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Book Review: We Will Return in the Whirlwind

We Will Return in the Whirlwind:
Black Radical Organizations 1960 – 1975
By Muhammad Ahmad (Maxwell Stanford Jr.).
(Chicago: Charles H. Kerr Publishing Company, 2007. Pp.378, Notes, Appendix, $18.00)

This book is a participant – observer investigation into four of the main radical black organizations in America between 1960 – 1975: the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), the Revolutionary Action Movement (RAM) the Black Panther Party (BPP) and the League of Revolutionary Black Workers (LRBW); exploring their strengths, weaknesses and contradictions. Here is a close to complete analysis of the African American contribution to world revolution through the study of the aforementioned organizations, complete with discussion of their necessary predecessors and conclusions. Considering the time line of 1960 to 1975, this book presents the history of the African-American radical tradition in terms of the overlapping and interrelatedness of the said organizations with raising the consciousness of African Americans as well as all of humanity.

This book is a must read for those members of my age group (the hip hop generation) and below who would otherwise not have a chance to receive this wisdom at the feet of our elders who participate(d) and engage(d) in revolutionary struggle.

Particularly powerful is the qualitative method of inquiry, the blending of the dialectical material analysis with personal reflection, since Ahmed was a participant and not just a mere observer. This is the first time I have read an African theoretician apply dialectical method to African reality in such a clear manner. Of course the few limitations occur only because Ahmed's competency is limited to his experience; his attempt to write a historiography of the Black Panthers is problematic however, especially out here in Oakland.

There is a lack of continuity from RAM to BPP to the contemporary contribution to revolutionary consciousness. I say this because of the claim that Kwame Ture made on the origins of the BPP; both he and Ahmed tie them to Lowndes County but in different ways; also because Ahmed could have done more research and documentation on local origins of the BPP and thus reached clearer conclusions.

When looking at Ahmed's ideological foundations, mentors to his personal development, I can be thankful that he wrote this book and honored Mr. Boggs' requirement of informing the future to talk about generations of the revolutionary and radical tradition that they are part of and must advance from. Reading this book, I can see why many of my comrades do the work that they do, I can also see the impact RAM had on national efforts toward liberation.

Crucial is the manner in which Africans apply dialectical thinking to daily life. I maintain that dialectical historical materialism is older than Marx or Hegel. It is nothing more than a modern way to talk about Maat, the foundation of African thought. As we recall, dialectics is the art of argumentation, one of the seven liberal arts of the traditional mystery system that G. M. James talks about in Stolen Legacy. Sometimes the term logic is used interchangeably with and substituted for dialectics. Logic is nothing more than the rules of thinking, the ability to rationalize, to speak. The materialist aspect was a European contribution to this law of opposites in order to control and manipulate nature.

A couple of concerns I have with the book include the question of the invisibility of the NOI in his analysis. There is no doubt the heavy influence the NOI had organizationally on the black liberation movement. Also there was a lack of West coast primary sources, some of the narrative concerning California in particular, I thought was at best incomplete. The West coast was presented as lacking strong ideology and organizational skills, except when somehow tied to the national concerted effort which Ahmed admits was a constant problem due to serious reactionary forces, internal and external.

James Boggs was able to see a change in the American interpretation of Marxism (another contribution of African philosophy), advancing C.L.R. James analysis which led to their ideological split. Concerning the Boggs/ James connection, Ahmad refers to the Boggs' as mentors to RAM. In discussing the Boggs', Ahmed mentions how they split from James over ideology, specifically over the need to for American socialist theory to take into account the phenomena of cybernation in American factories at the time. For the Boggs' the need to develop theory from the practice of Detroit labor was imperative while according to Ahmed, C.L.R. James seems to gloss over this point in his analysis. I didn't want to say too much specifically about the organizations due to the way Ahmed weaves his story together, showing the contradictions he saw in each organization and how they're overall efforts contributed to the national cause of black liberation.

I wasn't clear on Dr. Muhammad's secondary discussion of the establishment of Black studies in national colleges and universities. As an alumni of the Pan Afrikan Student's Union, the ideological descendant of the original Black Student Union at the San Francisco State University, I was extremely critical on what Ahmed had to say on these matters, to cross reference it with my own experiences. Perhaps I was expecting too much from him. Perhaps, indeed, We Will Return in the Whirlwind is a brief introduction into a world of unrecorded and undocumented revolutionary ideas and actions.

In conclusion this is a must read for student organizations and grassroots community organizers. All too often we reinvent the wheel. This book is invaluable in terms of visualizing, conceiving and emulating an African standard.

He seemed to do a thorough job with SNCC and Ram. My critique mainly stems from the lack of discussion of the NOI in this time span; how he spoke about Malcolm X without mentioning the ideological development he acquired from his activity in the NOI; and with the organization of the BPP. Admittedly, I don't see the connection between DRUM and the BPP (unless Ahmed himself is the link via RAM).

Concerning the whole question of Marxism and Africa, at Mamadou Lumumba's (Ken Freeman) memorial Baba Lumumba (Ken's brother) mentioned how his brother struggled to reconcile Marxist Leninist thinking with African culture. I see this same tendency in Ahmed's writing. For me, dialectical historical materialism equates with Maat. Therefore, many of our black Marxists overemphasize Hegelian thinking in our struggle for total liberation. I think that understanding is a direct result of how the Hegelian paradigm in many ways perverted our movement; because the white academics make it look so advanced-- at least it did to Negroes in the early 20th century. Garvey was the main one to warn about getting too close to the Communists, that we should return to our African philosophy.

Consequently, this is where the question of the 'West coast contribution' enters the story . Yes, San Francisco 1968 was the epicenter of black studies, but what did it produce? For one thing it produced a new school of thought beyond the Marxist-Leninist paradigm. Even Nkrumah refined those ideas for the Afrikan situation. I'm merely pointing out that when an Afrikan refines European ideas (which came from self anyway), that Afrikan is making a contribution to Afrikan philosophy. Then the question becomes , who were some one of the first Afrikans to popularize and refine Marxist – Leninism for Afrikans? You gotta mention C.L.R. James down to Huey Newton.

--Ramal Lamar

Ramal Lamar is a graduate student in Logic and an associate of the Academy of Da Corner. He teachers at Berkeley Continuation High School.

Ramal Lamar

photo by Kamau Amen Ra

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