Voices from the Inside Out: Remembering John Alan

May 18, 2011

by Robert Taliaferro

John’s writings are strikingly poignant and timeless, with a prosody that is uniquely old-school. The body of his work is eloquently instructive and historically prescient.

In reading his columns we are challenged to look upon his words as more than philosophical constructs; there is a timelessness that reminds us that history–if left to its own devices–has a tendency to repeat itself.

One finds John’s prose to be honest, sound, valuable information to be used in the fight for the freedoms and equality that are at the heart of News and Letters Committees. In John’s case, the greatest honor we can render is to remember his words.


In 2000, seven years before the election of Barack Obama, John wrote in News & Letters, “To imply that the racial and ethnic composition of a capitalist political party will resolve today’s dire economic and social problems and the practices of racism is deceptive and false. It is false, because the essential reason for the existence of today’s political parties is to preserve and protect the interests of capitalism, that is the accumulation of capital, which creates at the same time wealth and its opposite, poverty, classism and racism.”

Writing of Haiti in 1992, and the terrorism exacted on that country’s people at the hands of its corrupt U.S.-backed leadership, John noted, “The trouble with outside ‘liberation’ is that is limited to the goals of the ‘liberators.'”

Addressing the Sudan in 2001, John noted the universality of revolutionary thought and necessary support: “Overcoming. . .retrogression is the task for revolutionaries in this country as we confront our own unfinished revolution and new forms of exploitation and racism.”

In an indictment of Afrocentric educational alternatives, in 1993 John wrote in part: “The advocates of Afrocentric education fail to catch the central contradiction when the object of Afrocentrism becomes science.

“In their concept ‘science,’ and not the subjectivity of African ‘cultural identity,’ becomes the force of transformation. There is nothing wrong in encouraging Black youth to study math and science, but to project it as the magic language that will open new economic doors for African Americans in a capitalist high-tech society creates an illusion.”

Of course, the best one can do in this small space is only share a sample of John’s work, but one would be remiss if one failed to include excerpts from his book Dialectics of Black Freedom Struggles as he references Raya Dunayevskaya’s discussion of the Black dimension in her book Marxism and Freedom.

“In Marxism and Freedom,” John wrote, “Dunayevskaya. . .did ground-breaking work to show that the Black struggle, far from being external to Marx’s philosophy, was intrinsic to it, pointing especially to how Marx’s attentiveness to Black struggles inside the U.S. led him to reorganize his greatest theoretic work, Capital. Her view was a leap in American Marxism.

“. . .No ready-made theory, whether from the Communist Party, Trotskyist parties or existentialists was adequate for the new spontaneous movements as they arose in the 1950s and 1960s.

“Completely new theoretical departures had to be made to express the ideas of the Civil Rights Movement in the U.S. as well as the anti-colonial revolutions in Africa and meet them with a philosophy of liberation.”

When we lose the physical presence of someone we love, it is natural that a sense of sadness exists. We can temper those feelings with a celebration of John’s legacy: his words, ideas, beliefs. We are much richer with those things that truly count, because of that legacy.

“Freedom,” wrote Rosa Luxemburg, ” is always and exclusively freedom for the one who thinks differently.” Those who fight the hardest for freedom do not necessarily carry flags or banners to mark who they are.Sometimes they just wake to the sound of the trumpets and keep time to the drums that define the heartbeat of change.

We are fortunate that John heard the drums of change and rallied to their call, and decades later, his work is as vibrant today as when it was first penned.

We honor Allen Willis a.k.a. John Alan: filmmaker, writer, Marxist-Humanist, mentor, human being, comrade. . .friend.Sine die. . . and thank you!

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