Saturday, January 22, 2022

Builders of Botswana: “The most dangerous black radical alive”

“The rabid revolutionary George Padmore, a British colonial forged in the crucible of U.S. race relations, illustrates the profound implications in the decision to educate Negro youngsters in race-conscious America. The British today officially label this angry agitator the most dangerous black radical alive. He is in fact a first-class conspirator, a specialist in decoys, codes, and stratagems. But his bespectacled appearance certainly does not make him look the part, despite the ample testimony of his exploits as a New York radical, efficient Berlin street fighter, slick Moscow organizer and noisy London pamphleteer.” ÔÇô Roi Ottley, No Green Pastures (1952)

Last week we left off with George Padmore having arrived in Hamburg in 1931 as head the International Trade Union Committee of Negro Workers (ITUCNW). His relationship with the German port city, however, dates back a bit earlier, at least to the 6-7th July 1930, when it was the venue of “The First International Conference of Negro Workers” whose organizing committee, besides Padmore, included Jomo Kenyatta and Thomas Thibedi, the sole black among the South African Communist Party’s founders, as well as comrades from Europe and the Americas.

Reconstructing George Padmore’s life is especially difficult for the period between 1929-1934, when he was engaged in underground activities for Comintern and its labour front Profintern. In addition to stays in Moscow, Vienna, Berlin and London as well as Hamburg, in March-June 1930 he undertook a clandestine visit to West Africa and by some accounts also South Africa, though the latter is difficult to verify.

Padmore’s first African odyssey was linked to preparations for the Hamburg meeting. Surviving records confirm that he arrived by ship in Bathurst, The Gambia, via Dakar, on the 26th of April, travelling under his birth name Malcolm Nurse with a Visa granted by the British Counsel in Berlin. In Bathurst he made contact with the pioneer newspaper publisher and trade unionist Edward Francis Small, writing an article for his newspaper, The Gambia Outlook, before leaving on the 29th of April for Freetown, Sierra Leone.

Padmore subsequently returned to Bathurst on the 13th of June in route for England, accompanied by the Nigerian Trade Unionist Frank Macaulay. In this context he could have reached Cape Town.

What is known is that shortly thereafter, with Padmore’s involvement, Albert Nzula and Moses Kotane became the first of a stream of black South African comrades to be smuggled to Moscow under various pseudonyms to join the “African Bureau of the Research Association for National and Colonial Problems”, affiliated with the Eastern Workers Communist University.

Writing two decades later the African-America journalist Roi Ottley, who knew Padmore while in London, adds to the picture:

“Padmore had been dispatched to organize in Europe and Africa. He had unlimited funds placed at his disposal. There was, according to him, a network of Communists in Europe which facilitated his movements, legal and illegal. He selected Hamburg as the key point from which to direct his operations. His work made headway in this city, because Russian ships had free movement in and out of the ports, which meant he could receive money and instructions without too much difficulty with the German authorities.

“For example, from time to time British operatives would discover inflammatory anti-British literature in Africa. They would lodge formal protests with the German Government, as the place from which the material had emanated. But on such occasions the German police would visit Padmore and inform him of the complaint and advise him that they planned a raid to satisfy the British. They would seize leaflets and pamphlets and inform the British that they were being destroyed. Next morning Padmore would be called to retrieve them.

“His work took him to Africa finally, which he entered with the credentials of an ‘anthropologist’ who planned to study the life and customs of primitive peoples. Padmore utilized the trip to make strategic contacts and recruit Negroes. His facility with languages aided him immeasurably. When the race-conscious Union of South Africa attempted to bar him, he entered that country posing as the chauffeur of a white man, actually a Communist.

“He succeeded in recruiting a bumper crop of potential radicals. He personally smuggled sixty out of Africa. They were shipped to Moscow where they formed the first Negro cadre. They were trained in the hard methods of protest and agitation, and returned to Africa eventually to become headaches to the British.”

At least some of Padmore’s bumper crop was present in Hamburg to elect ITUCNW Executive Committee, which fell under Padmore’s leadership. Its other original members were: Small, Macaulay, Nzula and Kotane, along with Tiemoko Garan Kouyatte of Senegal, a Jamaican unionist E. Reid and I. Hawkins and Ellen McClain from the CPUSA.

Over the next three years the ITUCNW Executive and Africa Bureau established and supported an extensive network of activists who worked tirelessly to accelerate the demise of colonial rule on the continent. By 1933 their success had begun to worry the Kremlin, as well as Whitehall.

NB: Last week it was stated that Padmore went to Soviet Union to attend the 4th Congress of the Communist International, in fact went as an outcome of the 6th Congress.


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