By LENNOX FARRELL
In 1959, Kwame Nkrumah, then President of Ghana, wept publicly over the burial of a Black West Indian. The ashes of this man, who had died in London, had been flown, at the request of the Ghanaian president, to Ghana. His remains remain buried in Christianborg Castle—built during the era when the Dutch controlled Ghana—and today the location in Osu, Accra, where is located the seat of the country’s national parliament.
The man being buried, a Trinidadian, had been born Malcolm Ivan Meredith Nurse (1903-1959). Graduating in 1918 from St. Mary’s College in Port-of-Spain, he became a reporter for the Trinidad Guardian. Emigrating in 1924 to study medicine, he instead did law, became a public anti-racism advocate as a Pan-Africanist and changed his name to George Padmore.
Leaving the U.S. for the then Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), at a time when a Black man could more easily rise in the U.S. at the end of a noose than as a professional, George Padmore was one of two West Indians—the other was Claude McKay, a Jamaican poet, ‘If We Must Die’—who, while not being leaders of any national liberation movements, had offices in the Kremlin.
For a while, he travelled widely, recruiting leaders for African liberation movements, but when in 1934 the Soviets aligned with Great Britain and France in opposition to Germany, Padmore was instructed to stop agitating against the main colonial powers. He refused and was expelled from the Comintern and the Communist Party.
This expulsion from the USSR was the turning point in George Padmore’s life. He returned to London and organized the history-changing African Bureau. Here it was that he also met another Trinidadian, C.L.R. James, author of the historic Black Jacobins.
This book is the most exhaustive and incisive history of the struggle of the slaves of Haiti in defeating not only the armies sent from France, but also the British, and Spain. In fact, Canada also had a contingent in Haiti. It was under John Graves Simcoe after whom is named Canada’s first civic holiday, Simcoe Day. He, it is alleged, on seeing the valiant Haitians at war, had an epiphany and became an anti-slavery advocate.
The world then that Padmore saw was one of European imperialism in its most venal manifestations; manifestations that fought China in an Opium War; oversaw the destruction of industry in India; overran First Nations in the Americas; and improved techniques to murder Africans that would later be used against Jews in Auschwitz.
However, the worst manifestation then and now of Imperial Europe has been in Africa. Ironically, Africa’s unmatched wealth in scarce and irreplaceable minerals has become, with continental corruption, the engine of Africa’s impoverishment.
The world of Europe and Africa that faced the Pan-African sentiments and organization by Padmore was a world that came after, not only the destructive slave trade that had been from the 16th to the 19th century, but the equally iniquitous Berlin Conference (1875). It established what has been called ‘the scramble for Africa’.
Africa was then the focus and locus of every European imperialist power. Among other places, the Germans took Namibia and Tanganyika (later Tanzania); France had Ivory Coast, Benin and Algeria; Portugal—the longest imperial power there—had Angola and Mozambique; the Belgians had the Congo, Rwanda and Burundi. Great Britain had Kenya, South Africa and so much more, its boast was that ‘the sun didn’t set on the British Empire’; that is, as one Republican Irish wit put it, ‘because God didn’t trust the British in the dark’.
The only countries not under European imperial control and occupation were Ethiopia and Liberia. The latter was off-limits, being the place established by America where some of its freed slaves had been re-located. The Italians feeling themselves cheated, tried twice—once under Mussolini—to snatch its share of the African cake: Ethiopia. Failing there, it split off the province of Eritrea, thus leaving Ethiopia without an outlet to the Atlantic Ocean.
Why did Nkrumah cry over the death of George Padmore? What role did other West Indians like C.L.R. James and Aimé Cesairé play in the liberation of places such as Kenya under Kenyatta? What other iniquities did Europe, America and its NATO allies like Canada practice, including the imprisonment of Nelson Mandela and the murder of Steve Biko?
Finally, first used against Louis Riel and the Metis in the Red River Rebellion, what role did a Canadian-improved gun play in advancing world imperialism? And in changing the face of warfare after World War II?
This is the first of two articles to be published on George Padmore.