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The Marxist Theater of Amiri Baraka W. D. E. Andrews Franz Fanon, in his book The Wretched of the Earth (1961), isolated three stages in the development of the black writer: assimilation, ethnic discovery, and national socialist revolution. Ten years earlier, Sartre had postulated a similar progression, though with considerably greater recognition of negritude (Fanon’s second stage) as a necessary phase in a developing political consciousness and with a stronger internationalist per­ spective on the ensuing Marxist union of the proletariat (the ultimate realization, in Sartre’s program, of Fanon’s third stage): “The unity which will come eventually, bringing all oppressed peoples together in the same struggle, must be preceded in the colonies by what I shall call the moment of separation or negativity: this anti-racist racism is the only road that will lead to the abolition of racial differences.”! Fanon’s and Sartre’s analyses would seem to have a striking bearing on the career of LeRoi Jones/Amiri Baraka. During the 1960’s, Baraka progressed from an integrated life-style of Greenwich Village hipsterism, through ethnic self-discovery, and then to a black revolutionary priesthood. Since the mid-1970’s, he is to be seen making the crucial move beyond uncompro­ misingly separatist black nationalism through a more inclusive Pan-Africanism culminating in international socialism. In his earlier writings, Baraka had expressly dissociated him­ self from the revolutionary model of white radicalism. The relevance of Marx and Lenin to black revolution was vehemently dismissed. Eldridge Cleaver’s efforts to align the Black Panther Party with white leftist groups were bitterly resented: “With the incarceration of Huey [Newton]”, Baraka wrote, “and the move W. D. E. ANDREWS teaches at The New University of Ulster and devotes some of his time to writing—mostly plays for British and Irish radio and television. He has also written on Pinter, Beckett, Albee, Seamus Heaney, and on Thomas Kinsella, John Montague, Padraic Fiacc and the American influence on Irish poetry. 137 138 Comparative Drama of Cleaver into the chief strategist’s seat, the Panthers turned Left on Nationalism, and turned left on black people. And the love of Beverly Axelrod [Cleaver’s white ex-lawyer] has left terrible Marx on the dirty Lenin black people have been given by some dudes with dead 1930’s white ideology as a freedom suit.”2 But it was becoming increasingly clear to Baraka that if nationalism fails to be a form of preparation for socialist con­ struction or socialist revolution, it becomes as reactionary as the white variety. The black bourgeoisie were showing them­ selves ready to co-opt the message of black nationalism without ever thinking of sacrificing their middle-class privileges or aspira­ tions. The limitations of “bourgeois nationalism” were demon­ strated for Baraka in the career of Kenneth Gibson, the first black mayor of Newark, for whose election Baraka had enthu­ siastically campaigned in 1970. Gibson emerged as one of the new class of influential blacks who had risen to prominence on the backs of the black community only to become, in Baraka’s view, an apologist for capitalism and neo-colonialism and a notable disappointment to anyone anticipating meaningful change in Newark. Furthermore, Baraka’s own brand of nationalism was coming under considerable pressure from more advanced revolutionary thinking of the time. Huey Newton compared Baraka with Papa Doc Duvalier of Haiti and charged him with advocating a pro­ gram that would simply mean replacing “white oppression with black oppression.”3 In 1973 the National Caucus of Labor Committees published a thirty-page pamphlet, Papa Doc Baraka! Fascism in Newark, which was a compilation of left-wing criti­ cisms of Baraka’s activities. Here, Baraka was proclaimed an anti-semitic fascist, while his kind of socialism was compared with that of Mussolini and denounced as “impressionistic, sche­ matic, devoid of any content beyond today’s ‘gut radicalism’.”4 The change that came about in Baraka may be traced through the essays that constitute the Ideological Papers of the Congress of Afrikan People. These reveal the growing influence of African socialist thinking (e.g., the theories of Nkrumah, Toure, and Cabral) to which Baraka was exposed at the sixth Pan...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1936-1637
Print ISSN
0010-4078
Pages
pp. 137-161
Launched on MUSE
2018-07-11
Open Access
No
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