Monday, 27 January 2020

Book Review - After Empire / Revolutionary Intercommunalism

Paul Gilroy, After Empire (Routledge, 2004) and Huey P Newton & V I Lenin (ed Amy Gdala), Revolutionary Intercommunalism & the Right of Nations to Self-determination (Superscript, 2004 )
Written By: Julie Ford
Date: January 2005
Published In LSHG Newsletter Issue 23: Lent 2005 

Before the Second Coming - in that long weary moment when the non-crazed still held a little hope in their hearts - two exiled London Rastafarians turned their minds to producing social histories of the development of the transatlantic hegemony in the twentieth century.

The two books were published in Britain within days of one another. But the coincidences do not end there. Both books address the importance of the Black perspective in relation to the commodification of identity politics; both reject "cultural nationalism", defining "race" as a product of racism not genetics; both insist on the importance of what Gdala has termed the "global default culture" and Gilroy calls "cultural default settings"; both reassert the existential sociologism of twentieth century theorists such as Franz Fanon, Stuart Hall and Steven Box; both lament that privatization and competitiveness now extend to "intellectual property"; and crucially, both insist on the centrality of the slogan "Act locally, think globally" in their flickering hope of making "resistance to neoliberalism as global as capital itself has become" (Gilroy p.81)

Gilroy's own experience of the British academic scene was as painful as his more popular writing was influential on the street. He was subjected to particularly shoddy treatment by the racism of certain London criminologists (who were also implicated in the dumbing down of higher education and the rise of New Labour). He now heads the Department of African American Studies at Yale.

His latest book builds on The Black Atlantic (1993). It reminds us sharply of the intrinsic reliance of "transmodernity" on the idea of racial hierarchy, how all empires have nurtured antagonisms between cultural groups; of the desacralisation of the human body and the rendering of Fanon's "wretched" as infrahuman.

He shows how the Manichaeism of the market permeates racialized identity with "dual narcissism", how class divisions in post-industrial Britain produce, reproduce and channel absolutist identifications: In a brilliant examination of sport and its spectator cultures he shows how "Britain's brave but confused affiliates prefer an ordered past in which they were exploited and pauperised, but nonetheless knew who they were ...in the nation's mud-and-blood spattered past, heroic lions were led to ignominious slaughter by posh donkeys (p. 120), and he emphasizes the “ ... insubstantiality of racial difference when compared to the power of class, masculinity and stupidity”(p.124).

In the fear, shame and uncertainty of post-colonial, post-industrial, transatlantic consciousness the entrenched exploitees relieve their neurosis by exclusion. Just as the rioters of Notting Hill and Bradford proved their intrinsic alterity by rioting, so the orange-jumpsuited infrahumans caged in Camp Delta justify all the measures taken against them. But Gilroy does not surrender to the pornography of despair: against the grim decadence of a dying order he reasserts his faith in the spontaneous conviviality of ordinary people, particularly the young, for whom a strong sense of "racial" difference has become "unthinkable to the point of absurdity"(p.132). It may even be that their spontaneous and chaotic moves towards "planetary humanism"(p.166) are in some part due to the arguments and writing of scholars and popular educators like Paul Gilroy and Huey P Newton.
For Gilroy’s happy term “conviviality” Gdala substitutes the more overtly politicized version of “planetary humanism” which Huey P Newton defined as Revolutionary Love.

Revolutionary love is not the kind of privatized, in-turned genetically defined love that aspires to “living happily ever after behind a white picket fence” (p.14). It is the love of the people, the brotherhood and sisterhood of mutual education and self-defence. Newton saw clearly that international capitalism had expropriated the labour and resources of the people of the earth producing a situation of intercommunalism where, in1971, the experiences and interests of the Vietnamese resonated with those of the U.S. urban underclass. He understood how the default culture led the people to demonize other communities in their desperate struggles to survive with dignity. In his political writings and in the community organizations he promoted (food programmes, youth programmes, education, sickle-cell tests etc) Newton showed how reactionary intercommunalism could be overcome with revolutionary intercommunalism. Again the emphasis is on class, not the fetishes of racism, and Newton opposes the cultural nationalism of those elements within the Black politics of his time who were eventually to provide the exploiters with their temporary victory over his ideals.

This timely book presents the ideas of Newton alongside Lenin’s argument that, while cultural nationalism is always reactionary, the struggles of oppressed people for self-determination should have the support of the international movement. It is clear from this juxtaposition that the dialectic Lenin started with Rosa Luxemburg was never satisfactorily resolved until Huey Newton formulated the concept of Intercommunalism.

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