The imperialists have created a mess of migration, with hundreds of thousands of people traveling from the Middle East and north Africa to the European Union (EU). Earlier this year there was media attention on the increased migration from Myanmar and Bangladesh to the richer countries of South Asia such as Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand. This is in the context of an unprecedented increase in mass displacement worldwide.
"By end-2014, 59.5 million individuals were forcibly displaced worldwide as a result of persecution, conflict, generalized violence, or human rights violations. This is 8.3 million persons more than the year before (51.2 million) and the highest annual increase in a single year."(1)
The conditions that led about 7% of the world's entire population to leave their homes vary widely, and similarly the situations they face when they do leave their homes also vary. Some have absolutely nothing to their name but the rags on their body, while others are carrying smart phones, have high formal education, and are being wired money along their journey for train tickets and smugglers' fees. Some just need to leave where they are, others want to meet up with family who have already immigrated to other countries, and many are doing both. This article does not attempt to provide a comprehensive history of the mass migrations, but it does try to outline some basic principles to keep in mind as the news unfolds.
Open All Borders!
The oppressor countries have concentrated wealth due to the oppression and exploitation they inflict on other nations. In these countries, there is a lot of hubub about whether people are "truly" refugees, and thus worthy of help, or "just" migrants looking for better economic opportunity, and thus not worthy of assistance. They say those deemed to be economic migrants should be sent back to their "safe" countries to build their lives there — a pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps of international proportions.
No matter why people are leaving their present location, our position is the same: open all borders! The most progressive economic position under capitalism would be to enable free travel and work across all borders. Wealth would be more equalized and the imperialists would have a material interest in ending harmful policies and practices in other countries, for fear that those populations would leave their homes to venture to the countries where the wealth is being concentrated.
We know opening all borders is not a realisitic solution in our present conditions, so at the very minimum we call on the wealthy countries to allow those who have already fled to make new lives wherever they (want to) land. We then call on these wealthy countries to take a stand against the primary cause for why people flee: U.$. militarism and imperialism.
On the surface it appears Germany has been somewhat favorable to this position. They have been the most welcoming country of the EU (although most recently they are trying to curb the migration rather than welcome it with open arms). We support any EU country's openness to migrants. But it's significant that Germany has an aging population and has been trying to figure out how to maintain its economy with a deficit of working-age people. How fortunate then that so many of the refugees come with professional degrees, skills, and even some savings. The economic situation in Germany makes it possible for the country to play hero. The economic substructure defines the ideological superstructure. If not for the economic problems in Germany, humanitarian efforts would be marginalized.
National Chauvinism is Not Internationalism
In spring 2015, media attention was on Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia, and Australia for refusing to take in Rohingyas and Bangladeshis who were abandoned by their smugglers at sea for weeks and months.(2) The primary position of these countries was "it's not our problem."
In the EU, Hungary has been a main thoroughfare for migrants this summer. In response they are erecting an emergency wall on the borders, and Hungary's government's stance is to discourage migration as much as possible. Denmark, just north of Germany, has been widely advertising that it has greatly reduced assistance for migrants, and that people should not go there. And these are certainly not the only examples of national chauvinism in Europe.
Those who don't grasp the differences between revolutionary nationalism and national chauvinism will use these examples as evidence that all nationalism is bad. One of the more progressive trends that makes this mistake is the anarchists. Nationalism of oppressor nations tends toward fascism, but nationalism of oppressed nations tends towards revolutionary internationalism. Being that the vast majority of anarchist movements are located in the First World, it makes sense that they should oppose the nationalism that they see around them. But a materialist historical analysis shows that nationalism of the oppressed has done the most to advance peoples out of oppression, imperialism's stranglehold, and toward a society where nations and states are no longer necessary. Maoists also want a world without nations and states, but a rejection of the progressive aspects of nationalism won't get us there.
European Union vs. United $tates
Some officials in the EU have criticized United $tates policy and military intervention in the Middle East as the reason for this most recent mass migration. To the EU, most people coming from the Middle East are from Syria, Afghanistan, and Iraq. Not surprisingly, the United $tates is also presently engaged in military campaigns in and on these countries.
But the EU only cares what the United $tates does to the degree that it affects the EU. It's good when anyone criticizes the United $tates's meddling in the Middle East. But until words turn into actions (and until EU countries stop their own military campaigns in the region), it's just a lot of hot air. We want to see the EU not only open its borders for all the migrants, but also to recognize that it has interests which differ from those of the United $tates. A united EU should stop all material and verbal support for occupation and war in the Middle East, which would do more to help with their present migrant crisis than building walls and placing newspaper ads.
Rise of Fascism
The recent mass migration has been exposing reactionary nationalist sentiments, and in turn adding fuel to the recent rise of fascism in Europe. More far-right parties are being elected at various levels of government, and there are more demonstrations and attacks on migrants — the people, and the infrastructure to support them. Most notably, fascism has been rising in the last few years in Greece, Germany, Hungary and Sweden.(3)
Communism is the natural antithesis to fascism. Those who see more material interests in maintaining their present economic position will tend toward fascism, whereas those who would benefit more from an equalization of wealth internationally will tend more toward communism. It's the job of the communists to help prevent the rise of fascism in Europe.
Marcus Garvey: Black Nationalist Leader by Mary Lawler Holloway House Books 1990
I had the chance to borrow this book from a New Afrikan prisoner in order to check out this cat who many believe to have been a main influence to the Black liberation struggle of the 20th century. One thing that stood out is almost every other page had a photograph, including everything from Jamaican slaves, "race riots," the klan and Malcolm X.
This book traces the life of Marcus Garvey from his birth on August 17, 1887 in Saint Ann's Bay, Jamaica. Out of 11 brothers and sisters, only he and a sister lived past childhood. His stonemason father was known to be a voracious reader and well respected in the village; his mother was a farmer who sold what she grew along with baked goods to contribute to the family. Early on the family owned several properties, but after legal disputes the family was left with the single property they lived in.
Garvey's father was what Lawler described as "A descendant of the maroons, escaped Jamaican slaves who banded together during the 17th and 18th centuries to fight the island's British colonial rulers."(p. 23)
Garvey descended from a line of anti-colonial struggle. The British slaves killed off all the indigenous Arawak natives and then kidnapped Africans and used them as slave labor in their plantations all over Jamaica. Garvey's relatives were among those who resisted the oppressor.
Because of his father's profession and his family being landowners, Garvey was educated in public school as well as by tutors, and took advantage of his father's private library which was well stocked with books, newspapers, and magazines. This was at a time when most Black people in Jamaica received little to no education. At the age of 15 Garvey went on to work as a printer's apprentice, and by age 20 he was a master printer, a skill which he would put to use later in his propaganda efforts.
Garvey became politicized after moving to Kingston and seeing the inequality and oppression of Blacks. It was in Kingston where he joined his first workers' strike at the print shop where he worked to protest low wages. At age 22 Garvey joined a group called the "National Club" that strove for better treatment of Blacks and agitated against British colonialism. He immediately began working on the national club's organ Our Own, which led him to launch his own publication called Garvey's Watchman. Garvey's Watchman didn't last very long, but made clear his real purpose and increased his interest in political organizing.
With big plans and little money Garvey became a migrant worker and set off for Costa Rica in 1910. Garvey's thoughts were on Blacks in Jamaica, but in Costa Rica he saw horrible treatment of Black workers in his first job for United Fruit. United Fruit is a U.$.-controlled company that has long wreaked havoc on Latin America. It has left a bloody trail in its support of brutal dictators while ensuring workers' rights are silenced with often deadly results.
The book explains how Garvey's first job at a banana plantation quickly led him to fight for workers, even launching a newspaper called La Nacionale (The National) that expressed workers' rights. It wasn't too effective as most of the workers were illiterate, so these efforts did not get very far.
After traveling to several Latin American nations and returning to Jamaica, at age 23, Garvey set sail to England. In England, he again faced poor work conditions and discrimination. Garvey finally realized that everywhere he went, regardless of the country, Blacks experienced oppression. In England he attended college where he met other Blacks who promoted Pan-Africanism. The Pan-African Movement was created in the 1800s. This was a time when British colonialism held many Black nations as colonies and the Pan-African movement sought to create Black nations that were governed by Blacks. The idea was to take Africa back for Africans.
In 1913 Garvey began work for Duse Mohammed Ali, publisher of African Times which promoted the rights of Black people. This, Lawler explains, allowed Garvey to mingle with the movers and shakers of the Pan-African movement, as most of them wrote for African Times.
The author writes that after reading Booker T. Washington's book Up From Slavery Garvey "found his purpose." Washington was a known integrationist who believed Black people should not protest racism, and instead that eventually the white nation would accept Black people. Many of the more progressive Black leaders of this period denounced Booker T. as an Uncle Tom.
In this book we read about Garvey creating the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) in 1914. UNIA was to work to unite and improve Jamaican Black people's socio-economic conditions while promoting the anti-colonial struggles of Africa.
The author states about Garvey, "Like Booker T. Washington, he believed that until the Black workers became committed to self improvement, they would be looked down upon by whites."(p. 57)
The author implies that Black people can work within the oppressor nation's systems, and claims this will resolve racism from the oppressor. This system of thinking misses identifying the root of one's oppression. To blame the oppressed is to be an apologist for the oppressor nation and this thinking will never lead to the liberation that Garvey was lookiing for.
I also found it surprising that Garvey seemed to rely on religion as a savior. For instance, the author quotes Garvey as speaking on what helped to better himself, "Nobody helped me toward that objective except my own mind and God's good will."(p. 59) Garvey was also known to organize religious meetings as the author reminds us. The book suffers in that the author offers many quotes from Garvey and others but gives no footnotes as to where these quotes are coming from; this makes many of the quotes seem suspect.
In 1916 Garvey arrived in Amerika and found in Harlem a more receptive audience to UNIA than in Jamaica where UNIA only gained under 100 members and financially was unable to launch any independent institutions.
Garvey soon helped form a New York chapter of UNIA along with a newspaper Negro World, which served as UNIA's platform. The UNIA's motto was "One God, One Aim, One Destiny," thus it was steeped in a metaphysical approach about what would free Black people.
In 1919 Garvey founded a shipping company called "Black Star Line." This was created with the intent to obtain Black "economic independence." Garvey said, with regard to the Black Star line, "Our economic condition seems, to a great extent, to affect our general status... be not deceived wealth is strength, wealth is power, wealth is justice, is liberty, is real human rights."(p. 112) Spoken like a true capitalist.
It becomes apparent in this book that Garvey believed Black capitalism would liberate Black people from the hardships he had witnessed worldwide. He believed creating and then monopolizing on "Black industries," UNIA could supply Black people with furniture and other goods in South and Central America, as well as the West Indies and beyond. Garvey encouraged all Black people to invest in UNIA as a step toward liberating themselves from racism.
In 1922 Garvey was arrested for mail fraud in soliciting investors for the Black Star Line which had begun to lose business as ships were lost and investors became suspicious. Garvey was convicted and sent to prison for a couple of years. Upon release he was deported back to Jamaica where he attempted to rebuild UNIA. After poor results he moved back to England to start up a UNIA chapter and it was during this time that a rift was created between the New York chapter and Garvey himself, which helped to tarnish UNIA more. Garvey died in England on June 10, 1940 at age 53. Although he died in poverty his death would bring him a renewed notoriety in Jamaica and worldwide.
Throughout the book neither socialism nor communism was mentioned once! I found this odd as this was a time when Russia had just been liberated under Lenin's leadership, but then Garvey was not a socialist. Without socialism a people will continue to be oppressed even if governed by one's own people. The masses of people will simply be people oppressed by their own bourgeoisie. This is bourgeois nationalism, or as Huey Newton coined it, pork chop nationalism. Revolutionary nationalism which install socialism once a nation is liberated, thus ensuring the bourgeois and other capitalist roaders do not get the chance to derail the revolution.
Garvey did leave a lasting impression on the Black nation in Amerika. Malcolm X's father was a Garveyite so Malcolm obviously grew up in Garvey thought. On the end it can be said Garvey helped to develop more progressive thought than his own. This book is worth reading as a basic intro to Marcus Garvey's political work, but it is important to note it does not include Garvey's own writings. Those researching the historical development of New Afrikans will find some value in this book.
On 31 October, after weeks of mass protests in which state media headquarters were stormed and government buildings were torched, the President of Burkina Faso, Blaise Compaoré, was forced to resign and flee to the Ivory Coast, another French colony. The military seized power under Lieutenant Colonel Isaac Zida, who created a committee which appointed Michel Kafando as transitional president. Elections are to be scheduled within 12 months. Kafando was formerly ambassador to the United Nations for Compaoré, among other high posts he held in the government. This change in leadership is nothing more than a shuffling of the neo-colonial compradors who will continue to serve the imperialists while trying to placate the righteously angry Burkinabe (people of Burkina Faso) masses.
The protests that led to this change in government follow long standing unrest and anger about the exploitation and oppression of the people in Burkina Faso. In recent years there has been much civil protest in the country, especially amongst peasants and miners.
Burkina Faso is a small country located in sub-Saharan West Africa. Originally called the Republic of Upper Volta, the country was established as a French neo-colony in 1960. Captain Thomas Sankara became prime minister in 1983 after a military coup, ironically led by Blaise Compaoré and a group of military leaders who considered themselves revolutionary anti-imperialists. While not an uprising of the people, Sankara's politics were more progressive than previous leaders. Sankara implemented many programs to serve the people including nationalizing land and mineral resources, mass-vaccinations, infrastructure improvements, the expansion of wimmin's rights, encouragement of domestic agricultural consumption, and anti-desertification projects. He also changed the country's name to Burkina Faso (land of the upright/honest people). To promote self-reliance and end the poverty of dependency so common in African countries, Sankara called for the cancellation of African debts to Western governments. And setting an example for all Burkinabe, Sankara refused wealth and luxuries for himself and fought against corruption and bribery in the government.
Sankara was a revolutionary nationalist. And while we do not oppose those acting in the interests of the people seizing power from the imperialists through a coup, we know that it is the support of the masses and the political education and activism of the people that will ultimately determine the success or failure of a revolutionary movement.
Burkina Faso provides us with a good lesson on the importance of a cultural revolution. After the communists took power in China in 1949, they soon realized that a new bourgeois class was developing. These individuals may have come from proletarian and peasant backgrounds, but the culture that encourages individualism and self-serving advancement did not disappear with the implementation of socialism. And so some people, once they gained positions of power, abused that power. The Chinese communists realized the road from socialism to communism requires political struggle from all the people, vigilant criticism and self-criticism of and by political leaders and the masses, raising the level of political education, and a long-term campaign to build revolutionary culture. This became the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution (GPCR). In the end, even with the GPCR, the capitalist interests within the communist party managed to take power after Mao died. This does not negate the need for a GPCR but rather we need to learn how to start sooner and be more effective in this struggle.
Sankara was murdered in 1987 in a coup d'etat that brought Blaise Compaoré to power, a man who once called himself a revolutionary ally and leader alongside Sankara. Before the coup Compaoré held significant power within the government, and his takeover was supported by the French who were eager to return the country to neo-colonial status. Compaoré quickly demonstrated how far he had strayed from his supposedly revolutionary views, reversing nationalization of Burkina Faso's resources, and reentering the International Monetary Fund (IMF). This year, Compaoré attempted to modify the Constitution to extend his 27-year presidency, which led to the protests by Burkinabe last month.
While we support the uprisings and righteous demands of the people of Burkina Faso, we also encourage them to make ceaseless efforts to again increase their general level of political education and organization. Only with deep revolutionary consciousness and leadership can Burkinabe take complete control of their nation from comprador dictatorship, and ensure that it grows with the people's interests at the forefront.
On 5 August, President Obama announced plans to send $12 billion in aid to support an electrification program for six sub-Saharan countries in Africa. This is in addition to U.S. firms investing $14 billion in banking, construction and information technology in Africa.
Are these efforts really about helping the African nations, or is it just to protect the stake certain parties have in the region? I can't help but remind myself of the economic consequences that will befall an already impoverished nation. When it comes to the class divisions, I think this new effort will only push the proletariat into deeper starvation and exploitation. As I've read in MIM Theory 12, investment from an imperialist country like the United $tates usually comes with dire consequences. Funny, not once did I hear the U.$. imperialist president speak of self-determination of all African people. This is either lip service paid to the petty bourgeoisie or when it's all said and done the "pound of flesh" which the United $tates will eventually get will come at a greater cost to those held in oppression.
The puppet governments of southern Africa gained a large victory today, but as we all know, no amount of policy or investment will really benefit the most oppressed people. This is true until all peoples' needs are met, not just profit gained for a few. It looks like more economic imperialism to hold the already poor people in bondage with the illusion of expanding the Amerikan dream. Raise! Fight! Stop U.S. imperialism!
The solution should be what can be done to empower and enable the lower class and proletariat into rising up and controlling their own destinies. Only when this is pursued will conditions improve. People from the proletariat need to understand that they have the power to educate and engage in armed struggle to gain their rights.
15 September 2012 — Tens of thousands of people in dozens of cities and slums across Africa, South Asia, the Middle East and parts of Europe and Australia have demonstrated in recent days in response to a film made in the United $tates attacking the Prophet Muhammad. Protests primarily targeted U.$. embassies and other symbols of imperialism including an Amerikan school, a KFC restaurant, and a UN camp.(1) The latter was one of many locations where authorities shot at protestors with live ammunition. Many have died so far. Some common unifying symbolism of these actions has been burning of Amerikan flags and chants of "Death to Amerika!"
The first protest that got the world's attention was in Libya, where U.$.-backed forces recently overthrew the decades-old government there. Timed to occur on the anniversary of the 11 September 2001 attacks on the United $tates by Al Qaeda, rebels grabbed headlines by laying siege to the embassy, killing as many as a dozen people, including the new U.$. ambassador. Since then protestors have attacked imperialist embassies in Tunisia, Yemen and Sudan without firearms.
While incumbent U.$. President Barack Obama has been making plenty of mention of his role in the assassination of Al-Qaeda's former leader Osama bin Laden in campaign speeches, hundreds of protestors in Kuwait chanted outside the U.$. embassy, "Obama, we are all Osama." Osama's vision of a Pan-Islamic resistance to U.$. occupations and economic interference in the Muslim world has reached new heights this week.
The Amerikan media has tried to play it off as a small group of trouble makers protesting, while Amerikans are shocked that they can be blamed for a fringe movie they have never seen and think is a piece of crap. At the same time, Amerikans seem very willing to condemn the protestors as ignorant, violent, low-lifes — just as the movie in question portrayed Muslims. But the trigger of these protests is far less important than the history of U.$. relations to the people involved. The most violent reactions occurred in countries that have all been under recent bombing attacks by the U.$. military, two of them for many years now, and the other had their whole government overthrown. Cocky Amerikans won't recognize that the ambassador was targeted as the highest level representative of the U.$. puppet master in Libya.
MIM has held for some time that Muslim organizations have done more to fight imperialism in recent years in most of the world than communists have.(2) And while there are plenty of ways communists could theoretically be doing a better job, they are not. As materialists we must accept and work with the people and conditions we are given. And we do not hesitate to recognize that Islam has brought us the biggest internationalist demonstration of anti-imperialism we've seen in some time.
On March 19 2011, the United $tates, playing the role as leader of the united nations forces, began bombing areas in Libya. What we know from the imperialist media is that small pockets of opposition to the Libyan government are attempting to rebel and attack the current government.
While we observe these developments in the Middle East in general, but more particularly in Libya, we must first understand the history as well as the current relations of production in these governments to really grasp the conditions and contradictions on the ground. It's good to understand the world and pay attention but it's better to know the truth and be able to sort through the BS that blurs reality and works to shape ideas to the imperialist program.
Libya, like much of the Middle East, has long been eyed by Amerika because of its vast oil reserves. Libya was colonized up until after World War II when it then became a semi-colony that was under U.$. and British influence with a monarchy under King Idris.
In the 1960s the Middle East, like much of the world, felt a whirlwind of revolution and liberation struggles that swept the globe. Libya also caught this upsurge of anti-colonial fever, and King Idris was overthrown by military officers in 1969. Moammar Gadhafi was the leader of this coup.
Although Libya changed its name to the "Great Socialist People's Libyan Arab Jamahiriya" it is not currently a socialist country. There are revolutionaries within Libya but for the most part they do not lead any of the struggles we see in U.$. media. The incantation of imperialist propaganda is that the Libyan people are going to overthrow Gadhafi and that the majority want him out, but this is false.
Just as the U.$. used the south Vietnamese to massacre Vietnamese freedom fighters, just as the U.$. used the contras to massacre their country men the Sandinistas, and the Afghan against Afghan, Iraqi on Iraqi, so too are they now using Libyan to destroy Libyan. I wonder when the masses of the world will ever unite to take on the true oppressor?
Let's be clear Gadhafi did not come to power through a socialist revolution, although he did make some concessions and reforms, particularly with tribal alliances. For the most part what is practiced in Libya is a form of state capitalism where revenue from oil fuels the economy. Nonetheless they should not be met with imperialist intervention nor should the united nations be used to dictate their air space as another Iraq under Sadaam Hussein.
The opposition that the United $tates seems to cozy up to the most is the National Front for the Salvation of Libya which is known to be funded and trained by the CIA. This group, which was founded in 1981, has been based on the border of Egypt and Libya and seems to be the main vehicle for propping up a U.$. puppet government in Libya should the Gadhafi regime fall.
But let's get to the heart of the matter in this U.$. intervention: the main reason for this attack on Libya is oil! It's ironic how the so-called "united nations" have their hands in this intervention when within their very own documents, specifically the 1514 Declaration, they claim to grant self-determination to colonized nations and peoples. Yet here we are watching them deny self-determination. Not that we expect these imperialists to act in any way that isn't exploiting the people, but it shows those who are unaware of their parasitic aims what they're really about.
With the largest oil reserves in Africa it's no surprise that this nation is a target of the United $tates. We have seen this played out in Iraq where the no-fly zone was set up as a prelude for outright war and occupation. As I write this I'm sure backroom deals are being banged out between the imperialist countries on who gets what and at what price. Until these business agreements are worked out we probably won't see "troops on the ground" from the United $tates.
We see in the U.$. media accusations of Gadhafi being a "mad dog" but why was he invited years back to the United $tates? We all remember the jokes of him pitching a tent on one of Donald Trump's properties. The same bad things were said of Sadaam and Bin Laden but we see old pictures of both of them smiling with U.$. politicians at one time. Just to be clear, none of them were pushing for a socialist revolution. It is the pattern of being business partners with the United $tates, and then when the United $tates can't exploit these leaders to the extent that they want those same business partners become "mad dogs" or better yet "terrorists."
As Maoists we say no to imperialist intervention! We say no to the exploitation of the people around the world! We say hands off Libya! We hope for the masses of Libya to use this situation to create a socialist revolution to discard all oppression! End the intervention!
MIM(Prisons) adds: Many legitimate wars for liberation start with "small pockets of opposition" fighters, so it is hard to use numbers to judge a movement from afar. What we can see is that whether monarchist forces, CIA-backed "pro-democracy" parties or Islamic fighters, all of the "rebel" voices in the press are supporting imperialist intervention in Libya. This is what tells us they do not represent the masses of Libya. No to U.$. Imperialism! Unity within keeps the imperialists out!
[Leaders] realize that the success of the struggle presupposes clear objectives, a definite methodology and above all the need for the mass of the people to realize that their unorganized efforts can only be a temporary dynamic. You can hold out for three days – maybe even for three months – on the strength of the admixture of sheer resentment contained in the mass of the people; but you won’t win a national war, you’ll never overthrow the terrible enemy machine, and you won’t change human beings if you forget to raise the standard of consciousness of the rank-and-file. Neither stubborn courage nor fine slogans are enough. - Frantz Fanon, Wretched of the Earth, p. 136, chap. 2, paragraph 57.
Starting in Tunisia on December 17, and spreading across the region in January and February, the people of north Africa and the Middle East are taking to the streets to fight brutal dictatorships in their respective countries. Taken by surprise by the force and longevity of these protest movements, the various imperialist-backed regimes are working hard to come up with changes that will pacify the people without fundamentally changing the system. These just struggles of the people are primarily targeting the figureheads in government, but the real problem lies in the system itself and at this stage we are only seeing some shuffling of the leadership.
Protests are sweeping across the region as the people are emboldened and inspired by the actions and results of those in neighboring countries, even moving further south into other parts of Africa. As this article is being written, there are reports of people’s uprisings in Bahrain, Libya, Iran, Yemen, Iraq, Kuwait, Algeria, Djibouti, Syria, Morocco and Jordan. In other parts of Africa, less visible in the media, popular revolts are also happening in Sudan, Gabon and Ethiopia.(1) Protesters are facing violent repression by the governments in most of these countries.
The response in the United $tates has been strong condemnation of Mubarak and other leaders targeted by protests (among those paying attention). Arabs may falsely look to Amerikans as friends in their current struggles. But where was this Amerikan “support” for the last thirty years as their country bank-rolled Mubarak with billions of dollars? In reality, their reaction is a sick reminder of what went down in Iraq. The same seething opposition to Mubarak was aimed at Saddam Hussein, resulting in the deaths of millions of Iraqis and the destruction of one of the most developed Arab countries. Iraq is just one example to demonstrate how Amerikan racism quickly lends itself to popular support for militarism, the savior of post-WWII U.$. global dominance.
Economics of the People’s Struggles
There are many differences between these mostly Arabic-speaking countries, but the one common enemy of the people there is the enemy of the people throughout the world: imperialism. Capitalism is a system that is defined by the ownership of the means of production (factories, farms, etc.) by the wealthy few who we call the bourgeoisie, and who exploit the majority of the people (the workers, also called the proletariat) to generate profit for the owners. Imperialism is the global stage of capitalism where the territories of the world have been divided up and exploited for profit. Under imperialism, the economy in each country no longer operates independently, and what happens in one country has repercussions around the world. Because of this global interdependence, events in the Middle East and north Africa are very significant to the Amerikan and European capitalists, and are related to events in the global economy.
The question of real change hinges on whether the exploited countries that are now mobilizing stay within the U.$.-dominated economic structure, or whether they look to each other and turn their back on the exploiter nations. While militarily and politically controlled by the United $tates, their economic relationship to imperialism is dominated by the European Union who was responsible for 50% of trade for countries in the southern Mediterranean region in 1998. A mere 3% of their trade was with each other that year.(2) In 2009, these percentages had not changed, despite the lofty promises of the Euro-Mediterranean Free Trade Area to develop trade between Arab countries.(3) Tunisia, where the first spark was lit, had 78% of its exports and 72% of its imports with the European Union. Compare these numbers to the ASEAN and MERCOSUR regional trade groups, also made up of predominately Third World countries, which had about 25% of their trade internally.(4)
The problem with Europe dominating trade in the region is based in the theories of “unequal exchange” that lead trade between imperialist and exploited countries to be inherently exploitative. Part of this is because the north African countries mostly produce agricultural goods and textiles, which they trade for manufactured goods from Europe. The former are more susceptible to manipulations in commodities markets that, of course, are controlled by the imperialist finance capitalists. The latter are priced high enough to pay European wages, resulting in a transfer of surplus value from the north African nations to the European workers.
In order to develop industries for the European market, these countries have been forced to accept Structural Adjustment Programs (SAPs) from the various world banking systems (World Bank, International Monetary Fund). This has further tied the governments to imperialist interests over the years, as SAPs have many strings attached. The loans themselves, which are larger in this region than for the average Third World country (5), serve to transfer vast amounts of wealth from the debtor nations to the lender nations in the form of interest payments.
Countries in the Middle East and north Africa generally have greater relative wealth compared with Third World countries in the rest of Africa, Asia and Latin America. As a result the people in these countries enjoy higher levels of education, better health and fewer people living in poverty.(see World Bank, World Health Organization and CIA statistics) General trends since WWII are a growing middle class with an emigrant population that expanded and benefited from European reconstruction up to the 1980s. Since then immigration restrictions have increased in the European countries, particularly connected to “security” concerns after 9/11. The north African countries relate to the European Union similar to how Mexico does to the United $tates, but Mexico remains more economically independent by comparison. These uprisings are certainly connected to the growing population and the shrinking job market with slower migration to the EU.
Locally, there are economic differences within the region that are important as well. Other than the stick of oppressive regimes, some governments in the region have been able to use their oil revenues as a carrot to slow proletarian unity. Even so, extreme international debt, increasing unemployment with decreasing migration opportunities and the overall levels of poverty indicate that these countries are part of the global proletariat.
The recent economic crisis demonstrates the tenuous hold the governments of the Middle East and north African countries had on their people. Because imperialism is a global system with money, raw material and consumer goods produced and exchanged on a global market, economic crises happen on a global scale. The economic crisis of the past few years has affected the economy of this region with rising cost of living and increased unemployment rates. In particular food prices have reached unprecedented highs in the past few months.(6) One might think this would help the large agricultural sectors in these countries. However, food prices affect the Third World disproportionately because of the portion of their income spent on food and the form their food is consumed in. On top of this, all of these countries have come to import much of their cereal staples as their economies have been structured to produce for European consumption.
Reliable economic statistics are difficult to find for this region. Estimates of unemployment in any country can range from under 10% up to 40% and even higher, and there is similar variability in estimates of the portion of the population living below the poverty level. But all agree that both unemployment and poverty have been on the rise in the past two years. We suspect this trend dates back further with the decrease in migration opportunities mentioned above.
In Egypt about two-thirds of the population is under age 30 and more than 85% of these youth are unemployed. About 40% of Egypt’s population lives on less than $2 a day.(7)
The middle class in these countries, who enjoy some economic advantages, are sliding further into poverty. This group is particularly large in Tunisia and Egypt compared to many other countries in the region.(8) In Egypt the middle class increased from 10% to 30% of the population in the second half of the 20th century, with half of those people being “upper” middle class.(9) This class has been closely linked to the rise of NGOs encouraged by the European-led Euro-Mediterranean Free Trade Area. They know that it is possible for them to have a better standard of living and enjoy more political freedom without a complete overthrow of the capitalist system. And so we saw many of the leaders and participants in the recent protests demand better conditions for themselves, but generally leave out the demands of the proletariat.
In fact, some middle class leaders, like Wael Ghonim (an Egyptian Google employee who was a vocal leader in the fight against Mubarak), are calling for striking workers to go back to work now that Mubarak has stepped down, effectively opposing the demands and struggles of the Egyptian proletariat. Without the leadership of the proletariat, who have never had significant benefits from imperialism, these protests end up representing middle class demands to shuffle the capitalist deck and put another imperialist-lackey government in place. The result might be a slight improvement in middle class conditions but the proletariat ends up right back where they started.
In Tunisia and Egypt, where the uprisings started, the leadership and many of the activists were from the educated middle class youth.(10) In Tunisia people were inspired to act after the suicide of Mohammed Bouazizi, an impoverished young vegetable street seller supporting an extended family of eight. He set himself on fire in a public place on December 17 after the police confiscated his produce because he would not pay a bribe. Like many youth in Tunisia, Bouazizi was unable to find a job after school. He completed the equivalent of Amerikan high school, but there are many Tunisian youth who graduate from college and are still unable to find work.
The relative calm in the heavy oil producing region that includes Saudi Arabia, UAE, Oman and Qatar underscores the key role of economics and class in these events. These countries enjoy a much higher economic level than the rest of the region, as a direct result of the consumerist First World’s dependence on their natural resources. Only Libya joins these countries in having a Gross National Income (GNI) per capita above $5000, while all others in the region are below that level.(11) That’s compared to a GNI in the U.$ of $46,730.(12)
One economic factor that has not made the news much and which does not seem to be a focus of the protesters so far, is the importing of foreign labor to do the worst jobs in the wealthy oil-producing countries. In the Gulf Cooperation Council (consisting of Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the UAE, Bahrain, Kuwait and the Sultanate of Oman) there are an estimated 10 million foreign workers and 3 million of their family members living in these countries.(13) This was used as a carrot to the proletariat who were losing opportunities to work in the European Union. Egypt in particular encouraged this emigration of workers.
Revolutions or Unrest?
To belittle the just struggles of people around the world, typical imperialist media is referring to the recent uprisings as “unrest,” as if the people just need to be calmed down to bring things back to normal. On the other side, many protesters and their supporters are calling these movements revolutions. For communists, the label “revolution” is used to describe movements fighting for fundamental change in the economic structure. In the world today, that means fighting to overthrow imperialism and for the establishment of socialism so that we can implement a system where the people control the means of production, taking that power and wealth out of the hands of just a few people.
The global system of imperialism puts the nations of the Middle East and north Africa on the side of the oppressed. These nations have comprador leaders running their governments, who get rich by working for imperialist masters. Yet these struggles are very focused on the governments in power in each country without making these broader connections. Until the people make a break with imperialist control, changes in local governments won’t lead to liberation of the people.
Further, we have heard much from both organizers and the press about social media (Twitter, Facebook, etc.) as a tool of the revolution. These tools are celebrated as a replacement for leadership. It is true that the internet is a useful tool for sharing information and organizing, and decentralization makes it harder to repress a movement. But the lack of ideological unity leads to the lowest common denominator, and very few real demands from the people. No doubt “Mubarak out” is not all the Egyptian people can rally around, but without centralized leadership it is hard for the people to come together to generate other demands.
Related to the use of social media, it is worth underscoring the value of information that came from Wikileaks to help galvanize the people to action in these countries; the corruption and opulence of the leaders described in cables leaked at the end of 2010 no doubt helped inspire the struggles.(14)
Egypt provides a good example of why we would not call these protest movements “revolutions.” The Egyptian people forced President Mubarak out of the country, but accepted his replacement with the Supreme Council of the Military - essentially one military dictatorship was replaced by another. One of the key members of this Council is Sueliman, the CIA point man in the country and head of the Egyptian general intelligence service. He ran secret prisons for the United $tates and persynally participated in the torturing of those prisoners.
Tunisia is also a good example of the lack of fundamental revolutionary change. Tunisia’s president of 23 years, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, stepped down on January 14 and fled to Saudi Arabia. But members of Ben Ali’s corrupt party remained in positions of power throughout the government and protests continue.
In State and Revolution Lenin wrote that the revolution must set a goal “not of improving the state machine, but of smashing and destroying it.” The protests and peoples’ struggles in the Middle East and Africa reinforce the importance of this message as we see the sacrifice of life in so many countries resulting in only cosmetic changes in governments.
What is the United $tates interest?
The United $tates is the biggest imperialist power in the world today; it controls the largest number and most wealth-producing territories in the world. Just as the economic crises of imperialism affect the rest of the world, political uprisings around the world affect the United $tates. The capitalist corporations who have factories and investments in this region have a strong financial interest in stability and a government that will allow them to continue to exploit the resources and labor. And with capitalism’s constant need to expand, any shrinking of the imperialist sphere of influence will help trigger future crises faster.
The Amerikan military interest in this region relies on having some strong puppet governments as allies to defend the interests of Amerikan imperialism and hold off the independent aspirations of the regional capitalists. This includes managing the planet’s largest oil reserves, which is important for U.$. control of the European Union, and defending their #1 lackey - Israel.
Tunisia is a long-standing ally of the United $tates, cooperating with Amerikan “anti-terrorism” to maintain Amerikan imperialist power in the region. Other imperialist powers also have a strong interest in the dictatorships in Tunisia including France whose government shipped tear gas grenades to Tunis on January 12 to help Ben Ali fight the protesters.(15)
Bahrain is a close U.$. ally, home to the U.$. Navy’s Fifth Fleet.(16)
Egypt has been second only to Israel in the amount of U.$. aid it gets since 1979, at about $2 billion a year. The majority of this money, about $1.3 billion a year, goes to the Egyptian military.(17) Further, the United $tates trains the Egyptian military each year in combined military exercises and deployments of U.$. troops to Egypt.(18) So for Amerika, the Supreme Council of the Military taking power in Egypt is a perfectly acceptable “change.” To shore up the new regime and its relationship with the United $tates, Secretary of State Clinton announced on February 18 that the United $tates would give $150 million in aid to Egypt to help with economic problems and “ensure an orderly, democratic transition.” In exchange, the Council has already pledged to uphold the 1979 peace accords with Israel. Prior to 1979, much of the Arab world was engaged in long periods of wars with the settler state.
United $tates aid to countries in this region is centered around Israel. The countries closest geographically to Israel are the biggest recipients of Amerikan money, a good way to keep control of the area surrounding the biggest Amerikan ally. In addition to Egypt and Israel, Jordan ($843 million) and Lebanon ($238 million) received sizable economic and military aid packages in 2010.(19) Compared to these numbers, “aid” to the rest of the region is significantly smaller with notable recipients including Yemen ($67M), Morocco ($35M), Bahrain ($21M) and Tunisia ($19M). The United $tates gives “aid” in exchange for economic, military and political influence.
Is Wisconsin the Amerikan Tunisia?
The global economic crisis clearly affects imperialist countries like the United $tates just like it does other countries of the world, but we don’t see the people in this country rising up to take over Washington, DC and demanding a change in government. Like the Middle East, the youth of Amerika are having a harder time finding jobs after graduation from college. But unlike their counterparts in the Middle East, Amerikan youth and their families do not face starvation when this happens.
Some people are drawing comparisons between the widespread protests by labor unions in Wisconsin and the events in Tunisia and Egypt. These events do give us a good basis for comparison to underscore the differences between imperialist countries and the Third World. Amerikan wealth is so much greater than the rest of the world (U.$. GDP per capita = $46,436); even compared to oil-rich countries like Saudi Arabia (GDP = $24,200). GDP does not account for the distribution of wealth, but in the United $tates the median household income in 2008 was $52,029. This number is not inflated by the extreme wealth of a few individuals, it represents the middle point in income for households in this country.
On the surface, unemployment statistics for the United $tates appear similar to some numbers for countries in the Middle East and north Africa. In 2008, 13.2% of the population was unemployed in the United $tates based on the latest census data.(20) However, with income levels so much higher in Amerika, unemployment doesn’t mean an immediate plunge into poverty and starvation. For youth in this country, there is the safety net of moving back in with parents if there is no immediate post-college job.
Similarly, U.$. poverty statistics appear quite high, comparable to rates in the Middle East and north Africa, at 14.3% in 2009. But this poverty rate uses chauvinistic standards of poverty for Amerikans. The U.$. census bureau puts the poverty level of a single individual with no dependents at $11,161.(21) Much higher than the statistics that look at the portion of the population living at $2 or $1.25 per day (adjusted for differences in purchasing power). Wisconsin public teachers average salaries of about $48k per year.
The Leading Light Communist Organization produced some clear economic comparisons between Egypt and the U.$.: “The bottom 90% of income earners in Egypt make only half as much (roughly $5,000 USD annually) as the bottom 10% of income earners in the U.$. (roughly [$]10,000), per capita distribution. Depending on the figures used, an egalitarian distribution of the global social product is anywhere between $6,000 and $11,000 per capita annually. This does not even account for other inequalities between an exploiter country and an exploited country, such as infrastructure, housing, productive forces, quality and diversity of consumer goods, etc.”(22)
In the United $tates it is possible for the elite to enjoy their millionaire lifestyles while the majority of the workers are kept in relative luxury with salaries that exceed the value of their labor. This is possible because other countries, like those in the Middle East and Africa, are supplying the exploited workforce that generates profits to be brought home and shared with Amerikan workers. Even Amerikan workers who are unemployed and struggling to pay bills are not rallying for an end to the economic system of capitalism. They are just demanding more corporate taxes and less CEO bonuses. In other words they want a bigger piece of the imperialist pie: money that comes at the expense of the Third World workers. These same Amerikan workers rally behind their government in wars of aggression around the world, overwhelmingly supporting the fight against the Al-Qaeda boogeyman in Arab clothing.
Down with Amerikanism, Long Live Pan-Arabism
Whether in Madison or Cairo, signs implying that Wisconsin is the Tunisia of north Amerika are examples of what we call “false internationalism” on both sides of the divide between rich and poor nations. Combating false internationalism, which is inherent in any pro-Amerikanism in the Third World, is part of the fight against revisionism in general.
What no one can deny is the connection between the mass mobilizations across the Arab world. That this represents a reawakening of pan-Arabism is both clear and promising for the anti-imperialist struggle. Even non-Arab groups in north Africa that have felt marginalized will benefit from the greater internationalist consciousness and inherent anti-imperialism with an Arabic-speaking world united against First World exploitation and interference.
Of course, Palestine also stands to benefit from these movements. The colonial dominance of Palestine has long been a lightning rod issue for the Arab world, that only the U.$. puppet regimes (particularly in Egypt) have been able to repress.
Everyone wants to know what’s next. While the media can create hype about the “successful revolutions” in Tunisia and Egypt, this is just the beginning if there is to be any real change. Regional unity needs to lead to more economic cooperation and self-sufficiency and to unlink the economies of the Arab countries from U.$. and European imperialism. Without that, the wealth continues to flow out of the region to the First World.
As Frantz Fanon discussed extensively in writing about colonial Algeria, the spontaneous violence of the masses must be transformed into an organized, conscious, national violence to rid the colony of the colonizer. Unfortunately, his vision was not realized in the revolutionary upsurge that he lived through in north Africa and neo-colonialism became the rule across the continent. Today, the masses know that imperialism in Brown/Black face is no better. As fast as the protests spread, they must continue to spread to the masses of the Arab world before we will see an independent and self-determined people.