Césaire's 1953 Discours sur le colonialisme (Discourse on Colonialism) had a profound influence on my early thinking about struggle and revolution.
Discours is a brilliant deconstruction of European colonialism and racism. I am reminded how my students at South Africa's Military Academy in 2006 debated the value of Discours in the historical struggle against apartheid.
Much of those vibrant debates focused on the merits of Césaire's insistance on calling himself a Negro and his groundbreaking articulation of the Negritude (Blackness) concept and movement he developed alongside Léopold Sédar Senghor and Léon-Gontran Damas.
Negritude is primarily focused to reject the mask of inferiority that is thrust onto the colonized. The dialectical struggle between colonizer and colonized is picked up and developed by Frantz Fanon, a contemporary of Césaire, in his Black Skin, White Masks (1967).
As a playwright Césaire is perhaps best known for his radical adaptation of Shakespeare's The Tempest (1968) which he intended to capture Black American life in a Caribbean setting.
The Tempest can be read as a characterization of the relationship and struggle for power between the white colonizer (Prospero) and the Black colonized native (Caliban).
In the final scene Caliban rejects Prospero and the cancerous lie of colonialism when he says:
Prospero, you are the master of illusion.
Lying is your trademark.
And you have lied so much to me
(lied about the world, lied about me)
that you have ended by imposing on me
an image of myself.
underdeveloped, you brand me, inferior,
That ís the way you have forced me to see myself
I detest that image! What's more, it's a lie!
But now I know you, you old cancer,
and I know myself as well. (162)
From this passage you can see Césaire in Anton Lembede, Robert Sobukwe, Richard Wright, Kwame Ture, Mukasa Dada, Steve Biko, Nikki Giovanni, Amiri Baraka, among others.
We owe Aimé Césaire a great debt for motivating a movement that still stands as the dialectical opposite of colonialism and white racism.
May God rest him in peace.