Introduction: Roundtable on Pan-Africanism and Communism by Hakim Adi

Professor Hakim Adi

Over the next six days, the African American Intellectual History Society will feature a roundtable on Hakim Adi‘s Pan-Africanism and Communism: The Communist International, Africa, and the Diaspora, 1919-1939 (Trenton: Africa World Press, 2013). Professor of History at the University of Chichester in West Sussex, Adi is one of the leading British historians specializing in the history of Africa and its Diaspora. He is the author of West Africans in Britain 1900-60: Nationalism, Pan-Africanism and Communism (Lawrence and Wishart, 1998); (co-authored with Marika Sherwood) The 1945 Manchester Pan-African Congress Revisited (New Beacon, 1995) and Pan-African History: Political Figures from Africa and the Diaspora since 1787 (Routledge, 2003); (co-edited with Caroline Bressey) Belonging in Europe – The African Diaspora and Work (London: Routledge, 2010).

Adi’s most recent book, Pan-Africanism and Communism, charts the dynamic and transnational work of the Communist International (Comintern) and the International Trade Union Committee of Negro Workers (ITUCNW) in West Africa, South Africa, the Caribbean, Britain, France, Germany and the United States. This thoroughly researched study offers the most comprehensive account of the organizational activities of the ITUCNW and lays out, in great detail, how the Comintern addressed the “Negro Question” during the 1920s and 1930s. Often viewed as competing ideologies or separate movements, Adi skillfully shows how Pan-Africanism and Communism were deeply intertwined during this period. Drawing on primary sources from the Moscow archives of the Communist International as well as material from collections in Africa, the United States, Britain and France, Adi’s Pan-Africanism and Communism highlights the voices and experiences of a myriad of black political activists including George Padmore, Claude McKay, Hermina Huiswoud and Elma Francois. The book joins a vibrant body of scholarship on the relationship between black liberation struggles and the Communist Left including the recent works of Gerald Horne, Minkah Makalani, Erik S. McDuffie, and Dayo F. Gore.


A decade in the making, Adi’s book covers a lot of terrain and engages a number of central themes including black radicalism, Communism, internationalism, and Pan-Africanism during the twentieth century. Each day this week the African American Intellectual History Society will post a different review by one of our contributors. Each review will discuss various aspects of Professor Adi’s work, highlighting both the strengths and weaknesses. Please join the conversation by posting comments and questions below and/or tweeting using the hashtag, #AAIHSRoundtable.

Beginning with my brief introduction and remarks from Gwendolyn Midlo Hall, the roundtable continues on Sunday with remarks from Minkah Makalani, followed by Stephen G. Hall (Monday), Michael O. West (Tuesday), Darryl Thomas (Wednesday), and Kwame Zulu Shabazz (Thursday). On Friday, Professor Adi will respond to the reviews and share closing remarks.

To officially launch this roundtable, we begin with opening remarks from Gwendolyn Midlo Hall. Professor Hall is a prominent historian of Africa, the United States and Caribbean. She is an award-winning author and Professor Emerita of Latin American and Caribbean History at Rutgers University, New Brunswick. After retiring from Rutgers University’s History Department in 1996, she moved to Michigan State University in 2010 to work on a National Endowment for the Humanities funded slave database project. She is the author of several books including Africans in Colonial Louisiana: The Development of Afro-Creole Culture in the Eighteenth Century (Louisiana University Press, 1992); Slavery and African Ethnicities in the Americas: Restoring the Links (University of North Carolina Press, 2005); and A Black Communist in the Freedom Struggle: The Life of Harry Haywood (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2012).

This stunningly conceived and exhaustively researched book brings to life the little known contribution of the Comintern to Pan-Africanism during the 1920s and 1930s. The sustained support by the international Communist movement helped plant the seeds for political independence for African nations prioritizing the unending struggle for equality of Africans and their descendants in Europe and the Americas. Hakim Adi definitively shows that the Comintern placed international Black liberation at the heart of a powerful movement which organized and led struggles to end the imperialist exploitation and terror suffered by African and African descended populations throughout the world. It laid foundations for the Black Power movement in the United States starting from local movements in the Black Belt South from the early 1930s through the 1970s. Black Power movements bounced throughout the Caribbean, Latin America and Africa after World War II and helped bring independence to African nations and an end to apartheid in South Africa. Rescuing international Black radical history from the intellectual deep freezer which began with the Cold War 65 years ago and still dominates world scholarship is a daunting task. I ask Hakim to elaborate on his discussion of George Padmore in the context of the shift in the Comintern line between its Sixth and Seventh Congresses and the massive repression of the Comintern in the Soviet Union during the late 1930s. Much thanks for your fine work.

**What other questions do you have for Professor Adi? Please add your questions or general thoughts below or send us a tweet (@AAIHS) using the hashtag, #AAIHSRoundtable.



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Comments on “Introduction: Roundtable on Pan-Africanism and Communism by Hakim Adi

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    Thank you for organizing this wonderful roundtable Keisha. I have really enjoyed the posts and am looking forward to reading the book. I was wondering about the book’s treatment of religion. The few memoirs I’ve read of northern and urban black Communists shows a strong strain of religious skepticism, yet Robin D.G. Kelley’s work shows the centrality of evangelical Christianity to black Communists in the South. Does Adi’s work discuss this at all, and if so, do we see a similar urban/rural divide when we look at other areas in the Diaspora?

    • Keisha Blain

      Great question, Chris! Unfortunately, the book does not deal with religion. See Adi’s response below.

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      Religion is, in fact, mentioned, albeit briefly, in Adi’s text. On page 90 ‘the Church” (and Marcus Garvey) are deemed “detractors” from class struggle. And starting on page 186 there is a brief treatment of the Nigerian, Wallace Johnson’s critique of the imposition of European Christianity in Africa. His Afrocentric response is that “Ethiopians” (i.e., Africans) have always known God and that we Africans should embrace an African – centered ideology for Black liberation. What brother Hakim leaves unclear, however, is how Comitern responded to this intervention.

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    How wonderful that you should inspire me to revisit a ground breaking book by Professor Hakim Adi which Afua Cooper described as “the definitive work in the field.” It’s key strength is that it presents the facts, in some cases with pictures and images of important documents from the period. To illustrate communism as a force for good in the face of more than a century of anti communism which is official state policy in so many countries is a heroic undertaking doubly to expose the fact that communism played a key role forging the pan-africanist movement globally that’s of siasmic importance. No book can cover every facit of a topic, this work is ambitious enough in my view brilliantly succeeding in illuminating the dynamic of communism and pan-africanism in the in war years at which point the world was entering in major shifts in the balance of power.

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    Chris raises a very interesting question but unfortunately one that could not be covered in the book, which tries to look at the work of the Comintern in parts of Africa but also amongst Africans from the diaspora in Europe and the Caribbean.
    Kobina too makes an interesting and important point about anti-communism. The book tries to present the history from the evidence and therefore may do so in ways that to some are unfamiliar. I posted elsewhere a quotation from Assata which may have some bearing on this issue.

    When someone asked me what communism was, I opened my mouth to answer, then realised I didn’t have the faintest idea. My image of a communist came from a cartoon…In school we were taught that communists worked in salt mines, that they weren’t free, that everybody wore the same clothes, and that no one owned anything. The Africans roared with laughter…I never forgot that day. We’re taught at such an early age to be against the communists, yet most of us don’t have the faintest idea what communism is. Only a fool lets somebody else tell him who his enemy is. (Assata Sharkur, Assata: An Autobiography, pp.151-152)

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