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GHANA STUDIES / Volume 9 ISSN 1536-5514 / E-ISSN 2333-7168© 2008 by the Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System 177 THE MAKING OF AN AFRICAN BOLSHEVIK Bankole Awoonor Renner in Moscow, 1925–19281 HOLGER WEISS Introduction The history of the African fight for independence and nationalism has generally been portrayed as the “rise and fall” of political Pan-Africanism. In a West African context, the focus has been on the “second” or “younger” generation of political activists and leaders, such as Kwame Nkrumah, Sekou Touré, Obafemi Awolowo and others, who became the leaders of the various independence movements during the 1940s and 1950s. The political counter-part of these “younger” activists was the generation of West African political leaders who, in the then Gold Coast, first had rallied around groups such as the Aboriginal Rights Protection Society (ARPS) and the National Congress of British West Africa (NCBWA) during the 1910s and 1920s, the various Youth Conferences during the 1930s, and, ultimately, formed the “conservative” opposition around Nkrumah’s key antagonist, Dr. J. B. Danquah, during the 1940s and 1950s.2 The “grand story” of West African nationalism and the political history of Ghana are well known. However, less known is the short moment of left-wing radicalism which for about a decade, tried to get a foothold in West Africa. In retrospect, one could argue that the activities of communists and other radicals barely left any footprints in West Africa before 1. I am grateful to the comments of Fredrik Petersson, David Killingray, Jonathan Derrick , Jerker Widén and the reviewer of Ghana Studies. 2. See further Dennis Austin, Politics in Ghana 1946–60, London/New York/Toronto: Oxford University Press [1964] reprinted with corrections 1966. 178 Ghana Studies • volume 9 • 2006 1945—with one exception. This was the case of Bankole Awoonor Renner, whom George Padmore declared to be the most prominent ideologist of the Ghanaian “crypto-communists.”3 Bankole Awoonor Renner’s communist background is not a secret. He was among those few West Africans who collaborated with the Third or Communist International, the Comintern, during the late 1920s and early 1930s. Although the existence of such links has been known and has been discussed both by the colonial authorities and contemporary researchers, the overall picture is still superficial as previous research either regarded the Comintern-connection as a mere episode in the nationalist awakening in West African or portrayed it as an unsuccessful attempt by the Comintern and the Bolsheviks to infiltrate in West Africa. Both perspectives are not totally wrong: there were never many West Africans who had direct links with Moscow and Comintern infiltration was never successful. However, as this study will argue, such a backwards-reading of history somewhat distorts the relative intensity of networks that were planned to be established—and, eventually, did exist, though only for a short period . Thus, instead of treating the Comintern-link as a failed story in the overall development of African nationalism between 1925 and 1940, this study will use an actor-oriented and forward-looking perspective in which connections with communist and radical movements are discussed as one rational option by those engaged in them. The negative reading of the Comintern-connection started at the latest with George Padmore’s influential monograph Pan-Africanism or Communism .4 In his book, Padmore concludes that the attempts to establish links with African radicals by the Communists during the late 1920s and early 1930s ended in a total failure, much due to the inability of the Communists to include a Pan-Africanist perspective in their aspirations. In his mind, the 3. George Padmore, Pan-Africanism or Communism? London: Dennis Dobson 1956, p. 341. 4. George Padmore, Pan-Africanism or Communism? London: Dennis Dobson 1956. Weiss • The Making of an African Bolshevik 179 dogmatic perspective of the Communists and Bolsheviks and the non-existence of an African working class was an equation that was doomed to failure. Later research, such as that of Immanuel Geiss on Pan-­ Africanism, or Toyin Falola on Nationalism and African Intellectuals,5 underline Padmore ’s negative perspective. Other historians, who have studied the relationship between West African interwar intellectuals and communism...


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