The Pan-African Vision
In Africa, there was a general assumption on the part of colonial powers that
Africans must wait patiently for limited political concessions and better career
opportunities. Ex-servicemen and the educated urban classes became disillusioned
and were only too willing to listen to socialist ideas based on concepts of
equality and a new world order.
In London, the Socialist Club attracted a wide audience of people who felt marginalised
- Africans, Irish Nationalists and German Jews. Drury Lane was the site of a
club exclusively for black soldiers.
"They had been disillusioned with the European war,
because they kept on having frightful clashes with English and American soldiers,
besides the fact that the authorities treated them completely differently from
the white soldiers...
I was working at that time in London in a communist group. Our group provided
the club of Negro soldiers with revolutionary newspapers and literature, which
Letter from Jamaican writer and socialist, Claude
McKay to Trotsky in 1922.
1919 - THE FIRST PAN AFRICAN CONGRESS
Racist treatment reinforced a sense of solidarity within the Diaspora.
This found expression in a series of Pan-African meetings. In 1909 the
first Pan African Conference was held. In 1919 the first of five Pan-African
Congresses was held. This was organised by the African American thinker
and journalist, W.E.B. DuBois. Fifty seven delegates attended representing
fifteen countries. Its principal task was petitioning the Versailles Peace
Conference, then meeting in Paris. Among its demands were:
a) The Allies administer the former German territories in Africa as a condominium
on behalf of the Africans who lived there.
b) Africans should take part in governing their countries "as fast as their
development permits" until, at some unspecified time in the future, Africa is
granted home rule.
1921 - THE SECOND PAN AFRICAN CONGRESS
congress met in several sessions in London, Paris and Brussels. The Indian revolutionary
Shapuiji Saklaatvala was introduced. The Ghanaian journalist W.F. Hutchinson
spoke. This Congress was considered by some to be the most radical of all the
meetings. The London session resulted in the Declaration To The World, also
called the London Manifesto.
"England, with all her Pax Britannica, her courts
of justice, established commerce, and a certain apparent recognition of Native
laws and customs, has nevertheless systematically fostered ignorance among the
Natives, has enslaved them, and is still enslaving them, has usually declined
even to try to train black and brown men in real self-government, to recognise
civilised black folk as civilised, or to grant to coloured colonies those rights
of self government which it freely gives to white men."
The one dissenting voice was that of Blaise Diagne
who, although African, was effectively a French politician, representing Senegal
in the French Chamber of Deputies. He thought the declaration dangerously extreme
and soon abandoned the idea of Pan Africanism.
1923 - THE THIRD PAN AFRICAN CONGRESS
This congress was held in London and Lisbon.
Badly organised, it was also not very well attended. But it repeated the demand
for some form of self-rule, defining the relationship between Africa and Europe,
as well as mentioning the problems of the Diaspora in a number of ways:
a) the development of Africa for the benefit of Africans and not merely for
the profit of Europeans.
b) home rule and responsible government for British West Africa and the British
c) the abolition of the pretension of a white minority to dominate a black majority
in Kenya, Rhodesia and South Africa.
d) the suppression of lynching and mob law in US.
1927 - THE FOURTH PAN AFRICAN CONGRESS
This was held in New York and adopted similar
resolutions to those in the 3rd Pan African Congress.
1945 - THE FIFTH PAN AFRICAN CONGRESS
This was held in Manchester in the north west
of England. There were ninety delegates, twenty six from all over Africa. These
included Peter Abrahams for the ANC, and a number of men who were to become
political leaders in their countries, such as Hastings Banda, Nkrumah, Obafemi
Awolowo and Kenyatta. There was also Marcus Garvey's wife and Trinidadian radical
There were thirty three delegates from the West Indies and thirty five from
various British organisations including the West African Students Union. W.E.B. DuBois,
the man who had organised the first Pan African Congress back in 1919, was there
too at the age of 77.
Despite the turnout, this conference scarcely got a mention in British press.
There were many resolutions passed, including one calling for racial discrimination
to be made a criminal offense. The main resolution decried imperialism and capitalism:
to Marcus Grant, Sierra Leone radical, member of the West African Youth League
speaking about George Padmore
"We are unwilling to starve any longer while doing
the world's drudgery, in order to support, by our poverty and ignorance, a false
aristocracy and a discredited imperialism.
We condemn the monopoly of capital and the rule of private wealth and industry
for private profit alone…
We shall complain, appeal and arraign. We will make the world listen to the
facts of our condition. We will fight in every way we can for freedom, democracy
and social betterment."
Listen to a 1934 excerpt of the Negro Worker on how the British Empire was built on slavery and opium smuggling