Saturday, August 11, 2012


I have been reading a whole lot of CLR James lately, so it is not surprising that today's version of Theoretical Weekends from Scission comes from Urgent Tasks, Number 12.  Urgent Tasks was a rather amazing journal published by the Sojourner Truth Organization. I confess to bias.  I was once a member of the group.  Issue number 12 was devoted to CLR James.  For today's post I picked from that issue a a reprint of an address delivered by Walter Rodney in 1972.  Rodney was assassinated in 1980.

From the Sojourner Truth Organizational Digital Archives...

by Walter Rodney
Urgent Tasks No. 12

The African continent today has less turmoil, less violence and a slower rate of social transformation than Asia or Latin America; and these are the elements normally associated with Revolution. Yet those who speak of the "African Revolution" know that African people are more aware and more determined than ever before. It is this consciousness, added to internal contradictions and external forces, which gives the African situation its revolutionary character.
For nearly forty years, C. L. R. James has been interested in the development of political consciousness among African people and in their strivings towards grasping control over their own lives. As an analyst of processes in Africa, James qualifies to be called an "academic" or "intellectual"; and as a participant in the struggle for African advance, he becomes a "revolutionary intellectual." It will be found that anyone confining himself to the supposedly pure academic understanding of Africa will in fact fall short of the objective, because of lack of commitment and failure to relate theory to practice. The value of James's contribution to the African Revolution and to an appreciation of it stems precisely from the blend of committed scholarship and activism.
Quantitatively, what James has written on Africa does not amount to a great deal, and it is certainly a tiny proportion of his numerous writings on a variety of subjects. Similarly, one could say that only a small part of his time was devoted to activity directly concerning the African continent. It is the quality and significance of his writing and political action that really matters. During the 1930's, when the "Western Democracies" were conspiring to make Ethiopia into an Italian colony, James directed from England an ad hoc committee of "In- ternational Friends of Ethiopia." This later emerged as the "International African Service Bureau," having James as editor of its journal, International African Opinion.1 The main platform of this journal was colonial liberation; and it was against this background that James wrote A History of Negro Revolt in 1938.2 It bears the marks of those years when even Black militants inside and outside Africa accepted the language of the European oppressor - "Negro," "natives," "tribes," etc. Beyond that, however, the book is a mine of ideas advancing far ahead of its time.
James began his section on "Revolts in Africa" by citing what historians have come to call (rather disparagingly) the Sierra Leone Hut Tax War of 1898. As James explained, it was a reaction by indigenous Sierra Leone peoples against the imposition of European colonial rule, symbolized by the enactment of legislation taxing dwelling places. It was a war of national resistance and liberation, involving the majority of the ethnic groups in Sierra Leone in unified struggle. Many years elapsed before any researcher seriously undertook investigation of this episode.3 The reason for the disinterest is that African resistance to European colonization was not supposed to have existed as far as colonialist scholars were concerned. As late as 1957, Sir Alan Burns was expressing the orthodox view when he wrote that Africans welcomed the coming of the British. As he put it, "there was, for the most part, little fighting against the local people. In certain cases, slave dealers, pirates and tyrannical rulers were fought and defeated, but the inhabitants of these territories as a whole stood aside during the fighting and willingly accepted British rule." Burns was a colonial governor and wrote on behalf of the British ruling class. The mere mention of a different position in 1938 was an act of defiance and singled out C. L. R. James as a front-runner in the field of African studies devoted to African liberation.
Having cited the Sierra Leone war of resistance in 1898, James proceeded to mention a series of African social movements taking place in the inter-war years, and commonly designated as the African Independent Church movement. James unerringly identified three of the most important of these — centered around John Chilembwe (Malawi), Simon Kimbangu (Congo) and Harry Thuku (Kenya). Once more, it was many years before these protests were to gain the recognition they deserved. John Chilembwe is today an African hero known far beyond the boundaries of what was in his day the British colony of Nyasaland, and his service to his people evoked one of the fullest biographies written on an African leader.4 Harry Thuku has also been in the forefront of subsequent historical writings on Kenya, and will undoubtedly continue to attract attention. And it is now accepted that forty years of the immediate pre-independence history of the Congo cannot be understood without reference to the popular forces and aspirations articulated by Simon Kimbangu.
Not only were African Independent Churches neglected as an area of enquiry for many years, but when they were first studied or assessed by Europeans, there was a tendency to portray them as being exclusively related to religion or superstition. By Christian missionaries, they were often presented as the work of the devil, while other social researchers came up with such mystifying terms as "millenarian," "messianic" and "atavistic." James's treatment was very brief, but he captured the essence of these anti-colonial African mass movements in a few lines. He recognized them as revolts against oppression and as part of the socio-political protest engendered by the presence of the Europeans and the system of colonialism. He distinguished between form and content, noting that the language of religion in which the protests were couched should not obscure the fact that they sprung from such things as forced labor, land alienation, and colonial taxation. It was because the leadership had formal schooling from missionaries that they expressed themselves primarily in religious terms. As James put it, "Such education as the African is given is nearly always religious, so that the leader often translated the insurrection into religious terms. . . . To every African [independent church organization] is an instinctive step towards independence and away from the perpetual control of Europeans." (pages 53, 55)
A third segment of James's treatment of African revolt was provided in his analysis of workers' organizations and their militancy. He cited the Sierra Leone railway strikes of 1919 and 1926, the Gambian sailors' strike of 1929, the spontaneous uprising of Nigerian women at Aba in 1929, and the powerful Black trade union activity of the I.C.U. in South Africa. In each instance, he pinpointed phenomena of the greatest relevance to the creation of Africa as it is today, and he was doing so a comfortable twenty years before writings on these subjects generally acknowledged these facts. For that matter, even today the tremendous awakening of the small urbanized African element in the 1920's is recorded only in texts which take the minority Marxist position on African history or as a backdrop to specialist volumes on the African trade union movement.5 In describing the fortunes of a mass organization, James is at his best — partly because of the immediacy that he brings to commentary and more so because of his grasp of the dialectics of organization. In 1938, he had obviously had enough experience of political organization at both first- and second-hand to appreciate the strengths and weaknesses of the I.C.U. under Clements Kadalie. James's account is a real tribute to the fighting spirit of the Africans of South Africa who today bear the burden of apartheid. In a most economical manner, he probed the quality of the leadership, examined the relationship of leadership to the mass from which it sprang, reflected on the international context of the strikes and other protests by the African workers of South Africa at that time, and quietly indicated that within a racist situation the category of "class" must be seriously re-examined. A great deal has since been said on the South African labor movement, and much more remains to be written.6 But the following lines by James constitute a judgment that will probably remain unshaken. He observed as follows:

The real parallel to this movement is the mass uprising in San Domingo. There is the same instinctive capacity for organisation, the same throwing up of gifted leaders from among the masses. . . . After 1926 the movement began to decline. It could not maintain itself for long at that pitch without great and concrete successes. It was bound to stabilise itself at a less intense level. Kadalie lacked the education and the knowledge to organise it on a stable basis — the hardest of tasks for a man of his origin. There was misappropriation of the funds. He saw the necessity for international affiliation. But though the constitution of the organisation condemned capitalism, he would not affiliate to the Third International. The white South African workers refused his offer of unity, for these, petty bourgeois in outlook owing to their high wages and the social degradation of the Negro, are among the bitterest enemies of the native workers, (pages 70, 71)

European scholarship on Africa in the 1960's was ostensibly more liberal and more concerned with the history of Africans rather than the activity of Europeans in Africa. Yet standard general works carried scarcely a hint of the tremendous armed struggle waged by Africans in the late 19th century before falling to the European enemy.7 It is only very recently that this topic has begun to receive the attention it deserves from African and European historians dealing with the continent in that period. (It is interesting to note that individuals like James and Padmore never receive credit or acknowledgement from later writers.) The same applies to the subject of African independent churches and to the self-mobilization by the small wage earner class in colonial Africa. How come that C. L. R. James was so prescient as to perceive the significance of all these "African revolts" when writing in 1938? And what is the meaning of such manifestations as far as the contemporary African Revolution is concerned?
Most schoolboys would have heard the axiom that each generation rewrites its own history. It does so not merely by giving different answers to the same questions but by posing entirely different questions based on the stage of development which the particular society has reached. Certain scholars will be among the first to raise the new and meaningful issues because of their sensitivity and connection with the most dynamic group in the society. Thus, when African peoples were mounting a struggle for political independence and as they continued that struggle through military means in Southern Africa and politico-economic means elsewhere, they automatically became interested in recalling previous resistance. Initially, only a scholar committed to or at least sympathetic to the present African emancipation drive would find it possible to seek out and unearth the evidence of earlier struggles. C. L. R. James was a participant in some of the earliest pressure groups in the metropoles urging African freedom from colonial rule in the 1930's. That is why he was capable of writing A History of Negro Revolt in 1938.
A people's consciousness is heightened by knowledge of the dignity and determination of their foreparents. Indeed, the African world-view regarding ancestors as an integral part of the living community makes it so much easier to identify a given generation with the struggles of an earlier generation. The perception, therefore, is in terms of self — what struggles were we waging in 1885, in 1904, in 1921, and so on? It is also a learning experience in which African people often painfully find out the mistakes of (say) king Lobengula of South Africa or the Maji Maji warriors of Tanzania. To give historical depth to the process of resistance is itself functional within the African Revolution today. James knew this. His major effort to project a past revolt into present consciousness was The Black Jacobins, that remarkable study of the momentous victory of the enslaved African population of San Domingo against white plantation society, against the Thermidorean reaction in France, and against the expansionism of British capital. A History of Negro Revolt fulfilled the same purpose; and one of its most significant features was its emphasis on the continuity of resistance.
Modern nationalist African historians have recently come to the realization that the "nationalism" of the 1950's and 1960's had its roots deep in the African past, and that the political parties which won independence in so many territories were only the end product of a continuous process of resistance which took diverse forms: notably, armed struggle, independent churches, welfare associations, peasant crop holdups and strikes by wage earners. This has been fiercely resisted by a small number of white scholars, basically because they wish to hold to the position that nationalism was a product of colonialism and virtually a gift to the African people from Europe in the period after the last war.8 This is not the time and place to refute such a view, and perhaps there is no context in which there is much value in so doing. However, it is worth pointing out that a perception of links and continuity between popular resistance over a long period of time is not something unique to an African nationalist historian. This is the approach adopted by Vietnamese scholars, by progressive Philippine scholars, and by Cuban scholars.
James's awareness of the continuity of African resistance throughout the colonial era can be illustrated by the following lines. "By the end of the nineteenth century, less than one-tenth of Africa remained in the hands of Africans themselves. This rapid change could not fail to produce a series of revolts, which have never ceased." (emphasis mine) (pages 40, 41) His awareness that this struggle evolved over time and changed form can be observed in these sentences: "in the years before the war [of 1914] the tribes simply threw themselves at the government troops and suffered the inevitable defeat. Such risings could not go on. They were too obviously suicidal. In 1915, however, we have a new type — a rising led not by a tribal chief but by a Negro who has had some education." (page 53) Then, moving to the end of the decade of the 1920's, James commented on urban workers' resistance in Congo Brazzaville: "This movement had definite Communist tendencies. What the authorities fear most is a combination of the workers in the towns and the peasants in the interior. Such a movement, however, has not yet taken place. . . . Yet railways are linking the various portions of the territory, and . . . since the war each succeeding revolt has been more fierce, more concentrated than the last." (page 62) And, finally, the brief survey was brought up to the year 1938 with reference to the cocoa hold-up that had just taken place in the British colony of the Gold Coast. James felt that "an extraordinary determination and unity linked the population", but he had no romantic illusions that victory was at hand. His assessment at that point was that, "Militant as was this movement, yet, as in most of the older colonies, there was not that militancy which thinks in terms of throwing out the British. . . . There is no national revolutionary movement." (page 84)
In the years immediately after James wrote the above lines, the tempo of events in Africa quickened, and the various strands of revolt were drawn together. There developed both the combination of urban and rural elements which the colonial authorities feared and the determination to throw the colonialists out rather than merely seek concessions. In England, James remained part of the small group of Black men who constantly agitated on the African independence issue, expressing their confidence that at the end of the last world war the peoples of the continent would not brook much further delay in the quest for independence. The demand for African independence was voiced most insistently at the famous Manchester Conference in 1945, having in attendance both DuBois and Padmore as well as two future African heads of state in the persons of Kenyatta and Nkrumah. James himself reflects that at the time it was felt that their statements about African freedom could only have come from "lunatics or inebriates." It is true that the colonial powers and Britain in particular spoke vaguely of self-government for Africa, but no schedule was set up and the tenor of their pronouncements suggested a delay of some forty or fifty years at least. In 1947, on the eve of Nkrumah's return to the Gold Coast colony, British experts were saying that the 1946 Gold Coast constitution would last for several decades, and exhortations were being made to strengthen the British colonial administration to meet the growing demands that were to be made on it.9 The difference between these two perspectives is that between a peoplecentered approach on the one hand and a blend of racism and paternalism on the other. The Pan-Africanists were expressing confidence in the African people and they were proved right. (Even so, James frequently admitted being surprised by the speed of change in Africa. Other African leaders have made statements to this effect, showing that when the potential of a people is realized in action it literally goes beyond all expectations.)
It is difficult and perhaps unnecessary to try and single out James's role within the Pan-African movement, since it was essentially a collective venture.10 What is well-known is that Africans in the diaspora for many years were the driving forces of Pan-Africanism, and it is important to examine the significance of this for the African Revolution. Garvey was an exception in regarding himself as "an African overseas." DuBois remained American until very late in his life, and James has always consciously identified as a West Indian. He offers the explanation that the West Indian (both French and British) has been steeped in the culture of Europe, has in many instances mastered that culture so thoroughly as to lecture the "mother countries" on it and tear it down from within. Hence Cesaire, Fanon, Padmore, etc. James certainly prided himself on mastery of everything in European culture from Greek tragedy to the Hegelian dialectic. But once in England, he moved instinctively to a Pan-Africanist platform. This is highly intriguing. Today, it is usual for the Pan-Africanist in the New World to be into a heavy culture thing. This is condemned by certain Philistines (white and Black) as being romantic racism, since African culture is supposedly alien to the Americas. What the critics fail to realize is that there are fundamental political realities which draw the conscious Black man in the New World towards the African continent. These realities operate equally whether the individual has arrived at a stage of heightened consciousness via cultural nationalism or through a more conventional approach to the struggle against exploitation and oppression.
Some attempts have been made to explain why articulate and politicized West Indians like James, Padmore, and Garvey found that their field of expression had to be within North America, Europe and Africa rather than in their island homes. The answer is to be found partly in their home environment and the socio-political inadequacies there.11 However, the continuing validity of the Pan-African perspective throughout the years of James's career derives from the incontrovertibly international character of white racism, and the situation of African peoples as integral parts of the international political economy.
After the end of formal enslavement in the Americas, there were a few whites who would have welcomed the massive re-transfer of Africans to their homelands. But of course our labor was still needed by the capitalist systems of Western Europe and North America, so that possibility was never part of the rational calculation of white society. The alternative was to try and placate the former slaves by promises of advance within American and Caribbean society. We were told to forget slavery, forget Africa and forget that we were Africans. The stumbling block to accepting this is that the unique exploitation and oppression of the Black population could only be explained in terms of our color and origins. As young men in Trinidad, James and Padmore read Garvey and DuBois. As young West Indians they were concerned primarily with West Indian politics, but the factor of blackness could not be escaped since it was so pervasive. Similarly, within the United States, Black people were impelled to read about Africa not because of any a priori judgments that they were "African" but because of the necessity to survive and challenge white mythology within the U.S.A. itself. James drew attention to this process, saying that, "The American blacks — faced with this view of the past of Africa, a view that has been used not only to justify slavery but also to maintain segregation and oppression — found themselves driven to make the most serious studies of the past of Africa."12
Once the African continent was brought under colonial rule by the end of the last century, the racist factor was also evident there as a justification of exploitation and oppression. Racism had become part of the superstructure of the white capitalist world. The drive towards white domination shaped policy as an end in itself — sometimes at variance even with the profit motive which is the propellant of capitalism. It became highly probable that any Black man fighting against white oppression in his particular locality would sooner or later realize that all Africans "at home and abroad" were caught up in the same predicament. Pan-Africanism is not simply a unity of color, it is also a unity of common condition and one that retains its validity because the dominant group in the international political economy continue to define things in racist terms for their own convenience. For their own convenience, admittedly, but then they are also playing with revolution. James has more than once commented on this double-edged weapon of racism. He wrote recently that "centuries of Western domination and indoctrination . . . create in the minds of the great majority of Africans and people of African descent everywhere a resentment that is never entirely absent. It may remain dormant for long periods, but it can be depended upon in a particular population at a particular time to create and cement a formidable unity and determination. Imperialism created this feeling; it has paid and will pay dearly for it."13
Identity is both affirmation and negation. It recognizes in the same instant the insider and the outsider. Black becomes relevant to an African at that point when he came into contradiction with white men. The continuing sharpness of that contradiction is due to white domination, and the Black or African identity has become a weapon for emancipation. At the level of organization, it is a common enough principle that unity and the enlargement of scale must be brought to bear against the enemy. It is logical enough, too, that one must maximize strong points, so the freeing of the African continent itself became the first priority for politically active West Indians who knew the limitations of their own societies and knew that the weakness of Africa contributed to indignity and low status abroad. Europeans enslaved Africans and colonized Africa. They could never have imagined that some of the slaves would be instrumental in the freeing of the colonies, but the outcome was an unavoidable consequence of the kind of international political economy that emerged under European guidance from the 15th century onward.
The African Revolution so far has already demonstrated convincingly that what has been used as a badge of servility can be turned into a bond of unity and a liberation tool. James's career is a small illustration of this. It is also an illustration that the given African identification is not sufficient as far as carrying out the African Revolution is concerned. The Revolution is by and of the mass of the people, which means in effect the workers, peasants and such leadership as emerges from the mass struggle. This perception of classes forming within African society and his attachment to the Marxist world-view placed James in a position shared by several Black intellectuals over the course of this century. It required a reconciliation between the African and the World Revolution, as it were, and a plotting of the coordinates of race and class. The manner in which these were resolved by James is instructive.
Time and again, James found his white Marxist comrades reneging on their internationalism when it came to the cause of the Black man — be it Ethiopia, the West Indies or the U.S.A. The only course of action compatible with the welfare of African peoples was to break with such compromised crypto-racist whites, as Padmore did, as Sekou Toure did, as Aime Cesaire did. Africans on the continent do not find this course of action hard to follow. There is already a built-in suspicion of "foreign" ideologies which can be carried to irrational lengths but which at least serves as a barrier to accepting white ideological hegemony of any sort. The progressive African who is conscious of what the Christian missionaries did is unlikely to be taken in by Marxist missionaries.
A less obvious lesson which can be drawn from James's double commitment to Marxism and the African Revolution is that certain brands of Marxism have no applicability whatever to our situation, having in fact been exposed as bankrupt in Europe itself. While Stalin-ism dominated the European scene during the late 1920's through to the 1940's, James was attracted to the minority Trotskyite position, which at least questioned some of the monstrosities carried out in the Soviet Union under the banner of Socialism. Later, James broke with the Trotskyite mainstream on the grounds that they too were too wedded to the Soviet State to perceive how completely the Revolution had been betrayed. Without entering into the substance of this argument, it can still be affirmed that the African Revolution cannot afford to draw on Marxist theory in its dogmatic Stalinist or even Trotskyist form. But, conversely, it should be equally clear that Africans can benefit from mankind's ideological heritage just as we can build on the universal technological heritage. James brings out the applicability of Marxist methodology in his analysis of some important features of contemporary Africa: notably in his evaluation of the Ghana experience and in his approach to the transformation taking place in Tanzania.
What happened in Ghana is central to an understanding of modern African politics. Many liberals paid lip-service to Ghana independence, while trying to suggest that it was a gift from Britain and was complete in itself. Such individuals were out of tune with Nkrumah's efforts to achieve genuine all-round liberation for the Ghanaian people; and his overthrow was a welcome opportunity for them to spout anti-African sentiments. In turn, James was prompted to reply in a number of public forums, restating positions he had arrived at sometime before the coup. His first concern was to vindicate the popular and revolutionary nature of the events that transpired in the Gold Coast colony between 1947 and 1957. During this period, the role played by Nkrumah was that of an authentic spokesman of the people, challenging the leadership of the petty-bourgeois educated elite of lawyers and doctors. However, James was equally emphatic that subsequently (i.e. .after 1957) the revolution in Ghana and Africa as a whole was subverted by those forces. In my opinion, this change needs to be reaffirmed not only vis a vis the reactionaries and liberals who always disliked Nkrumah, but also with regard to the ultra-leftists who suddenly decided after the Ghana coup that Nkrumah had never been leading a revolutionary movement at all, but rather a party of the petty bourgeoisie.14
In the many analyses which he has made of the popular movement in the Gold Coast and Ghana, James seldom if ever uses any overt Marxist categorization, or makes any citations from the spokesmen of scientific socialism. Indeed, his favorite comparison is with the French Revolution, and he is quite happy to use Michelet and Lefebvre as the sources of his quotations. But his methodology remains that of historical dialectics; and he was in effect showing the compatibility between the latter and an African nationalist or Pan-Africanist stance.
It is relevant under the present circumstances to explore the limitations rather than the achievements of Nkrumah's regime, since it is the former which have salutary lessons to offer on the nature of Revolution and counter-revolution in Africa. James traces the deterioration of the Ghanaian revolution at some length in his study Nkrumah Then and Now, pointing to political errors and problems such as the following:
Nkrumah's dismissal of the Chief Justice for a politically unpopular decision; the growth of a bureaucracy; the total alienation of the middle classes; the encouragement of a coterie of sycophants; failure to involve the masses politically; and personal degeneration of Nkrumah as he became overwhelmed by forces hostile to his original intentions. Not surprisingly, the strongest part of James's argument dealt with the question of the state and the political party. A correct appreciation of these issues remains one of the highest priorities to be met by the leadership of Africa today.
Among a number of well-meaning people, neo-colonialism is considered as incorporating political freedom unmatched by economic independence. Nkrumah himself fostered this distinction. However, at a much more fundamental level, it should be noted that neo-colonialism is incompatible with political independence, and that the flag-raising ceremonies effected no change on the colonial state. James suggested that, "The first problem was a state, a government. To begin with, he had no independent African government. Like all these new African rulers, he had inherited a colonial government organised for purposes quite different from his own." The African head of state found himself "in charge of a British imperialist colonial government which was constructed for British imperialist purposes and not for purposes of governing an African population." ("Reflections on Pan-Africanism.") This remarkable insight (which James develops at some length in his "epilogue" to A History of Pan-African Revolt) is beginning to gain wider acceptance.
In 1971, such sentiments were officially expressed by the governing party in Tanzania, in a document that declared unequivocally that the people had yet to take political power into their hands throughout the continent.15
In 1966, while writing on Nkrumah to a West Indian public, James made the following comment:

It took Nkrumah six years to win independence by 1957. He could have gone on to independence in 1951. He preferred to wait. But one day he told me he didn't know whether he was right to wait, or if he should have gone forward in 1951 as George Padmore and Dorothy Padmore were urging him to do. I did not know what to think at the time but today I am of the opinion that he should have gone straight ahead. That six-year delay was one cause of the deterioration of his party and his government. A revolution cannot mark time for six years.

More prominence should be given to this idea than James himself gave it. {See another mention in "Reflections on Pan-Africanism.") It was a fundamental aspect of the derailing of the people's aspirations in Ghana and elsewhere on the continent. The struggle for independence was a revolutionary one emanating from the masses of the people and embracing nearly all strata of the population. Colonial governments retreated before the force of popular political organizations, but at the same time they maneuvered and counter-attacked sometimes openly and more often insidiously. A period of "Self-Government" such as that in Ghana between 1951 and 1957 was one of co-option and defusing. It was in that period that the colonialists ensured the perpetuation of the colonial state and of the international imperialist economy.
Within a colonial or neo-colonial state structure the locus of power lies outside the national boundaries, having only a local representation in the form of an administration or through the persons of a small class created by and dependent on capitalism as a system. To break with this, the African revolution must transfer power to the people. In Ghana, this did not happen. The party decayed, the bureaucracy flourished in state and party, and the regime became more authoritarian behind its facade of one-party democracy. James's judgment of Nkrumah on this score is a judgment of the African Revolution.

Nkrumah studied, thought and knew a lot. But one thing he never mastered: that democracy is not a matter of the rights of the opposition, but in some way or other must involve the population. Africa will find that road or continue to crash from precipice to precipice.

After the fall of Nkrumah and the subsequent demise of Modibo Keita, one could well ask "where is the African Revolution?" — especially given the fact in the first place that constitutional independence brought nothing but puppet regimes in so many territories. James, as a revolutionary protagonist for nearly half a century, is not unduly perturbed by the apparent weight of the counter-revolution. Insofar as the African leadership is not responsible to the majority of the people, it only means that the African Revolution will be aimed as much against them as against the longstanding alien forces of capitalism and imperialism. James cites Fanon with full approval in this context, paraphrasing him as follows:

In the nationalist revolution of the twentieth century, the people must be against not only the imperialists. Some of the people's leaders who come forward to lead the revolution have nowhere to lead the people, and revolution must be as fiercely against them as against the imperialists. Some of the writers, having learned all they could from Western civilisation, will join the revolution, but bring nothing positive and corrupt the revolutionary movement. The intellectuals must learn that they must dig deep among the mass of the population to find the elements of a truly national culture. (Emphasis mine, taken from "DuBois to Fanon.")

It is the last of the above statements which holds the key to James's present fascination with the Tanzanian situation. James's praise for Tanzania is unstinted:

The impact that the policies of Tanzania have made upon Africa and upon the rest of the world has already established the African state of Tanzania as one of the foremost political phenomena of the twentieth century. Tanzania is the highest peak reached so far by revolting blacks." (page 117, A History of Pan-African Revolt)

What has Tanzania done to receive such unqualified praise, in James's opinion? The government nationalized foreign property, which was good. It began to restructure the educational system in an entirely new way, which was an even better idea. It was planning the future on the basis of socialist rural communities, drawing upon the heritage of the people, since Ujamaa or family living was part of that heritage. This, in James's estimation, was the most revolutionary aspect of the political thought of Tanzania.
Reading between the lines, one can see that James has enriched his own long fruitful career of learning and teaching by turning to the pages of Fanon and moreso Mwalimu Nyerere. Fanon exposed the limits of Western culture and its counter productive aspects as far as a Black revolutionary leader was concerned. Nyerere and the Tanzanian developments undoubtedly rekindled James's interest in African civilization and African culture. The fact that Ujamaa seeks its roots in the African past and in African society must have reinforced James's long-held conviction that Revolution must be of the people. Tanzanian Ujamaa was of the people and about the people.
Because the majority of the Tanzanian population lives in the countryside, it means that any goals for the well-being of the country must relate primarily to the rural areas. A most obvious conclusion, one might say, but it only became obvious after Nyerere had said it often enough. Nkrumah had not discerned this. Economic development under his rule was urban-directed and oriented towards industry, which was viewed as a panacea. In evaluating Nkrumah's economic policies, James did not perceive the weakness. He merely observed that Nkrumah was trying to do too much. It was more than that — it was an incorrect strategy for socio-economic development, because it ignored the majority of the population and was encouraging further ties of dependence with the outside world rather than self-reliance, as is Tanzania's goal.
When looking at the appalling economic plight of Africa and the Third World, James at one point tended to place reliance on an external solution: namely in "the regenerative assistance of the accumulated wealth and technical knowledge of the advanced countries." For once James seems to be defeatist when he assesses that "the regimes in Asia and Africa, with their present resources, have no possibility whatever of overcoming constant economic crisis and political and social decay." Undoubtedly, a Revolution within the metropolitan centers would be of inordinate importance to the African Revolution, but it is no pre-condition. It may even be argued that the world revolution must continue to move from the "periphery" to the "center" as far as the imperialist world is concerned. In any event, the trend pointed by Tanzanian Ujamaa is for self-reliance, internally integrated growth, and a self-sustaining economy which can in itself constitute exit from the economic crisis and socio-political decay attendant on neo-colonialism. There can be no guarantee of success of this particular line, but there can never be a guarantee in these matters. James himself is fond of telling political activists to do what they feel has to be done — and let the rest take care of itself. In terms of economic policy, therefore, he has taken his cue from the Tanzanian revolution.
Some Marxists are skeptical of what is going on in Tanzania. They cannot separate Ujamaa from the "African Socialism" of the African petty bourgeoisie. A few of these are Africans on the continent or in the Americas — a fact worth noting in the present context. More significantly, there are numerous Africans as enthusiastic about Ujamaa as James is, but who refuse to accept that insights can be gained from Marxism which are applicable to the African situation and would strengthen our ideological position. James has always been applying Marxism to the concrete conditions of Black society, irrespective of whether or not he announces this. Occasionally, he makes it explicit. He did so with regard to the Tanzanian Revolution, and it is worth ending with the illustration to that effect.
Drawing on his detailed knowledge of the Russian Revolution, James isolated the two matters on which Lenin placed absolute priority in his last years. The first was the break-up of the old state machinery and the second was educational work among the peasants. Marxism-Leninism was not Nyerere's point of reference, but he decided upon these same two priorities for Tanzania after the experience gained from several years in office as head of state. James holds up this relevant parallel between the Russian and Tanzanian situations as an example to those Africans who misguidedly and maliciously represent Marxism as "something that Marx had to say about the advanced countries." Equally of course one could conclude that Marxist formalism is not indispensable in the task of discerning the movement of society and building the new structures that express the interests of the mass of the people.16 It is significant that a question as seemingly abstract as that of the value of Marxism to the African Revolution has recently been revived among African students on the continent and activists in the Black movement in America. It is a recognition of the fact that, as oppressed people, we cannot afford to overlook any weapon which could contribute to our liberation. One of the many facets of the career of Mzee C. L. R. James is precisely the awareness that African freedom will not be won without building on the positive elements in the history of Man. This is a propitious moment for restating that proposition, because it can be placed in the now firmly established context that the portion of that history most relevant to us is the history of Man in Africa and of Africans in world affairs.
Walter Rodney, an internationally renowned historian of colonialism and a leader of the Guyanese Working People's Alliance, was closely associated with James (and to his memory James's autobiography will be dedicated). Rodney was assassinated June 13, 1980. The above address was delivered at a Symposium on James at the University of Michigan, March 31, 1972. Our special thanks to Richard Small for supplying a copy.

1. John Gaffar La Guerre, "Cyril Lionel Robert James, 1901 — An Annotated Bibliography" (Mimeograph, University of the West Indies, 1970).[return to text]
2. This has since been republished as C. L. R. James, A History of Pan-African Revolt (Drum and Spear Press, 1961). (All page references in the text are taken from this second edition.)[return to text]
3. A major monograph has still to make its appearance on this subject. However, see Christopher Fyfe, A History of Sierra Leone (1964) and Robert Rotberg and Ali Mazrui (eds.), Black Protest (1970).[return to text]
4. George Shepperson and Thomas Price, Independent African (1958).[return to text]
5. An example in the first category is Jack Woddis, Africa, the Roots of Revolution In the second category, see loan Davies, African Trade Unions (1966).[return to text]
6. One of the more revealing volumes is that by Edward Roux, Time Longer Than Rope (second edition, 1964).[return to text]
7. This applies for instance to R. Oliver and J. D. Fage, A Short History of Africa, which is still widely in use.[return to text]
8. This view was first strongly advocated by colonial historians such as Lady Margery Perham, and is now being pursued by a younger generation of neo-colonial European scholars.[return to text]
9. See, e.g, Sir Charles Jeffries, Transfer of Power: Problems of the Passage to Self-Government (1960).[return to text]
10. James himself is tireless in giving credit to the others who were involved, such as DuBois, Padmore, Wallace Johnson and Makonnen. See, e.g., his discourse, "From DuBois to Fanon" (1970).[return to text]
11. A number of explanations have been offered for this phenomenon. One of the recent reviews is one by Locksley Emundson, "Caribbean Nation-Building and the Internationalization of Race: Issues and Perspectives," in Wendell Bell and Walter Freeman (eds.), Ethnicity and Nation-Building (Sage Publishers, 1972).[return to text]
12. C. L. R. James, "Colonialism and National Liberation in Africa: The Gold Coast Revolution" in Norman Miller and Roderick Aya, National Liberation: Revolution in the Third World (The Free Press, 1971), page 106.[return to text]
13. Ibid, page 129.[return to text]
14. See, e.g. Bob Fitch and Mary Oppenheimer, Ghana, the End of an Elusion — a book with many insights but one marred by oversimplification of the class situation in Ghana.[return to text]
15. The T.A.N.U. Guidelines (T.A.N.U., Dar es Salaam, 19V1J.[return to text]
16. For an extended discussion along these lines, see Walter Rodney, "Tan- zanian Ujamaa and Scientific Socialism," in African Review, Volume 1, No. 4 (1972).[return to text]

Friday, August 10, 2012


Brothers! The world is hearing us! The world is seeing our struggle! Look at these men [the team of observers] from all over this country coming here at our call, brothers, coming here to witness firsthand the struggle against racist oppression and brutalization. We got to show them so they can tell the world what goes on behind these walls!

From a speech by Brother Herb, an Attica prisoner,
during one of the visits to D-yard by the team of observers

I am changing Political Prisoners Friday to simply Prison Friday.  This way I avoid the arguments with people about who "qualifies" as a political prisoner, and I don't have to stop and explain why posts like the one below belong.

On this day in 1970 prisoners in the Tombs Detention Facility in New York City rose up in rebellion.  Seen by many as a precursor to the Attica up rising, one can find little information anywhere about it.

Herbert X. Blydon was a participant and a leader in both rebellions.

Herbert died in 1997.

What follows is an interview from 1988 I happened to find with him.

It is taken from Washington University Digital Gateway Text Collections.

Interview with Herbert X. Blyden

View Item
Interviewer: NAME_OF_INTERVIEWER_X_process
Production Team: X
Interview Date: December 22, 1988

Camera Rolls: 2074-2077
Sound Rolls: 234-235

Editorial Notes:

Interview with , conducted by Blackside, Inc. on December 22, 1988, for . Washington University Libraries, Film and Media Archive, Henry Hampton Collection. These transcripts contain material that did not appear in the final program. Only text appearing in bold italics was used in the final version of


INTERVIEWER: Brother Herb, could you tell me about the conditions, what the conditions were like in Attica?
HERB BLYDEN: Well, the conditions in Attica at the time of the uprising was such that the, ah, majority of the inmates, of whom there were over two thousand, got concerned with the one shower per week, one roll of toilet paper per month, the tampering of the mail, and I say tampering in terms of excising portions of a magazine or letters from home, ah, the salary or wages per day in the metal plant was like 80 cents, ah, and the overall harassment by the guards of the inmates most of whom were from the metropolitan areas of New York City, Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse. The guards for the most part were from rural Attica, the village in Wyoming County, County and they were underpaid, grossly underpaid, seven thousand, six thousand, seven thousand dollars a year. So naturally they couldn't relate to the urban-type inmate that were brought to Attica. And as result that created a lot of conflict between the rural and urban, ah, guards and inmates. That's the gist of the problems that we had. 


INTERVIEWER: What were some of the things that were raising the consciousness of the brothers before the uprising?
HERB BLYDEN: For the most part, the consciousness of the brothers in Attica, their level was raised, ah, once they'd gotten into the writings of Malcolm X, the uprising in Watts, and definitely the Soledad brothers struggle and, ah, that in turn affected conditions in "The Tombs" Prison in New York City in 1970. So from '67 through '70 there was this uprising throughout America's prisons, from West Coast to East Coast to the South, you know, with Folsom and all the rest of the other prisons thrown in. And what we found in Attica in 1971 was the influx of prisoners from other outlying New York institutions confined in Attica themselves. There was the Young Lords, the Panthers, the Five Percenters, the Weathermen, the Muslims, and for the most part, all these diverse groups and the Five Percenters, I'm sorry.
INTERVIEWER: Let's try it again.
HERB BLYDEN: Yeah, because I want to make sure that I give you those groups because it's important. 


INTERVIEWER: Brother Herb, tell me what was raising the consciousness of the brothers in Attica around that time?
HERB BLYDEN: Well for the most part, most of the brothers in the institution in 1971 was raised by the uprisings throughout America from '67, '68, '69, the split I think in the party, West Coast and the East Coast fraction of the Panthers, the Malcolm's teachings, ah, the diverse militant groups that was set up, the Weathermen, the Young Lords, the Five Percenters and, of course, the Nation of Islam's contingent. All of these elements had their consciousness level raised, ah, relative to the well being of their folk as they saw it. So that to confine two thousand men in this small setting, in one institution, with that type of conscious level raising, raised, would, I think, was what I think created the conditions for the rebellion in Attica in 1971. 


INTERVIEWER: Sort of describe for me, if you could, the day of the rebellion, the day of the takeover, where you were.
HERB BLYDEN: In 1971 when the uprising occurred, we had, ah, two-thirds of the men working in their shops, industry, making cabinets, ah, chairs, lockers, etc. But I think to all fairness to the viewing audience, I should say that the evening before it was an altercation, and an inmate was dragged out of his cell in A block and the officials at that time were told that if anything happened to that inmate the next day when the inmates were let out there would be some reprisals. And as a result of them not taking that statement seriously, there was a spontaneous uprising in A block which filtered out over to the remainder of the prison.
INTERVIEWER: Stop a second. We're going to-- 


INTERVIEWER: If you could describe where you were the day of the rebellion and how you ended in up in D-yard.
HERB BLYDEN: At about eight o'clock on the morning of the 9th of September I was in the metal shops in B block, and there was a lot of running around and milling around by inmates, and the guards started to run around as if they didn't know what was happening, 'cause evidently they didn't have contingency plans for some emergency. It occurred to me that indeed there was an emergency. I left the metal plant with a group of inmates and we proceeded through B block where we met inmates coming from other blocks and correction officers following those inmates. We went out into D-yard and inmates closed the door behind them and the guards, at that point, stopped coming because there were 1,200 and some odd inmates confined in that yard at that point. 


INTERVIEWER: What was the atmosphere like in the yard the first few minutes of the take--of the rebellion?
HERB BLYDEN: For the most part right after entering D-yard the milling about and the confusion of these diverse groups from four prison blocks created what we would call pandemonium, because you had 40 or 50 correction officers who no longer, it appeared, had control of the institution. So order had to be made out of this disorder and at that point, ah, the Muslim contingent in the yard, I think there were 35 Muslim brothers saw to it that there was no further injuries to the hostages, at that point they were called hostages, which were correction officers. 


INTERVIEWER: What was your role in the yard at the time? Describe how you got selected as one of the leaders.
HERB BLYDEN: As a result of the Tombs uprising in 1970 and my 72-count indictment for the Tombs uprising, a lot of the inmates from the Weather faction, the Muslim, the Young Lords, the Panthers and the Five Percenters, suggested that there be a 15 member committee set up to negotiate with the outside officials, and I was selected unanimously by that group to chair the inmate negotiating team.
INTERVIEWER: OK, let's cut a second. 


INTERVIEWER: Before the rebellion you had sent some demands to Commissioner Oswald and he had responded with a tape recorded message. How did you feel when you got that?
HERB BLYDEN: Well after we sent the 28 demands to Commissioner Oswald, ah, he came to the prison and he sat with five inmates, not five signatories to the demands, only one of the five was in the group that he sat with. He in turn spoke not to the demands but to correcting such things as the toilet paper issue and the soap issue. But we, we made, ah, a request for 28 specific demands relative to adequate salary for a hard days work in the metal plants, and he didn't even address those. And once he played the tape over the inmate air phone, the institution it seemed, you know, to a man, was booing him. That should have been, I think, the sign that there were grave concerns about the sincerity of Commissioner Oswald and no one really looked at that.
INTERVIEWER: Let's just cut a second. 


INTERVIEWER: Would you describe to me how the inmates observed George Jackson's death and then how you felt that day, what you saw?
HERB BLYDEN: What was interesting was the reaction I think of the majority of Attica's population. 


INTERVIEWER: Could you say, "What was the reaction, what was interesting to the reaction of George Jackson's death?"
HERB BLYDEN: Right, sorry.
HERB BLYDEN: When George Jackson died we heard it on the radio and, you know, we had the prison grapevine. The very next morning, it was interesting, because everyone was locked into their cells when we heard the news so no one had time to actually say, "Tomorrow morning at breakfast we will go in with Black shoestrings as arm bands in mourning and do not partake of breakfast." And literally every man in Attica walked into the mess hall the next morning for breakfast with a Black arm band and did not eat breakfast and that was out of respect and mourning for George Jackson. It affected us immensely. 


INTERVIEWER: And now, what was your personal feelings, you personally?
HERB BLYDEN: Personally, I don't know that I can describe in words how it affected me, because George was in effect my mentor. I loved the brother, you know. I've been fortunate to actually meet Mrs. Georgia and at that time one of his best friends was Angela, and I'd met Angela Davis, and I loved little baby brother Jonathan. So it affected me as if, you know, indeed someone from my, like my family had died. And I didn't know that the emotional affect it would have on the rest of the inmates was in effect basically the same as it had on me. So George touched all of us very deeply. 


INTERVIEWER: Now, Herb, if you could sort of tell me how you felt when you heard George's, heard about George Jackson's death.
HERB BLYDEN: When I heard about George Jackson's death it impacted on me in such a way that it had a devastating effect, really. To this very day it affects me.
INTERVIEWER: No, you can't put it to this very day.
HERB BLYDEN: But it's the truth.
INTERVIEWER: No, you've got to keep it in the past.
HERB BLYDEN: Oh, see, that's the-- 


INTERVIEWER: How did you react when you heard, personally, how did you react personally when you heard about George Jackson's death?
HERB BLYDEN: Well, with anger.
INTERVIEWER: --when I heard about George Jackson's death.
HERB BLYDEN: Because of the George Jackson's death, you know, the anger had built up in me to the point where I was ready to explode myself. But after having considered the turmoils and the trials and tribulation that this strong brother had gone through only to be murdered in the manner in which he was he murdered, I said if he can endure and still be able to reach out even in death as he had, ah, we could take it from that point ah, and proceed to try to bring some other diverse elements together. But at first my reaction was, you know, an eye for an eye, much as, ah, the bible had spoken of. But I maintained my calm for the most part, but George, I think his overall demeanor affected me to the point where I was able to carry on and help to bring some people, some people together to deal with some issues.
INTERVIEWER: Could you just give it to me one more time because I sort of jumped on top of your question, answer. How did you react to George's death?
HERB BLYDEN: George Jackson's death I think created anger, frustration, and it, for a moment, wanted me to actually lash out at something or someone, ah, preferably to society and those forces that be that had taken his life from us. But in realizing that the brother had not died in vain and he would have wanted us to continue with the work that he had tried to do from behind the prison walls, ah, we maintain our cool and I maintained mine and tried to, ah, continue to struggle to bring the forces together and move on for betterment of the society from within the walls and from without the walls.
INTERVIEWER: Good. Fine. Let's cut a second. 


INTERVIEWER: So, what was it about George that, I mean, that you remembered as you thought about his death?
HERB BLYDEN: George Jackson's death, I think, impacted on me in such a way that, ah, even Mar--Dr. King's death did not impact on me because while Dr. King strived for something from a religious perspective, George Jackson came from something which had an inner and yet an outer. I remember his going to court in shackles, and the brother would stand erect, you know, proud Black man that he was. And they had not broken his spirit, and these are things that Dr. King and Malcolm talked about, the breaking down of, of the Black man's spirit. I remember his "in-cell" program, with the exercising, the push ups, and then when he comes out it was like he was in another world while he was still in the confines of the belly of the monster. So, I think what I had to do at that point was to show that we can be strong even during trials and tribulations, much as George was strong to the death. So, as a result of them taking George away from us, it made us that much stronger, I think.
INTERVIEWER: Good, good. Sto-- 


INTERVIEWER: I'll tell you what, I want to ask you again and I want to get some, some more feelings out of you. What it was like when you first went to that D-yard the first day of that takeover, of the uprising. What was it like in there among the inmates? How did you feel being among all these, the 1,200, the 1,200-something men?
INTERVIEWER: What did you see?
HERB BLYDEN: The first day of the uprising out in D-yard with 1,280 some odd men running around, whipping people, I'm talking about literally, physically, assaulting people whom they had not seen because of the diverse laws they've got in Attica about blocks. You've got four different prisons in one, and finally they, they contacted someone who they hadn't seen for some time. We had a, another group running around, and the prison hospital, ah, was overtaken so they had now had access to drugs, so the drug element was there and would have OD had we not stopped them from abusing drugs. We had younger inmates, that was one of the concern we had raised, and some of the older inmates who had been incarcerated for 15 or 20 years were actually physically abusing the younger inmates. I'm talking about raping these younger kids. So that had to be stopped. And, ah for the most part the pandemonium had to be stopped. And that's where, you know, in looking at this madhouse, we had to put an end to it by bringing the Muslim piece into play and, setting up the negotiating team with, ah, clearer heads. But, ah, the general chaos was such that even I was taken aback. I was amazed at how serious a situation it was. I mean, was it not taken into hand, put in check right away, ah, a great deal of harm could have occurred.
INTERVIEWER: OK. Let's cut a second. 


INTERVIEWER: Amnesty seemed to be one of the main issues among the inmates. Why was it important to you, specifically?
HERB BLYDEN: Amnesty was very important among the inmates in D-yard if only because with the death of Quinn the 600 inmates of the 1,200 who were doing life sentence at that time was facing the electric chair because of the law in the book at the time. The follow-up question to amnesty was then transferred to a non-imperialist country. If we could not get amnesty we just wanted to leave. And, ah, some of us who were granted amnesty by then Mayor Lindsay of New York City for the Tombs uprising, understood full well what it meant to not be charged with a crime after a paper amnesty was granted. We were charged with a crime in New York City because we were not given amnesty in writing. So we wanted the alternative to an amnesty in writing granted by the Governor or transfer to a non-imperialist country. But it was very, very important because we had 600 men who were facing the electric chair at that point. 


INTERVIEWER: Why was it important to you specifically. What did you feel when dealing with this issue of amnesty.
HERB BLYDEN: Personally I didn't up for amnesty. I wanted transfer to a non-imperialist county because I had had experience in the Tombs and I knew that amnesty on its face meant no more than the emancipation of slaves during Lincoln's days. Just mere words by the White man.
INTERVIEWER: OK, let's cut there. 


INTERVIEWER: This is directed right to you personally. How did you feel about this issue of amnesty in terms of you?
HERB BLYDEN: In terms of me and amnesty in 1971 in Attica I did not relate to the terminology. So much so that we included in the five final demands, ah, a clause that specifically addressed itself to transfer to a non-imperialist country. Because having been brought up in America, realizing its laws mean nothing, ah, the man's word mean nothing. Having had the experience only a year prior in the Tombs uprising where Mayor Lindsay granted amnesty, we knew full well that, ah, the fork town would stick us. So, amnesty per se, ah, meant nothing. I wanted out.
INTERVIEWER: Fine. Let's cut. 


INTERVIEWER: OK, Brother Herb, the inmates and you, and the other inmates have found out about the death of, of William Quinn. What was the reaction to Quinn's death from you and the reaction of the other inmates?
HERB BLYDEN: Upon finding out that William Quinn had died, the correction officer, there were approximately 600 inmates who, ah, were affected immensely because they were doing life sentences, at that time the death of a correction officer by an inmate in any of the state prisons, could place that inmate in the electric chair. So that solidified the position of those inmates, who for whatever reason, may not have wanted to be a part of the uprising. And that now made a hardcore element in the yard for whatever demands were put forth for amnesty from prosecution for the death of Mr. Quinn. So, what you had now is 600, quote-unquote, hardened criminals dealing the situation in D-yard, instead of, ah, 1,281 just inmates out in the yard. That position solidified, ah, for those men once deaths, the death of Quinn was known, made known. 


INTERVIEWER: Did you, what did you tell the inmates about what was going to happen in their yard?
HERB BLYDEN: I told the inmates at that point that there will be a turkey shoot. It was interesting because there was a turkey shoot on the morning of the 13th of September. 


INTERVIEWER: Tell me what you told those brothers after you heard about Quinn's death.
HERB BLYDEN: Upon hearing of the demise of William Quinn the correction officer, we realized how serious a situation it was for the 600 plus inmates who were doing a life sentence. Because based on the existing law at the time the death of an inmate, the death of a correction officer at the hands of an inmate, ah, made you eligible, if you will, for electric chair. So that solidified the position of the inmates in the yard who were doing a life sentence. I, upon hearing of the death of Quinn, took to the podium and I informed the--
INTERVIEWER: Let's cut a second. I want you to do it like--


INTERVIEWER: What did you tell those guys after you all heard about the death of Quinn?
HERB BLYDEN: Well once we found out that William Quinn had died, the correction officer, it behooved me to then tell these brothers, you, know that straight up, they're in trouble. And the 600 plus inmates who were out in the yard, you know, upon hearing what I was saying to them, the, the death of Quinn, it solidified their position and now they became the key element in the yard. And, ah, I informed them that, you know, all hell is going to break loose because another correction officer is dead and their position was then, "Come on with it!" And I think as a result of us looking at, ah, Quinn's demise and the solidification of their position, you know, we had that cadre of solid fighting force that we need to stay in the yard for additional time.
INTERVIEWER: OK, let's stop a second. 


INTERVIEWER: OK, what did you tell these brothers after they had heard, after y'all heard about Quinn's death?
HERB BLYDEN: As a result of receiving word that William Quinn the correction officer had died, the information was conveyed by me to the inmates in the yard, and, ah, the 600 plus lifers gathered around, I'll never, you know, forget their reaction once I told them "You niggers are going to die." I said, "All you brothers are going to be slaughtered in this yard." And, you know, they were like, "Come on with it!" But, ah, the position was excellent because it then created a solid core for us to be able to deal with the madness we had to deal with, with the negotiating, and, you know, but, ah, we told them straight up, these were serious times and that they were going to die.
HERB BLYDEN: Somebody name a book _A Time to Die_. 


INTERVIEWER: Brother Herb, if you could just go back to that day, that Monday, what happened that morning, what you saw and what you felt as the state troopers came in and correction officers came in to retake the yard?
HERB BLYDEN: Monday, September 13, 1971 was indeed a blue Monday. It was a cloudy, overcast day and we remember clearly addressing the crowd and apprising them of the urgency of the situation at hand. And, ah, to a man, with one exception, everybody decided to stay in the yard. I'll never forget this one White guy came up to me and said "I don't want to be out here." And I told him then, "Stand behind me." And he was the only one of 1,281 men who said they didn't want to be in the yard on September 13th. Fifteen minutes after that man said that, the helicopters came over and asked us to surrender, place our hands on our heads, we will not be hurt. And some of the men started to do that only to hear tear gas, pepper gas, shotguns, rifles. And it was a--again pandemonium broke out because some of them were indeed surrendering. And the chaos that was created as a result of this mass shooting into the yard I think to this, to me created the pandemonium that led to the massacre in the yard.
HERB BLYDEN: See, I can't-- 


INTERVIEWER: OK, Brother Herb, I want you to go back to that, that morning, that Monday morning and describe what happened before the assault and then the assault on the yard when they took it over.
HERB BLYDEN: Well we had the regular morning meeting on September 13, 1971 in the yard. We call it blue Monday. It was a rainy, overcast, damp, just a weird day, like one of those days you see in London with the fog, right. And the helicopters came over right after our regular morning rap session with the inmates in the yard and they announced a surrender order. 


INTERVIEWER: I want to stop for a second, I want to try it, I want you to tell me a story-- 


INTERVIEWER: OK, once again, if you could describe that early morning before the assault and then the assault itself.
HERB BLYDEN: September 13, 1971 stands out. It was a blue Monday, storm clouds on the horizon, fog, hazy, looked like one of those London City movies that you look at, you know. And, ah, we had our regular morning briefing, the 1,281 inmates and myself. As the Chair I had addressed from standing on top of a platform they had put there and we were told, or they were told by me after the committee had instructed me to tell them, to make up their mind whether they wanted to end the uprising now and go back to their cells or stay out in the yard. And 1,280 of 1,281 men in D-yard decided they would stay. I remember this one White guy in the audience, said he wanted to be in his cell. He was standing in the middle of the yard and for a moment it appeared that they would engulf him with their anger. And I hollered, "No, don't touch him. Let him come up here." And he took his time and he came up to where I was. And I asked him to stand behind me. And, ah, he had more courage, seriously, than any one of us in the yard. But, ah, he stayed there until 15 minutes later, the helicopter started to drop the tear gas and the wanton shooting began by the guards who were on the towers and this is all the while they're saying to us, "Put your hands on your head. You will not be harmed. Surrender to the nearest officer." They were shooting all the while. And, ah, the pandemonium that broke out as a result of the dropping of the tear gas and the CM gas and the, ah, shooting with the 270s and the 12 gauge shotguns, I think, created mass hysteria and, ah, additional injury to untold hundreds of men in D-yard.
INTERVIEWER: Let's cut. 


INTERVIEWER: The yard has been taken, retaken what happened to you when the state troopers and the guards came in, were you hurt?
HERB BLYDEN: When the state troopers and the guards came in, ah, to immediately take the inmates now out of the yard to their cells, we were made to strip, lay in the mud face down and crawl to a guard 10 to 20 feet away from the guard that had you stripped. At that point that guard would mark an X with White chalk on the back of select inmates who were then removed from the mud physically by two additional guards, placed in a line to run a gauntlet of correction officers to be beaten all the way to another cell block for housing. You ran over glass and bottle or whatever you had because you were stripped naked with your hands on your head and you were beaten with the batons all the way to the cells. In the trek to the cell we could see some of the other brothers laying there getting their X placed on them or just singled out for special treatment, as they called it. I remember L.D. Barkley was one. He was still alive and well when we left the yard and there was no additional shooting wantonly. Ah, as it turned out, he was selected, I guess for murder. How do you deal with that without--
HERB BLYDEN: You see? You see what I'm saying? You can't-- 


INTERVIEWER: Brother Herb, I want you to tell me again what happened after that yard was retaken with the state troopers and the guards, what did they do to, to, to you and the other inmates?
HERB BLYDEN: When the state troopers and the guards came in upon the immediate retaking of the yard, September 13th, ah, certain inmates were singled out for special treatment. The majority of those for special treatment were Xed on their back with chalk, as they were made to lie in the mud naked. I think there were 15 or 20 from the immediate negotiating table of which, of whom I was one. We were then removed to run a gauntlet to A block housing unit which is "the box." That's what they call it, "the box," where you're segregated from the rest of the population. But in proceeding along the gauntlet route we saw several of the other brothers, ah, who were still alive, singled out for special treatment, who never did show up in our housing unit. Upon entering the cells, where they had selected for us, we were made to stay in those cells, in the nude, ah, with no running water and for three days we were constantly abused, physically slapped around, not, ah truncheon beatings, not like the gauntlet, but the guards would open the cells at random. Two and three of them would go into the cells at night and punch a guy around, or slap him around, or kick him around. And for three days they would bring the food up to your cells, cereal, milk, cornflake, coffee, and tell you straight up, that "I wouldn't eat this if I was you, we did, whatever in it." You know, so for three days the men were not eating in those cells, even though there were food readily available. But the guards would, in some cases, physically spit in the food and show you he's spitting in it, and then pass it through the bars to you. So, those of us who knew how to fast, I guess, had to fast for three days.
INTERVIEWER: Let's cut. 


INTERVIEWER: OK, the impact of Angela Davis had on you brother Herb when you were in Attica and in the Tombs in '70, '71.
HERB BLYDEN: Angela Davis had an impact on me that was immense because, ah, back in those days, we didn't have, it seemed, too many strong Black women, ah, speaking out to some of the issues of the day. And Angela Davis' voice I think was one of the most profound voice for change at that time and I admired here immensely and she affected me greatly.