“We want to unite the Negro race in this country. We want every Negro to work for one common object, that of building a nation of his own on the great continent of Africa.”
These words, spoken 100 years ago by the great Marcus Garvey who is being celebrated across the African world, seem to be wielding even more resonance today than at the time when they were spoken. The red, black and green African National flag is fast becoming the greatest unifying symbol for African people across the world.
Just as we often speak about his words, it is his work that speaks more eloquently. The Garvey movement was real and it stretched across the globe, influencing black people in North, Central and South America, as well as in places like India and the African continent, which is the homeland of all Africans dispersed across the globe.
Garvey believed in organization
The now-destroyed Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League (UNIA-ACL), through which Marcus Garvey put his work into practice, certainly did the most to demonstrate that African people, dispersed across the world can be rallied together under the same banner. It’s on record that between six and eleven million people across the world were registered as members of the UNIA-ACL.
There is a tendency, especially among Pan-Africanists, to speak of Garvey individually as some kind of prophet or magician who made great speeches about being black. However, it was Garvey, more than anyone else in our 20th century history of resistance, who stressed the centrality of organization in attaining our freedom and independence.
The UNIA-ACL had established 1,900 divisions in 40 countries, some of which existed on the African continent, despite the fact that Garvey himself never got the opportunity to set foot on its soil.
In Africa, the UNIA-ACL had chapters in South West Africa (Namibia), The Union of South Africa, the Gold Coast (Ghana), Sierra Leone and Liberia. In fact, Garvey stated that the name of his organization was inspired by having had a conversation with an African travelling from “Basotholand with his Basotho wife” who exposed him to the misery that Africans lived under on the continent.
Kwame Nkrumah, the foremost proponent of African continental unity who unsuccessfully dedicated a lot of his energy to convincing his neocolonial contemporaries that Africa is better off unified, was definitely inspired by Garvey’s efforts.
In his own autobiography, Nkrumah stated that the book entitled “Philosophy and Opinions of Marcus Garvey,” compiled by Garvey’s widow, did more to inspire him than any other piece of literature.
From Garvey to Nkrumah
In honor of Garvey, Nkrumah named Ghana’s national shipping line the “Black Star Line,” which is the name that was originally used by the UNIA-ACL for its steamship line.
The fact that Garvey took the struggle for African emancipation beyond, or rather away from, the capitulation of the petty bourgeoisie’s begging for acceptance, earned him great enmity. While figures such as W.E.B. Dubois invested their time and resources into trying to win the white ruling class to accommodate Africans and accept us as equal participants in the colonial-capitalist system, Garvey built dual and contending power.
The development of the Black Star Line steamship corporation, as well as other entities of economic and cultural development such as a shoe factory, The Negro World newspaper and bakeries are the things that distinguish Garvey as a leader who understood the greatest aspiration of African people—self-determination.
The Black Star Line transported Africans from the U.S. to the Caribbean and intended to embark a fleet to Africa in the quest for repatriation, trade and economic development for African people.
These endeavors would have connected the dispersed African Nation, with Africa as our power base, to create our own independent economy.
It was U.S. and British imperialism, together with none other than the Negro petty bourgeoisie, that sabotaged these efforts by Garvey. W.E.B. Dubois went as far as requesting that the U.S. government assist him in getting rid of Garvey and destroying every gain the African working class had made through the latter’s movement.
Neocolonialists betrayed Garvey and Nkrumah
Today, Africa is ruled by neocolonialists across its length and breadth. This is the defining obstacle in our struggle for total liberation, unification and socialism. Kwame Nkrumah coined the term neocolonialism, referring to it as the last stage of imperialism.
It was Chairman Omali Yeshitela of the African People’s Socialist Party (APSP), however, who gave the term a class character by calling out the African petty bourgeoisie as conscious accomplices in the further domination of African people by imperialism.
Decades after Garvey’s death, the African petty bourgeoisie, many of whom call themselves Pan-Africanists, have done everything to condemn Garvey into oblivion, until history vindicated him as the truest leader of the dispersed African Nation.
Notwithstanding the unwillingness of the reactionary African petty bourgeoisie to pursue Garvey’s mission of One Africa, they cannot ignore his potency in expressing the general feelings of African people. Thus, neocolonialists such as Nelson Mandela and Uhuru Kenyatta felt compelled to recognize Garvey as an outstanding leader of the African Liberation Movement.
Just last year, Uhuru Kenyatta went as far as visiting Garvey’s shrine in Jamaica in recognition of the greatness of this son of Africa.
Garvey movement a unifying symbol
In Nigeria, Namibia and Kenya, there are major streets named after Marcus Garvey. The Marcus Garvey community in Khayelitsha, Cape Town is one of the natural testimonies of how Garvey has come to represent a sense of belonging to African people.
Thus, even in the 1963 founding conference of the anti-African unity, neocolonial Organization of African Unity (OAU) in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, scores of ordinary African people raised Garvey’s red, black and green African National flag.
The Kenyan flag, adopted by the reactionary Jomo Kenyatta, reflects the red, black and green of the African National flag that was actually adopted exactly 100 years ago in Madison Square Garden in New York City.
It was in this venue, in the year 1920, where over 20,000 Africans from different parts of the world gathered for the UNIA international inaugural convention where Garvey was voted the provisional president of Africa.
Build the African Socialist International!
The emergence of the African Socialist International, the APSP expressed globally, is also another natural consequence of the longstanding influence of the Garvey movement. The African People’s Socialist Party’s 14th point of the 14 Point Working Platform reads; “We want the total liberation and unification of Africa under an All-African socialist government.”
We are the 21st century Garveyites. We believe in building dual and contending power just like Garvey did.
The African Socialist International is stretching across the colonially-imposed borders on the African continent. We are building and we are winning.
Marcus Garvey lives!
Join the African People’s Socialist Party and African Socialist International at apspuhuru.org
Article by Tafarie Mugeri, Chairman of the African People’s Socialist Party-Occupied Azania (South Africa)