Amiri Baraka, Cultural Revolution and the Ideological Struggle


Another part of this is the project by elite Black academics to treat the lives and works of outstanding Black radical intellectuals as dead carcasses to be feasted on and deconstructed by these intellectual hyenas. This is now the case with the revolutionary legacy of Amiri Baraka. The same thing goes on with Du Bois and Baldwin, among others.

It is well known that Baraka from 1974 until his death insisted upon a class analysis of culture and politics. His break with petit bourgeois and cultural nationalism was replaced with the idea of Cultural Revolution, anchored to the Black proletarian. However, many of his so called friends from the Black Arts Movement act as though he remained a cultural nationalist. At his funeral none of them mentioned his Marxism, anti-imperialism and rejection of narrow cultural nationalism.

On the other side, academic “experts” are crafting ways to talk about Amiri in ways that make it look like his revolutionary work is not serious, not his best work, is bombastic and propagandistic. Even the so-called feminists among them (female and male) don’t mention the decisive ideological role of his comrade and wife of almost 50 years played in his making his great leap away from petit bourgeois and nationalism. It was she who leapt ahead of him.

In the case of Baraka it his turn to Marxism-Leninism, socialist realism and proletarian art and politics that gets him in trouble with “those who know about these matters.” In reality, though, Baraka never left the blues, Bessie Smith, Billie Holliday, Sarah Vaughn (Sassy) and Dinah Washington. He never left bebop or hard bop, or for that matter Miles Davis, Duke Ellington, Jackie Mc, Art Blakey, Lee Morgan, Max Roach, Philly Joe Jones, Coltrane or Thelonius Monk, to name a few. In fact he got even closer to The Music (classical African American/American Music), as he moved to the left, championing and working with the avant-garde—the next generation, the flamethrowers and revolutionaries. Albert Ayler, Ornett Coleman, Cecil Taylor, David Murray, Hamiet Bluiett, Andrew Cyrille, Grachan Moncur III, Arthur Blythe, Don Pullen, Craig Harris and more. They inspired his Afro-proletarian poetry and plays and he inspired them and gave them confidence to remain true to their proletarian roots and vision.

1974 to 2013, almost forty years, is his longest, his most innovative, experimental and creative period. The petit bourgeois poems of the beat period, the nationalism of both the Black Arts Movement and Cultural Nationalism, of the early New Ark years, are reworked, given a new and more profound proletarian grounding after 1974. He announced that Afro-American people’s art must be anchored to the working class (the proletariat), uphold the right to self-determination of the Afro-American people and position itself as a force for ideological clarity against imperialism.

This period, for the petit bourgeois is unpalatable and distasteful. We must defend Baraka’s oeuvre as a living and not a dead carcass to be picked over by intellectual hyenas.

About Anthony Monteiro

I am a activist and scholar who is a professor in the Department of African American Studies at Temple University.
This entry was posted in Black Intellectual, Political and Ideological Issues. Bookmark the permalink.

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