Volume X, Number 1, Spring 2014

"Black Theatre and Propaganda: Amiri Baraka’s Adherence to the Negro Problem and Defense of the Question of Labor" by Samy Azouz

Dr. Samy Azouz, Assistant Professor, Department of English, Faculty of Letters and Humanities, University of Kairouan. E-mail:

Some of Amiri Baraka’s critics have noticed his new apprehension of art as propaganda. Agitation and propaganda appear to solemnly enter the stage of Baraka’s theatre. W.E. B. Du Bois, critic and prominent sociologist, is inflexible as to his consideration of art as propaganda. In his seminal essay “Criteria of Negro Art,” Du Bois proclaims that “[a]ll art is propaganda” (297). Commenting on Du Bois’s proclamation of art as propaganda, Eric J. Sundquist says it “refers to Du Bois’ deeply held belief in the ethical and political responsibility of art and literature” (Reader 304). During the height of the Harlem Renaissance and the New Negro Movement, Du Bois seems to firmly believe in the heavy moral and political responsibility of the artist and the intellectual.

From the perspective of black theater, propaganda could be defined or interpreted as the transformation of thought from the dominant tendency to a black worldview, from indifference to responsibility, from the artist/creator to the masses. “Therefore, the revolutionary ideology of the Black Aesthetic was more than mere protest or political reform. In addition to serving as a means of effecting political and social change,” Mance Williams contends, “it aspired to the more monumental and idealistic task of affecting the masses of Black people with a new sense of identity and spiritualism” (Black Theatre 20). The ideology that buttresses the Black Aesthetic/Black Arts not only seems to aim at introducing reforms, but also aims at having a certain influence on the great masses of black people.

The propagandistic import contained in the Black Aesthetic emphatically targets the black masses. Baraka’s conception of the Black Aesthetic strikingly correlates to the stipulations we have just cited. As a testimony to our purport, Baraka declares in The Autobiography: “We worked constantly to agitate the community and to further inflame it against the white racist system” (The Reader 385). In his manifesto entitled The Revolutionary Theatre, Baraka declares that theater “must be food for all these [Blacks] who need food, and daring propaganda for the beauty of the Human Mind (sic)” (Theatre 5). Mobilizing and intellectually stirring black people is ultimately the work of propaganda of the Black Arts movement. The latter seems diametrically opposed to the Aristotelian theater of mimesis and the notion of art for art’s sake.

During the zenith of the Black Arts Movement, the playwright appears to lean toward telic and utile artistic creation and use of theater art for propaganda. The latter becomes an instrument in the battle for freedom and a medium of agitation for liberation. Baraka’s brand of aesthetics/art seems to tend toward propaganda as his dramatic writings become more and more politicized. In his seminal essay “Criteria of Negro Art,” Du Bois notes:

All art is propaganda and ever must be, despite the wailing of the purists. I stand in utter shamelessness and say that whatever art I have for writing has been used always for propaganda for gaining the right of black folk to love and enjoy. I do not care a damn for any art that is not used for propaganda. (297)

Du Bois seems adamant as to the consideration and utilization of art for propagandistic purposes. Propaganda is thought to have been a point of contention between Alain Locke and Du Bois. The theoretical debate is believed to have revolved around the necessity of propaganda as a means of social and political agitation on the one hand and the marring of artistic talent, on the other. In his seminal essay “Art or Propaganda,” Locke asserts that the individual artist can achieve art only if he relinquishes propaganda and that the latter makes of inferiority a lasting issue. He writes that propaganda “perpetuates the position of group inferiority even in crying out against it” (312). Du Bois retorts that the focus on individual matters and issues brings agitation on the Afro-American question to a standstill. Under the aggressive tone of Du Bois, Locke is believed to have given concessions with respect to the raging controversy. Locke argues that “[p]ropaganda at least nurtures some form of serious social discussion, and social discussion (is) necessary, is still necessary […]. Propaganda itself is preferable to shallow truckling imitation” (50). In the Lockian viewpoint, propaganda becomes a tool of nurture as it fosters public debate; it also galvanizes people, propel them to act, and make them avert mimicry and puppetry.

Basically, propaganda is the propagation of certain values relating to a political or cultural cause. It is the circulation of ideas, information, or a doctrine, intended to influence public feeling, raise awareness, and bring about reform. These principles or ideas, highly persuasive in nature, promote a definite political cause or point of view. Here, the artist, who is a nationalist in this case, becomes the voice of the political cause that has certain socio-economic and cultural high stakes. Baraka’s championing of theater art particularly and art generally as popular and politicized is “based on the belief that the only black art of value was black nationalist propaganda” (432), as Jerry Gafio Watts argues. The laudable aim becomes the dissemination of a propagandist mass art. In this vein, Baraka writes in “Hard Facts”:

We want to raise the level of the people, but to do that we must start where they are which is on a much higher level than the majority of intellectuals and artists. We also want to popularize, to make popular, to make a popular mass art. To take the popular and combine it with the advanced. Not to compromise, but to synthesize. To raise and to popularize. (qtd. in Sollors 231)

By propagandist art, the dramatist intends to sensitize and teach his black audience and change spectators’ attitudes. This pedagogic sensitization is designed to make Blacks aware of the necessity to mobilize all their talents and energies in the current combat. The fixed aim, hence, becomes the move away from a spontaneous position to a direct involvement in the determination of black becoming. In Daggers, Baraka asserts that “propaganda [. . .] is educational material aimed [. . .] at other elements of society [. . .]. Propaganda without agitation is sterile. Agitation without propaganda bows to spontaneity” (85). The agit-prop plays (essentially the nationalist ones), in this instance, indicate the centrality of a black massive movement toward the achievement of complete self-rule and self-realization.

This article studies Baraka’s nationalist plays that include Madheart (1971), A Black Mass (1971), Slave Ship (1978), and Experimental Death Unit # 1 (1971). It also takes stock of Baraka’s Marxist stage, and excavates plays ranging from What Was the Relationship of the Lone Ranger to the Means of Production (1991) to The Motion of History (1978). For methodological purposes, we shall indicate that the Marxist plays are those plays written between 1974 and 1984. The bohemian or pre-nationalist plays, which include Dutchman and The Slave, refer to Baraka’s dramatic texts written between 1963 and 1965 during his transitional period and up to the point at which he left the world of bohemia. The nationalist plays refer to Baraka’s dramatic works written between 1965 and 1974, the latter being the date of Baraka’s conversion to Marxism.

This article traces out the intensification of nationalist allegiances, which ultimately converge on propaganda and agitation. It also highlights how propaganda manifests itself on the Marxist stage. Propagandistic import seems to take the shape of hortatory incitation for the workers to mobilize to end paternalist management, protest labor arrangements, and marshal industrial democracy. The major objective of this article is the delineation of propaganda during the dramatist’s espousal of black nationalism and leftist ideology. The contention pivots on how propaganda corresponds to the influence of audience attitudes to further the cultural and political agenda, induce commitment, guide action, and defend the menaced integrity of the self and the threatened dignity of the collectivity. Addressing this contention is carried along with highlighting the presence of audience participation in several of Baraka’s plays.

Generally speaking, the plays at hand contain the grain that encapsulates the playwright’s leanings toward propaganda. The latter implicates the spreading of novel opinions and fresh ideas of self-worth and self-esteem, as well as asserting attachment to values of equality (whether economic or social) and liberation (political or sexual). The dissemination of ideas and the vindication of values is vehicled through agitation. Far from being black or integration propaganda, the dramatist’s dramatic presentation could be labeled as agitation propaganda. Designing a taxonomy for propaganda, Jacques Elull includes such paired opposites as political-sociological, vertical-horizontal, rational-irrational, and agitation-integration. He distinguishes between integration propaganda and agitation propaganda: the former aims to make people adapt to certain desired models or patterns, while the latter steers men from repetition or emulation to rebellion or contestation (for further details, see Elull’s introduction and chapter one of his book Propaganda). Whereas integration propaganda tends to reinforce the social values and the cultural standards of the dominant order, Elull emphasizes that agitation propaganda mobilizes people to topple the established order and bring shock to the system by subverting its habits and beliefs. Integration propaganda is a propaganda of conformity, and agitation propaganda is a propaganda of rebellion and action. The agitational activities on the stage are enabled by inflamed speech, inspirational and action-inducing talk, and revelatory and persuasion-oriented pronouncements.

The play Madheart revolves around the themes of sexual allegiance and racial integrity of every black woman and man. Its central characters are Black Man and Black Woman, Sister and Mother, and Devil Lady. The latter is a symbol of whiteness and sexual dominance. As black nationalists, Black Man and Black Woman engage in a fight to vanquish the myth of blond beauty, moral superiority, and cultural pre-eminence. Black Man and Black Woman are the “new heroes,” acting on the stage of what Baraka terms in his manifesto “the theatre of assault” (Theatre 6). It is worth noting that the play lacks plot, like most of Baraka’s nationalist agit-prop plays.

As far as Madheart is concerned, Black Man and Black Woman are the incarnation of every black man/woman who advance and point toward psychic and mental as well as intellectual liberation from white imprisonment and psycho-racial sequestration. Their struggle with Devil Lady is a case in point of how the black struggle should be regarding white cultural transgressional practices and political brutality. With their utmost power of words, they both militate to demine the cultural landscape and persuade Sister and Mother to decisively change their self-definition.

With an air of a persuaded propagandist, Black Man is seen to discourse with the audience directly at three key moments. First, Black Man adjures blacks to reflect upon their lives: “let the audience think about themselves, and about their lives when they leave this happening” (Madheart 63). Second, Black Man lambastes Sister’s and Mother’s imitation of whites: “Why don’t they act like black women? […] I should turn them over to the Black Arts and get their heads relined” (Baraka 63). Third, Black Man exhorts black people to struggle in order to salvage Mother and Sister: “we’ll both try. All of us, black people” (Baraka 71). This form of addressing the audience points out Baraka’s new orientation toward integrating the black spectators in the performance on stage. The spectator, in Baraka’s view must be directly addressed and called upon to provide founded responses, alter hoary opinions, and hone the black art of survival. By chasing Devil Lady, Black Man staves off the malignant spirit from within the black community—its collective beliefs and convictions. By addressing himself (Black Man) to the audience, the theatrical event turns into that is inclusive and propagandistic. The performers’ addressing of the spectators attests to the participatory slant the play takes and the persuasive nature of onstage utterances.

The play A Black Mass is a dramatization of the futility of any creative/inventive process that is devoid of certain cultural or political objectives. Its central characters are Nasafi, Tanzil, and Jacub. The setting is a chemical laboratory where Nasafi and Tanzil are concocting an elixir to combat oppressive time, and where Jacub is trying to create a living organism. Jacub finally creates a white monster. The three scientists discuss the futility of aimless and uncommitted creation. The enactment of the play englobes a nationalist creed that harbors the destruction of the other (here the White Beast). This destruction rests upon a purely black necessity to neutralize the authority of white paradigms and the values endemic to WASP-dom.

The play A Black Mass can be defined in terms of black nationalism accompanied by the articulation of black agency and its evident emphasis on black moral vigor and cultural affirmation. Because of its strategic advantage, black nationalism becomes the pragmatic ideology and the perspective through which to decipher white racism and withstand what is perceived as white encroachment and bias. Tanzil’s and Nasafi’s deeds are reminiscent of the black nationalist, who is moving away from white narratives of racist supremacy. Tanzil and Nasafi act in support of a liberated black self, free from self-hatred and coercive accommodation. The play ends by calling for violent action, using the tonal aggressiveness of the narrator’s last words: “There are beasts in our world. Let us find them and slay them. Let us lock them in their caves. Let us declare the Holy War” (Black Mass 37). It seems that only blood can atone for the socio-political attrition. The struggle seems to intensify and gain currency, especially when we know that the nationalist sensibility multiplies feelings of communal solidarity and produces nationalistic assertions vis-à-vis the aggressor culture. Much like Black Man’s address to the audience, the narrator’s voice ends the play with a plea for the black audience to move from the static cycle of inertia and eliminate these evil creatures.

Tanzil and Nasafi’s deeds are reminiscent of the black nationalist who is moving away from white paradigms of racist supremacy. The conjugate efforts of Tanzil and Nasafi are indicative of their conscientious strivings to persuade Jacub not to commit errors which would have serious consequences on the community. Tanzil and Nasafi advise discipline, scrutiny, and self-control. The black community, in both plays, needs order, self-examination, and respect of the black code of behavior. “Baraka’s agit-prop works are designed to teach certain broad and communal virtues and to make the community face its essential problems,” Kimberly Benston contends, “They involve issues of order, discipline, and submission: order and discipline within the community and among black people, submission to the inexorable laws of history and survival” (The Renegade 218). The playwright appears to emphasize decorum and stringency, so that black people could ensure their survival amid provoked social and racial demise.

It goes without saying that A Black Mass comprises instances of audience participation. Although the audience is not wholly implicated but directly addressed, it remains tied to the ritualistic ejection of the Beast. Baraka’s stage directions note that the monster “screams, leaping and slobbers laughing through the audience” (Black Mass 29). It is implied that the audience must confront the Beast. Baraka jolts his audience by making the Beast hop and leap among the spectators. The latter are encouraged to contemplate the symbolism of the Beast, and take the necessary critical gaze to decipher its entanglement in their lives. In having the Beast interact with the audience, the playwright indicates the authoritarianism of American society and its aggressiveness as he shows the Beast’s onslaught on the audience. In so doing, Baraka points out the coercive and invasive aspect of white values and arouses readiness and alertness on the part of the audience to resist such authority.

The process of incorporating the audience into the theatrical event reaches its final phase at the end of the play. The playwright, once again, is seen to dissolve the distance that separates the audience from the performers by integrating the Beast with the spectators. In this instance, the audience is physically involved and emotionally stirred. The Beast now kisses and licks the spectators while they are in their seats. Baraka targets the excitement and arousal of the audience, and activates its ability to react and challenge such monstrosity. He cautions his audience, and warns it against assimilating the white beast in the black psyche.

Propaganda generally, or propagandistic art specifically, inflames the masses and excites the audience/readership. It impresses and highly stimulates the public for acting and taking the decisive steps to end political malignancy, cultural depravity, and historical submission. The playwright, in Slave Ship and Death Unit, toils to keep his audience in a sustained state of emotivity and intense sensitivity. Characters act on stage with an incomparable emotional as well as physical energy. This emotive capital and the amplified feelings of injustice and historical ill-treatment generated on stage are designed to make the audience feel and think about the historical malaise and ultimately transform it. With respect to the central aim of propaganda, Christopher Lasch, in his book The Culture of Narcissism, contends that “Propaganda seeks to create in the public a chronic sense of crisis” (78). The above-mentioned plays chronicle the stifling crisis that traverses the American society and affects the well-being of Blacks. The crisis is basically one of values—values of ethnic pride, national resistance, and civil rights and civic freedoms.

The play Death Unit is racially militant in tone and content. Its unique scene depicts a broad avenue during a very probable black rebellion. The three central characters are Duff and Loco, two drug-addicted white men, and a black prostitute named Woman. While debating life, taste, and beauty, Woman offers them her services. Both men seem tantalized, and they engage with her. The action is stopped by the entry of a black squad. Leader, the head of the group, orders his soldiers to shoot them all. The paramilitary group of Death Unit exhorts the black audience to brag not only about being black but also about being moral black nationalists, acting and agitating for self-government and cultural as well as moral self-sufficiency in a forsaken land. Woman is the character that represents the crisis within the black community. To sell sex to corrupt whites means the contagion of corruption into the black world order. The black nationalists decidedly intervene to purge the community and halt the hemorrhage.

The play Slave Ship consists of projected images, different styles of black dance and chant, and pantomime. The plot is much minimalized; dialogue is almost non-existent, and characterization is absent. The play’s setting is a slave ship, and we hear the cries of enslaved women and men who keep calling on African deities. We see also white sailors laughing while calculating their loot. Inscribed in the play is the nationalist revolution Baraka envisions, in order to transform realities of bondage, cultural defamation, and racial prejudice.

In Slave Ship, a play wholly punctuated by energizing black music,1 Baraka links past slavery to current serfdom. The gathered characters are determined to undermine a system based on a cannibalistic exploitation. Man 1 and Man 2 along with the black women are all resolute to vanquish Voice 1 and Voice 2. As cited above, the nationalist transmutes into the vibrant voice to overcome the domineering voice of America. It is interesting to note that the kinetic activities on the stage including the gestures, movements, and exhortations of Man 1 and Man 2 constitute the paragon or the template for the black audience to model on.

From apolitical bohemia via black nationalism to Marxism, Baraka’s thought seems to have substantially evolved. The dramatist mitigates the focus on race in favor of greater focus upon class analysis and the problems facing the working mass. Baraka’s adoption of Marxism as a theory of liberation seems to vindicate this move. Baraka’s theatre writings converge on the concept of class and class dynamics. For the dramaturge, the pettiness of race motivates this move beyond the actual narrowness of the fiction of race. The dialectics of race has besieged Whites and Blacks who are made to distinguish races based on physical characteristics and notions of inherent racial character. The anchorage of race relations in purity and particularity, in Baraka’s understanding, seems to conceal the class struggle and veil the attendant principal contradictions.

Race consciousness, according to the playwright, must be redirected towards class consciousness and the advocacy of the imperious question of labor and the pressing issue of industrial democracy. If race divides, Baraka surmises, class may unite and assemble. In fact, racial antagonism may be and is a manifestation of conflicting class relations and interests. Race has often been a major hurdle in coping with the complexity of social phenomena. By embracing historical materialism, the dramatist comes to view race as essentially the by-product of class antagonism and struggle. Although the struggle may manifest itself in racial terms, the fact remains that it is essentially class based. Sensing the essentialism and the chauvinism of black nationalism, Baraka espouses leftist thought and perspective.

In the Marxist stage, propaganda manifests itself in persistent appeals and recurrent calls to agitate and protest against what is perceived as an unjust system of labor, labor division, and paternalist management oriented toward profiteering and mocking the toil and endeavors of the working class. Consequently, claiming protests and demonstrations are foregrounded. General strikes enter center stage and become a thematic concern ensconced in Baraka’s playtexts and performed on stage in an effort to scandalize capitalistic encroachment, condemn managerial violation, and critique the dearth of work ethics in the marketplace.

Unionization and unionism, along with the emergence of the New Left during the mid-1960s and the spread of the leftist ideology with its anti-capitalist left wing, constitute the historical background of the production of The Lone Ranger and The Motion of History. The stakes seem very high not only for the black and white workers’ survival and welfare, but also for the development and continuity of an egalitarian economic system that appeals to the powers of the intellect and the principles of justice in outlining a wholesome post-industrial democracy. In The Motion of History and The Lone Ranger, human actions and gestures convey this rallying around the question of labor and industrial rights. To resist modern drudgery, the organization of strikes by the factories’ workers expounds a progressive movement to attain social justice and achieve economic parity. The workers’ union or party becomes the political branch or apparatus that underpins propagandist activities in an effort to curb managerial encroachment.

The play The Lone Ranger takes place in an automobile firm, Colonel Motors. Its temporal framework is the present, and its central characters are Donna and Reg. Both workers are conscious of their exploitation. The antagonists are identified as MM or Masked Man and Tuffy. Both are advocates of the capitalist system and a new relationship between labor and capital. Both announce the end of strikes and contests, the coming of an age of peace and harmony between the management and the workers. However, Donna and Reg keep faith in a sweeping workers’ movement which may unsettle the basis of the exploitative system. The play The Motion of History is a historical pageant. It consists of thirty scenes, each of which portrays an occurrence or event in which whites and blacks are involved in active political contestation or a mass movement facing oppression. The events depicted follow no chronological order, and the central characters are Richie (white) and Lenny (black). Both characters begin as ignorant, and end up as conscious of the necessity of a socialist revolution. It is momentous to indicate that this kind of historical material constitutes the plot of the play. Its action underlines the cyclical pattern of American history by highlighting oppression and revolt as forming the dynamics of American society.

Overexploitation is the common denominator that relates the characters of The Motion of History and The Lone Ranger. However, agitation and propagation are equally portentous in the struggle for equal wages and liberation from the mantel of servility to highly mechanized industry and rule of the machine. The workplace, as described by Reg and Donna in The Lone Ranger, is a cesspit. Both characters refer to the conditions where they work as dismal and alienating. Ugliness seems to represent the reprehensible quality of the relationships established by the capitalist mode of production. Donna, the propagandist, admonishes Masked Man’s sweet talk and honeyed harangue about the cooperation with the management and considers it as sheer blackmailability (Reader 280). Donna, as an agitator, identifies Masked Man as the representative of bourgeois ideology and broker of its propagandistic machine.

In the play The Lone Ranger, the playwright’s message seems clear-cut: to exploit and to make huge gain at the expense of the lumpen proletariat is to marshal a model of modern thralldom. It is a kind of present-day bondage that rests upon ugly inhuman practices of a monopolistic capitalism interested in cheap manpower and maximum profit, and that is indifferent to the well-being and sound functioning of its democratic system. The assembled characters/workmen of The Lone Ranger and The Motion of History seem to be guided by what is known in the Marxian literature as “scientific socialism”. It seems that Baraka’s homo ergaster is first and foremost a social struggler, a political mobilizer who knows well the laws of history, and a propagandist for the cause of labor. With respect to what bind workers together, Karl Marx contends that “[w]hen [. . .] workmen gather together, their immediate aim is instruction, propaganda, etc” (365). To act collectively (or to strike) is to make the world less vicious, freer, and more beauteous. In Act I Scene IV of The Motion of History, Chaney highlights this sense when he converses with Preacher and Schwerner:

CHANEY. Truth […]. Waves waves waves of people screaming they want freedom. That is truth.
PREACHER. But we are not meaning to destroy life but bring it together larger and more beautiful than it is.
CHANEY. But what’s gonna happen with the ugly-the vicious- is it just gonna dry up and blow away because it’s ugly and vicious-or because we want it to-
PREACHER. We pray.
SCHWERNER. It’s horrible. It’s part of the reason we’re here. (The Motion 26)

Financial and entrepreneurial capitalism is based on the falsification of reality and the distortion of the truth. In The Motion of History and precisely in Act IV Scene IX, the propagandistic White Voice preaches the values of progress, integration, and prosperity. Conversely, the Black Panther Voice and Malcolm Voice disapprove of the unfounded claim and contend that progress is engendering a human disaster and precariousness (89). In this regard, corporatist America seems to offer its working class no more than injustice, precarity, and deprivation according to both anti-propagandist Voices. In The Motion of History the sermonizing of the White Voice is tantamount to Tuff and Masked Man’s bragging about the advantages and the merits of the capitalist world-economy buttressed by the neo-liberal state. Tuff’s pronouncement denotes absolutist and dogmatic reasoning which is based upon division and neglect of the entirety of human experience:

TUFF. We want to explain the game full up. We want you to know what side your bread is buttered on, or what side your butter is breaded on.
MASKED MAN. And so today we will reveal the totality of our establishment. Its grime and its rime. Its beauty and its booty.
TUFF. This is undoubtedly the best system in the world. (Lone Ranger 284)

The management of Colonel Motors strives to embellish the system, propagating the managerial virtues and material advantages to the masses of workers. The brand new work covenant advertised by Masked Man stipulates the suppression of strike as a form of protest. This is what Tuffy in the Lone Ranger labels as “the new harmony” (The Reader 291). In this line, Masked Man and Tuffy propose new coercive regulations and austere measures to ensure “the new harmony between labor and management” (Baraka 291). This promised harmony is the other face of hostility and rejection of workers’ activism or any system of representation. As Nelson Lichtenstein puts it, “The most exceptional character of US labor/management relations is the hostility managers have shown toward the regulatory state and virtually all systems of worker representation” (105). This new harmony implies hiring and firing policies, and installs harsh workplace discipline. Understood in the frame of flexibility and adaptability, activist characters such as Donna realize that the system is at basis disharmonious, authoritarian, and needs to be reordered according to the principles of social justice and the tenets of egalitarianism. To undertake such mission, Donna the communicator, proposes a strike to Tuffy’s slogan, “America the beautiful, vote fusion and for god sakes no strike” (The Reader 283).

As an organic member of the worksite team, Donna exhorts workers to join the party and follow hard-line politics, including the organization of massive picketing to withstand the capitalist arrangement of labor.2 Masked Man’s statement indicates that the whole system is predicated on deception and theft of human faculties and skills. For the advocates of the system, the theft of the blood and sweat of workers is its very attractiveness and appeal. While this is so for the apologists of the régime, those who choose to resist it are conscious that this is the blemish that sullies the system. Parallel to Donna’s posture in The Lone Ranger is Ted’s in The Motion of History.

In Act IV Scene XXVI of The Motion of History and within the space of the factory, Ted says to Richie, “Boy, they work you to death here” (112). In response, Richie announces: “ I [. . .] wanted to get back where the action was” (The Motion 113). According to Richie, the space/workplace must be the locus of a propagandist and transformational action and agitational activity in order to ensure the workers’ basic industrial rights, re-establish accord, and harmonize social and professional relationships. This requires the shift of the long-standing verticality that governs labor and the replacement of it with a horizontality conducive to an evenness of relations away from the rigidity of hierarchy and arbitrariness of stratification.

In sum, Baraka’s conception of theatrical performance entails the notion of theatre art as useful and pragmatic propaganda. The playwright’s new understanding of theatrical/artistic creation as propaganda is incontestable. Baraka’s brand of playwriting tends toward propaganda as his dramatic writings lean toward politicization and radicalization. In the nationalist theatre, propaganda manifests itself in loaded messages to act in the direction of regaining national pride, cultural affirmation, self-esteem and self-assertion. By propagandist enactment, the dramatist intends to raise consciousness, teach the black audience, and call to action. This sensitization is designed to make Blacks aware of the necessity to mobilize all their talents and energies in the struggle for freedoms and rights. In the Marxist theatre, propaganda manifests itself in zealous exhortation and intense incitement of the working mass to mobilize to end paternalistic managing, contest labor division, and install industrial democracy. In the final analysis, propaganda aims to change the audience’s stance and provoke action with respect to the question of black presence on the American soil and the persistent question of labor.


Works Cited

  • Baraka, Amiri (LeRoi Jones). Experimental Death Unit # 1. London: Calder and Boyars LTD, 1971.
  • —-. A Black Mass. London: Calder and Boyars LTD, 1971.
  • —-. Madheart. London: Calder and Boyars LTD, 1971.
  • —-. Slave Ship. In The Motion of History & Other Plays. New York: Morrow, 1978.
  • —-. Daggers and Javelins. New York: Quill, 1984.
  • —-. The Autobiography of LeRoi Jones/Amiri Baraka. New York: Freundlich Books, 1984.
  • —-. The LeRoi Jones/Amiri Baraka Reader. Ed. William J. Harris. New York: Thunder’s Mouth Press, 1991.
  • —-. “The Revolutionary Theatre.” Liberator (July 1965): 4-6.
  • —-. What was the Relationship of the Lone Ranger to the Means of Production. In The LeRoi Jones/Amiri Baraka Reader. Ed. William J. Harris. New York: Thunder’s Mouth Press, 1991.
  • Benston, Kimberly. The Renegade and the Mask. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1976.
  • Du Bois, W. E. B. “Criteria of Negro Art.” The Crisis 32 (Oct., 1926): 290-297.
  • Dufrenne, Mikel. Art et Politique. Paris: Union Générale d’Édition, 1974.
  • Ellul, Jacques. Propaganda: The Formation of Men’s Attitudes. New York: Vintage Books, 1973.
  • Lasch, Christopher. The Culture of Narcissism: American Life in an Age of Diminishing Expectations. New York: Norton Company, 1979.
  • Lichtenstein, Nelson. State of the Union: A Century of American Labor. New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 2002.
  • Locke, Alain. “Art or Propaganda?” In African American Literary Criticis 1773 to 2000. Ed. Hazel Arnett Ervin. New York: Twayne, 1999.
  • Marx, Karl. “Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts.” In Karl Marx: Early Writings, introduced by Lucio Colletti. Harmondsworth: 1975.
  • Sollors, Werner. Amiri Baraka/LeRoi Jones: The Quest for a Populist Modernism. New York: Columbia University Press, 1978.
  • Sundquist, Eric J. The Oxford W.E.B. Du Bois Reader. New York: Oxford University Press, 1996.
  • Watts, Jerry Gafio. Amiri Baraka: The Politics and Art of a Black Intellectual. New York: New York University Press, 2001.
  • Williams, Mance. Black Theatre in the 1960s and 1970s: An Historical Critical Analysis of the Movement. Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 1985.



1 In the stage directions of Slave Ship, Baraka describes the aura and the atmosphere created on stage as an “atmos-feeling” (132). Actually, the cries, screams, hums, chants, and songs join to make the atmosphere highly emotional and touching.

2 Mikel Dufrenne in Art et Politique says that: “Dites que les travailleurs sont des artistes comme les autres; une belle grève, c’est une œuvre d’art aussi, une œuvre d’un art qui revient à sa source, vraiment populaire (16). A strike, in Dufrenne’s view, is a work of art.