This post is in memory and honor of the life and work of George Padmore. In an earlier post I attempted to characterize the “Marxist spirituality” of C.L.R. James (a good friend of Padmore’s going back to the days of their youth in Trinidad) and in this case I would like to invoke, in the broadest and deepest sense, the kindred “humanist spirituality” of Padmore, which is equally non-religious or secular, while firmly grounded in a communism (Padmore’s ‘communist’ and socialist beliefs and commitments appear to have more or less survived his former and formal identity as a Communist Party member) and Pan-Africanism that he viewed as integral to the ends of Black self-determination and emancipation. The following material, a kind of bricolage, is an attempt to give some sense of the remarkable qualities Padmore possessed as an “organic intellectual” and political organizer on the (Black) Left.
[The Soviet Union] has done more to liquidate illiteracy and raise the cultural level of the former subject races of Central Asia within twenty-five years, than the British Government has accomplished in India or Africa in two centuries. — George Padmore, writing in The Crisis (November 1942): [One can appreciate this fact, cited by Padmore in spite of his formal withdrawal/expulsion from the Communist Party, without ignoring Soviet behavior at the time in—among other places—Poland and Finland.]
… I don’t know anybody else, except perhaps Dr. Du Bois and Marcus Garvey, who is worth more careful consideration…. Anyone who wants to know where the movement [i.e., Pan-Africanism] came from, what was its foundation, the people you have to look at are Marcus Garvey, who made it a mass movement, Du Bois, who gave it the historical and social background it needed, and George Padmore, who organized it…. Marcus Garvey was the great agitator who made black people and Black politics something in the world. Before Garvey there was none. After Garvey … the great theorist and historian was Dr. Du Bois, but the organizer, the man who took Du Bois’ theory and linked it in such a way to political movement, to the mass movement that Garvey created—that man was George Padmore.—C.L.R. James, At the Rendezvous of Victory (London: London: Allison and Busby, 1984): 253
Padmore’s writing and his organizing were never distinct spheres: his writing was a form of action. This writing was intended, quite literally, as ‘praxis;’ that is, the application of ideas into practice. The praxis was primarily pedagogical. He executed his primary aim of teaching and enabling through his writing but also, crucially, in his own home. His correspondence with [Richard] Wright and the testimony of many, including C.L.R. James and Ras Makonnen, described Padmore’s practice of taking in and advising anyone interested in imperialism and its relevance to contemporary politics. His home became a center for visitors from the colonies seeking advice and/or access to British sympathizers such that upon arrival in London, the first question on people’s lips was often ‘How can I get in touch with George Padmore?’ C.L.R. James admitted that his own political methodology in the 1960s, when he lived in Washington, D.C. was modelled on Padmore. [Padmore was a ‘political organizer’ and social movement builder who] … encourag[ed] others to take action …, provid[ing] them with the skills and knowledge to do so. [….] Padmore expressed a strong contempt for ‘café intellectuals’ who were unwilling to ‘get out and fight for freedom.’ [….] The vast majority of his work, which required a literate audience able to absorb sometimes vast amounts of information, was still distinct from many in his network like Richard Wright, C.L.R. James, Frantz Fanon, and W.E.B. Du Bois because it was much more forensic and report-based, rather than theoretical. Padmore labored to imprint the evidence that could serves as the basis for a sustained attack on the hypocrisy of benevolent empire. [….] Yet Padmore was also deeply engaged in political thought of his own, even if he derided the status of intellectualism. His books have been described as ‘empirically dense’ accounts that applied [history] to present problems, referencing authors who often stood on opposite side of the political spectrum from him.—Leslie James, in George Padmore and Decolonization from Below: Pan-Africanism, the Cold War, and the End of Empire (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015): 10-11
George Padmore’s biography courtesy of the Marxist Internet Archive:
“George Padmore was the pseudonym of Malcolm Nurse, who was born in 1902 in Trinidad, then part of the British Empire. After leaving school, Nurse went into journalism before leaving Trinidad to study law at university in the United States. Yet instead of returning home to become a respected professional among the small black middle class of Trinidad, Nurse became a student radical and in 1927 joined the Communist Party of the USA, becoming ‘George Padmore’ in the process. Padmore’s talents as an organiser and writer meant he was soon appointed head of the Communist International’s ‘Negro Bureau,’ and from 1929 to 1933 he was a leading agitator for colonial revolution, travelling widely and residing for periods in Moscow, Hamburg, Vienna, London and Paris. As well as editing the Negro Worker, Padmore wrote prolifically, and his The Life and Struggles of Negro Toilers (1931) was particularly influential.
However, when the rise of Hitler’s Nazis in Germany led the Soviet Union to join the League of Nations and seek new diplomatic and military ties with Britain and France, anti-colonialism was no longer the central issue it once was for the Communist International. Resigning from his positions in disgust, the anti-imperialist Padmore survived a vicious Stalinist witch-hunt, and in 1935 returned to Britain. Meeting up again with his boyhood friend from Trinidad, the then Trotskyist C.L.R. James, Padmore from his base in London now steadily evolved into arguably one of the twentieth century’s most important Pan-African figures. Though close to the Independent Labour Party in Britain, and writing prolifically for its publications, Padmore never formally joined, but continued to devote his energies to the struggle to liberate Africa from colonial rule.
In 1937, Padmore formed the International African Service Bureau, later the Pan-African Federation and in 1945 was central to organising the legendary Fifth Pan-African Congress in Manchester. Besides writing several books from his London home, from How Britain Rules Africa (1936) to Pan-Africanism or Communism? (1956), Padmore’s greatest triumph undoubtedly came when one African disciple of his, Kwame Nkrumah, led the Gold Coast from British colonial rule to independence in 1957. Though Padmore’s experience working in Ghana as advisor to Nkrumah in the last years of his life was to be a rather disappointing one, that he lived to witness the birth of a black nation in Africa remains a vindication of, and a testament to, his life’s work.”
George Padmore Archive (at the Marxists Internet Archive Encyclopedia):
- The Negro Liberation Movement and the International Conference, 1930
- The Life and Struggles of Negro Toilers, 1931
- “Left” Imperialism and the Negro Toilers, May 1932
- Fascism in the Colonies, February 1938
- Hands off the Colonies!, February 1938
- An Outrageous Report, March 1938
- Why Moors help Franco, May 1938
- White Workers and Black, May 1938
- The Government’s Betrayal of the Protectorates, June 1938
- Labour Unrest in Jamaica, July 1938
- West Africans, Watch Your Land, September 1938
- Manifesto Against War, 25 September 1938
- Police Swoop On Workers’ Leaders In Colonies, 20 October 1939
- The British Empire Is Worst Racket Yet Invented By Man, 15 December 1939
- Hands Off the Soviet Union, February 1940
- Poverty, Disease Is Native’s Lot in West Indies, 17 June 1940
- West Indies Need Independence – Not Big Reports, 24 June 1940
- A Typical British Colony, December 1940
- British Imperialists Treat the Negro Masses Like Nazis Treat the Jews, 1941
- Empire “Gauleiters” Greet Each Other, January 1941
- West Indians Answer Anglo-U.S. Imperialism, 4 January 1941
- Whither the West Indies?, 21 July 1941
- Britain’s Black Record, September 1941
- The Socialist Attitude to the Invasion of the U.S.S.R., September 1941
- Answers to a Questionnaire on the War, November 1941
- Blue-Print of Post-War Anglo-American Imperialism, October 1943
- Imperialism: The Basis of Labour Party Crisis, June 1944
- Chris Jones: Fighter for the Oppressed, September 1944
- A Political Review of the Colonies, February 1945
- The Voice of Coloured Labour, World Trade Union Conference, 1945
- Colonial and Coloured Unity, History of the Pan-African Congress, 1947
- Madagascar Fights for Freedom, October 1947
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International Socialism, Issue: 124 (1st October 2009)
Christian Høgsbjerg (book review)
Fitzroy Baptiste and Rupert Lewis (eds.) George Padmore: Pan–African Revolutionary (Ian Randle Publishers, 2009).
This collection of essays on the Trinidadian Pan-Africanist George Padmore (1902-59), appearing on the fiftieth anniversary of his death, is a timely tribute to the life and work of a fascinating but forgotten anti-colonial activist and intellectual. The appearance of such a volume is to be welcomed, not simply because Padmore stands as a towering figure of the 20th century ‘black Atlantic’ who fully deserves more critical appreciation in his own right, but also because the question of why he has remained so overlooked for so long, despite the rise of postcolonial studies, is in itself illuminating.
George Padmore was the pseudonym of Malcolm Nurse, who was born in 1902 in Trinidad, then a British crown colony. After leaving school Nurse went into journalism before leaving the Caribbean to study law at university in the United States in 1924. Yet instead of returning home to become a respected professional among the small black middle class of Trinidad (indeed he never returned to the Caribbean), he became a student radical and soon joined the Communist Party of the USA, becoming George Padmore in the process.
Padmore’s talents as an organiser and writer meant he was soon appointed head of the Communist International’s ‘Negro Bureau,’ and from 1929 to 1933 he threw himself into agitating for black liberation and colonial revolution, residing for periods in Moscow, Hamburg, Vienna, London and Paris, and undertaking daring underground work in colonial Africa. As well as editing the Negro Worker, Padmore wrote prolifically, and his pamphlet The Life and Struggles of Negro Toilers (1931) became something of a classic.1
However, when Russia’s Stalinist rulers, threatened by the rise of Nazi Germany, sought new diplomatic and military ties with the ‘democratic’ empires of Britain and France, anti-colonialism ceased to be the critical issue it once was for the Communist International. Padmore, a principled anti-imperialist, resigned from his position in disgust in 1933 and was vilified by the Stalinist bureaucracy. In 1935 he moved to London, the ‘dark heart’ of the British Empire, and joined forces with his boyhood friend from Trinidad, the Trotskyist CLR James.
For the next 20 years or so Padmore devoted all his energies to the struggle to liberate Africa and the Caribbean from colonial rule. In 1937 he formed the International African Service Bureau, later the Pan-African Federation, and in 1945 was central to organising the historic Fifth Pan-African Congress in Manchester. Matthew Quest offers a useful discussion of the ‘class struggle Pan-Africanism’ of the bureau’s journal International African Opinion, while Hakim Adi and the late Fitzroy Baptiste examine respectively how the fifth congress was built and how its potential impact was somewhat blunted by the realpolitik of British colonial officials.
Besides writing several books from his London home, from How Britain Rules Africa (1936) to Pan-Africanism or Communism? (1956), Padmore’s greatest triumph undoubtedly came when one of his African disciples, Kwame Nkrumah, led the Gold Coast to independence in 1957. Nkrumah had met CLR James in America during the Second World War and when Nkrumah moved to Britain in 1945 James referred him to Padmore as a matter of course.
Marika Sherwood discusses Padmore’s relationship as mentor to Nkrumah, quoting one of Padmore’s letters, from 1955, in which he notes that James ‘introduced [Nkrumah] to Trotskyism and I knocked that nonsense out of him before his return [to the Gold Coast]. And put in its place Pan-Africanism (black nationalism and socialism).’
The extent to which Padmore, who ended his life working as adviser to Nkrumah in Ghana, bears responsibility for the manifest failings of Nkrumah and Pan-Africanism generally is perhaps a moot question, but it is certainly one avoided in this volume due to the Pan-Africanist perspective and hagiographic tone of some of the contributors.
Fitzroy Baptiste’s fine contribution does, however, note important continuities between the Stalinist ‘two-stage theory’ of colonial liberation (first political independence then socialism) that formed part of Padmore’s training while in Moscow and his later strategic vision for achieving ‘Pan-African Socialism.’ Baptiste also quotes from a British Foreign Office document from December 1959 entitled ‘Africa: The Next Ten Years,’ which, with what Baptiste notes was the ‘typical smugness’ of those wielding imperial power, concluded that ‘Pan-Africanism, in itself, is not necessarily a force that we need regard with suspicion and fear.’ This statement stands as an epitaph to the limitations of the ‘Pan-African Socialism’ envisioned by Nkrumah and Padmore (and for that matter by James).
That said, George Padmore’s extraordinary lived experience as an ‘organic intellectual’ of anti-colonial movements in Africa and the Caribbean is well brought out in this volume and remains in many ways inspiring for anti-imperialists today. Moreover, his relentless work exposing and denouncing what Karl Marx called ‘the profound hypocrisy and inherent barbarism of bourgeois civilisation’ is of course relevant today.
Indeed, as a new ‘Scramble for Africa’ centred around oil unfolds, the memory of anti-colonialists such as Padmore becomes particularly poignant. His fate was to be largely ignored by postcolonial studies, never forgiven by Stalinists, regarded as a ‘problem’ by the British Labour Party and, after his death, turned into a ‘harmless icon’ by the new Pan-Africanist rulers of post-colonial Africa. Anyone interested in the past, present and future of revolutionary socialist politics in Africa and the Caribbean can learn much from a critical engagement with his life, work and legacy.
- For this pamphlet and more of Padmore’s writing, go to marxists.org/archive/padmore
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George Padmore interviews Ho Chi Minh in Paris (1946)
I was delighted to learn that George Padmore (né Malcolm Ivan Meredith Nurse) interviewed Ho Chi Minh (Nguyen Sinh Cung, also known as Nguyen Tat Thanh and Nguyen Ai Quoc) while both were in Paris: Ho was there for the Paris Peace Conference (29 July to 15 October 1946), engaged in “confidential negotiations,” and Padmore was covering the conference for the Free India Press. According to James Hooker, one of the articles Padmore wrote “remains a good introduction to Vietnamese affairs,” the piece having been published by the Defender (28 September 1946, with an autographed photo of Ho!). In Black Revolutionary: George Padmore’s Path from Communism to Pan-Africanism (Praeger, 1967), Hooker further describes Padmore’s article as “a concise introduction to the Vietnam tangle, one which holds up surprisingly well after nearly two decades of persistent journalistic rediscovery of the situation in South East Asia” (in this instance, Indochina). We further learn that a portion of the article was reprinted in the December issue of (Dwight Macdonald’s) politics (sic) as “The Story of Vietnam.” It seems the journal’s readers took Padmore to task for “play[ing] down Ho’s communist associations.” Padmore defended his work, decrying the “preoccupation with anti-communism which seemed so tiresomely characteristic” of the American Left.
Finally, Hooker mentions one consequence of Padmore’s exclusive interview at the private hotel provided Ho by the French government: “Padmore became the unofficial guardian of Viet-Minh interests in London, to which city Ho despatched a representative for English language training.”
* * *
George Padmore: Pan-African “communist”
“An anecdote suggests [George Padmore’s] power of persuasion. [Cyril C.] Ollivierre [a fellow West Indian student at Howard University and president of the campus Garvey Club] and Padmore met as dishwashers at Camp Kinderland, a resort for leftwing working-class Jewish New Yorkers which had opened in 1923 in Hopewell Junction. When washing up for a large party, the two fell behind. As the stacks of dirty dishes mounted in the steaming kitchen and the waiters’ voices became more and more abusive, Nurse [i.e., Padmore] grew indignant. Ollivierre, a more pliant man, commenced to scant his efforts, merely dipping plates for a cursory swish, a course of action which brought about his downfall, but in the meantime earned him a respite. Nurse refused to do so. Instead, he stopped, rolled down his sleeves (always one for proper dress) and marched to the dining room where he excoriated the startled diners for abetting the exploitation going on beneath their noses. Some of the men marched back through the swinging doors and helped catch up under Nurse’s supervision.”
According to James Hooker, “[George] Padmore’s strength was his indefatigable nature, remarkable memory and sense of organization. He was able to state his aims concisely, collected statistics avidly, read the capitalist press in detail and quoted from the generally accepted academic sources when he touched upon sensitive issues.” Several of these virtues are exemplified in Padmore’s Life and Struggle of Negro Toilers (London: Red International of Labour Unions, 1931), “the back cover of which showed a gigantic Negro hovering over the United States, West Indies and Africa, snapping the links in the slave chain which connected these distant places,” while its contents displayed “an amazing amount of information on the condition of black men in three continents, described their various organisations, showed statistical tables of the black man’s role in the various militaries of the great powers (including the United States), and explained the role of the new section of the RILU [Red International of Labour Unions]. The book, though on occasion lapsing into jargon, is in the main straightforward journalism which conveys a feeling that the black men of the world are at last awake, with the appropriate weapon of their deliverance at hand. Of his ten books or extended pamphlets, this and his last, Pan-Africanism or Communism? [London: Dennis Dobson, 1956], are probably the best known.” — from James R. Hooker’s Black Revolutionary: George Padmore’s Path from Communism to Pan-Africanism (Praeger Publishers, 1967).
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Books by George Padmore
- Padmore, George. The Life and Struggles of Negro Toilers. London: Red International of Labour Unions Magazine for the International Trade Union Committee of Negro Workers, 1931.
- Padmore, George. How Britain Rules Africa. London: Wishart Books, 1936.
- Padmore, George. African and World Peace. London: Secker and Warburg, 1937.
- Padmore, George, with Nancy Cunard. White Man's Duty. London: W. H. Allen, 1942.
- Padmore, George (in collaboration with Dorothy Pizer). How Russia Transformed Her Colonial Empire: A Challenge to the Imperialist Powers. London: Dennis Dobson, 1946.
- Padmore, George. Africa: Britain's Third Empire. London: Dennis Dobson, 1949.
- Padmore, George. The Gold Coast Revolution: The Struggle of an African People from Slavery to Freedom. London: Dennis Dobson, 1953.
- Padmore, George. Pan-Africanism or Communism? The Coming Struggle for Africa. London: Dennis Dobson, 1956.
- Padmore, George, ed. The Voice of Coloured Labour. Manchester: Panaf Services, 1945.
- Padmore, George, ed. Colonial and Coloured Unity—A Programme of Action: History of the Pan-African Congress. Manchester: Pan-African Federation/Panaf Services, 1947.
- Adi, Hakim. West Africans in Britain, 1900-1960: Nationalism, Pan-Africanism and Communism. London: Lawrence and Wishart, 1998.
- Adi, Hakim. Pan-Africanism and Communism: The Communist International, Africa and the Diaspora, 1919-1939. Trenton, NJ: Africa World Press, 2013.
- Adi, Hakim and Sherwood, Marika. The 1945 Manchester Pan-African Congress Revisited. London: New Beacon Books, 1995.
- Baptiste, Fitzroy and Rupert Lewis, eds. George Padmore: Pan-African Revolutionary. Kingston and London: Ian Randle Publishers, 2009.
- Bolland, O. Nigel. On the March: Labour Rebellions in the British Caribbean, 1934-39. London: James Currey, 1995.
- Braithwaite, Lloyd. Colonial West Indian Students in Britain. Mona, Jamaica: University of the West Indies Press, 2001.
- Bush, Barbara. Imperialism, Race and Resistance: Africa and Britain, 1919 –1945. London: Routledge, 1999.
- Cooper, Frederick. Decolonization and African Society: The Labour Question in French and British Africa. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1996.
- Cooper, Frederick. Africa since 1940: The Past of the Present. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2002.
- Cooper, Frederick. Colonialism in Question: Theory, Knowledge, History. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2005.
- Cooper, Frederick. Africa in the World: Capitalism, Empire, Nation-State. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2014.
- Cunard, Nancy (Maureen Moynagh, ed.) Essays on Race and Empire. Ontario: Broadview Press, 2002.
- Cunard, Nancy, ed. Negro Anthology made by Nancy Cunard, 1931-1933. London: Wishart and Co., 1934.
- Derrick, Jonathan. Africa’s “Agitators”: Militant Anti-Colonialism in in Africa and the West, 1918-1939. New York: Columbia University Press, 2008.
- Fryer, Peter, Staying Power:The History of Black People in Britain. London: Pluto, 1984.
- Geiss, Imanuel. The Pan-African Movement. London: Methuen, 1974.
- Gilroy, Paul. The Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double Consciousness. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1993.
- Grimshaw, Anna, ed. The C. L. R. James Reader. Oxford: Blackwell, 1992.
- Hooker, James R. Black Revolutionary: George Padmore’s Path from Communism to Pan-Africanism. New York: Praeger Publishers, 1967.
- James, C.L.R. Nkrumah and the Ghana Revolution. London: Allison and Busby, 1977.
- James, C.L.R. “George Padmore: Black Marxist Revolutionary,” in C. L. R. James, ed. At the Rendezvous of Victory:Selected Writings. London: Allison and Busby, 1984.
- James, Leslie. George Padmore and Decolonization from Below: Pan-Africanism, the Cold War, and the End of Empire. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015.
- Langley, Jabez Ayodele. Pan-Africanism and Nationalism in West Africa, 1900-1945: A Study in Ideology and Social Classes. Oxford, UK: Clarendon Press, 1973.
- Langley, Jabez Ayodele, ed. Ideologies of Liberation in Black Africa. London: Rex Collings, 1979.
- Lewis, Rupert and Baptiste, Fitzroy, eds. George Padmore:Pan-African Revolutionary. Jamaica: Ian Randle Publishers, 2008.
- Makalani, Minkah. In the Cause of Freedom: Radical Black Internationalism from Harlem to London, 1917-1939. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 2011.
- Makonnen, Ras (Kenneth King, ed.) Pan-Africanism from Within. London: Oxford University Press, 1973.
- Matera, Marc. Black London: The Imperial Metropolis and Decolonization in the Twentieth Century. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2015.
- Robinson, Cedric J. Black Marxism: The Making of the Black Radical Tradition. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 2000 (1983).
- Schwarz, Bill, ed. West Indian Intellectuals in Britain. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2003.
- Stephens, Michelle Ann. Black Empire: The Masculine Global Imaginary of Caribbean Intellectuals in the United States, 1914-1962. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2005.
- Thompson, Dudley, with Margaret Cezair Thompson. From Kingston to Kenya: The Making of a Pan-African Lawyer. Dover, MA: Majority Press, 1993.
- Tilley, Helen, ed., with Robert J. Gordon. Ordering Africa: Anthropology, European Imperialism and the Politics of Knowledge. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2011.
- Von Eschen, Penny. Race against Empire: Black Americans and Anticolonialism, 1937–1957. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1997.
- Zachernuk, Philip S. Colonial Subjects: An African Intelligentsia and Atlantic Ideas. Charlottesville, VA: University Press of Virginia, 2000.