In 1968, as protests shook France and war raged in Vietnam, the giants of black radical politics descended on Montreal to discuss the unique challenges and struggles facing their black comrades all over the world.
Against a backdrop of widespread racism in the West and ongoing colonialism and imperialism in the Global South, this group of activists, writers, and political figures gathered to discuss the history and struggles of people of African descent and the meaning of black power.
For the first time since 1968, in his new book Moving Against the System, David Austin has brought alive the speeches and debates of the most important international gathering of black radicals of the era. In this speech, civil rights organiser, Pan-Africanist and ‘Honorary Prime Minister’ of the Black Panther Party, Stokeley Carmichael discusses how ‘black people around the world are moving together
today to solve the dilemma they face’.
Now, there are two types of oppression in the world: There is exploitation and there is colonization. Forman explained that. I want to go into it more deeply because I think when one talks about exploitation, the question of race is not present. One just talks about a group of people who are economically taking advantage of another group. But when one talks about colonization, the question of race comes into play because in colonization it is one race that seeks to dominate an entire other race . . . an entire other race. [Applause] And if we begin to understand those concepts, then we will begin to see clearly where our revolutionary ideology must lead us and not into the pitfalls of any other type of ideology . . . any other type of ideology. [Applause]
Brother Fanon wrote a book called The Wretched of the Earth and he said, in essence, that the Third World was the wretched of the earth. But of the Third World, the most damned happens to be the black man. . . happens to be the black man. [Applause] Wherever the black man is found he is on the bottom of the ladder. [Applause] And there must be reasons for this other than just economic. I would say the reasons happen to be a deep, ingrained racism produced by white Western society. [Applause] And we must understand that and if we try to bluff it over, we will indeed fail where many other black communists and black socialists have failed because they fail to deal with the realities of racism . . . of racism. [Applause]
It is indeed a fact that not one Western power today achieved its power without raping Africa. You name it and I’ll claim it. [Applause] Not one. Portugal, Spain, the Netherlands, Belgium, France, England, the United States, Canada, an extension of the United States, [applause and laughter] except for the French Canadians. [Applause and laughter] But they are still part of white Western . . . [words drowned out by laughter] and they did rape West Africa because my friends in Guinea speak fluent French. [Applause]
I want, then, for us to begin to deal clearly with the question of colonization. Wherever the black man is, he is colonized. What, then, in concrete terms, is the difference between exploitation and colonization? There are in fact poor white people in the United States. They are exploited, that is to say they are economically deprived of some wealth in the United States. But those white people have their culture, their history, their language, and their value system. These things have not been stripped from them. But that is not true for black people living in the United States. We have been stripped of our culture, our language, our history, our value system, our way of life. We are in fact what Fanon called dehumanized. We are dehumanized . . . we are dehumanized. [Applause] And that is the effect of the process of colonization. It seeks to dehumanize its victims. Exploitation does not . . . exploitation does not. So, we are fighting for our humanity. Fanon says that very clearly at the end of The Wretched of the Earth. It is our humanity that we are fighting for. White people are just fighting for more money. Poor white people. [Applause] And we have to understand, we have to understand precisely what that means, what the fight of humanity is all about, because it means then that we will proceed differently.
Number one, it is necessary for Africans (and I make no distinctions between Africans living on the continent or Africans living abroad), there is a necessity for Africans to begin to understand the culture that has been plundered, purposely and maliciously, by white Western society, and it is a necessity for us to pick up that culture and begin to use it as a unifying tool because a culture is a cohesive force for a people . . . it is a cohesive force for a people. [Applause] And that culture has been taken from us because we were never meant to be a united people, because, in the unity, there will we alone begin to amass a way for us to make an assault against our aggressor . . . our aggressor.
Now, I want to keep hammering on that point because I think too many times people, especially Africans, just gloss over it as if it doesn’t mean anything, as if racism was just nothing. But there must be something to it, we must question, why us? Why did they go to Africa and just scatter us all over the earth? They had the Indians. Why us? Why the black man? Why is it that they saw fit to split us up, put us in Trinidad, in Jamaica, in St. Thomas, in Brazil, in Cuba, in Panama, in Santo Domingo, in Guatemala, in the United States—eh, even in Canada. Why us? Why us? [Applause] And to say that it is for economic reasons is to delude one’s self . . . it is to delude one’s self [applause] because they could have just as easily found white slaves; they could have just as easily gotten red slaves; they had Indian slaves (I’m talking from East India); they had Chinese. Why the black man? And unless we begin to deal consciously with that ingrained racism, our ideology will come to nil. We must understand that . . . must understand. [Applause]
Now, once a people who are colonized begin to move against entertaining themselves, then comes the point of education, the point where they begin to speak concretely to the things that must be done. In the United States particularly, Africans have begun to reach that level. That is the most dangerous level for the oppressor . . . the most dangerous level…
What is the history of the African? In Brazil, 50 percent of the population is African. All over the northern section of South America—Africans. We don’t even know where we are. We have never asked to be sent there. In each of these countries we do not own or control anything. In each of these countries we’re at the bottom; in each of these countries, at this time, we’re not strong enough to seize power; and in each of these countries, at this time, it is the white people who keep running and deciding while we are left on the bottom as puppets; in each of these countries . . . in each of these countries. We’ve got to understand the roots of racism . . . got to understand that. [Applause and shouts of “Yes, sir, yes, sir” from the audience] Then, we have to state clearly what our fight is. Our fight is against racism and capitalism, and certainly imperialism, which is the highest stage of capitalism. [Applause and cheering from the crowd] I do not think any of us sitting on this platform are deluded by the black power pimps in the United States. If they were not there, we would not be doing a good job. The fact that they have to try and co-opt Black Power means that we are doing our job . . . it means that we are doing our . . . . [Applause drowns out words] And if we follow correctly, it means that we are heading for the right struggle because that is precisely what they’re supposed to do—try and co-opt it. Then when co-option fails, then the real confrontation will begin to take place. And we have to know that in our minds if we say we’re revolutionary.
Full text available in Moving Against the System: The 1968 Congress of Black Writers and the Making of Global Consciousness, edited by David Austin and available from Pluto Press.
David Austin is the author of Dread Poetry and Freedom: Linton Kwesi Johnson and the Unfinished Revolution (Pluto, 2018). He is the winner of the 2014 Casa de las Americas Prize.