African Responses to Fascism & the Spanish Civil War

November 22, 2010

Abstract of the 2010 George Watt Memorial Award in the Undergraduate Category. Read the full winning essay here

Langston Hughes with Lincoln volunteer and poet Edwin Rolfe

Between World Wars I and II, the contentious issue of nationalism—how it can be shaped in radical or conservative ways by racially oppressed people; whether it must be embraced or superseded by Black social movements worldwide—was a complex terrain on which members of the African Diasporagalvanized their extended communities. Contradictions abounded in the ideological alliances formed during this time. Many prominent radicals advocated various projects for Black nationalism, as well as multi-racial internationalism, as solutions to halt the development of fascist power and the congruous ideologies driving Jim Crow segregationist practices in the United States. Simultaneously, however, some members of the African Diaspora openly advocated ideas of fascism as a means towards Black liberation, seeing Hitler, Mussolini, and Franco as charismatic leaders to emulate and support; or arguably,they didn’t see themselves as part of a socio-ethnic diaspora at all.

This essay appraises divergent strands of the African Diaspora’s political spectrum, as represented in particular by the interwar writings and experiences of Langston Hughes, Richard Wright, C.L.R. James, Marcus Garvey, Black Abraham Lincoln Brigade volunteers, and Moroccan conscripts in Franco’s army during the Spanish Civil War. A synergy of these historical actors’ thoughts and actions can hopefully contribute to a dynamic, non-essentialist understanding of African Diasporic history, processes, and political movements that characterize the most nuanced diaspora-related scholarship being done today. Moreover, a historical analysis of fascism’s rise that re-situates Afro-descended people as some of the most trenchant originators of anti-fascist critiques can suggest, in the current atmosphere of fascistic ideas reappearing worldwide, that precisely the most socially oppressed can lead the most powerful resistance.