04/04/2011 12:17 pm ET Updated Jun 04, 2011

For Manning Marable

One of our strongest fighters is gone: Manning Marable's death at age 60, in New York on March 31, leaves us bereft of a consummate talent: a major public intellectual, a committed educator and a wise political leader.

Manning was a tireless writer and activist. A continuous stream of books, articles, and columns flowed from his desk. And he built institutions too: research institutes, journals, websites, archives, projects. He collaborated with innumerable progressive organizations, linking his work deeply to Harlem and New York. He was also deeply immersed in every aspect of U.S. racial politics, and in worldwide struggles as well: against apartheid (in its many forms), as well as class exploitation, sexism. and war.

Take a look at his books. Consider their titles; here are a few: SPEAKING TRUTH TO POWER; THE NEW BLACK RENAISSANCE; SEEKING HIGHER GROUND; THE GREAT WELLS OF DEMOCRACY; BEYOND RACE: NEW SOCIAL MOVEMENTS IN THE AFRICAN DIASPORA... Yes, consider the titles, if you don't know the work. Every book spoke to the necessity for justice, equality and social transformation. Manning was a revolutionary thinker, and also a passionate advocate of democracy. Trained as a historian, he wrote his Ph.D. dissertation on John Langaliblele Dube, the founder of the South African Native National Congress (which became the African National Congress). He produced an important political biography of W.E.B. Du Bois, and died just before the appearance of the most ambitious project of his life, his new book MALCOLM X: A LIFE OF REINVENTION.

There is scarcely a progressive publication in the U.S., including this one, on whose pages his words did not appear.

It is an amazing set of achievements, especially for a radical black democrat, a lifelong avowed socialist. What is particularly striking is not only the volume of Manning's writings and the political commitment he always demonstrated, although those are staggering achievements in their own right. No, what stands out most in Manning Marable's decades of work is the clear perspective, the well worked-out political direction, the line of argument he took. It is a position from which we have much to learn.

Manning always argued that black politics and the black community itself have an indispensable and basic contribution to make to democracy and social justice, both in the U.S. and on a global scale. He never broke with the tendency that is somewhat crudely called "nationalism," but is more properly considered as black political autonomy. Recognizing the central role black people have played in the construction of the modern world -- in creating capitalism, empire, modernity and indeed popular sovereignty -- Manning always insisted that blackness, in all its varieties and inconsistencies as well as all its amazing political capacities, should never be diluted or effaced, never minimized in its importance: the U.S., the western world, the global South, and in many ways the whole round world, he argued, were and would remain black spaces.

But for the same reasons that he was a black advocate and black thinker, Manning was attuned to the demands of emancipation everywhere. In every system of domination, every dimension of inequality or exclusion, every institutionalized form of predation, Manning saw the same need to resist an enemy that was not only anti-black, but anti-human. Whether that enemy took the form of the greed of Wall Street, the inveterate sexism of American culture, or the ecocide that assaults the earth itself, Manning recognized the common human interest in opposing and defeating it. In that way he was more than a "transformationist," as William Grimes describes him in his respectful obituary in the New York Times on Saturday. To be sure, Manning was a strategic thinker who considered political alliances and coalitions essential elements of movement-building. But above all he was interested in freedom: for black people, for women, for poor and working people all over the world.

That is the essence of radicalism. That is what Manning Marable taught us. Farewell, brother! Thanks for all you gave us.