From a report delivered by Abayomi Azikiwe to the Midwest Regional Conference on Socialism and National Liberation held in Detroit, Michigan, at Wayne State University on March 25-26, 2017. The Conference was sponsored jointly by the WSU chapter of the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) and the Detroit branch of Workers World Party (WWP). Azikiwe addressed the Conference on a panel entitled “Fighting Capitalism Around the World.”
This year represents the centenary of the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia. Born in the midst of the first imperialist world war, the Russian Social Democratic Labor Party (RSDLP-Bolshevik) later becoming the Communist Party, was able to seize power in October (November 6) just eight months after the popular overthrow of the monarchy. Many including Marx and Engels had been involved in the workers upheavals of 1847-1851 as well as studying the lessons of the Paris Commune (1870-71), themselves seemed to have believed that the first revolution against capitalism would be victorious in one of the more advanced capitalist states in Western Europe such as Germany, France or Britain.
However, the largely unpopular war against Germany would create the political situation for a coalition of workers councils called Soviets, which grew out of the uprisings of 1905, the peasantry starving for bread and land reform along with the battered Russian military suffering from a disorganized war effort and lack of food and supplies on the battlefront, served to provide V.I. Lenin and his comrades the ability to seize power. This revolution took an immediate stand against the imperialist war by signing a treaty with Germany to end Russia’s involvement, also exposing the plot to dominate the West Asia by Britain and France through the Sykes-Picot Agreement signed in 1916, and fostering the liberation of the oppressed nations and nationalities within the Russian sphere of influence.
The Bolsheviks formed the Third International which held its First Congress in1919. By 1920, Lenin in response to the mass uprisings across the colonial territories in the aftermath of World War I, declared the world socialist movement as being the staunchest allies of the oppressed peoples under the yoke of colonialism and semi-colonialism.
With specific reference to the U.S., the Second Congress of the Communist International in1920 heard a report from John Reed on the state of the African American people. Based on these analyses and other information provided to the Russian Communist Party and Socialist state, Lenin declared: “The second main idea of our Theses is that, in the current world situation, after the imperialist war, the mutual relations between states, the world system of states, is determined by the struggle of the smaller number of imperialist nations against the Soviet movement and the Soviet powers with Soviet Russia at their head. If we overlook this question, we cannot pose correctly a single national or colonial question even in the most distant part of the world. It is only from this standpoint that the political questions of the Communist Parties, not only in the civilized but also in the backward countries, can be posed and answered correctly. Thirdly, I would like to emphasize the question of the bourgeois-democratic movement in the backward countries. This was the point that gave rise to some differences of opinion. We debated whether it is correct in principle and theoretically to declare that the Communist International and the Communist Parties have a duty to support the bourgeois-democratic movements in the backward countries, and the outcome of this discussion was that we came to the unanimous decision to talk not about the ‘bourgeois-democratic’ movement but only about the national-revolutionary movement. There can be no doubt of the fact that any nationalist movement can only be a bourgeois-democratic movement, because the great mass of the population of the backward countries consists of the peasantry, which is the representative of bourgeois capitalist relations. It would be utopian to think that proletarian parties, insofar as it is at all possible for them to arise in these countries, will be able to carry out Communist tactics and Communist policies in the backward countries without having a definite relationship with the peasant movement, without supporting it in deeds. But objections were raised that, if we say ‘bourgeois-democratic’, we lose the distinction between the reformist and revolutionary movement which has become quite clear in the backward countries and the colonies recently, simply because the imperialist bourgeoisie has done everything in its power to create a reformist movement among the oppressed peoples too. A certain understanding has emerged between the bourgeoisie of the exploiting countries and that of the colonies, so that very often, even perhaps in most cases, the bourgeoisie of the oppressed countries, although they also support national movements, nevertheless fight against all revolutionary movements and revolutionary classes with a certain degree of agreement with the imperialist bourgeoisie, that is to say together with it. This was completely proven in the Commission, and we believed that the only correct thing would be to take this difference into consideration and to replace the words ‘bourgeois-democratic’ almost everywhere with the expression ‘national-revolutionary’. The point about this is that as communists we will only support the bourgeois freedom movements in the colonial countries if these movements are really revolutionary and if their representatives are not opposed to us training and organizing the peasantry in a revolutionary way. If that is no good, then the communists there also have a duty to fight against the reformist bourgeoisie, to which the heroes of the Second International also belong. There are already reformist parties in the colonial countries, and on occasion their representatives call themselves Social Democrats or Socialists. This distinction is now made in all the Theses, and I think that our point of view is thus formulated much more precisely.”
Of course there were no African Americans in attendance at the first three congresses of the CI where these questions were debated and discussed. Later in 1922, a delegation of two African Americans, renowned Jamaican-born poet and novelist Claude McKay and Surinam-born Otto Huiswoud, attended the Fourth Congress of the CI. This gathering was held amid a cultural and political renaissance among the African American people.
The Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League (UNIA-ACL) was in its heyday with Jamaican-born Marcus Garvey attracting millions across the U.S., the Caribbean, Central and South America as well as colonies on the African continent. The Negro World newspaper published in three different languages and attracted Black leftists into its ranks such as Nevis-born Cyril Briggs and Hubert Harrison from St. Croix.
Briggs and Harrison had been associated with the revolutionary nationalist and socialist movements in the U.S. prior to joining the UNIA. Briggs co-founded The Crusader magazine which eventually took an anti-capitalist position. In 1919, Briggs, and others formed the African Blood Brotherhood for African Liberation and Redemption (ABB). Eventually many within the leadership of the ABB joined the early formations which later consolidated as the Communist Party of the U.S.
1919 witnessed over two dozen racial incidents when African Americans came under attack by white mobs and law-enforcement authorities in the aftermath of the first imperialist war in cities such as Chicago and Washington D.C. What distinguished these so-called race riots from others which had occurred during the late 19th and early 20th century was that African Americans fought back against the racists in a disciplined and organized fashion. It was during this period that the ABB was formed as a self-defense organization advocating self-determination and anti-capitalism.
In addition, strikes in the Steel and Coal Mining industries and the Seattle general strike heightened fears of the capitalist class and federal government. A series of bomb attacks attributed to Anarchists also set the stage for a massive wave of repression involving thousands of law-enforcement personnel as they raided homes and offices of suspected radicals ostensibly designed to prevent an uprising aimed at overthrowing the U.S. government on May Day 1920.
Ideological and political differences with Marcus Garvey over the character of the movement led to a split within the UNIA between Briggs, Harrison and the leadership. These contradictions were heightened by the federal government infiltration of the UNIA, Socialist organizations and the eventual Communist Party.
During the post-World War I period the Department of Justice targeted radicals and revolutionaries for disruption, deportation and imprisonment. Hundreds of Socialists, Anarchists and Black Nationalists were victimized in this effort initially launched by the-then Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer in 1919.
Garvey was indicted and convicted on bogus charges of mail fraud during the 1922-23. He was eventually imprisoned in 1925 serving two years in federal prison before being deported back to Jamaica in 1927.
Moreover, Africans living in the South still tied to the land in the agriculture system of production were being harassed, super-exploited, imprisoned through contract labor schemes and lynched by the racist mobs, started to rapidly migrate into the industrial and shipping centers of the Northern, Midwestern and Western urban areas. This process of migration brought vitality into the workers’ movement and the African American nation which continued to grow in class and racial consciousness. A plethora of newspapers, magazines, theaters, social organizations and businesses flourished as a result of the legalized and de facto segregation prevalent in the municipalities. Although Africans relocated in the hope of a better life through good paying employment, quality housing and more social freedom, conditions in their new found homes were just as bad if not worse than what existed in the South.
A statement issued after the 1922 Fourth Congress of the CI in Moscow said of the African American national question that: “The Communist International must show the black people that they are not the only ones to suffer capitalist and imperialist oppression; that the workers and peasants of Europe, Asia and America are also victims of imperialism; that the black struggle against imperialism is not the struggle of any one single people, but of all the peoples of the world; that in India and China, in Persia and Turkey, in Egypt and Morocco, the oppressed non-white peoples of the colonies are heroically fighting their imperialist exploiters; that these peoples are rising against the same evils, i.e., against racial oppression, inequality and exploitation, and are fighting for the same ends – political, economic and social emancipation and equality.”
These movements outside the U.S. in the colonial and semi-colonial territories were the foreign counterparts of the African American national question. There had been an ongoing debate within the Left over whether the African American people were fighting for inclusion within U.S. society or sought to establish their own autonomous and perhaps independent existence. Judging from the report of John Reed at the Second Congress of 1920, there seems to be a lack of appreciation of the necessity of organizing within the rural areas of the South where African American farmers and agricultural workers were very much a part of the production process which was integral to the capitalist manufacturing centers of the North and Midwest.
Racial conflict in the South was often prompted by the division of labor along national lines. Many white farmers remained landless and poor however they were indoctrinated by the ruling class that their interests lay with the plantation owners whom had survived the destruction of the Civil War and Reconstruction periods. In major cities such as Memphis, Atlanta, Winston-Salem, etc., African Americans had carved out an existence through the utilization of religious, cultural and social institutions. These also came under attack by white racism. By the final decade of the 19th century and first years of the 20th, migration began to increase. This migration was not limited to the North, Midwest and West it also occurred in areas such as Kansas and Oklahoma. These migration patterns were not exclusively spontaneous. There were organizations that eased the strain on moving to other regions of the country. African American newspapers such as the Chicago Daily Defender carried ads which promoted migration and groups such as the National Urban League were founded and funded by some capitalist corporations to facilitate the transferal of African labor from the rural South to the industrialized centers of the U.S.
In an effort to embrace the anti-colonial and revolutionary nationalist struggles as their own as well, the resolution adopted at the Fourth Congress of the CI continued stressing: “The Communist International represents the revolutionary workers and peasants of the entire world in their struggle against the power of imperialism – it is not just an organization of the enslaved white workers of Europe and America, but is as much an organization of the oppressed non-white peoples of the world, and so feels duty-bound to encourage and support the international organizations of the black people in their struggle against the common enemy. The black question has become an integral part of the world revolution. The Third International has already recognized what valuable help the colored Asiatic peoples can give to the proletarian revolution, and it realizes that in the semi-capitalist countries the co-operation of our oppressed black brothers is extremely important for the proletarian revolution and for the destruction of capitalist power. Therefore the Fourth Congress gives Communists the special responsibility of closely applying the “Theses on the Colonial Question” to the situation of the blacks. The Fourth Congress considers it essential to support all forms of the black movement which aim either to undermine or weaken capitalism and imperialism or to prevent their further expansion. The Communist International will fight for the racial equality of blacks and whites, for equal wages and equal social and political rights. The Communist International will do all it can to force the trade unions to admit black workers wherever admittance is legal, and will insist on a special campaign to achieve this end. If this proves unsuccessful, it will organize blacks into their own unions and then make special use of the united front tactic to force the general unions to admit them. The Communist International will immediately take steps to convene an international black conference or congress in Moscow.”
Leading elements within the ABB which grew out of the resistance to racist state and mob violence after World War I joined the Communist Party during the mid to late 1920s. Eventually the ABB was dissolved and the American Negro Labor Congress (ANLC) was formed in 1925. The organization was the first attempt on the part of the CP to organize mass organizations among the African American people. ANLC cadre held a conference to draft a program of action although this effort gained limited results. A newspaper called the Negro Champion was published in an attempt to intervene in the political and ideological struggles taking place among the African American people.
On an internationalist level, the League Against Imperialism (LAI) was founded during this same time period. The first gathering was held in Brussels, Belgium and organized by German Communist Willi Munzenberg in February 1927. Delegates were invited to the first meeting from China, India, South Africa, Indonesia, Senegal and Algeria. Leading figures in the anti-colonial movements from these geo-political regions such as Lamin Senghor (Senegal), Virendranath Chattopadhyaya (India), J.T. Gumede of the African National Congress (ANC) of South Africa, Messali Hadj of the Algerian North-African Star, and Mohammad Hatta of the Perhimpoenan Indonesia were reported to have been in attendance.
Including the Chinese nationalist Kuomintang led by Chaing Kai- shek, the involvement of these forces along with the Communist Party would not last long. On April 12, 1927, the Kuomintang military forces marched on Shanghai where they massacred the Communists and allied workers. Later that year in December, the Kuomintang crushed the Canton Commune. As a result, the coalition of Chiang Kai-shek’s Kuomintang and the Communist Party of China was dissolved, leading to the Chinese Civil War. Later in 1931, the Japanese imperialists invaded Manchuria.
LAI was headquartered in Berlin during the period of 1927-33, when the Nazi Party came to power. Anti-imperialist and anti-colonial work was severely set back as fascism spread throughout the European continent after 1933.
The League Against Imperialism did enormous work in Britain expressing solidarity with the anti-colonial struggle in India. Nonetheless, there were disagreements with Nehru of India in 1930-31 over criticism related to the policies of the Congress Party. He was expelled from the LAI in 1931. By 1937, the LAI had gone out of existence as an international organization.
Paralleling the LAI was the work of the International Trade Union Committee of Negro Workers (ITUCNW) which was an affiliate of the Red International of Labor Unions (RILU) and the Third International. This organization formed in 1928 was led by African American Communist James Ford who was quickly replaced by Trinidad-born George Padmore.
The ITUCNW came amid the positions on the African American and African national questions emanating from the Sixth, (1928) Congresses of the CI. Prior to this the efforts of the Workers (Communist) Party had been extremely limited.
Cyril Briggs admitted in a lengthy article published in The Communist magazine in September 1929 that: “In attempting to evaluate the work of our Party among the Negro workers and farmers during the past ten years, it is necessary to begin with the frank admission that the task of winning the Negro masses to our program was seriously and sincerely taken up only since the Sixth World Congress. Most of our Negro work prior to the Congress was of a sporadic nature intended in the main as gesture for the benefit of the Comintern.”
Later Briggs quotes the Sixth Congress resolution on the Negro Question in the U.S. which said: “the Negro masses will not be won for the revolutionary struggles until such time as the most conscious section of the white workers show, by action, that they are fighting with the Negroes against all racial discrimination and persecution… to mobilize and rally the broad masses of the white workers for active participation in this struggle.” (p. 494)
This same article continues in relationship to the demand by the Sixth Congress that white chauvinism, prevalent in both the left and right factions of the Party, be rejected categorically: “An aggressive fight against all forms of white chauvinism must be accompanied by a widespread and thorough educational campaign in the spirit of internationalism within the Party, utilizing for this purpose to the fullest possible extent the Party schools, the Party press and the public platform, to stamp out all forms of antagonism, or even indifference among our white comrades toward the Negro work. This educational work should be conducted simultaneously with a campaign to draw the white workers and the poor farmers into the struggle for the support of the demands for the Negro workers.” (pp. 494-5)
The ITUCNW published The International Negro Workers’ Review in March 1931. It was later renamed The Negro Worker.
In July 1930, the International Conference of Negro Workers was convened in Hamburg, Germany utilizing the base of the Western Secretariat of the COMINTERN located there. This meeting was originally scheduled to be held in London however the repression leveled against the working class and anti-colonial struggle by Britain prevented the gathering.
Specifically related to the attendance at the 1930 Conference, Susan Campbell said: “Present in Hamburg were 17 delegates representing six African-American organizations, British Guiana, Trinidad, Jamaica, several west African countries, and South Africa. Information on who these delegates were is both lacking and in some cases (partly because of pseudo-names) contradictory. Jamaica was represented by S.M. DeLeon, Trinidad by Vivian Henry of the Trinidad Workingmen’s Association, and British Guiana/Guyana by pioneer trade unionist Hubert Critchlow. There for Sierra Leone, under the alias ‘E. Richards’, was Isaac Theophilis Akkuna (I.T.A.) Wallace-Johnson; for South Africa, Albert Nzula. Also present were Johnstone (Jomo) Kenyatta, two men identified only as ‘S. Norton’ and ‘Akrong’ from the Gold Coast/Ghana, and Frank Macaulay, who had cooperated with Wallace-Johnson in the Nigerian Workers’ Union. Padmore, although from Trinidad, had counted as an African-American delegate, together with James W. Ford, I. Hawkins, and J. Reid. The Gambian delegate, listed as George Small, was almost certainly E.F. Small, editor of The Gambia Outlook and organizer of one of west Africa’s first unions, the Bathurst Trade Union. In late 1929 Small’s union had led a general strike that tied up the Gambian economy for 18 days. British Colonial Under-Secretary Drummond Shiels, a prominent member of the Fabian Society, had commented “the union has unfortunate affiliations and has been run rather on Communist lines.” Otto Huiswoud seems not to have been present; likely he was already off as part of a COMINTERN ‘mission’ to the South African Communist Party he is known to have undertaken around this time.” (The Negro Workers: A Comintern Publication of 1928-37)
The resolutions passed at the ITUCNW Conference in Hamburg took a hard line against what was described as “Negro reformism.” This tendency was characterized as “the most dangerous obstacle to the development of the struggle of Negro workers.” There was much criticism of the role of the Socialist International as represented by the British Labor Party. ITUCNW said of the Labor Party that it was “the best proof of the real policy of these imperialist agents.”
ITUCNW resolutions demanded the full independence of all colonial territories along with the right to self-determination for all oppressed nations. In the aftermath of the Conference many of the delegates traveled to Moscow to attend the Congress of the RILU.
However, in 1933 the Nazis came to power in Germany. Padmore was arrested and jailed for several months. He was then deported to Paris where it appeared the authorities were working with the German fascist regime to gain access to Padmore’s collection of documents shedding light on the strength and work of the ITUCNW and the RILU.
Soon after this, Padmore broke with the COMINTERN over its shift in foreign policy in relationship to Britain and France. Moscow viewed Germany as the principle threat to the Soviet Union and its influence. Padmore initially claimed it was the financial problems associated with the ITUCNW as his reason for departure.
Nonetheless, Campbell recalled: “in September 1933 Padmore bid ‘Au Revoir’ to his editorship of the Negro Worker, then begun castigating the COMINTERN for its cynical abandonment of the colonial workers’ cause in the interests of Popular Front rapprochement with Britain and France. Here is should be noted that while the Popular Front era is usually thought of as having begun with the July-August 1935 Seventh (and last) COMINTERN Congress, its start can be more accurately dated to the 13th Plenum of the Executive Committee of the COMINTERN, held shortly after Hitler’s January 30th 1933 assumption of power.”
Later in early 1934, Padmore officially severed his ties with the COMINTERN. James Ford went so far as to label Padmore a “police agent.” Padmore then wrote a public letter criticizing the new COMINTERN position having it published in the NAACP’s Crisis magazine. Earl Browder, the-then General Secretary of the CPUSA, replied to Padmore’s criticism which also appeared in the Crisis.
During his Paris sojourn, Padmore continued his work in the Pan-African struggle. He collaborated with Nancy Cunard, the author of the anthology “Negro.” By late 1935 and early 1936, Padmore relocated to London where he teamed up with his childhood friend C.L.R. James who was working within the Trotskyist movement in Britain. They formed the International African Service Bureau (IASB) publishing the International African Opinion. Later in 1944, long after James had traveled to the U.S. for a lecture tour that extended for fifteen years, the IASB was dissolved and the Pan-African Federation was formed which went on to organized the Fifth Pan-African Congress in Manchester in October 1945.
The Fifth Pan-African Congress was led by George Padmore, Dr. W.E.B. Du Bois and Kwame Nkrumah, who had just arrived in Britain from studying for a decade in the U.S. Nkrumah left for the Gold Coast in 1947, eventually forming the Convention People’s Party (CPP) in 1949 which led the British colony to independence by 1957, becoming the base of the anti-colonial and Pan-African struggle until 1966 when Nkrumah was overthrown in a CIA-backed coup against his government.
Post World War II and the Socialist Camp
During the years of the second imperialist world war from 1939-1945, the anti-colonial movement was reawakened in the colonies of the British and the French. Africans from Morocco, Egypt, Algeria and South Africa intensified their struggle against colonial occupation.
On August 12, 1946, African mineworkers in Witwatersrand went on strike for higher pay and better conditions of employment. After one week, the racist state still dominated by British imperialism, ruthlessly suppressed the work stoppage. Nine people were reported killed by the police and over 1,200 people were injured.
The brutality of the state had a profound impact on the consciousness of the national liberation movement of the African National Congress (ANC). The ANC had assisted in the formation of the African Mineworkers Union dating back to 1941. J.B. Marks, an ANC leader, played a critical role in the organization of the union.
African workers earned 1200 percent less than white miners. Although European mineworkers had been involved in labor struggles dating back to the 1880s, they were eventually accommodated by capital and most became staunch defenders of the racist system of colonialism.
The 1946 African Mineworkers strike was broken by the racist colonial state. However, its impact on the consciousness of the masses was enduring. In 1949, the ANC Youth League, formed in 1943, drafted its program of action calling for more militant activity on the part of the liberation movement.
By 1950, after the passage of the Suppression of Communism Act, outlawing the Communist Party of South Africa, there were strikes and mass demonstrations surrounding May Day resulting in the deaths of 16 people by the police. In 1952, the Defiance Against Unjust Laws Campaign began lastly four years until 1956. These events prompted the formation of the Federation of South African Women in 1954 bringing together women patriots from the African, Indian, Colored and white progressive movements.
In 1955, thousands met in Kliptown to announce the Freedom Charter, a revolutionary democratic document that called for the abolition of the racist apartheid system, the nationalization of the mines and white-controlled lands inside the country.
The South African apartheid regime indicted over 150 activists for treason. The trials lasted for four years ending in the acquittal of the members of the Congress Alliance in 1960 which consisted of the ANC, Indian National Congress, Congress of Democrats, among others.
On March 21, 1960, the police massacred 69 people outside a police station in Sharpeville and near a bus terminal in Langa Flats. The ANC, along with the newly-formed Pan-Africanist Congress were banned and remained so for another thirty years when they were allowed to operate openly in February 1990.
These mass struggles characterized the national liberation movement in South Africa, Ghana, Guinea and other areas. Nevertheless, in Algeria the National Liberation Front (FLN) was forced to take up arms against French imperialism in 1954. The guerrilla movement waged a military campaign until 1961 when the stage was set for the national independence of the North African state in 1962.
The ANC and the South African Communist Party (SACP) formed Um Khonto we Sizwe (MK) which embarked upon an armed struggle in December 1961. The guerilla unit carried out attacks on power stations and government offices in its initial phase. Leaders of MK were arrested between 1962 and 1964. Later the Rivonia Trial was held placing Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu, Ahmed Kathrada, Dennis Goldberg and others in prison for life without parole.
Although the apartheid regime expected that the ANC and SACP were eliminated as threats to the state and economic system, by 1976, the mass movement emerged again when students in the thousands demonstrated and struck against Bantu education. Hundreds of youth were killed, wounded and arrested during 1976-77. Thousands of additional youth fled the country into exile where they received training in camps established by the ANC, PAC and the Black Consciousness Movement (BCM).
In 1980, the ideological and political orientation of the national liberation movement in South Africa had swung decisively in favor of the ANC. The form of the movement focused on igniting unrest within the military, labor and mass arenas of struggle.
These developments in South Africa were not occurring within a vacuum. The former Portuguese colonies of Guinea Bissau, Mozambique and Angola were focal points for the armed phase of the African Revolution. Portugal, a fascist colonial state, had been one of the earliest European nations to initiate the Atlantic Slave Trade. Nonetheless, Portugal was overshadowed by Britain and France in the colonial scramble for Africa.
Making tremendous gains in the armed struggle in Guinea Bissau and Mozambique, the African Party for the Independence of Guinea (PAIGC) and the Mozambique Liberation Front (FRELIMO) were poised to declare independence by 1974. A coup of younger military officers in Lisbon in April 1974 pledged to decolonize their holdings on the continent. Guinea Bissau became independent in 1974 while Mozambique followed later in June 1975.
The situation in Angola was more complicated since there were three organizations claiming to be the legitimate national liberation movements in the oil-rich country. The Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) has done the bulk of the fighting during the revolutionary war starting in 1961 and extending to 1975 when an agreement was reached for a peaceful transition to power.
Nevertheless, two other organizations, the National Front for the Liberation of Angola (FNLA) based largely in Zaire ( now the Democratic Republic of Congo) under the-then leadership of the imperialist-backed military strongman Mobutu Sese Seko, who had been involved in the overthrow and assassination of Congolese patriot and elected Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba, and the Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA) headed by Jonas Savimbi, a dubious character who had later been discovered to be a collaborator with the Portuguese colonial authorities, were the groups favored by the imperialists.
CIA operatives and mercenaries sought to ensure the victory of the counter-revolutionary forces against the MPLA which was supported by Cuba and the Soviet Union along with having an alliance with the South West African People’s Organization (SWAPO), the ANC and the South African Communist Party (SACP). Cuban internationalist forces intervened in Angola on the eve of independence in November 1975 in the midst of an invasion by the South African Defense Forces (SADF). The Cubans fighting alongside their MPLA comrades pushed back the SADF consolidating the independence of Angola under revolutionary leadership.
By 1988, after a monumental battle at Cuito Cuanavale, the racist apartheid regime in defeat agreed to withdraw from southern Angola and to grant independence to Namibia, then known as South West Africa, a colony of Pretoria. These advances in the African Revolution coupled with the growing armed and mass struggle led by the ANC and its allies in South Africa, prompted the release of Nelson Mandela and other political prisoners during 1987-90 and the lifting of bans on other political activists living in exile when many then returned to South Africa after 1990.
The African Revolution was not uniform in its response to the neo-colonialism. As early as 1961, the independent states had split into a minority anti-imperialist and socialist-oriented camp led by Ghana, Guinea, Algeria and Mali, in opposition to the more moderate governments which resisted the calls by Dr. Kwame Nkrumah and others for political and economic integration. The setbacks in Congo, Cameroon, Nyasaland (Malawi) and similar post-colonial states where the reactionary and moderate political elements supported by imperialism seized control of the governments, served as an impediment to the realization of genuine independence and sovereignty.
Kwame Nkrumah in his ground breaking work entitled “Neo-Colonialism: The Last Stage of Imperialism”, published in late 1965, clearly identified the U.S. as the leading power which was committed to the halting of the forward progress of the African Revolution. Nkrumah in the chapter entitled “The Mechanism of Neo-Colonialism” says: “In order to halt foreign interference in the affairs of developing countries it is necessary to study, understand, expose and actively combat neo-colonialism in whatever guise it may appear. For the methods of neo-colonialists are subtle and varied. They operate not only in the economic field, but also in the political, religious, ideological and cultural spheres. Faced with the militant peoples of the ex-colonial territories in Asia, Africa, the Caribbean and Latin America, imperialism simply switches tactics. Without a qualm it dispenses with its flags, and even with certain of its more hated expatriate officials. This means, so it claims, that it is ‘giving’ independence to its former subjects, to be followed by ‘aid’ for their development. Under cover of such phrases, however, it devises innumerable ways to accomplish objectives formerly achieved by naked colonialism.”
This same idea is further elaborated by Nkrumah when he illustrates that: “It is this sum total of these modern attempts to perpetuate colonialism while at the same time talking about ‘freedom’, which has come to be known as neo-colonialism. Foremost among the neo-colonialists is the United States, which has long exercised its power in Latin America. Fumblingly at first she turned towards Europe, and then with more certainty after world war two when most countries of that continent were indebted to her. Since then, with methodical thoroughness and touching attention to detail, the Pentagon set about consolidating its ascendancy, evidence of which can be seen all around the world.”
Challenges of the 21st Century
As Nkrumah articulated in Neo-Colonialism fifty-two years ago, the U.S. remains the dominant imperialist power in the world today. This is even more evident with the fall of the USSR and the allied Socialist states in Eastern and Southern Europe.
However, the struggle against imperialism and for Socialism is by no means over. The People’s Republic of China, the world’s most populace state, remains under the control of the Communist Party. The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) has survived for more than sixty years since the imperialist war led by the U.S. attempted to overthrow Kim Il Sung during the early 1950s. Vietnam has been a united country for over four decades after both French and U.S. imperialism sought to eliminate the Communist and national liberation forces through a war of genocide and occupation which lasted from 1945 to 1975.
On the African continent the ANC, SWAPO, ZANU-PF, MPLA and FRELIMO remain in power in Southern Africa after the defeat of settler-colonialism. Strikes launched by trade unions and students are occurring with greater frequency across Africa in states such as Nigeria, Kenya and South Africa.
Our task in the U.S. is to demonstrate unconditional solidarity with the peoples of Africa, the Middle East, Asia and Latin American in the face of mounting imperialist pressure. The wars in Libya, Sudan, Ivory Coast, Nigeria, Somalia and the DRC are a manifestation of neo-colonialism where the imperialist countries of the West are seeking to maintain control of the strategic minerals, land, waterways and productive labor of the African people.
These developments in Africa and other areas of the so-called “Global South” are by no means episodic, they are consistent. The approach of the anti-imperialist movement in the West therefore must be unrelenting. Irrespective of the class and political character of any individual state on the continent, the people must be defended against neo-colonialism and imperialist machinations.
Genuine anti-imperialists should demand the dismantlement of AFRICOM, the halting of the interference of the Pentagon and the CIA in African affairs and the payment of reparations to the nations of Somalia, Libya, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Tanzania, Ghana and others which have been the subject of military bombing campaigns, direct or indirect interventions and the strangling of their national economies through sanctions and other forms of effective warfare.
In Ivory Coast in 2011, the French imperialists supported by the Obama White House destabilized and overthrew the government of President Laurent Gbagbo. The president was arrested by French commandos and transported to The Netherlands to stand trial before the dreaded International Criminal Court (ICC). The ICC has focused primarily on the pursuit, targeting, arrest and prosecution of African governmental leaders and rebel commanders.
At the same time the ICC has not lifted a finger against Washington, London, Paris and Brussels which has waged unjust wars against the peoples of the Middle East, Asia, Africa and Latin America since the conclusion of World War II. Millions have died and been displaced in wars that have been started by imperialism just over the last quarter century. Iraq, Afghanistan, Haiti, Sudan, Zimbabwe, Syria, Yemen, Colombia, Cuba, Brazil, Venezuela and additional states have had their economies and political systems either destroyed or severely crippled by the western capitalist governments.
Institutions such as the ICC serve as surrogates of the imperialist system. They are the enemy of the majority of the world’s peoples and should be dealt with as such by anti-imperialist forces based in the West.
States such as Zimbabwe, South Africa and even Greece should be defended by progressive forces in the U.S. since their difficulties stem from their efforts to re-correct the ills imposed upon them by the U.S. and its allies. This international proletarian solidarity is a method of forming closer ties with the workers and the oppressed in the post-colonial and semi-colonial nations.
An alliance of revolutionary workers movements in the West with the peoples’ struggles and organizations of the Global South will guarantee the overthrow of imperialism. This is our task in the present period as we build a revolutionary party and movement to take on imperialism in the center of its operations here in the U.S.
Abayomi Azikiwe, editor, Pan-African News Wire