Remembering Basil Davidson, 1914-2010


Remembering Basil Davidson, 1914-2010

By Grace Lee Boggs

Michigan Citizen, Oct.31-Nov.6, 2010

Freedom Fighters the world over are honoring Basil Davidson, the radical British journalist who wrote more than 30 books on Africa, He made his transition on July 9, 2010 at the age of 95.

I have been reading and learning from Davidson ever since I met him in the early 1950s over lunch at the London home of C.L.R..James. At the time all that I (and most civil rights activists) knew about the struggle in Africa was that it was challenging us to catch up. As we used to say, “They will be running their countries over there while here in the USA we’ll still be struggling to be served a cup of coffee.”

Since then I have followed Davidson closely because his books were based not on romanticizing Africa but on living and traveling on the continent, interacting with leaders like Ghana’s Kwame Nkrumah, Guinea’s Amilcar Cabral, Mozambique’s Eduardo Mondlane and South Africa’s Nelson Mandela, and recognizing the very different contributions each was making to the struggle.

My ideas not only on Africa but on revolution were profoundly influenced by Davidson’s 1969 book, The Liberation of Guinea in which he explains how Amilcar Cabral’s leadership of the struggle for liberation of the Portugese colony of Guinea-Bissau was a huge advance beyond Nkrumah’s leadership of the struggle for political independence of what was then known as the Gold Coast.

As I wrote in ” The Liberation of Guinea: Building as We Fight” (chapter 4 of Revolution and Evolution in the 20th Century):

“From his travels throughout Guine…Cabral derived a profound appreciation of the cultural underdevelopment and the exclusion from the general course of human history to which the Portugese imperialists had systematically damned the people of Guine…..Based upon this concrete experience and reinforced by his observations of the new African nations, he began to develop a new ideology based upon a fundamental distinction between political independence and national liberation. National liberation, he said, cannot come only from political independence with its celebration of the symbols of independence — the raising of the flag, the singing of the national anthem, and political heroes in the tradition of Africa’s hero-kings.

“National liberation must put an end not only to suffering but to backwardness. It must enable Africans to rejoin the mainstream of human history and human evolution from which they have been excluded by imperialism. The struggle for national liberation must transform the masses from their present passivity and dependence on others. It must develop in them and through them the power, the will, the capacity, and the structures to govern their own accelerated development….Only through this fundamental transformation in attitudes, and through the creation of new infrastructures by the people themselves, can the social productive forces of the people be liberated.”

Thus “revolution must have as its goal and its modus operandi not only the elimination of the oppressor but the most rapid development and transformation of the oppressed as well.”

Cabral’s statement against victim thinking has also had a profound influence on me.

” The struggle against our own weaknesses – no matter what difficulties the enemy may create – is the most difficult of all.”

In his 1992 book, The Black Man’s Burden, Davidson explains that African nations are unable to develop because they are struggling to do so within the national boundaries created by their European colonizers. These boundaries are crippling because they are not based on the tribal ties organically developed by the African people themselves over the centuries but on the struggles between European imperialist nations.

In her recent book The Challenge from Africa Kenya’s Wangari Matthei , who won the 2004 Nobel Prize for her leadership of the Green Belt movement in East Africa, makes the same important point. ______

My USSF Conversation with Immanuel Wallerstein can be read at

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