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It’s Time for an African Politics of Resistance and Solidarity (Black Agenda Report)

par Yash Tandon 23 Février 2017, 00:02 Resistance African Solidarity

The Trump phenomenon points to a civilizational shift; namely, the slow, painful demise of the Western Empire. If this shift breaks down the European Union, dismantles NATO, weakens the Empire’s financial control over the global South, and opens a space for a new moral and political order to emerge, then it is an opportunity all revolutionary forces must seize.


It’s Time for a Politics of Resistance and Solidarity

by Yash Tandon

This article previously appeared in Pambazuka News. This is Part 6 of a series by the author, titled “Reflections on Post-U.S. Elections Geopolitics.”

“Let us take stock where we from the South fit into this emerging reality against the background of a collapsing Empire and an emergent new world.”

In Part 4 of this series, I concluded my analysis by referring to the turnaround by the losing Democratic candidate, Bernie Sanders, in the US elections. He distanced himself from fellow Democrat Hillary Clinton, and promised to work with Republican President Trump provided he saves the social safety nets. I then asked the question: Can those of us who are in the Global South “take a leaf out of Sander's book – seize the space provided by the change in the US Presidency?”

The civilizational shift

Let us put the Trump phenomenon in a wider context – that of a civilizational shift – a slow, painful demise of the Western Empire. In contrast to Francis Fukuyama‘s End of History and Huntington’s The Clash of Civilizations, I prefer to talk about “The Civilizational Shift’.[1] In my book Trade is War,[2] I argued that no civilization, however defined[3], lasts forever. Contrary to what most people think (or believe), the so-called Western or capitalist civilization is not everlasting. This civilization’s callous exploitation of human labor and nature is finally coming to an end. It may take yet another century, but that is not really too long to wait. Civilizations previous to capitalism (such as the Aztec, Egyptian, Chinese, Indian and Persian) lasted much longer.

Trump himself may be a passing phenomenon.  But he is today’s reality.  He is the President of the wealthiest and militarily the most powerful country in the world with a finger on the nuclear trigger.  He can decide the fate of millions inside and outside his country. 

So let us take stock where we from the South fit into this emerging reality against the background of a collapsing Empire and an emergent new world with all its perils and promises.  The past is not dead ground, and to traverse it is not a sterile exercise. The challenges lie here and now.

The Communist Manifesto is dead

Karl Marx thought that the international proletariat would be capitalism’s nemesis. It might still be; we do not know.

Bound by his own time and space, Marx’s perspective was still essentially Eurocentric, and hence his memorable phrase: “A specter is haunting Europe — the spectre of communism.”  In our own time, it is now the specter of the oppressed nations of the world (most significantly, the nationalism of the countries of the South) that is “haunting Europe” … and America.

And here is where we might take a leaf from Sander’s book when referring to Trump’s victory in the US elections. Sanders is prepared to work with Trump provided Trump protects matters of social security. On our part in the South, I suggest we work with Trump provided he respects our nationalism and our sovereignty.  We resist him if he tries, like Obama, to continue with the US policy of “regime change” in the Global South.

Two kinds of nationalisms

In Part 3 of the series – “Economic Nationalism” – I described Trump as an “economic nationalist.” The Western “left-liberal” political and intellectual forces find it odd that Trump is a “nationalist.”  How can this be? Surely, they might say, Trump is living out of his time; surely, there is no room for nationalism in our times.

We must tell our friends in the North with whom we wish to work in solidarity towards a peaceful and just world, that Trump is not an oddity in our times. Nationalism is not out of fashion. In fact, nationalism has returned to Europe and the Americas with a vengeance. The campaign calling for the independence of California from the United Sates has been calling for “Calexit,” and has this month opened an “embassy” in Moscow.

However, we must distinguish between two very different species of nationalisms – one offensive and the other defensive.  A bit of history is a good guide. The first kind of nationalism – the aggressive and fascist – was put in place by Mussolini when he became Italy’s Prime Minister in 1922.  He appealed to the popular sense of Italy’s imperial past and promoted its restoration in the Mediterranean Sea and Africa. He built closer relations with Germany, especially after Hitler came became its Chancellor in January 1933.  In October 1935, with a 100,000 strong army Mussolini invaded the ancient land of Abyssinia (now Ethiopia).  In Germany Hitler declared war on two fronts – internally against the Jews; and externally against Europe as a prelude to conquer the world for a “pure” Aryan race.

Then there is the “defensive nationalism.” The anti-colonial struggle for liberation from the European Empire was defensive. The continuing struggle of the Global South (Asia, Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean) from the American-European-Japanese imperialism is defensive nationalism.

This does not contradict our effort at regional integration – for example, the East African Community.  Unlike the European Union, which is an aggressive project, the EAC is a defensive project.

Aggressive nationalism in our times and Trump’s challenge

Aggressive nationalism is imperialist. Its most virulent organizational expression is the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). NATO is the main source of global insecurity today. Our “left-liberal” solidarity friends in the North might contest this, and argue that the “terrorists” (especially Islamic terrorists) are the main source of insecurity.  In a curious way this is true. But they must know that the “terrorists” are a product of Western wars in the Middle East and Africa. Their wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria, Yemen, Mali, Somalia – to name a few - have only added fuel to terrorist fire.

Trump has said that NATO is obsolete, and he wants to talk with Putin; that he will renegotiate the Iran nuclear deal; he will stand by Israel against the Palestinians; he will challenge China’s hegemony in trade, and by extension, possibly in the area of the military in East Asia; and so on.  It is a mixed bag. What he will actually do is still to be seen.  Nonetheless, it is correct to assume that NATO will not disappear overnight, and the Empire will not withdraw its claws from its imperialist outreach the world over.  Nonetheless, if Trump does act on his ideas to question NATO and to talk with Russia (on matters related to Europe and the Middle East), then we in the South (like Sanders) should cooperate with him.

Trump is “defensive” when it comes to protecting the American economy and employment from what he regards as “invasion” by cheap products from the South, mainly China, and illegal immigrants, mainly from border countries like Mexico. Of course, we know that the issues of unemployment and lack of competitiveness in the global market are complex matters. They are as much related to the impact of technology on production (what Marx called the changing “organic composition of capital”[4]), as of “cheap imports” from China, and immigrants from Mexico.

“Free trade” has been disastrous for Africa and most of the weaker countries of the South.” 

But Trump may well take some “defensive” or “protectionist” measures to defend America’s economy.  There are two aspects of these measures that might be of interest to us in the South. One is his statement that he will do away with mega-regional trade and investment agreements (MRTIAs), such as the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).  He says that he will renegotiate the North Atlantic Free Trade Area Agreement (NAFTA) which he describes as “the worst trade deal the U.S. has ever signed.”  If Trump is serious about this, then this is an area where we in the South should cooperate with him.

Trump appears to defy the mainstream neoclassical ideology that “free trade” is good for all. He is definitely for protection.  During his campaigns he even threatened to pull the U.S. out of the World Trade Organization (WTO) if it blocks his efforts to impose penalties on companies that move American production offshore.  Again, this is a complex issue. But Trump is right; “free trade” is not good for all.  It has been disastrous for Africa and most of the weaker countries of the South.  If Trump becomes “protectionist,” this would add weight to the efforts of the countries in the global South to put barriers against imports that threaten value-added production at home. I have argued in my book “Trade is War” that the WTO is a war machine wielded by the West against the Global South.  

Defensive nationalism in our times and the national question

On the defensive kind of nationalism, the efforts by the peoples of the countries of the South – from Cuba to Congo to China – to try and consolidate their independence from Western-backed aggressions will continue.  These countries are still battling with their “National Question,” a historically defined incomplete liberation from imperialism; a strategic issue that is largely absent from the vocabulary of our Western “solidarity” friends. [5]

But a more interesting current phenomenon is the emergence of “defensive nationalism” within Europe too. For them it is not a part of the “National Question” – as defined above.  But it is still part of the efforts to protect their national identities against encroachments by bigger powers. Greece has become an emblematic case, its effort to protect its national sovereignty crushed by the triumvirate of the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the IMF. 

But there are other cases – Scotland and possibly Ireland in the United Kingdom; the Walloons in Belgium; the Basque in France; and Catalonia in Spain.  Interestingly, a wave of “nationalism” has hit even major countries like England, France and Italy where people are voting in vast numbers to pull out of what they see as the domination of the unelected bureaucrats in the European Commission. The victory of François Fillon in the French Republican presidential primary on 27 November 2016, and, in Italy, the popular rejection (by nearly 60%) of Prime Minister Matteo Renzi’s [2] attempt to reform the Constitution on 4 December 2016 referendum …  are interesting signs on the horizon of what might be a new kind of Europe in months and years to come.

Globalization versus internationalism

The Western “left-liberals” have now joined forces with their ruling classes to applaud “globalization”.  In their dictionary “globalization” is uncritically identified with “internationalism.”  For us in the South, “globalization” is simply a sanitized version of “imperialism.”  I have all these terms into inverted commas because we assume when we use these, that we are all agreed on their definitions. Words matter. They arise at a particular time in history and specific contexts. That’s why Lenin defined “imperialism” as the “highest stage of capitalism” in his time, and Nkrumah defined it as “neo-colonialism” in his time.  The reality remains – that of capitalist-imperialist continued predation of the colonies and neo-colonies.

Some thoughts for the future: Politics of solidarity

1.  This series in six parts is not a blueprint for the future. Its main objective was to address some significant geopolitical issues raised by the American elections. The future we talk about is the foreseeable future – say the next 20 years, a generation.

2.  Within the next 20-25 years, we’ll witness further signs of the decline of Western civilization, which is in the autumn phase of its life; there is a palpable civilizational shift. As the geopolitical balance of forces shift from the West to the ancient civilizations of the past, we cannot be sure if they will necessarily be any better.

3.  The last century’s wars of national liberation brought a degree of political freedom to the two-thirds humanity in the global South encaged in capitalist-imperialist slavery. But the “National Question” remains a challenge for most of them. 

4.  The era of “socialism” has been short-lived. But we have learnt valuable lessons from the successes and failures of socialism in the Soviet Union, China, Vietnam, and countries in Africa and Latin America.  Cuba under Fidel Castro has been an outstanding example of how to sustain a system of social justice and social welfare (education, health, housing, etc.) against the background of 50 years of relentless sanctions by the biggest power on earth literally 50 miles away. 

5.  The Western world is in turmoil.  The well-known historian, Karl Polanyi, said that there is a symbiotic link between global capital and state power reproduced as "Globalised Fascism." That is what we are living through.  We do not know how the wave of “rightist” populism that has engulfed Europe and American will evolve.  But if it breaks down the European Union, dismantles NATO, weakens the Empire’s financial control over the global South, and opens a space for a new moral and political order to emerge, then it is an opportunity we must seize.

“There is a symbiotic link between global capital and state power reproduced as "Globalised Fascism."

6.  The “we” is difficult to define.  To call ourselves “the left” is to live in the past. The “left” in Europe is very different from the “left” in Africa.  For sure, there are common principles of social justice we share.  There are common battles we fight – for example, for a system fair trade; for free exchange of knowledge appropriated by global corporations as their “intellectual property” rights; and for a revolution in the way we relate to the environment and the other livings species – primates, wildlife and forests.

7.  It is in this context that we who call ourselves the “left” must work out new principles of solidarity based on mutual respect, working together as equals and without exploitation, to advance shared values.

8.  For their part, the “left” in Africa must help our leaders to develop self-reliant economies and governance systems.  Africa must end its shameful dependence on the so-called “development aid.” In a new world, Africa must use its own resources, knowledge and ingenuity, and produce its own food, fishing nets, and democratic systems of governance.   This is happening, but more needs to be done.  

To read all six parts of Yash Tandon’s series, “Reflections on Post-U.S. Elections Geopolitics,” click here.

Yashpal Tandon is a Ugandan policymaker, political activist, professor, author and public intellectual. He has lectured extensively in the areas of International Relations and Political economy.

End notes

[1] Both Fukuyama and Huntington come from mainstream Western geopolitical and ideological thinking, based essentially on Eurocentric epistemologies. They boil down, in the case of Fukuyama, to a premature celebration of Western triumphalism at the end of the Cold War and the demise of the Soviet Union, and in the case of Huntington, to a fear of counter-Western civilizations, especially Islamic one. See Fukuyama (1992), The End of History and the Last Man, Free Press; and Huntington (1996), The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order, Simon and Schuster.

[2] See:  “From War to Peace: The Theory and Practice of Revolutionary Change”, in Tandon, Y. (2015), Trade is War, OR Books.

[3] It is usual to contrast ‘civilization’ to supposedly barbarian or primitive cultures, such as those of hunter-gatherers and nomadic pastoralists. The word ‘primitive’ is highly pejorative and demeans many cultures – such as the Karamojong of Uganda, among whom I grew up as a child – that in many ways have a higher culture (in the sense of social bonding and peaceful means of internal conflict resolution) than our ‘modern’ industrial or post-industrial civilizations.

[4] The “organic composition of capital” is the ratio of the value of the materials and fixed costs (constant capital) embodied in production of a commodity to the value of the labour-power (variable capital) used in making it.

[5] See Part 2: “Imperialism, Nationalism and the National Question”.

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