Friday, November 29, 2013

The Comintern and Africa


By Andy Brooks

Pan-Africanism and Communism; The Communist International, Africa and the Diaspora, 1919-1939: Hakim Adi, Africa World Press 2013,pbk, illus, 446 pp, £28.99

THE COMMUNIST International was established in Moscow in 1919 to build the international communist movement following the revolutionary upsurge that swept the globe following the Russian Revolution in 1917. For the next 20 odd years the Comintern exerted immense influence over the communist parties in Europe, Asia and the Americas that were, in theory, branches of a world party.
 The role of the Third International, as it was called until it was dissolved in 1943, has been subject of a number of scholarly books from bourgeois and progressive academicians over the years. But the role of the communist movement in Africa during this period has been sadly neglected.
One problem was the lack of access to original documents but this has been remedied by Dr Hakim Adi who traces the efforts of the Comintern during the inter-war period as well as the work of the of the International Trade Union Committee of Negro Workers (ITUCNW), established by the Red International of Labour Unions (Profintern) in 1928 and its activities in Africa, the United States, the Caribbean and Europe.
Dr Adi says that the aim of the book is to promote discussion and combat some of the disinformation that surrounds the Communist movement and its connection with Africa and Africans during the period. He looks at the role of controversial figures like George Padmore, the pan-African writer who broke with the communist movement in 1934, and the part played by communists in the metropolitan heartlands of the British and French empires.
            The author draws on archives in the United States and Russia, including the newly-available sources from the Comintern Archives in Moscow to shed new light on the Soviet Union’s response to what was then called the “Negro Question” in this work that charts the embryonic efforts to build revolutionary movements in Africa and America.
            The clandestine efforts to distribute the Comintern’s Negro Worker journal, often through cadres in the Merchant Navy, are chronicled in this book as well as the movement’s problem in dealing with backward ideas that still had a resonance within the metropolitan parties of the colonial empires – like the British Daily Worker, that was criticised for using the word “nigger” in 1930.
This is a book is a compilation of ten years of meticulous research primarily aimed at students and academics and this is reflected in its price. This massive tome is essentially a work of reference that chronicles the work of the black pioneers of the working class movement through their correspondence and publications that will doubtless remain a source of reference to future scholars for many years to come. Every academic library should have a copy.  

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