] – Stalin e Hitler: irmãos gêmeos ou inimigos mortais? (Stalin and Hitler: twin brothers or mortal enemies?), 2017, Le Monde Diplomatique online.
[21] – Holger Weiss, Against Japanese and Italian Imperialism: The Anti-War Campaigns of Communist International Trade Union Organizations, 1931-1936.
[22] – Founded in 1910 by W.E.B. DuBois.
[23] – Padmore, Soviet Russia Aids Italy, in The Crisis n. 42 (Octubre 1935).
[24] – Cristian Hogsbjerg, C.L.R. James in Imperial Britain.
[25] – New Leader, London 1940.
[26] Maurício Parada et. al. Debates na Câmara dos Comuns em 1941, História da África Contemporânea. Rio de Janeiro: Editora PUC.

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