Tuesday, December 30, 2014

#BlackLivesMatter: From Marikana to Ferguson

South Africa and the United States are presently in the early stages of a militant mass Black movement.  In South Africa, MPs affiliated with the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), a self described revolutionary organization, disrupted parliament chanting ‘pay back the money’ to senior officials in the ruling ANC government accused of corruption. Similarly, in the US, militant activists commandeered the microphone at a march sponsored by the National Action Network to protest their exclusion.  While both instances are portrayed as generational divides and disrespect to ‘the elders’, these are ideological disagreements that reflect a conflicting set of class interests and consciousness in the US and South Africa. 

Ronald Walters in the Price of Racial Reconciliation and George Fredrickson in White Supremacy and Black Liberation compare and contrast the legal systems and Black Liberation Movement (BLM) in each country.  Both countries are white settler states that had mass movements to eliminate racial apartheid.  Although the fundamental problem is global capitalism, it expresses itself in three important ways:  neocolonialism, neoliberalism, and militarism. 

‘Osagyefo’ Kwame Nkrumah defined neocolonialism as a nation that has gained political freedom but is still economically dependent on external powers.  Last year, Ronnie Kasrils, a national leader of the ANC and SACP, acknowledged that in the 1980s & 90s ANC ‘gavetoo much away’ during its negotiated settlement with the apartheid government.  The negotiated settlement by the ANC left the land, mines, banks etc in the hands of white monopoly capital.  After 1994, the ANC promoted Black Economic Empowerment (BEE).  BEE was a program that consolidated a Black capitalist class by establishing quotas in the economic sector.   In essence, the ANC transitioned from a liberation movement to a neocolonial government.

 In the US during the McCarthy era, Black liberal organizations such as NAACP and the Urban League either assisted or remained silent when Black radicals like Paul Robeson and WEB Dubois suffered political repression for their uncompromising stand on human rights.  Without this ‘negotiated settlement’, the Black liberal demands of the Civil Rights Movement would not likely have been accepted.  Then, in the 1960s, Richard Nixon supported government programs that reflected his slogan that “Black capitalism is Black Power.”  This process helped to create the Black misleadership class that BAR consistently highlights and the emerging movement must confront.

Since the 1970s, there has been a neoliberal counterrevolution to undermine progressive and radical social movements through the promotion of policies such as trade liberalization, privitazation, deregulation, and cutting of social services.  The EFF has argued that the ANC abandoned the redistributive policies of the Freedom Charter for the neoliberal policies of GEAR and the NDP.   

In the US context, the Black misleadership class remained loyal to the Democratic Party even as it transitioned to the neoliberal policies of the Democratic Leadership Council and Blue Dog Democrats.  While the Democrats supported welfare reform, deregulation of radio airwaves in 1996 and repeal of the Glass Steegal Act, the Black political class said we must support ‘lesser of two evils.”  These and other neoliberal policies not only deepened class contradictions in African America but also the perceived need for police containment in both US and South Africa.
In the US and South Africa, the domestic police force has become militarized.  The ANC government inherited the highly militarized apartheid era police force and a culture of anti-Black racism.  Therefore, even with a majority Black government the police terrorism against Black people remains a major problem in the country.  In order to combat the high crime rates caused by economic dislocation and social alienation, in 2009, the police commissioner once suggested the country adopt a ‘shoot to kill’policy.  The most famous recent instance of police terrorism in South Africa, was the case of 34 miners at Marikana murdered while protesting for higher wages. 

Stateside, calls for law and order and the repeated refrain of ‘Black on Black’ violence legitimated the militarization of domestic police.  This militarization began in the 1960s,  when the local police departments created SWAT teams in order to contain urban rebellions and radical Black organizations.  And even though the CBC is well aware of the Black complaints of police terrorism in their districts, four-fifths voted against an amendment that would have halted Pentagon military transfers to U.S. police departments.  Now, there is an incipient mass Black movement to challenge them and these colonial policies. 

Although these two movements have several similarities, there are differences as well.  A significant difference is political development.  One reason being that the South African Communist Party played a critical role in the anti-apartheid movement and is one part of the Tripartite Alliance.  This means the South African Left has a higher level of ideological and organizational development.  For example, the EFF is a revolutionary socialist and Black consciousness organization with over 500,000 members and 25 members of parliament in just a little over a year of existence.  At its National Assembly held Dec. 13-16 in Bloemfontein, the 33 year old Julius Malema was elected President.  The rank and file of the membership appears to be in their early twenties. 

The protest movement that has emanated from Ferguson, MO has captured the worlds attention from Venezuela to North Korea to Palestine.  It has hearlded a new generation of radical Black organizers who before the murder of Mike Brown had never even attended a protest.  In addition, the national discourse has undergone a seismic shift over the past few weeks due to their grassroots organizing.  This movement is truly a game changer.  But because of the political repression of McCarthyism and Cointelpro, this generation, my generation, has not had the same the level of political continuity and mentorship as our counterparts in South Africa.  For example, Malema and other leaders in EFF received part of their political education in revolutionary Cuba. 

The South African and US based Black Liberation Movement (BLM) have a lot to teach each other.  Unfortunantly, at the moment, the two movements do not appear to be in conversation with one another.  The EFF strategy of ‘economic emancipation in our lifetimes’ and a national assembly to create a political program, point a way forward for the BLM in the US.  At this point, the radical sectors of the BLM must develop organization, strategy, and concrete objectives. It should plan a national assembly with four clear objectives:

1) Examine the historical weakness and strengths of the BLM

2) Assess the current state of the BLM

3) Create an independent Black organization (party, congress, united front etc)

4) Develop a five to ten year plan for the Black Community

The organizations that have been created over past five years to combat the prison system by young Black people (Dream Defenders, Millineal Activists United, #BlackLivesMatter, Students Against Mass Incarceration, Lost Voices etc.) and more established groups (MXGM, AAPRP, Uhuru Movement etc.) can make such a call.  They have the organizers and clout do so.  Hopefully, something is already in the works.  But for now, in the words of the EFF ideologue Frantz Fanon, we “either must fulfill our mission, or betray it.” 

Benjamin Woods is a PhD candidate at Howard University and co-founder of Students Against Mass Incarceration. He can be contacted at benjaminwoods1@yahoo.com, or through his website FreeTheLand.

Monday, September 29, 2014

The Coming Revolution

Ed. Floyd Shivambu. (2014).The Coming Revolution: Julius Malema and the Fight for Economic Freedom.  South Africa: Jacana Media.  

A new book called The Coming Revolution, argues that, contrary to the dominant narrative in western media, the South African Revolution remains incomplete.  Even a cursory examination of the current state of affairs in South Africa reveals that the racial and class inequalities have, in fact, increased and the commanding heights of the economy (land, mines, banks etc) are still dominated by a white minority.  In short, the masses are still suffering. Since the advent of political democracy in 1994, the ANC government has promoted policies like G.E.A.R. and N.D.P. that liberalize and privatize sectors of the economy.  The author boldly states in the book, “the ANC is committed to a right-wing, neoliberal and capitalist agenda which has kept the majority of our people on the margins of South Africa’s economy.”  

In the past, ANC Youth League leaders like Nelson Mandela and Robert Sobukwe promoted more militant positions during the liberation movement. More recently, in 2008 at the ANC Youth League 23rd National Congress a resolution passed that declared “the state should control and be in ownership of strategic sectors of the South African economy.”  Once Juluis Malema and the ANC Youth League began to organize working class and unemployed Black youth to achieve these objectives, he was expelled for ‘disciplinary reasons.’  This treachous action demonstrates the unwillingness of the ANC government to live up to the stated goals of the Freedom Charter.  At this point, they realized a new independent organization was necessary to complete the revolution.  

Enter the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF).  In response to popular demand by workers, students, traditional leaders, youth, non-profits, and others the former ANC Youth league leaders convened a National Assembly on What is to be Done? July 26-27 2013 to create a constitution and founding manifesto.  In its founding documents and actions the organization draws inspiration from a broad revolutionary tradition.  The title for its National Assembly is taken from a seminal text What is to be Done? by V.I. Lenin, leader of the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia (1917). The founding date was selected to correspond with the beginning of the Cuban Revolution (July 26th Movement).  Even the red uniform of the EFF with matching berets is a nod to historic and contemporary revolutions such as in Venezuela.  In this vein, they adopted seven cardinal pillars:

1. Expropriation of South Africa’s land without compensation for equal redistribution.
2. Nationalisation of Mines, banks, and other strategic sectors of the economy, without compensation.
3. Building State and government capacity, which will lead to abolishment of Tenders.
4. Free quality education, healthcare, houses, and sanitation.
5. Massive protected industrial development to create millions of sustainable jobs including Introduction of minimum wages in order to close the wage gap between the rich and the poor.
6. Massive development of the African economy and advocating for a move from reconciliation to justice in the entire continent.
7. Open, accountable, corrupt-free government and society without fear of victimisation by State agencies.

In the book, the EFF references several important African revolutionaries such as Amilcar Cabral and Thomas Sankara who understood the dictum 'Without a revolutionary theory, there can be no successful revolution.’ Therefore, the EFF defines itself as Marxist-Leninist-Fanonian (M-L-F).  M-L-F provides the movement with a scientific method of analysis and practice that identifies political economy as primary. 

At the same time, they state “Black consciousness found a proper home in the EFF and is expressed through its Fanonian character.”  In short, the EFF is not a dogmatic Marxist organization that blindly copies the Soviet Union or China.  Instead, M-L-F is a living science that acknowledges the psychological impact of over four centuries of colonialism and seeks to build a sustainable cultural revolution.  And demonstrating their Pan African dimension they “advocate for the ultimate integration of the African continent through the erosion and eventual elimination of unnecessary borders.”  Kwame Nkrumah’s dream lives through the EFF.  

After one year in existence, the EFF claims a membership of approximately 400,000 and counts 25 members of national parliament. Read that sentence again.  Although EFF has an electoral component, they are clear “the nature and character of our struggle will be that of a grassroots movement- a Protest Movement for fundamental change.”  In its short time, they have supported women’s rights, elimination of homophobia, and families of the 34 miners at Marikana.  In conclusion, let us hope that the EFF vision of economic emancipation spreads throughout the African continent, the African diaspora, and, eventually, the entire world.

Benjamin Woods is a PhD candidate at Howard University and co-founder of Students Against Mass Incarceration. He can be contacted at benjaminwoods1@yahoo.com, or through his website FreeTheLand.

The New Book

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Creating the 'Cuba of Africa': The Life and Work of Mohamed Babu

In 2014 Pan Africanists will commemorate two seminal events in the history of the African liberation movement: 1) the 50th anniversary of the successful revolution in Zanzibar and 2) the 90th birthday of Mohamed Babu.  Although he passed away in 1996, his life is an excellent illustration of the connections between the various movements and figures in the Black World.  Sadly, so much of Babu’s immense contributions to Pan Africanist, Leftist, and progressive movements has been forgotten.  This is unfortunate because of his enduring love and commitment to Zanzibar, the African continent, and humanity at large.
Babu was born in 1924 in Zanzibar, a small but historic island on the east coast of Africa.  Since the 1830s, Zanzibar was dominated by Omani Sultans who were middlemen during the era of British colonialism. While studying abroad in London, Babu was attracted to radical Left wing ideas.  After returning to Zanzibar, he soon became a leader in the Zanzibar Nationalist Party (ZNP), one of the preeminent Nationalist organization on the island.
As Secretary General of the ZNP, he promoted a socialist ideology and built international networks of Black and radical organizers.  For example, in 1958 at the founding conference of the Pan African Movement for East and Central Africa (PAFMECA), Babu was elected secretary.  Later that year while traveling to the historic All African People’s Conference in Accra, Ghana, his delegation would have a chance encounter with future Congolese head of state and Pan African icon Patrice Lumumba in Leopoldville.  At this point, Lumumba was isolated and virtually unknown outside of the Congo but the invitation and travel support provided by PAFMECA allowed him to network with liberation movements throughout Africa.  Lumumba would later be assassinated in a CIA-backed coup.  
Once at the AAPC, Babu quickly connected with the most radical forces such as Frantz Fanon and the FLN of Algeria.  Fanon, Babu, and others convinced those who had achieved independence using non-violent methods like Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana that in some circumstances armed struggle is a necessity.  The official slogan adopted for the conference was “Independence, by any means necessary.”  Malcolm X and other Black activists in the diaspora would hear and popularize this slogan.  
Furthermore, Babu was a close friend and comrade of Malcolm X. They first met in July 1964 at the second summit of the Organization of African Unity (OAU) in Cairo, Egypt.  Later when Malcolm visited Tanzania it was Babu who introduced him to other governments officials and when Babu came to Harlem, Malcolm introduced him to the activist community.  It was radical African leaders such as Babu who helped push Malcolm to the Left after his departure from the Nation of Islam.  In his final months, Malcolm would claim “the system of capitalism needs some blood to suck” so it wasn't a shock to him that “all of the countries that are emerging today from under the shackles of colonialism are turning toward socialism.”
Babu’s international organizing was directly connected to his political work in Zanzibar.  The ZNPs rival was the Afro-Shiriza Party (ASP), a British backed right wing formation that used the slogan “Uhuru Zuia” (Kiswahili for ‘stop the move to independence’).  Although Babu and others promoted a progressive anti-imperialist platform in the ZNP, by mid-1963 reactionary forces exacerbated long standing racial tensions between Africans and Arabs on the island to gain the upper hand in the organization.  Therefore, months before Zanzibar gained independence in December 1963, Babu co-founded the revolutionary socialist Ummah Party. 
The party’s creation was a correct analysis of the potentially revolutionary conditions.  On January 12th 1964, the unemployed and oppressed youth of Zanzibar rose up in spontaneous rebellion.  The Ummah Party leadership used its organizing experience and training in Cuba to teach the youth revolutionary tactics and gain leadership of the insurrection.  The Ummah party and disaffected youth removed the Sultan from power.  This was Africa’s first successful revolution to overthrow neocolonialism
After these game changing events, Frank Carlucci, a US state department official, openly stated that US policy was to prevent Zanzibar from becoming the “Cuba of Africa from which sedition would have spread to the continent.”  A few days later, officer mutinies in Kenya, Uganda, and Tanganyika fed into US fears about a communist conspiracy.  One US state department memo asserts “our central purpose is to strengthen Nyerere” (the new President of Tanganyika).   Then as the US had hoped, if not outright engineered, Nyerere asked the British for military assistance to put down the officer mutinies.   The US fundamentally thought he, Nyerere, was a leader they could control.  After several private meetings in May 1964 , the US, Nyerere, and right wing leaders in Zanzibar engineered an Tanganyika-Zanzibar Union.  The union transferred most major foreign and domestic policy decisions to mainland Tangayika and away from the revolutionary forces who captured state power in Zanzibar.  
Although Nyerere is considered to be one of the African continents most progressive independence leaders, history presents a different story.  He promoted a unique brand of ‘African socialism’ based on the notion of a communal, classless traditional African society.  His economic policies of ‘self-reliance’ led to Tanzania having a food surplus to importer of food.  Babu, on the other hand, saw no contradiction between Pan Africanism and scientific socialism.  For him, socialism was not based on a traditional African past or even the Soviet Union but the social conditions in contemporary Africa.  In addition, unlike Nyerere who associated with the moderate gradualist in the Monrovia group, Babu supported the immediate unification of Africa. 
After the Tanganyika-Zanzibar union he was appointed to what were in his opinion powerless positions in government primarily in order to watch him.  He and his comrades functioned as the Left within the Tanzanian government shaping several of the regimes perceived progressive policies. But in 1972, following the murder of the President of Zanzibar, Babu was arbitrarily incarcerated by the allegedly progressive Julius Nyerere.  It was because of an international campaign under the leadership of people like the Guyanese and Pan African freedom fighter Walter Rodney that Babu was released after six years.  
Babu’s life is a reflection of the dialectical method he adopted in his life and work.  His political work is an example of someone who found a fundamental unity in what appears to be opposing tendencies.  He was a Zanzibarian Nationalist and a staunch internationalist.  He claimed that Socialism would come through African unity and vice versa.  He was miltant and uncompromising but argued radicals had to address the bread and butter issues of people. In conclusion, one of the major lessons of his life we should  take away is encapsulated in the slogans of the 7th Pan African Congress he co-organized in Kampala, Uganda in 1994: ‘Resist Recolonisation’ and ‘Don’t Aganise, organize!” 

Babu, A.M. 1981. African Socialism or Socialist Africa. London: Zed Press
Ed. Salma Babu & Amrit Wilson. 2002. The Future That Works: The Selected Writings of A.M. Babu. Trenton, NJ: Africa World Press.
Campbell, Horace. “Abdulrahman Mohammed Babu 1924-1996 A Personal Memoir” African Journal of Political Science (1996), Vol. 1 No. 2, 240-246.
Wilson, Amrit. 1989. US Foreign Policy and Revolution: The Creation of Tanzania. Winchester, MA: Pluto Press.
____________. “Abdul Rahman Mohamed Babu: Politician, Scholar, and Revolutionary” The Journal of Pan African Studies, vol. 1 No. 9, August 2007. 
____________. 2013.  The Threat of Liberation: Imperialism and Revolution in Zanzibar. New York: Pluto Press. 

Benjamin Woods is a PhD candidate at Howard University and co-founder of Students Against Mass Incarceration. He can be contacted at benjaminwoods1@yahoo.com, or through his website FreeTheLand.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Who and What is “The Left”?

The January 1st edition of the Washington Post published an Op-Ed titled “The Resurgent Progressives.”  The writer, E.J. Dionne, claims “the emergence of a Democratic left will be one of the major stories of 2014.”  The author bemoans the rightward shift in American politics and admits the US “needs a real Left.”  But do progressive local referendums, the ascendancy of individuals like Sen. Elizabeth Warren, and NYC mayor Bill De Blasio represent the “the real Left.”  Hmm, I don’t think so.  Once upon a time these figures would have been, at best, referred to as liberals even moderates by some. 

Although the terms Left and Right are regularly applied in the white corporate media, they are rarely defined.  Throughout most of the twentieth century, particularly the Cold War, “the Left” meant some form of socialism, communism, or anarchism.  We should return to this definition.  The central unifying factor of the “The Left” should be anti-capitalism.  Speaking only of income inequality just. doesn't. quite. cut it.  “The Left” must question private ownership itself and demand a complete redistribution of land and wealth including, but not limited to, the nationalization of banks, factories, and communications systems etc.

As previously stated, this was once the criteria.  For example, Howard Zinn claims that one hundred years ago in 1914 the Socialist Party USA had over 1200 office-holders in the US.  Twenty years later, during the era of the popular front, Robert Cohen in When the Old Left was Young writes that in 1936 half of all college students in this country participated in a one day strike and rally to protest fascism and war.  At the height of the anti-war movement in 1970, over 10,000 people gathered in Philadelphia for the Revolutionary People's Convention to write a new US constitution.  The keynote speaker was Black revolutionary, Huey Newton.  These are examples of a truly insurgent Left. 

None of those remarks are meant to belittle the accomplishments, impact, and possibilities of the liberal policy's that have been enacted.  A case in point, eighteen states have legalized gay marriage, Washington and Colorado legalized marijuana, and like other municipalities, Washington DC has raised its minimum wage to $11.50.  Similar to industrial unionism in the 1930s, if the SEIU and other labor unions commit hundreds, perhaps, thousands of young organizers to organize fast food, low wage workers there could be a strong multi-national labor movement in the US.  The beacons of hope for a truly resurgent Left are socialist alternative city council woman Kshama Sawant in Seattle, WA and Revolutionary Black Nationalist Chokwe Lumumba in Jackson, MS.  But what does a truly resurgent Left mean for the Black Liberation movement?

In Reluctant Reformers Robert Allen argues that US social reform movements from abolitionism to labor has been sabotaged by racism/white supremacy.  Unfortunately, due to the ongoing impact of the southern strategy perfected by Ronald Reagan AND the Democratic party, racism hurts the chances of the success of multi-racial organizations even today. Moreover, it illustrates the continued relevance of Left Nationalist formation(s) (ex: African Blood Brotherhood, Black Panthers, MXGM).  Following the strategy laid out in the Jackson Plan of participatory and economic democracy, the election of Chokwe Lumumba offers possibilities and potential lessons for "The Left" generally and the Black Left in particular. With the correct definition and strategy for "The Left" we can organize to smash capitalism and end national oppression, once and for all.

Benjamin Woods is a PhD candidate at Howard University and co-founder of Students Against Mass Incarceration. He can be contacted at benjaminwoods1@yahoo.com, or through his website FreeTheLand.