New Black Politics?
WHAT IS OUR NEW BLACK POLITICS?
The speech delivered by Esther Stanford- Xosei at the Momentum Black ConneXions (MBC) launch which took place on Saturday 2nd April 2016 in Birmingham, United Kingdom. An abbreviated version of this speech was made at the MBC Launch due to time constraints.
Greetings Brothers, Sisters, Comrades, Allies, John McDonnell, MP and the Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer;
The first thing I would like to say is to stress the importance of clarifying a mistake being made, possibly out of ignorance or mischievously to sow confusion: what we are launching today is Momentum Black ConneXions (MBC). It is not called simplistically Black Momentum. Let us get the full name correct because it has tremendous meaning and significance. MBC has developed in recognition of the fact that what Jeremy Corbyn, yourself John McDonnell, Momentum and some other members of the Jeremy Corbyn Support Campaign inside and outside the Labour Party and the wider Labour Movement are saying, has significant elements of consonance with our own independent Black politics and values. We therefore want to make the connections through Momentum between the Jeremy Corbyn Support Campaign and our independent Black politics and its own various forms of organisational expression. By independent Black politics we mean the self-determined politics developing in theory and practice from the independent self-educational, self-organising and self-empowering activities of a wide range of organisations, networks and campaigns of Black peoples – such initiatives not being dependent on the Establishment, institutions and coloniality of power of those who are racialised as White. It is important to also forge recognition of this within the Jeremy Corbyn for Prime Minister in 2020 campaign and Momentum as a whole.
This goes to the very heart of what those in the MBC have put forward as its purpose. In the MBC Aims & Objectives document, which is found on the MBC Facebook page, we state that MBC is an independently self-organising, autonomous and self-determining Black Power constituency within the network of people and organisations to continue the energy and enthusiasm of Jeremy Corbyn’s campaign. We are committed to advancing Black Power perspectives on the 10 priorities that Jeremy Corbyn has identified as his own standpoint. http://jeremycorbyn.org.uk/priorities/. Our definition of political Blackness is also included in the MBC Aims & Objectives document.
The new Black politics is about not selecting, whitewashing and deploying, as hired mercenaries, people from our communities who will act against our own communities’ best interests. Rather, the new Black politics is about ensuring those who seek to represent us must go through our own selection processes and must be accountable to our independent Black political structures.
The new Black politics demands Sankofa, a concept from Akan indigenous knowledge systems, which means we go back to fetch the best from our past in order to light up our present and chart a better way forward into a brighter future. For us as Black peoples all over the world, and more so here in Britain, our current situation is like it is because we have not done very well in doing Sankofa. It seems that far too many of us refuse to critically examine our Struggles, thus far, in light of the best teachings of our most advanced leading activists of the past. We often repeat the mistakes they made, and in many instances keep on trying to do things in ways that have proved to be futile in moving us forward. A good example of this is our understanding of how to tackle our problems. There are voices that suggest it can be successfully done only when we have absolute unity without contestations. Let us get it clear that long ago Frederick Douglas said:
“if there is no struggle, there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom, and yet depreciate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground. They want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters. This struggle may be a moral one; or it may be a physical one; or it may be both moral and physical; but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.”
Our new politics is not simply narrating the past in order to rest upon its laurels and keep marking time with nostalgia, by reminiscing on the gains of the past, or simply moaning about errors and losses. We are in the present, and the challenges of the present are not exactly those of the past, even if the past is still manifest in our present. We have to take seriously the lessons from the gains and failures of the past, and bring them wiser to more effectively confront the realities of our current still ongoing oppression. Our present is what it is in terms of the unfinished tasks of our emancipatory struggle because of the inadequacies, shortcomings, failures and aborted missions of the past. It is the gains of the past which should inspire us to confidently and creatively confront the challenges of the present; but with an overstanding that we are fighting the battles of today to advance the freedom fighting of our Sheroes and Heroes, complete aborted missions and ensure a brighter future for ourselves through our posterity. So, the new Black politics is not exactly the old Black politics. It ought to be a better Black politics that is being more wisely developed out of the positive and negative lessons of the past so that we don’t repeat the errors of the past. That is what makes it new.
As our freedom-fighting Sheroe of a sister, Assata Shakur, states in her autobiography, ‘Assata’:
“No movement can survive unless it is constantly growing and changing with the times. If it isn’t growing, if it’s stagnant, and without the support of the people, no movement for liberation can exist, no matter how correct its analysis of the situation is. That’s why political work and organizing are so important. Unless you are addressing the issues people are concerned about and contributing positive direction, they’ll never support you. The first thing the enemy tries to do is isolate revolutionaries from the masses of people, making us horrible and hideous monsters so that our people will hate us.”
Inadvertently, we will still make mistakes, but, certainly, we must try and ensure they are not the errors of the past. This is also what makes our Black politics of today new. Accordingly, we are not going to successfully build the MBC to achieve its stated aims and objectives; (aims and objectives which amount to supporting Jeremy Corbyn in becoming head of the British Government in ways that will facilitate our own Black Self-Empowerment, in order to totally emancipate our peoples all over the world; and have a peaceful world of true democracy, justice and peace for all); we are not going to achieve our MBC aims and objectives without internal and external struggle. For clarification, this encompasses the external struggle against opponents of the values we share with Jeremy Corbyn; as well as the internal struggle against our own weaknesses that manifest themselves, even against our best intentions, in ways that are sometimes contrary to those values for which we wishfully declare our support; that is, in the way Amilcar Cabral, independence leader of Guinea Bissau, put it when he said in ‘The Weapon of Theory’ address delivered to the first Tricontinental Conference of the Peoples of Asia, Africa and Latin America held in Havana in January, 1966:
“Our agenda includes subjects whose meaning and importance are beyond question and which show a fundamental preoccupation with struggle. We note, however, that one form of struggle which we consider to be fundamental has not been explicitly mentioned in this programme, although we are certain that it was present in the minds of those who drew up the programme. We refer here to the struggle against our own weaknesses.”
This echoes similar ideas raised by Frantz Fanon in his ‘Pitfalls of National Consciousness’ in the book, the ‘Wretched of the Earth’. We have to face up to the truth of this, to the Truth that Osagyefo Kwame Nkrumah insists we must always tell; for, this is demanded by the challenge of our new politics of Black Power.
We do not have just one voice in MBC; we have varied voices that we are seeking to harmonise, so that they remain diverse voices, coming together sometimes at points of unison and sometimes at points of discord, over which we must respectfully ground with each other and reason things out critically in honest dialogue; no one should shut anyone up because it is inconvenient to the Labour Party or other forces not originating from our communities. It is in relation to this that Sankofa is most relevant. Black peoples all over the world have been organising for a long time as part of the international Labour Movement; more so as, since the era of chattel enslavement, there have been systematic attempts by our enslavers to reduce all of us to chattelised labour; with people of Afrikan descent singled out for more targetted dehumanisation for this purpose; resulting in centuries of horrors of the Maangamizi, the genocidal crimes of which continue into the present.
That is why our new politics of Black Power starts with recognition of the fact that our global condition as Black peoples is more or less what Afrikans describe as our historical and contemporary experiences of the crimes of genocide and ecocide which comprise the Maangamizi (continuum of chattel, colonial and neo-colonial forms of enslavement of Afrikan people at home and abroad). This is elaborated in the ‘Stop the Maangamizi: We Charge Genocide Ecocide Petition’ (SMWCGE) which accompanies the mobilisations of the annual 1st August Afrikan Emancipation Day Reparations March from the Brixton township of London to the Westminster Houses of Parliament. There are many of us who are intimidated into denying the genocide and ecocide of the Maangamizi, simply because our oppressors and those that benefit from our dispossession and super-exploitation do not like hearing us say so. Among the challenges of the new politics for the MBC and those expressing an interest in joining MBC, is the preparedness to champion our self-determined articulation of the global situation of the overwhelming majority of Black peoples as still experiencing genocide/ecocide under the White supremacy jackboots of the Coloniality of Power of Global Apartheid Racism; and therefore working for its Decolonizational resolution by effecting and securing Reparatory Justice by our own people’s power.
At this juncture in our history, there is no way forward in addressing the problems that Afrikans, people of Afrikan descent and all other Black peoples face without seriously grasping the truth of the necessity for holistic reparatory justice which includes restoring self-determination and sovereignty, and implementing measures of cessation of contemporary violations, restitution, compensation, rehabilitation, satisfaction, and guarantees of non-repetition. Otherwise, we will not be addressing the root-causes of the issues facing us today. There is not enough time to elaborate comprehensively on this point. Suffice it to say that we welcome Jeremy Corbyn’s indication of a willingness to hear the arguments and proposals for effecting reparations.
That is why some of us in the Interim Steering Committee of the MBC have started dialogue with various organisations and communities of reparatory justice interest in order to acquaint the MBC with the thinking and actions already going on in and beyond Britain on reparations. This is being done in ways relevant to the aspirations of Black peoples with a view to harmonising a common position for joint action involving Momentum as a whole, the Jeremy Corbyn Support Campaign and its various networks within and beyond the Labour Movement. In the view of some of us, support for reparations ought to be a central policy position that the MBC develops. Among the ongoing campaign efforts that I would like to highlight, therefore, is the long-standing demand arising from the 2001 World Conference Against Racism and its follow-ups; that is, for All Party-Parliamentary Commissions of Inquiry in the British and European Union Parliaments. More information about this is contained in the Stop the Maangamizi We Charge Genocide/Ecocide Petition which we urge all here to carefully study, sign and promote.
We hope MBC will utilise its commitment to the new politics of Black Power in advancing our people faster, dwelling not on mere elaborate descriptions of our problems, but rather on working out solutions together with the masses of our Black peoples in and beyond the United Kingdom. We should do this by glocally striving to mainstream the grassroots agendas of our Black peoples and their various communities throughout the World, as much as we should seek to draw everyone into actively working out and effecting solutions to our problems from Black perspectives. Black perspectives being those shaped by the historical and contemporary realities of life and struggles of the masses of Black peoples all over the world; embracing the wide spectrum of knowledges, experiences and views of our peoples. It is however important to note, there is no singular Black Perspective; for, there are multiple Black Perspectives which:
- Recognise and validate the worldviews, cultures, civilisations, diversity and contributions of global Black majority communities to the whole of society;
- Create the collective capacity of Black people to define, develop, and advance their own social, cultural, political, economic, educational and organisational interests;
- Equip masses of peoples to continue their struggles for self-emancipation; challenges negative racialised discrimination, oppression and exclusion of Black communities from the groundup projection of their own self-determined agendas into the mainstream;
- Take account of the historical components in the experiences faced by contemporary communities; relates to and also takes account of inequalities in power.
We must be careful not to get bogged down or constrained by Black elitism. By this we mean, the solutions we seek for our problems should not be from the perspectives and to the benefit of only a minority of those amongst us who end up benefitting from White privileges for themselves, due to their proximity to white power structures at the expense of the Black Majority. It is important to remind ourselves that not only do all Black Lives Matter but all Black Perspectives must be factored into overstanding and finding the best ways of resolving our problems.
The role of Jeremy Corbyn, those like you John McDonnell, and others in his topmost leadership circle is important to making this work to the advantage of winning the causes we share together with you all. Critical to this is how you relate to our Black communities and our independent politics. The Labour Party has discredited itself immensely before many in our Black communities in and beyond the UK; in the way it has chosen to relate to us through a select, narrow and often sycophantic circle of people who are seen to be egoistic cronies of this or that distant White leader, inaccessible to the majority of our Black peoples and to our own independent community-rooted organisations, networks and campaigns. Even with the best of intentions, anyone who does not experience the lived realities of our Black lives, particularly at the grassroots of our communities, will be grossly mistaken that views taken from his or her own selected individual or group of loyalists are enough to understand the broad spectrum and complexities of forces that are at play in our own communities. We therefore hope that the honest straight talking new politics of Jeremy Corbyn will manifest itself in catalyzing the processes of participatory democratisation that are being developed from below; in order to ensure that, as many forces as possible can be drawn directly into dialogue with Jeremy Corbyn and yourself (John McDonnell) without you deploying gate-keepers to obstruct direct communications and interactions with you.
Some of us would like to take you (John McDonnell) into the heart-depths of the grassroots of our communities to reach peoples who are normally classified as ‘hard to reach’; so that you can hear them articulate their own experiences and demands in their own voices and ways. This is the way we are going to draw huge numbers of people, particularly Black women and youths, many of whom are too estranged from mainstream politics to even contemplate voting, in order to swell and build up the voting might that will deliver a Jeremy Corbyn victory.
It is important to recognise that there are many within our Black communities involved in the independent politics of our own peoples across the world. Even though such politics have a lot in common with what is supposed to be the socialist-oriented politics of the Labour Party, in many instances, within our specific circumstances, for example experiences of the global apartheid violence of White supremacy and other forms of the continuing genocide/ecocide of European imperialism, in its current neocolonialist phase, compel them to interpret their radical change-making politics of socialist orientation in ways that the Labour Party is not yet ready to embrace. Nevertheless, many of such forces share most of the positions of Jeremy Corbyn and are willing to vote for him if these connections can be made. That is why the impression must not be created that you can be supportive of Jeremy Corbyn, only if you take up membership of the Labour Party.
John McDonnell, some of us are interested to know the existing organisational processes within the Labour Party which you suggest we engage with on this demand for our right to a hearing by way of a Commission of Inquiry for Truth & Reparatory Justice; and what steps of action do you recommend in order to progress action on this? And what steps will you, as an MP, be prepared to take in facilitating our moving things forward in this direction, more so now that you have been made formally aware of this proposal; especially since we are now in the International ‘Decade for People of African Descent’ (2015-2024), which is being hailed as the ‘Reparations Decade’, with the need for positive action on tackling the issues facing People of Afrikan Descent; in recognition of its declared purpose as accordingly put in the words of the United Nations Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights Flavia Pansieri: “In proclaiming this Decade, the international community is recognising that people of African descent represent a distinct group whose human rights must be promoted and protected”. These rights that are associated with the rights to redress, recognition, justice and development must also be interpreted to include and ensure that all people of Afrikan heritage assert and act on our sacred inalienable right to Afrika and to belong to Afrika; in order, therefore, to amply share not just in her bounteous resources but also in the many challenges she, our Motherland Afrika, faces.
John McDonnell, we urge you to join us in finding the best ways of engaging with the forces advocating such perspectives in our Black communities through recognising their legitimate standpoints and their choices of independent organisational formations and activism. Alliance-building with a broad range of progressive forces within and beyond our Black communities in and outside of the UK, on the basis of common ground around the values being expounded by Jeremy Corbyn, is something that the Labour Party must be prepared to seriously consider if you want to secure the most desirable victory at the next General Elections. Indeed, the litmus test for the masses of Black peoples at the grassroots of our communities is how well the prospective Labour government responds to these calls for dialogue and positive action on reparatory justice.
Esther Stanford-Xosei is the Co-Vice Chair of PARCOE, the Pan-Afrikan Reparations Coalition in Europe. Esther is also a founder-member of the Global Afrikan People’s Parliament (GAPP) and plays an active role in the GAPP Leadership Facilitation Team. She is currently completing PhD research at the University of Chichester on the history of the UK contingent of the International Social Movement for Afrikan Reparations. Esther is also a member of the Interim Steering Committee of Momentum Black ConneXions (MBC).