Film Review: Anthropoid – The Czech Assassination Plot

Written by Ciara McKay.

Anthropoid seems a strange name for a film, but makes sense once you realise that this was a code-name for a secret Czech plan to assassinate one of the highest ranking Nazi officers, Reinhard Heydrich, in 1942. The acting ‘Reichsprotektor’ of Bohemia and Moravia, Heydrich was notorious for his vicious methods. This film relates the story of how two men were tasked by the Czech Government in exile with the assassination of one of Hitler’s top men.

The film begins with the parachute drop of Jozef Gabcik and Josef Valcik into a snow covered forest. Not even this goes smoothly for them, and there is the feeling that their mission might be cursed from the outset. Cillian Murphy plays Jozef Gabcik, the senior of the two would-be assassins, with a reticent, underlying violence. While compelling, Murphy’s characterisation of Gabcik is very like that of his Peaky Blinders character, Thomas Shelby, and the sense that he is becoming increasingly typecast does somewhat damage his credibility. Josef Valcik is portrayed by Jamie Dornan, as a younger but possibly more emotionally damaged man. It is hinted that he suffers from some type of stress disorder, which can make him hesitant in dangerous situations. Dornan is the weaker of the two actors and does not manage to convey as much of an emotional range.

Once Gabcik and Valcik meet the leaders of the resistance in Prague, there is debate over whether assassinating Heydrich is the best plan. Members of the Czech resistance highlight the very real concerns that such action may lead to reprisals against innocent Czech people and the replacement of Heydrich with some other, equally brutal, figure. Feeling disenfranchised and isolated, they argue that the Czech government in exile are out of touch with the situation on the ground in Prague. Toby Jones gives a solid performance as Uncle Hajsky, one of the resistance leaders.

The predominantly male cast is enhanced by the addition of two supporting female roles, the love interests of Gabcik and Valcik, who offer differing illustrations of the lives of women at this time. Lenka, played by Czech actress Anna Geislerová, is the older and wiser of the two women; as the daughter of a soldier, she has no illusions about the horror of war. Charlotte Le Bon portrays Marie with naivety, as a girl whose romantic ideas of war are quickly contradicted.

There is a drabness to the film that perhaps serves as a reminder that the resistance groups in the Second World War did not find their work exciting, but a necessity. The drama’s oppressive atmosphere gives a realistic impression of resistance work, but does slow the pace of the film in comparison with more conventional, and less historical, thrillers. Without giving too much away, the most emotional and action packed scenes take place as the film draws towards its conclusion.

Anthropoid does a good job of bringing to life a piece of Czech history that might not be familiar to general audiences without compromising on factual accuracy. It raises interesting questions about whether such assassinations can cause more trouble for ordinary people than they prevent. It is difficult to call it enjoyable, but it is certainly hard-hitting.

Thomas Jackson: The Stonewall of Confederate Honour

Written by Kevin Kempton.

On 21 July 1861, Union Brigadier General Irvin McDowell fought against Confederate Brigadier General Pierre Gustave Toutant-Beauregard at First Bull Run (or First Manassas). As the Confederate lines began to crumble under McDowell’s heavy Union assault, a brigade arrived, providing significant reinforcements on Henry House Hill. Confederate Brigadier General Barnard Elliott Bee Jr., exhorted his own troops to re-form, realising that the men in the brigade could become crucial to Confederate victory. After the order Bee was killed almost immediately, but the Confederate army survived the Union assault, resulting in one of the first major victories during the Civil War. After his death it was reported that Bee had shouted, ‘There is Jackson standing like a stone wall. Let us determine to die here, and we will conquer. Rally behind the Virginians!’

The man who led this ‘stone wall’ was Thomas Jonathan Jackson, a Virginian who would later make his name as one of the most legendary military figures of the Civil War. Now known for the nickname ‘Stonewall’ because of the brigade he had led at First Bull Run, Jackson was also nicknamed ‘Old Jack’, ‘Old Blue Light’ and ‘Tom Fool’. Born in Clarksburg, Jackson was an ordinary Southerner who believed in Southern customs, seeing himself as a devout believer sent by God to destroy Unionist evils. After many successful military campaigns, Jackson was accidentally shot after the victory at Chancellorsville on 2 May 1863 and died from pneumonia on 10 May. Hearing of Jackson’s death that evening, Confederate General Robert Edward Lee reportedly told his chef, ‘William, I have lost my right arm’ and ‘I’m bleeding at the heart.’

What has attracted historiographical attention is how Jackson, an unusual individual, entered popular culture as a Virginian who fought to defend the Confederacy. Jackson suffered many physical ailments, but it is noteworthy that he was able to cope with his concerns and concentrate on the campaigns he wanted to win. A religious fanatic who saw himself as God’s instrument, Jackson sought to fight a holy war against the Unionist invaders, while preserving his Presbyterian ideology. Jackson’s command style has also influenced modern-day military ideology, with many historical researchers concentrating on his unusual tactical and leadership qualities. With this in mind, Jackson is an individual whose legacy has entered popular culture and distinguished him from other figures of the American Civil War.

Jackson’s sometimes unusual command strategies and personality characteristics contribute to his legacy as one of the most remarkable generals of the American Civil War. Although martial and stern in attitude, he was profoundly religious and a deacon in the Presbyterian Church in the United States and willing to implement his fanatical ideology. One of his many nicknames  was ‘Old Blue Light’, a term which referred to Jackson’s evangelical zeal burning with the intensity of the night-time blue display light. As part of the Presbyterian ideology, Jackson disliked fighting on Sunday, the day of the Sabbath, although that did not stop him from doing so. Thus also strongly invested in family values and principles, he appeared to love his wife, Mary Anna Morrison Jackson, deeply and sent her letters. Unremarkable in appearance, Jackson was not a striking figure, often wearing old, worn-out clothes, rather than fancy, aristocratic uniform with a sword, as was common for Lee. In part because of these traits and the physical ailments from which he suffered, Jackson is an unusual individual with a command style and personality that attracts historians.

A lifelong belief held by Jackson as part of the concern that he showed about the physical ailments which he faced, was that one of his arms was longer than the other. Therefore, Jackson would usually hold what he saw as the longer arm up to equalise his blood circulation:s a practice which concerned the people he knew. He was described as a ‘champion sleeper’ because he would occasionally fall asleep with food in his mouth, which was another physical ailment that concerned Jackson. The Society of Clinical Psychologists believed that Jackson had Asperger syndrome, although other possible explanations, such as a herniated diaphragm, exist. He sought relief through hydrotherapy while visiting establishments at Oswego at New York in 1850 and Round Hill at Massachusetts in 1860, although with little success. He also suffered a significant hearing loss in both of his ears as a result of his prior service in the Union Army as an artillery officer, where he  had experienced intensive gunfire. Noteworthy about these physical difficulties is the conflict of this preoccupation with his feeling that he had a duty to protect the future Confederacy.

Another recurring story illustrating Jackson’s physical ailments relates tohis apparent love of lemons, which he allegedly gnawed whole to alleviate symptoms of indigestion. The Lieutenant General Richard Taylor wrote in his war memoirs that, ‘Where Jackson got his lemons ‘no fellow could find out,’ but he was rarely without one.’ However Doctor James I. Robertson, Jr. argues that Jackson thought of a lemon as a ‘rare treat … enjoyed greatly whenever it could be obtained from the enemy’s camp’. In fact Jackson was fond of many fruits, particularly peaches, ‘but he enjoyed with relish lemons, oranges, watermelons, apples, grapes, berries, or whatever was available.’Jackson’s religion has often been discussed, as he was a fanatic who believed that he was God’s instrument sent to protect the Confederate homeland from the Unionist invaders. Jackson’s biographer, Robert Lewis Dabney, agreed with this view and illustrated it, suggesting that ‘It was the fear of God which made him so fearless of all else.’ Jackson, an ardent believer in Presbyterian ideology as well as strict moral codes, reportedly said himself, ‘My religious belief teaches me to feel as safe in battle as in bed.’ With religion an important force in sustaining Confederate morale throughout the conflict, Jackson was committed to the maintenance of morality within the army. Jackson’s religion was a significant factor in his military conduct.

Stephen Ward Sears, a famous historian working on the war, suggests ‘Jackson was fanatical in his Presbyterian faith, and it energized his military thought and character.’ However, according to Sears, this can be simplistic since ‘this fanatical religiosity had drawbacks. It warped Jackson’s judgment of men, leading to poor appointments.’ Robertson, in direct contradiction to the argument that is conveyed by Sears, has suggested that Jackson was, ‘a Christian soldier in every sense of the word.’ It is clear that Jackson, according to Robertson, ‘thought of the war as a religious crusade’ and, ‘viewed himself as an Old Testament warrior – like David or Joshua’. Although this religious fanaticism had drawbacks in the sense of creating only Presbyterian soldiers, Jackson was able to prove his military prowess on the battlefield.

Jackson had encouraged the Confederate States Army revival that occurred in 1863, although it was probably more of a grass-roots movement than a top-down revival. Strongly believing in Puritan Sabbatarianism, Jackson refused to fight on Sundays, and he would order his men, who were mostly Presbyterians, to follow their morality. Working on Jackson’s belief in observing the Sabbath, Robertson notes that, ‘no place existed in his Sunday schedule for labor, newspapers, or secular conversation.’ Throughout the conflict, Confederate churches had convinced the Southern population that God was on their side, and not on the side of the ‘heaviest battalions’. By following the example of the churches in the trust given by God, Jackson was influential in sustaining Confederate morale until the going got tough.

In command, Jackson was extremely secretive about his plans and meticulous about military discipline, illustrating his unusual and sometimes unsuccessful strategies. This secretive nature did not attract his subordinates, who were not aware of his intentions until the last minute, and who complained of being left out of key decisions. However, it is noteworthy that despite his subordinates being unaware of his decisions, Jackson was crucial to Confederate victories, including First Manassas. Except for a below-par performance during the Seven Days of 1862, Jackson displayed military prowess, especially in the Valley Campaign in spring 1862. Jackson’s unusual command style, although unsuccessful in attracting his subordinates, was effective in fighting Union armies who were seen to be the ‘heaviest battalions’.

One exceptional individual was Lee, who trusted Jackson with undetailed orders that conveyed the overall objectives, what modern doctrine calls the ‘end state’. Jackson had a talent for understanding Lee’s sometimes unstated goals, so the pair trusted each other in taking whatever actions were necessary. Few of Lee’s subsequent corps commanders could repeat this pattern, which resulted in a series of missed opportunities for the Confederacy after Jackson’s death. At Gettysburg it led to lost opportunities, with Jeb Stuart famously forgetting to inform Lee of Union Army movements, under Joseph Hooker and George Meade. With the Union Army trying to regroup, Lee had sent Lieutenant General Richard Stoddert Ewell orders that Cemetery and Culp’s Hills had to be taken ‘if practicable.’ Without Jackson’s intuitive grasp of Lee’s battle orders or the same instinct to take advantage of sudden tactical opportunities, Ewell chose not to attempt this assault. With the exception of James Longstreet, Jackson was the only corps commander under Lee who had the command style necessary to produce major victories.

Although his religious fanaticism produced a majority of Presbyterians in his army, Jackson energised the Confederate cause, inspiring Southerners to fight to the end. Events including the revival of 1863 illustrate how Jackson was able to encourage a grass-roots dimension to the Confederate cause, producing a sense of will among Southerners. Jackson’s religious fanaticism, especially in observing the Sunday Sabbath, was crucial in sustaining Confederate morale until the going got tough in 1865.

Finally, in command, Jackson’s style of secrecy in planning military operations and imposing discipline helped to produce major Confederate victories including First Bull Run. Although the nature of Jackson’s planning did not attract his subordinates, he was, overall, the only corps commander under Lee who could produce necessary results. Individuals including Lee realised Jackson’s strategy in planning deliberately undetailed orders, which conveys the difference separating the young Southerner to others. The fact that Jackson’s command style was unique in comparison to other commanders including Ewell contributes to the historiographical debate on the Civil War. Even with his death after Chancellorsville, many Southerners today still believe in Jackson’s final words: ‘Let us cross over the river, and rest under the shade of the trees.’

Image: Beau Considine


Eicher, J.H. and Eicher, D.J., Civil War High Commands (Stanford, 2001).

Farmer, A., The American Civil War 1861-65 (London, 2002).

Freeman, D.S., Lee’s Lieutenants: A Study in Command (New York, 1946).

Henderson, G.F.R., Stonewall Jackson and the American Civil War (New York, 1995).

McPherson, J.M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (New York, 1988).

Pfanz, H.W., Gettysburg – The First Day (Chapel Hill, 2001).

Robertson, J.I., Jr., Stonewall Jackson: The Man, The Soldier, The Legend (New York, 1997).

Sears, S.W., Gettysburg (Boston, 2003).

Taylor, R., Destruction and Reconstruction: Personal Experiences of the Late War (Nashville, 2001).

Wert, J.D., General James Longstreet: The Confederacy’s Most Controversial Soldier: A Biography (New York, 1993).

5 Minutes With… Dr Robert Crowcroft

Written by Sophia Fothergill.

Dr Robert Crowcroft has been teaching at the University of Edinburgh for five years, and currently teaches an honours class entitled ‘From New Jerusalem to New Labour: The Labour Party in Contemporary Britain’. The interview below was conducted in October 2016.

Can you briefly summarise your area of interest in history?

I work on modern British political history. Most of my work is underpinned by an interest in the character, and imperatives, of democratic politics. That is what I am most concerned with. I have written on the Conservative and Labour parties, the history of Britain during the Second World War, and political leadership. I have also edited mass-market reference books on British history for Oxford University Press.

Why did you become interested in political history specifically?

An excellent question! The answer, quite simply, is that in my view political history is the most important form of history there is. Other approaches are immensely valuable, but everything flows from political history. As the historian John Vincent wrote, ‘there are too many dead bodies on the stage to begin anywhere else’. Everyone appears to enjoy discussing it. Political history no longer holds the same position of pre-eminence within the discipline that it once did, and, arguably, that is a real shame. Political historians should never have capitulated so meekly. We have a strong group of political history scholars here at Edinburgh, thank goodness.

To what extent do you feel that all voters should have an understanding of the history of political parties, and why?

One of the ways in which political history serves a valuable social purpose is in encouraging the public to be more aware, thoughtful citizens. To take two, rather obvious examples. The Thatcher era within the Conservative party marked a significant break with traditional Conservative statecraft, and yet, in our era, Thatcherism is now widely considered to represent ‘real’ conservatism. That’s historically dubious. The current state of the Labour party is quite novel, and history does not provide much of a guide to what will happen next. That said, many of Labour’s current problems have deep historical roots. The party has always been fixated with the spectre of ‘betrayal’, and this has long impacted its politics. Every Labour leader has had to worry about being compared to James Ramsay MacDonald, who (allegedly) betrayed the party in 1931.

Why do you think Jeremy Corbyn has become leader of the Labour Party?

The current ascendancy of Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell is fascinating. I think there are a number of factors. The New Labour period was one in which the leadership showed little respect for the party, and this stored up considerable resentment.  The Blair and Brown governments also made what are now seen by some as unacceptable compromises with capitalism and free markets; there has been a backlash against it. The Iraq War is now an emotive part of Labour folklore. Overall, there is a sense that the New Labour leadership were guilty of betraying (that word again) various things, and this eventually led to a radical shift in the culture of the Labour party. One also has to recall that Corbyn encouraged lots of new members to join the party and vote for him, something which has certainly compounded the discomfort of so-called Labour ‘moderates’. Something else one has to bear in mind is the general existential crisis of Labour statecraft provoked by the fall of New Labour. Labour enjoyed thirteen years in power, including a prolonged period of global economic prosperity, electoral popularity and a weak opposition. And yet Labour was still unable to create the kind of society that it desires. That is an acute intellectual problem, one that the party does not appear able to resolve. It is intriguing!

One approach to the history of the Labour Party emphasises the frequent divides in the party between the ‘left’ and ‘right’ factions. Why do you think this problem is specific to the Labour Party, and can you offer any explanation as to why the Conservative Party tend to appear more united?

Every party is factionalised, the Conservative party being no exception. Historically, the Conservatives have usually been cunning enough to keep this away from the glare of public view, though that has changed in the last thirty years. Yet thinking about the divisions within Labour in terms of ‘left versus right’ often tells us little. For one thing, there have always been multiple factions on ‘the left’ and ‘the right’. Moreover, many of the most important conflicts within Labour have not actually been related to doctrinal inclination. Tony Blair and Gordon Brown spent more than a decade manoeuvring against one another. At stake was power, not ideology. The same happened between Clement Attlee and Herbert Morrison. Their rivalry shaped politics atop the Labour party between 1935 and 1955. Framing one’s objections to somebody else as ideological is a useful way of presenting your ambitions in a more acceptable fashion. A lot of the time, at least, we should not take these claims too seriously.

Pan-Africanism and Western Domination

Pan-Africanism and Western Domination

Written by Pablo Perez Ruiz.

“Toussaint’s failure was the failure of enlightenment, not of darkness.” – C.L.R James, Black Jacobins.

“This is where the African intellectual lives in paradoxical terms: powerful yet powerless.” – Toyin Falola, Nationalism and African Intellectuals.

Pan-Africanism, when taken as a broad ‘group of movements’ with ‘no single nucleus’ and stemming from the experiences of the African diaspora, cannot be seen as a simple, reactive response to Western domination and discrimination, but rather as a creative, transterritorial solidarity movement that predated some of the current debates around transnational migration. After defining the concepts of African diaspora and pan-Africanism, this essay will discuss the ‘Western’ origins of pan-Africanism, and the case for pan-Africanism as a response rooted in Western epistemology and according to Western expectations of the colonised. Two case studies will be analysed: that of Senghor’s Negritude and Diop’s Afrocentrism, together with their respective critiques by Fanon and Appiah. The Western-dependent nature of some pan-African thought can be understood through Foucault’s notion of bounded resistance, although with certain qualifications. Ultimately, although agreeing with El Saadawi that ‘migrants cannot replace those who continue to struggle and work at home in Africa’, the merits of pan-Africanism, with its legacy of trans-territoriality as a particular example, have to be recognised as open spaces of resistance through which the African intellectual diaspora asserted their agency and negotiated their conflicted identities. This article does however fall into two common biases that follow from the nature of the existing sources: it prioritises the literate African elites over the many others that left no written records, and it provides a male-centric perspective of pan-Africanism.

The notions of pan-Africanism and African diaspora are highly elusive terms in the literature. Starting from Adi and Sherwood’s assertion that ‘there has never been one universally accepted definition of what constitutes pan-Africanism’, this article advocates for Shepperson’s view of pan-Africanism as a ‘group of movements’ with no ‘single nucleus’. That allows for the inclusion of different perspectives such as Afrocentrism and Negritude, seeing pan-Africanism as both a series of movements and ideas celebrating ‘Africanness’ and resisting racism and exploitation. Lemelle and Kelley have eloquently framed pan-Africanism as an ‘oppositional ideology’; a crucial point when assessing its reliance on Western epistemology and expectations. Pan-Africanism’s status as a ‘transnational solidarity’ is also important to understand its relation to the African diaspora; pan-Africanism’s trans-geographical and long-lasting nature has made it take different forms at different times and locations, sometimes leading to conflicting agendas. In what refers to the term ‘African diaspora’, a broad definition is preferred to accommodate a range of perspectives. Shepperson is again helpful in his view of the African diaspora as more extended in time and space than has been commonly supposed. Although originally intended as a counter-narrative of American slavery and European colonial discourse and in an attempt to develop an affirmative version of African history, the idea of African diaspora has now become accepted in the mainstream literature. Two problematic issues arise from this notion of diaspora: first, the danger of emphasising common experience over differences, which Falola has dealt with by talking about different strategies but common struggles; second, the danger of using the term African diaspora as a pretext to talk about something else, what Achille Mbembe sees as the West’s tendency to use Africa as an intermediary to ‘accede to its own subconscious.’ A broad conception of diaspora and pan-Africanism are thus necessary to contextualise the experiences of the thinkers considered below.


To understand the wider nature of pan-Africanism we need to first look at its roots. Although Falola has pointed out the difficulties in dating the origins of the movement, which included experiences of slavery in America, colonization of Africa by Europeans, and worldwide racism, influential thinkers like W.E.B.D have asserted that pan-Africanism ‘had no deep roots in Africa itself’, but rather originated in the places of the African diaspora.  Before 1945, the core of the pan-African movement resided in the diaspora and it was the shared experience of racism across ethnic-lines that created the first opportunities to mobilize. Early pan-Africanism was thus considerably influenced by its place of origin, i.e. North America and Britain, and the frames of thought it provided. The case of North America is particularly interesting, as the difficulty of tracing back one’s origin led to the ‘adoption of Africa as one single “nation”.’ The adoption of Christian elements in early North-American pan-Africanism is evident in its ‘bias towards imperialist forms of progress and Christianisation’ and its ‘evangelistic approach to Africa.’ Early civil rights leader Thomas Fortune affirmed that ‘Christian religion [in Africa] is destined to supplant all other religious systems of belief, because it is the best code of moral philosophy ever given to man’. Others like Edward Blyden expressed similar thoughts, and the Bible was the key text for many pan-Africanists of the nineteenth century. At the other side of the Atlantic, the pan-Africanism originating in Britain with the founding of the African Association in 1897 and the First pan-African Conference held in London in 1900 also exhibited some features derived from its origin within the West. The publicity announcing the conference did not call for the complete destruction of Empire, but was framed in terms of the need to ‘influence public opinion on existing proceedings and conditions affecting the welfare of Natives in various parts of the Empire’. The aim was to persuade the metropole and to influence domestic public opinion by using the frameworks of thought of the coloniser.

Whether the use of the oppressor’s language and discourse by pan-Africanists in North America and Britain was a conscious strategic move or an unconscious, dependent reaction to Western domination requires a brief mention of the Western (mis)education received by many of those in the African intellectual diaspora. As Adi has highlighted, the British had a vested interest in ‘developing a class of Africans sympathetic to the interest of the British ruling class’ and in teaching these Africans the British traditions of governance. With this in mind, tracing the education of many of the leaders of the African diaspora shows the influence that Western education may have had on their thought and behaviour. Molony’s exhaustive biography of Nyerere’s formative years has shown the influence that being educated in Edinburgh had on Nyerere’s political thought, and also how the experience of exile heightened his awareness of racism and colonialism. The experience of exile reinforced an ‘African identity’ in many intellectuals; Horton, also educated in Edinburgh, adopted the name ‘Africanus’ during his time in Britain. C.L.R. James’ Letters from London is another good example of the disappointment faced by a ‘Black Englishman’ in Britain, and his writing simultaneously uses the colonisers’ most refined language while being critical of the realities in the metropole. Although being subjects of the French rather than the British Empire, both Diop and Senghor studied at the Sorbonne, and the first was granted French citizenship, joined the French army, and became the first African ‘immortal’ member of the Académie Française. There is a crucial element of class in the African diaspora’s elites adoption of Western epistemology and attitudes, and subsequently in their response to the West through pan-Africanism. Ultimately, ‘the way in which a group enters a society has a profound impact upon their social status and their social psychology’, and the position of the African diaspora intellectual as both powerful and powerless was key in their articulation of pan-Africanism.

The study of the particular cases of Senghor’s Negritude and Diop’s Afrocentrism can help elucidate some of the tensions mentioned above. In ‘Negritude: A Humanism of the Twentieth Century’, Senghor argues for a ‘black personality,’ the African’s certain way of ‘conceiving life and of living it,’ and defines negritude as ‘the sum of the cultural values of the black world’. Building on the ideas of ‘African uniqueness’ developed by German ethnologist Leo Frobenius, Senghor opposes African and European ontologies: the first ‘conceives the world as a fundamentally mobile reality’, the latter as ‘objective, static, and dichotomic.’ Senghor creates the philosophical category of the ‘African Man’ (note the gendered language), and elevates him to the highest form of being after God. Negritude thus becomes ‘morality in action’, deriving from the African’s natural trait of living according to the moral law. There is a feeling of essentialism and disconnection from reality all throughout the piece, which can be read as an attempt for self-confirmation and reassurance by an intellectual member of the African diaspora. Fanon was highly critical of Senghor, and saw his search for a ‘black culture’ as a product of the ‘anxiety shared by native intellectuals to shrink away from that Western culture in which they all risk being swamped.’ There is indeed a tension within the piece, and it is not clear who Senghor is writing for. Senghor seems to be, as exposed by Fanon, trying to ‘rehabilitate himself and to escape from the claws of colonialism’, but his thought is still too inscribed within the same epistemology as that of the coloniser. Moreover, Fanon criticised a particular kind of African intellectual for dedicating his/her efforts to comparing ‘coins and sarcophagi’ instead of joining the political struggle against colonialism. Culture would ultimately be created through national struggle rather than through intellectuals trying to ‘renew contact with the oldest and most pre-colonial springs of life of their people.’


Turning now to the pan-Africanism of Diop, his Afrocentric ideas need to be framed as an attempt to emancipate Africa from the Euro-centric vision of history. Against the Western imperial version of history, Diop formulated an alternative thesis which saw Egyptian civilization as a black civilization and as the ‘initiator’ of Western civilization, thus challenging the Western view of civilization originating in Ancient Greece. Ancient Egypt is seen as the basis of African cultural (and political) unity and as a reason for African pride.  In The African Origin of Civilization, Diop reversed European ideas of Africa as an ‘indispensable negative trope in the language of modernity.’ European conceptions of history relied on Africa being backwards for Europe to be modern, and it is this rhetorical artifice that Diop set out to challenge by calling to rehabilitate African people’s place in history through a ‘cultural revolution’ that allows Africans to explain their own historical past. This cultural revolution would allow Africans to ‘define the image of a modern Africa reconciled with its past and preparing for its future.’ The mention of Africa’s future means political engagement against European chauvinism, and not just intellectual lucubrations. However, writers like Appiah have been highly critical of Diop, calling his writings ‘Europe Upside Down’: criticizing the West through Western (specifically Victorian) modes of thinking. The preoccupation with the Ancient world, the prejudice against cultures without writing, and the prioritising of the ‘great male leader’ make Diop’s Afrocentrism an ‘essentially reactive structure’ according to Appiah. Trying to identify a common origin on African civilization only replicates European attempts to find an origin for Western culture.

With these two case studies in mind, Foucault’s notion of resistance can be a helpful framework to conceptualise the tensions in the pan-Africanism of the African intellectual diaspora. Foucault’s view of resistance as dependent on power and existing within power seems to fit the argument so far: African intellectuals in the diaspora, having received a Western education, could only contest their own upbringing with the tools that this education had provided them. Thus, Senghor disputes the idea of the European superior subject by creating an even more superior African subject, while Diop contests European history of civilization by creating an African-Egyptian alternative. They are both oppositional but dependent accounts existing within the wider framework of pan-Africanism as an ‘oppositional ideology’. But merely dismissing Diop and Senghor’s account as incomplete, co-opted modes of resistance, would be unfair, and would assume the existence of a ‘true’ form of resistance derived from ‘pure’ or ‘authentic’ African culture which has been untouched by the West. Moreover, it would assume that the intellectual diaspora’s Western education and access to Western culture is more problematic in their relation to pan-Africanism and African modernity than that of the masses. Re-reading Foucault, true resistance is possible if seen as a ‘multiplicity of points of resistance’ with no single ‘soul of revolt’. This fits C.L.R. James’ idea that ‘those people who are in Western civilization, who have grown up in it, but made to feel and themselves feeling that they are outside, have a unique insight into their society’. To the idea of resistance as revisited above, it is fundamental to add an awareness of both discursive and political-economic forms of oppression, as highlighted by both Fanon and Sekou Toure among others. The intellectual decolonization must come hand in hand with an awareness of the social realities on the ground, and Diop had been quite successful in his call for a ‘politically engaged objectivity’, playing with Western ideals of objectivity while calling for action.


Looking more closely at both Senghor and Diop can therefore not only expand our ideas of resistance and of the agency of the African intellectual diaspora but also enrich our understanding of migration and transnationalism. Tageldin has eloquently argued that Senghor’s pan-Africanism predates contemporary debates of trans-territoriality and trans-nationalism. By manipulating ‘race and culture to defy the limits that politics might impose on more “worldly” histories and geographies’, Senghor (and other pan-Africanists) transcended geographical lines. Despite his sometimes ‘nativist’ conception of Africa, Senghor’s negritude can be also read as transborder and transcontinental, i.e. including those in the diaspora. Migration was the context for the writings of both Diop, Senghor and others, and their writings have to be read in light of their concerns for Africa and for themselves, especially in what refers to the tension between assimilation and individuality. As Falola has highlighted, ‘migration can create a profound need to understand the homeland’, and the impossibility for many in the diaspora to become full citizens of their host countries may have played in their transnationalism and connections with their homeland. Although the experiences of transnationalism in the first half of the twentieth century may have been limited to a small African elite, they were in many ways precursors of the later generations in their tendency to build and maintain multiple linkages with their countries of origin.

Despite the origins of pan-Africanism within the West and the role of a Western-educated elite of pan-African thinkers, the thought of intellectuals such as Senghor or Diop cannot merely be seen as futile, ‘impure’ resistance but as creative attempts to deal with multiple issues ranging from identity and the experience of migration to racism and oppression. Although elements of class are important, and some thinkers such as Senghor might have lacked an awareness about or involvement in the political and economic realities in Africa, the members of the African intellectual diaspora can be seen as precursors of later debates around transnationalism and trans-territoriality. Despite its focus on the more intellectual side of pan-Africanism, this essay does not suggest the separation between the ideological and the practical in pan-Africanism, as they have both been highly intertwined across pan-African history. Moreover, the individual treatment of writers and intellectuals does not intend to abstract them from the broader movements of which they were part, but was used as a more manageable approach to the topic. Ultimately, the stretch in time and space of pan-Africanism and the African diaspora makes this account one of the multiple possible explorations of pan-Africanism, one of multiple ‘points of resistance’, one trace of agency in the larger span of African history.

Fiction: I Lost My Heart at Wounded Knee

Written by Lewis Twiby.

Snow drifted gently from the grey sky, matching the sadness in his heart: the heart that had been ripped from him. All the warmth that had been in his mother’s body had started to drift away. A warmth that had kept him safe through his ten years. A warmth that ended when the blue-coated soldier had fired upon his mother. Her body was the only thing that stopped him from sharing her fate. He was so scared. His entire body shivered through fear and the biting cold. What was going to happen to him now?

He had been scared when they had fled with the other Hunkpapa to join Chief Spotted Elk when the Indian agents had killed noble Sitting Bull. Almost a man, he had vowed not to cry but his mother let him weep into her shoulder as they fled to the new reservation. Life had been hard on the old reservation: the ground was dry, crops refused to grow, wasting diseases took people like his father away, the rations were meagre, and the warriors could not hunt the buffalo even if the Indian agents said they could because there was none left. Sitting Bull had given them hope, though. Sitting Bull who had managed to get so many to safety when they went to war against Long Hair Custer. Who had parlayed with the Americans on behalf of the Sioux people. Who had visited the big cities in the east with the funny-man Buffalo Bill. Now he was gone. Gone like his father, his grandfather… and now his mother.

Tears had frozen on his cheeks. Gently he kissed her on her forehead and took off the Ghost Shirt which he wore over his normal one. He placed it around his mother’s body so she would not get cold. She hated the cold. For that reason, he used to throw snowballs at her when the snows came.

“I hope the Ghost Shirt works better for you, mother,” he sniffed. A smiling warrior had given him the shirt during their flight after Sitting Bull’s death. He had never taken it off since. He had even urged his mother to wear it. Were the southern Navajo right? He had heard from the warriors that they had rejected the Ghost Dance. The young warriors had partaken in the ritual to make them immune from the bullets of the bluecoats, drive the invaders from their land, bring back their ancestors, and bring back the buffalo. He had been so excited. A chance to see his father again. It did not matter in the end. The dead remained dead, the buffalo were nowhere to be seen, bullets still killed them, and their land continued to be taken.

The snow crunched with his every step. Crunch. Crunch. Crunch. Before he lost his heart he had loved that sound. In a distant memory, he remembered his father showing him how to make a man out of snow. They had stuck stones into it to make a head and found some crow feathers, as dark as the night sky, to make hair. He and his friends had then pelted his father with snow. It was only two years ago but it felt like a lifetime. The bluecoats had taken everyone he loved from him: his father from the wasting disease, his mother from the bullet, his friends lost during their exodus from the reservation. For all he knew they could be lying in the snow like his mother.

All around him were tepees flattened by the long departed roar of the soldiers’ bullets, snow greedily drinking up the red blood, and gouges in the white from people fleeing, along with their pursuers. He was not scared of encountering any of the soldiers. It would be a relief. He could join his mother and father. Or maybe the stories of the young scouts were true about soldiers taking children to be raised by white families. Maybe he could tell a white family about what was happening to his people and they could tell the leader of the Americans what was happening. The leader of the Americans would see what the army and agents were doing and would give them back their lands, and give them medicine and guns and buffalo. Except that the only people around, Lakota or American, were lying dead in the snow.

A loud snort and the crunch of snow brought his mind back to the frozen reservation. Was it an American soldier, or a Lakota warrior? The rider wore a rifle across his back, brown trousers, and a white Ghost Shirt. His dark hair had smatterings of white, but not thanks to the snow. Upon his face were tell-tale lines of age. The aged warrior nimbly jumped off his horse like a man of half his years to land in the snow with a crunch. He waded through the snow to kneel before him.

“Are you lost my boy?” he asked in Lakota. “Where are your parents and kin?”

He felt tears welling up behind his eyes. To avoid his shame, he looked at the snow seeing it melt as his salty tears dropped to the earth. He felt the warrior grasp him in an embrace. “Do not fear child. We may be separated from them for now but we shall be reunited. Come, I shall take you somewhere safe.” He took the warrior’s hand and together they waded through the snow. The aged warrior gently lifted him onto the horse.

“I am Mahpiya Icahtagya,” the warrior said smiling.

“Chaska,” he replied.

Not wasting any time they soon left the scene of broken dreams and hearts. The snow continued to fall as if they had never been there.


Brogan, Hugh. The Penguin History of the United States, Second Edition, (1999, London).

Brown, Dee. Bury my Heart at Wounded Knee, (1971, New York).

Foner, Eric. Give me Liberty!: An American History, (2004, New York).