History Long Reads Opinion

Celebrating the life and influence of Kwame Ture

“Freedom is an attitude, a principle that operates perhaps most visibly despite resistance. Without resistance, without the restraint of physical or metaphysical Shackles, without the tyranny of our passions, without the necessity of unwavering discipline to negotiate difficult tasks, without the body’s decay, the mind fallibility, how would any of us discover our capacities, our freedom, despite those obstacles, despite slavery, colonialism, the social pressure to conform?”

Ready for Revolution: The Life and Struggles of Stokely Carmichael (Kwame Ture)

November 15, 2021, marked 23 years since the passing of Kwame Ture (also known as Stokely Carmichael). Born Stokely Carmichael in Port of Spain, Trinidad, on June 29, 1941, Kwame moved with his family to New York. Transitioning from Stokely Carmichael to Kwame Ture solidified his political orientation and commitment to Black liberation struggles; Ture’s name was the amalgamation of two of the greatest African minds, who he admired and worked with: Kwame Nkrumah and Ahmed Sékou Touré, the former president of Ghana and co-president of Guinea-Conakry respectively. His final resting place was Conakry, Guinea – his home for the last 30 years of his life.

Kwame Ture’s influence transcended his time with us; 23 years since his passing, Ture still provides guidance and solace to those engaged in the constant fight against capitalism and imperialism. Armed with an unwavering resolve coupled with his organizational and intellectual prowess, Ture remains a constant presence in the Black radical tradition. 

Tures work encapsulated a radical critique of capitalism, imperialism, and racism. Ture dared to imagine beyond the limitations set by the white supremacist capitalist order – and for this – we must re-examine why his principles and work resonate with so many people today why he remains relevant today. 

Like some of the most prominent Black radicals and activists, Ture was born in Trinidad, and like those before him, he left the island. Thinkers and organizers such as Henry Sylvester-Williams, Claudia Jones, C.L.R James, George Padmore, and Darcus Howe also embarked on similar journeys to the US and UK, exporting the Black radical tradition with them. 

Ture was a staunch Marxist in orientation, and until the end of his days, he consistently maintained that position. As discussed in Ready For Revolution, Ture saw it as an “indispensable method for historical analysis, but also distressing and contrastively Eurocentric as a perspective on social evolution.” 

There was a particular fluidity to Ture’s Marxism that he shared with other prominent Black Marxists. He understood that a dogmatic and rigid approach could not be neatly mapped onto Africans on the continent or in the diaspora – especially when discussing the importance of imperialism. Ture challenged the presumption that socialism, by extension, was a European invention and that class struggles could not be solely understood by dogmatically following Marx. 

This observation was paramount to his understanding of Marxism, as Ture articulated, “anytime capital seeks to dominate labor, there would be a ruthless uncompromising struggle on the part of labor until it comes to crush capital and dominate it.” For Ture, this was a fact, a fact that was grounded in African resistance to European White supremacy, slavery, and imperialism.

Much like Black Marxists before – and certainly after Ture – Black radical activists did not just merely blindly adopt the principles of Marxism, they radically transformed it and made it work with the Africa condition, subsequently equipping Marxism with the necessary fangs to adequately articulate the racialized nature of capitalism, which arguable as some would say, such as Kehinde Andrews in Back To Black: Black Radicalism for the 21st Century, in effect “becomes a different political ideology.”

Ture’s contribution to the Black Radical Tradition of revolt has been long and expansive. As such, his work is still called upon today when discussing the Black Power Movement, connecting liberation struggles and the forces of imperialism and Pan-Africanism as a vehicle for African liberation.

Black Power

“The goal of Black self-determination and Black self-identity – Black Power – is full participation in the decision-making processes affecting the lives of Black people, and recognition of the virtues in themselves as Black people” 

Black Power Politics of Liberation in America

Arguably one of the key architects of the Black Power movement, Ture is synonymous with reintroducing the phrase “Black Power.” Ture (during the Black Power movement was more commonly referred to by his name, Stokely Carmichael) was integral to the movement (not to discredit other organizers). He drew his inspiration from the civil rights movement. A significant catalyst for Ture took the form of witnessing Black protesters organize sit-ins at segregated lunch counters littered throughout the southern states. Embedded in the student movement, Ture – during his time at Howard University – joined the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC); initially broadly deploying nonviolent tactics, Ture echoed the position of Martin Luther King. 

King once praised Ture by remarking him to be one of the most promising civil rights movement leaders; however, through his observations and witnessing the relentless violence against Black protestors, Ture concluded that he must abandon the ethos of King. In what was one of the most notable and scathing critiques of King Ture notes, “Dr. King only made one fallacious assumption: For nonviolence to work, you opponent has to have a conscience. The United States has no conscience.” 

Ture understood that nonviolence as a tactic for Black liberation was rendered mute in the face of such insurmountable violence and brutality. The US was founded on the genocide of the Indigenous peoples and the backs of Africans who were transported as slaves to the ‘New World’; violence was at the heart of the state. It is the prevailing logic of the White supremacist capitalist settler nation.

The Black power movement laid bare institutional racism; it demonstrated that racism formed the bedrock of the US, and this was apparent in every institution of the US. The movement did not call for the lynching of whites, nor did it advocate for mass violence or the equivalent of the white terror tactics used by racists. The goal of Black Power, as discussed in Black Power Politics of Liberation in America, “is positive and functional to a free and viable society. No white racist can make this claim.” 

Black power was a rallying cry. It operated as the articulation and assertion of humanity, dignity, and agency. The movement did assert the humanity of Africans in the US and the immediate recognition and inclusion of Africans within society. Yet, one would be remiss to believe that the movement was predicated on assimilation and equal participation in the violence that the US engaged in both domestically and internationally. 

Black Power endorsed the procedure of group solidarity and “identity to attain certain goals in the body politic, this does not mean that Black people should strive for the same kind of rewards obtained by the white supremacy… the ultimate values and goals are not domination or exploitation of other groups, but rather an effective share in the total power of the society.”

Where the Civil Rights movement differed largely was due to the movement seeing its role as a liaison between the powerful white community and the dependant Negro one. Therefore, the only posture of the civil rights movement was that of the dependant, the suppliant – ultimately rendering the movements dependant on white benevolence and pity. Stokely notes in Stokely Speaks: From Black Power to Pan-Africanism that such a power dynamic only reinforced that the “political and social rights of Negores have been and always be negotiable and expendable the moment they conflict with the interests of our’ allies.’ Firmly rooting its base in African spaces provided insulation from exterior forces that would eventually dull the moment of the Black Power movement, “to the extent that we depended on the financial support of other groups, we were vulnerable to their influence and domination.”

From Black Power to Pan-Africanism

“Pan-Africanism is grounded in the belief that Africa is one; the artificial borders being the result of the Berlin conference, where European powers carved up the continent and divided the spoils among themselves. Pan-Africanism is grounded in the belief that all African peoples, wherever we may be, are one, and as Dr. Nkrumah says, ‘belong to the African nation’; our dispersal was the result of European imperialism and racism”

Stokely Speaks: From Black Power to Pan-Africanism

Pan-Africanism was firmly rooted in socialism, and its roots were centered on communalism. Ture posited that the African unification could only be achieved through a revolution process, ushering in a socialist economy; Ture argued that capitalism has single-handedly created the conditions for Africa’s decline. Therefore, relying upon Africa’s detriment, he argues that instead, we must use the “antithesis” to it.

Pan-Africanism must be seen as a mass movement that must address the regressive evolution of Africa as a consequence of slavery, imperialism, and colonialism. The movement seeks to address this through revolution, as Ture proclaims that revolution is a vehicle for African liberation. Mass movement is the language of African resistance; this is not to essentialize African resistance. More so, we arrive at this conclusion through understanding our collective history. Ture argues that these movements are not based on vanguardism, but collective struggle, and we can see that clearly in the 21st Century when considering the global impact of anti-racist movements manifesting BLM protests; subsequently transcending the borders of the US and finding solidarity in the UK, France, and Palestine.

“The very system of capitalism cannot provide liberation of the oppressed, it must be combatted with its direct antithesis”

Tures’ shift to Pan-Africanism demonstrates his unwavering commitment to African liberation and anti-imperial struggles. The globality of Pan-Africanism highlights the need for an effective strategy and resistance against imperialism. 

Black Liberation and Beyond

Whilst Ture’s commitment towards Black liberation was unquestionable; he also draws comparisons and links to other liberation struggles, namely Palestinian liberation struggles. Under his leadership, the SNCC denounced Zionist aggression against Palestinian and Arab people. For many, Tures’ speeches on Palestine are iconic. He spoke with such virulent passion that emboldens and energizes the listener. Ture understood that to stand with Palestine was to stand against imperialism and settler colonialism. This was paramount and non-negotiable. He saw that through Zionist ideology and the imperialistic nature of the West, Palestine could never be free. Therefore, any calls for the destruction of capitalism and freedom of the oppressed must include Palestine. As such, Ture was able to connect the oppression of Africans under capitalism to the oppression of Palestinians.

“Seeing the state of Israel for what it is: an imperialist project to protect the interests of capital, enabled Ture to further critique and expand his understanding of Zionism and the state of Israel”

He identified that British and American imperialism facilitated the catastrophic treatment of the Palestinian people, virulently critiquing America’s interests in the Middle East. Ture demonstrates that we cannot view liberation struggles in isolation. It is immaterial what the oppressed looks like, what faith they belong to, or what language they speak; solidarity is not transaction nor conditional. Identifying these similarities enables us to connect issues that seemingly could be considered separate. Of course, this would be a dangerous error, as we miss the opportunity to collaborate beyond borders and arbitrary boundaries. Resistance should not have geographical limitations, nor should it be contingent on self-interest. Ture showed us that these concepts should be understood within the logic of imperialism; capital seeks to expand and dominate. Therefore, we counteract that through coalition and solidarity.

Seeing the state of Israel for what it is: an imperialist project to protect the interests of capital enabled Ture to critique further and expand his understanding of Zionism and the state of Israel. Posited by Ture in Stokely Speaks: from Black Power to Pan-Africanism, “I think the reason why the so-called State of Israel gets support from the Western powers is precisely because the role Israel is now playing was planned by the imperialists.” To stand with Palestine meant to stand in the face of imperialism, and so, Ture shows us now, even in the present, the importance of connecting all liberation struggles to one another. 

Ture’s relevance cannot be understated, and his intellectual and organizational prowess exemplifies his influence and relevance to contemporary struggles. His unwavering commitment to African liberation can be used as a blueprint for a younger generation of activism to pick up the mantle of anti-capitalist struggles. 

“His unwavering commitment to African liberation can be used as a blueprint for a younger generation of activism to pick up the mantle of anti-capitalist struggles”

Ture’s influence on the political landscape of today

In an era where Black Liberation politics have seemingly disappeared and replaced by the capitalist logic of assimilation, or “Black faces in white spaces,” now would be a perfect opportunity to reintroduce Ture’s work and importance. However, as stated above, the very system of capitalism cannot provide liberation of the oppressed; it must be combatted with its direct antithesis. 

Connecting liberation struggles is also an important feature in the struggle against capitalism, as Ture demonstrates regarding Palestine. Superficial differences must be quashed to build a global coalition of the oppressed. Understanding that the same technologies of power and oppression – state-sanctioned violence, militarism, and racism – that brutalize Palestinians also shape the conditions of Africans and other racialized people. Ture shows us that it is erroneous to view these things in insolation to one another, as the central tenets of imperialism cross borders to expand justification and subjugation. 

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