Amilcar Cabral, the African freedom fighter and political leader, is one of the most extraordinary figures of the 20th century, a true role model I draw paramount inspiration from (indeed, one of my mentors dating back to undergrad, Dr. Richard Lobban, reported from the field in Guinea-Bissau on political and military affairs as a staff writer with the Southern Africa Committee in New York. He and his wife Dr. Carolyn Fluehr-Lobban are longtime allies of the Cape Verdean community in Southern New England). While many white Leftists today beat the dead horse of various European Marxists (Trotsky, various anarchists, or the 19th century Scandinavian socialist movement), Cabral is a figure of paramount importance whose wisdom remains vital in these perilous times.
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In a May 1981 issue of Radical America, the late Cedric J. Robinson authored a magisterial biographical article, “Amilcar Cabral and the Dialectic of Portuguese Colonialism,” that creates a serious analytical and political lens through which one can understand the meaning of class and revolution from the position of being an educated middle class intellectual. Cabral was a trained agronomist with a distinctly petit bourgeois class identity. Robinson uses the story of Cabral to articulate a theory of class suicide, the intentional decision of the middle class revolutionary to sacrifice comforts and privileges in the name of liberating their people. Cabral was responsible for raising the army that waged a guerilla war against Portuguese colonialism in Southern Africa, eventually leading the the liberation of Guinea Bissau and Cape Verde.
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It was in this period that Robinson was formulating his articulation of the Black Radical Tradition, an elaboration that came to fruition in his masterpiece Black Marxism: The Making of the Black Radical Tradition. A re-statement of Marxism that saw racial slavery as a central component of capitalism’s genesis, what he termed racial capitalism, Robinson argued that Karl, Fred, and their successors were woefully mistaken in their analysis of how oppression and chauvinism operated in our society. Robin D.G. Kelley writes “It was a new vision centered on a theory of the cultural corruption of race. And thus the reach and cross-fertilization of the tradition became evident in the anticolonial and revolutionary struggles of Africa, the Caribbean, and the Americas.”
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Cabral and Robinson offer important wisdom for these fraught days. Their vision is a searing indictment of many contemporary political and activist currents we encounter today, such as “lesser-evil-ism” or arguments that the Democratic Party is the salvation of the republic, but not because the liberal argument that there is a distinct difference between the Trump administration and a future Democratic administration is incorrect.
Rather, Cabral and Robinson tell us that our collective salvation from Trump, his police-prison industrial complex gendarmes in formations like ICE, and material manifestations of Trump-ism in the landscape such as the alt-right is going to be brought to us only through the conduit of the Black Radical Tradition and its handmaiden, the Black liberation struggle.
And because the liberals and Democrats insist on perpetuating a political philosophy centered on the white liberal feminism of Nancy Pelosi, thereby intentionally erasing from view the African American working class woman, the true agent of proletarian revolution in American history, they engage in a different flavor of white supremacist ideology from Trump that still perpetuates the genocidal racial capitalist system in our midst. Make no mistake, regardless of who wins in 2020, the carceral state will flourish and mass Black incarceration will enjoy bipartisan support. Police murder of African Americans will continue with impunity. Public education will continue to be privatized by the charter schools that further segregate our students. Health disparities will continue to flourish, Black working class women on average will continue to subsist on one fungible dollar per day, and the liberals will pat themselves on the back mightily for the purported accomplishments.
It is in this framework the only hope for us all is the Black Radical Tradition.