8 Powerful Quotes That Express The Black Radical Tradition

8 Powerful Quotes That Express The Black Radical Tradition

The Black Radical Tradition, as laid out by Cedric Robinson, is the tradition of Black leftist thought that serves as a resistance to racial capitalism. It’s the Black intellectual foray into the theories of Karl Marx. The Black Radical Tradition has one of the richest philosophical libraries in American history. Very few have heard of it, but you know the names of it’s luminaries.

The selected passages below are in long-form which is how I like to relay quotes because they carry greater context. This is by no means the summation of all there is to the Black Radical Tradition, but a mere appetizer of what’s out there.

In the Age of Trump, it is more important now than ever for Black people to reclaim this history. Racism that is reinforced by capital has done a number on our community. It has created many internal problems that we deal with. Problems revolving around trusting other black people, believing in black people, hating oneself, etc.

I view the Black Radical Tradition as mental kevlar armor in the struggle against white supremacy and plutocracy in America and should be required teaching for all parents to their black children.

1. Harry Haywood

In America, the roots of racism are deeper, sunk as they are in the unsolved land question of the Black Belt. The current upswing of racism in the United States is utilized by monopoly capital in the drive toward fascism and its by-product, war. In the United States, perhaps more than anywhere else in the world, a far-flung system of racial persecution, springing from the mire of chattel slavery with strong survivals up to the present day provides an even more fertile soil than Hitler had.

— Harry Haywood, from the book Negro Liberation, 1948

In this quote here, Harry Haywood is describing…

2. Franz Fanon on Black Unity

 Franz Fanon
Franz Fanon

African unity, that vague formula, yet one to which the men and women of Africa were passionately attached, and whose operative value served to bring immense pressure to bear on colonialism, African unity takes off the mask, and crumbles into regionalism inside the hollow shell of nationality itself. The national bourgeoisie, since it is strung up to defend its immediate interests, and sees no farther than the end of its nose, reveals itself incapable of simply bringing national unity into being, or of building up the nation on a stable and productive basis. The national front which has forced colonialism to withdraw cracks up, and wastes the victory it has gained.

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Colonialism, which had been shaken to its very foundations by the birth of African unity, recovers its balance and tries now to break that will to unity by using all the movement’s weaknesses.

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African unity can only be achieved through the upward thrust of the people, and under the leadership of the people, that is to say, in defiance of the interests of the bourgeoisie.

— Franz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth, 1961

In the above quote, Fanon talks about how African unity brought about an end to colonialism, and how that unity was splintered by various factions along religious and ethnic lines. I added the quote to express the reality that black unity is achievable and can be a powerful force, but won’t happen without a clear common goal and the drive to see the goal come into fruition. What will happen instead is the bourgeoisie, who have a lot more capitol, will use that capitol to make sure Black people stay divided.

We should go out of our way to not divide ourselves.

3. Huey Newton on Eldridge Cleaver and the Failings of the Black Panther Party

 Huey P. Newton
Huey P. Newton

When Eldridge joined the Party it was after the police confrontation, which left him fixated with the “either-or” attitude. This was that either the community picked up the gun with the Party or else they were cowards and there was no place for them. He did not realize that if the people did not relate to the Party, then there was no way that the Black Panther Party could make any revolution, because the record shows that the people are the makers of the revolution and of world history.

Sometimes there are those who express personal problems in political terms, and if they are eloquent, then these personal problems can sound very political. We charge Eldridge Cleaver with this. Much of it is probably beyond his control, because it is so personal. But we did not know that when he joined the Party, he was doing so only because of that act in front of Ramparts. We weren’t trying to prove anything to ourselves, all we were trying to do, at that particular point, was defend Betty Shabazz. But we were praised by the people.

Under the influence of Eldridge Cleaver the Party gave the community no alternative for dealing with us, except by picking up the gun. This move was reactionary simply because the community was not at that point. Instead of being a cultural cult group, we became, by that act, a revolutionary cult group. But this is a basic contradiction, because revolution is a process, and if the acts you commit do not fall within the scope of the process then they are non-revolutionary.

What the revolutionary movement and the Black community needs is a very strong structure. This structure can only exist with the support of the people and it can only get its support through serving them. This is why we have the service to the people program—the most important thing in the Party. We will serve their needs, so that they can survive through this oppression. Then when they are ready to pick up the gun, serious business will happen. Eldridge Cleaver influenced us to isolate ourselves from the Black community, so that it was war between the oppressor and the Black Panther Party, not war between the oppressor and the oppressed community.

The Black Panther Party defected from the community long before Eldridge defected from the Party. Our hook-up with white radicals did not give us access to the white community, because they do not guide the white community. The Black community does not relate to them, so we were left in a twilight zone, where we could not enter the community with any real political education programs; yet we were not doing anything to mobilize whites. We had no influence in raising the consciousness of the Black community and that is the point where we defected.

We went through a free-speech movement in the Party, which was not necessary, and only further isolated us from the Black community. We had all sorts of profanity in our paper and every other word which dropped from our lips was profane. This did not happen before I was jailed, because I would not stand for it. But Eldridge’s influence brought this about. I do not blame him altogether; I blame the Party because the Party accepted it.

— Huey P. Newton, On the Defection of Eldridge Cleaver, 1971

The important thing to take away from this quote is the importance of having movements that reflect the will of the community. We should also refrain from ‘either-or’ scenarios as solutions. When you say we can only do this or do that, you’re taking options off the table. I hear a lot of people making these types of arguments today. Our solutions should be open-ended and scalable

4. W.E.B. Du Bois on Forced Black Labor and the Black Slave-Worker

Slowly but mightily these black workers were integrated into modern industry. On free and fertile land Americans raised, not simply sugar as a cheap sweetening, rice for food and tobacco as a new and tickling luxury; but they began to grow a fiber that clothed the masses of a ragged world. Cotton grew so swiftly that the 9,000 bales of cotton which the new nation scarcely noticed in 1791 became 79,000 in 1800; and with this increase, walked economic revolution in a dozen different lines. The cotton crop reached one-half million bales in 1822, a million bales in 1831, two million in 1840, three million in 1852, and in the year of secession, stood at the then enormous total of five million bales.

Such facts and others, coupled with the increase of the slaves to which they were related as both cause and effect, meant a new world
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Black labor became the foundation stone not only of the Southern social structure, but of Northern manufacture and commerce, of the English factory system, of European commerce, of buying and selling on a world-wide scale; new cities were built on the results of black labor, and a new labor problem, involving all white labor, arose both in Europe and America.
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Above all, we must remember the black worker was the ultimate exploited; that he formed that mass of labor which had neither wish nor power to escape from the labor status, in order to directly exploit other laborers, or indirectly, by alliance with capital, to share in their exploitation….

….It was thus the black worker, as founding stone of a new economic system in the nineteenth century and for the modern world, who brought civil war in America. He was its underlying cause, in spite of every effort to base the strife upon union and national power.

— W.E.B. Du Bois as written in Black Reconstruction – 1935

In the chapter these quotes come from, Du Bois speaks on the history of land and property rights in America in relation to forced black labor (slavery). He touches on the history of voting rights regarding black property owners pre-Civil War as well as the origin of the earliest white labor unions.

When it comes to the black radical tradition, we should all strive to understand the complex and abstract relationship between wealth and white domination. Understand the role that slavery played in reinforcing capitalism which allowed it to become the system that it is today. 

The last two paragraphs are powerful. Du Bois says it was the black slave-worker, the founding stone of global capitalism, that brought America to Civil War! While I believe many people know this in the context of the abolition movement, what was really going on was a war to maintain control of capitol. The Civil War brought an end to an particular era of white male dominance, which is why new forms of oppression had to be created to maintain said socio-political dominance post-Civil War. It’s why racial progress has always been viewed negatively by a majority of white America. Progress for Blacks has always meant a loss of white socio-political dominance.

5. W.E.B. Du Bois on the Role of Poor Whites in the Origin of American Police

The system of slavery demanded a special police force and such a force was made possible and unusually effective by the presence of the poor whites. This explains the difference between the slave revolts in the West Indies, and the lack of effective revolt in the Southern United States….

…In the South, on the other hand, the great planters formed proportionately quite as small a class but they had singularly enough at their command some five million poor whites; that is, there were actually more white people to police the slaves than there were slaves….

…First of all, it gave [poor white men] work and some authority as overseer, slave driver, and member of the patrol system. But above and beyond this, it fed his vanity because it associated him with the masters. Slavery bred in the poor white a dislike of Negro toil of all sorts…

…To these Negroes [the poor white man] transferred all the dislike and hatred which he had for the whole slave system. The result was that the system was held stable and intact by the poor white….

…Gradually the whole white South became an armed and commissioned camp to keep Negroes in slavery and to kill the black rebel.

— W.E.B. Du Bois as written in Black Reconstruction – 1935

Du Bois speaks on the role poor whites, specifically poor white men, had on the formation of American policing. He writes about how wealthy Whites used poor Whites as a sort of buffer class to keep black people under control which is why many slave rebellions failed. It’s also part of the origin of the extreme desire for gun ownership among white people.

6. Cedric Robinson On the Destruction of the African Past

“The African became the more enduring “domestic enemy,” and consequently the object around which a more specific, particular, and exclusive conception of humanity was molded. The “Negro,” that is the color black, was both a negation of African an a unity of opposition to white. The construct of Negro, unlike the terms “African,” “Moor,” or “Ethiope” suggested no situatedness in time, that is history, or space, that is ethno- or politico-gepography.. The Negro had no civilization, no cultures, no religions, no history, no place, and finally no humanity that might command consideration…..
…Slave labor, the slave trade, and their associated phenomena — markets for cheap commodities; shipbuilding and outfitting; mercantile and military naivies; cartography; banking; insurance; etc — profoundly altered the economies of those states directly or indirectly involved in the colonization and production by slave labor…
..Where previously the Blacks were a fearful phenomenon to Europeans because of their hostircal association with civilixations superior, dominant, and/or antagonistic to Western societies (the most recent being that of Islam), now the ideograph of Blacks came to signify a difference of species, an exploitable source of energy (labor power) both mindless to the organizational requirements of production and insensitive to the subhuman conditions of work.”

7. Cedric Robinson On the Myths of National History

“Founding myths were substituted for history. providing the appearance of historical narrative to what was in actuality part fact and part class-serving rationales….the formation of the American state provided no exception. The American Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, the considerations raised in the Federalist Papers were all expressions of the interests and creed of the American bourgeoisie. Soon they were to be augmented by the muths of Frontier, the paternal Plantation, the competitive capitalism of the Yankee, the courage of the Plainsman, the Rugged Individual, the excitement of the American Industrial Revolution, the generosity of the Melting Pot. Such were the romantic fictions that came to constitute the social ideology of the nation’s bourgeoisie.”

8. Cedric Robinson On Slavery and Capitalism

American labor was a subsystem of world capitalism…Black labor became the foundation stone not only of the Southern social structure, but of Northern manufacture and commerce, of the English factory system, of European commerce, of buying and selling on a world-wide scale; new cities were built on the results of Black labor, and a new labor problem involving all white labor, arose both in Europe and America.


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