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The long march to post-capitalist transition: Pan-Africanist perspectives

August 22, 2018

africa-general-resourcesBy Ameth Lô: The centenary of the October 1917 Russian revolution, a world-shaking historic event, was the occasion for celebration throughout the world. Many diverse interpretations are advanced as to its success in achieving a radical transformation of society, in terms both of its history and its overall impact. Nonetheless, there is no denying that this event altered forever the course of history.

For Black peoples, this revolution arrived just over a century after the victory in Haiti in 1804. That event was the first massive and successful revolt of Black slaves, and an important step toward the long-overdue abolition of slavery worldwide.

The establishment of the first Black republic in the Northern Hemisphere resulted from an extended process of resistance to oppression, marked by massive slave revolts on the plantations of Jamaica, Brazil, and elsewhere. Even today Haiti continues to pay the price for its audacity and steadfastness, for which it has never been forgiven by proponents of the slave system. This dramatic breakthrough contributed to Blacks’ later achievement by Blacks of a collective consciousness.


This text is based on a talk given by Ameth Lô in a French-language panel, “L’aurore de notre libération” at “The Great Transition: Preparing a World Beyond Capitalism” in Montreal May 20, 2018. Other panel participants were Daria Dyakonova, Aziz Fall, and John Riddell. For part 2 of this text, see: “The Sankara experience: A model for our future.”


Garvey

Marcus Garvey (1887-1940)

Indeed, these events showed that freedom comes only through struggle. That is how Blacks laid the foundations for pan-Africanism throughout the African diaspora. Brought into being by figures such as the great Marcus Mosiah Garvey, W.E.B. Dubois, Edward Blyden, and many others, this movement was linked to the struggles of workers and oppressed peoples across Europe and beyond, which resulted in two historic revolutions:

  • The French revolution of 1789.
  • The Bolshevik revolution of October 1917.

During this process two historic currents, the international Communist movement and pan-Africanism, established strong ties, forged through suffering and resistance. This is not to deny that there were occasional conflicts, resulting from the exigencies of episodic struggles and underlying strategy.

Du Bois

W.E.B. Du Bois (1868-1963)

In what follows, we will attempt to show how these two currents, which evolved almost simultaneously over the course of almost a century, interrelated. This inquiry will reveal a perspective for a transition toward a world with increased justice and greater capacity to assure the survival of the human species and of our planet – in a word, a better world, freed of the system of domination that victimizes Black peoples around the world. Most of these peoples live in countries on the periphery of the world capitalist system, but they also are present as layers of common people in the metropolitan countries.

Communism and Pan-Africanism: A zigzag relationship

Let us note first of all that pan-Africanism emerged within the African diaspora, that is, outside the continent. The dire conditions faced by Black peoples during several centuries of slavery provided a fertile soil for the revolts to come. These uprisings in turn gave rise to pan-Africanism as an ideological tool for the liberation of oppressed Black peoples. These millions of Blacks worked for hundreds of years without any form of payment – that is, for nothing. This servitude made possible the industrial revolution and the acceleration of capitalism’s development as a global system, spreading out from its initial strongholds in Europe and North America.

The international Communist movement, from its foundation in 1919, was committed to struggle on behalf of the oppressed and exploited worldwide. It thus took note of the conditions of Black peoples and solidarized with their struggles, not only in the African continent but also in countries like the United States where racial segregation was at its peak from 1920 to 1924. Brief passages in the Comnunist International archives take note of the struggles carried out by Blacks not only in the diaspora but in countries subject to colonial domination in Africa. The Communist movement’s statement on African liberation, adopted in 1922, was markedly pan-Africanist in inspiration. Indeed it was written by Black delegates who were strongly influenced by the movement led by Marcus Garvey.

In the years that followed, however, this principled position was subject to several mutations, caused by contradictions internal to the socialist movement. In addition, the difficulties were aggravated by complications imposed on national liberation movements by the Cold War context, where conflicts both between and within alliances often took priority over ideologically principled positions with respect to unconditional support for the struggles of colonial peoples for self-determination. These struggles continued through the rise of fascism in Europe, grew more intense in the 1930s, and found expression in the anti-colonial wars and the defeat of Apartheid in Africa. The outcome of these wars played a central role in dismantling colonial structures and opening a period of decolonisation.

During this process, a crucial role was played by the large number of Africans that took part in freeing Europe from Hitler’s claws. Conscript soldiers from across all of West Africa were organized in the Tirailleurs sénégalais (Senegalese Sharpshooters).  Their courage and their decisive contribution has never received its proper reward. Indeed, quite the contrary! When these soldiers, on being discharged from service at the end of 1944, asked to receive their demobilization payment, the French colonial authorities on December 1 massacred dozens – indeed up to a hundred – of these protesters. This crime took place at the Thiaroye camp a few miles from Dakar, capital of Senegal, and is known today as “the massacre of Thiaroye.”

Cold War, national liberation movements, and internationalist solidarity

Padmore

George Padmore (1903-1959)

Among the precursors of the pan-Africanist movement was George Padmore, a native of Trinidad and Tobago who came to the United States as a young student. He quickly joined the U.S. Communist Party and played a significant role in the international Communist Movement, within which he worked for the goals of pan-Africanism. Assigned as a revolutionary cadre to work in the Soviet Union and Germany, he nonetheless cut his ties with this movement in 1934. Profound disagreements had arisen with regard to the decolonization of Africa, still under the yoke of the old colonial empires, above all those of Britain, France, and Portugal.

During the 1930s and after, the Communist movement sought to align its course regarding decolonization with its own interests in terms of positioning itself in the contest under way among the Western powers. This process convinced progressive pan-Africanists of the need to take their distance from the Communist movement, achieve autonomy of thought and action, and steer their course in conformity with the interests of oppressed Black peoples. In a word, they had to rely above all on their own strength.

This is the context that led Padmore, who had enjoyed a measure of success in keeping the colonial question on the agenda of the Communist movement, to leave it in 1934 and return to Britain. There he met C.L.R. James, his childhood friend, who was quite active both in Trotskyist circles and in the Black community in London.

In 1936, Italy invaded Ethiopia, which along with Liberia was the only African country that had succeeded until that point avoiding colonization. The Italian attack had great symbolic significance. It alerted the African diaspora within Europe to the need not only to mobilize against this invasion but also to hasten the organization of nationalist movements with a pan-Africanist outlook in order to speed the end of colonialization.

Cabral

Amilcar Cabral (1924-1973)

The Black students in Europe were already active during this period and were laying the foundations for “returning to their roots” – that is, for going back to Africa in both the cultural and political sense for the liberation of their peoples. Among the more prominent currents was the FEANF (Federation of Students from French-Speaking Black Africa). In Portugal, there were the students united around the “Case Africa,” among whom were the majority of leaders who organized and directed national liberation struggles in the then-Portuguese colonies of Angola, Mozambique, Guinea-Bissau, and Cape Verde (Eduardo Mondlane, Agostinho Neto, Amilcar Cabral).

In Britain, this current was based on figures linked to a structure called IASB (International African Service Bureau), among whom were C.L.R. James; Ras Makonen of British Guyana; Jomo Kenyatta, the first president of Kenya; Kwame Nkrumah, father of Ghana’s independence, whom James had introduced to Padmore; and others.

The outbreak of World War 2 led to a breach between the pan-Africanists and the Communist movement. The official line advanced by Moscow from 1941 was to support the war against the Nazi forces and to postpone anticolonial struggles until a later date. (The Soviet Union had been diplomatically aligned with Germany from 1939 until 1941.) Obviously, this approach could not win favour among the pan-Africanists, given that almost all the African colonies were under the yoke not of Germany but of the countries that Moscow now viewed as its allies against Hitler.

Once again, the specific conditions in which the struggle developed globally made clear to the pan-Africanists the path to follow and the need to retain a degree of autonomy, seeking to base the liberation struggle on their own forces, without closing the door to forms of internationalist solidarity that were truly disinterested.

Guevara

Che Guevara (1928-1967)

Somewhat later, after the end of World War 2, close and deep ties of internationalist solidarity were reestablished to support the African peoples in the struggle against colonialism’s last bastions in Africa. Che Guevara’s revolutionary mission in the Congo (1965) fell short of success, as did his expedition to Bolivia (1966-67). Yet these setbacks did not dissuade Cuba from remaining true to its ardent desire to support Africa in its moments of peril.

This tradition also found expression some years later in Cuba’s close collaboration with Burkina Faso during the short revolutionary experience led by Thomas Sankara and his comrades between 1984 and 1987.

The historic battle of Cuito Cuanavale (1987-88), in which Cuban soldiers fought side by side with guerrillas of liberation movements in southern Africa, succeeded in routing the army of the racist apartheid system in South Africa. This victory opened the road to Namibian independence, freedom for Nelson Mandela, and South Africa’s first multiracial elections in 1994.

South Africa’s racist regime, backed by consistent support from the Western imperialist powers of Europe and by the USA, then posed a mortal danger to the African peoples. The victory in Angola constituted an initial decisive step toward removing this danger. Yet despite this victory’s importance, it did not end the struggle, given that the power of large-scale capital in South Africa has not been ended and still rules the decisive sectors of its economy.

So it was that Cuba demonstrated to the world its celebrated generosity, despite its limited resources and vulnerability as a state under siege by imperialism. Cuba thus brought back to life, a half-century after the fact, the initial vision of internationalist solidarity that prevailed in the first years of the international Communist movement after the victory of the Bolshevik revolution.

During those years, prominent progressive activists and pan-Africanists such as Lamine Senghor (Senegal), Guarang Kouyaté (Mali), and Messali Hadj (Algeria) took part in the Brussels congress of the Anti-Imperialist League (1927), whose honorary president was the celebrated scientist Albert Einstein and which spoke in the name of all the colonial peoples oppressed by imperialism. The congress already prefigured, in embryonic form, the movement of non-aligned countries that was launched by a conference in Bandung in 1955. The Non-Aligned Movement brought together the most prominent leaders of dozens of African and Asian countries, including Gamal Abdel Nasser (Egypt), Jawaharlal Nehru (India), Soekarno (Indonesia) and Zhou Enlai (China). The gathering marked a decisive step in the decolonization of the Global South.

It must be noted, however, that during this entire period of anticolonial struggle by national liberation movements in Africa, they suffered from the impact of ideological rivalries within the Communist movement. Sometimes liberation movements acted as mouthpieces for this or that Communist current. Nationalist, pan-Africanist, and progressive movements in Africa became fragmented along the lines of cleavage that then prevailed in the so-called socialist camp. These currents failed to overcome their differences and to unite their scattered forces in a massive movement capable of undertaking the sweeping decolonization needed to make the transition from a colonial state to an independent state. Even today the aftermath of these divisions represents a continuing barrier to the urgent unification of forces in a united front capable of countering imperialism’s aggressive restructuring and responding to present-day challenges.

Left-wing forces in Latin America have succeeded in creating such united fronts. This surely should convince pan-Africanists and progressives of the need to overcome the wounds inflicted by past divisions. A new era in the struggles of our peoples must be opened up by forces who transcend the limits of the neo-colonial states. The fact that many activists span both these two historic movements can be an asset in unifying the existing pan-Africanist and socialist nuclei. Such a reorganization is a basic precondition in advancing toward new horizons of progress and – why not? – a post-capitalist transition.

But what is the present state of the pan-Africanist movement and of the socialist and communist forces in Africa and in the diaspora?

The Left and the Pan-Africanist movement: Their present reality

Before addressing the prospects for such a transition, we must first carefully assess the present state of pan-Africanist and socialist forces. The torch of resistance in Africa to the capitalist system and its expansion was carried for a time by the national liberation movements in southern Africa and the former Portuguese colonies. Here we saw promising attempts at a radical transformation beyond the limits of the neocolonial state. They were disrupted, however, by murderous destabilization organized by imperialism acting through local agents. Samora Machel in Mozambique, Amilcar Cabral in Guinea-Bissau, Steven Bantu Biko and Chris Hani in South Africa, Patrice Lumumba in the Congo – all were cut down by imperialism. This halted temporarily every effort at radical transformation. The systematic assassination of every anti-imperialist leader created a vacuum, a lull that has lasted several decades.

Sankara

Thomas Sankara (1949-1987)

During this period capitalism’s great financial institutions recovered their vigor and, little by little, dismantled all the gains that had been achieved through the sacrifices of courageous patriots loyal to the ideals of pan-Africanism and socialism. The only exception to this extended lull was the leap forward registered by progressive forces led by Maurice Bishop and the New Jewel Movement in Grenada (1979) and Thomas Sankara in Burkina Faso (1984). Ultimately, the fall of the Berlin Wall (1989) further disoriented and finished off forces already weakened by internal disputes regarding ideological positioning and by the inadequacy of their roots among the popular masses of Africa.

Nonetheless, the South African Communist Party, one of the oldest on the continent, succeeded in playing an important role in destroying the Apartheid system (1994) and in forging a fruitful partnership with nationalist forces (the ANC) and the workers’ movement organized in strong unions such as COSATU (Congress of South-African Trade Unions).

The present state of the pan-Africanist and socialist forces – enormously fragmented into still embryonic nuclei – is not favourable for the emergency of a movement capable of mounting a serious challenge to present-day imperialism. New struggles have arisen; popular revolts have broken out that overturned the regimes of Ben Ali in Tunisia and Mubarak in Tunisia and of Blaise Compaore in Burkina Faso.

Will we see the emergence of new leaderships capable of doing the necessary to build political movements sufficiently prepared, organizationally and ideologically, to face the dangers posed today? That task remains to be accomplished. In the meantime, the absence of vanguard movements sufficiently rooted in the masses could well explain in part the inability of the various popular revolts mentioned above to grow over into true revolutions.

Ameth Lô, member of GRILA Toronto
Group for Research and Initiative for the Liberation of Africa

See part 2 of this article:

The Sankara experience: A model for our future


 

Other articles and presentations by Amith Lô

 

 

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