George P. Rawick

Before Stokely

(Summer 1968)

From International Socialism (1st series), No.33, Summer 1968, pp.39-40.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

Marcus Garvey, 1887-1940
Adolph Edwards
New Beacon Publications (London) and Port of Spain (Trinidad), $1.00

Marcus Garvey, a Jamaican by birth, frightened the powerful in the United States and West Indies and even in Africa. The Universal Negro Improvement Association which he founded was the only large, mass Negro movement in the United States until recent years. It was the intellectual and organisational carrier of the idea and the reality of an independent Negro community in the United States. The Garvey movement was the most significant predecessor of the social impulse that produced the Black Muslims and SNCC and the other Black Power organisations.

This small original pamphlet while based on little new research is, I believe, more important than David Cronon’s much larger study of Garvey, Black Moses. Its author, Adolph Edwards, develops the idea that Marcus Garvey was not simply an important West Indian and North American Negro leader. His work was a larger achievement in the development of modern civilisation. The Garvey movement was truly international, an integral part of world history whose work has had its fruition in West Indian independence, in the mood and ideology of the Negro movement in the United States and in the development of African nationalism.

Garvey and his work were typically New World and as such had revolutionary meaning throughout the world. The Universal Negro Improvement Association grew from Garvey’s total experience which included work as a timekeeper on a Costa Rican banana plantation and two years in London where ‘he conversed with dock workers and discussed and argued with Indian and African students.’ In 1914 Garvey went to New York city and by 1919 his movement involved over a million Negro Americans. Its weekly paper was also printed in French and Spanish for the benefit of Black people in countries where English was not the native tongue. Its message was rightly understood by the colonial powers as being subversive of their interests. French Dahomey made the possession of Garveyite literature an offence meriting life imprisonment.

After a period in an American prison on a trumped-up charge of mail fraud Garvey returned to Jamaica where in 1929 he founded the People’s Political Party that demanded independence. Although he lost in 1929 because only the West Indian middle classes had the vote Garvey became the great hero of the Jamaican population. Today no West Indian government can afford not to revere Garvey publicly no matter how in private they work in the opposite direction. In August, 1964, the Jamaican government announced that Garvey’s body would be disinterred from its London tomb and brought home to Jamaica.

Edwards concludes his work with C.L.R. James’ estimate of Garvey: ‘When you bear in mind the slenderness of his resources, the vast material forces, and the pervading social conceptions which automatically sought to destroy him, his achievement remains one of the propagandists miracles of this century.’ The appearance of this pamphlet by Adolph Edwards is itself the continuation of the work of Marcus Garvey. Its publication is a welcome sign of a new political movement on the part of many West Indian intellectuals.

This volume is available for $1.00 from the publisher at 95 Hornsey Lane, London N3.

Last updated on 19.6.2008