Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Pan-African Internationalism - 21st Century Pan-Africanism, Part 2


Life, Struggle, and the Pursuit of Liberation The Dynamics of the African Condition

Abasi Shomari Baruti
January 4, 2012

It is all too common today to hear people talk about “the” problem with African people. Attempts to identify “what’s wrong with black people” have become both the subject of routine discussions from the confines of barbershops to the ivory towers of academia. There is no mystery as to why people routinely ask and pontificate over this question. The fact is African people live in some of the worst conditions that exist. As a nation of people, African people are on the bottom of society wherever we find ourselves. Politically speaking, we watch what passes for political leadership prove to be corrupt, incapable, or unwilling to fight for the interests of African people and the African Diaspora. Economically, African people are still among the poorest in the world, wherever we are. We suffer from diseases and medical ailments which have long been eradicated in other populations, but that continue among African people due to economic deprivation. Socially, we are characterized as morally bankrupt, super-predators, a “permanent underclass,” and generally seen as the dregs of society. Our culture is used as the stuff of entertainment to the world, but not in a way that upholds the beauty of African culture; on the contrary, our culture is ridiculed as buffoonish and not worth of serious consideration. Violence committed against African people by other African people is held up as “senseless” and a further indicator of the generally low moral character of African people. African students are the most likely to be the least educated and most incarcerated. The list of examples goes on. For the most part, the problem is summed up as being our own fault, and no one else's. We are tried and convicted by outsiders and our own selves as worthless. It is common to hear African people refer to our own kind in the worst kind of ways. No excuse is acceptable to explain the conditions and habits of African people if it does not place the blame and responsibility squarely and only on the shoulders of the masses of African people.

For literally centuries now people have engaged in analysis of what plagues African people and is at the bottom of the abject conditions in which we live and die. Political theorists, sociologists, clergy, economists, and professional thinkers of all stripes have had their say, and what they have come up with, for the most part, has been anything but effective and the symptoms of the problem has been intellectualized to death. Whole industries have sprung up around the diagnosis and treatment of the symptoms of the African condition; many have found their fortunes selling solutions that are supposed to cure what ails us. The bulk of these ‘solutions’ have amounted to so much snake oil. However, it is important that a review of the various notions about what has and continues cause African people to constitute the “wretched of the earth.” The significance of identifying the various lines of analysis about our people lies in the importance of philosophy as a major element of African degradation and liberation.

One line of thinking, one of the oldest and longest surviving theories is that African people are inferior by design. That “God” or “Jehovah” or “Allah” or some deity simply decided to make African people the footstool of the world. From the 14th century to this day, this theory still survives. It textbooks, advertising, military analysis, and all sorts of places, the notion of inherent African inferiority prevails on in the twenty-first century.

Christian philosophies have summed up African people as being everything from the accursed, hybrid  descendants of renegade angels  to the descendants of Ham, and cursed by his Noah to become the servants of the rest of humanity; especially white humanity. There are even theologies invented by African people which echo these sentiments, capturing the essence of self-hatred and elevating it to a level of universal, cosmic, spiritual truth. 

There are other philosophies which get closer to objective truth, but that still miss the mark by more than a mile. The theories identify that slavery and colonialism has so deformed the African. These ideas recognize the vicious impact that colonial domination and chattel slavery have had on African people as being a real reason for the way African people are today. However, instead of continue to follow this line of thought to its logical conclusions, it doubles back on itself and says that, even in the face of unprecedented social destruction of African people by others, that because slavery and colonialism ended so long ago, that the African should be “over it by now”. This line of thinking attempts to make the case that while African people are largely “disadvantaged” that we should still simply be able to pull ourselves up by the bootstraps and become productive members of society. The people who push this brand of social theory, which is so much snake oil, would have us to believe that because African people are no longer subject to outright enslavement on a plantation, that the only explanation as to why we still suffer can only be found in our own midst, and nowhere else.

Then, there is a third line. A truly vicious line in that is has been so thoroughly ingrained in the minds of African people that it plays havoc on our own ability to get a grip on ourselves. There is the position that “Black people are our own worst enemy.” We have been taught, and are now the main carries of, the infectious nonsense that somehow, the main impediment to African development is African people. A significant portion of our community has come to accept that African people cannot “get it together” and offer no better reason that “just because.” We accept the fallacies that come from outside our communities and that traitorous forces, who look just like us, enthusiastically work to transmit these falsehoods into our communities. We hold onto, in lieu of a better set of ideas, these notions about our inability to find unity, to spend our money wisely, to govern fairly, to support each other, and so on, and so forth, and we are convinced that this is evidence enough. These self-hating philosophies are so common among our people that even those of us who are supposedly enlightened, conscious, or even revolutionary still cling to the unconsciously.

What is clear about all of these theories of what constitutes “what’s wrong with black people today” is that they all begin from a particular point of view, and what must be exposed is that these basic points of view stand in opposition to the truth of the matter. Because these ideas about us, most of which begin outside of the African world, are stand on false foundations, we must come to understand that they do not, and cannot effectively answer the question. Because these diagnoses are based on incorrect analyses, they can, at best, only serve to numb us to some of the symptoms of the main problem African people suffer from. At worst, these theories actually contribute the main problem either by keeping it concealed or feeding into it, further compounding the main problem.

What must become clear is that the conditions that African people find ourselves in have a definite cause and a definite solution. Pan-African Internationalism is the distillation of a clear understanding of the dialectics which have led African people to where are and what must be done to transform our collective lives.

The Historical Basis of the African Condition

It has been said that if you do not know your history, you are bound to repeat it. This idea of history being cyclical is not completely true; however, we must come to understand the grain of truth that it reflects. The fact is that, embedded in history are the recollections of how things have happened, and the point from which we have to begin in order to understand the present and the basis from which we work to create the future. 

It has become common for people to talk about the African condition as if it has no historical roots, as if African people simply woke up one day and found ourselves such as we are. In working to figure out the why of our conditions, many of us have completely thrown out the investigation of our history as the correct place to begin understanding, and so we tend to develop ideas that miss the mark. The inescapable reality is that the modern African condition is nothing if it is not the present expression of our historical development. In the final analysis, if we are going to solve our problems, we must begin by knowing our roots and finding out where in the growth of our nation the blight of underdevelopment began and how it has grown up around the trunk of African life. When we do this, we give ourselves the ability to identify the source of our problems and to overturn them.

African history is as old as humanity itself. We are the originators of the human species and are responsible for populating the earth. On this basis, it becomes clear why African civilization and culture was one of the most, if not the most, developed social phenomena in the world. The length and breadth of our history has filled volumes of books and is too far reaching for the purpose and space of this work, however, it must be stated that African history did not begin in a cotton patch in Alabama nor did it start after non-African people came to Africa. 

African people, up until about the 14th century, were building complex, sophisticated, civilizations and cultures which were reflective of the uniqueness of the African cultural genius. There were differences in the way we built our various sub-African cultures; however, ingrained in each of them were certain identifiable cultural practices that united our overall culture and guided our understanding of humanity and its place in the world.

Out of this process of nation building, African society became a significant and critical factor in world trade. We had consistent contact with peoples from as far away as China all the way to the Americas. As a natural part of our participation in commercial and cultural trade with the rest of the world, Africa had been in contact with Europe since long before Rome and Greece. This connection would prove to be the most critical in terms of the future development of Africa. In the mean time, we must be clear that African development had two major aspects that are critical to understanding our present state. First, African people, by the time of the Roman, Han, or Mayan empires, had already establish numerous high-level civilizations, and we were continuing the process of development. Second, African social development was bringing the disparate cultures of African people into closer contact, causing the integration of once isolated peoples on various levels, had this process continued undisturbed by outside forces, it is highly likely that Africa would have consolidate continental wide- nation of some  sort by this point in history.

What this should tell us is that the notions about the “inherent inferiority” of African people are false, and in fact, it is clear that African culture reflects all the hallmarks of any advanced civilization and did so long before other advanced civilizations were born. Furthermore, it should overturn the notion that contact with Europe somehow made things better for the African, when the fact is European invasion retarded and completely stifled the natural and historical development of Africa by African people.

But the question remains: how did we go from the heights of human progress to an overall condition of being at the bottom of society wherever we find ourselves, and on an international scale? This question is the one that both demands we understand history and use it to guide our understanding, as opposed to mythology, fantasy, and cynicism. And it exposes the true nature of our current conditions, which is what we need to deal with the solution to our problems.

Invasion, Enslavement, Dispersal and Colonization

By the 14th century, Africa was thriving. In every corner of the continent, from the Nile valley, to the Niger delta, to the Cape of Good Hope, Africa stood tall. There were communal societies that had survived for centuries and were beacons of true democracy and egalitarianism. There were warrior kingdoms that had demonstrated such military prowess as to become examples to other nations in waging war. There was scientific greatness such as the Kemetic development of geometry, the Dagon development of Astronomy, the Zimbabwean mastery of architecture, and the masterful grasp of spiritually by the Yoruba. Everywhere you turned, Africa was on the move. We had been engaged in trade with India, the Mediterranean, and even South America for centuries. We had master the art of metal crafting, glass working, and achieved a level of advanced scientific skill in agricultural that produced the kind of abundance that promoted a truly humane society. Again, Africa was on the move. However, over the course of the 14th century, African came under assault by European power and this was the course of events that would forever change the way African people related to the world.

By the later part of the 14th Century, Europe began what would become a blood war of dominance against the whole world. Once a place of unending, internecine strife, what came to be known as Europe consolidated, through sheer force of arms, its society into a world menace. Driven by the dynamic tension of its internal contradictions and the growing awareness of wealth beyond its borders, Europe developed a tenuous nation unity based on the shared objective of capturing wealth. Incapable of producing its own wealth and stretched to its own capacities, white imperialism began to seek out wealth elsewhere. It discovered the trading of enslaved Africans, largely being carried out by Arab nations at the time, and negotiated its way into the process. Shortly afterwards, white explorers stumbled upon what they would call “the Americas” in their greedy pursuit of domination over the ancient trading route, known as the silk road. Once they came to understand that they had not found a back route to India, but instead landed on the shores of a land completely new to them, they immediately turned to the task of subduing it. Initially interested in gold and precious metals, the feudal nobility of Europe began to perceive the Americas as a potential source of untold wealth. Eventually, after realizing that they could not martial or sustain the labor power needed to cultivate their newly seized colonies from among their own population, they turned to the enslavement of the native peoples. However, when the filth and disease of the European continued to wipe out the original peoples of the Americas and the stiff resistance of the natives became apparent, the European turned to the African. Long aware of the intelligence and capacity of African people, particularly in agriculture, European imperialist initiated what would become the most gruesome, heinous, crime against humanity that word has ever witnessed in the form of the Great Maafa. Known as the “African slave trade” or “Trans-Atlantic Slavery,” the process of raping Africa and kidnapping scores of millions of people was the first step in the process of European ascendancy as global imperialist. After ravaging the African continent and destroying the fabric of African society, European imperialism then came to realize the wealth of African land itself and completed its domination of African people through the violent colonization of Africa and the brutal extraction of material wealth from the continent and control of African people. “The Scramble for Africa” was the stroke of death for African independence and natural development. The result of this savage attack on African life was, first, the dispersal of African people throughout the world, the destruction of African society and sovereignty, and the subjugation of African people through various forms of colonialism. This process led to the establishment of the parasitic system of international capitalism.

Everywhere African people found ourselves we were the colonial subjects of a hostile and rapacious European imperialism. Out of a desire to justify all of this to European society, the bourgeoisie intellectuals begin to develop the theories that would come to characterize the African, theories that have become entrenched today among us. 

The combination of practical and ideological domination, total domination of every aspect of African life by European imperialism is where our problems begin. Every single problem that African people face in the 21st Century is tied directly back to the overthrow of African self-determination by European imperialism. Every single manifestation of dysfunction among African people, the world over, is the direct result of enslavement and outright subjugation. Every issue that we face runs right back to the forcible destruction, dispersal, containment, and exploitation of our people and land for the purposes of European profit mongering. This process is known as primitive accumulation, and it is on this pedestal of slavery and colonialism that capitalism stands. It is on the enforced misery, the genocidal attack, and ongoing, forcible domination of African people and other oppressed peoples of the world that European dominance stands. What this means is that the conditions of the world in the 21st Century are directly tied to the assault on African and the destruction of African civilization that began centuries ago and which exists today.

The Parasite and the Pedestal of Slavery: What’s Really Wrong with Black People Today

To put it another way, what is truly wrong with black people today has little to do with some inherent defect. Our problem is that a parasite has attached itself to us and is draining away our lifeblood, as a nation of people. The parasite is tricky to diagnose, but once it has been identified, we are on the right track to solving our problems. A parasite, like a leach, or a tapeworm, or cancer lives by feeding on the body of its host. A person can go out every day and labor to produce food, bring the food home, prepare the meals, and eat, but you continue to get weaker. The harder you work, the weaker you become. You consult your friends, your pastor, or imam, you talk to your politicians, and they all give you different advice, but none of it seems to work. You eat and you eat but you steadily get weaker and weaker. The problem is the parasite and its relationship to you. Its whole existence, its very life is predicated on not working or laboring, but attaching itself to you and livening of the energy you expend to feed yourself and feed it. It does nothing to aide you; it does not give you strength, or enhance you in any kind of way. It continues to feed on you, unmercifully, and if you do not figure it out soon enough, it kills you. In fact, the parasite is so dead set on doing nothing for itself that it will die with you once it has bled you dry!

Regardless of the good intentions that people may have, no amount of praying, no amount of compromising with the parasite, no amount of singing to it is going to get the parasite out of your system. And so finally, you go the doctor and the doctor tells you the real problem is that you are infected with a bloodsucking, life-draining, parasite. Some of us, even after we know about the parasite continue on praying, voting, signing, drinking, and smoking in hopes that we can get the parasite out or at least learn to live with. However, until the correct antidote is applied to the situation, you cannot e rid of the parasite, and to try to live with it is to practice insanity. To attempt to negotiate a life with a bloodsucking parasite attached to your body is to spend the remainder of your life adjusting to growing pain, weakness, and misery. However, when you take the right kind of medicine, the parasite will be forced to detach itself and it can then be “flushed down the toilet stool of history.”

This is the nature of white power, of European capitalist imperialism. It came into existence as a force that required the blood of others to survive and thrive. It required that African people be enslaved, that the first nations of the western hemisphere be eradicated. It required the resources, technology, ingenuity, and life of other peoples be appropriated, stolen, for its own use. 

Capitalism was born into the world on the backs of everyone and everything not a part of the European ruling class. Had it not been for the brutal rape of Africa, the ungodly destruction of the native peoples of the Americas, capitalism could not have made it past its infancy. Had it not been for the conversion of Asia into one huge drug house, had it not been for the eradication of the Taino peoples of the Caribbean, the aboriginal peoples of Australia, Europe would not have been able to pass from a place of death and misery, a place of poverty to the most power nation in the world.

What we must understand first, before we can solve the problems we face as a nation of people, is the misery of African people is the basis for European bourgeois luxury and vitality. In order for capitalism to exist as it does, it requires, and if need be demands, that there be poor people that it can exploit. It requires a pedestal to stand on. It could not have even existed had it not first accumulated the basic wealth it needed to come into existence full blown. African people are the pedestal upon which white power stands and extends itself throughout the world, and if we are going to improve our conditions this must change.

In the final analysis, the problem with African people today is capitalist imperialism, a rotten, parasitic system that has as its basis the enslavement and colonial domination of African people. Until we regain our ability to be self-determining, until we again totally control our collective destiny, the symptoms of the problem will remain.

Destroy the Barrel: The Answer to Our Problems

In the tradition of the African, particularly in the United States, there is the notion of “crabs in a barrel” which tries to characterize the conditions of African people. The saying is that African people are like crabs in a barrel trying to get out. Whenever one gets to the top of the barrel and is likely to pull itself out, it is pulled right back down by the other crabs. This saying is used to sum up the notion that Africans can move forward because we hold ourselves back. On top of this truly false claim are the even more ludicrous claims about what we must do in order to solve our problems. The religious sector tells us that a focus on our spiritual lives and our “personal relationship with God” is the answer. The politico’s tell us that we have to vote more and continue to try to integrate into the political powerhouse of establishment politics, and our conditions will be forever changed. The economic sectors of our communities tell us that we need to get more jobs, develop businesses, and generally be better capitalist than the capitalists and we can buy our way out of misery. And finally, but not be outdone, there is the social sector which lays the blame on everything from teenage mothers, to children born out of wedlock, to youth fashion, to gang affiliations as our main problems. If only we could get African children to wait until they were older to have babies, get married and stay married, wear conventional fashion in conventional ways, not join gangs, everything would be o.k.

This is utter, unadulterated, nonsense and so a historical and illogical as to humorous if not so tragic.
It must be recognized that in each of these proposed solutions to the crabs in the barrel mentality, which is supposedly at the heart of our struggle as people, represents a grain of truth. However, the simple fact is that none of these things are responsible for our conditions, and so none of them taken separately or even taken together, will end the ongoing destruction of African people.

Beginning from the part of the folk wisdom, which is actually true in the notion of crabs in the barrel, we can see two very simple things. First, no amount of praying, paying, or conforming is going to get crabs out of a barrel. The second thing is this. Crabs only find themselves in a barrel because of someone putting them there, and generally for using the crabs to satisfy their own needs, at the expense of the crabs’ lives. This being the case, no outside force can be expected to liberate the crabs. If the crabs want to get out of the barrel, they must break the barrel up or overturn the barrel. Either way, until the confines of the barrel, the immediate cause of the problem is dealt with; the crabs can never escape their fate as the dinner of the crab catcher.

In addition to this, what the purveyors of the crabs-in-a-barrel philosophy fail to mention is what awaits the crabs on the other side of the rim. Assuming that the crabs could escape the struggle of being in a barrel, just on the other side is the crab catcher – the force responsible for the conditions of the crabs in the first place. To think that somehow or another the critical task of the African is simply to escape falls flat when we come face to face with the existence of the crab-catcher. This is where we begin to see the limitations and outright dishonesty of this line of thinking. It is clear that no matter the individual accomplishments of anyone of us, no amount individual advance is enough to improve our total condition. The crab catcher intends to have a meal of the crabs. For us, capitalist imperialism is the crab catcher, and even if we could get out of the barrel, white capitalism is there, just beyond the gates of our immediate prison, watching to ensure that any one of us who escapes does not intervene with its intentions to have us for its benefit. Furthermore, our history is littered with the broken shells of other “crabs” that got out of the pot, only to be the first ones into the frying pan. The myth of social mobility breaks its head on the glass ceiling of racial caste. In addition, once out the barrel, what crab really goes back in to rescue the other crabs? How many times have we heard the implicit promise to come back and lift up our people from those of us hell bent on “getting over”? Furthermore, the majority of Africans in the pursuit of upward mobility have completely accepted the status quo. To this day, in any section of the African world, you see the lucky few openly unite with keeping the rest of the crabs in the barrel, and actually help guard the pot! So whether we are inside the barrel or out, the conditions are not transformed. Between the crabs in the barrel, the crabs outside the barrel and the crab catcher – the one responsible for the whole thing in the first place – the crab is not safe, and will not be until the barrel is removed, along with the crab catcher.

So for the African, the aim for us has to be to smash the barrel. In other words, reforms, spiritual intercession, economic thrift, or any other form of action is going to solve the problems we face. We must rid ourselves of the bloodsucking imperialism, smash the confines of the barrel of colonial domination, and eradicate the crab catcher one and for all.

Revolution is the Only Solution

In understanding the real problem that we face, we must come to understand, further, that nothing less than complete destruction of capitalism and bourgeois society will suffice to resolve the problem of African degradation, for good. Until the entire edifice of capitalist imperialism is completely done away with, we cannot proceed to the work of building a world that is truly equitable and just. 

However, one of the main issues we face was fumed up by the courageous, indomitable Harriet Tubman. When asked about how many enslaved Africans she led to freedom, she famously replied, “I’ve freed hundreds of slaves. I could have freed hundred more if only I could convince them that they were slaves (check for accuracy of quote).” What must be clear is that a significant part of our struggle to overturn our current conditions and achieve the best life possible for our people is the fight to win back the hearts and minds of African people. There is a psychological phenomenon known as the Stockholm syndrome that illustrates a critical aspect of the African condition. The psychological ailment is, to put it simply, the process of a kidnapping victim developing such a warped connection to their captures, out of an instinctual drive to live, that causes the kidnap victim to actually become a defender of the kidnaper. Instead of resisting the kidnaper, after a period of time, the victim begins to relate to the victimizer in a positive way. The victim begins to identify with its victimizer, and defends the kidnapper against anything and everything that would harm the kidnaper. Another form of this syndrome is the Battered woman Syndrome, where a woman who is being severely, and sometimes brutally, abused physically, psychologically, and emotionally begins to protect her abuser. In both cases, the conditions that the victim finds themselves in are so severe, and the manipulation of the aggressor so effective, that the natural drive for life is perverted into an unholy desire to protect the criminal from justice. This is an almost exact reflection of the mental state of massive numbers of African people.

After centuries of such thorough and routine physical and psychological violence by our oppressors, we have come to identify our oppressors as the pinnacle of humanity. Many of us desire nothing more than to emulate our oppressor and so no longer resist our oppression, but merely plead and beg our romanticized masters to be kinder and gentler. However, in every generation, there is the rebel, the incarnation of the righteous indignation and relentless drive for freedom. It is this section of the dispersed African nation that keeps the subjugation of Africa and African life from being complete.

For the African that would resist, it must become understood that until resistance is elevated to the highest principle of the African view of our bondage, we cannot let up in our struggle. We must fight to make revolutionary struggle the main trend among African people. We must master the work of convincing our people that the only way to fix things for ourselves is to transform society, completely. We must overturn any notion that society, as it is, can be “fixed” or reformed. We must win our people to the position that status quo is rotten, decaying, and on its last legs, and that until it is forced to finally pass away, we can expect no lasting peace, no genuine relief. We must also be clear that until those of us who dare to struggle for freedom become the leaders of African society, the culture of resistance that must overtake African people everywhere cannot ascend. African freedom m fighters are the highest development of African life at this point in our development; the “best sons and daughters of Africa,” and if we are to achieve our historical task of winning the masses of African people to unite with the unequivocal necessity of African independence through self-liberation, we must unite ourselves. This unity must come on the basis of a clear-sighted view of the world that truly equips us with the ideological weaponry we need to manifest our patriotism to Africa in the real world and a decisive way.

Pan-African Internationalism is the application of correct revolutionary philosophy to the struggle for total African liberation, an objective that is critical to the final destruction of all forms of oppression and exploitation. In short, it is scientific revolution within the context of the African world. Above all things, it is a guide to action. In its theoretical form, it is the refinement of ideas, based on the practical experience of the past, into the correct understanding of the present and the future. In its practical form, it is the manifestation of African independence through self-liberation. It is, on the one hand, clear about the conditions necessary for African emancipation in the current period, and on the other hand, the basis for the continued development of effective revolutionary ideas and action.

Pan-African Internationalism is not a dogma but a living strategy; rigorous struggle in the real world is the only thing that makes it valid. The demands of our work are the sole standards that will determine its relevance. If, in the crucible of struggle, we find it to be fatally flawed, then it is no better than spitting in the wind – an exercise in futility, and we must immediately discard it. On the other hand, with a strong faith, informed by clear analysis, that Pan-African Internationalism is the correct way forward, once it has achieved its end – once Africa and her peoples are truly free and self-determining – it must meet its natural demise. At that juncture, it must give way to a new theory that is in step with the rising tide of a new period of life; a reality that all genuine Pan-African Internationalist revolutionaries should be fighting for.

In the final analysis, our task is clear and the only thing that can truly keep us from our end goal is ourselves. Hundreds of years removed from the first blow struck for African liberation, the struggle has continued to rage on. The warriors, known and unknown, who went before us and who struggle today have cleared a path for our freedom. It remains the duty of the present generation to end our struggle. Equipped with the razor sharp sickle of Pan-African Internationalist theory and the devastating hammer of a conscious and mobilized African working class, we can and we must smash the shackles of oppression for all time.

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