Review of Colin Grant's Negro With a Hat.

If you work as I do on the anthropology of the Caribbean, then Marcus Garvey and Garveyism cast a long shadow. By any standards Garvey's legacy is worthy of reflection. Reading Colin Grant's fine biography gave me pause for thought regarding Garvey and also the excuse to put those thoughts into a review for the OAC. Garvey was the leader of the largest black internationalist movement that has ever existed, but a movement of a unique kind. Most of the internationalisms of the Twentieth Century had some kind of socialist orientation, not so Garveyism. Garvey looked to the creation of an African empire for those 'at home and abroad'; that is to say for those who had been born in Africa and those born in the Americas. His was a hierarchical utopia, but his utopianism struck a chord and was quickly actualised in the form of millions of dollars donated to his cause. Where was the money coming from? Why would people as far away as Panama donate to build a political movement centred in New York?

From the review (which you can download here):

"Perhaps what drew more attention to Garvey’s movement – including astonishment and ridicule – than anything else was the mass pageantry of the UNIA. UNIA members often war quasi-military garb, with sabres and epaulettes for officials and black serge uniforms for ordinary members. Garvey would parade as a Professor in a gown and mortarboard, or as a Potentate in a turban, or, most recognizably, as an imperial Governor (or perhaps as Toussaint L’ouverture) in his cocked hat and braided uniform. This carnivalesque quality of the UNIA surely had West Indian roots. Marcus Garvey was no more a university professor than the 1960s calypsonian Lord Kitchener was an English lord, but there is more to the symbolism than either a cheeky inversion of the established order or an expression of a stereotypically colourful Caribbean parade. This aspect of the phenomenon of Garveyism asks for further explanation, but to interpret it we need to know something more about the West Indian colonial culture than we can gain from this book. Within the colonial situation, while acknowledging official power with its offices, rituals and uniforms, colonial subjects developed parallel frameworks that mimicked the official hierarchy appropriating some of its symbolic forms. But again, behind that fact, we also need to recognise how, by the beginning of the Twentieth Century, the Caribbean had become a society of migrants who, wherever they arrived, reorganized their social situation in particular ways..."

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Comment by John McCreery on January 23, 2013 at 4:24pm

Another interesting figure working in roughly the same period is Gustav Le Bon, the author of The Crowd, whose work on crowd psychology influenced advertising, PR and just plain propaganda. 

Comment by Huon Wardle on January 23, 2013 at 1:47pm

Well, a year or so ago I was talking to an economist who really looked deeply shell-shocked asking me how economists could have got the situation so wrong and how they were continuing to publish in prestigious journals as if nothing, none of their founding assumptions, had changed.

Partly this is a matter of how our minds organise themselves subjectively to fit whatever we are doing/thinking into the pattern we recognise around us. And any pattern, qua pattern, is bounded. 

It is striking that in the Caribbean people only recognised collectively that they were linked in the way they were linked, internationally, when Garvey appeared. The independence movements cut across that - I think it is telling that, while Garvey's party in Jamaica was called the 'People's Political Party', Norman Manley changed this into the 'People's National Party' having acted to stop Garvey in his tracks.

Comment by Keith Hart on January 23, 2013 at 1:25pm

Now this is getting very exciting, to be parochial, even as a way of doing the history of twentieth century anthropology. Your mention of Spengler, whose book I find to be a revelation on how to think about the history of money and number, takes us to Benedict's best seller, to Mead and Bateson, all of whom ended up doing national stereotypes of the Japanese and Germans in the war.

If nationalism as the winning side shaped the twentieth century ethnographic tradition -- and it did, Radcliffe-Brown was a veritable spokesman for a national community of citizens -- then, as you say, internationalist movements like Garvey's open up a lens on our own miserable post-nationalist future.

It is true that the academic division of labour is a major culprit for the work that is never done, but another is the lack of freedom we have to speculate except in blogs like this one. Beyond that, national society and culture imposed blinkers that closed off most visions of the world as a whole, something we have to recapture somehow.

If I may cite a paragraph from an essay that Horacio Ortiz and I are writing now:

The work on money reviewed here has broken the crystal glass that protected finance and the corporate world from the gaze of anthropologists. If Laura Nader advised anthropologists to “study up”, her message has had some impact. By analysing money practices in everyday life and the conceptual frameworks of professionals, anthropologists have helped to demystify a sector that organizes the lion’s share of money today. Unlike the standard models of maximizing agents, market efficiency and optimal allocation of wealth, these professionals seem to be just normal people, struggling for their careers, applying procedures whose logic and politics they do not understand, in networks of exchange whose real extent they will never know. Yet these accounts say little about the broader context in which regulatory, academic and journalistic discourses interact with the finance industry. They say even less about how the latter has arrived at its current position of dominance and why governments colluded with finance to undermine the protection of those who voted for them. Fixing financial problems is obviously a global problem, yet these studies have no perspective on world history that might allow them to draw lessons for the future.

Comment by Huon Wardle on January 23, 2013 at 1:09pm

No, I think that is a very interesting direction, but we need to see the moment in its own terms - Garvey has something in common with Spengler in his idea that great civilisations are propelled by some kind of collective mass energetics; in turn that is an element in Mussolini's fascism etc. but it is important to be able to unpick how they were different too. This is the moment when nationalism became the 'winning team'.

I wrote something on Simmel recently, a fundamentally internationalist thinker who by the end of the war had became a beleaguered nationalist, and you notice that he goes into eclipse at this point 1919, only to reappear in the 1990s. Garvey's black internationalism does transform in America into a precursor of, something akin to, national socialism - a militaristic command economy forged on racial lines. He recognised that later. It is important to be able to disaggregate that without judging the UNIA anachronistically.

Why hasn't the work been done; I think it takes a very complex view to be able to see these movements for what they may have in common and what distinguishes them. That work has fallen between the lines different disciplines set between themselves. It would be very interesting to see because we really need to know what is going to happen to mass society now that nationalism is no longer, or not currently, the winning team. Even socialism seems less popular than anarchism...

Comment by Keith Hart on January 23, 2013 at 12:35pm

This touches indirectly on a question I have long asked myself. Why did Marcel Mauss more or less stop publishing after his annus mirabilis of 1924-25? This included his republication as Durkheim's heir of the Annee Sociologique (including the essay on the gift, a huge backlog of reviews and the memorialisation of members who died in the war) and his peak production as a jounalist, dealing with the exchange rate crisis and the promise of a socialist government. There are lots of possible answers: the death of his close friend Hubert, assumption of duties at the Institut d'ethnologie, perhaps the beginnings of loss of memory. But one that I favour is that he planned a major work in the early 1920s on the two great ideas to emerge from the war: nationalism and socialism. Although he was an internationalist, he felt that their combination was highly promising. Then Mussolini turned up and the whole project took on a different hue. Maybe it broke his heart, that and all the personal losses he suffered.

So why hasn't the work been done that might allow us to see all these figures, including Garvey as being linked in a global moment? I have some ideas about that too, but I have already pushed the discussion too far from its source.

Comment by Huon Wardle on January 23, 2013 at 12:10pm

You are dead on there, John, in as much as Garvey considered himself to have pre-figured Mussolini and Hitler, as Grant points out in the book. The common factor is that all these movements, apart from their notions of race solidarity, were shaped by the mass mobilisation of the First World War: people had witnessed the scale on which armies could be massed, civiliians drilled into soldiers - and military uniforms were plentifully available. Then there is the development of certain kinds of mass media that thrived on this kind of spectacle: nothing better for a stationary motion picture camera than lots of marching. So, it is certainly not only an issue about replicating the British empire as it was. But you are right, the work hasn't been done, no.

Comment by John McCreery on January 23, 2013 at 4:45am

Huon, has anyone done comparative work on the "mass pageantry" of the UNIA? The sabers, uniforms, epaulettes and cocked hats do, of course, immediately evoke the trappings of British Imperialism. But looking at the period in which Garvey was active, I am also struck by the fact that I am looking at a near contemporary of Hitler and Mussolini. 

Comment by Huon Wardle on January 22, 2013 at 2:21pm

By the way, I heard Steven Feld a while back talking very eloquently about 'Jazz Cosmopolitanism' in Accra, Ghana. In music at least there is still a rich internationalist outlook linking Africa and the Americas.

Comment by Huon Wardle on January 22, 2013 at 1:20pm

Thanks Keith. Why has Jamaica been such a hub for this kind of internationalist viewpoint? It is a question I have thought a lot about and as I read Grant's book I felt the need to push this issue further. One answer is sociological. After emancipation in 1838 Jamaica became the major labour force in these huge industrial projects in Central America - Jamaica is close to Panama. The population at that time was only about 800,000 but over 100,000 Jamaicans worked in Panama alone. The other large group were the Barbadians. Essentially they tended to move South East toward the Guyanas and Brazil with the Jamaicans going West - Nicaragua etc. Anyone who went West would be called a 'Jamaican' and anyone embarking from Bridgetown, Barbados would be called a 'Barbadian'.

These were people who kept moving - a kind of industrial mercenary army, if you will, mainly employed by the U.S capitalists who were trying to exploit South American resources by building railways. The result was an extended, industrially savvy, network of people spread out everywhere from New York to Quito: well-travelled industrial labourers who had seen a lot and they knew how to build relations with their co-workers in highly contingent circumstances. I think we have to recognise that as a key element in their internationalist outlook, certainly it was an aspect that Garvey recognised and tapped into; but another side was British imperialism, from which a large dose of the symbolism of the UNIA derives. Marley's father, for example, was one of these enigmatic strange white outcasts or perhaps offcasts of empire. I have always found it interesting that CLR James is not stereotypically critical of the Imperial value set, but sees some aspects of it as valuable, perhaps in a slightly covert way - I am thinking of Beyond a Boundary.

Comment by Keith Hart on January 22, 2013 at 12:42pm

Thanks for this, Huon. I have long been drawn to the period in which Garvey flourished and to the questions his movement raises. This was the heyday of the Panafricanist movement in which American and Caribbean intellectuals like Dubois, Padmore and James played such a prominent part. For a time, South Africa's ANC was led by an Americo-Liberian and his wife from Atlanta. At the same time, Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man showed that all was not sweetness and light between American and Caribbean blacks in the US. Panafricanism was the broadest form of nationalism around since it shared a common focus on getting Africa's land back from white control into their own hands. This alliance persisted in the period of independence and shortly after, but a narrower, country-specific nationalism soon forced Panafricanism into the background, to the general detriment of most Africans, as Fanon forecast.

Any comparison between then and now would have to note the dissolution of that transatlantic sense of solidarity that Garvey epitomised. It is not hard to guess why, but it would still be worth having your opinion. In my travels, I have found that spirit most alive in Jamaica, where Rastafarianism keep Garvey's flame burning, as you point out, and Bob Marley's music retains a universal appeal. How do we explain that?

I am particularly interested also in your important observation that Garvey certainly was not a man of the left, with his use of the symbols of imperialism and indeed imperialistic attitude to Africa (not unlike the Americo-Liberians). In truth, even the men of the left like James and Padmore felt that Caribbean intellectuals had an advantage over indigenous Africans as a result of their longer and closer exposure to European civilization. But that is possibly another topic. Perhaps not.


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