All over Africa the conditions exist for revolution. But there is urgency to clarify the ideas, organization and leadership necessary for the African Revolution. The Russian Revolution of 100 years ago provides important lessons for African Revolutionaries in their quest to dismantle oppression and build just societies today.
On November 7, 2017, the world celebrated 100 years of the Bolshevik Revolution. The Revolution took place in the midst of the First Imperialist War of 1914-1918 on November 7, 1917. This war was one where the colonial powers fought over the re-division of the world. W. E B. Du Bois had succinctly outlined the feature of the imperial scramble when he wrote on the African Roots of War. This text preceded the study ofimperialism by Lenin, Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism. Indeed, at the end of the war, the colonial territories of Germany were handed to Britain and France.
This Bolshevik insurrection had given power to the Soviets (workers, soldiers and peasants) of Russia and her imperial territories. After this insurrection, the leaders of the Revolution grasped the importance of a revolutionary moment and seized power. Lenin had identified four conditions for a revolution. “Firstly, faced with a profound crisis the ruling class is incapable of governing in the old way and begins to split into different wings, each seeking a different solution to the crisis. Secondly, the middle layers are in ferment. Thirdly, the working class seeks a way out, not on the basis of the old society, but of a new order. It moves into battle in a determined fashion. Fourthly, the most crucial condition, is the existence, at the head of the mass workers’ movement of a clear Marxist leadership, with the necessary strategy, tactics, and organization to guarantee victory.”
The gripping story of the coming to power of this revolution was captured by the American journalist John Reed in the small book, Ten Days that Shook the World. Even today, one hundred years afterwards, the lessons of focus and clarity with respect to the seizure of revolutionary power makes gripping reading. V. I. Lenin, Leon Trotsky, Joseph Stalin, N. Bukharin and others established the popular power of the workers, peasants and soldiers into a political party and later created the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) out of the remnants of the imperial Tsarist territories. This revolution placed socialism on the agenda for the 20th century. Many Africans were attracted to USSR because Lenin was a proponent of self-determination - “the political separation of those nations from alien national bodies; and the formation of independent nation states.”
In this reflection on the 100th anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution we will seek to grasp the Pan African responses to the revolution, the surge of anti-imperialism in the era prior to the capitalist depression, the degeneration of socialism in one country and how, despite this degeneration, the peoples of the Soviet Union led the defeat of fascism. After the Second Imperialist War there was a surge of national liberation movements all over the world with the creation of the Nonaligned Movement out of this wave of liberation. Socialist support for liberation was one of the most important components of world politics in this period after the barbarism of fascism and war. The defeat of Apartheid represented the high point of Pan Africanism at the same moment when the world witnessed the fall of the Communist Party of the USSR and the disintegration of the USSR. The conclusion will seek to understand the meaning of the Bolshevik Revolution for Pan African revolutionaries today.
Walter Rodney has done a tremendous service for African revolutionaries by writing extensively on the Russian Revolution. Rodney elaborated on the challenges facing socialism and in many ways it was a warning about the political decay in the USSR, which became apparent in 1991. This book, which will be published later this year, came from lectures that Walter Rodney had delivered at the University of Dar es Salaam in the seventies when the Tanzanian peoples were grappling with the questions of socialist transformation. The important point of this manuscript is that Rodney was insisting that Africans needed to develop an independent perspective on the Russian Revolution. He had outlined that there were two dominant worldviews on the Russian Revolution, the bourgeois world view and the Marxist view. Rodney wanted Pan African Revolutionaries to have their own view of this episodic event in human history.
Bolshevik Revolution support for Pan Africanism 1917-1927
In the midst of the First Imperialist War, the Garvey movement had launched the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA). This was a movement of workers and poor farmers all across the Pan African world with the headquarters in Harlem, New York. Marcus Garvey had formed this organization in Jamaica but by 1916 relocated to New York to build this movement. War and industrialization of the cities in the North had attracted a massive migration of ex-sharecroppers who were fleeing the rampage of the murderous Ku Klux Klan. These migrants fled Jim Crow only to be met by the harsh conditions of the despotism of the factories and segregated neighborhoods. It was in these communities where the UNIA thrived and became the most militant anti-racist formation of the period.
Some of the Garveyites were supporters of organizations that espoused socialism and anti-racism and Harlem, New York, emerged as the epicenter of the political and ideological currents of that time. All the major Pan Africanists from this period were associated with the revolutionary ideas that came out of New York, specifically Harlem. The UNIA, though its headquarters was in Harlem, was international and had branches in every state and city. There were over 400 branches in 40 countries. For example, Earl Little, the father of Malcolm X, was a prominent Garveyite who was an anti-racist fighter. Those who associated with the European Enlightenment called this period the Harlem Renaissance. Pan Africanists prefer to call this a period of revolutionary ferment in the world.
It was a period of tremendous outpouring of revolutionary energies in music, art, theater, journalism, poetry and political organizing. This period of Pan African Revolution and the Bolshevik Revolution was to influence the activities of Pan African revolutionaries for one hundred years. Notable figures who came out of this convergence of socialism and Pan Africanism were: Paul Robeson, Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, Claude McKay, W. E. B. Dubois, Asa Phillip Randolph, Chandler Owen, Richard B. Moore, Harry Haywood, George Padmore, Hubert Harrison, Ella Baker, Cyril Briggs and Otto Huiswood (of the African Blood Brotherhood - ABB. One should note that the full name of the ABB was African Blood Brotherhood for African Liberation and Redemption). The militancy of these anti-racist individuals earned them the label of Black Bolsheviks. The revolutionaries were internationalists and understood the inter-linkages between anti-racism in the USA and the struggle to build socialism in the USSR.
They were clear that the size of a community should not determine the influence of a movement. Cyril Briggs, one of the activists of the ABB, had hailed from Nevis in the Caribbean but as a young person had thrown himself into revolutionary activities in the USA. One should note that all self-respecting Pan African radicals of that period supported socialism and the need for armed self-defense. Leaders such as A. Phillip Randolph had emerged out of this period of revolutionary energy and mobilized for the March on Washington (1943 and the Double V campaign) and the March on Washington in 1963. The newspaper called the Messenger was described as "The most feared black publication" during its era from 1917 until 1928.
The Messenger was one of the mouthpieces of black workers of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters. This organization benefitted from the mobility of the porters on the railroad and was the link between progressive revolutionary activities across the USA. Their newspaper, the Messenger, had been effusive in its praise of the Bolshevik Revolution in the January issue of 1918 less than three months after the Revolution. Radical journalism in this period produced many of the literary greats of the USA who were to become icons of US literature in the 20th century. Zora Neale Hurston, Langston Hughes, James Weldon Johnson and Ella Baker stand out among the giants of this period who are still influential among Pan Africanists and Black Revolutionaries.
The radical journalism and writing of this period reached millions and there was no publication as important as the mouthpiece of the UNIA, The Negro World. While Cyril Briggs and their newspaper called The Crusader was more directed to a class analysis, this activist did not have the pulse of the oppressed masses as the Garveyites did. What united these forces was clarity of the need to oppose Jim Crow, eugenics and poor working conditions. While the UNIA was an all-class movement, socialists such as Harry Haywood, Cyril Briggs and A Phillip Randolph sought to build a clear working class position. These radicals could be distinguished from the Black middle classes who created Blue Vein Societies and reveled in debutante balls and cotillions.
The Communist Party and the Black Belt Theory
Intellectual and ideological independence grew as the ideals of Pan African liberation were refined in this first decade after the Bolshevik Revolution. However, the low levels of understanding of the real history of the USA led the Communist Party of the USA to promote a theory of self-determination for the black belt. Theoreticians from Moscow without understanding the major sacrifices that had been made by the enslaved Africans to produce the wealth of the USA promoted the idea that African Americans concentrated in the Southern states of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia and the Carolinas constituted an oppressed nation with tangible borders within the U.S. Based on this theoretical position, it was the position of the Communist Party of the USA that Africans in the USA should be given the right to self-determination, up to and including the right to secede from America.
This flawed theory (which was later repudiated) meant wrong political practice in relation to the possibilities of organizing for a socialist revolution in the United States. Experience later exposed the limitations of the US Communist Party when some of these Black Bolsheviks attempted to clarify the real history of black oppression and the impact of white racism and chauvinism. Claude McKay was one of writers from this period who sought to capture in his work the ‘revolt against white cultural standards by seeking to write works reflecting the life of the black masses.’ His poem, If We Must Die, written after the Red Summer of 1919 became a rallying cry against oppression everywhere. McKay took this clarity and independence with him when he travelled to Russia to participate in the Fourth Congress of the Communist International in Petrograd and Moscow. McKay attempted to enlighten the leaders in Russia on the limitations of the theoretical positions of the Communist Party in their efforts to organize black workers. Harry Haywood would be one of the many Black Bolsheviks who served in both the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and the Communist Party of the USA. Paul Robeson was another prominent freedom fighter who identified with the struggles of the peoples of the Soviet Union to build socialism. Revolutionaries such as W. E. B. Du Bois and Paul Robeson were persecuted for their opposition to international capitalism. Hundreds of progressive and revolutionary Africans from the United States moved to the Soviet Union and envisaged life in that society as an alternative to the racist and exploitative culture of the West
Pan Africanism and anti-imperialism
Socialism, Pan Africanism and anti-imperialism were the three dominant ideas that came out of this first decade of revolutionary upsurge after November 1917. While the Pan Africanists sought to mobilize the workers and poor in the Pan African world, the socialists wanted to organize the working peoples, based on the slogan of Karl Marx, ‘Workers of the world unite, you have nothing to lose but your chains.’ Many communist parties such as the Chinese Communist Party, the Vietnamese Communist Party, the Indonesian Communist Party, the Indian Communist Party, Mexican Communist Party, Peruvian Communist Party and numerous others drew their inspiration from the successful events of November 1917 and the successful defeat of the white Russian forces. In fact, the Chinese Communist Party was founded in Shanghai in 1921 and went on to wage a valiant struggle to overthrow the oppressive system in China. Theoreticians of the Indian Communist Party such as M. N. Roy was deployed to grapple with some of the challenges thrown up by the conditions in semi-colonial societies.
Ho Chi Minh of Vietnam was also one of the important leaders of this period who drew from anti-militarism, Pan African nationalism and socialism. Ho Chi Minh had seen the brutal exploitation of nonwhite forces by the French in the First Imperialist War and had travelled briefly to the USA after 1918. He attended the rallies of the UNIA in New York in the heady days of the Harlem uprisings. Ho Chi Minh and the Vietnamese revolutionaries had brought ideological independence to the movement for national liberation. After defeating French colonialism in 1954, the USA intervened and sought to - (in the words of a General Curtis Le May) - bomb the Vietnamese peoples back to the stone age. The Vietnamese Communist party demonstrated that a poor country could defeat US imperialism.
During the period of the twenties, nationalist and anti-imperialist movements from all parts of the world began to establish networks to cooperate to oppose colonialism. The end of the First Imperialist War and the demise of the Second International had seen the emergence of the League of Nations where France and Britain benefitted from the mandate system. German Communists working with the Soviets built up linkages with anti-colonial forces from all over the world and the convergence of the anti-imperialist forces of Africa, Asia and Latin America came together in the League against Imperialism. This was a formation that gathered in Brussels in February 1927 to bring communists and non-communists together. Willi Münzenberg, a member of the German Reichstag, representing the Communist Party had been a key organizer of the League against Imperialism.
Under the slogan ‘National Freedom and Social Equality’, 174 delegates participated, representing 134 organizations from 34 countries. Of these, 104 delegates either had travelled from colonial and semi-colonial countries, or were active in Europe in national liberation movements. After the meeting ended there was a decision to create a permanent anti-imperialist organization, the League against Imperialism and for National Independence (better known as the LAI), to “lead the struggle against capitalism, imperialist rule, in support of national self-determination and independence for every people.” The HQ of the League was in Berlin and this organization limped on from 1927 until 1933 when the Nazis seized power. Among the more than 100 delegates there was the Indian National Congress along with the African National Congress (of South Africa) and Egyptian socialists. Albert Einstein, Mme Sun Yat Sen, Richard B. Moore and Jawaharlal Nehru of the Indian National Congress were some of the prominent anti-imperialists who had come together in Brussels in 1927.
Willi Münzenberg had been close to Lenin and emerged as a leading German activist in the work of building socialism internationally. Lenin had reached out to the people in Africa and Asia who wanted to get the imperialists off their backs. He constantly stressed “to the workers of Europe and America that their freedom is inextricably bound up with the freedom of the colonial masses of China, India and elsewhere.” In his theses on the National and Colonial Question Lenin had stated that the Communist International must: “i) seek to bring a union of the proletarian and working masses of all nations and countries for a joint revolutionary strategy leading to the overthrow of capitalism; ii) support the revolutionary movement among the subject nations in all colonies; and iii) support the revolutionary movements in the colonies and the backward countries.”
In the aftermath of the Second International a labor aristocracy had matured within the working classes of Europe. Lenin had signaled the impact of this new class during the war when he wrote that, “a handful of capitalist nations had evolved into global imperial empires, enriching themselves at the expense of the colonized and enslaved peoples of the world… the receipt of high monopoly profits by the capitalists … makes it economically possible for them to bribe certain sections of the workers, and for a time a fairly considerable minority of them, and win them to the side of the bourgeoisie of a given industry or given nation against all others.”
More important was the theory of revolution that had been developed by some of the ‘socialist’ parties in Europe. It was their analysis that the colonial subjects would be guided to revolution by their advanced proletarian brothers of Europe. This kind of reasoning on the advanced nature of the European working class had been accepted by some black Marxists but Pan Africanists rejected this theory of revolution. This analysis was to have its practical implications in the organizing work among black toilers. In South Africa this analysis hid behind the formulation that there had to be a Democratic Stage of the Revolution before there could be a socialist stage in colonized territories.
George Padmore who had hailed from Trinidad and Tobago in the Caribbean had been a student in the period of the Harlem mobilizations and joined the Communist Party of the USA (CPUSA) in 1927. By 1929 Padmore had been deployed to Moscow. The CPUSA had recognized his organizational skills and his grasp of the international conditions of black workers. As an organizer and pamphleteer, Padmore wrote on the conditions of exploitation in the colonies and highlighted the conditions of forced labour. Other African freedom fighters such as A.T Nzula and Jomo Kenyatta had worked with George Padmore in the Soviet Union at this time. The energies from these forces had culminated in an international conference in Hamburg in 1930 on the Negro Worker. These Black Bolsheviks had launched a Comintern-backed international organization of black labour organizations called the International Trade Union Committee of Negro Workers (ITUCNW). The organ of the ITUCNW was the Negro Worker and according to CLR James, this organ “gave information, advice, guidance, ideas about black struggles on every continent.” Padmore’s The Life and Struggles of the Negro Toilers was a pioneering text of red Black Internationalism of the Comintern.
The wrongheadedness of the theories of the political leadership of the USSR in relation to the real implications of white supremacy alienated Padmore and precipitated a break between him and the leadership in Moscow. Later in the era of the Cold War Padmore wrote the book, Pan Africanism or Communism. His displeasures with the leadership had been accumulating and Padmore was alarmed that the party did not grasp the full implications of racism and xenophobia after the National Socialist Party came to power in Germany in 1933. By the time of the Italian invasion of Abyssinia in 1935 there was a clearer break with the leadership in Moscow when the leadership wanted Africans to subjugate their struggles in favor of the diplomatic and political shifts in the USSR.
George Padmore became an important bridge between the generation of Pan Africanists who had embraced the USSR after 1917 and those who developed independent thinking in the wake of fascism and war. Padmore’s most fruitful years as a Pan African revolutionary came from working with C. L. R. James and Ras Makonnen in the International African Service Bureau (IASB) to mount a massive anti-imperialist campaign after the Italian invasion of Abyssinia. Parallel to the IASB in Europe was the Council on African Affairs (CAA) in North America with Paul Robeson as chairperson and DuBois as vice chair.
DuBois and James were committed socialists and were organizers who understood the centrality of building a social movement among the workers. It was in this period that C. L. R. James wrote the book, The Black Jacobins, to give prominence to the role of the Haitian Revolution in changing the history of slavery. European workers had waxed about the importance of the French Revolution of 1789. C.L.R James has brought to the world the reality that Africans had their own revolutionary traditions that could inform current struggles. In his book on the History of Pan African Revolt, James emphasized the reality that “black peoples are at the center of world events and that the revolutionaries of the world need the Africans as much as Africans need them.” It was within this same era of the rise of fascism, in 1935, when W. E. B. Du Bois wrote the history of the reconstruction era by exposing the central role of the black workers (formerly enslaved) who shifted the historical weight against the salvocracy, Black Reconstruction in America: An Essay Toward a History of the Part Which Black Folk Played in the Attempt to Reconstruct Democracy in America, 1860–1880. The intellectual output of black revolutionaries in this period of fascism and war was brought to bear in one of the most focused periods of black revolutionary activity. Collectively, these revolutionaries provided a dialectical opposite to the bureaucratization and degeneration that stifled creative thinking under Joseph Stalin in the USSR.
These are the forces who were to be in the forefront of the Fifth Pan African Congress in 1945 and the call for full independence of Africa. Some of those elements from the French socialist parties who were from West Africa aligned with the French socialists and their intellectual subordination is still being felt in Africa today.
Kwame Nkrumah, Pan Africanism and Socialism
Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana was one of those African leaders who had been inspired by the ideas of socialism and Pan Africanism. Nkrumah had left Ghana when the activist I.T.A Wallace Johnson had been active in Accra mobilizing workers and drawing attention to the case of the Scottsboro boys. The experiences of these young men had become a rallying point for socialists and progressive activists such as Wallace Johnson had organized a fund to support the legal defense of the Scottsboro boys. Johnson, hailing from Sierra Leone, had been among those advocating early for a Union of West African Socialist Republics. This advocacy for West African and Pan African unity had been inspired by the experiences of the USSR. Though the historical record does not show whether Nkrumah was familiar of the work of Wallace –Johnson before he left to the USA, by the time Nkrumah reached London in 1945 he was actively working with the West African Students Union (WASU) and later the West African National Secretariat (WANS).
Nkrumah’s baptism into this world of anti-imperialism and anti-racism movement came at the moment of the Italian invasion in 1935. By the time he had reached the USA the uprisings of Harlem of 1935 were still fresh in the minds of black peoples everywhere and former communists were struggling with the attitude of the Soviet Union to the dictatorship of Benito Mussolini. For the next 10 years Nkrumah immersed himself into this ferment of social and intellectual struggles and lent his energies and talents to mobilizing against racism, capitalism and imperialism. Indeed, Kwame Nkrumah had written that the most important influence on his political maturation had come from the Garveyites. Though C. L.R James had introduced Nkrumah to George Padmore, Nkrumah never allowed the ideas that Padmore held about Marcus Garvey to sway his understanding of the importance of the emancipation of Africa. What were the most important lessons of the Graveyites? (a) independent organizing of the working peoples, (b) the importance of the total unification of Africa (c) having an independent voice - hence own publications (d) economic self-reliance, and (e) digging deep into African spirituality. These were the elements that guided the program of Kwame Nkrumah and the Pan Africanism of his tenure. Towards the end of his life, Nkrumah insisted that the only way to free Africa was through a Revolutionary Path.
Degeneration of Socialism in one country
It should be noted that the attacks on the socialist experiment in the USSR had begun right after the assumption of power by the Bolsheviks. Counter-revolution reared its head in a war that diverted resources from the building of a socialist economy. During his life-time, Vladimir Lenin had toyed with the ideas of a New Economic Policy (NEP) in order to revive the shattered economy that was hemorrhaging because of war and stagnation. Lenin and thinkers such as Nikolai Bukharin and Preobrazhensky had advocated a mixture of socialism and opening up to western capitalism in this period of transition. The challenges of maintaining power in the midst of war had intensified the debates in the Communist Party about the form of the organization that the party should take. Decisions that were taken in the midst of War Communism were to have a negative impact on the future of building the party.
Emergency measures that were conceived in the period of the NEP proved challenging and ushered in a period of ‘state capitalism on new lines.’ Lenin was to later refer to the decisions made in this period as ‘mistakes,’ referring to the “measures of coercion dictated by the emergency needs of the war and the Bolshevik party's inability to mobilize rapidly, and on a voluntary basis, the material and human resources required by the army and for the defense and survival of the towns, were applied on too large a scale and in an arbitrary fashion.” Charles Bettelheim in his massive study of Class Struggles in the U. S. S. R. First Period: 1917-1923 drew attention to the authoritarian traits that emerged in the unleashing of ‘measures of coercion.’ Theoreticians of the ABC of Communism, Nikolai Bukharin and Preobrazhensky, suffered the fate of many who sought to develop a clear and independent mode of thinking in the period of the transformation of class relations within the Communist party.
Leon Trotsky had been another casualty of the internecine debates within the Communist Party after the passing of Lenin. Questions of socialist transformation and the future of the peasantry were matters that under any circumstance required clarity of purpose and the complete mobilization of the social forces who would be in the forefront of building socialism. The conditions of War Communism did not allow for a neat resolution of the challenges thrown up by the need to accumulate the resources in order to industrialize the society.
The debates on the NEP and the repercussions are of importance for all countries trying to conceptualize a post-capitalist society. One of the important lessons of this period was the degeneration of the party after the intrigues and inner party struggles after the death of Lenin in January 1924. Questions of whether socialism could be built in one country and whether the foreign policies of international socialist parties should be subservient to the needs of the USSR dominated the discussions on socialism. Between the years 1927-1939 this degeneration was compounded by the policies of rapid collectivization. This was a policy to guarantee surpluses from the rural areas to ensure the rapid industrialization of the USSR.
Walter Rodney in his lectures on the Russian Revolution spent considerable time on the question of the peasantry and the challenges of socialist transformation because he had become aware of the need for African revolutionaries to have clarity on the methods of transforming African agriculture. While being critical of the excesses of Joseph Stalin, Rodney at the same time recognized the tremendous sacrifices made by the workers and peasants to build an industrial economy. This forthright work was to be of importance to entire humanity in the Second Imperialist War. The draconian policies of the leadership and mass killings were influenced by internal political struggles as the leader Joseph Stalin built up a cult of personality. Walter Rodney made four points about the degeneration under Joseph Stalin,
1) Stalin encouraged socialism in one country instead of international socialism.
(2) The state did not wither away but became more oppressive and bureaucratic.
(3) Social and economic inequalities were fostered.
(4) There was an inadmissible element of force in building socialism.
In the vanguard party, the ideas of the party became obedient to the Central Committee and the Central Committee became obedient to the great leader. Political obedience stifled creativity all around as the purges created a climate of fear. This issue of the cult of personality in the vanguard party was to bedevil socialist parties for many years. There had been confusion about the real meaning of the formulation ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’. It was in the era of Fidel Castro of Cuba where there were explicit instructions that there should be no cult of personality. Fidel Castro was so clear about this that in his will he declared that he did not want any airport or any monument named after him.
Imperialist War II, the Russian Revolution and fascism
The rise of fascism as a component of the crisis of imperialism had made a dramatic impact on humanity. Fascist parties had grown all over Europe in the capitalist depression. The defeat of the German socialists and the killing of Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht in 1919 had been a wakeup call for revolutionaries everywhere as to the true nature of German militarism. After the war Berlin became a cultural space for the anti-colonialists, especially those rallying against British imperialism. It was the defeat of the German Communists that highlighted the reality that the Bolshevik Revolution had to be self-reliant in building a new society and that the period of revolution in Western Europe was to be long in coming. Karl Liebknecht had written on the dangers of German militarism in the period of the First Imperialist War stating that,
“A history of militarism in the deepest sense discloses the very essence of human development and of its motive force, and a dissection of capitalist militarism involves the disclosure of the most secret and least obvious roots of capitalism. The history of militarism is at the same time the history of the political, social, economic and, in general, the cultural relations of tension between states and nations, as well as the history of the class struggles within individual and national units.”
Communists from Italy such as Antonio Gramsci had been warning of the dangers of fascism, but the flawed theory was to be found in the analysis of the leaders of the USSR that the social democratic parties were a greater danger to humanity than the fascist parties. German militarism had consumed the society and had exploded into full blown fascism after the capitalist depression of 1929. In societies where there were colonies, the British and the French practiced fascism in their colonies. In countries such as Spain and Portugal, the fascist parties took power and maintained power for over forty years. The most notorious of these fascists were Benito Mussolini of Italy and the German National Socialist party under the Hitler forces. This was a racist and anticommunist organization who wanted to restore the power of the German bourgeoisie by crushing the German working classes. Today imperialists seek to obfuscate the real meaning of fascism by blaming the atrocities of the Nazis on the idiosyncrasies of Adolph Hitler.
Africans need to study the racism and chauvinism among the European working classes that were developed in this period. A similar brand of chauvinism and racism is now emerging, hence it is necessary to grasp the ways in which a precious generation fought against this militarism.
After the Italian invasion of Abyssinia, the fascists seized power in Spain and fought a war to crush revolutionaries. The Japanese fascists invaded China in 1937 and carried out genocide. The German fascists invaded Czechoslovakia in 1939 and the rest of the fascist rampage left over 20 million noncombatants dead in Europe, with the famous Holocaust coming from this period of fascism.
The important contribution of socialism at this time was to spearhead the defeat of fascism. The attack on the USSR by the fascist armies and with collaboration from the ruling classes of Eastern Europe was one of the deadliest aspects of the Second Imperialist War. The defense of Russia by the socialist workers was one of the most important contributions to humanity in the 20th century. In the United States it was the collective leadership of the black progressives from the twenties that provided the leadership to fight full blown fascism in the USA. Black workers had mobilized to confront the Klan and the Democratic Party under President Franklin Delano Roosevelt developed the New Deal to save capitalism in the USA.
Anti-colonialism and the war against national liberation movements
This victory over fascism emboldened the anti-colonial forces from China to Guatemala and from Indonesia to South Africa. These uprisings marked a new stage in human history with the independence of Vietnam in 1945 and India in 1947. Out of these anti-colonial forces emerged the spirit of Bandung (Indonesia) where the freedom fighters from all over the world committed themselves to bread, peace and justice. The African revolutionaries from Egypt, Algeria, the Congo , South Africa, Ghana, Morocco, Sudan and Kenya were very involved in this new moment of rebellion. It was the moment that influenced the rise of the African revolution in the independence phase 1945-1975. The execution of Patrice Lumumba in January 1961 was a deliberate effort on the part of imperialism to thwart the revolutionary possibilities of Africa. In this Bandung process, there was new sense of solidarity among oppressed peoples and it was in this period when Marshall Tito and Nehru along with Nasser and Nkrumah created the Nonaligned Movement.
Two of the most energetic forces of this movement came from the freedom fighters who were battling white racism in Southern Africa and the embryonic Cuban Revolution. Che Guevara emerged out of the internationalism of the Latin American revolutionary process and threw himself into support for African liberation by joining the struggles for self-rule in the Congo. Guevara was killed by forces of US imperialism in Bolivia in October 1967.
After the defeat of the USA in Vietnam in 1975, imperialism had decided to take a stand for the regeneration of capitalism in Africa. This stand took the form of complete support for the minority white racist regimes in Southern Africa. By 1974, the Portuguese fascists had collapsed and the West decided to support the apartheid regime to fill the vacuum. The alliance between the Cuban Revolutionaries and the Angolan freedom fighters in 1975 had shifted the balance of forces in favor of African revolution. After the first defeat of apartheid in 1976 in Angola, the racists embarked on a Total Strategy against freedom fighters in Africa.
Meanwhile the legacies of degeneration from the era of the purges of the thirties still affected the intellectual and ideological developments of the USSR. The intellectual deficiencies were to be seen in the official publications coming out of the USSR from a publishing house called Progress Publishers. This was a publishing house that was supposed to produce English language texts on Marxism, but it became a mouthpiece for the incorrect analysis of the international situation that came out of Moscow. It must be stated, however, that on balance, the existence of the USSR was a positive influence for the African liberation forces. That there was another force to counter the weight of the imperialist countries provided room for diplomatic, military and political alternatives. This was most manifest in the Suez crisis of 1956 and afterwards in the links between the OAU Liberation Committee and the countries of COMECON. In the same measure where the existence of the socialist camp was a boost for freedom fighters, the split between the Chinese and the USSR in the sixties negatively affected African freedom struggles. This was clearest in 1975 when the USSR supported the dictatorship of leaders such as Idi Amin.
The other important development was that African Revolutionaries understood that they had to develop their own theory of revolution. Frantz Fanon, A.M. Babu, A.T Nzula, Claudia Jones, Amilcar Cabral, Ella Baker, Walter Rodney, Eduardo Mondlane, Samir Amin, Thomas Sankara, Julius Nyerere and Kwame Nkrumah were some of the African revolutionaries who understood that the African freedom fighters had to be self-reliant at the intellectual and theoretical level. Amilcar Cabral had been clear on the ideological deficiencies of the established communist parties when he delivered the lecture on The Weapon of Theory in Havana in January 1966 at the first Tricontinental Conference of the Peoples of Asia, Africa and Latin America. Those socialist parties in Egypt, Sudan and South Africa who were ideologically dependent of the USSR suffered a severe setback intellectually after the fall of the USSR in 1991.
The defeat of apartheid
African peoples throughout the world understood that the struggles against imperialism were protracted. By 1980 after the independence of Zimbabwe, the struggles against apartheid in South Africa and Namibia had consumed the African revolutionary project. Imperialism intervened forcefully to impose structural adjustment programmes in order to weaken African peoples and societies and short circuit the Lagos Plan of Action. While the IMF and the World Bank were implementing austerity measures in Africa these institutions were financially propping up the minority white regime. It was the full organization of the South African working peoples along with international solidarity that brought about a new phase in world politics. This phase was accentuated by the military struggles against apartheid in Mozambique, Botswana, Zambia, Namibia and Angola. The battles of Cuito Cuanavale 1987-1988 was the culmination of these struggles with the victory over racist apartheid paving the way for the end of apartheid and the release of Nelson Mandela. The support of Cuba and the USSR for African liberation must be highlighted in this important phase of African history.
The fall of the Soviet Union in 1991
All of the problems that plagued the USSR following the accumulated decades of coercive economic relations after the NEP came to a head in the period of advanced counter-revolution, the period of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher. Elementary lessons of how far the counter-revolution would go were clear from the military invasion of the small island of Grenada in 1983. From El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua and beyond US imperialists acted like an army of locusts seeking to reverse social gains. The sterling lesson of this period was the mobilization of the Cuban people to withstand this period of neoliberal counter-revolution.
This was also the period when the conservative and militarist forces backed the most reactionary elements in the politics of Latin America. 9/11, 1973 was the dawn of the killings with the military overthrow of Salvador Allende in Chile. The Chicago School of Economics then took the Chilean economy as the laboratory of how to implement austerity under military rule. Margaret Thatcher had proclaimed that there was no alternative to capitalism and the military policies of NATO orchestrated to impose neo-liberal capitalism that is now called globalization. It was from among First Nation peoples of the Americas where there was the clearest position that socialist reconstruction must have as a matter of priority the replenishment of the earth and to combat global warming.
In this period, the massive assault on the working peoples brought out the cultural and ideological elements of hyena-type capitalism. The workers and peasants of the USSR and the workers of Eastern Europe had been struggling against the bureaucratization of their societies and the absence of popular participation and expression. This absence led to pent up feelings of frustration. It was the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 that showed just how much the workers in Eastern Europe wanted political freedom and social justice. Two years later the communist party in Moscow collapsed and the USSR disintegrated. After this, the triumphalism of capitalism heralded a New World Order and the end of History.
The collapse of the state-run economies in Russia did not offer any reprieve for the workers and poor peasants of Eastern Europe. Former sections of the USSR such the fifteen republics of 1. Armenia 2. Azerbaijan 3. Belarus 4. Estonia 5. Georgia 6. Kazakhstan 7. Kirghizia 8. Latvia 9. Lithuania 10. Moldavia 11. Russian SFSR 12. Tajikistan 13. Turkmenia 14. Ukraine and 15. Uzbekistan became the terrain for capitalist plunder and rapacious dismantling of social services.
After the invasion by the scions of neo-liberalism, the state corporations of Russia were sold off and a new class of capitalists took power. Workers lost all social security that had existed under socialism. In this dog-eat-dog world, leaders such as Boris Yeltsin were subservient to the West and NATO expanded right up to the borders of Russia incorporating many of the countries in the USSR.
The African Revolution today
After the fall of the Soviet Union the triumphalism of the West was only tempered by the rise of China in the international system. The opportunities for new trading relations for African rulers were opened with the formation of Brazil, Russia, India and Chinese (BRICS) bloc. However, the Chinese revolution found its own challenge with respect to the destruction of the natural environment by coal barons and bankers. These elements have risen in influence inside the Communist Party of China to the point where in the foreign policy of the state the leadership downplayed the revolutionary traditions of China and instead promoted the ideas of Confucius. Promoting ‘harmony’ and Confucius was consistent with a political leadership that followed the ideas of the World Bank and for good measure sent their children to universities in North America and Western Europe to be trained to be better capitalists.
Under neoliberalism, the combined weight of international capitalists shifted the burdens on to the shoulders of African workers and small farmers. There was an alliance with the African ruling classes who siphoned billions of dollars away in foreign banks as a manifestation of their alliance with imperialism.
Outstanding issues of incomplete self-determination plagued Africa in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Central African Republic, Nigeria, Ethiopia and the Sudan. It was in the Sudan and Ethiopia where the Pan African revolutionaries needed to be clear on the objectives of the African Revolution today. In the past forty years, the Ethiopian toilers had registered two successful uprisings and are currently in the midst of a new struggle for social justice and a better quality of life. The experiences of the revolutions of 1974 and 1991 are being studied by a new generation of freedom fighters in Ethiopia. Indeed, the struggles of the workers of Ethiopia to achieve social justice were linked to the struggles of self-determination of the peoples such as the Oromo and the Somalis. It was in Ethiopia more than anywhere else, where a new theory was needed for the African Revolution. The Ethiopian rulers have been able to repress their people with the connivance of other leaders in Africa.
Along with support to big capital in Ethiopia, imperialism has launched a war on terror in order to militarize Africa. Many leaders such as those in Kenya, Uganda and Chad are allied with imperialism in this so-called war on terrorism. In Kenya, the anti-capitalist and democratic struggles have birthed a new era of popular resistance, but this new burst of energy requires clarity on the objectives of the Kenya theater of the African revolution. Is the resistance simply a struggle for power or a struggle for a new mode of economic organization?
It was in Egypt where the workers, youth and the women opened a new chapter in the African revolutionary process. From the work of Claudia Jones and Ella Baker there had been clarity that revolution had to not only fight against capitalism but against patriarchy. African women, especially at the grassroots represented the social force most focused on changing the patterns of oppression. Capitalist exploitation had been supplemented by male chauvinism and disrespect for women.
Samora Machel and Thomas Sankara were two revolutionaries who understood that African women were central to the African revolutionary challenges. After Claudia Jones and Ella Baker there are numerous Pan African revolutionaries such as Micere Mugo, Wangaari Mathai and Asma Mafhouz who have provided revolutionary leadership. Nawa El Sadawi of Egypt provided a crucial link between the revolutionaries of the twentieth century and the new revolutionary women of the 21st century. The Egyptian revolution had sent the signal that the backwardness of religious fundamentalism would have to be combated in the process of building a new society. In 2011 with the overthrow of Mubarak, the revolution excited progressives all over the world. In an effort to take this away from the African masses, this revolutionary upsurge was called the “Arab spring”. Furthermore in order to stab this revolution in the back if it arose again after the counter-revolution of General Sisi, NATO mounted an invasion of Libya and unleashed instability in the Sahel region.
The youth in South Africa, ever vigilant in relation to the continuity of struggles opened a new front in the African revolution in the era of Jacob Zuma. As in Egypt, it was the oppressed women of South Africa who were first alert to the oppressive traditions and practice of Zuma. The South African Communist Party had exposed the weakness of organizations that had been intellectually subservient to the USSR. In fighting against Thabo Mbeki and elevating Jacob Zuma to the presidency, the SACP exposed the distance it had travelled away from the needs of the people.
The youth of South Africa, especially those in universities joined with workers and opposed neo-liberalism and the outsourcing of work within the university. The struggles over access to education were heralded in a major campaign called #FeesMustFall. This movement supported a larger struggle to decolonize education with the attack on the statue of Cecil Rhodes at the University of Cape Town emblematic of this struggle. Then there was the opposition to bourgeois science in the campaign, #ScienceMustFall.
The workers in South Africa broke up the COSATU embeddedness with the ANC government while populists such as Julius Malema sought to take advantage of the ideological vacuum by creating the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) party. The South African political economy in the twenty years after the end of formal apartheid had presented another opportunity to revisit the question of the transformation of agriculture and the future of the poor peasants. The battles over collectivization in the USSR had exposed the reality that the land question was bound up with the clarity of the state to provide the resources for a transformation of agricultural production that would lift the living standards of the most oppressed sections of the peasantry.
Instead, the populism of Julius Malema has taken the land question of Southern Africa as a tool to mobilize without clarity on the forms of organization of the poor that would ensure that the poor of the rural areas would be the principal beneficiaries of land redistribution. In this new battle, the questions of land and the relationship of the peasants on the land are now back on the agenda and African revolutionaries need to study the challenges that faced the Russian Revolution in the past 100 years. What form of property relations should develop in a transformed South Africa? The populism of Julius Malema echoed the populism of Robert Mugabe, but the poor of South Africa were aware that this talk about land redistribution in Zimbabwe had only led to the self-enrichment of a few.
All over Africa from the DRC to Nigeria, to Egypt, Cameroons, Uganda, Sudan, Kenya and Somalia there is urgency to clarify the ideas, organization and leadership necessary for the next round of the African Revolution. In every country the first condition for revolution exists, viz, faced with a profound crisis the ruling class is incapable of governing in the old way and begins to split into different wings, each seeking a different solution to the crisis. Those who had made sacrifices for liberation in Angola, Mozambique, Namibia and South Africa had seen that a new class had arisen to benefit from the struggles of the people. Pressures from below had forced the leadership to create the African Union, but even in this enterprise, many of the leaders were so afraid of France that they allowed the army of France to manipulate regional and religious questions in order to maintain military forces in Africa. Morocco, in the meantime sought to maintain the outmoded idea of colonialism by holding on to the territory of Western Sahara. France opposed the creating of an African currency and was very explicit by urging the invasion of Libya on the grounds that this was necessary to save the Euro.
Capitalist crisis, again
After the 2007-8 capitalist crisis there was the rise of racism and xenophobia in the West with reactionary parties occupying political spaces all over Europe. African peoples responded vigorously to this new period of capitalist crisis with the workers and their children in the USA creating the Black Lives Matter movement. Temporarily, this movement placed the ruling class on notice that the black working people were going to lead the resistance against capitalism internationally. In the face of the #BlackLivesMatter movement, counter-revolution reared its head in Brazil, Venezuela and all over the world with the rise of Donald Trump signaling to racists that they can kill with impunity.
The rise of Donald Trump and the call to “make America great again” brought about a new stage of world revolution. It was clear to all that the greatness of the USA would only come out of global warfare. Opposition to US imperialism had grown internationally as the US military became the main basis for supporting the dominance of the dollar as the currency of international trade. It was in the midst of this crisis where the Pan African revolutionaries were calling on the youth to study the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 so that Africa can learn the strength and weakness of revolutions in the 20th century. Progressive Pan African revolutionaries are holding the line against complete barbarism to be ready for the next round of mobilization for the unification of Africa and the emancipation of oppressed peoples. This author shares the view of the Indian revolutionaries, who stated that,
“The tremendous achievements of the first Socialist State beckon us to understand what was possible and what is possible to create today. The Soviet Union created records, equally relevant today in wiping out poverty, backwardness, and illiteracy, in establishing equality among peoples and nationalities, between men and women. It is an inspiration of what was and what can be, and that is why we say that the era it established of the transition from capitalism to socialism is as relevant today. Capitalism is not the end of history.”
* PROF HORACE G. CAMPBELL is Kwame Nkrumah Chair, Institute of African Studies, University of Ghana.
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