A-Z of Black Radicalism

R is for Revolution

Make it Plain is exploring Black Radicalism with Kehinde Andrews exploring a new letter each day. All of these are sourced from Back to Black: Retelling Black Radicalism for the 21st Century, proceeds of which go to the Harambee Organisation of Black Unity There are some limited suggested resources below but please send in suggestions for more, these are just a few to start with

In 1964 Malcolm warned that ‘many of our people are using this word “revolution” loosely’, and if he was annoyed then, he is likely turning in his grave now. Revolutions are the product of radical politics. Angela Davis’s definition of radical meaning ‘grasping things at their roots’ is often quoted but there is another important step for revolution. To grasp at the root means to understand how the inequalities we are struggling against lay at the foundation of society. Racism cannot be reformed out of the system because it is the basis of it. There is no reform, no representation and no redress to be found because racism is the DNA of society. Revolution means uprooting the system to replace to it with something new. As Malcolm goes on to explain ‘revolutions overturn systems, revolutions destroy systems’. If we are honest the vast majority of our work is not revolutionary, there are very few truly radical arguments.

Misusing the word radical matters because it closes off revolutionary politics. If we imagine that the “Black radical tradition” includes movements that are as dissimilar and conflicting as the Civil Rights Movement, Pan-Africanism, Black Marxism and the Haitian revolution then the term has no meaning. We do our history no credit to pretend that is one seamless struggle. We have disagreed with each other more than we have disagreed with White people and those differences are vitally important to recognise. Martin and Malcolm did not want the same thing. Martin wanted reform, Malcolm wanted revolution. Ella fought to transform America, Amy Jacques wanted to leave to build something new. Pan-Africanism that maintains the colonial nation state is the enemy of the African revolution. We need to take our history more seriously than to lump it all together as though we are at a Black History Month celebration.

There is nothing radical about trying to reform the system. There is nothing revolutionary about trying to seek equality. That does not mean these are bad ideas or that we should accept our oppression. I am a university professor, it would be crazy of me to argue that people should not strive to improve our conditions. But I also understand that my position as a professor is not a radical one. That is the contradiction that many of us face, how to build revolutionary politics from spaces that can never be radical. The challenge is to work through the contradictions, not to claim the label of radical because it makes us feel better. Black radicalism means understanding that it is already too late to be trying to fix a system that is not broken. Revolution is the only solution.


Cabral  Revolution in Guinea

Dayo F. Gore Jeanne Theoharis, Komozi Woodard Want to Start a Revolution?: Radical Women in the Black Freedom Struggle

Thomas Sankara Sankara Speaks

Malcolm X Ballot or the Bullet

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