Kwame Montsho Ajamu Somburu ¡Presente!
October 13, 1934 - May 3, 2016
We are saddened by the loss of comrade Kwame Somburu. He was a dear friend, revolutionary fighter, and a devoted distributor of Socialist Viewpoint magazine until he became too ill to continue.
He had an amazing knowledge and memory of history—all of which he learned on his own by reading everything he could get his hands on and, of course, being a participant throughout his life in the struggle for freedom and human emancipation.
He was an active member of the Socialist Workers Party from 1965 to 1983. From 1983 he became a founding member of Socialist Action, formed by former members of the SWP, who were either expelled or dropped out when the party deviated from the historic teachings of Marx, Engels, Lenin, Trotsky and James P. Cannon (founding member and leader of the SWP.)
Kwame remained in Socialist Action until 1999. Then, in 2000, after a split in SA, Kwame helped form Socialist Workers Organization, the group that began publishing Socialist Viewpoint magazine. SWO dwindled down to a small core of activists whose numbers were insufficient for the crucial project of party building but continued to promote the building of a revolutionary Marxist working class political party through the pages of Socialist Viewpoint.
Throughout his life, Kwame was part of the Civil Rights movement; the Vietnam Antiwar movement; the Black Liberation movement; the Women’s Liberation movement; he worked with Martin Luther King and Malcolm X; he was a supporter of the Cuban Revolution; he fought against the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan; he was anti-Zionist and pro-Palestinian; and that’s just to name a few causes he was intimately involved in.
He was an active fighter for socialism and a promoter of the power of worker’s solidarity until his last days.
Saying it like it is
He was in his best form speaking extemporaneously—debating and street-corner speaking, for which he was arrested many times in New York.
One of his most memorable debates was the one he and Fred Halstead had with William F. Buckley on his show, Firing Line, in 1968.1
Fred Halstead was the Presidential candidate and Paul Boutelle was the Vice Presidential candidate of the Socialist Workers Party that year. (At that time, until 1979, Kwame went by his given name, Paul Boutelle. And, at the time, if a TV show interviewed a major candidate, they also had to give “equal time” to minority candidates. In 1968, the Socialist Workers Party was on the ballot in 19 states across the U.S. That’s how two revolutionary socialist candidates got an hour of prime time on TV.)
Kwame, the scientific socialist and historian
Kwame ruled the debate throughout with his profound knowledge of history and his quick wit. Buckley didn’t stand a chance. Halstead, to his credit, took a back seat to his running mate, who clearly had the upper hand on Buckley.
Towards the end of the show, Kwame was pointing out that Buckley was defending the U.S. knowing that it was built by profiting off of slavery, the slaughter of the Native Americans and its never-ending wars—WWII, Korea, Vietnam, etc.
Buckley was, again, trying to defend U.S. wars when he said, smugly, “I represent a country that went to war to liberate the Negroes a hundred years ago.”
Kwame responded, “I know some people in Mississippi and Alabama that would like to hear that. Why don’t you take a trip down there this summer and tell them that they’re liberated. In fact I know some in the outskirts of Chicago that would like to hear, too, and Brooklyn—Bedford Stuyvesant…”
Then Buckley said, “Put it this way, Mr. Boutelle, I’m sure that if I ran for office in Mississippi, I would have more Negroes voting for me than for you…”
Kwame answered, “I’m sure of one thing, if you went down to Mississippi and told Black people they were free, you would be running, and it wouldn’t be for office.”
The audience went crazy applauding and cheering Kwame.
“It takes all five fingers to make a fist!”
On April 27, 2014 Ill Box Media presented an ib Video Production of, Kwame Somburu, A Conversation with a Rabble Rouser?2
This is a powerful history lesson covering years of U.S. imperialist oppression from the perspective of an active, self-taught, “scientific socialist” who not only knew what he was talking about, but was part of the on-going struggle against it.
Kwame’s whole life was devoted to fighting oppression. He was a fighter for socialism and a strong promoter of worker’s solidarity.
In this interview, more than once, he holds up his hand and says, “It takes all five fingers to make a fist!”
His contribution to all of humanity and to the revolutionary, scientific, socialist-workers movement is incalculable!
We have lost a great human being.
Rest in Power, Kwame.
1 William Buckley vs. Black Socialist
2 Kwame Somburu: A Conversation with a “Rabble Rouser?”