Marcus Garvey thought that the solution to the problem of black inequality required a powerful black nation in Africa. And so, beginning in 1918, he faced off against the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and rejected the goal of “social equality.” He also rejected trade unionism as a vehicle for black advancement, as well as more radical alternatives. Instead, he offered an aggressive blackpolitics-as-business-enterprise, and he sold his entire scheme with a militantly pro-black rhetoric. By so doing, Garvey anticipated the style of much of the black nationalism that would follow – its principled rejection of American identity, and its notion that black enterprise could somehow lay the foundation for separate statehood. Yet, despite his own and his followers' militancy, and the U.S. intelligence agencies' assumption that his UNIA posed a threat to the political order, Garvey's theories and strategies hardly escaped the conventions of his era, particularly those concerning racial purity, gender, capitalism, social Darwinism, and, most importantly, the idea that the United States was the domain of Protestant Anglo-Saxons. Garvey's failure to articulate an alternative “African” culture proved to be an important paradox. He was militantly pro-African, in a pro-European or “Eurocentric” kind of way. Most significantly, his plan to build power through enterprise failed as a shortterm and as a long-term strategy. Nevertheless, his flamboyance, militantly pro-black rhetoric, and ambitious business ventures attracted hundreds of thousands of members and several times more supporters.
Garvey's nationalism embodied the past and anticipated the future.