Critical theories

One of the implicit points that emerges from Dr. Jacob H. Carruthers’ work The Irritated Genie regarding the Haitian Revolution and the resistance which preceded it, is that Africans were not sitting on their hands waiting for the light of Marxism to show them the way to freedom. They were seizing their freedom and in the process developing modalities of resistance and formulating conceptual frameworks to explain the predation of their adversary. It is a sad commentary on our present state of consciousness that lately arrived critical theories are more resonant with many a Black intellectual, while those forged in the fires of an audacious and truly African liberation struggle lie neglected.
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Thinking about Du Bois and Ambedkar

One day, when the current writing projects are completed, I plan to devote some time to writing about B.R. Ambedkar and W.E.B. Du Bois. One area where I appreciate Ambedkar, was in his critique of Marxism vis-a-vis his interpretation of Buddhism. Du Bois’s relationship to Marxism was complex, reflecting the contradictions of the White left, as well as the limitations of Marx’s theory to addressing the malaise of African Americans. Moreover, Du Bois was influenced by Black nationalism and Pan-African nationalism in various ways, hence tempering his relationship to Marxist theory in some respects.

I compare this to Ambedkar’s discussion of Buddhist philosophy in relation to social inequality. This is from his essay Buddha or Karl Marx.
“A part of the misery and unhappiness in the world was according to the Buddha the result of man’s inequity towards man. How was this inequity to be removed ? For the removal of man’s inequity towards man the Buddha prescribed the Noble Eight-Fold Path.
The elements of the Noble Fight-Fold Path are:
(1) Right views i.e. freedom from superstition:
(2) Right aims, high and worthy of the intelligent and earnest men;
(3) Right speech i.e. kindly, open, truthful;
(4) Right Conduct i.e. peaceful, honest and pure;
(5) Right livelihood i.e. causing hurt or injury to no living being;
(6) Right perseverance in all the other seven;
(7) Right mindfulness i.e. with a watchful and active mind; and
(8) Right contemplation i.e. earnest thought on the deep mysteries of life.
The aim of the Noble Eight-Fold Path is to establish on earth the kingdom”

While Amedkar drew upon Indian philosophy to critique or de-center Marx, Du Bois did not draw upon African philosophy for similar ends. Later generations of Black scholars however would. It would be remiss of me to suggest that Du Bois’s influence would not impact their works even indirectly, as we has, after all, a pioneer of African-centered thought.

Universalist assumptions and social theory

When Marx declared that class struggle was the central element in all of human history, he made an ontological claim. This claim has been repeated in other discourses, some substituting gender for class. However, such claims are vulnerable due to their reliance on Eurocentric assumptions about the nature of reality.
When we examine, for instance, the social organization of many traditional societies, say the Igbo or the Ewe, we find that class and class antagonisms were absent. This is not to say that status differences did not exist. They did. But there was no such thing as a “proletariat” or “bourgeoisie” as self-interested classes.
Also, when we study the oral tradition of the Yorùbá or the Akan, we find conceptions of gender that reflect what some African-centered scholars have called complementarity. This is especially evident in the cosmology of the Yorùbá wherein women are a noted as a necessary and fundamental element to the creation of good in the world–not women apart from men, but the work and lives of men and women in concert.
Thus, it behooves African intellectuals to engage in a deep study of African traditions, rather than relying on Eurocentric paradigms which are ill-fitting to both describe African history or to provide frameworks for future possibility. All ideas are, inevitably, weighted by the ontological assumptions of the cultures that fostered them. As our ancestor Jacob H. Carruthers has taught us, “We cannot move our people by borrowing our foundations from other people.”