The following autoethnographic essay documents my critical reflection and analysis of my experience as a member of the African People's Solidarity Committee (APSC), an organization within the Uhuru Movement. I start by describing my introduction to APSC and the process I went through to become a cadre member in January of 2009. I then give a brief overview of the ideology of the movement before outling the series of events that led me to my resignation from the organization in October of 2009. The last section of this essay details my internal struggles after leaving, until my communication with other ex-members led me to the realization that APSC is a political cult. I conclude with integrating some organizational and theoretical criticisms of the movement I feel are relevant, and provide alternative organizations and individuals to support that reflect my political leanings today.
I first became aware of the Uhuru Movement when I was fifteen years old. I grew up in Saint Petersburg, Florida, where the movement's international headquarters is now located. My hometown also happens to be the birthplace and current residence of Omali Yeshitela, the Chairman of the Uhuru Movement, who is also a key figure in St. Petersburg's civil rights history. His most notable act occured in 1966 when he tore down a racist mural that had been displayed on a wall of the main corridor of city hall. Since then he has led the African People's Socialist Party (APSP), the leading organization of the Uhuru Movement.
Figure 1. Yeshitela with mural, Times files (1967)
During my first several trips downtown as a teenager, I walked past a storefront that featured the word Uhuru above the entrance. I subsequently found out that this was the APSC center for organizing in the white community. Although I was interested in learning more about the space, I never ventured inside.
Six years later I came across an Uhuru Foods fundraising vendor booth at the Pride Parade in 2008. It was here that I first met members of APSC. I was passionate about the sustainable design system permaculture, having recently returned from a semester at Maharishi University of Management pursuing a B.A. in Sustainable Living. I left the university shortly after I realized it was tied to a larger cult involving the Guru Maharishi, who is world renowned for his relationship with the Beatles and his meditation technique Transcendental Meditation (TM). I mention this briefly to highlight my tendency to be drawn to the dynamics of cults at this time in my life.
This brief time of being in a religious cult led me to rebel against spirituality and I became an anti-theist. Also around this time, I was drawn to radical feminist/lesbian separatist political theory and essays. Through my readings and research on radical feminism, I started to become familiar with anti-racist and anti-colonial politics through the writings of black feminist Barbara Smith, the Combahee River Collective, Chicana feminist Gloria Anzuldua, and the white anti-racist feminist Inga Muscio. My new worldview alienated me from friends and family. I began feeling desperate for connection. I had no plans at the time of going back to school which further limited my exposure to politically like-minded peers. This isolation, amplified by my alcoholism and mental health issues, left me in a vulnerable state.
At the parade that day in 2008, I picked up a brochure on a sustainability campaign and chatted with some friendly volunteers at their booth. I signed up on APSC's contact list and a couple weeks later received an event flyer for a presentation that APSC’s Chairwoman Penny Hess was leading at the local library. I attended, unprepared for the informational onslaught on European colonialism, white supremacy, the sub-prime mortgage scheme, and what Uhuru described as Obama’s neocolonial presidency.
Afterwards, I picked up Hess’ book Overturning the Culture of Violence, a solidarity T-shirt, and a year membership in APSC’s mass organization the Uhuru Solidarity Movement (USM). (I later realized APSC's characterization of USM as their “mass organization" was misleading in light of the fact that they only had around two hundred members internationally in 2009.)
|Author's Uhuru Solidarity Movement membership card|
I began my relationship with the Uhuru Movement by volunteering a few times a week prepping potatoes for Uhuru Foods. Through discussions with Janice Kant, an APSC member and the Uhuru Foods coordinator, I learned more about the political theory of African Internationalism that shaped the ideology of the movement. I also learned about the other organizations and campaigns such as the International Democratic Uhuru Movement (InPDUM), the All African People's Development and Empowerment Project (AAPDEP), the African People's Education and Defense Fund (APEDF), and the leading organization, the African People's Socialist Party (APSP). It all sounded very exciting. I felt relieved to have found something radical in St. Pete of all places. I felt I had found the revolution.
|Volunteering at the St. Petersburg Famers Market|
A couple of weeks into my Uhuru Foods work, I was invited to attend an upcoming InPDUM convention at the headquarters of the movement, the Uhuru House. I agreed to go and paid the registration fee and reserved a seat. When I arrived at the convention, I walked into a room full of festive African themed decorations with Fela Kuti playing on a loud stereo system. I was welcomed by many friendly people as I went to find my seat.
The convention had what seemed to me to be around a hundred people in attendance. The presentations delivered by members and supporters focused on issues that directly affected the black diaspora, with topics ranging from the prison industrial complex to a boat motor campaign in Sierra Leone. Rosa Clemente, the Green Party vice President of 2008, was in attendance, and presented her work with the Hip Hop community and the McKinney/Clemente campaign.
At the end of the day the last presentation was given by Yeshitela. He presented the “Forward the Revolutionary African National Democratic Struggle: Report to the International People’s Democratic Uhuru Movement Convention, September 27 & 28, 2009, St. Petersburg” which centered on the political period the Party was facing. He spoke about the historical significance of Obama being elected, describing him as “white power in black face” and pointing out Obama’s silence on issues affecting the black community. After the presentation I became a member of InPDUM.
|Author's InPDUM membership card|
|2008 InPDUM convention main handout|
Over the course of the next few months of volunteering with USM and InPDUM, I realized that I was attending every meeting, demonstration, rally, fundraiser, and social gathering that I was allowed. The only meetings and functions I couldn't attend that weren't open to me were those of APSC. I decided I wanted "in" and asked if I could apply to become cadre.
The following excerpt from Dennis Tourish's work, Introduction to Ideological Intransigence, Democratic Centralism and Cultism, briefly summarizes the process members went through to join the Committee for a Worker's International (CWI), which was nearly identical to the process I experienced when joining APSC.
Indoctrination began with the recruitment process. Given the CWI’s secret existence within the Labour Party, people who came into contact with it would not have immediately known that it was an organization, with its own annual conference, full time officials and central committee. Potential sympathizers encountered CWI members in the normal environment of the Labour Party or trade unions. Once their left wing credentials were established they would be asked to buy the CWI newspaper, make a small donation, and support CWI motions at other meetings – a process of escalating commitment. Only after a series of such tests had been passed would the person be initiated into the secret of the CWI’s existence, and provided with further internal documents detailing aspects of its programme. As many ex-members have testified, the effect of this was to create a feeling that the potential recruit was gaining privileged information, and being invited to participate in the transformation of history. Furthermore, they could only access more of this knowledge by escalating their involvement with the group. The excitement at this stage was considerable. (1998, Power dynamics, and life within the CWI section, para. 10)Following my inquiry, I was immediately introduced to a six month probationary period, and began studying APSC’s political education packet for cadre members with my appointed APSC sponsor Kitty Reilly who had been in the movement for over twenty years.
The beginning paragraphs of the first document of this packet are listed below.
Welcome to the new member study, the process for becoming a full member of the African People’s Solidarity Committee (APSC). Formed by the African People’s Socialist Party in 1976, APSC represents a profound commitment to the deepest solidarity with the struggle of African workers for liberation, self-determination and justice. Membership in APSC represents a commitment to stand against imperialism and the parasitic capitalist system which has brought resources, rights, and power to the United States, Europe and the white population for so long. It means breaking with our heritage of unity with white power and uniting with African people and all oppressed people on this planet for national liberation and socialism free from the 500 years of imperialist oppression.At the time, the statement that being a part of APSC was the "deepest solidarity" I could have with the African diaspora was intriguing. Not only did this help me deal with my grief over living in a racist system, it also made me feel important, appreciated, needed - all things that helped anesthetize my low self-esteem. I also suddenly had an entire belief system that I could use as an ideological shield towards anyone or anything I felt threatened by. The year prior to my joining Uhuru, I experienced mania as a side effect from my first withdrawal from alcohol, and at the time I was introduced to this document, I was still prone to grandiosity. This of course only served to normalize APSC's claims.
Joining the African People’s Solidarity Committee is a serious responsibility. All of our lives are carried out with the understanding that we are revolutionary members of APSC under the leadership of the African People’s Socialist Party and in unity with their ideology, strategy, worldview and goals. Imperialism constantly works to unite us with the ideology of capitalism and white power, so we call for a period of study before joining to ensure that you are in agreement with the basic beliefs of this organization. (African People's Solidarity Committee, 2003, p. 1)
The group’s ideology also offers ready made explanations for everything, thereby providing a convenient explanatory framework for the rapid reduction of uncertainty. This constituted one of its main appeals, particularly among young people, for whom uncertainty about the meaning of life and the future is naturally greatest. (Tourish, 1998, Ideological totalism section, para. 28)We next studied the Stance of APSC, which further reiterated what I now clearly see as the APSP’s self-aggrandizement and elitism. The fourth point of the Stance that all members were to unite with reads:
The basis for the African People’s Solidarity Committee which exists under the leadership of the African People’s Socialist Party as the fundamental and only genuine anti-imperialist organization for North Americans, Europeans and other white people. (APSC, 2003, p. 1 )The revised Stance states:
We represent the highest stand of the white population everywhere in overturning this parasitic relationship and all the arrogant, white nationalist & colonialist assumptions and practices that white society has carried out for over 500 years. (APSC, 2003, p. 1)One aspect of socialism I no longer support is the concept of a Vanguard Party. The reason for this is seen in the previous quotes and explained in the following.
Firstly, the notion of a vanguard party inherently predisposes its adherents to view themselves as the pivot on which world history is destined to turn. Revolution is seen as the only route by which humanity can avoid annihilation, but revolution is only possible if a mass party is built around a group of “cadres”: that is, devotees of the party with a particularly deep insight into its ideology. Thus, Trotskyists are possessed of a tremendous sense of urgency and a powerful conviction of their group’s unique role in bringing about the transformation of the world: what could be described as delusions of historical grandeur. ( Tourish, 1998, The concept of a vanguard party and its effect on conformity section, para. 3)These assertions of the importance of APSC were developed directly from the APSP's views of their central place in a world revolution.
The Party is the non-dogmatic, non-compromising, anti-opportunistic political leader of our people and class in their struggle for power. It is the responsibility of the Party to direct all the energies and forces of the masses toward the building of a new world. When we say that the Party is the vanguard, or the advanced detachment of the colonized African working class, this must not be confused with the idea that the Party and the working class are the same. The African Peoples Socialist Party is formed from the best sons and daughters of the domestically colonized black working class. Today the Party has come to terms with the fact that not only must we be not apologetic for leading, it is our absolute responsibility to lead. The Party must help the mass organizations, the community organizations, prison collectives and campus groups to work out the correct political line and to properly direct their activities toward political independence, African liberation and socialism. This is the Party's task because all the Party's work prepares it best for this responsibility, and because the Party is the most perfected and the highest form of black working class organization and the highest form of black working class organization and the highest expression of the peoples will to struggle. (Yeshitela, 1986, p. 24)
I felt a great sense of relief from being involved in a movement who professed to have the answer to all of the world's problems. Having a solution to the despair I felt about the state of the world in 2008 was comforting, and I went along with the certainty. I was a part of the revolution that could save humanity from annihilation.
The future is presented as a choice between imminent salvation or eternal damnation, and one which hinges on every action which party members take. Secondly, such a perspective is a classic cult means of extracting maximum involvement from people alongside a minimum critique of the group’s position. It imbues the organization’s routine activities with a sense of colossal urgency, purpose and conviction which normal politics can never hope to match. This reinforces a conviction on the part of members that they are destined to play a more vital and indispensable role than any previous group in human history. (Tourish, 1998, The gospel of catastrophism section, para. 6)After this first document was reviewed, we studied African Internationalism, or Yeshitelism, in depth. The basic principles and points of this theory, credited to Yeshitela, are:
• Capitalism is a parasitic system, born of and maintained through the enslavement of African people, the theft of African resources, and the colonial domination and genocide of African and oppressed peoples of the world.Escalation of Commitment
• Africans are one people forcibly dispersed by imperialism and facing the same colonial conditions of poverty, powerlessness and oppression around the world. African people in the U.S. are in a state of domestic colonialism.
• The wealth and power of U.S. imperialism are the direct result of the theft of the labor, land and resources of African and other colonized peoples.
• Parasitic capitalism enables the entire white population, including white workers, to live on a pedestal of prosperity and democracy based on the stolen labor, resources, land of African people and other colonized peoples.
• In Africa, the U.S. and around the world capitalism has set up neocolonialism, a form of indirect rule by which imperialist powers continue to exercise political and economic control of colonial populations through nominally independent puppet leaders.
• The African working class, united around the world, must lead the struggle to liberate Africa, destroy the colonial borders, unite our Motherland and become its ruling class. The African People’s Socialist Party, a component of the African Socialist International, is the revolutionary organization of the African working class.
• The only way African workers can launch a successful African revolution, overturning imperialist domination in Africa, winning political power in our own hands and reuniting and liberating Africa and African people is through organization: The revolutionary party led by and representing the interests of the African working class. This organization is the African People’s Socialist Party.
• The African People’s Socialist Party unites with all revolutionary and democratic forces around the world struggling for national liberation, the destruction of parasitic capitalism and the end of an imperialist world order.
• North Americans and Europeans are called on to stand in solidarity with the struggle for African liberation by joining the African People’s Solidarity Committee, working under the leadership of the African People’s Socialist Party (APSC, n.d., Basic Principles of African Internationalism powerpoint)
One phrase that I never stopped hearing consistently throughout my time in APSC was that APSC was taking the “moral high ground” by being cadre in “the most advanced sector of the white population” in the world. From Tourish, "This 'moral imperative' is a leitmotif in many accounts of extreme left wing politics, and historically has had the effect of extracting extraordinary levels of commitment from people. (1998, Defining traits of cults para. 9)
Throughout the next year of my training, I further integrated my identity and personal life with APSC. I started spending time exclusively with APSC members, participating in daily social activities such as gardening, going to bars, playing music and attending potlucks on top of the full-time political work.
You built up an alternative set of social contacts as much as political activity. It can easily take over people’s lives. It became obsessive. They were almost inventing meetings to attend. There was a ridiculous number of meetings held to discuss such a small amount of work. Even if you didn’t have a meeting one evening, you’d end up drinking with them. (Tourish, 1998, Power dynamics, and life within the CWI section, para. 15)The hostility I had been experiencing from family and the few friends I had left outside of APSC due to my increasingly rigid belief system, my obsessive centering of party ideology in every conversation, and my progressing alcohol addiction made it easier for me to become increasingly dependent on the movement. I also began referring to people in the movement as comrade, and became accustomed to greeting, saying goodbye, and expressing unity with these comrades by saying Uhuru! Yeshitela had explained at one of my first rallies that the word Uhuru meant freedom in Swahili, and that members of the movement use this word to keep freedom on their minds at all times. We were also directed to refer to Omali as “The Chairman”. To not do this was seen as being highly disrespectful. Another ex- APSC member Matthew has stated that he used to feel disgust when anyone, even people not associated with Uhuru whatsoever, referred to Yeshitela as Omali instead of the Chairman. I also felt this way after becoming accustomed to the title. It became a ritual, and my entire life started to revolve around the religion of Uhuru.
There is an intense level of activism, precluding outside interests. Social life and personal “friendships” revolve exclusively around the group, although such friendships are conditional on the maintenance of uncritical enthusiasm for the party line. Members acquire a specialized vocabulary (e.g. they call each other “comrade”), which reinforces a sense of distance and difference from those outside their ranks. The group becomes central to the personal identity of members, who find it more and more difficult if not impossible to imagine a life outside their organization. (Tourish, 1998, Defining traits of cults section, para. 21)
About six months into my training things became even more enmeshed. I was having major conflicts with my roommate and had been staying on different comrades' couches. One night I was staying over at my sponsor's house, and we were relaxing on the couch watching different music videos on YouTube. During one of my favorite Lauryn Hill videos that contained a lot of sexually charged images, my sponsor abruptly turned to me and asked if I was hitting on her. Shocked, I said no, and fell silent assessing internally what was happening. She continued by saying that she felt I had been flirtatious with her for some time, and wanted to know if there was anything "there." Again I said no, and she apologized and went to bed. The rest of the night I sat there feeling uncomfortable, wanting to leave until I finally fell asleep.
A sponsor in the context of the Uhuru Movement is someone who assumes responsibility for another person during the APSC training process and acts as an example of what cadre should be. With my sponsor, there was also the added benefit of her offering me the use of her car, a place to crash, money, and emotional support. I confided a lot about my personal life and struggle with relationships with her, and I received a lot of advice which at times seemed harsh. In light of her interest in me romantically, the reason for this harshness became self-evident, and the unethical violation of my boundaries was only intensified by the fact that she was in her sixties and I had just turned twenty two.
Over the next few weeks our interactions were awkward and tense. Things eventually seemed to return to normalcy but now included my sponsor's random suggestive and inappropriate advances. My face or hair would be touched or caressed without warning or invitation. I would catch her staring at me or flirting with me when we would get together. I dealt with all of this by ignoring her or playing along out of discomfort and fear.
One day during a study group with a new recruit who had also recently employed me as his full-time caretaker, my sponsor asked if I would come outside. When we got outside, I was asked if I would enter into a romantic/sexual relationship with her. Exasperated, she said that it was "too much for her to not know if anything was going to happen between us." She then made the innuendo that she "still had it in her" as an attempt to assure me that I would be satisfied sexually. I remember through the shock of this saying something along the lines of "I just want to be friends", and later in the week, restated this when I met with her to discuss what had happened. I was deeply disturbed. I felt indebted to my sponsor for the emotional and practical support I had received, and guilty for being "ageist" because I had no requited attraction. There was a part of me that also felt resigned to the likelihood that if I were ever involved with anyone, it would have to be someone in the movement. I remember telling another comrade about my frustration of not having enough time for dating, and was told that most people can't live up to being cadre because of the sacrifices one has to make to do the work. In other words, getting into a relationship with someone outside the movement would interfere with our commitment to the revolution, and was therefore not encouraged. So, I thought maybe I should at least try to have feelings for her.
Such a level of activity could be physically and emotionally ruinous, and required members to redefine their entire existence in terms of their membership of the CWI. Crick cites another interviewee as recalling:Conflicted and fearful, I began gradually sending mixed messages to my sponsor. I was terrified that I would lose support, our friendship, as well as any standing I had with the movement. After a few weeks my sponsor unexpectedly decided to disclose this situation after talking with leaders of APSP. It was presented in the usual criticism/self criticism format, where she presented her statement and the other members responded.
"The kind of commitment … required was bundled together in the form of highly alienating personal relationships. You had to make sure your subscriptions were paid and your papers sold so as not to feel guilty when you chatted to other members. The only way out seemed to be ‘family commitments’ and the unspoken truth that as soon as a young … member got a girlfriend he either recruited her or left." (Tourish, 1998, Power dynamics, and life within the CWI section, para. )
There were intensive sessions of “group criticism”, during which alleged mistakes would be picked out and the individuals concerned denounced by the other members. Several effects flowed from this regime. Members experienced enormous pressure to conform. Dissent led only to group criticism sessions, which everyone was naturally anxious to avoid. To avert such an eventuality all members eagerly denounced the others. In turn, this display of devotion to the party combined with a radical departure from the norms of decent everyday conduct reinforced the belief systems of those involved, by creating an intense private world, cut adrift from how everyone else thought, behaved and handled difficult feelings. (Tourish, 1998, Defining traits of cults section, para. )
|Figure 5. Author's copy of Criticism and Self Criticism & The Principle of Collective Leadership|
The majority of reactions from comrades were stern and emotionless critiques of how "subjective", emotional or personal, the relationship had become. Only one comrade expressed shock and moral disgust. The session ended and it was not mentioned or discussed again. Although nothing was ever said directly to me, I could feel the judgment. I blamed myself for leading my sponsor on, and continued to blame myself years after leaving the movement. I understand today that this exaggeration of my responsibility in the relationship was due to my internalized victim blaming that's so pervasive in our culture.
Years later I came across a comment on an Uhuru News article from an ex-Uhuru supporter that verified I was not the only one who had seen this type of behavior or abuse of power from leadership.
My attempts to speak on behalf of MW (Matthew Willis) were cut off or ignored by Omali Yeshitela, Penny Hess and the rest of the uhuru leadership. And several people in the APSC who I know to have engaged in sexual behaviors that would get them thrashed by the party for their colonial and exploitative natures made dishonest statements against MW or sat in silence while their "friend" was thrown under the bus. (ADEXA [pseud], 2012, comment on "The struggle against Chernoh Alpha M. Bah: Build the African Socialist International and revolutionary African Internationalism!")I mention this situation with my APSC sponsor to show an example of how the strict moral focus on principled relationships was not always honored by cadre in leading roles. It also highlights how serious unethical behaviors within APSC were handled; with minimization, denial and avoidance. A recent example of this can be seen in the Uhuru News article “Diop Olugbala expelled from APSP Central Committee” published in January (2014). Diop’s unethical behavior was tolerated for years. So what was the final motivating factor to expel him after all these years? “The decision to expel Comrade Diop from the Party was a response to the deep political contradictions that Diop’s behavior has imposed on the work and image of the Party.”
During this time I had already been experiencing other internal conflicts with the ideology and practice of the movement. I noticed that the more engaged I became in the work of APSC, the more my unresolved questions were unwelcome. I wanted to know what the movement planned to do to eliminate heterosexism and patriarchy, especially after I witnessed members in the movement engage in sexist behavior and language. I remember one particular struggle where I was chastised for questioning the behavior of the Chairman which I perceived as homophobic. I was sternly told that we were to never criticize or question the Chairman, and this was expressed with in-credulousness.
Within this world, a peculiar paradox may have been that members came to depend on the leaders precisely because of the abuse which was meted out to them.
More subtly, since it was assumed that the group leader had a special insight into social problems above and beyond that of anyone else members came to believe that disagreements with her analysis, even before they had been clearly articulated, were liable to be wrong. Thus, Lalich (1992, p.21) refers to “… the intensity of the members’ faith in the political model and the fact that unquestioning belief in that model led each member to accept and contribute to a stern discipline and a harsh fate.
Leader figures, alive or dead, are deified. In the first place, this tends to centre on Marx, Trotsky or other significant historical figures. It also increasingly transfers to existing leaders, who represent themselves as defending the historical continuity of the “great” ideas of Marxist leaders. In effect, the new leaders are depicted, in their unbending devotion to the founders’ ideals, as the reincarnation of Marx, Trotsky or whoever. There is a tendency to settle arguments by referring constantly to the sayings of the wise leaders (past or present), rather than by developing an independent analysis. Even banal observations are usually buttressed by the use of supporting quotations from sanctified sources. (Tourish, 1998, Defining traits of cults section, para.) ￼
|Figure 6. omaliyeshitela.org|
|Figure 7. omaliyeshitela.org|
It was suggested that these debates or "struggles" I kept bringing up at APSC meetings was my refusal to shed my white nationalist socialization, particularly my white feminist politics. I was told that my focus on these issues was opportunistic, and obscured the most important contradiction, colonialism. The shaming became greater the more I questioned or critically analyzed the Party's "line".
The Party is opposed to unity based on a reconciliation of opposing lines. The Party's line is one which is based on a scientific appraisal of the requirements of the revolution at every period. It is a line which must withstand the test of practice and which the Party as an organization, through its legitimate process and procedures, including the Party congress, has come to accept as the only correct line. Hence the unity of the Party is based on the Party's line and not on a reconciliation of the Party's line with some other line which may be imported into the Party. (Yeshitela, Build and Consolidate the African People's Socialist Party p. 22)I had also around this time been struggling with APSC about my gender expression and presentation. I experimented frequently with drag king presentations, and had the habit of penciling sideburns and a mouche "soul patch" on my face. Certain comrades started making transphobic comments, accusing me of drawing attention away from the work. I was sincerely asked by a white heterosexual cis-male ( cisgender - someone who identifies as they gender/sex they were assigned at birth) comrade why anyone would want to transition and become a white man. I didn't have an answer for him because I was still very new to understanding transsexualism, and had not yet realized that I was a female to male transsexual myself. A friend of mine had warned me that Uhuru was known, especially among queer people in Philadelphia where they had another chapter, for being transphobic. (Turns out not much has changed in this regard. This can be seen clearly in the comments section of another recent Uhuru News article: http://uhurunews.com/story?resource_name=the-white-opportunism-of-tim-wise-versus-the-african-revolution. Even though one of my comments in response to Jesse Nevel’s post was deleted and censored, Jesse and Johann’s transphobic posts were not even though they violate the site’s comment policy: http://uhurunews.com/comment-policy-popup.)
I was told that my gender expression was disruptive and that I was only wasting time playing around with something as trivial as my gender. I needed to be less of an "armchair revolutionary." I was also told that I was weakening the unity of the group by constantly bringing up "counter revolutionary" topics, which would ultimately leave us more vulnerable to outside infiltrators. Every conflict was reduced to whether or not something was too subjective or if it was due to underlying white nationalist motives.
In addition, the language of demonisation is used to describe dissidents. Both sides in the 1991/92 split accused the other of “bending to the pressures of capitalism”. It is inconceivable that honest differences could exist which should be debated on their merits – they are invariably viewed as signifying the presence of alien class interests, to be engaged in mortal combat. The language is one of all or nothing – complete agreement or absolute separation becomes the norm. (Tourish, "Ideological totalism")
I took this to heart and worked harder on developing creative ways to meet our goals. One of our goals for the year was to recruit one-hundred new members to USM by December. It was August and we had only recruited around twenty or so nationally, and with minimal degrees of active involvement. Previously I had put together plans of action that reached out to other left organizations in the country I thought would be in support of our campaigns. Every organization I suggested we contact was written off, with comrades stating that they were too "liberal", "ultra-left" (especially anarchists), or were "opportunists." This of course reinforced the already stated belief that we were the only legitimate revolutionary organization in the world.
An internal document from 1977 averred:
“What guarantees the superiority of our tendency … from all others inside and outside the labour movement is our understanding of all the myriad factors which determine the attitudes and moods of the workers at each stage. Not only the objective but the subjective ones too.” This conviction is combined with contempt for all other organizations on the left. The closer such organizations are to the group’s own ideological lineage the more likely they are to be the targets of abuse."With hardly any other organizations to network with, I developed a plan of action that integrated cultural events with political education to attract students and young people to the movement, and brought it to the next business meeting. Similar to the experience of another ex-Uhuru member, my presentation of the P.O.A. was put off due to the reading of Penny Hess’ latest entry on the USM blog which I had already read earlier in the week. We did the usual rounds of "uniting" with her analysis without dissent, and I finally reported the P.O.A. I was told it was good and had some fresh ideas, but that the current methods the movement used for recruitment had proven to be the most effective over the years. Disillusionment set in.
One interviewee (David) told me: “We were taught to absolutely hate every other political organization that there was. Anybody on the left who wasn’t a Marxist were called left reformists, and we were absolutely convinced that they didn’t have a clue. We looked on them as hopeless people. People outside left politics at all were dismissed as ‘liberals’, but we probably hated them more than extreme right wingers – we used the word liberal as a sort of political swear word. But other Trotskyist groupings were the worst. We just laughed at them in internal meetings. We called them ‘the sects’ and took the view that they were incapable of any development at all. They were good for a laugh at best, but really the attitude towards anybody else claiming to be Trotskyist was that they were the complete enemy of everything we stood for. If we ever had taken power God knows what we would have done to them. (Tourish, "The concept of a vanguard party and its effect on conformity")
Tourish suggested that political cults tend to be characterized by the presence of certain traits. The following is the first of these traits he listed:
1. A rigid belief system. In the case of left wing political cults this suggests that all social, natural, scientific, political, economic, historical and philosophical issues can only be analyzed correctly from within the group’s theoretical paradigm – one which therefore claims a privileged and all-embracing insight. The view that the group’s belief system explains everything eliminates the need for fresh or independent thought, precludes the possibility of critically appraising past practice or acknowledging mistakes, and removes the need to seek intellectual sustenance outside the group’s own ideological fortress. All such thinking is dismissed as contaminated by the impure ideology of bourgeois society. ("Defining traits of cults")My depression became acute after I lost my passion for the movement. My drinking and going to bars rapidly increased. I lost all enthusiasm for the work and started resenting my comrades, showing up to commitments hung over and irritable. I felt annoyed by the same arguments, catch phrases, and logic which I began challenging. Everything suddenly sounded repetitive and meaningless. The high and novelty was gone, and there was nothing left to keep me engaged.
The impoverishment of language used by these groupings, in which historical analysis regularly gives way to hysterical analysis, is clearly a major reason for the members’ inability to grasp either the repetitious nature of its perspectives or the derivative nature of its analysis. Linguistic asphyxiation leads to intellectual paralysis. By narrowing the range of thought it also hinders falsification. Members lack the information required to compare predictions with reality, to distinguish between evidence and assertion, and eventually to think. ("Power dynamics, and life within the CWI")
As my alcoholism and depression progressed I became neglectful towards comrade Johann Bedingfield, the recruit who hired me as his full-time caretaker. I slept in and justified my neglect as "tough love", encouraging him to learn how to be as independent as possible. I was controlling and rigid about what meals I prepared for him, refusing to cook certain foods. The height of my neglect came at an APSC meeting one day when he called to say he was having trouble using the bathroom. I told him to push through and do it himself, but was ordered by another comrade to go home and help after he called her for help. I later expressed my desire to stop my neglectful behavior. One week later I was fired for failing to take him to an appointment after I overslept that morning from drinking the night before.
I felt defeated, humiliated, and overwhelmed with shame. I packed up my things and moved in with two women I had met at a bar in their foreclosed house. I decided to write a letter of resignation from APSC. I believed I was not ready for the responsibility of being cadre, and was not ready to address my alcoholism. I submitted an official resignation letter.
The unrelenting pace induced exhaustion and depression, while making it harder to “think your way out” – too many commitments had been made, all bridges back to sanity were long dynamited and too little time was left over from party activity for reflection. In a paradox far from unique to political cults, the more deeply ensnared people were in the perfumed trap of activism the harder it became to escape. Members tended not to leave as the result of rational reflection and conscious decision, but dropped out in despair, exhaustion and crisis."I brought my letter and read it at the next APSC meeting, following the standard procedure of criticism/self-criticism. I read it nervously and in an almost trance like state, dissociating from what felt like the end of my life. When I finished, I was met with disappointment and coldness. My sponsor was the person to "sum up" my resignation to the other local unit comrades, and I don't remember much of what was said. I only remember the stern and unemotional faces as I left. I barely made it out of the door before I burst into sobs. I felt devastated and utterly lost. “I do remember feeling absolutely terrified when I first left – what was there for me now, what would I do, where did I start? I eventually managed to get my life together, but it was a hard slog (Tourish, "Power dynamics, and life within the CWI")
“When people left, we always said that they had ‘dropped out’. I suppose that kind of implies that by leaving you were falling down or showing weakness! We also often said that they had ‘degenerated’. There was never a good reason for calling it quits. (Tourish, "Defining traits of cults")
After my resignation I made a few attempts to stay an ally to the movement. I sent monetary donations when I moved to Indianapolis on a whim, and stayed current with what was happening with the different campaigns. I still wanted to be a part of Uhuru in some way, but I remained cautious, not willing to throw myself into too much again uncritically. From the moment I resigned I was determined to understand why I did not feel complete unity with the "line." I read everything I could on anti-colonialism, especially from an anarchist perspective, which I had always intuitively connected with. Although I learned a good deal I could not find a critique of the Uhuru Movement or comparison to like-minded organizations and schools of thought. I found no other sources that wrote about African Internationalism. All of it came from Uhuru members. I thought that maybe this was due to there being nothing objectionable to criticize, no controversy or issue with the movement like APSC had put forth, or, Uhuru was just too much of a fringe group to warrant serious critique.
When I moved back to Florida from Indianapolis I volunteered with Uhuru Foods a couple of times until I was asked to not come back. I found this out over the phone and was told it was because I was "trying to counter-recruit potential Uhuru member volunteers to anarchism." The only instance I can recall where this could have been perceived would be when I decided to give copies of a zine I made to friendly members before an Uhuru event. I passed it out to two members and one acquaintance. The zine was an educational piece about Irish Americans and whiteness and one page was authored by an anarchist group. I mentioned in the back of the zine that a friend and I were compiling a lending library of political texts and that people were welcome to contact us about this. Nowhere in the zine did I call for membership or support of any kind.
|Fig. 8 Rowles, Courtland. Paddy's Zine|
So, I continued searching, going back and forth between feeling like I did the right thing resigning and feeling shame for not being disciplined enough to be cadre. I felt paralyzed to do anything else, especially politically. I also thought that if I were happy outside of the movement it meant that I was just blindly capitalizing on my opportunism and privilege. This went on for years after I left. Despite my continued conflicts with the "line," I encouraged others to support Uhuru, sometimes making a cursory note about how I support "99%" of what they're about.
After I had been told I was unwelcome as a volunteer, I did not have much contact with the movement. I remained friends with Johann and we would get together every couple of months. This relationship wavered because we soon did not have much in common when I did not want to talk about Uhuru our entire visit.
Two years after resigning things finally came to a head for the last time. I decided I wanted to be involved in the local Occupy movement despite APSC also attending their events. I helped start an Occupy Safer Spaces group to have anti-oppression dialogue that was dismissed or shut down in the larger group. One of the biggest topics we focused on was white supremacy and white privilege within activist spaces. I debated with a lot of people in Occupy about this on the Occupy St. Pete Facebook page, where APSC members were also posting info about their events. Their posts started receiving a lot of hateful, racist comments which I decided to respond to with statements of support for Uhuru. Things seemed generally civil between APSC and me for the first month or two. I would say hello to a couple USM/APSC members at events and went about my work. During my involvement with Occupy, I had been walking my dog about three or more times a week that still lived with Johann. I planned on adopting her again since I was stable and sober in A.A. awhile, but I was waiting a couple months to save up for a pet deposit for my apartment. Johann and I had discussed this, and a deal was made that I would walk her and buy her food until I could afford to take her home with me. On the day of a large General Assembly at the local Quaker fest Circus McGurkis, I went to pick my dog up and no-one was home. I decided to go around the side kitchen door which I knew was always open since I had lived at this house prior, and reached in to grab my dog's leash. Looking back this was the wrong thing to do considering that APSC member Jesse Nevel had become employed as his caretaker and was living there also. Plus, despite my friend's assertions that he had no hard feelings about my neglect, I knew I had seriously broken his trust.
I ran into both of them briefly when I first arrived at the event before the General Assembly began. I said hello and explained how I got the leash, and we chatted for a bit without any issue. I then wandered around the festival booths until the GA started. My dog kept being restless and making noise, so I stayed on the outskirts of the GA circle to calm her down. As a result I barely heard any of the discussion that day.
|Fig. 9 Elizabeth, Angelina. 29 October, 2011|
The next day I talked with Johann over the phone. I was told that I had to adopt my dog right away and that I wasn't welcome over his house anymore. I found this extreme since we had just been laughing and joking around a couple of days before. I assumed the sudden change in attitude was due to my crossing a line with him. I wrote him on Facebook, apologizing for assuming it would be ok to grab the leash, and expressed that I did not want to cause drama or conflict with APSC. I got the following in response in our Facebook chat.
Africans are a race? This denies the legitimate right for Africans to have their own nation. You are scared just like white power Chuck. Scared of black workers. Chuck is an aspiring cop. Chuck has attacked the movement. Poor white people need safe haven from blacks? After everything AFRICANS have been through. Are you protecting your dad? Siding with white males who love power of state but use white power feminism to play psychological war for what you perceived as weaker men, men who give their life for something greater than them, Solidarity with those who have been bombed, lynched. You love these white men. You want to be like them [sic] You love their place on the pedisital and you know it. Neofascism. gonna [sic] hold a club in your hand like those butch Nazi women, hitting jews. Gonna hit Africans for wanting to be free. Gonna support Israel over palestine like your girlfriend who despises Africans and uses jewish [sic] victimization to deny Africans reparations!. God, i [sic] thought she would unite with reparations! And you defended her! like [sic] some poor helpless white female needs some white male comfort. You have some nerve to even request to come here. (personal communication, October 30th, 2011)After this response I knew that APSC had been talking negatively about my involvement with Occupy. I also knew the rest referred to my discussion of racism in the online debates. To Uhuru, talking about racism at all "liquidated" the primary contradiction of colonialism by taking the focus off of national liberation. This response was also obviously directed at my male identity and my Jewish partner who my now former friend had met once. We had a brief conversation about Israel and Palestine which led into a discussion about nationalism and state power. My partner expressed that she was critical of any reparations that led to the creation of a state because of her suspicion that this would only recreate the same violence. She used Israel as an example of how an oppressed group can turn into the oppressor when a nation state is set up. I suppose this was interpreted as her despising Africans and not uniting with reparations.
After expressing that I was hurt by these accusations, I realized our relationship was over. I stated that I recognized the need to let our friendship go, and that I was ending our communication. The verbal attacks continued.
It is true! Your actions prove it! LOL How can you even deny it. Look how you talk with the enemy but you have to "let me go" [sic] Some cop lover who loves fuck [sic] colonized women but you have to let me go! You should be offended by him not hurt by me. He's an imperialists [sic] setting up attacks on USM, yelling at comrade Jesse, agreeing that we [sic] racist morons. It reveals your cowardness and lack of responsiblity and cozing up to state power. (personal communication, October 30th, 2011)Apparently, while I was distracted by my dog at the GA, the person characterized as an aspiring cop in Occupy verbally threatened APSC member Jesse while he was speaking to the assembly.
I was not aware that this had occurred until I read the above Facebook message from him. Our exchange ended with one last response from him.
The Sun Shall Rise in The East MAFRICA!. The Chains are breaking. The Song shall sing from silented voices NO MORE! MAFRICA, MOTHER OF MOTHERS, BLOOD OF SLAVES HAVE ENDURED! WE RESIST MAFRICA. WE ARE A NATION! NO ONE CAN CHAIN US TO THEM, I AM AFRICAN not a black race! So proud to be Irish and yet...we are just some color to you. we are not color people! Though my skin is beautiful, black yes..the original skin...I have bore many children for you, some poor Irish girl, wants to be a white barbaric man, I AM WOMAN. I AM STRONG. I LET MY VOICE BE HEARD. I SEND MY AFRICAN WARRIORS. GIVE ME BACK MY CHILDREN! MY RIVERS! MY FORESTS! MY DIAMONDS! MY COFFEE! MY MUSIC! MY SONG! MY DANCE! MY TEA! THIS IS NOT UP FOR DEBATE! (personal communication, October 30th, 2011)Just to clarify, my former friend is white.
Also for clarification, his reference to color refers to my use of the terms people of color, women of color, etc. I started using these terms because I no longer felt comfortable using African/s, and felt the former was more inclusive of a broad range of identities.
people of color: gente no blancaShortly after this exchange on Facebook happened, I participated in an Occupy march that Johann and two other APSC members attended. They ignored me as they walked past, avoiding eye contact.
This is a term in English that points to the politics of the person using the term, in particular to a recognition that certain people are racialized and the importance of coalition, that is, of making connections between the ways different 'people of color' are racialized. The very mainstream variant would be 'ethnic minorities'. It is similar to the difference between the terms Hispanic and Latino, in the sense that you can peg someone's politics by what term they use. The literal translation in Spanish, gente de color, might make sense to Latinos in the US that know the term in English, or might even use it in Spanish language anti-racist organizing or coalition work, but it is total non-sense in Latin America. One option that was suggested to me was gente de comunidades etnicas, but again, this does not point to racialization. No, I don't think "race" exists, but racialization is a daily reality, that we have to make visible to be able to change. Terminology is important for this work. (Yes, white folks have a "race" too, but they are not racialized in the same way). (note that the term person of color is rarely used in Canada, where the widely used term, in both government and social justice contexts, is "visible minority"). (Koopman)
I was angry and indignant. I knew Johann had been gradually manipulated by APSC to view me as the enemy. I was mad with myself for recruiting him into what I was now accepting without doubt was a cult.
From this point on whenever someone brought Uhuru up I told them the truth. I had finally had enough torment and abuse, from APSC and from myself, and I was tired of apologizing for them and justifying their unethical and oppressive actions. I was starting to break away from their psychological grip.
End of Isolation
A year and a half later I was skimming Uhuru News out of curiosity. Interested, I clicked onto the article "The Struggle Against Chernoh Alpha M. Bah: Build the African Socialist International and Revolutionary African Internationalism!" I had met Chernoh once, and remembered how highly the movement had spoken of him. I started reading the comments below.
The next couple of hours I was glued to my computer screen, reading comments that were being posted in real time from ex-Uhuru members. All expressed experiencing their own slander when they left the movement. One in particular stood out the most - Matthew Willis' story. I had heard lots of horrible things about him when I was active with APSC. I was always curious to hear his side of things because I had been compared to him on a couple of occasions which I felt was ridiculous and cruel in light of what he had been described as. He was labeled a sexual predator by APSC leaders, including ironically my former sponsor, and was accused of flirting with volunteers and using his "cred" with Uhuru to get laid when he went to bars. When I got to the part of his post detailing how he had been betrayed by a woman in APSC who had made him her child's godfather, I burst out crying. I was crying half out of compassion for the emotional pain he must have gone though, and partly out of relief for finally finding someone who had experienced what I had. I was not crazy, weak, or some evil white nationalist. I had been manipulated into believing this by a well known tactic of cults which effectively isolates members who leave.
In response to the ex-members admissions, there were many posts from APSC and APSP members that clearly articulated their fundamentalist and rigid extremes of thought. It was obvious who was employing critical thinking now that there was an actual debate happening. The only people who I had ever seen challenge Uhuru before were actual white nationalists, so Uhuru always seemed sane in comparison.
Here are some responses about and addressed to ex-members below.
Below is a pertinent quotation from Chairman Omali's political report to the 2012 APSP Plenary conference
"Because the principles of the Party and our Constitution contain fundamental ideals of revolutionary theory and practice, many of those who have left the Party are unable to justify their opposition on grounds of principled disagreement and therefore concoct slanderous obscenities to obscure the reason for their abandonment of the revolution. They are scabs.
"We have been intolerant of liberals and petty bourgeois aspirants. Individualists and adventurists have also been unable to remain in our ranks. We constantly struggle against liberalism and subjectivism, another tendency to place ones personal interests above that of the Party. We have ejected thieves and lumpen types that have attempted to give their anti-social criminal behavior a revolutionary cloak.
"Some of these forces even claim to be African Internationalists. One is claiming to build another party. These are examples of using African Internationalism to attack African Internationalism or waving the Red, Black and Green flag to attack the Red, Black and Green flag in the same manner as the imperialist stooges who lynched Muammar Gaddafi in Libya. There is no essential difference. Their function is the same.
"What force claiming adherence to African Internationalism would attempt to organize another party except to compete with the Party of the African working class that has been forged in the furnace of revolutionary combat for the last 40 years?
"This is the Party that in most instances is responsible to their introduction to political life and revolutionary theory. What party can they build that can claim the accomplishments of our Party that carries out iron-willed discipline and is established in as many places in the world as our Party. How could there be two parties of the African working class?
"The answers to these questions are obvious. While the crisis of imperialism will result in the emergence of its defenders, sometimes indisguise, our task is clear.
The African petty bourgeoisie and neocolonialists cannot resolve the contradictions faced by the mass of Africans and oppressed peoples worldwide and their “solutions” only serve the interests of imperialism. Neocolonialists are the highest expression of opportunism. They always subordinate or sacrifice the long-term interests of the international working class to serve their own short-term interests.
"This is also the description of those former members and affiliates of the Party that often claim adherence to African Internationalism. At best they are revisionists, those who would attempt to shape and mold revolutionary African Internationalism to fit their devious anti-revolutionary, anti-Party, imperialist-abetting, selfserving interests at the expense of the revolution. It is because of the growing influence of African Internationalism, the fact that it answers all the critical questions speaking to the interests of the masses of our people that radical neo-colonialists would find it necessary to adopt African Internationalists trappings to advance their nefarious agendas.
Willis, like Ajamu, thinks the readers of this site are interested in the details of his life story. We are not. Abysmal indeed. The subjective nastiness of these forces described in the article above are on full display in comments like the last one Willis posted, with the repeated emotional pleas to APSC about how "we used to be friends" -- this is not about friendship! I may "like" my comrades but more importantly I relate to them primarily as COMRADES, not buddies. If they struggle with me, I don't take it personally, I recognize that criticism and self-criticism are vital to the progress of the organization. That's the policy of the Party. Disunity with principled criticism and self criticism within the movement is disunity with African Revolution. This is not about protecting anybody's "feelings". This is about destroying imperialism! Liberating Africa! Enemies need to be exposed. (Jesse, comment on "The Struggle Against Chernoh Alpha M. Bah: Build the African Socialist International and Revolutionary African Internationalism!")
Because of their subjective hatred of the APSP, they are willing to sacrifice the long term aspiration of our people in Sierra Leone for their immediate friendship with Chernoh . They need Chernoh to make their struggle with the Party and he needs them for the same reason. It reeks of opportunism through and through. I guess you can say that opportunism makes strange bedfellows! Not only do the opportunist need Chernoh and would blindly support him but they have personalized a political struggle, going so far as to put out a call to rally the gang of ex APSP members and others who if it wasn't for their hatred of the APSP, could not stand to be with each other on any given day. (Gaida26 [pseud] comment on "The Struggle Against Chernoh Alpha M. Bah: Build the African Socialist International and Revolutionary African Internationalism!")
You dont (sic) belong in this organization and you are counterrevolutionary. You are the ENEMY. We are Communists, you are PB Nationalists. You admitted to it. Your philosophy is dialetically oppose (sic) to APSP. You (sic) up against steal cadre not cult followers. There is nothing you can say or do to change whats (sic) coming. You can slander Diop until you turn blue...Its not going to have an impact. We got a revolution under way gaining strength in Oakland, Europe, West Africa, Columbia, Bahamas. You are weak, we are strong. Your reactionary threats and outbursts are predictable. (Johannuhuru [pseud], comment on "The Struggle Against Chernoh Alpha M. Bah: Build the African Socialist International and Revolutionary African Internationalism!")The next day after witnessing this debate, I thrifted all of my Uhuru t-shirts and trashed most of the Uhuru literature I had been holding onto. I kept a handful of flyers I'd created, my political education packet, some pictures, and my membership and thank you cards. I also contacted ex-members via Facebook and learned a great deal more through our conversations.
Ideological totalism is a concept that I read about in Tourish's essay that eerily describes what makes the Uhuru Movement a cult. He quotes Lifton's definition of ideological totalism.
"… the coming together of immoderate ideology with equally immoderate individual character traits – an extremist meeting ground between people and ideas” (p.477). He made it clear that the potential for such ideological totalism is present within everyone, in that extreme conformity exists at one end of a continuum, consisting at the other end of extreme dissent. However, totalistic convictions are:He then laid out eight main conditions that make up ideological totalism.
“… most likely to occur with those ideologies which are most sweeping in their content and most ambitious – or messianic – in their claims, whether religious, political or scientific. And where totalism exists, a religion, a political movement, or even a scientific organization becomes little more than an exclusive cult” (p.477). (Tourish, 1998, Ideological totalism para. 6)
1. Milieu controlThe scariest part of all of this is thinking what would have happened to me and other ex-members if the APSP really had state power. The language is hostile enough to make me think they'd likely respond how other Trotskyist Party's with state power have dealt with dissidents.
As Lifton postulated it, this is primarily the use of techniques to dominate the person’s contact with the outside world but also their communication with themselves. People are “… deprived of the combination of external information and inner reflection which anyone requires to test the realities of his environment and to maintain a measure of identity separate from it” (p.479).
2. Mystical manipulation
Lifton argues that: “Included in this mystique is a sense of ‘higher purpose’, of ‘having directly perceived some imminent law of social development’, of being themselves the vanguard of this development” (p.480).
This becomes a means of achieving higher and higher levels of commitment. Frantic work rates are intrinsic to vanguard notions of party building, and to the philosophy of Trotskyism, which claims in its starkest form a special ability to illuminate all intellectual discourse.
3. The demand for purity
However and again this is more the norm than the exception in Trotskyist politics, this rapidly led to the formation of factions, uproar and expulsions, with each side to the dispute claiming (a) complete fidelity to sacred traditions and (b) that opponents were under the influence of bourgeois ideology. The “demand for purity” is thus central to Trotskyist practice, but is inimical to the norms of democratic debate.
4. The cult of confession
In essence, this requires people to confess their inadequacies, their relative unsuitability to act as a vessel for the group’s pure ideas, and the many ways in which they have let the organization down. The DWP, discussed earlier, institutionalised the ritual of confession into its programme of criticism, a norm at party meetings.
5. The “sacred science”
This aspect of ideological totalism is particularly apt to Trotskyist politics. Lifton describes it as follows:
“The totalistic milieu maintains an aura of sacredness around its basic dogma, holding it out as an ultimate moral vision for the ordering of human existence. This sacredness is evident in the prohibition (whether or not explicit) against the questioning of basic assumptions, and in the reverence which is demanded for the originators of the Word, the present bearers of the Word, and the Word itself … the milieu … makes an exaggerated claim of airtight logic, of absolute ‘scientific’ precision. Thus the ultimate moral vision becomes an ultimate science; and the man who dares to criticise it, or to harbour even unspoken alternative ideas, becomes not only immoral and irrelevant but ‘unscientific’ ” (p.487).
6. Loading the language
Lifton has described this as the extensive use of what he termed “the thought-terminating cliché”, used as “interpretive short-cuts” (p.488). Repetitive phrases are regularly invoked to describe all situations, and prevent further analysis. Expressions such as “bourgeois mentality” are bandied around as a signifier of something which is an ultimate evil, in contrast to the ultimate goodness of the group’s beliefs. Lifton describes the overall effects thus:
“For an individual person, the effect of the language of ideological totalism can be summed up in one word: constriction. He is … linguistically deprived; and since language is so central to all human experience, his capacities for thinking and feeling are immensely narrowed” (p.489).
In addition, the language of demonisation is used to describe dissidents. Both sides in the 1991/92 split accused the other of “bending to the pressures of capitalism”. It is inconceivable that honest differences could exist which should be debated on their merits – they are invariably viewed as signifying the presence of alien class interests, to be engaged in mortal combat. The language is one of all or nothing – complete agreement or absolute separation becomes the norm.
The impoverishment of language used by these groupings, in which historical analysis regularly gives way to hysterical analysis, is clearly a major reason for the members’ inability to grasp either the repetitious nature of its perspectives or the derivative nature of its analysis. Linguistic asphyxiation leads to intellectual paralysis. By narrowing the range of thought it also hinders falsification. Members lack the information required to compare predictions with reality, to distinguish between evidence and assertion, and eventually to think.
7. Doctrine over person
Essentially, Lifton argues that historical myths are engendered by the group as a means of reinforcing its black and white morality. Then, “… when the myth becomes fused with the totalist sacred science, the resulting ‘logic’ can be so compelling and coercive that it simply replaces the realities of individual experience … past historical events are retrospectively altered, wholly rewritten, or ignored, to make them consistent with the doctrinal logic” (p.490).
Historical myths console members for their present day impotence, provide a ready made historical schema to impose on the complex realities of modern politics and – principally – act a strait jacket on innovative thought.
8. The dispensing of existence
Fundamentally, this proposes that only those who adhere to the group’s ideology are fully human or fully good. Others are either conscious agents of evil forces or unconscious barriers to historical progress who may well deserve annihilation. The notion is promulgated that outside the ranks of the grouping the member may be corrupted by alien pressures, while only within its ranks can true purity be attained. ("Ideological totalism")
Failures of the "line"
After contacting ex-members I was asked if I wanted to contribute my statement about my experiences with Uhuru on the African Socialist Movement supporter’s website. I said yes, and began working on this paper. This was over a year ago. Many times I felt stuck in writing this. I felt recurring feelings of fear. What if I said the wrong thing? Is it my place as a white person to be critiquing and "calling out" a black led national liberation movement? Was I really a white nationalist opportunist? Although I now had personal accounts I could relate to, I still had not found a political explanation for why I didn't fully unite with the line of African Internationalism. It was problematic not only because of the use of cult tactics and practices; the theory was off.
About nine months later, after discovering a critique that explained the movement’s rhetoric, it all came together. The intersections of African Internationalism, race, gender, sexuality, etc., was now obvious. The next few paragraphs articulate why I could not fully unite with the line.
Although I agree that colonialism is the primary contradiction all oppressed peoples face, I do not agree that this contradiction is solely based on the relationship between oppressed and oppressor nations. For instance, black people are targeted today by imperialism not only because of their national identity or status, but because they have darker skin. National identity is not the only category that is systematically oppressed by colonialism. I also don’t believe that the creation of another nation state is the solution to colonialism, for colonialism is an outgrowth of nationalism.
I also agree with the movement that feminism has been and is still largely white supremacist. I understand the aversion the movement has towards white western feminism. What I do not agree with is the unchecked male privilege and sexism I saw in the movement, and the shaming I experienced for pointing this out at different times. The behavior that was allowed to go on is also unethical.
This leads me to an important understanding I finally came to through my research about comparing oppressions. The ideology of African Internationalism, like any other dogmatic Afro-centric ideologies, recreates the ethical exceptionalism of Euro-centric ideologies. This ethical exceptionalism allows followers of these ideologies, like members of APSP and APSC, to view anyone not aligned with their belief system as an "Other." Anyone who happens to be “othered” is seen as inferior, which allows them to justify their own unethical behavior in relation to these “others.” Try to point something out that is flawed ethically with the movement and they will other you with whatever over the top shaming term they can - white nationalist, liberal, enemy, sexual predator, etc. - which does a wonderful job of shutting you up. Ethical exceptionalism and zero sum thinking are integral to Uhuru‘s ideology. When I was involved, sexism, transphobia, ableism, etc. were justified and minimized constantly. All other oppressions were to be put off until after the revolution, unless it was so overt that APSC was forced to address it. Most glaringly, ethical exceptionalism was seen at work with the white chauvinism, entitlement, superiority, and racism of APSC members that was couched in Uhuru rhetoric. APSC members would regularly appropriate black anger, and use terms like "uncle Tom," "black PB" (petty bourgeoisie), and "sell out" to describe certain people of color. I myself was guilty of this. One instance I vividly remember was when APSC attended the All Power to the Imagination Conference at New College in Florida. Johann and I sat in on a workshop on anti-colonial anarchism. I arrogantly asked the presenter the rhetorical question of if there was a strategy for implementing the theory he was educating people about. He stated that he and other anarchist POC didn't have one yet, but were working on developing one. My comrade and I looked at each other and smiled smugly in our self-righteousness. We also were sitting front row at the head of the classroom.
Soon after I came to the above understandings, I read Tourish's essay that had been posted on the ASM supporters blog. This essay articulated for me theoretically the cult aspects of Uhuru. I finally had all the information I needed to connect the fragments of my experience and start moving on.
Thus, Tourish and Irving (1995) have argued that it is useful to conceptualise the issue of cultism as a continuum. At one end of the spectrum we find voluntary associations of people co-operating to work out their ideas and develop a shared sense of purpose. At the other end are manipulated individuals, compelled to uncritically accept the theories of unchallenged, infallible and uncorrectable leaders. Organizations and individuals can move back and forth along this continuum. Harmful practices may reach such a level that the group experiences a qualitative rather than quantitative transformation, emerging as a fully fledged cult. In one sense this approach makes analysis more difficult, since it becomes more conditional and less “black and white”. Groups are not necessarily either cults or not cults. They can be both, at different times and under different circumstances. The key is to identify what techniques of social influence are being used, and the extent to which the people involved recognise the dangers inherent to a great many forms of organization.Closing
Left wing activists, in common with all those interested in movements which set themselves ambitious goals of social, moral or commercial regeneration need to temper enthusiasm for change with a stronger awareness of the techniques of social influence, and a greater scepticism towards totalistic philosophies of social change. (Tourish, "Conclusion")
Today I choose to support many anti-colonial and anti-racist efforts now that I know Uhuru does not maintain some monopoly on solidarity. I urge everyone to learn about the organizations and individuals listed in the bibliography, and consider supporting them.
For years I wanted desperately for the movement to overcome their contradictions. I tried to maintain faith that they would despite lacking the words to express what these contradictions were.
Today, thanks to those who decided to speak up, I have the words and I feel differently.
Uhuru solidarity does many things that are worth supporting but unfortunately they do function as a cult. The compelling personality and theory of Yeshitela attracts white people who rightfully feel shame and guilt when they look at the country that has been created in their names. Solidarity then isolates them ideologically from friends and family so that the only support they have comes from uhuru. They induct people who have social consciousness by convincing them that uhuru is the only avenue they have to express their discontent with the world. That is why the hard core are willing to say anything and accept any amount of verbal abuse from leadership. I think it is really sad that they function in this way. They could have a much more significant and positive impact on the world if they did not. I fully expect rabid denials and or personal attacks for all I have said here, but please do not listen to me or to them. Go spend some time with uhuru and see for yourself. I genuinely hope they prove me wrong. Really, go to their events, read their stuff. There are lots of good people to meet there including sandy, joel, redbeard, maureen, bill, ruby, etc. Form your own opinion and learn some important things along the way. Just stay aware of the process you're being guided through. (ADEXA [psued], comment "The struggle against Chernoh Alpha M. Bah: Build the African Socialist International and revolutionary African Internationalism!")I couldn't have said it better.
African People's Soldidarity Committee. (2003). Membership process.
Diop Olugbala expelled from APSP Central Committee. (n.d.). Uhuru News. Retrieved April 2, 2014, from http://uhurunews.com/story?resource_name=diop-olugbala-expelled-from-apsp-central-committee
Koopman, S. (n.d.). people of color: gente no blanca. Spanish For Social Change. Retrieved April 1, 2014, from http://spanishforsocialchange.blogspot.com/2007/12/people-of-color.html
The struggle against Chernoh Alpha M. Bah: Build the African Socialist International and revolutionary African Internationalism!. (n.d.). Uhuru News. Retrieved April 2, 2014, from http://uhurunews.com/story? resource_name=the-struggle-against-chernoh-alpha-m-bah-build-the-african-socialist-international-and- revolutionary-african-internationalism
Tourish, D. (n.d.). asmsupporters.asmsupporters. Retrieved April 1, 2014, from http://asmsupporters.wordpress.com/2013/02/13/ideological-intransigence-democratic- centralism-and-cultism/
Yeshitela, O. (1986). Build and Consolidate the African People's Socialist Party.
The Sylvia Rivera Law Project http://srlp.org/
Black Girl Dangerous http://www.blackgirldangerous.org/
POC Zine Project http://poczineproject.tumblr.com/
Indigenous Environmental Network http://www.ienearth.org/
Crunk Feminist Collective http://www.crunkfeministcollective.com/
We Are Not Trayvon Martin http://wearenottrayvonmartin.com/
The Catalyst Project http://collectiveliberation.org/