(Originally Published by Pambazuka News 653: SPECIAL ISSUE: Kwame Ture and the African revolution today)
Freedom for African people was at the centre of the ideology of Kwame Ture. His notion of freedom was linked to the oppression of other peoples around the globe and he worked tirelessly not only for African unity but with liberation struggles in India, Palestine and in Ireland
Kwame Ture inspired and continues to inspire freedom loving people all over the world. His self-less commitment to African People and the revolutionary struggles of all people worldwide are legendary. Through his example, we can learn so much about how to understand the world we live in, what ideologies to guide us and the basis for the political strategies to achieve Pan-Africanism.
Kwame Ture was a revolutionary Pan-Africanist, committed to a socialist path of development. He followed the teachings and practices of Kwame Nkrumah (former President of Ghana) and Sekou Ture (former President of Guinea) since 1968 and later changed his name using one name from each. After the untimely deaths / assassinations of Nkrumah and Ture, Kwame Ture kept their messages and strategies at the forefront of the African revolution, travelling and speaking all over the world and building the All-African Peoples’ Revolutionary Party (AAPRP) – the party founded and outlined by Kwame Nkrumah in his ‘Handbook of Revolutionary Warfare,’ while in exile in Guinea in the late 1960s.
I first came across Kwame Ture in 1988, after joining the AAPRP at African Liberation Day. I joined the struggle like many Africans after growing up and experiencing racist Britain, reading about the history of the ‘black’ working class and reading about the civil rights struggles of African Americans of the 1960s. Kwame was a towering figure in the civil rights struggle but also in the black power movement. His articulation of the term ‘Black Power’ united Africans worldwide. However, Kwame developed beyond the demands of black power as articulated in his book ‘Black Power to Pan-Africanism’.
The development of Kwame’s own politics, hugely influenced by Nkrumah and Ture, led to a clearer analysis of our struggle and helped in the early development of the AAPRP. Kwame understood the importance of class struggle and at the same time the need to liberate an oppressed nation, Africa and its people. These struggles were inseparable, hence the term ‘revolutionary Pan-Africanism’. He was clear that it was not enough to have class struggle without the unification of Africa and the unification of Africa without winning the class struggle. This also put him on a collision course with most of the African governments on the continent and in the Caribbean, who often tried to prevent his travel into their countries. Kwame’s articulation of this inseparable link, led to much criticism from the ‘white left’ that he was too nationalistic. Kwame always pointed out that African nationalism was based on self-love and unity against external oppression, as opposed to nationalism from the oppressor which is generally based on hatred of others.
As one of the leaders of the AAPRP, Kwame Ture was an awesome speaker who electrified audiences all over the world. He was sought after by Africans everywhere but also non-Africans across the world. He met, worked with and shared the struggles of most of the major African liberation parties of the 20th Century. These include the FLN (Algeria); PDG (Guinea); PAIGC (Guinea Bissau); UPC (Cameroon); FNS (Senegal); ANC, PAC/A, AZAPO, BCM (Azania / South Africa); MPLA (Angola); FRELIMO (Mozambique); SWAPO (Namibia); ZANU-PF (Zimbabwe); EPLF (Eritrea); PDIOS (Gambia); the Libyan Jamahiriya (Libya); plus African organisations in the diaspora like the Dalits (India); NDM (Grenada); and many other less known organisations and forces worldwide.
With great links across the liberation organisations on the continent and worldwide, Kwame was often our (AAPRP) key link to these organisations. He helped to provide us with great source material, excellent contacts and helped us collectively to gain a better understanding of the struggles unfolding across the world. These contacts would be developed in our local organising areas in England, Canada, USA, and in the Caribbean. With these links, we were able to provide local platforms for them to speak to local African communities and helped to internationalise their struggles. When Kwame was banned from England after his 1983 visit, the AAPRP were able to provide platforms for the ANC, PAC/A, AZAPO, PAIGC, EPLF and others including the American Indian Movement (AIM); Woolf Tone (Irish Republicans); the PLO (Palestinians), and the Cuban Government.
VISIT TO ENGLAND
Kwame’s visit to England in 1983 had a profound impact on Africans living here. His tour was organised by Hackney Black Peoples Association, led by Lester Lewis who sadly passed some years ago. The tour included visits to Liverpool, Wolverhampton, Manchester, Maidstone, Derby, Nottingham, Leicester, Birmingham and London. The success of this tour, led directly to Kwame committing to return to build the AAPRP in Britain, but the Conservative government issued a ban and he was never allowed to set foot in Britain again, except in transit through an airport. The AAPRP sent other senior members who did an excellent job in building the foundations for the Britain Chapter.
INFLUENCING CHANGE INSIDE THE AAPRP
I first met Kwame in Atlanta, Georgia in 1994. The purpose of the meeting was to widen the experience of the party cadre, share the work we have been doing in Africa and to expand the Pan-African mix of the AAPRP’s leadership. Kwame was a big champion of this change, making the AAPRP more democratic, increasing the number of sisters on the Central Committee (CC), shifting more power to the base of the party and to empower more cadres around the world. This was not universally accepted and later led to some cadre leaving. However, the only cadre who left were born and lived in the USA, and only after Kwame passed to the ancestors. This was a sad moment in the party’s history and today, some of these cadres continue to organise under the banner of the AAPRP but do not accept the authority of the current CC. Kwame must be turning in his grave!
Kwame was a dominant figure during the meeting. His clarity of analysis and explanations were supported by great stories of his travels around the world. Kwame had so many stories, like the many passports he had, being stopped and harassed, and his depth of knowledge of the various struggles across the African continent. We lapped up the stories with great excitement, giving us little insights into the world of a true revolutionary. He also told us of the work the AAPRP had done quietly to spread revolutionary messages across the continent over many years to progressive youth, students, activists and organisations – like distributing revolutionary books in various languages; linking progressive forces in different parts of the continent; speaking to activists at meetings across the continent; all to promote revolutionary Pan-Africanism and the works of key figures like Nkrumah, Ture, Cabral etc.
The second time I met Kwame was in Cincinnati, Ohio in 1997. By this time, Kwame was in a lot of pain due to the cancer. Even in pain, he continued to participate and helped us to develop a more comprehensive strategy. These gatherings always lifted our spirits and strengthened our will to continue our local struggles.
CLARITY OF MESSAGES
His clarity of message and confidence in all speaking engagements provides a great body of material to explain the basis for the revolutionary Pan-African struggle and the strategic basis for all modern freedom fighters. Fortunately, we still have a lot of Kwame’s speeches on tape that we can share internationally.
Kwame was the most articulate voice of the AAPRP and revolutionary Pan-Africanism in his era. Kwame was able to break down all the main components of the ideology of the AAPRP – Nkrumahism / Tureism – brilliantly.
Kwame was also a ferocious reader. He said he read one book a month on Zionism and was an expert on Zionism as an anti-zionist. He knew that Zionism is an evil political ideology. He was clear about the imperialist role of Israel in the world, particularly in Africa and he was totally opposed to the occupation of Palestinian land. He read a wide range of books and helped to develop the reading lists for members of the AAPRP. To this day, we read books from a range of progressive authors from around the world but start and focus on an African worldview of all the material we review. Our core reading is centred on African authors like Nkrumah and Ture but also Cabral, Sankara, Rodney, Garvey and Dubois among others.
Our reading includes material from progressive and revolutionary forces, including non-African forces – from China, the DPRK, Vietnam, and historic individuals like Marx, Lenin, Engels. This includes the origins, history and basis for world struggles for justice. For example, the basis for the anti-zionist and Palestinians’ struggle; the influence of Connelly on the Irish Republican movement; the Juche Idea in the DPR of Korea; the Cuban Revolution; and the American Indian Movement to name a few. Kwame always encouraged us to keep good relationships with progressive forces everywhere. He was a great example of what he preached. Kwame travelled all over the world as a representative of the AAPRP, in solidarity with freedom loving people everywhere.
WHAT CAN WE LEARN FROM KWAME TURE TO HELP US TODAY?
We have a shining example of a freedom fighter. We have his speeches, books, some of his writings and our shared memories.
Let’s reflect on some of his key messages:‘Don’t judge socialism by its adherence, judge it by its principles.’ This was one of Kwame’s most common sayings about socialism. It is a profound point. He always said, ‘You cannot judge Christianity by its adherence or Christianity would fall with Judas.’ He taught us over and over, that we must judge a political system by it principles. Capitalism’s principles are individualism, competition and exploitation. Socialism is based on egalitarianism, collectivism and humanism. He was clear that discussions about the role of capital over labour, land and the state, were articulated well before Marx and Lenin were born but they came to coherently articulate these concepts in an excellent critique of capitalism in Europe and the colonies. Similarly, the core principles of socialism can be seen in the principles of Maat or other aspects of African culture, like collective ownership of land, importance of the community over the individual etc. The universally used political term for this economic and political system is articulated in the word socialism but the ideology for Africans must be based on our culture as the Juche Idea is based on Korean culture.
IMPORTANCE OF AFRICAN CULTURE
After reading and working with Nkrumah and Ture, Kwame was also clear that as Africans our culture was stolen and suppressed at the political and state level but retained by the majority of the masses, particularly in the rural areas. It is not enough to just replace one economic system with another. Africans must restore the best aspects of our culture and implement socialism scientifically in the context of our history, our culture and our realities. He was clear as taught by Nkrumah, that to unite Africans today, we must fuse the best aspects of Euro-Christian influence, the Arab-Islamic influence and with the pre-eminence and best aspects of traditional Africa to form an ideology that can unite us all. Kwame argued that this is best articulated by the works and practices of Kwame Nkrumah and Sekou Ture.
THE ROLE OF NORTH AFRICA AND ‘THE ARABS’
Kwame was clear that we must unite the whole of Africa (including North Africa) and all progressive forces against imperialism, our No.1 enemy. One of the most common questions Kwame was asked after his speeches, apart from those on Zionism, were about ‘the Arabs’ in North Africa. He was always very clear that neo-colonial and oppressive governments in North Africa are not better or worse than neo-colonial and oppressive governments in the rest of Africa. Only a Pan-African path to freedom meant the ‘total’ liberation of Africa not just ‘sub-Saharan’ Africa. He was also clear on the historical unity we have shared with North African countries, revolutionaries and revolutionary parties like the party Frantz Fanon fought for – FLN in Algeria or the support of anti-imperialist leader – former President Nasser of Egypt. This principled unity must continue.
Kwame was clear on the amount of support the rest of Africa received from the early independent countries of North Africa. For example, we know Kwame read the book ‘Africa and Unity’ by V.B. Thompson which is on the AAPRP’s reading list. This book has a chapter on the role of North African governments in supporting the African liberation struggles of the 1950s and beyond. The political strategy to achieve Pan-Africanism must include North Africa, united against imperialism, capitalism and Zionism. Only once we unite and liberate the whole of Africa can we deal with the contradictions in North Africa.
ROLE OF RELIGION IN OUR STRUGGLE
I mentioned earlier that Kwame taught us not to judge religion by its adherence but by their principles. He made many speeches on the universal values of the major world religions, including Africa’s great contribution to them and that they all state that their followers, ‘…must live a just life and treat every human being as they want to be treated.’ And that, ‘All religions preached justice.’
He repeatedly stated that Jesus spent 10 years in Africa where he was nurtured and raised and that he never went to Europe; that, ‘Jesus could have been almost any colour but the one colour he could not be is white.’ He correctly identified that many preachers may use the people to divide the people but that does not make Christianity bad. Religious practice must not be accepted for inaction against injustice. Kwame always quoted Dr Martin Luther King, who died for his people, ‘Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.’
SOCIALISM OR CAPITALISM?
The one thing Kwame lived and died for was freedom. He identified a clear path to achieve it and worked tirelessly to it end. To achieve anything, we must have clear objectives and his objective was Pan-Africanism. The definition of Pan-Africanism is the total liberation and unification of Africa under scientific socialism. He was a committed socialist and was clear that there was no contradiction between the principles under-pinning African culture and socialism.
‘Karl Marx did not invent socialism, he can only discover it.’ By correctly studying capitalism, imperialism and understanding the resistance of labour over capital many people come to similar conclusions including people writing 100s of year before Marx or Engels. However, Kwame praised Marx and Engel for providing the world with an excellent methodology to understand capitalism and imperialism but was clear that as Africans, our ideology must come from our culture. He was not a Marxist-Leninist but an Nkrumahist-Tureist.
‘There are only two economic systems in the world, capitalism and socialism.’ ‘Some people will tell you there is another one but they have not found it yet!’ Kwame said, as Africans, we must at least be suspicious of capitalism as it is the system that was developed under our enslavement. Most Africans live under capitalism and we are at the bottom of most social indicators – health, employment, wealth, power etc. He knew capitalism does not work for Africans or the majority of people on the planet. Africans will never have true power – whether in Nigeria, Egypt, Ethiopia, Jamaica, USA or Columbia – until Africa is free and liberated. ‘Until Africa is free, no African will ever be free.’ Just look at the position of Chinese people since the liberation of China!
HIS CALL FOR AN AFRICAN UNITED FRONT (AUF)
Since the 1960s to his passing, Kwame called for an African United front in all regions of the diaspora and tried to achieve this in the USA. He argued that Africans must unite organisations across ideological and religious lines. His argument was simple – unite around our key issues – poverty, injustice, racism, the legal system, education and foreign policy against Africa. Kwame said, ‘We had to shed our blood to get all reforms’ – to get the vote, to go to school, to end segregation, to get civil right legislation. He asked, ‘How much more could we achieve if we were united and organised?’
ON CONTEMPORARY ISSUES
We know what Kwame would have said about the fall of the Libyan Jamahiriya and murder of Qaddaffi; the re-election of a ZANU-PF government in Zimbabwe; the sad and untimely death of the late President Chavez; the rise of socialism in Latin America; the election of Barack Obama or the dominance of the neo-colonial governments in Africa. Kwame always use to say, ‘That Malcolm [X] told us a long time ago. Whatever they [imperialists] are against, we are for and whatever they [imperialists] are for, we are against!’ The defining factor is, in who’s interest do they serve and who gains from their policies? Kwame was clear about the importance of what Sekou Ture taught us – that the ultimate battle will be between, ‘The People’s class’ versus ‘the anti-Peoples’ class. Nkrumahism-Tureism understands the importance and pre-eminence of the class struggle but does not simplistically divide the people by ‘social’ class but which class you align yourself with and in who’s interest you organise and serve.
‘ONLY THE PEOPLE PROPERLY ORGANISED WILL FREE THE PEOPLE’
‘Everyone should join an organisation working for your People. A man is not known by the words he utters but the deeds he commits. If a man says he loves his family but demonstrates no concern for his family, he is a liar and the truth is not within him. If a woman says she loves the people but does not work for the people or try to protect the people, she is a liar and the truth is not in her. When you love something, you must demonstrate it with concrete action! Brothers sisters, join an organisation. Bad organisation is better than no organisation at all. The task of our revolution is to organise our people all over the world.’ (Kwame Ture, England 1983).
The best way to salute Kwame Ture is to carrying on his work – to build the AAPRP or another similar political party or movement and continue his key message for revolution and Pan-Africanism – the total liberation and unification of Africa under scientific socialism.
In Kwame Ture’s own words, [always be] ‘Ready for revolution.’