The Padmore Network: The Man Behind the Scenes of Pan-Africanism - Dr. Leslie James


He would never have called himself insects. He didn't really like the word he was much. More interested in The kind of background organizing work. And that i think is why he has not got the attention that other anti-colonial organizers pan-africanist have received so that's that's the starting point. I mean his to know more about him is to know those battles is to know that his his intellectual work was done in order to organize to give people the tools to fight the colonial system before we get into the phillips set like to thank you for tuning in the no show of making academic research which many more people so that we can tackle inequality in education. Please join our community of members and help us. Keep the show alive by donating any amount. You can do this. Inauguration which can be found on patriots dot com slash. The no-show alternatively visit our website. Www duck the no-show. Leslie thank you so much for joining the no-shirt schaumburg pleased to have you and radically speaker. Thank you so much for reminding me an excellent so you have sort of Quite a wide area of interest in that utica. You know imperialism anti-imperialism pan-africanism Was who drove you to explore. So many sort of areas i mean. I guess there's a common thread between the but what what what so of lead you to to explore of this. I'm there be yet. There became a common thread I think it's really interesting to trace the thread of your own intellectual autobiography and trajectory actually with my master's students. I asked them to do this as well. Because i think it's really interesting. In my case i would say. My intellectual trajectory started with Reading dostoevsky and tolstoy in highschool and becoming fascinated by russian literature. So then i started studying russian history. And then i started moving into revolutionary histories and looking at specifically at russia in latin america. But then the caribbean kept coming back. it was kind of a skirt of what Outskirts of what. I was studying and then my partner gave me a book. He was reading in undergrad Which was sealer. James is black jackets and I had never. I think it's quite telling that. I had never read it. In as he was taking english. I was taking history and in history. I never read that book. In fact i knew nothing about the haitian revolution even though i had taken a class in modern revolutions And so that just kind of light my fire and then i started reading A friend of sealer. James called george padmore when i started getting interested in in reading more african history and then i completed my phd on judge padmore Which kind of took me all over the world because as we can discuss george padmore was born in trinidad moved to the united states. Became a communist worked for rush to russia and worked for the soviet union lived in germany annan ended his life in london. Most of it spent most the rest of his life in london working on leading anti colonial struggles around the caribbean africa India he had networks all over the place and so i ended up kind of studying somebody who brought me into all of the spaces that you identified at the beginning But i think that if i think about following my own intellectual trajectory and exemplifies the usefulness of what are now called global histories add methods allow historians to see wearing win. Interconnection is happening but also Also the contingency of it the the need to look when in where Interconnection in circulation of ideas is happening and in what scholars would now call the black atlantic. So my frame is the blackest. What people would call the black atlantic so do padmore is seems like an incredibly diverse character. Many ways in the you know. He's from the caribbean he went to the. Us which is the basic need. The belly of capitalism become communist and so of very incredible journey so give us more more about this character. I think this character doesn't get enough recognition. Yeah he. He definitely doesn't his kind of on the outskirts. And i one of the things. I like to try to. I try to do in. My book is explored why. And i think one of the reasons why is because His his political work his intellectual work he would never have called himself intellectual He didn't really like the word he was much. More interested in The kind of background organizing work. And that i think is why he has not got the attention. That other. anti-colonial organizers pen. Africanists have received So that's that's the starting point. I mean his to know more about him is to know. Those facts is to know that his His intellectual work was done in order to organize to give people the tools to fight the colonial system. So what happens to him in his biography is that you know. He moves from trinidad to the united states where he experiences american racism in the in the us south and And then into new york city. So he's in the south then. He's in new york city in harlem in the midst of all of the kind of harlem renaissance discussions and then he's recruited to the soviet union. Because he's like many caribbean Political activists he's very well-spoken. He's very articulate commands people's presence in so he gets recruited to work for the soviets the soviet communist international but through that work through that work he he essentially meets a cadre of people that are going to be part of his network for the next thirty years And he publishes a newspaper called the negro worker. He changes his name. He's not born george. Padmore is born malcolm nurse. Plum changes his name to george padmore and because of his work with the communist international known as george padmore pretty much around the world by the early nineteen thirties And so he keeps that name even after he leaves the communist party He leaves the communist party in the nineteen thirties because he sees that. Stalin is only fleetingly concerned with anti-colonial struggle. And so he he says. I'm not going to work with these organizations. That don't prioritize. This situation of colonized peoples spent the next almost twenty years in london. And just you know from his little flat with his partner. Dorothy peiser who again doesn't get enough attention. spends the next twenty years essentially setting up a system of Correspondents both in terms of letters but in terms of journalism and it's his journalism that led led me into a lot of my later work because what is essentially found was that he was the main node of a network that stretched throughout the african continent. the caribbean the united states. Because he wrote prolifically for Black american newspapers very famous black american newspapers like the chicago defender in the pittsburgh courier during the war. He was correspondent for them But he also clipped and reprinted and wrote and circulated news such stat. Basically now that. I'm looking in more detail at newspapers in ghana. Nigeria trinidad jamaica. You see that. He was kind of the person who would clip reprints. Send other people information and then get this dispersal network of Information into newspapers in In different parts of the african continent and even actually since. I've published my book. I still find new stuff. He i find stuff in south african newspapers. I find connections to you know people who are working in malaysia. He had friendships all around the world and his role. I think he saw his role is connect informing and connecting people. It's a very interesting position to play in a struggle. Like though the one that he experienced Because of how tough a task is i mean. I can't imagine it to be simple to be trying to reproduce this information. Gap spread across africa and the caribbean. So does that so of who gave him the backing to do this work. No-one which is which makes it even more Incredible he i mean he had the backing of the communist international but then of course when he left them he also had their ire and There was real active work to work against him. Both in terms of the communist international and certainly the british colonial office So let me. I'll say more about how you know. He was a source of concern. That was trying to be silenced. But let me say more about how. He did what he did. I mean i said historic his padmore. Dorothy heiser was kind of essential. She was both mainly the paid Empl paid person in that household that got them there necessities he's also working during wartime and postwar In postwar conditions. He did get paid for his newspaper. Articles in the pittsburgh courier and The chicago defender and things like that but otherwise he just he was just doing on his own. He worked very closely with a lot of british socialists. And there's more research Some people are doing more research now on his collaboration influence on british socialist. I mean he did actually have a major influence on the way the british socialists began to see imperialism as essential to what they were doing and that was part of his work was to say look. You cannot liberate the working class in britain unless you understand the connection to colonized workers so how he did. It was without a lot of other backing and against Odd so because he was known to be a communist and he remained a marxist even though he left the communist party but he was on all the lists of of the secret service. His mail was being read he was being observed. Like many of the People that kwami and crewmen joe can yada nnamdi as equally the leaders of african independence movements were also. Their mail was being opened And what. I found also is that because he was a known to be a marxist. He became the center of a colonial office concerns about communism in the colonies in the cold war. And so when you open up. British colonial office files about preventing soviet propaganda in the colonies. The name on in all of the colonial office discussion is george padmore because they think quite rightly that he well they misunderstand his marxism and his pan-africanism ism but they rightly understand that he is very well connected and that his ideas are influencing A lot of people in the colonies. He was his Major infantry who is his major influence He was inspired. His father was part of the early pan-africanist movement led by henry sylvester williams who is also a trinidadian so he was. He was inspired by henry sylvester williams in particular in in his in his pan-africanism He has a history to marxism-leninism and style and of course He's inspired by lennon's anti imperialism certainly and stalin's claim to support colonial struggles. And he's actually one of the lesser known aspects of his thinking in his history. Is that he. He's inspired by the ussr as what he say sees as decarbonised society so he's not just inspired by their By the communist movement but by and did a lot to cultivate this idea that day were at the vanguard of decolonizing the former russian empire and so that also inspired him a lot and he remains even as he moves to gone at the end of his life and advises commun- crema part of that being involved looking at how he believed the soviet union had taken the russian empire and given greater equality in the beret into the people's on the outskirts of the russian empire. There's a us sort of a question that comes to mind cause you mentioned that. The the colonial office misunderstood his pan-africanism. So what was his african ism. His there's a few different pan-africanism can be either a Capitalized or non capitalized in the sense that there is an understanding pan-africanism as specific organizational Movement that hopes for the unity of the african continent for example or of organizations his pan-africanism is certainly one of Organized associations he's at the forefront of organizing nineteen forty five manchester pan african congress. So what he has. Pan-africanism emphasizes is organizing people together to To advocate for a shared future together But i think he also did understand pan-africanism as a cultural and social connection and certainly in economic connection so his pan-africanism emphasizes for example the rule of capitalism in In the practice of enslavement in the history of enslavement of atlantic of the atlantic slave trade which produces the capitalist economy as he and his colleagues eric williams sealer james They both argued these things as well and so. His pan-africanism emphasizes the socioeconomic connection of african and african descended peoples through Through the interconnection of imperialism enslavement and capitalism as it came to be in the americas how Do does that. So full of the line of marcus garvey. It does follow the line. Although they were famously antagonistic. He was quite brutal In his kind of nation of garvey at times alone because well because he saw garvey as as as a kind of capitalist As as somebody who was arguing for As ns someone that was fooling African peoples in into african descended into believing that day could separate themselves off And that they could buy beginning. Businesses like the black star line Excuse me that would solve the problems in. So he didn't agree with garvey In terms of the kind of ideological strain however later in his life he recognized the movement. Garvey created his last book pan-africanism or communism. He he he centers garvey as essential to pan-african histories so even as in the nineteen thirties. He was vocally kind of critic he would show up. If garvey came speak in london. Hyde park he would show up in heckle him and And others but at the end he always recognized the crucial importance that garvey played in building a worldwide movement. So yeah that's very interesting. Because i mean to. What extent was the difference ideological and was an element of like eagle in both possibly an element of ego. Although i i would think not because if you look at pad. Moore's history and his activity. There is no very little ego in his In his politics heat he always is the man behind the scenes in my book. I described him as the man behind the scenes He's he's rarely. The person at the front of the stage rarely the person who He puts other people at the front of movements and then he kind of organizers it connects them to because of that. I don't think that ego is really at play in him. I actually think it really was a fundamental ideological disagreement in the nineteen thirties. And i will add to that. And this is part of what i'm currently working on. I'm currently working on ideas about what padmore called colonial. Fascism what i'm doing right now is looking at how actually in west africa and the caribbean you see a very wide debate in the nineteen thirties about What is the nature of fascism in. How is it similar different from colonialism. And so i can say same more about that. But one thing is that in the nineteen thirties. Garvey famously said that he thought that the his organization you were the first fascists and that you while he criticized German antisemitism and later backtracked there is a strain of garvey as of garvey's thought which did Praise mussolini's kind of proud and strong nationalism end. So there's a really complicated history with garvey And with a number of of black nationalists who are drawn to fascism because they believed that it. it fights for people. It has kind of strong A strong masculine est narrative that also fits with a a lot of of the unitarian garbage. I'm so i say that. Because that's another aspect of guardian padmore. Disagreement is the padmore was fundamentally anti fascist fundamentally incident anti anti colonial anti-fascist and he absolutely disagreed with garvey on garvey's understanding of fascism. I wanna talk about. I want to get into this more. And you current work and i wanna solve talk about your earlier experiences and of colonialism and imperialism But before the. I just want to remind audiences that can Support the show a You know helping us on patriot. You can just access our patron Page on hatred dot com for slash. The no show any support Become a member really just helps us. Get more academics. Like leslie and showing amazing. They're doing so please. Do show some support So you mentioned that you know early on in your in your earlier. Run your your career or against in your academic life you never heard of the haitian revolution. And of course that's telling in many ways of the fact that academia is fundamentally still colonized of what was your reaction to My reaction is is the same now as many students. When i teach my modern caribbean. And we read eric williams and sealer james blackjack bins and and And padmore and Walter rodney and maurice bishop is A little bit of anger and frustration. That why didn't i know about this before. How could i take whole modules and not ever be told that there is a major revolution which actually fundamentally challenged in a basic way. What no other revolution of the time was challenging. Which was you know. People's basic humanity in and freedom and and setting out really honestly much more universal anti-racists anti-colonial rights for people. And so i also should say. This doesn't come into my research. But i grew up in canada in southern ontario. And it took me to. It took me studying padmore and studying a lot of the kind of caribbean and african sinkers. That have helped me to think and understand over the last decade or so of my academic career. But it took that for me to realize that i came from a colonized society and history as well and that in the canadian narrative defect canada's a settler colony and that i grew up next to reservations Completely separated spaces from where i grew up. I was not aware of that In my education until until much later on So i think that that was for me. That was also a part of my intellectual development that i had to come to terms with the work that you you the research that you'll so of doing no where does that so of. How does that build on the work that you've done in the book so in a few ways i mean the first thing. Is that going to doing. The work on. Padmore helped me realize a few limitations of of of my own work in that respect and of a scholarship more general. The first is that what i wanted to start to do. With my current work is to Refrain some of the circuits of what we would call the black atlantic By again joining a lot of other other scholarship which emphasizes that this is a this is certainly histories of enslavement. But that there is so much more richness to it than that that we don't need to just tell the stories of enslavement But we can actually talk about a lot of other leather of other aspects of people's lives And secondly and most importantly that. I didn't start my work or career. Thinking that i would be i would call myself in intellectual and political historian But doing pad morris recognizing padmore as intellectual. Even though he didn't wanna be didn't think of himself as an intellectual made me realize that what i wanted to do with my work now is to acknowledge intellectual histories and expand intellectual histories. And i see this as part of of of ways of shifting the The scholarly work to open up in bringing more voices. And i am trying to do that now. By bringing in maurois is both in terms of the kind of intellectual productivity of colonized peoples who are having serious intellectual debates in spaces other than books and pamphlets in novels. So part of what. I'm trying to do is argue that we can find intellectual histories and they've been written out primarily because we think intellectual and political history is just about books pamphlets But that actually we can look for example to everyday newspapers. Which is what. I'm doing and see these sites intellectual debate and also I wanted to move away from the kind of great men narratives which padmore still fits into so pan more has been obscured but still part of that kind of great man. Intellectual leader and Some of my failings were not recognizing for examples the participation of women the work that women were doing intellectually and politically and also the every day intellectual debates which i argued newspapers on in particular are really useful for getting at to see how this is more than just a few elite educated literate intellectuals that actually when we look at debates in newspapers we see that an understand that newspapers were being read out to entire families in in neighborhoods and communities that we can see We can unearth the kind of workplace on the street. In daily news intellectual debates. How active was a a woman's voice in newspapers when it comes to suitable activism again. These are predominantly. It depends. Now i i have to be very careful because while there's i'm working on comparative histories between west africa and the caribbean and there are a similarities in interconnections but these are also very different spaces in african owned newspapers in west africa. It's the are undoubtedly male dominated spaces. There are. There is the first nigerian Editor in the nineteen thirties. There are few journalists. There are women's columns and actually I one i've learned a lot from A colleague Who's worked on. Cameroon and she really challenged me. Jacqueline mugabe who has done work to show. How in women's call them in the british cameroon Yes they are publishing recipes. Yes they are talking about cooking and cleaning but actually if you read them much more carefully they are also talking about politics and There's there's a number of works that i'm working. I'm thinking with right now including annette. K joseph gabriel's work reimagining liberation about french Black french women who who fundamentally change ideas of citizenship she argues and so although these are male dominated spaces you have a few female journalists and they are and they creatively speak about politics in ways that you could easily dismiss until you look more closely as check. Mcgrew is shown in in the caribbean What i've found is that women were particularly prominent in voicing in the nineteen thirties. labour revolts. That are happening in in the caribbean. It's women who are connecting these to the history of slavery because one thing that's often forgotten is that the labor goals happen at the centenary of anticipation like almost exactly in in the case of jamaica. The the the the revolt of striking workers happens months before they're supposed to celebrate one hundred years since the end of slavery and it's women who are writing most specifically about understanding their present moment as as as as a question of how far they have come in terms of freedom. So what does freedom mean in nineteen thirty eight It means It's it's fundamentally upper question. It's women who bring that to the four is that have we have. We actually progressed far enough in terms of of freedom interesting. because i think when you look at when you look at decolonization or you look at anti imperialism. I think it's very easy for you to gravitate towards africa. As opposed to to the caribbean because so many african independence happened roughly around the same time. But that doesn't dismiss the the impact of the work of people in the caribbean and they went through and i'm so give of a more of a snapshot of what what those movements looked like in the caribbean. So the caribbean we've already to things that are essential to understanding the decolonization in the caribbean. Have already come up first. Garvey ism so the the way that garvaghy in galvanized so you scholars have worked on the us Civil rights movement. And what you argued the. What you can see is that a lot of people got their training for civil rights through the un. A and i think in some cases you can say the same thing that if we look at the movements. That are having caribbean. A lot of people were involved in in the universal. Negro improvement association influenced inspired by garvey In the nineteen thirties. And that gives them kind of training ground to set up their own associations that are going to fundamental And then the second thing is the labor revolt so caribbean. Decolonization happens an When i say decolonization i think here. I'm referring to political independence. sovereignty self government in the nineteen fifty s and early nineteen sixties. And that if you look at the political leaders a lot of them were trade union got their start in being trade union leaders Being involved in either being involved in or on the outskirts of labor of the labour revolts in the late nineteen thirties And so one of the aspects of caribbean decolonization is understanding that carribean political parties and associations share a very close connection with trade union parties and associations and workers associations that data is a trajectory from workers associations into political parties and that that then leads into The political organization of movements. But what's what's specific about the caribbean as well is that It it. It moves along a pass where a british colony office stay. They're going to create a west indian federation so it moves along a path of political federation as the form that independence is going to take however This this is the work of other scholars to say that what what happened was that the colonial office worked at cross purposes because they moved to set up british west indian federation at the same time as they are slowly opening up voting processes in each specific colony such that political parties began to establish themselves in each specific colony and political leaders are negotiating for more seats in the elected house of representatives. And so they're they're doing two things one of which is to move to federation the other which is to set each colony in a different path towards Political representation which means that at the moment of independence in federation It's very difficult for people to actually see how they're going to work in a federal model and federation famously fails. It only lasts a few years before the two major colonies Former colonies trinidad and jamaica leaves the federation and then it falls apart after that quickly. You think that was done by design so that you know these so that the islands the caribbean islands don't particularly have a strong force united force I haven't evidence that it is by design. And i think that the way that the colonial office in administration works That that might be scrubbing too much. too much attention to what they do. I think i think what happens. Is that they work across purposes because governors on the spot including administrators on the spot. A different aim in perspective often to the colonial office. And there. i think it's a matter of not fully thinking through. It's a matter of in some sense responsiveness. So they say okay. Well we need to open up the elected number of elected Seats and so they start to slowly do that. And not think about how it might be related to to constitutional developments towards federation so in some senses. They do things reactively. And and don't think about how that's going to influence policy. Go to padma for moment. You mentioned that he his involvement in soviet union. Let him having this enormous network. What did he do. You think he kept seles on this network because as well as he could've Yeah i mean he it. I've looked in the soviet archives at the people corresponding with in those early days and those people prop up again in a gain afterwards. So he for example helps A gold coast editor newspaper proprietor Named alfred john can see who owned several newspapers. Hires a man named benjamin with ave to run a new newspaper called the goldco spectator padmore when he's working for the communist. International helps them get a printing press so that that really basic material like how do we. We need Newspaper we need a printing press. We can't afford new expensive one. How did we get one. He helps that. And then you see that pad. Moore's writing in goldco spectator most of the nineteen thirties in nineteen forties and that connects him to Any number of other organizations. So i think that he took a and and the fact that he never changed his name back after. He kept his nom-de-guerre Shows that he was using the name that he made for himself as the publisher of the negro worker as the man who was running the international trade union Committee of negro workers and that that notoriety network Allowed him to move forward afterwards. I think he did his as i mentioned. I think his stories are really really compelling nothing Think your book is definitely A much-needed piece of literature on what this character intel's with fry his journey. And and so. I definitely do recommend that people find access to it so on that note. Where can people access You and where people since the book so you can access the book on any In any in any online bookstore Palgrave macmillan the publisher blackwell's in the uk blackwell's I mean it's on amazon. But i won't Promote amazon too much And then me. I mean you can email me at leslie dot james at cwm you'll dot and i would love to hear more of what people are doing as i said and i would emphasize this again i i see. I want to move away from the loan scholar who is doing their work in publishing their things and recognize that i all of my stuff comes from intellectual conversations and collaborations with people and and through the thoughts in the words of the people that i'm working on And who are teaching me fundamentally so yeah anybody can contact me a you on twitter by chance i am and my handle and send me the honduran. Then i'll just plug into the episodes. What advice would you give to a young person. I would say a young woman and into the field of of looking at de cologne Decolonization and Imperialism advice would you give them if they're if they were to explore kirk to like how you did Follow your passion. Don't don't Don't let anybody tell you that especially that women were not involved in maybe take the time to figure out how you can look for the stories and look at material in a way that somebody that that goes against the assumptions. Don't let anybody tell you that Workers demands aren't part of intellectual history that That women's thoughts about domestic work aren't also part of intellectual history We can do lots of things to work out how those are intellectual histories of suffering. That's a fantastic vice. Leslie thank you so much for joining me. A reading enjoyed speaking to you. And i hope to have you on sometime soon. Thank you very much. I just like to take a moment to kind of remind you guys to subscribe to our show. 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