Note: This paper was presented on a panel at the Left Forum held at John Jay College, City University of New York (CUNY) on May 22, 2016. Azikiwe shared the panel with Heather Cotton, a professor at LaGuardia College and Bill Doares of the International League of People’s Struggle (ILPS). The Left Forum is an annual conference attended by thousands of anti-capitalist activists and scholars from throughout the United States and the world.
Developments during the late 1980s triggering the collapse of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) and the COMECON sector are viewed as a turning point in modern world history. An ideological alternative in regard to the organization of society and its economic and political system posed a serious challenge to world imperialism headed by the United States.
Of course a thorough examination of the dynamics involved in the overthrow of the-then existing socialist states in Europe extends beyond the scope of this discussion. For the purpose of our discourse we only need to note that what has replaced public ownership of production and services along with an anti-imperialist foreign policy which supported the national liberation movements in the oppressed nations and in the industrialized capitalist states, is a system characterized by the restoration of exploitation and accumulation amid a declining capitalist market.
There are reasons for the posture of many of the former socialist states in Eastern and Central Europe as it relates to the mass migration of peoples from Africa, Asia, and the Middle East over the last year. The European governments least capable of receiving the millions of people fleeing from war and economic disaster are bearing the brunt of the global catastrophe. Consequently, there appears to be a sharp difference of opinion in regard to the handling of the migrant problem between the more affluent European Union (EU) member-states and those in lesser developed areas.
Socialism and the Oppressed Nations
Those revolutionary Marxists who took control of the USSR and later China, Democratic Korea, Vietnam and Cuba in particular, felt obligated to assist peoples still under the yoke of colonial domination. These revolutions had both a national and class character in that even Russia represented during World War I a junior partner in the world imperialist system.
The Korean and Chinese Revolutions in 1945 and 1949 respectively, illustrated that socialist transformation would not be limited to the more marginalized European states such as Russia and Ukraine. Even prior to the Russian Revolution, Lenin and his comrades had broken with other social democratic parties in Europe who after declaring that they would not support an imperialist war in Basle, Switzerland in 1912, wound up finding ways to rationalize the political and ideological submission to the their own governments in destructive process of the First World War which resulted in the deaths of millions and the restructuring of the world system.
Lenin noted in his draft theses at the Second Congress of the Communist International in 1920 that “In conformity with its fundamental task of combating bourgeois democracy and exposing its falseness and hypocrisy, the Communist Party, as the avowed champion of the proletarian struggle to overthrow the bourgeois yoke, must base its policy, in the national question too, not on abstract and formal principles but, first, on a precise appraisal of the specific historical situation and, primarily, of economic conditions; second, on a clear distinction between the interests of the oppressed classes, of working and exploited people, and the general concept of national interests as a whole, which implies the interests of the ruling class; third, on an equally clear distinction between the oppressed, dependent and subject nations and the oppressing, exploiting and sovereign nations, in order to counter the bourgeois-democratic lies that play down this colonial and financial enslavement of the vast majority of the world’s population by an insignificant minority of the richest and advanced capitalist countries, a feature characteristic of the era of finance capital and imperialism.”
Therefore the position of the proletarian internationalist party is to view the colonial question of oppressed nations within the context of undermining the status of imperialism and its stranglehold over the majority of the peoples of the world. The threat of world war remains nearly a century later from when Lenin reflected on these fundamental issues within Marxist theory. Oppressed peoples of color from Africa, Asia and Latin America are not the enemies of the working class within the western industrialized capitalist states in Europe and North American. Quite to the contrary they represent the most formidable allies within the worldwide struggle to overthrow economic exploitation.
In relationship to the role of world imperialist war Lenin also said in same work that “The imperialist war of 1914-18 has very clearly revealed to all nations and to the oppressed classes of the whole world the falseness of bourgeois-democratic phrases, by practically demonstrating that the Treaty of Versailles of the celebrated ‘Western democracies’ is an even more brutal and foul act of violence against weak nations than was the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk of the German Junkers and the Kaiser. The League of Nations and the entire post war policy of the Entente reveal this truth with even greater clarity and distinctness. They are everywhere intensifying the revolutionary struggle both of the proletariat in the advanced countries and of the toiling masses in the colonial and dependent countries. They are hastening the collapse of the petty-bourgeois nationalist illusions that nations can live together in peace and equality under capitalism.”
Therefore according to the view of Lenin in 1920 in the aftermath of the calamitous world war and a further re-division of the colonies and Europe itself, “From these fundamental premises it follows that the Communist International’s entire policy on the national and the colonial questions should rest primarily on a closer union of the proletarians and the working masses of all nations and countries for a joint revolutionary struggle to overthrow the landowners and the bourgeoisie. This union alone will guarantee victory over capitalism, without which the abolition of national oppression and inequality is impossible.”
Capitalism, Socialism and the World Systems
We still contend that there are fundamentally only two economic systems in existence, capitalism and socialism moving towards communism. Despite its limitations and errors, socialist construction between 1917 and 1989 made tremendous contributions to the advancement of humanity.
In specific reference to the Africa and the Middle East in various states including Ghana, Egypt, Guinea, Tanzania, Zambia, Mozambique, Angola, Namibia and South Africa, non-capitalist planning and socialist orientation liberated hundreds of millions and provided a viable alternative to the legacy of slavery, colonialism, imperialism and neo-colonialism. Independent nations such as Egypt, Ghana, Guinea and Tanzania served as rear bases for the occupied and contested zones of the continent in the 1960s and 1970s. New chapters were written in the areas of international solidarity and Pan-African unity.
The most progressive peoples of African descent viewed the emerging independent states on the continent and the national liberation movements as embodying the national aspirations of the people. From the 1930s and 1940s through the 1990s, African Americans materially and politically participated in the movement against colonialism and for the building of a new society in Africa and around the world.
As Dr. Kwame Nkrumah asked in 1968 through an essay entitled “The Specter of Black Power”, he emphasizes ““What is Black Power? By Black Power we mean the power of the four-fifths of the world population which has been systematically damned into a state of underdevelopment by colonialism and neo-colonialism. In other words, Black Power is the sum total of the economic, cultural and political power which the black man must have in order to achieve his survival in a highly developed technical society, and in a world ravaged by imperialism, colonialism, neo-colonialism and fascism.”
Cuba, the U.S. and the African Revolution
Over the last two years, one of the most consistent and prolific examples of the role of an international proletarian party and people has been exemplified in the Republic of Cuba in the Caribbean. Cuba having endured the travails of slavery and colonialism for century in a racist colonial system dominated by Spain and later the U.S., fought a war of independence in the mid-19th century, weakening the institution of slavery which was not fully eradicated until two decades after the U.S.
The Cuban Revolution in 1959 sought to eradicate the racist heritage of the colonial and neo-colonial powers both domestically and internationally. Women, Africans and other oppressed sectors of society were given full rights within the socialist system.
On an international level, Cuba participated in many phases of the African Revolution from the consolidation and defense of Algeria during the early 1960s to playing an instrumental role in the total liberation of Southern Africa providing the necessary military and logistical resources in the campaign to defeat the racist South African Defense Forces under apartheid and settler-colonialism.
Today Cuba continues its solidarity with Africa through educational, medical and technological assistance is readily provided in a myriad of programs. The socialist system in Cuba has led by example by constructing a society in contradiction with U.S. imperialism in regard to its values and social practice.
South America and U.S. Imperialism
As was carried out in Africa, South America at present is under fierce attack by U.S. imperialism which has backed counter-revolutionary trends throughout the region. The recent coup in Brazil and the military threats against the Bolivarian Revolution in Venezuela poses a challenge to the progressive forces throughout the entire Western hemisphere.
Although the administration of President Barack Obama has begun a policy of “normalizing” relations with Cuba, the objectives of U.S. imperialism has not been altered. Washington acting on behalf of Wall Street still seeks to undermine and overthrow the Cuban Revolution.
Evidence of its designs are revealed in Brazil where the first woman President Dilma Rousseff was overthrown in a right-wing political coup. The initial moves carried out by the Temer regime was to appoint an all-white male cabinet and to eliminate ministries concerned with women, African, cultural and social affairs. President Rousseff broke no laws and only stand guilty of attempting to service the working class and poor during an economic crisis.
These emerging economies such as Venezuela, Brazil, China, Russia, South Africa and others, are being systematically targeted for destabilization and regime-change. There had been significant social gains made in Venezuela along with the processes in Bolivia, Ecuador, Paraguay, Honduras and Argentina. The reversal of the imposed isolation of Cuba was carried due to the left trends in other South American and Caribbean states.
Irrespective of social systems, the Caribbean and Latin America is moving towards unity and economic cooperation. These developments are a direct threat to U.S. imperialist hegemony both economically and ideologically.
Why should the former colonial and neo-colonial states of South America, Central America and the Caribbean look to the imperialists for direction rather than their class brothers and sisters in the region and throughout the world. Africans and indigenous people constitute the majority within most South American societies and consequently they should rule along with the working class and other oppressed sectors of society.
Domestic Neo-Colonialism in Detroit, Flint and Puerto Rico
Inside the United States itself there are over 45 million Africans who are still subjected to national oppression and class exploitation. They live in the cities, suburbs, towns and rural areas in highly concentrated poverty and state repression. There has been a recrudescence of urban rebellions and mass demonstrations since 2013 exposing the false notions promoted by the ruling class of a “post-racial society.”
The social and political situation in Detroit and other majority African American cities in Michigan pre-figure the plight of the nationally oppressed and working class in the U.S. with the imposition of emergency management, forced bankruptcy and the rationalization of large-scale foreclosures, evictions, utility shut-offs, the denial of bourgeois democratic rights and residential gentrification. Yet low-wage employment and the privatization of public resources provide no future for the working class and the oppressed.
In Flint, some 70 miles (110 kilometers) from Detroit, the state’s largest city, the capital flight of the auto industry has rendered tens of thousands to unemployment and poverty. Through the emergency management system of occupationist rule, decisions were made at the aegis of a multi-millionaire Republican Governor Rick Snyder to disconnect the water supply from the Detroit Water & Sewerage Department (DWSD), one the most advanced in the U.S., to instead draw water from the Flint River polluted by industrial waste unregulated and unpunished by the state or federal government.
These examples of international and domestic policies enacted by U.S. imperialism indicate that there is a firm basis for global solidarity and coordinated action. In Detroit activists from the Moratorium NOW! Coalition to Stop Foreclosures, Evictions and Utility Shut-offs has invited a delegation of trade unionist from Puerto Rico to visit and tour the motor city. The bankruptcy judge appointed to oversee the expropriation of $7 billion in pension fund and healthcare obligations for over 30,000 municipal retirees and their families, is now hired as a “consultant” for Puerto Rico, a colony of the U.S. undergoing similar problems deriving from unbridled financial speculation engineered by the largest banks in the world.
We must continue to make these connections and move towards united action. From the neighborhoods and the campuses across borders within the Western hemisphere and beyond we are tasked within building a global movement against capitalism and imperialism. These alliances will serve to isolate the ruling class and create the conditions for complete emancipation and empowerment of humanity.
Editor, Pan-African News Wire