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Changing ourselves, from Amilcar Cabral to Malcolm X

These are some thoughts I have been ruminating on concerning the relation between the self, relatively powerful black people as a collective and black resistance.

Amilcar Cabral

Amilcar Cabral, leader of the liberation struggle in Guinea Bissau and Cape Verde, was interesting in his political thought for several reasons, one of them being his unusual emphasis on morality in the struggle for unity and revolution. In his 1966 speech the ‘Weapon of Theory’, Cabral spoke on the struggle against ‘our own weaknesses’ as a fundamental element of the liberation effort. Whilst in this context the struggle against the self is restricted to a collective political interpretation: ‘the expression of the internal contradictions in the economic, social, cultural (and therefore historical) reality of each of our countries’ (Cabral: 1966), elsewhere in Cabral’s writings he draws on elements of morality in this struggle against personal/class weakness. We see his thought on morality best in his extraordinary conception of ‘class suicide’, outlined below which in order to be successfully effectuated, had to draw upon a moral component of self-sacrifice and collective humility for a cause greater then oneself.

By acknowledging the problem of calling for a revolution in a situation when there was no obvious class in whose interest it was to carry out a revolution, Patrick Chabal notes that during a point in Cabral’s analysis, he seemed firmly trapped in a contradiction whereby the petite bourgeoisie cannot carry out the revolution and yet it must. Chabal says that although the analysis of the role of the petty bourgeoisie had the merit of relative accuracy there was no structural or historical reasons to explain the incentive for the petite bourgeoisie becoming revolutionary. Cabral acknowledged this serious potential weakness of revolutionary nationalist movements saying ‘to hope that the petty bourgeoisie will just carry out a revolution when it comes to power is to hope for a miracle (ibid.)’.

Cabral offered a pragmatic and according to Chabal (1981), startling solution to this knotty problem: in order to retain the power which national liberation put in its hands, the revolutionary petite bourgeoisie ‘must be capable of committing suicide as a class in order to be reborn as revolutionary workers (ibid.,44)’. This was necessary so as not to create a system which corresponds to the neo-colonial situation and betray the objectives of national liberation (ibid.).

There is an unusual moral element here calling upon self sacrifice when there is no incentive to do so except for the collective good. Cabral believed that struggle was not only defined as a battle against lusophonic colonial domination but also an internal battle of the petite bourgeoisie to abstain post-liberation from becoming more bourgeois and perpetuating a state of neo-colonial domination.

The question is do affluent and powerful black people today embody this struggle against neo-colonial domination? Does the so called black bourgeoisie sacrifice their status in order to refrain from being a weapon of the state? Does the black bourgeoisie have any moral incentive to relinquish their status in society? I don’t think so, and it is up to us to create the revolutionary culture that allows for this. Ultimately, we all in some capacity serve friends, colleagues, states, politicians, media, authority, companies, charities and ideology which do not serve black people. A key component of Cabral’s ideology to thwart this domination was to change the self in an act of humility for the collective good. The bottom line is how revolutionary are we willing to be? Tupac said “Everybody’s at war with different things. I’m at war with my own heart sometimes”. The revolution begins in the heart – when will this uprising occur? When will we battle against the struggle for material accumulation and begin to sacrifice for the collective cause? To what extent will we change ourselves to change the condition of black people?

Malcolm X

In some regards, Cabral draws many parallels with Malcolm X. Though characterised as Marxist, Cabral like Malcolm in his later thought was fundamentally humanist, nationalist (with an international outlook) and pragmatist.

Malcolm in his later thought didn’t divorce black emancipation from morality. Edward Blyden though problematic in some of his thought ardently believed as a non-Muslim that Islam was the black man’s religion. Malcolm believed likewise and proposed that the only true cure for the condition of the black man in America was the establishment of Islam in society. I am of this belief. Secular thought alone will not deliver the world from racial dissolution, there must be an element of personal accountability as a push factor and deterrent from a racist acting out his racial superiority complex. Islam offers this true moral accountability that secular based liberation movements alone cannot.

***

By way of conclusion, relatively powerful black people need to inherently transform themselves and unify to provide and claim the resources that the community needs. This will only come about when we change ourselves. What is stopping your black neighbour from accessing higher education, a healthier self- esteem, paid work, financial literacy and rehabilitation is definitely and unequivocally a structural issue, centuries of white supremacy, underdevelopment, inter-generational trauma, and the institutional disallowance of financial success and stability. However, it is also due to YOU refraining from helping with something as simple as a personal statement, mentoring, teaching black history to those who need to hear it, voluntary work in sectors that disproportionately deal with black people and giving back to the community in ways that ameliorate financial competence. As black people, morality should be at the heart of resistance, we can no longer wait on the structure to change. If we blame the structure nothing will change. If we change ourselves, we will see change. It is time to claim the dignity we deserve and it is time that those of us in positions of power assess which cause we are serving.

 

Bibliography

Cabral, A. (1966) (1979a) The Weapon of Theory, Unity and struggle: Speech and Writings, Monthly review press

Chabal, P (1981) The social and political thought of Amilcar Cabral: A Reassessment, The Journal of Modern African Studies, Vol.19, No. 1, pp. 31-56

Soukeyna Osei-Bonsu is a researcher and writer for Black Muslim Forum. Her research interests cover the African diaspora, Islam and race, inter-generational trauma, African political thought and Black minorities in North Africa.

Changing ourselves, from Amilcar Cabral to Malcolm X

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