By NAT WEINSTEIN
Imperialism’s relentless super-exploitation and oppression of the people of the neo-colonial world has steadily reduced the 4.75 billion human beings in Africa, Asia, and Latin America down to the lowest depths of poverty. That means that the great majority of this planet’s 6 billion souls live as though scientific, technological, and economic development had stopped hundreds of years ago.
Terrible as these simple statistics may be, all too many people think that imperialism is so powerful that it can reign supreme over its empire indefinitely. The evidence we shall present below, however, suggests otherwise.
Despite the awesome power of imperialism: its weapons of mass destruction and the enormous accumulation of wealth at its disposal, it is becoming ever more difficult for the world’s capitalists to maintain control over their vast empire.
Lately the capitalist mass media has been agonizing over the failure of imperialism’s so-called “peacekeepers” to bring peace to an increasingly miserable and thus ever more ungovernable Africa. The appalling misery suffered by the peoples of Africa after more than 500 years of imperialist enslavement is comparable only to history’s most draconian holocausts.
This past month, media headlines were focused on the civil war in Sierra Leone and the “senseless war” between Ethiopia and Eritrea. Meanwhile, civil war in the Congo continues without let-up; and landless veterans of Zimbabwe’s war for independence from Britain continue their struggle for a place in the sun by occupying over 700 white-owned farms.
And Black South Africa, despite its victory over apartheid, continues to suffer undiminished super-exploitation by the country’s white capitalist class. The main change is that the oppressive forces of the South African capitalist state now wears a Black face.
But these few cases are only the tip of the iceberg. According to the Financial Times of London, there are 20 wars going on in Africa at the present time. This is a clear indication that the misery of the masses of indigenous Africa is getting worse and the victims are fighting back however they can-most often ineffectively, because of misleadership.
In Africa, wars between nations and within nations have not only proliferated; they have degenerated from a generalized struggle of the exploited and oppressed against their imperialist oppressors into a desperate and hopeless struggle among the victims of imperialism for bare survival. What we see in Africa today are for the most part wars between ethnic groups, clans, and tribes without a clear vision of the road to freedom from super-exploitation and oppression.
The big question is not what and who is responsible for the terrible tragedy of Africa at the end of the second millennium. (There are few if any in the neo-colonial world, at least, who don’t know that imperialism is solely responsible.) The main question is why the struggle of Africa’s peoples against imperialism has degenerated into a blind fratricidal struggle for survival by its victims.
But before we can begin to answer this question, let’s see what Africa’s problem looks like today. What we will see-we intend to show-reflects the more general problem that afflicts global capitalism.
Sierra Leone: Africa in microcosm
The 4.5 million people of the small West African country of Sierra Leone have already suffered from nine years of civil war that has so far left 50,000 dead and forced half the population to flee their homes.
Last July, a “peace” agreement between the Sierra Leone government headed by President Ahmed Tejan Kabbah and several rebel formations was brokered by the main instrument of imperialism in Africa today, the United Nations.
As part of the agreement, Foday Sankoh, the head of the main rebel force, the Revolutionary United Front (RUF), was “appointed” chairman of the Strategic Mineral Resources Commission-the government agency in charge of the country’s diamond mines and other valuable mineral resources. However, the word “appointment” is misleading; the RUF already controlled the region where most of the mines are located. Thus, the agreement really amounted to leaving Sankoh’s RUF in physical control of the country’s lucrative natural resources-in exchange for Sankoh’s agreement to disarm. The only reason for this highly unusual arrangement was that the Kabbah government and the UN did not have the power, given the relation of forces at the time, to remove the RUF from its dominant position in the region.
In other words, it amounted to an attempt by the representatives of imperialism to gain time, bring in sufficient forces for regaining control on the ground, and then either crush the RUF or buy off Sankoh with as small a piece of the action as they could get him to agree to.
Meanwhile, the the UN prepared to mobilize and send 11,000 “peacekeepers” to Sierra Leone “to help police the country.” (There were at that time, on all sides, some 45,000 combatants.)
Early last month, UN “peacekeepers” attempted to disarm the RUF. But that attempt failed. Instead, Foday Sankoh’s RUF succeeded in disarming some 500 Zambian UN peacekeepers-who handed over their weapons, armored cars, and other UN-supplied peacekeeping equipment without a fight. The media reported that the Zambians “were being held hostage.”
That’s when the imperialist news media went into shock. They drew the obvious conclusion that the ease with which the peacekeepers had surrendered their guns, armored cars, and trucks suggested that they had little incentive to risk their lives.
(Sankoh was captured not long afterward and is still a prisoner of the Sierra Leone government. The “hostages” were all released over a period of a couple of weeks in May.)
Even though the position of the Sierra Leone people is hardly one of great strength, the position of imperialism has suffered a serious decline. We get some idea of how bad a position imperialism is in Africa, and by implication everywhere in the neo-colonial world, when we note that none of the imperialist countries-the American imperialists least of all-were willing to volunteer any of their own troops to serve among the UN force they needed for pacifying Sierra Leone.
This is a sharp change from the time when British, French, and other imperialists would unhesitatingly intervene with their own military forces when their puppet governments and the latter’s indigenous troops in the captive countries could not maintain order.
Thus, the 11,000 UN “peacekeepers,” in addition to Africans from Zambia, Kenya, Ghana, Guinea, and Nigeria-together with neo-colonial troops from India, Jordan, and Bangladesh-compose the force assembled to defend their own oppressors’ interests in Sierra Leone.
The Nigerians, which reportedly are the best armed and trained of all in the UN force, later withdrew after their soldiers were caught in a crossfire between government and rebel troops and some 20 Nigerians were killed or wounded.
Symptomatic of the current imperialist disarray, the main reason the Nigerians left was because the United States and other rich countries refused to pay their expenses.
The Sierra Leone army itself, said to number 5000, is unreliable, to say the least. One New York Times reporter, Norimitsu Onishi, reporting from the scene of action, notes: “In the anarchy of Sierra Leone, many who were soldiers during the day became rebels at night.”
Britain, the colonial power with major interests in Sierra Leone, was pressed by its imperialist peers in the UN to send in reliable and adequately armed troops. The British reluctantly agreed to send in some 800 heavily armed paratroopers to bolster the collapsing UN “peacekeepers.”
Imperialism appears, for the moment at least, to be in a quandary, with no clear idea of how to restabilize what some bourgeois political analysts have called “basket cases”-in reference to countries like Sierra Leone, and Ethiopia and Eritrea.
The source of imperialism’s problem runs deep. Imperialist nations are showing an increasing reluctance to send their own national troops anywhere lately-and not just in Africa. We saw the same sort of squabbling between imperialists over which of them should commit more of their troops on the ground during their war on Yugoslavia-before, during, and after the U.S.-led NATO intervention.
There is no mystery here; they have every reason to think twice about sending their troops on imperialist missions such as in Yugoslavia and Sierra Leone. Obviously, it’s because the lesson of Vietnam is alive and well. Imperialism may be willing to shed the blood of its young men in defense of capitalist profits, but Vietnam showed the rulers of the world that its young men and their mothers, brothers, sisters, and cousins had different feelings about the matter!
To be sure, however, imperialism cannot afford to walk away from even the most hopeless “basket cases” in Africa. If they do they must also abandon untold billions of dollars in potential profits. But even more compelling is the unsettling impact it would have on the morale of their agents in Africa-as well as elsewhere in the world.
But just as it is impossible for Sierra Leone, by itself, to find a way out of its desperate plight, neither is there a way out for imperialism, notwithstanding the immense power at its disposal-as we shall see below.
Obstacles to African liberation
What is it that has stood in the way of the neo-colonial world’s ability to carry their many attempts at revolution to a successful conclusion? While there certainly have been successful struggles to achieve political independence from imperialism, independence alone is not a solution to the problems they face.
A real solution is much more than the conquest of military and political power. That’s only a very first step toward real freedom.
Only the industrial and economic transformation of a backward economy into an advanced industrial economy can bring the inhabitants of the neo-colonial world up to 21st century living standards. Short of that, there is no end to the misery that comes from not having enough of the necessities of life for everyone.
Moreover, it should be understood that the truce that comes after a partial victory by the oppressed against the oppressor is not an end to the struggle. When capitalists lose a battle or a war, they don’t give up. They are only forced to bide their time and wait until the upsurging movement that led to a partial victory recedes and its force is spent.
Then the oppressors invariably launch their counterattacks to take back whatever concessions they were forced to make-including even the trappings of independence.
In the meantime, history shows, the imperialists assiduously use their monopoly over capital-without which economic development is impossible-to block the road to real freedom. This is what they did in every case from South Africa to Algeria, and from the Soviet Union to Cuba,
And if that’s not enough, world imperialism uses its monopoly over the world market to more or less completely block the road to development in Africa and elsewhere.
In other words, the preconditions for economic development-access to capital and to the world division of labor-can be achieved by the neo-colonial countries only if they have socialist revolutions. And no less important, even a socialist revolution must be conceived as incomplete until it is extended to the most advanced industrially developed capitalist countries.
Only a workers’ socialist revolution in major industrial countries like Germany, France, Britain, or the United States would begin to help bring the neo-colonial countries into the 21st century by providing them with the capital and other material assistance needed for the development of the industrial infrastructure of their national economies. Such help will never come from imperialism.
A socialist United States or a socialist Germany, France, or Britain would have nothing to lose and everything to gain by helping their class brothers and sisters in Africa, Asia, and Latin America to become equal members of a Socialist United States of the World. Such a united socialist world order, of course, won’t come all at once.
But once the socialist revolution is extended to one of these major industrial powers, it becomes virtually unstoppable, because such a nucleus of a world socialist order will begin raising living standards almost instantly.
Of course, it goes without saying that a new leadership is needed in the world today-everywhere, in developed and undeveloped countries alike.
The world needs leaders that understand history’s lessons-starting with the fact that the bourgeois-democratic revolution against imperialist domination in the world as it is today is impossible.
Promise of past revolutions unfulfilled
The victory of the Russian socialist revolution at the end of World War I also saw the birth of the kind of leadership needed in the world today. That first successful conquest of state power by the Russian working class became the model for world socialist revolution and provided living proof of the promise of revolutionary Marxism.
However, the Russian Bolshevik leaders in the time of V. I. Lenin and Leon Trotsky fully understood that the revolution had a permanent character and could only be completed and made absolutely irreversible by its extension to the advanced industrial countries.
But even the great Russian socialist revolution was unable to realize its historic promise for three main reasons:
1) The backwardness of Russia-its lack of a fully developed industrial infrastructure and its largely illiterate population.
2) The irrepressible counter-revolutionary efforts of world imperialism.
3) The betrayal of the Stalinist bureaucracy that usurped the leadership of the party of Lenin and assassinated virtually all of Lenin and Trotsky’s cothinkers, including Trotsky.
It’s no accident that Stalin’s betrayal began with his slogan of “Socialism in One Country.” This was much more than a mere tactical slogan; it turned out to mean “socialism” only in one country! And that meant socialism nowhere since, as indicated above, socialism is impossible without access to the world market, its resources and the world division of labor.
And, as we now are all too aware, the Stalinist bureaucracy ultimately capitulated completely to imperialism and are now scrambling as fast as they can to become capitalists.
However, that is only one side of a very contradictory world situation. One must keep in mind that history wields a double-edged sword. On the one hand, history has put powerful reactionary forces into the hands of world capitalist imperialism.
On the other hand, all things, in time, turn into their opposites. And capitalism, which once played an enormously progressive role in history, has long ago outlived its usefulness. From a creative force that accelerated the development of the productive forces of humanity, capitalism has become an obstacle to further development-and worse.
If it is not overthrown and replaced by a rational social system in which the guiding principle is to serve the needs and interests of all, not the profits of the few, the current descent by world capitalism toward a world of a multitude of little wars will not stop until one big war ends everything.
World capitalism, as Africa can testify to, is driven by its need to extend its domination to every corner of the globe. Capitalism goes everywhere only to feed its insatiable appetite for higher rates of profit. Not only does it drive the peoples of its captive nations ever further down into ever lower depths, but it must also squeeze every last ounce of blood and sweat out of its own working classes.
But this world is finite. Capitalism has nowhere to sell the increasing supplies of goods produced with more machines and less workers to buy them. It is doomed to choke on an ever-mounting flood of unsold goods flowing from its increasingly productive technology.
Those in charge of regulating the economy are desperately trying to ease it down before it comes crashing down. They do so because they know that sooner or later the invisible hand of capitalist market forces will have its way and not so gently bring the productive forces to a stop, as it has throughout the history of capitalism.
Karl Marx noted long ago that being determines consciousness. And the relative stability of world capitalism in its imperialist strongholds has kept the living standards of most workers within tolerable levels for an amazingly extended period of over half a century.
But no one, not even the Alan Greenspans of capitalism, can cheat history forever. Everything comes to an end, and this too will end. When it does, the long-slumbering workers of the world will have no choice but to make up for all the time that was lost-and with a fury and combativity that must surpass its greatest moments in world history.