'Free the Land,' The Republic of New Afrika's Concept of a Black Nation
"In focusing on RNA members' practice of lifestyle politics, this book demonstrates the significance of the relationships between New Africans and their political ideologies. I contend that highlighting such commonplace interactions illuminates the strengths and shortcomings of the people involved in social movement activism. These interplays allow us to observe and critically analyze how New Afrikans' beliefs about citizenship, self-determination, reparations, and other matters were shaped by and filtered through preexisting, evolving, and sometimes dubious formulations of "nation," "revolution," "colonization" and other concepts."
Edward Onaci, Free the Land
On behalf of the New Black Nationalist Network, welcome to Denmark Vesey's Notebook and our critical reading of Edward Onaci's publication of Free the Land -- The Republic of New Afrika and the Pursuit of a Black Nation State.
As a point of clarification, the purpose of this critical reading is not to critique Professor Onaci's analysis in Free the Land. Our circulating concern is Edward Onaci's documentation of the RNA's concept of a Black nation, self-determination, republican governance theory, state building, and vision of a nation based on new social relations. The schisms that surfaced within the Provisional Government over these seminal questions are the bricks and mortar of the Black nationalist experience requiring reflection and synthesis to win a national Black polity in the 2020s.
Although New Black Nationalists are committed to resourcing the Black Liberation Movement's bandwidth with analytical products, we share a natural affinity with the RNA as the vanguard territorial Black nationalist formation emerging out of the Black Power era. We treat the current PG-RNA, Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, and Cooperation Jackson organizations as the continuum of the RNA experience, notwithstanding any political differences between them.
This reading reaffirms our points of unity with the RNA's theory and practice, clarifies our political differences, and identifies the theoretical gaps we believe must be filled to prepare for the revolutionary storms in the 2020s. Our critical reading starts with the creation of the RNA and its concept of a Black nation.
The Republic of New Afrika's Concept of a Black Nation
In Free the Land's very first paragraph, Professor Onaci's description of the RNA's founding Black Government Convention proffers an historical account and cipher encrypting the profound challenges the RNA Provisional Government confronted in its advocacy of a Black nation. Convened by two brothers, Imari and Gaida Obadele in Detroit, Free The Land opens with the following passage.
"During the final weekend in March 1968, five-hundred activists and Pan African nationalists came together at the Black Government Convention to determine the destiny of the "captive black nation" in America... On Sunday, March 31, several dozen attendees in the convention agreed to sign a document declaring to the world that they would struggle for the complete independence and statehood of the black nation, which they named the Republic of New Afrika (RNA). They came together to develop a strategy for securing a UN monitored plebiscite whereby their nation, then captive to the United States, could exercise self-determination. By calling themselves New Afrikans they were indicating they were members of an internal colony that, like colonized nations elsewhere, had the right to self-determination, to create an independent Black nation state from Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, and South Carolina."
less than two years after the Republic of New Afrika's founding convention, the Provisional Government was nearly decimated by faction, defections, and armed assaults from American Empire's security state. When the high tide of the 1960s and 70s revolutionary wave subsided, the RNA survived where most radical Black Power era organizations fell by the wayside.
The PG-RNA weathered the FBI's counterinsurgency war. Over the next five decades the RNA broke new ground on its journey to nationhood. It did so because the RNA's citizens/supporters refused to bend to cynicism and disbelief that Blacks in America comprise a nation. Nor did the RNA shrink from battling extraordinary odds to pursue nationhood in the metropole of the world's most formidable imperial empire.
Arguably, there is no historical precedent in which a trans-continentally enslaved polyglot of ethnic people evolves into a distinct nation on foreign soil in an imperial empire. Nevertheless, the Black Commons exploded onto history's stage in the 1960's, conceivably as the youngest nation on the planet.
Given its unique path to nationhood, Black Nationalists aren't oblivious to the reality that most Black people don't regard themselves as members of a distinct nation. Even if notions of racial solidarity serve as a proxy for national consciousness, the majority of the Black Commons would still view the right to self-determination and secession as fanciful, if not unrealistic.
This could be attributed to Joseph Stalin's observation in Marxism and the National Question that the national content of a movement is typically defined by the character of its mass struggle. In some countries the mass movement's focus was land as in Ireland, language among Canada's French speakers, and religion in several Middle Eastern countries.
Despite the emigration movements of Delaney, Crummel, Garvey, and Pap Singleton's 1879 Kansas Exodus movement, the mass character of the Black Commons political struggles was for civic and equal rights to end slavery and Jim Crow's racist segregation. These mass upsurges after the Civil War, World War 1 and 2, and the Civil Rights Movement, tended to militate against Black nationalist impulses.
Similarly, although a new Black nation was forged in Black Belt, the Black Commons attachment to the Black Belt did not assume the nationalist character of Third World anti-colonial liberation movements to reclaim the land. Rather, for the first six decades of the twentieth century, Blacks migrated out to urban centers in the North, Pacific West, and Southern cities in search of jobs and broader liberties.
The gap in the Black Commons level of nationalist identification won't close significantly under the dominance of American Empire. Even when the U.S. spirals toward a governance crisis, institutional collapse, coup attempts and the outbreak of civil war--as almost happened on January 6, 2021-- the Black majority will not be clamoring for its own nation-state. That will require a conscious diversion by Black Nationalist forces.
History tells us that existential crises that convulse society in chaos, also produce dramatic and unexpected shifts in the mood and actions of the masses. The unprecedented upsurge of 20 million Black-led protesters that dominated America's streets and political battlespace for a month after George Floyds public execution, was illustrative of what the future holds on a grand scale.
Amid widespread social turmoil, presented with a choice between a white nationalist Apartheid regime or a new revolutionary Black republic, many in the Black Commons will opt for a Black-led republic. In those extraordinary moments, Black Nationalists must be clear-headed, and speak with an authoritative voice to convert the crisis into the acquisition of power. NBN suggests the starting point begins with building consensus around the concept of the Black nation.
Consonant with our reading of Free the Land, PG-RNA documents, and the writings of the New African Peoples Organization (NAPO) Cooperation Jackson, and the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, New Black Nationalists argue the following points.
Defining a Nation
To explore the RNA's concept of a Black nation, we begin with a working definition of what a nation is. New Black Nationalists accept Joseph Stalin's definition of a nation formulated in his 1913 writing of Marxism and National Question. Stalin defines a nation as follows. "A nation is a historically constituted, stable community of people, formed on the basis of a common language, territory, economic life, and psychological make-up manifested in a common culture.”
NBN believes the Black Commons historical development reflects the five essential elements outlined in Stalin's definition which remains valid today. President Woodrow Wilson's 14 Points parroted Lenin's and Stalin's popular pronouncements on the National Question and self-determination while seeking to undermine it. Wilson 14 Points proclaiming the death of Europe's 'balance of power' doctrine cloaked the U.S., France, and the U.K.'s imperial re-colonization of Europe. The 1919 Paris peace conference created a dozen new nations out of the Austro-Hungarian, Ottoman, and Russian Empires that all collapsed in the killing fields of World War 2, twenty years later.
The New Afrikan People's Organization [NAPO] definition of a Black Nation.
According to Professor Onaci the New Afrikan People's Organization was formed in 1984, as an outgrowth of the split between Imari Obadele's faction and the Abubakari-Lumumba group. NAPO brought new non-Provisional Government activists into its fold from Revolutionary Action Movement [RAM] spin-offs like the Afrikan People's Party and the House of Umoja. They abandoned Obadle's statist constituent-based Provisional Government model to initiate new grassroots organizing across the country. Their definition of the New Afrikan nation stood in close proximity to Stalin's originalist formulation. In "Why We Use New Afrikan" NAPO states the following.
"We embrace the name and concept 'New Afrikan' because it reflects our identity, purpose, and direction. 'New Afrikan speaks to our racial, cultural, and social fusion of various Afrikan ethnic groups and Nations, the Ewe, Yoruba, Alam, Fante, Hausa, Fulani, Ibo and several others--into one, unique nation. 'New Afrikan reflects our identity as a Nation and as a people--a nation and a people desiring Self-Determination. 'New Afrikans have been called 'Colored Americans,' American Negroes,' 'Black Americans," and "African Americans.' The New Afrikan Peoples Organization sees that all these terms confuse a unique New Afrikan Nation with a common history, language, economic life and consciousness manifested in a community of culture."
New Black Nationalists embrace NAPO's position that the Black Commons in America's settler state are a distinct nation.
Cedric J. Robinson's Opposition to Lenin and Stalin's Theory of the 'National Question'
At some point in our critical reading of Free the Land, Cedric Robinson's criticism of Lenin and Stalin's in Black Marxism should be reviewed and addressed. Specifically, we call attention to the section 'Blacks and Communism', pages 218-228.
Robinson takes direct aim at Stalin's definition quoted previously that "A nation is a historically constituted, stable community of people, formed on the basis of a common language, territory, economic life, and psychological make-up manifested in a common culture.”
The RNA on National Identity, Culture, and the Ideological Difference with Pan Africanism
In the next passage Professor Onaci [Page 89] discusses the question of national identity, culture, and the ideological differences between the RNA with Stokely Carmichael's strain of Pan-Africanism. Onaci thus avers,
"During the Black Power era, various individuals and groups contemplated the proper identity African Americans should assume. Among these activists, Stokely Carmichael considered all black people Africans who should seek a land base on the continent of Africa. ...The people who gave life to the New Afrikan Independence Movement contended that African Americans were no longer "African" in the geographic and strict cultural sense of the term. ...they considered themselves a captive nation within a hegemonic state, whose ancestors developed practices and outlooks formed through an amalgamation of African cultural retentions, acculturation under European domination and life in a new land. ...In contrast to activists like Ture, RNA leaders argued that African Americans should identify as New Afrikans, a people who, though racially black or African Americans, embodied a republic distinct from other African nations, and certainly different from the body politic constituted by their white American counterparts."
In NBN's view, the RNA's position that the Black Commons developed as a new people possessing a unique culture based on new environmental, social, and political realities is a critical distinction. New Black Nationalists have consistently held that nation-state Black Nationalists are not ideologically and philosophically speaking, Afro-Centrists or Pan-Africanists who deny Blacks in the U.S. are a distinct nation with its own national identity.
This is a significant ideological marker given the RNA's attachment to what Onaci calls "lifestyle politics." Professor Onaci devotes a chapter to discuss the centrality of 'lifestyle politics' in the RNA's observance of African naming, dress, religious, and other rituals in their everyday lifestyles.
The PG-RNA, and the New African Peoples Organization also self-identify as Pan Africanist, which they describe as belief in "the liberation and unification of the Afrikan continent and the liberation and federation of all Afrikan nations and people throughout the world." [Profile of the New Afrikan People's Organization].
Over the RNA's 54-year history, socialism or an African Socialism variant has also been a mainstay centering their economic philosophy and programs. NAPO's articulation of its socialist economic platform mirrors the position of the PG-RNA and Cooperation Jackson. It states that,
"We are committed to the creation of a New Afrikan Socialist economy in the Republic of New Afrika. NAPO opposes capitalism and seeks to establish a system of production and distribution owned and controlled by the masses."
New Black Nationalists are not ideologically or philosophically speaking Pan Africanist. That said, we are not troubled the RNA's strand of Pan Africanism, in as much as they uphold Blacks in the U.S. as a distinct nation, not an African people. Similarly, New Black Nationalists are not Socialists. Nor are we proponents of a 'socialist' economic system that concentrates the means of production in the hands of the state--particularly one that is led by a single party.
We favor an economy based on restricting and eliminating exploitative relations of all kinds and serving the collective interests of the Black Commons. We believe an alternative route to socialism exists. In the Fanon Arguments, we clarified our positions the issue of "socialist" economies.
The RNA on the Right to Self-determination, a "Captive Nation" and the Black Panther Party Predicament with Huey Newton
The Black Panther Party and the RNA shared similar positions supporting a U.N. demand for a plebiscite on Black self-determination and characterizing the Black Commons as a captive nation or colony within an imperial nation.
Yet when then RNA President Robert Williams called on BPP Chairman Huey Newton to support the concept of Black independence, Newton rejected his entreaty.
Professor Onaci observed that Newton believed it would not be in black people's best interest to seek independence while the United States, "a capitalist imperialist country remained intact." Newton cited a long train of failures in Africa's independence and liberation movements as his rational. Responding to Williams, Newton crafted a letter that read as follows.
"In other words, we're not really handling this question at this time because we feel that for us that it is somewhat premature, that I realize the physiological value of fighting for territory. But at this time the Black Panther Party feels that we don't have to be in an enclave type situation where we would be more isolated than we already are now...And again I think that it would be perfectly justified if the Blacks decided that they wanted to secede the union, but I think the question should be left up to the popular masses, the popular majority. So, this is it in a nutshell. "
Newton's refusal in 1969 to support the Black independence movement can be explained by the evolution of the Black Panthers political doctrine since its founding in 1966. As Professor Onaci correctly states, "New Afrikans in the BPP tended to accentuate point number ten in the party's Ten Point Program."
Indeed, the Black Panther Party's original release of the Ten Point Program in October of 1966, pre-dated the RNA's founding convention by two years. It stated,
"What needs to a 'major political objective' of the party is to get "a United Nations--supervised plebiscite to be held throughout the black colony in which only black colonial subjects will be allowed to participate, for the purpose of determining the will of black people as to their destiny."
The BPP's endorsement of the U.N.' s plebiscite on Black self-determination occurred in the Black Panthers first phase of what they called plain or separatist nationalism. Bobby Seale and Huey Newton explain.
‘‘Community imperialism is manifested or is readily seen with respect to the domestic colonization of Black, Chicano, Indian, and other non-White peoples being cooped up in wretched ghettos and/or on Southern plantations and reservations with the murdering, fascist, brutalizing pig, occupying the communities and areas just like a foreign troop occupies territory. [Bobby Seale]
‘By standing up to the police as equals, even holding them off, and yet remaining within the law, we had demonstrated Black pride to the community in a concrete way and created a feeling of solidarity. [Huey Newton]
In the next passage Huey Newton, discusses the BPP's progression to Revolutionary Nationalism.
‘‘We developed from just plain nationalists or separatist nationalists into revolutionary nationalists. We said that we joined with all the other people in the world struggling for decolonization and nationhood and called ourselves a ‘dispersed colony’ because we did not have the geographical concentration that other so-called colonies had.’’ [Huey Newton]
What is discernable from Newton and Seales's quotes is that the Panthers initial phase was marked by the influence of Malcolm X and Black nationalism expressed as community control and armed self-defense of the people against the security state.
Panther leader Eldridge Cleaver later stated that "Black Panthers could shout Frantz Fanon's quotes from the rooftops." Newtons reference to the importance of standing up to the police as equals--meaning the willingness to match violence with violence--was vital to demonstrating Black pride and creating a new feeling of solidarity.
Newton is speaking from Fanon's seminal work Wretched of the Earth. Fanon supported violence of the colonized against the colonizer. Fanon held violence was essential to defeating the colonizers attempts to terrorize Blacks into submission, overcoming inferiority complexes of the oppressed, and gaining a new revolutionary consciousness.
We can see also see from these quotes, the Panthers turn towards Revolutionary Nationalism. As Newton stated, "As a dispersed colony, because we did not have the geographical concentration that other so-called colonies had, we believed that separatist nationalism within the United States would be impossible without an attack on multiple fronts against the US police and military.
By the time Newton responded to Williams on supporting Black national independence in late 1970, the BPP under Newton's leadership had evolved into a Marxist-Leninist organization. In his speech at Boston college in 1970, Newton espoused a new construct of Revolutionary Intercommunalism.
Newton argued international corporations in advanced imperialist states were deploying technologies and automation that reduced most nations to discrete micro-communities of supply chains servicing imperialist metropoles. Nation's as we had once known them had disappeared and nationalism as an ideology was obsolete. Only communism, said Newton had the potential to link "liberated zones" together into a united front against imperialism."
Newton and the Black Panthers flight from Black Nationalism to Marxism-Leninism was not an isolated incident. It was a political jailbreak in the 1970's. Amiri Baraka, founder of the Black Arts Movement in 1965, was elected as PG-RNA Co-Minister of Culture with Maulana Ron Karenga in 1968. As leader of the Newark-based 'Congress of African People,' in 1970, CAP also endorsed the RNA's plebiscite for self-determination, Black people's right to territory in the Black Belt, and it's right to secede. By 1974, however, Baraka asserted the Black Arts Movement "self-destructed because Black is not an ideology, and the nationalist label, though it was an attempt to locate and raise the national consciousness, could not hold."
Irrespective of the Black Panthers and other organizations ideological and political migrations away from Black nationalism, many were attempting to re-evaluate the Black Commons state of affairs. The newly emerging Black class structure, the revolutionary implications of the Black exodus from the Black Belt to Northern, Western and Southern urban centers, the international situation that found the U.S. in retreat around the globe, and the fracturing at home over the Vietnam War, called for new thinking.
New Black Nationalists have reservations that the RNA did not produce comparable analyses. If the RNA did, it doesn't appear the implications of dispersal from the Black Belt altered the Provisional Government's view that restricted its focus to the Black Belt region. Rather, the PG used the pressure cooker of Black urban rebellions to barter for concessions aimed at capturing control and resources for areas inside the Black Belt region and strengthening its hand to press its United Nations on a Black plebiscite.
It is one thing to recognize the Black Belt Thesis as the basis for establishing the existence of a Black nation and justification of its right to self-determination. Exercising the right of self-determination is quite another. In NBN's view, the RNA not only restricted the options of establishing a black republic physically to the Black Belt but narrowed the forms a Black polity could take to a traditional nation-state.
Professor Onaci avers that "New Afrikans' theoretical foundation exhibits marked limitations due to the RNA's exclusive focus on Africans enslaved in the South, elision of Africans enslaved in the North, and notable omission of legally free, though politically liminal, black men and women in both regions." In this area, we concur.
New Black Nationalists applaud Cooperation Jackson's efforts to transform the Jackson-Kush region into a transitional Black Power enclave embedded with revolutionary economic and political infrastructure. Their work is exceedingly important.
But in the 2020's, nothing precludes Detroit from breaking away from Michigan and forming an independent city-state, while Black nationalists negotiate the creation of an autonomous region with a new Social Democratic Pacifica Republic of California, Oregon, and Washington State. In the governing crisis that is unfolding before us anything can and will happen.
Rethinking the Concept of a Nation-State and the Break-Up of America
Before concluding with our final thoughts, we would like to point out that New Black Nationalists do not regard countries like the U.S., the UK, or France as nation-states. They developed as predator empires. England colonized Ireland well before its Glorious Revolution of 1688. France colonized Canada 250 years before the French Revolution's 1st Republic was established in 1789.
Modern nation-states built their economies based on their own natural resources and wealth, established a national identity, and governed their own sovereign territory. Few succeeded outside becoming client states of larger powers. The European Union was the temporary answer to Europe's modern states inability to survive without slaughtering each other across the continent in two World Wars.
The second point we'd like to make is that New Black Nationalists make a real distinction between empires as a governance phenomenon and imperialism as a system of great nation exploitation. Empires have discernible characteristics and tendencies of behavior in their formation and dissolution. All modern-day imperialists are not also empires. So too, the Black Commons is not so much an oppressed nation within a nation, as a national formation of subjects within an empire.
For some time now New Black Nationalist have argued that whether American Empire comes with an expiration date is not the question: it's when. We believe the confluence of events that culminated in the January 6, Capitol Coup marks the beginning of the end of The Cathedral in the 2020's.
How America's Settler State will crack and burst asunder is a more complex question, filled with nuance and contingency. Our central thesis however is that political disagreement is rarely enough to drive nations to separate. Regions or America's Red State vs. Blue State divide won't lead to secession based merely on political divisions.
The vector driving the desire for independence and separation is ethnic identity. People in Red States and Blue States see themselves as living in two different societies that can no longer co-exist-one that is white and essentially urban, the other multi-ethnic and urban.
In a real sense, Black people, who were present at the creation in the metaphorical "1619," are historically, culturally, and politically, more of a nation of than any other demographic group in America's settler state. That's something to contemplate as we rethink the concept of nation.