Working for African Brotherhood Liberation in West Berlin (1970)

Many African-American soldiers stationed in West Germany and former soldiers who settled there after their discharge were committed to activist politics, creating far-reaching and sometimes eclectic networks that caused great concern for the military hierarchy. Some of these were focused on the challenges and experiences of African Americans specifically, while others had a far broader and often more radical diasporic vision.

The short-lived periodical ABL: African Brotherhood Liberation is an example of the latter. The journal was “published by a group of Black Revolutionaries thrown together in Berlin and who recognise their duty as fighters to carry on the work wherever they are,” under the direction of Ron “Black Horse” Chavers (1931-2020). Chavers had served in the US Army in West Germany before returning to academic study, and when ABL was published he was working on his PhD thesis in philosophy at the Free University of (West) Berlin, which he completed in 1972.

The ABL articulated a broad anti-imperialist and anti-capitalist critique, and in his editorial Chavers laid out the significance of Berlin to a broader Pan-African struggle. He outlines a number of themes that continue to resonate in Black activism in the present, including experiences of alienation in white society, white presumptions of Black foreignness and subordination, and the comedy and rage that this produces. He also emphasizes the importance of self-help and direct action, the need to build Black spaces and frameworks, and he is deeply pessimistic about the utility of dialogue. Instead, his goal is to convince all Black brothers–there is no mention of women in the program–to contribute to the revolutionary struggle wherever they are. Although West Berlin is far from the ongoing battles in Africa, it is a central hotspot of the Cold War and this provides an opportunity. Chavers suggests that it is important to educate the many Black revolutionaries already serving in the armies of western powers and to mobilize them for the tasks of liberation.

To this end, Chavers declared the formation of The Black Liberation Committee. While little is know about this organization, including who its other members were and where precisely it sits within the broad range of Black activist and liberation movements in the US and Europe. Research on its activities is ongoing.

Jeff Bowersox


On Black Liberation

Whenever Blackmen present themselves in a white society, the inevtiable question is asked of them as to the particular colonial situation from which they have come.

It is seldom that we find an intelligent white person who would think of us as not having been colonised in any particular region, and as being capable of understanding the reality of this world.

It is most usual for us to encounter a perplexing surprise when we are found to be especially wise and superiorly humane. This presents itself to us, generally, as deep rooted ignorance prevailing over this European continent, and not in the least Berlin from which we speak today.

It is for us at times, very amusing to be subjected to such ignorance and after a while we find it to be the basic attitude from the highest to the lowliest. But more often we are upset, we are angry and we lash out! And rightly so!

We have found this stupidity of the mass on the European continent and the off-shoots in other parts of the world (USA, etc.) to have been purposely created during a long period of producing the bigot, the racist inner-self. This is what we confront. There contempt, albeit basic inhumanity, is one of the main props of this psyche of what the enemy is.

It is not just an attachment to the personality but almost to the core of the man.

From Land to Land it manifests itself in differing forms and with differing degrees of overt racialism, but nonetheless the same. We relate to this in one way: we reject their images of us and project our true selves.

We achieve very little by rational thought and action, by subscribing to their behavior norms or by accepting their values. We wanted to speak to them to have them understand the truth of ourselves. We had to stop, we became fed-up with their rejections, they just would not listen and learn. Yet that was a necessary stage when we had to speak to them, we sought communication in the language they gave us to use — christianity and its derivatives.

However the importance of that period was in educating ourselves as to their basic nature while at the same time learning about the means of communicating amongst ourselves, in terms of a common attitude to this racist culture.

And while there is no longer any efforts on our part to have a dialogue with the MAN in the fashion of his prescription, there is communication because we have come to understand that he harbours a basic fear of us so that our positive action today presents him with the problem of understanding anew, us, whom he thought he did know. Moreover, the objective of our action is for us, no longer a need to challenge him but rather to amass our forces to overthrow him; this hard fact he assumed even before it was evident.

We come to this Lands to better know him thus being better able to defeat him. He would want to get the hell rid of us. Though his continued possession of power is dependent upon us we are developing independently of his leadership.

Long ago when we knew that he could die we ceased to be awe-struck before him. We began to put our heads together, shutting him out and certainly this he could not accept after having told himself that we were in need of him.

It happens therefore that whenever Black Men put their heads together the MAN takes a new inventory of his arsenal preparing for his harvest, for he believes in retribution and so does not deny us the right to vengeance. As for US we consider him only as the object to be smashed in our liberating struggle. Our efforts more properly are for the advance of humanity.

The struggle for the advance of humanity is world-wide and being carried on by the many peoples who have been subjected to the very contempt and violence of the MAN — this possessor of empires and powers of life and death over much of the world, this manipulator of people and nature, this conjurer of fears and fogeys, this grand army of money sharks and blood-thirsty whore generals. He is united in himself for the continued denial of the peoples of the Third World, and uniting our forces we struggle relentlessly for his destruction.

Yet we find individuals and groups of us tied to him, responding favourably to his beck and call, giving their lives for him against ourselves. It demands of us gigantic efforts to break his hold on the individual outlook of many a brother. Then is it not, that we must speak even louder to our brother, be more resolute in our actions! Fight the scourge at every turn, united our own forces and divide his own.

Thus the work of the revolutionary and the enlightened is to consider every force that sets up against him to be an ally of ours and any force for him as an enemy. So that wherever there is a brother he must become consciously involved in weakening this MAN’s power, joining with his internal enemy and with the positive forces of humanity for his destruction.

It is hardly a person, this MAN, or a national concept but is a system, international and of a class nature, since it is bred of a definite relationship to the control of the means of utilising nature and expanding the knowledge of the specie. Thus it is that he must be countered — international capitalism, imperialism — in all his manifestations and in his every center, and he is everywhere, Berlin not the least.

Berlin represents a peculiar and an important center of Imperialism. It also logically represents an important area of work for revolutionaries, not by far the most important, since our most important work is to be undertaken in the centers of our Third World areas. Berlin is a virtual confrontation point between NATO and Warsaw Pact, it is a second capital of imperialism and we are a strategically placed force here. We are to be found as part of the armies of imperialism. In this place, too, are revolutionaries of not altogether small numbers and not without the proper orientation.

Thus we have set out to organize the many black brothers in and around Berlin into an effective force for carrying out tasks of the liberation struggle. We consider it essential to emphasise the true orientation of the brothers as to our role in the World Revolution, the Black Revolution and to deal with the many social and study problems which beset us.

An organisation of Black brothers is then necessary in Berlin and this first issue of ABL ushers in The Black Liberation Committee.

Source: Ron Chavers, “Editorial,” ABL: African Brotherhood Liberation 1:1 (1970): 1, 8. Brünn – Harris – Watts Collection — Serials and Press Release Soldiers Movements, International Institute of Social History, Amsterdam. Reproduction courtesy of the Wisconsin Historical Society, GI Press Collection.

Working for African Brotherhood Liberation in West Berlin (1970) by Jeff Bowersox is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

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