Marcus Garvey and Kwame Nkrumah

Ian Duffield argues that, more than any other African leader Kwame Nkrumah - together with the man whose examples and ideas gave him so much inspiration, Marcus Aurelius Garvey - was responsible for bringing black people into the mainstream of 20th-century history.

Marcus Garvey, 1887-1940, and Kwame Nkrumah, 1909?-72, personified in their own eyes, in the eyes of millions of black men and women, and for that matter to much of the world at large, one of the most profound changes in modern history. At the beginning of this century, half a dozen or so of the most powerful white nations dominated the world in every way – politically, culturally, militarily and in economic affairs – this domination being the climax of a process deeply rooted in the history of the previous four centuries. The only non-European challenge of any seriousness seemed to come from Japan, and the central question for the future seemed to many white leaders – men such as Joseph Chamberlain, Lord Milner, Theodore Roosevelt or Kaiser Wilhelm II – to be which of the great powers should prevail against all others.

 The extent of white self-assurance can be measured even better by reference to an opponent of white imperialism in its heyday, the English radical, J.A. Hobson. Regarding the imperialism of his day as dangerous as well as offensive, Hobson in his famous work Imperialism. A Study , 1901, saw the antidote to imperialism as being redistributive taxation and social welfare policies at home and the benevolent internationalisation of the development of the world’s resources abroad, by the very powers then involved in ruthless and competitive expansion. In other words, even to an anti-imperialist white, in 1901 it seemed evident that the world’s future would be determined, for good or for ill, by the actions of the white world itself, with the “darker races” as largely passive victims or beneficiaries.

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