From looking at the facts of the early 1980s, it would be easy to think that only communists did the real so-called "anti-apartheid" work, but that would be a mistake, because, at the same time, there were a few professional organizers who did work hard to cut the military, economic and sporting ties to South Africa. Randall Robinson was one of those important non-communist lobbyists.
In the early 1980s when MIM founded itself, MIM was a strong presence in resuscitating the movement to cut U.$. ties to South Africa. In 1979, a march had drawn 3000 in Cambridge, Massachusetts, but soon MIM comrades often found themselves the major activists (read only activists) tabling, organizing and petitioning in the early 1980s in the subject area. Members of the Democratic Socialist Organizing Committee (DSOC) (now called DSA), consciously decided that the public was "burned out" on the issue and moved on to other issues. Others claimed credit and continue to claim credit for MIM's and its predecessors' work in Cambridge, Massachusetts, but in fact, it was MIM making a big stink at Harvard and in the Boston area. The ones claiming the most credit for this work are people who showed up at some rallies but rarely did any actual nuts-and-bolts work. Meanwhile, other activists who graduated from college and still considered themselves communists found themselves arrested for their support for the movement.
Precisely because Randall Robinson worked for TransAfrica and has at times had some good things to say on international issues such as South Africa, we find ourselves most disappointed that this book which is about the debt owed concerning slavery does not touch on any debt or reparations owed by the United $tates to Africa. We were hoping that Robinson would do a better job representing the left-wing of the Black bourgeoisie, a sector we sometimes call the national bourgeoisie.
The clear focus on U.$. Black needs despite the relevance of slavery to Africa is ironic given Robinson's background and it also condemns the class character of the book in our eyes. Despite his background, Robinson has decided that U.$. Blacks are the most oppressed group: "No race, no ethnic or religious group, has suffered so much over so long a span as blacks have, and do still, at the hands of those who benefitted, with the connivance of the United States government, from slavery and the century of legalized American racial hostility that followed it."(p. 8) Later he says that the crimes against Blacks have been the greatest holocaust of the last 500 years.(p. 216)
His book is full of intelligent and progressive commentary on current events and history as it is relevant to overcoming white domination. One example of his writing that we liked was: "Exacerbating an already crushing legacy of slavery-based social disabilities, he [the Black male--ed.] faces fresh discrimination daily in modern America. In the courts of ten states and the District of Columbia, he is ten times more likely to be imprisoned than his white male counterpart for the same offense. If convicted on a drug charge, he will likely serve a year more in prison than his white male countepart for the same charge. While he and his fellow black males constitute 15 percent of the nation's drug users, they make up 33 percent of those arrested for drug use and 57 percent of those convicted. And then they die sooner, and at higher rates of chronic illnesses like AIDS, hypertension, diabetes, cancer, stroke, and Father's killer, heart disease."(p. 214)
As we read, we cannot be surprised by Robinson's positive insights into African history combined with his open anti-communism and sometimes very narrow outlook. Repeatedly he condemns Stalin and communism, (pp. 115, 145) but not with any depth of understanding. He even admits that he suspects himself having grown up in Amerika that there is no way he could give Cuba a fair shake--simply because of widespread anti-communism. While struggling with his own anti-communism in print, Robinson shows an awareness that the original Christians would be defined as communists as much as they could be for their day.(p. 146)
In the end, Robinson expresses some sympathy for Cuba and opposition to U.$. media and government propaganda. It is as though Robinson knows that the same government that lies and thieves when it comes to Blacks also does so when it comes to the Caribbean, where many Black people live. "Many blacks--most, perhaps, though I can't be sure--don't like America."(p. 134)
On the second-to-last page of the book,(p. 246) Robinson asks the United $tates government, in a paragraph, to start a dialogue with Africa and the Caribbean about debt relief and monetary compensation. No where in the book do we really get a sense of the surplus that flowed from Africa to the United $tates or the relative position of U.$. Blacks to ongoing super-exploitation of the Third World.
This is not a book of calculations and nor is it a book of how U.$. Blacks or Africans fit into the global economic order of exploitation today. It's not a very satisfying book about the reparations and development question as far as MIM is concerned, but it still has many progressive aspects. When the Black liberation movement faces a fork in the road, there will be some kind of leader like Robinson pointing toward a U.$.-Blacks-first position at the expense of the international proletariat. We have to be prepared and understand the material basis for this line in the Black bourgeoisie.
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