AccessMyLibrary provides FREE access to millions of articles from top publications available through your library.
The postcolonial condition entwines the history of individual trajectories that most often merge into collective history, with the most minor details of the personal story finally finding greater significance in the global movement. Aime Cisaire's intellectual, political, and literary trajectory exemplifies the postcolonial condition lived out as an experience of colonial and imperial domination, lived as the impossibility of totally nullifying the connection imposed by the colonial situation, and finally, lived as struggle against that domination. Viewed from that angle, Cesaire's oeuvre is a "chronique des revolutions politiques et culturelles qui ont marque le processus de liberation du monde noir" 'chronicle of the political and cultural revolutions that marked the black world's process of liberation' (Toumson 15). The Discourse on Colonialism, "breviaire de tous les militants anticolonialistes en lutte contre la domination europeenne" 'the breviary of all militant anticolonialists in the struggle against European domination' (Toumson 138), and the Letter to Maurice Thorez without doubt constitute two reference points in the theoretical articulation of this literature of struggle.
In 1946, Martinican poet Aime Cesaire was elected Representative of Martinique under the banner of the Communist Party. Cesaire thus became a member-and possibly one of the most prominent--of the Martinican Federation, which at the time was but a section of the French Communist Party. On 24 October 1956, Cesaire resigned from the Communist Party in his famous Letter to Maurice Thorez, addressed to the Secretary General of the French Communist Party:
Succinctly put, as of now we consider it our duty to conjugate our efforts with those of all men fired by the love of justice and truth, and in their company to build organizations paths honestly and effectively to aid the dark peoples in their struggles for a today and for a tomorrow: a fight for justice; a fight for culture; a fight for dignity and for freedom; organizations capable of preparing them in every domain to assume, autonomously, the heavy responsibilities history at this moment makes weigh so heavily upon their shoulders. This being so, kindly accept my resignation from membership in the French Communist Party. (Letter 16)
This paper suggests that the Letter to Maurice Thorez is a foundational text in the process of reclaiming a cultural, political, and ideological autonomy that would characterize Cesaire's attitude toward France for more than a half-century. The basic hypothesis maintains that the Discourse on Colonialism, one of the most spectacular denunciations of colonialist abuse of authority, is above all a polemical rhetorical performance. In that document, the "brilliant student of the colonial school" (Moudileno 146) deploys all of his rhetorical art in the service of the deconstruction of colonialist mythologies. The Discourse nevertheless does not begin what Glissant names, in reference to Fanon, "to act on one's ideas" (Glissant 25). The Letter to Maurice Thorez appears as the most accomplished manifestation of postcoloniality, understood here as a radical reconsideration of colonized thought. The Letter to Maurice Thorez can be understood as an ideological rethinking that invites a rereading of the role of Western knowledge in societies under domination. It represents the exemplary moment of the intention of autonomization in Antillean political, intellectual, and cultural practices. Cesaire's resignation initiates the decolonization that contests the modes of political organization in a colonial setting. Situated at the intersection of communism, internationalism, anticolonialism, and Negritude, the Letter to Maurice Thorez demolishes the old paternalism, places race and the colonial status at the heart of the debate on the theories of liberation, and reaffirms the intellectual's and the colonized people's duty of responsibility as agents in their history. In this discursive performance of anticolonialism that results from an actual political decision, Cesaire also deconstructs the Mirage of the Redeemer, in other words, the belief in the providential "good colonizer" as the savior of the colonized. The repudiation of the Communist "savior" leads Cesaire to enact a courageous demand for responsibility. The assumption of responsibility recenters the duty of intellectuals in the colonial situation in that they fix as their goal to think by themselves and to attune their thoughts and actions to the cultural and political realities of Martinique. Cesaire assumes this duty of responsibility by choosing Negritude over the French Communist Party. The misunderstanding that surrounds Cesaire's membership in the Negritude movement places the Letter at the center of the debate on the role of racial consciousness in the Marxist ideological program.
The incandescence of the poetic word, the rhetorical flamboyance of the Discourse on Colonialism, the prophetic formulation of the Letter to Maurice Thorez, and the charismatic dramatization of the impasses of decolonization orchestrate the rhythm of an imaginary that has been mobilized in the service of human liberation. If Cesaire's oeuvre, in its nobility as well as its insolence, derives from an assumed intractability, his political practice takes on the contours of political realism. The exemplarity of the repudiation of ideological dependence therefore contrasts with the pragmatism that characterizes the political practice of the diputi-maire (Representative and Mayor) of Fort-de-France. Even if the demand for autonomy appears overly insolent in the eyes of French strategists, it remains insufficient, indeed compromising, in the eyes of the partisans of Martinican independence who model their struggle on the example of Fanon, the herald of the Algerian War. The Letter, along with The Discourse on Colonialism, thus acquires a significant meaning in the polemic that heightens the tension between discursive performance and political action.
THE MISUNDERSTANDING OF NEGRITUDE: FROM CESAIRE TO NKRUMAH
Cesaire's political work takes shape within the context of the revolutionary euphoria marked by the Cuban revolution, the civil rights movements in the United States, the fervor for freedom that from Africa to Asia removed the chains of a colonialism that was losing steam. Cesaire's entrance into the Communist Party corresponds to the period of alliances established between Communist movements and movements of national liberation, alliances that were formalized in 1920 at the Congress of Peoples of the East, in Bakou, and then confirmed in 1927 at the Congress of Oppressed Peoples, in Brussels (Massiah 137).
Davis suggests that Cesaire's literary path is found at the intersections of aesthetic modernism and black consciousness. La tragedie du roi Christophe, Une saison au Congo, and Une tempete explore the fragility of revolutionary ideals in a postcolonial context. The Cesairean oeuvre emerges at the crossroads between the Western text, Greco-Latin classics, the modernist avant-garde, Mother Africa, magical realism of the Americas, and Martinican creolities. Interwar Paris, the capital of the black world, is also the locus par excellence where a black writer could contribute to the rehabilitation of his culture "while continuing to assimilate the most progressive components of the West" (Davis 15). Cesairean Negritude operates from a platform where a modernist approach, revised and corrected in the light of the imperatives of the search for an Antillean identity, anchored in the complexities of the Antillean postcolonial condition meet the henceforth renowned project of a cultural renaissance of the black world. Negritude effectively constitutes one of the sources of tension between Cesaire and the French Communist Party, tensions that eventually led to the break that is announced and theorized in the Letter to Maurice Thorez. The questions that Cesaire raises over the place that racist domination ought to occupy in the Communist consciousness are wed to the contours of the polemic on the Eurocentric trajectory of the worldwide Communist movement, and the centrality of European logics that move the struggles and aspirations of African peoples off to the periphery. The Negritude movement works toward an integration of racial awareness, artistic creation, and poetic action in an ethical demand forged in the post-slave-trading colonial reality against the imperial prescription and in the belief in the humanity of every community of humans. The political and cultural awareness translates as a unification of black intellectuals from Africa, the Antilles, or the Americas, focused on the question of emancipation, a challenge that calls, in various ways, upon black communities. The intrusion of race in the process of political conscientization inevitably provokes a racialization of political consciousness that forces political strategists to henceforth confront the racial configuration of liberation movements. The "solidarite noire effective" 'effective black solidarity' (Toumson 53) at the root of Negritude proves to be a real challenge to the universalizing claim that is at the core of both colonialist and Communist propaganda machines. The cultural affirmation thus takes on a decisive political dimension. The demand of a black culture, from Harlem to Dakar, from Brazil to Port-au-Prince, from Fort-de-France to the Congo, confronts the complex of superiority that weaves together all of the arrogance of the colonial adventure. The challenge to Martinican Communists is knowing how to reconcile the demands of the class struggles and black racial claims within the specific context of the Antillean colonies.
French writer Dominique Desanti for whom Cesaire's poetry is the "chair meme d'un people en lutte et d'une souffrance qui se disait" 'the very flesh of a people in struggle and of a suffering that speaks' (Dominique Desanti in Aime Cesaire, a Voice for History) reports that at the time of the Congress of intellectuals for peace, the denunciation of decadent literature and art by the head of the Soviet delegation profoundly marked Cesaire, who did not understand how jazz, the music that had arisen from the sorrows of an enslaved people, could be classified among elements of bourgeois decadence. The pilgrimage in the strategic places of communism shook Cesaire's faith in the ability of Western communism as a framework of liberation for the colonized peoples, but contributed to his rapprochement with black intellectuals of Paris who grouped around Presence Africaine, founded in 1947 by Alioune and Christiane Diop. Depestre's call to order opens the debate about national poetry, mobilizes black intellectuals and artists around Presence Africaine, and leads to the first Congress of the Sorbonne (1955) in which the Communist Party saw a gathering of negristes and petty bourgeois. (1) Cesaire's resignation from the French Communist Party must be understood in …