Colonialism reached its logical conclusion in imperialism, the monopoly stage of capitalism that first began in the 1890’s. It was imperialism itself, out of its own internal contradictions, that gave rise to its great opposite, the anti-colonial revolutions of 1945–1975. From that dialectical unity came neo-colonialism.
For over four centuries, the european colonial system had expanded, attacked, occupied until it monopolized the entire human race within it.
Even the smallest white nations could have colonial empires if they wished. Tiny Belgium, which for most of its history was only a dukedom, a province, or a colony itself of Austria or Holland until it first became a nation in 1830, colonized Zaire in central Afrika along the Congo river. That one colony with its large outpouring of gold, silver, copper, aluminum, petroleum, coal, cobalt, manganese, diamonds, coffee, cotton and other natural wealth, was larger and a dozen times more valuable than Belgium itself. Backward, unindustrialized little Portugal, the poorest country in western europe, could still own four colonies in Afrika and its island colony of Macau in China. So when it came to the major powers, these empires were vast. Great Britain owned one quarter of the earth and compared itself proudly to Rome. France, a country the size of Texas, occupied Indo-China (Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia), many islands in the South Pacific, Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco in North Afrika, and perhaps one-fifth of all Black Afrika.
By the Berlin Conference of 1894, in which the european powers divided up Afrika and apportioned it out between them, essentially the entire globe was owned by one socio-economic system. Imperialism had claimed every person, every piece of earth, every tree and every stalk of grain in the world.
Imperialism as a stage is characterized by monopoly capitalism, which carried the tendency within capitalism towards economic concentration to new heights. In each capitalist nation, industries became dominated by giant corporate monopolies under the coordinating rule of finance capital. In 1901 the J.P. Morgan banking house merged what had been the industry-leading Carnegie Steel and other steel companies into one monopolistic entity, named U.S. Steel. The same happened in u.s. automobile production, where the 108 firms that existed as late as 1929 were merged and winnowed to make only 44 in 1934 and effectively the big three a few years later (with their market protected by a 45% u.s. import tax on autos). Monopoly was the rule in colonial markets as well. There was no new geography for capitalist nations to conquer, no frontier to expand into, since all were held or dominated by one capitalist nation or another.
Up to 1945 the history of western imperialism was a pattern of evergrowing crisis. Vast industrial production in the metropolis only feeding a cycle of larger and larger, see-sawing swings of economic boom and depression. The intensifying capitalistic rivalry for markets and colonial raw materials was only resolved by war, since national monopolies prevented any real marketplace competition. In his 1916 study of imperialism, the Russian revolutionary Lenin concluded that this seemingly inevitable cycle of capitalist wars and crisis made imperialism the final and even “decaying” stage of capitalism. That was a widely-shared judgment.
Economic rivalry on a national basis ran the white man straight into two world wars, where the have-not powers led by Germany (without enough colonies to push their way to the top) felt compelled to make war on Britain, France and the u.s.a., who already held most of the colonial world. By the close of World War II in 1945, this imperialist “progress” had led to the ruin of many capitalist classes, the devastation of europe itself, over 60 million deaths worldwide in the seven years of war, and the rise of a “socialist camp” over one-third of the world. It is doubtful that western capitalism could have survived another round of that.
It didn’t matter, since a new force changed the equations of world power, the oppressed themselves. Imperialism, in so violently welding together the world, had exposed people to new ways, new sciences, new social reorganization. It had, in short, given a political education to the oppressed and colonized. Anti-colonial movements of a new type started and soon gained mass followings. In country after country, uprisings and guerrilla wars broke out. A young Black minister in Montgomery, Alabama spoke for the world majority: “We have a determination to be free in this day and age. This is an idea whose time has come.”
World War II was itself a catalyst, a great accelerator of power changing hands. Colonial rule tottered. In Hong Kong, in Burma and Singapore, in the Philippines and North Afrika, native crowds watched as “their” white soldiers, disarmed and cast down, were marched through the streets by their captors. The mystique of white-ism was punctured. Locked in a life and death total war; the imperialist combatants drew their colonial subjects into the world war. As colonial troops, military porters and laborers, new industrial workers. Tens of thousands of Afrikan men were recruited from different Afrikan colonies to fight in Burma. Many more Asians and Indians were given rifles and told to defend their British masters from the advancing imperial Japanese army.
Contradictions were aching, at the breaking point. There were armed mutinies among the British Indian regiments in Burma and the Greek divisions with the allies in North Afrika. Black sociologist St. Clair Drake tells of how one group of black G.I. ,sin the south pacific stepped away from their anti-aircraft guns to watch Japanese zeroes and u.s. marine fighters mix it up in an aerial dogfight—loudly cheering on the Japanese pilots: “Go get that white boy!” Then, as a Japanese plane neared, jump back to duty and start throwing flak up at it. There was a major spontaneous uprising in Harlem in 1943, and in the Detroit race riot that same year thousands of whites and blacks fought it out in a chaotic free-for-all (34 killed and hundreds wounded). In the great Black novel of World War II, Killens’ And Then We Heard The Thunder, his story concludes with thousands of New Afrikan servicemen on leave in an Australian city defending themselves with rifles in a spreading firefight against the white G.I.’s and their u.s. army as the city burns in race war.
Imperialism found that it could not contain the new revolutions. In Algeria, the French army and white settlers killed one million Algerians, one tenth of the population, during the 1954–1961 revolution and still could not find victory. In Vietnam, the French colonial army again killed one million Vietnamese and by 1954 had been defeated. Followed by the Amerikans, who fought the longest war in u.s. history, killed hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese and lost as well.
Thirty years of continuous fighting in Vietnam, from 1945 to 1975, ended in suburban white flight. In the Delta, in Detroit, in Birmingham, anti-colonialism was an idea whose time had come.
A people, after all, who can boycott the entire city bus system, who set up systems of armed self-defense, are a people who can potentially take the power in their own hands.
1945 marks the beginning of change to a neo-colonial world order. Exhausted and bled by war, the other imperialist nations gradually let the u.s. empire introduce a new system that emphasized imperialist unity over rivalry. Wars between nations of white men over colonial markets and resources was replaced by NATO, by the U.N. and the World Bank, by the International Monetary Fund, the Group of Seven, the Common Market and the Trilateral Commission. The key to unity, the u.s. ruling class understood, was decolonization. Only by sharing former colonies and opening national markets to corporations from different nations, could imperialism forestall the savage national economic wars that were inevitably resolved on the battlefield. That decolonization opened up europe’s Afrikan and Asian colonies to u.s. economic penetration was an added blessing in Wall St.’s plans. That this would someday mean giving up an increasing wedge of their u.s. home markets and real estate to British, Japanese and German corporations was something that didn’t occur to them in their yankee arrogance.
A quick way to get an overview of the change so far is a comparison table:
|IMPERIALISM IN THE COLONIAL ERA||NEO-COLONIALISM|
|National Corporation||Multinational corporations and joint ventures|
|As many colonies as possible||Decolonization into neo-colonies|
|Unrestricted trade wars and national monopolies||Managed world trade and lowering of trade barriers|
|National ruling class and national class structure||Growing integration of world into one class structure|
|Industry restricted to metropolis
Third World restricted to producing raw materials
|Spread of Industry around the world. Third World rapidly developing but in a “pathological” way as distorted expressions of metropolis|
|European settler-colonialism promoted to serve as loyal strongholds of euro-capitalism: i.e. u.s.a., Canada, Australia, Kenya, Argentina, South Afrika, Israel, Algeria, “Rhodesia,” etc. Settlers becoming new class.||With decolonization and integration of native petty-bourgeoisie into Western capitalism, white settlers anachronistically and slowly being abandoned as French Algeria, “Rhodesia” and settler Kenya already have been. De-settlerisation.|
|u.s. defined as white male nation. All other cultures defined as alien, marginal—or criminal.||u.s. redefined as “multicultural,” with everyone having a unique minority identity besides being “American”—even white men.|
|Women colonized everywhere european capitalism ruled.||Trend of women in metropolis being neocolonized (legal equality) while neo-colonial men in most of the world urged to improve their lot by stepping up the colonization of “their” women. Violence against women up worldwide.|
|Black Nation was white amerikkka’s most valuable economic asset, (held as colony for 400 years)||Black Nation a liability, too dangerous. Being rapidly decolonized by adopting some middle class in to amerikkka and genocide for the rest (replaced economically by new Third World population transfer).|
|Rule of finance capital Economic crisis resolved by periodic bloodletting, cycles of boom and depression.||Rule of finance capital Managed trade and competition not able to halt gradual slide into world economic crisis. Unclear resolution.|
A transformation of such magnitude did not go unnoticed by revolutionaries, although there was a strong tendency to interpret the neo-colonial changes as mere trickery, as cosmetic changes. We greatly underestimated the massive class changes about to happen. We knew there would be a few Toms and Tomasinas, some bribed or sell-outs, but we never thought imperialism would bring millions and tens of millions of Third World people into its middle class structures world wide.
Anti-colonial revolutionaries were also too accustomed to dealing with neo-colonialism as a part of the colonial system (just as today there are still many colonial situations remaining within the larger neo-colonial context). Folks didn’t see how it was becoming the dominant reality itself—or how qualitatively different that reality would be.
There were always situations in the colonial era when euro-capitalism was unable to annex a people as an outright colony (usually during a capitalist transfer of power), and therefore they were allowed to become an independent nation but under indirect control of one power or another. The Latin Amerikan nations, which were once colonies of Spain and Portugal, are the classic case. When the local settler bourgeois, led by the nation-maker Simon Bolivar, decided in the early 1800’s to be the bosses over the Indian slaves and serfs themselves, England and the young u.s.a. gave them arms and other aid to revolt against Spain. It was simple capitalist rivalry.24 In their cradle these “Latin” nations were neo-colonies of first the British empire and then the u.s. empire. One modern advantage that u.s. imperialism had in the 20th century was that it was committed to expansion overseas primarily through neo-colonies.
By the 1960’s it had become clear that imperialism, on the defensive before the anti-colonial uprisings, was committing itself to neo-colonialism. More than anyone else, it was the political leaders of the Afrikan revolution—in particular Frantz Fanon of the French colonies of Martinique and Algeria, Kwame Nkrumah of the British colony of Ghana, and Amilcar Cabral of the Portuguese colonies of Guinea-Bissau and the Cape Verde Islands—who began in their own ways to confront this new development.
Kwame Nkrumah, called Osaoyefo (“Liberator”) for leading the first national movement to gain independence in black Afrika, wrote a study of neo-colonialism in 1965: Neo-Colonialism: The Last Stage of Capitalism. Nkrumah later recalled in exile that the u.s. government “reacted sharply.”25 An official protest by G. Mennen Williams, u.s. assist. secretary of state for Afrikan affairs, ended ominously: “The government of the United States actually therefore holds the government of Ghana fully responsible for whatever consequences the book’s publication may have.” Years later Nkrumah said: “It is very significant that of all my books, Neo-colonialism is the only one which caused a government to register a formal protest.” And perhaps more than a mere protest. In that he warned:
“The neo-colonialism of today represents imperialism in its final and perhaps its most dangerous state. In the past it was possible to convert a country upon which a neo-colonial regime had been imposed—Egypt in the 19th century is an example—into a colonial territory. Today this process is no longer feasible. Old-fashioned colonialism is by no means entirely abolished. It still constitutes an Afrikan problem, but it is everywhere on the retreat. Once a territory has become nominally independent it is no longer possible, as it was in the last century, to reverse the process. Existing colonies may linger on, but no new colonies will be created. In place of colonialism as the main instrument of imperialism we have today neo-colonialism.
“The essence of neo-colonialism is that the state which is subject to it is, in theory, independent and has all the outward trappings of international sovereignty. In reality its economic system and thus its political policy is directed from outside.”26
This simple definition of neo-colonialism, that of “indirect rule,” is generally accepted now.
A year after these well-intentioned words were written, Nkrumah was overthrown by the state he himself had led.27 After the military coup of Feb. 24, 1966, while Nkrumah was on route to Beijing for a state visit, there was talk of C.I.A. “dirty tricks.” It was true that the local C.I.A. station had worked with the coup plotters (British-trained Afrikan officers), but it was also true that for three days afterwards the streets of Accra were crowded with thousands of celebrating students, market women, Ashanti “tribalists,” freed political prisoners and others.
Nkrumah had been the victim of the new ruling class and the new state that he himself had helped build.
We can add a quick story of how colonialism was force-changed over to neo-colonialism.
By then, it was an established fact that under u.s. leadership the imperialist world was changing over to a neo-colonial structure. After Dien Bien Phu in 1954 it became a panic, a landslide of decolonization. Engaged in a losing guerrilla war since 1945 in its Vietnam colony, the French military sought a decisive engagement to turn the tide at its fortress of Dien Bien Phu. It planned to use that isolated base as a lure, to draw in entire regiments and divisions of the communist Vietnamese Liberation Army onto a technological “killing field.” While the French appeared to be trapped, their napalm airstrikes and heavy artillery would decimate the supposedly cowardly Vietnamese, who would at last be lured into “stand and fight”—or so the French generals fantasized.
But revolutionary socialism had given the Vietnamese revolution powers of social organization and military science more advanced than the abilities of Western armies. After months of tightening encirclement and attrition, in 1954 the fortress of Dien Bien Phu fell. Thousands of defeated French officers, Foreign Legionnaires and paratroopers (and one woman nurse) were in Vietnamese loser camps. It was colonialism’s best-publicized body-blow since Little Big Horn. The whole colonized world could see what it meant.
In Algeria, the Black psychiatrist from Martinique turned liberation theorist and teacher, Frantz Fanon, saw the rippling effects. While desperately trying to hold on to its valuable Algerian colony (home to one million French settlers holding down nine million Arab and Berber Algerians), France was forced to begin decolonizing elsewhere.
Everywhere, anti-colonial movements were being born to fight them. A French nation hard-pressed to hold Algeria, that was drafting seven hundred thousand unenthusiastic French teenagers, that had recalled older reservists, and that had desperately stripped its NATO forces of entire tank divisions to rush to Algeria, could not even imagine fighting wars in twenty other colonies as well. (Che Guevara’s call in the 1960s for “two, three, many Vietnams” was a statement of anti-colonial experience)
“A colonized people is not alone,” Fanon wisely wrote. “Since July, 1954, the question which the colonized peoples have asked themselves has been, ‘what must be done to bring about another Dien Bien Phu? How can we manage it?’ Not a single colonized individual could ever again doubt the possibility of a Dien Bien Phu; the only problem was how … This is why a veritable panic takes hold of the colonialist governments in turn. Their purpose is to capture the vanguard, to turn the movement of liberation towards the right, and to disarm the people: quick, quick, let’s decolonize. Decolonize the Congo before it turns into another Algeria. Vote the constitutional framework for all Afrika … but for god’s sake let’s decolonize quick.”28
Nor was this the only pressure forcing France’s stiff neck to bend. A France weak from WW II, still hungry for its colonial past, was being kicked and shoved unceremoniously into the modern neo-colonial era. united states foreign policy as “the leader of the free world” was starting to insist on neo-colonial reforms. Washington wanted to ingratiate itself with the anti-colonial feeling coming to the surface, especially in Afrika where amerikkka itself had no colonies to lose.
In 1956, old and new collided head-on at the Suez Canal, newly nationalized by Egypt’s radical president, Gamal Nasser. French and British paratroops, together with Israeli tanks, seized the canal in a surprise overnight attack. Their surface aim was to restore the canal to the old British and French colonial owners, their deeper aim was to do what Bush later tried to do in Iraq, end their “Vietnam syndrome.”
In a public spanking of the three governments, the u.s. Eisenhower administration (which was Republican) joined with the u.s.s.r. to back Nasser and demand unconditional withdrawal. Humiliated, the French, British and zionists had to follow Washington’s orders and give it up. It was bruising notice for French imperialism of its second-rateness, as well as a measure of how committed u.s. imperialism was to coldly clearing the deck of old colonial situations that had outlived their usefulness.
A u.s. imperialism that was prepared to do that to its own white citizens hardly hesitated to whip the British and French into decolonizing, also. This was the same conservative Republican Eisenhower administration, remember, whose supreme court in 1954 ruled school segregation illegal. An administration that sent the u.s. army’s 82nd Airborne to take over Little Rock, Arkansas, and escort Black teenagers into white schools surrounded by bodyguards of bayonet-waving white paratroopers. Imperialism was leaning on its Southern white settlers to get with the new program, to decolonize New Afrika before it was too late.
Fanon understood that the u.s. was leading the way to cutting short the anti-colonial revolution. He thought it a sign of what was to come that Senator John F. Kennedy, the young star of liberal u.s. politics, had openly criticized French efforts to hold on to Algeria. In Black Afrika, Fanon wrote, “The United States had plunged in everywhere, dollars in the vanguard, with Armstrong as her aid and American negro diplomats, scholarships, the emissaries of the Voice of America …”29
It was Amilcar Cabral who best identified in that time the key questions of the change from colonialism to neo-colonialism. Cabral was from the small educated class in the Portuguese Afrikan colonial empire. His schoolteacher father named him after Hamilcar Barca, the great Afrikan general who had led Carthage into war against the Roman empire (his son was Hannibal). Cabral became an agronomist and chief of the agricultural survey in Guinea-Bissau, one of the highest-placed Afrikans in the Portuguese colonies. He was also secretly the leader of the clandestine liberation army, PAIGC (which he founded in 1956 with only five others), and from the start of actual warfare in 1963 to his assassination in 1973 led the guerrilla army in its victorious struggle for independence.
Cabral was perhaps the most extraordinary revolutionary leader of his generation. Certainly, as a political-military genius he far outpaced persons with larger reputations, such as Shaka Zulu or Napoleon. His real parallels are Moshesh of Basuto or Mao of China. Cabral’s uniqueness doesn’t fully come through in print because his writings are only a shadow of the concepts he brought alive in practice.
Guinea at the time of the 1969 U.N. survey had a population of only 530,000. It had no remote mountain ranges for guerrillas to hide in. It was occupied not only by Portuguese settlers but by 35,000 Portuguese soldiers, with NATO aircraft and weaponry. There was one Portuguese soldier for every seven adult Afrikans. A seemingly impossible situation. And yet, under Cabral’s innovative leadership, PAIGC destroyed the colonialists. Doing so while keeping to Cabral’s standard that Afrikan casualties in winning the war should be no higher than in “peacetime” before the war began. That is all another story, but we mention it only to indicate that his theories flowed from an intensely practical class struggle in freeing his people from oppression.
Cabral was notoriously impatient with abstract Western questions about “Marxism” and abstract notions of politics based on 19th century Europe. He saw that under colonialism the whole colony became a “nation-class,” that revolted against imperialism as an oppressed class. Peoples or tribes were functionally as classes to him, in addition to all the urban classes created solely by capitalism.30 The communal Balantes became the main force of the liberation struggle, while the Islamic Fula, being the most indigenously capitalistic in their culture, were the most pro-Portuguese. When young Fula women trying to join the guerrillas were being captured and given to men as slaves by the Islamic authorities, Cabral had to personally lead liberation forces to tell Fula chiefs at a meeting: “We aren’t going to permit that any more.”
To Cabral’s insight, the weakness of colonialism was that it united whole populations against it by even denying its own native allies and servants their class ambition. It squashed society into a horizontal structure, a “nation-class.” Neo-colonialism, he saw, tried to correct this weakness by giving way to or even pushing some sort of national liberation!
“This is where we think there is something wrong with the simple interpretation of the national liberation movement as a revolutionary trend. The objective of the imperialist countries was to prevent the enlargement of the socialist camp, to liberate the reactionary forces in our countries which were being stifled by colonialism and to enable these forces to ally themselves with the international bourgeoisie.
“The fundamental objective was to create a bourgeoisie where one did not exist, in order specifically to strengthen the imperialist and the capitalist camp. This rise of the bourgeoisie in the new countries, far from being at all surprising, should be considered absolutely normal, it is something that has to be faced by all those struggling against imperialism.”31
Cabral was the first to comprehend neo-colonialism as a new stage, with altered class relations on a world scale that changed the political balance. The new post-colonial states, relying on national pride, absorbing of former militants into state employment, and development of native class difference, changed the framework of struggle from a “nationalist” one to one requiring an anti-capitalist solution:
“In the neocolonial situation, the more or less accentuated structuring of the native society as a vertical one and the existence of a political power composed of native elements—national State—aggravate the contradictions within that society and make difficult, if not impossible, the creation of as broad a united front as in the colonial case. On the one hand, the material effects (mainly the nationalization of cadres and the rise in native economic initiative, particularly at the commercial level) and the psychological effects (pride in believing oneself ruled by one’s fellow-countrymen, exploitation of religious or tribal solidarity between some leaders and a fraction of the mass of the people) serve to demobilize a considerable part of the nationalist forces.”32
This gets into dense reading, but was prophetic then.
“But, on the other hand, the necessarily repressive nature of the neocolonial State against the national liberation forces, the aggravation of class contradictions, the objective continuance of agents and signs of foreign domination (settlers who retain their privileges, armed forces, racial discrimination), the growing impoverishment of the peasantry and the more or less flagrant influence of external factors contribute towards keeping the flame of nationalism alight. They serve gradually to awaken the consciousness of broad popular strata and, precisely, on the basis of awareness of neocolonialist frustration, to reunite the majority of the population around the ideal of national liberation.
“In addition, while the native ruling class becomes increasingly ‘bourgeois’ the development of a class of workers composed of urbanized industrial workers and agricultural proletarians—all exploited by the indirect domination of imperialism—opens renewed prospects for the evolution of national liberation. This class of workers, whatever the degree of development of its political consciousness (beyond a certain minimum that is consciousness of its needs), seems to constitute the true popular vanguard of the national liberation struggle in the neocolonial case.
“Another important distinction to draw between the colonial and neocolonial situations lies in the prospects for struggle. The colonial case (in which the nation-class fights the repressive forces of the bourgeoisie of the colonizing country) may lead, ostensibly at least, to a nationalist situation (national revolution): the nation gains its independence and theoretically adopts the economic structure it finds most attractive. The neocolonial case (in which the class of workers and its allies fight simultaneously the imperialist bourgeoisie and the native ruling class) is not resolved by a nationalist solution: it demands the destruction of the capitalist structure implanted in the national soil by imperialism and correctly postulates a socialist solution.”
While Cabral is often quoted, he is rarely discussed. The reason is that his ideas and life are uncomfortable, not soothing but too honest and hard-headed. Cabral brushed aside the usual dishonest rhetoric in which new “socialist” or “nationalist” states are said to be ruled by “the people,” the “proletariat” or “the peasant masses,” whose representatives and leaders are always these nice men (never women) from the petty-bourgeoisie with offices in the capital, a full package, bodyguards and villas.
To Cabral the no. 1 question was which class would run the new society, and he said everyone should be honest and admit that in his country it wasn’t going to be the oppressed. He was raising questions—the right questions—that the world is still trying to answer.
“Our problem is to see who is capable of taking control of the state apparatus when the colonial power is destroyed. In Guinea the peasants cannot read or write, they have almost no relations with the colonial forces during the colonial period except for paying taxes, which is done indirectly. The working class hardly exists as a defined class, it is just an embryo. There is no economically viable bourgeoisie because imperialism prevented it being created.
“What there is a stratum of people in the service of imperialism who have learned how to manipulate the apparatus of the state—the African petty bourgeoisie: this is the only stratum capable of controlling or even utilizing the instruments which the colonial state used against our people. So we come to the conclusion that in colonial conditions it is the petty bourgeoisie which is the inheritor of state power (though I wish we could be wrong). The moment national liberation comes and the petty bourgeoisie takes power we enter, or rather return to history, and thus the internal contradictions break out again.”33
Cabral’s only answer was to modestly hope that the moral development and cultural loyalty of the middle-classes to its people would protect them:
“To maintain the power that national liberation puts in its hands, the petty bourgeoisie has only one road: to give free rein to its natural tendencies to become ‘bourgeois’, to allow the development of a bourgeoisie of bureaucrats and intermediaries in the trading system, to transform itself into a national pseudo-bourgeoisie, that is to deny the revolution and necessarily subject itself to imperialist capital. Now this corresponds to the neocolonial situation, that is to say, to betrayal of the objectives of national liberation.
“In order not to betray these objectives, the petty bourgeoisie has only one road: to strengthen its revolutionary consciousness, to repudiate the temptations to become ‘bourgeois’ and the natural pretensions of its class mentality; to identify with the classes of workers, not to oppose the normal development of the process of revolution. This means that in order to play completely the part that falls to it in the national liberation struggle, the revolutionary petty bourgeoisie must be capable of committing suicide as a class; to be restored to life in the condition of a revolutionary worker completely identified with the deepest aspirations of the people to which he belongs.
“This alternative—to betray the revolution or to commit suicide as a class—constitutes the dilemma of the petty bourgeoisie in the general framework of the national liberation struggle. The positive solution, in favour of the revolution, depends on what Fidel Castro recently fittingly called development of revolutionary consciousness. This dependence necessarily draws our attention to the capacity of the leaders of the national liberation struggle to remain faithful to the principles and the fundamental cause of this struggle. This shows us, to a certain extent, that if national liberation is essentially a political question, the conditions for its development stamp on it certain characteristics that belong to the sphere of morals.”34
At this writing, Guinea, for example, is a neo-colonial military dictatorship minus any liberation party at all. The neo-colonial petty bourgeoisie, whether in Managua or Atlanta, in real life returned towards imperialism as fast as possible. Cabral’s heritage has been to pose the right questions, looking from the colonial era into the uncertain neo-colonial future. The flow of insights into neo-colonialism has kept on. Well over a decade ago, the most perceptive began pointing to many new developments inside capitalism as substantive. The brilliant Greek economist Aghiri Emmanuel (who was one of those mutinous Greek soldiers in the Afrikan desert in WW2) said in the 1970’s that imperialism was actually more and more at odds with its white settler servants, and was starting to abandon them to their fate in country after country.
At the heart of the Anti-colonial Revolution was not a return to the past, to pre-european modes of life, but the political birth of new class forces. From the european-educated intellectuals like Frantz Fanon to working class socialists like the merchant seaman Ho Chi Minh, to those from the lumpen-criminal depths, whose universities were prisons, like George Jackson, Malcolm X and the Algerian urban guerrilla Ali La Pointe. These were persons created by the modern industrial age.
Whether in Algiers, Accra or Saigon, the anti-colonial struggle was also marked by urban uprisings. In particular, in colonial capital after colonial capital there were general strikes led by the native trade unions, who were socialist in almost all cases. (A general strike is a political one, not against a single employer but involving a total shutdown of all economic activities from buses to factories). That is only saying that a young class, the urban proletariat, a class created by massive euro-capitalist development of mining and trade in the colonial world, was placing its weight upon the scales of the struggle.
In the 1940s and 1950s such general strikes swept Afrika and Asia. In Zimbabwe (then the British settler colony of “Rhodesia”), an Afrikan railroad workers strike in 1948 rapidly grew into a general strike that paralyzed the colony. The former white settler prime minister, Geofrey Huggins, told the frightened settler legislature: “We are witnessing the emergence of a proletariat, and in this country, it happens to be Black.”
In Ghana, the first Afrikan colony to be decolonized, Kwame Nkrumah’s Convention Peoples Party (CCP) had itself been born out of the “Christianburg riots”, a nationwide rebellion that began in Feb. 1948 after a British cop fired on a peaceful Afrikan veterans’ demonstration. The uprising was centered in the cities, and was led by the socialist Afrikan trade unions. Workers shut down electric power plants and public transportation, as British stores burned and Arab & european merchants were attacked in the streets. Only by bringing in its loyal Nigerian mercenaries and troops from South Africa was the colonial order restored.
In Kenya, Afrikan socialists in the multiracial trade unions (including Asians and Arab workers as well as Afrikan) began a guerrilla underground which eventually won the support of 90% of the Afrikan population, by the British government’s own estimate. This conspiracy became famous as the Mau Mau Rebellion of 1951–1956, and even in defeat cast such a threatening shadow that it led to the decolonization of all British Afrika:
“ … On May 16, 1950 the Afrikan and Asian workers in Nairobi (the colony’s capital) began a nine day general strike, which stopped all economic activity in the city. The 100,000 strikers were protesting the British repression against their new nationalist unions (which had openly demanded freedom & independence). The strike spread to Mombasa and elsewhere. Using troops and mass arrests the British finally crushed the political general strike.
“This set-back was not unexpected, and only consolidated the resolve of the Afrikan working class leadership to organize armed struggle for liberation. While the new underground included Kikuyu from almost all classes in Nairobi, from unemployed youth and street criminals to small merchants, it was primarily led by the workers in two unions, the transport workers and hotel workers. In June 1951 the young revolutionaries took over the large Nairobi chapter of the moderate Kenya African Union (KAU). Within the next year, they would secretly win over control of the KAU local committees in much of central Kenya, unable to fully take over KAU national executive because of Jomo Kenyatta’s great prestige.35
“In the Summer of 1951 the revolutionaries established their clandestine Central Committee as the supreme leadership of the rapidly growing network of underground cells. Small armed teams were started to provide security and eliminate informers. The central committee took Jomo Kenyatta’s oathing campaign, which had been going on with rising response, and raised it to a new level with the ‘warrior oath.’
“This new, second oath ceremony secretly pledged one to join the armed struggle as a fighter, and was administered on a surprise basis. Once a Kikuyu was honored by being invited to take the ‘warrior’s oath,’ they had to either do so on the spot or be immediately executed. It was a selective national draft. This, then, was the start of the armed movement that the British called ‘Mau Mau,’ a nationalist movement initially led by the young Afrikan proletariat.”36
While women came to play a great role in revolutions like “Mau Mau”, these leaders were not women. The new unions and the independence parties themselves were led by men, largely composed of men. Some of the new classes were, in fact, still so small and completely male in composition at first that the early generation “married out.” (the euro-capitalist assumption that all classes, like the animals of Noah’s ark parading aboard two-by-two, must be equally composed of male & female, is simply ignorant fiction. Many classes in history have been predominantly women or men.) Historic Afrikan leaders of the independence generation like Frantz Fanon of Algeria, Eduardo Mondlane of Mozambique, Amilcar Cabral of Guinea-Bissau, as well as Nkrumah of Ghana, all married non-Afrikan women.
No one thinks of women such as the powerful market women of Ghana as a “new” class, since women are the oldest class of all. In most accounts of anti-colonialism, which zoom in on male leaders and armies, colonized women are a minor note. You know, “faithful supporters” and “good helpers.” Truth is that rebellious women made the anti-colonial revolutions. Without the rising of women there would have been few anti-colonial victories on any continent. This was the most radical aspect to the Freedom struggle.
The Anti-colonial Revolution was so radical, dangerous, in fact, to both sides, because it freed within it fresh class forces that had been held down by colonialism. Ghana is a good illustration of this because there was no protracted liberation war there—or any armed struggle at all. Nor was there a socialist or communist party. It’s comparatively easy to see, unscreened, fresh class forces begin to assert themselves—and, in doing so, change the situation overnight. That was the essence of the Afrikan Revolution. We said dangerous to both sides.
Ghana, of course, has a special significance. When Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King went to Ghana’s Independence Day on March 6, 1957, as honored guests of the “the Liberator” Kwame Nkrumah, it was symbolic of the unity of the Freedom struggle from here and the first Black Afrikan nation to be decolonized. The Kings had become famous in Afrika because of their role in the 1955 Montgomery, Ala. Bus Boycott, which broke open the Civil Rights movement. (the Kings, we should recall, could neither vote nor hold public office in the Alabama of that time).
Ghana’s leader, Kwame Nkrumah, was one of the world leaders of the anti-war neutralist bloc of Third World nations, and was “burning to set all Africa free.” (as one of his Pan-Afrikanist mentors described him in his student days).
Nkrumah’s story is well-known in Afrika. He was, as the saying goes, “a legend in his own time.” A young man from the small Nzima tribe went from missionary school to scholarship study abroad. For almost a decade he lived in amerikkka, in poverty, as he made his way through college. At times his precarious income depended on being a laborer in a soap factory or a fish peddler in the streets. And when he was homeless in Harlem he slept on the IRT riding back & forth to Brooklyn all night.
After twelve years abroad, he returned to Ghana in 1947—and only two years later was the controversial leader of a new nationalist party with over a million members.
What is now Ghana was then the British Gold Coast Colony, put together by rifle out of the lands of the Ashanti, Ga, Nzima, Ewe, Dagoma, and other once-separate peoples. British imperialism had singled out the Gold Coast to be its model for remote-controlled Afrikan decolonization. For there they had no significant white settler minority whose local supremacy had to be temporarily respected, as was true in South Africa, Rhodesia, and Kenya. The profitable Ghana coffee bean crop had always been grown by Afrikan farmers who sold it to the Brit trading companies.
On returning home, the young lawyer Nkrumah was offered the job of general secretary of the United Gold Coast Convention, the bourgy-nationalist organization of Afrikan businessmen. He accepted, although was soon to break with “the reactionaries, middle class lawyers and merchants” (as he scornfully described the UGCC) then in negotiations with the British government, and start a new party demanding immediate independence. The founding ceremony of that party—the Convention Peoples Party or CPP—on June 12, 1949, in Accra, was the largest assembly in Gold Coast history. 60,000 people attended, and the CPP was the passionate voice of anti-colonialism. How could such an organization arise overnight?
The West Indian radical historian C.L.R. James, once a colleague of the young Nkrumah, tells us that the early CPP and Nkrumah’s anti-colonial leadership were built by the Afrikan women of Ghana: “It may seem strange to the Western reader that the Party seemed to be able to call a monster meeting at such short notice. The party propaganda vans would tour the city calling the people to the arena. The market women could get out thousands of people at the shortest possible notice, and Nkrumah’s often-repeated statement, ‘the market-women made the party,’ conveys one of the great truths of the revolution.”37
“There was yet another social feature of Gold Coast life, which was specifically African and was to prove of enormous importance to the revolution. For the great mass of the common people the centre of African life has always been the market. The Ewe week consisted of four days, the day before market day, market day, the day after market day, and stay at home day.
“The traders for generations have been the women (Nkrumah’s mother was a petty trader), and this function has been maintained and developed until today a large proportion of the retail distribution of goods, and the main channel through which the distribution of commodities flows from the big wholesale importers to the private home is the market, in small villages as well as in the big towns such as Accra and Kumasi.
“Thus in Accra there are thousands of women in action in the market, meeting tens of thousands of their fellow citizens every day. European visitors and officials up to 1947 saw in these markets a primitive and quaint survival in the modern towns.
“In reality here was, ready formed, a social organization of immense power, radiating from the centre into every corner and room of the town. Instead of being confined to cooking and washing for their husbands, the market women met every day, dealing with the European and Syrian traders on the one hand and their masses of fellow citizens on the other. The market was a great centre of gossip, of news and of discussion …
“These women, although to a large extent illiterate, were a dynamic element in the population, active, well-informed, acute, and always at the very centre of events. A number of commentators have found the basis of Ghana’s independence in the founding of Achimota College in 1924 and the resulting formation of a generation of well-educated Africans …
“Here is the myth in its most liberal and cultivated form. In the struggle for independence one market-woman in Accra, and there were fifteen thousand of them, was worth any dozen Achimota graduates. The graduates, the highly educated ones, were either hostile to Nkrumah and his party or stood aside.”38
That Afrikan women were the hard-core of the Ghana revolution—not as wives to political men nor as anonymous individuals “to swell a crowd”, but precisely as women, as a class or a people in their own right—is admitted by friend and foe alike. A conservative Afrikan critic of Nkrumah, in a venomous biography of the deposed leader, even speculates that his growing rift with the women who raised him up made his downfall possible.
“‘From the very beginning,’ admits Nkrumah, ‘women have been the chief field organizers. They have travelled through innumerable towns and villages in the role of propaganda secretaries, and have been responsible for the most part in bringing about the solidarity and cohesion of the Party.’ The women kept him in their houses, fed him and looked after him when the police were looking for him to arrest him, as when Ako Adjei’s sister hid him under her bed once during a police search. They also paid bail for him when, for lack of funds, it seemed certain he would go to jail; they kept him from debt in the numerous libel cases that were brought against him.
“It was when the women—the market women—began to complain bitterly about the unbearable conditions of life in the country, and to display publicly a hostile attitude towards Nkrumah’s regime that most Ghanaians knew, perhaps for the first time, that Nkrumah had reached the end of the political road.”39
Of all the anti-colonial classes released into political life by the national liberation movements, that of women was the biggest shock not only to capitalism but to men’s expectation of how the world should be.
To quote again from Women & Children In The Armed Struggle:
“Rosa Parks is a woman that everyone knows. In one day she made Civil Rights history by ‘her act of defiance on the evening of Dec. 1, 1955, her refusal to yield her seat on a segregated Montgomery, Ala. bus when the driver ordered her to do so.’ Now schoolchildren all over amerikkka are taught about her.
“In 1990, she was celebrated at a giant ‘black tie and gown’ benefit dinner for her foundation. 3,000 affluent people, from congresswomen to university presidents, came to pay tribute. Cicely Tyson was the m.c., while Dionne Warwick and Lou Rawls sang. Cyril Neville of the Neville Brothers performed a song composed in her honor: ‘Thank you, Miss Rosa/You are the spark/That started our Freedom movement.’
“So lofty is her place in history that even the racist Washington Post threw uncommon praise upon her:
“‘But, as the parade of stars and social leaders said loudly and clearly during the celebration last night of Rosa Park’s 77th birthday at the Kennedy Center, her defiance was such a powerful catalyst for the civil rights movement that the grand status of matriarch is hers alone.’
“Yet & again, how many women pay tribute to the Black women who really did what Rosa Parks is famous for? Long before Dec. 1, 1955, the New Afrikan community in Montgomery, Ala. had seethed under the public humiliation of being segregated in the back of the bus, having to yield their seats on demand to white passengers. Segregation, which was only an outward form of colonialism, was not merely a seating plan. New Afrikans were attacked and degraded every day on the buses. It was common for the white bus drivers to contemptuously throw transfers on the floor, so that Black passengers had to get down to pick them up, or bypass bus stops with waiting New Afrikans on rainy days because the drivers said they were ‘wet and smelly.’
“Black women who didn’t act slavish enough or who snuck into ‘white’ seats were called names like ‘Black bitch’, ‘heifers’, ‘nigger whore’ (isn’t it a measure of how successful capitalism’s genocide program is that many Black men are proud to degrade Black women using the language first invented by the most racist white men?). Those who resisted were beaten up and arrested—or, in one 1952 case involving a drunk man who talked back, taken off the bus by police and executed right on the spot.
“New Afrikan women were pushing the matter to a confrontation. There were more individual cases of spontaneous defiance. In 1953, Mrs. Epsie Worthy refused a bus driver’s demand that she pay an additional fare before leaving the bus, and then had to defend herself when he came at her with his fists swinging. In the punch up, she more than held her own, but had to surrender when the police came. The Women’s Political Council, which had three chapters of one hundred members each (their size limit so that each group could really know each other), had started compiling individual complaints and planning a bus boycott. It was the Black women of the W.P. C.—school teachers, college employees, church activists, nurses—who later in 1955 were to issue the actual call for the Bus Boycott, secretly preparing and anonymously mass distributing thousands of leaflets to mobilize the community.
“On March 2, 1955—eight months before Rosa Parks got arrested—a Montgomery bus driver on the Dexter Avenue line ordered four Black women to give up their seats so that whites could sit down. Two obeyed, but two pretended not to hear him. He called for the police, who got one Black man to stand up and give his seat to one of the two holdouts. But the last Black woman, who was pregnant, refused to budge and was arrested. Handcuffed, resisting, crying & cursing at the police, she was dragged from the bus.40
“The New Afrikan community leadership, including the ministers and the Women’s Political Council, quickly began exploring this as a test case to mobilize a concerted attack on public segregation. After much discussion, E. D. Nixon, the patriarch of the Alabama locals of the Sleeping Car Porters Union and Montgomery’s main civil rights leader, decided against it. The woman was not respectable enough, he judged. She was ‘immature’, a high school student, rowdy and defiant, and—worst of all—she was preg without being married. Nixon decided they all had to wait until there was a more respectable defendant.
“In October of that same year, a second New Afrikan woman refused a bus driver’s order to give up her seat to a white woman, and was arrested. Again, New Afrikan women got ready to launch a long-awaited struggle. But, again, E. D. Nixon decided that the sister who resisted wasn’t a good enough woman. That time his objection was that the young woman was too low-class. Angry and poor, she lived with her alcoholic father in a shack outside the city.
“There was dissent at this thinking among New Afrikan women, especially from the Women’s Political Council. They started saying that the issue wasn’t how ‘respectable’ a Black woman was, but putting colonialism itself on trial. Freedom was the issue, they said, and Nixon and other men should realize that. Under criticism, unable to stall any longer, E. D. Nixon finally turned to his closest supporter in the local N.A.A.C.P. She was a respectable woman by his standards: employed at a skilled trade, not too poor, an N.A.A.C.P. officer and the supervisor for the city’s N.A.A.C.P. Youth Council. Her name was Rosa Parks.
“It takes nothing away from Rosa Parks’ courage and years of dedication to see that she was not the first, not the catalyst, but was the symbol reluctantly chosen by men for a struggle that other New Afrikan woman had already started months before. It was fighting women, who weren’t respectable, who were ‘too hot, too Black’ for the men of the Civil Rights movement, who first broke the chains and opened the way. Not just in Montgomery, but all over New Afrika. Now unknown, on purpose not by accident. Why not call them X?
“Because men are saying now that they know who X is. That in the equations of life ‘X’ now stands for the known. When Public Enemy raps about ‘X’ the listeners know that’s Malcolm. When Spike Lee wears his black cap with the white ‘X’, we know he means Malcolm. On one level that’s no problem. On another level, though, isn’t it true that in mathematics X always stands for the Unknown? That’s why many thousands of New Afrikans (not just one person who started life as Malcolm Little and ended taking the name El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz) called themselves X. In place of their true family names, lost long ago in the slave ships and the auction block.
“To me, X is still the Unknown. Now, more than ever, the oppressed are X, the unseen Power who have yet to truly name themselves and define themselves. And who more so than women? Like in that movie, Full Metal Jacket, where at the surprise conclusion the unseen Vietnamese sniper who’s been systematically picking off most of a Marine platoon, lost in a burning city during the Tet offensive, is revealed to be … a young woman. The Marines on the screen and the real life audience in their seats were both caught off guard. In the movie, as in life, amerikkka had no name for her.
“The role might have been based on the legendary Vietnamese woman sniper who in real life commanded a sniper squad that completely terrorized u.s. Marines from the 26th regiment, on Hill 55 up in I Corps. This unknown amazon sister, who the grunts naturally called ‘Apache woman’, so demoralized them that men were dodging going out on patrol. Of course, Marine intelligence officers swore that any woman who could keep killing them so smoothly had to be emotionally disturbed. One young white lieutenant told the press: ‘This woman has some sort of sexual problem concerning men—she hates them.’
“They claim their own snipers finally killed ‘Apache woman’ in an ambush, but whether it was that amazon or another peasant woman in anonymous black pants and shirt, we don’t know. Call her X.
“(We can laugh at Dick, so resentfully confused when an amazon kicks his butt, but don’t white women share those same values? i just read a book by the lesbian-feminist editor of MS. magazine, saying basically the same things that white Marine lieutenant did: women guerrillas are emotionally messed-up and unwomanly. Even this lesbian editor of MS. thinks like her rapist white brothers do. That’s why you don’t know who you are.)
“Or during the 1968 Tet offensive in Saigon, when the world watched and held its breath as Vietnamese commandos invaded the heavily-fortified u.s. embassy compound with stunning audacity. They took over the grounds and won five of the seven stories of the embassy building itself, even raising their liberation flag over the embassy roof, before u.s. troop reinforcements took the embassy back in a fierce, floor-by-floor fight. The Vietnamese fought and died to the last … woman? Yes, woman. For the elite commando unit that led the most important single attack of the offensive was an all-woman’s unit (led by the vice-president of the Women’s Union). Men’s government and the media, always careful about the truth, have carefully concealed these sisters who defied them. Call them X, too.
“It’s not about guns, you know. It’s about knowing who you are. In any revolution, in any social crisis, any struggle for freedom, women suddenly break out and become incandescent with change. Because, really, it all began with us and can only end with us. Human oppression began with the erosion of the indigenous communal societies and men’s ownership of women and ‘his’ children that we reproduced. That was their first captive labor force, which by sacred male custom even the poorest man is supposed to be entitled to. Women were the first subject people categorized by biology, the first oppressed race. It all leads back to us.
“Which is why in any social upheaval, any cracks in the patriarchal order, women break out, begin being ‘crazy’ and changing themselves. Oppressors are thrown into confusion when this happens, but soon recognize it with hatred as the most fundamental challenge to their being.
“Feminism has always played a strong role in the revolutionary storms of the Third World, but has always been suppressed in the new societies created by those same revolutions. This is the most difficult contradiction of our times. One we will re-examine in the course of this essay.
“Rebellious women have so often been the foundation, at the center, of anti-imperialist revolution. This is natural and, in fact, inevitable. For who should be drawn to armed liberation more than the most oppressed? Women’s Liberation has always been an armed thing, and involves the overthrow of the three pillars of the existing order: the ruling class, the ruling nations, and the ruling gender. Women’s Liberation was the world’s first revolutionary trend. It is still today the most radical and dangerous in the eyes of men.
“When we look at the lives of feminist revolutionaries fifty or a hundred years ago, it is noteworthy how fresh, how modern they seem. In some cases they could be young revs of the 21st century. It is the power of Women’s Liberation that shines through their lives. Jiu Jin was born in 1875 and was executed by the Chinese government in 1907. She is known as one of the pioneers in the Chinese women’s struggle. Jiu Jin made herself into a feminist poet and a woman warrior, one who had taught herself sword fighting and riding.
“The first woman member of Dr. Sun Yat-Sen’s historic revolutionary nationalist movement, Jiu Jin wanted a women’s army to free China from the oppressive Manchu dynasty, the white and Japanese imperialist invaders, and the chains of patriarchy. She began by illegally leaving the arranged marriage her well-to-do family had forced her into. Her story, as related by Elisabeth Croll in Feminism and Socialism in China,41 could be a story of our times:
“‘She founded a revolutionary society among women students and applied to become a member of the Restoration League, later part of Dr. Sun Yat-Sen’s ‘Revolutionary Alliance.’ At first her application was refused on ‘the grounds of her sex’ … Eventually, unable to resist her entreaties they permitted her to become the first woman member. She spoke at numerous meetings, often wrote articles for the periodicals published by Chinese students and was said to stir her audience with her passionate patriotism and her clear analysis of events in China.
“‘In 1906 she returned to China where she manufactured explosives and founded a woman’s magazine. Both projects were short-lived and within a few months she had returned to Zhejiang to take up an appointment as principal of the Tatung College of Physical Culture. Here she founded a branch of the Revolutionary League, raised funds, established contacts with secret societies and built up a peoples’ and a separate women’s army at her school. In league with her cousin she helped to engineer a number of sporadic uprisings which prematurely exploded and were put down. Her revolutionary enthusiasm and strong feminism aroused hostility, and opposition to her activities was such that within a year she had been arrested and executed.
“‘Jiu Jin through her personal struggle against the restraints surrounding a feminine role became a conscious feminist. In her personal life she often assumed the name “Qinxiong,” which means “Compete with men,” and one photograph portrays her dressed as a man in Western clothes with quite a jaunty cloth cap. Her poem “Strive for Women Power” reveals her impatience with men’s superiority and repression:
“‘We women love our freedom,
Raise a cup of wine to our efforts for freedom;
May Heaven bestow equal power on men, women.
We would rise in flight, yes! Drag ourselves up …
“‘Former practice was deeply humiliating:
Maidens, young girls were actually mated likecows, mares.New light dawns in time of illustrious culture.
Man’s desire to stand alone, supreme, to enslave us
Underlings must be torn up by the roots …’”
“While Jiu Jin became famous after her death among young women in China, and as a feminist poet and a woman warrior continued to inspire many to become revolutionaries, she was more typical than not for feminists. During the 1911 Nationalist revolution there was continual conflict between nationalist men trying to hold their doors shut and thousands of young women fighting their way into the armed struggle, as nurses, spies, ammunition smugglers, assassins, and soldiers. Women made uniforms for themselves and organized into units such as the Zhejiang Women’s Army, the National Women’s Army, the Women’s Murder Squad, and the Amazon Corps of the Dare to Die Soldiers. The last was an assassination force of Dr. Sun Yat-Sen’s party, formed to wipe out key counter-revolutionaries in Beijing.
“More than a patriotic struggle was happening. Young Chinese women by the thousands, and then the hundreds of thousands, were building themselves into a cultural revolution. Not a change in male rulers or governments, but the attempted overthrowing of an entire society and its culture. These women themselves began to go through intense changes of the kind we know. As a public sign that they refused to ‘bow our heads’ to patriarchy, the young rebels cut their hair short and often wore either men’s dress, uniforms, or practical garb of their own choosing. This was a sensation. Reactionary men were enraged. While lesbians here get harassed and attacked by men in public for not conforming, in China then for rebellious women to stop posturing in male-prescribed ways, to declare in their appearance that they were out of male control, was a brave stand defying the real threat of lynching or execution. Thousands were killed.
“Women took these risks because taking part in the Revolution and the armed struggle were a personal means of overcoming the patriarchy around them. In 1927 the new Nationalist government established a women’s military college in Wauchang for propagandists who would work with the army on its Northern Expedition to finish retaking the country. This was a communist project, actually. Almost all of the new students were teenagers escaping marriages. As one later put it: ‘Where could she go, a girl under twenty years of age and without half a piece of cash to bless herself with?’ There was a consciousness of rejecting not only the old Chinese bondage of forced marriage servitude, but also the new Western bondage of preoccupation with ‘love’ romance with a man as the supposed fulfillment of woman’s life. Croll shows this in the words of one of the students:
“‘As soon as we had learned to sing the chorus of the Revolutionary song called ‘Struggle’, everyone of us liked to hum the chorus:
“‘Train quickly to become the Vanguard of the people,To wipe away the old ways, and Down with Love,
“‘Accomplish the Socialist Revolution, you great women.
“Every time they sang the phrase ‘Down with Love’, she said, ‘we would always shout especially loudly, as if we wanted to warn all our friends that during the time of our mission we were not going to give any thought to love.’ … She said they were ready to sacrifice their lives in order to create a future society which could be enjoyed by all members of society. For ‘unless the old system was completely shattered, womankind could never be freed.’”
“Few remember today that the word ‘communist’ was chosen by poor working class rebels in 19th century europe, following the example set by the ‘Communards’ of the Paris Commune of 1871. This first socialist and anarchist government by the oppressed took over the city of Paris when the capitalist government surrendered to the victorious German invaders. The revolutionary democracy held Paris only briefly, from March through the end of May, 1871, until the French capitalist army from Versailles (the former French royal estate) retook its capital in an orgy of mass rapes and executions.
“What most outraged world capitalist opinion about the Commune was the self-liberation of women. The elder Dumas, a reactionary writer, expressed the spirit of his class: ‘We shall say nothing about their females, out of respect for women—whom these resemble once they are dead.’ The correspondent for the London Times wrote with disquiet: ‘If the French Nation were composed of nothing but women, what a terrible nation it would be.’ Capitalism was naked in its fear of these women, who were feminists as well as being from the poorest classes—seamstresses, prostitutes, laborers.
“In her account of the women of the Commune, The Women Incendiaries,42 Edith Thomas tells us of how the French government retook Paris from the people:
“‘In spite of bitter local defenses, the Versailles troops advanced little by little. At the corner of the Rue Racine and the Rue Ecole de Medecine, the barricade was held by women. On the Rue du Pot-de-Fer, women were fighting. On the Rue Mouffetard women brought a fleeing sergeant back into the fighting. In the Place du Pantheon, women prepared rifles, while the men fired. The barricade on the Place du Chateau d’Eau exerted a sort of fascination. An English medical student, who had set up an ambulance alongside it, tells us: ‘Just at the moment when the National Guards began to retreat, a women’s battalion turned up; they came forward on the double and began to fire, crying “Long live the Commune.” They were armed with Snider carbines, and shot admirably. They fought like devils …’ Fifty-two were killed there. Among them, a girl in her twenties, dressed like a member of the Fusilier Marin, ‘rosy and beautiful with her curly black hair,’ fought all day long: Marie M., whose first name at least we know among all these dead, anonymous women who will never be counted.
“‘The English student goes on:
“‘“A poor woman was fighting in a cart, and sobbing bitterly.. I offered her a glass of wine and a piece of bread. She refused, saying ‘For the little time I have left to live, it isn’t worth the trouble.’ The woman was taken by four soldiers, who undressed her. An officer interrogated her: ‘You have killed two of my men.’ The woman began to laugh ironically and replied harshly: ‘May God punish me for not having killed more. I had two sons at Issy; they were both killed. And two at Neuilly. My husband died at this barricade—and now do what you want with me.’ I did not hear any more; I crawled away, but not soon enough to avoid hearing the command ‘Fire,’ which told me that everything was over.”’”
“‘But repression struck not only the fighting men and women taken with weapon in hand, or those who openly proclaimed themselves responsible for their acts; it struck at random. Every poor woman was suspected … Any expression of grief alongside the common graves in which the Federals were heaped up was proof of complicity. Any weeping woman was an “insurgent female.”
“‘As for the women who were executed, they were treated somewhat like unfortunate Arabs belonging to insurgent tribes. After they were shot, while they were still in their death throes, they were stripped of some of their clothes, and sometimes the insult went further, as in the Faubourg Montmartre or the Place Vendome, where women were left naked and sullied upon the sidewalks.
“Rebel women were like ‘arabs’, like ‘insurgent tribes’ who are outside of european civilization and who resist the colonization of the Master Race.
“‘But among all these women who soldiered for the Commune, a place apart must be given Louise Michel; her great figure dominated them all. She was everywhere at once: soldier, ambulance nurse, orator. She was to be found in the Clubs and on the battlefields, in the Montmartre Vigilance Committee and in the ambulance stations she helped to organize.
“‘She also proposed to undertake a strange mission: that of going in person to Versailles to assassinate Thiers, whom she believed to be the most responsible for the situation. Ferre and Rigault, to whom she disclosed this plan, succeeded in dissuading her from it; the murders of Generals Clement Thomas and Lecomte had already aroused public opinion against the Commune.
“‘Besides, they added, “you won’t be able to get as far as Versailles.”
“‘Louise Michel wanted to prove to them that this plan, although perhaps absurd, was feasible. She got so ‘dressed up that “I did not recognize myself,” reached Versailles without interference, and made her way into the park in which the army was camped; there she propagandized for the March 18th Revolution, and left as tranquilly as she had come. Then she bought newspapers in a large bookstore. Since she did not lack a sense of humor, she enjoyed reading the greatest ill of the blood-thirsty Louise Michel. Finally she came back to Paris, bearing the Versailles newspapers as trophies.
“‘But her courage and audacity were not satisfied with these dangerous pranks. She was everywhere—at Neuilly, at Les Mouliineaux, at the Issy fort—with her rifle in her hand. “Thus I had, as comrades-in-arms, the Enfants Perdus in the Hautes-Bruyeres, the artillerymen at Issy, and at Neuilly, the scouts of Montmarte”—and, especially, the Federals of the 61st Battalion, to which she belonged.
“‘An energetic woman fought in the ranks of the 61st Battalion; she has killed several policemen and gendarmes.’ They gave her a Remington rifle instead of her old one. ‘For the first time, I have a good weapon.’ She has left us several vignettes of that war, at once workmanlike and murderous: ‘Now we are fighting. This is battle. There is a rise, where I run ahead crying “To Versailles! to Versailles!” Razoua throws me his saber, to rally the men. We clasp hands on high, under a rain of shells. The sky is on fire.’ She opposed the timorous and shamed the hesitant. A panic-stricken Federal wanted to surrender the Clamart station: “Go ahead if you want to,” she said, “but I will stay here, and I’ll blow up the station if you surrender it.”
“‘And she sat herself down with a lighted candle, at the doorway of a room where ammunition was stored.
“‘She also gathered up the wounded and bandaged them on the battlefield. As in the early days at Vroncourt, her pity extended even to animals: she went under fire to rescue a cat. But she was also an intellectual who was introspective in the midst of action. One night, when she was on guard duty at the Clamart station, with a former pontifical Zouave who had joined the Commune, we overhear this strange dialogue. “What effect is the life you lead having upon you?” “Why, the effect of seeing before us a shore that we must reach,” replied Louise Michel.’
“‘UPPITY WOMEN’ LOVE ARMED STRUGGLE. Always have, ever since the patriarchy gang took over centuries ago. Across many years and continents, in different languages and cultures, sisters have the recurring dream of the Amazon Army and of women warriors. The image isn’t only of soldiers, but of all women who have broken with ‘femininity’ and set about dealing out blows against the oppressor.
“In Western Germany, revolutionary feminist guerrillas have taken the name of a famous girl-child ‘robin-hood’ from a children’s story book—’Red Zora and Her Gang.’ In an interview given to Emma, the German women’s magazine, a Red Zora sister says:
“‘Red Zora and Her gang—that is the wild street kid who steals from the rich to give to the poor. Until today it seems to be a male privilege to build gangs or to act outside the law. Yet particularly because girls and women are strangled by thousands of personal and political chains this should make us masses of “bandits” fighting for our freedom, our dignity, and our humanity. Law and order are fundamentally against us, even if we have hardly achieved any rights and have to fight for them daily. Radical women’s struggles and the law—there is no way they go together!’
“There is so much confusion about such a simple understanding. Some white feminists agree with the patriarchy that violence by women is morally wrong, since violence is exclusively a male thing. So often protests used to begin with a spokeswoman announcing: ‘This action is completely non-violent; we will not use the tools of the patriarchy.’ Such views equate Yvonne Wanrow shooting a rapist with B-52s dropping H-bombs, as though resistance by the oppressed was akin to imperialist war crimes. What’s really confused is to think: that rifles or arrows (or electricity or penicillin) and their use are the tools of the patriarchy. The real tools of the patriarchy are the masses of men and their women. When you lose sight of that you lose your orientation to the real world.
“More often, women’s violence is thought of in a passive way, only as a justified tactic (self-defense) of last resort instead of the first. As something that we only allow ourselves to use after all possible patriarchal solutions have first been exhausted. What we are saying is something beyond that. All over the world women are searching for liberation, for a new way of life, new social relations, a new culture beyond patriarchy. Women’s armed struggle is that liberated space we are searching for. More than a pragmatic necessity, women’s armed struggle is itself the generator of new culture. This sounds crazy in a culture which has redefined a women’s significant moment as when she gets her first credit card or drivers license. For communists armed struggle has always been the midwife in the birth of a new society. The Afrikan communist Amilcar Cabral wrote:
“‘Consider these features inherent in an armed liberation struggle: the practice of democracy, of criticism and self-criticism, the increasing responsibility of populations for the direction of their lives, literacy work, creation of school and health services, training of cadres from peasant and worker backgrounds—and many other achievements. When we consider these features, we see that the armed liberation struggle is not only a product of culture but also a determinant of culture. This is without a doubt for the people the prime recompense for the efforts and sacrifices which war demands.’
“Cabral’s point is easy to see when looking back at colonialism in the Third World, but the same point mystifies folks when it’s brought home to North Amerika. We tend to think of culture not as the preparing of the meal, not as sharing the meal itself, but as the icing on the cake. Culture is thought of as something vaguely uplifting, spiritual, peaceful—the opposite of armed struggle. Still, like Cabral’s people, so much of women’s ‘struggles here has been to build or hold onto these same features of a new culture. These manifestations of anti-capitalist culture by women have really been like contested outposts that the advance or retreat of the movement planted or abandoned:
“Political literacy, women’s schools and health services, democracy for the oppressed, shared criticism and self-criticism, women taking over responsibility for the direction of women’s lives, liberated territory. Many things have slipped through our fingers. Remember when we knew that the only thing we had in a hostile world was each other? And now too many think that so long as i have my individual career and personalized money market fund, then those things are no longer so important. As though our effort at women’s communalism was only a poor compensation for not having lots of money. (a typical patriarchal way of thinking).
“The reverse is more exactly true—it is the first outposts of a liberated people that are the true necessity for each of us. The more women try to have legal women’s institutions instead of armed liberation, the less we have and the weaker we are. Which then only becomes the further excuse for more accommodation to the patriarchy, in a downward gutter spiral. Armed liberation is extreme. It is both mother and daughter of a new culture, which thrives only in a state of illegality and danger. ‘Women’s life is a conspiracy.’ This has been true throughout modern history.”43
24 In the colonial era, it was the rule for euro-capitalist nations to try and weaken each other by supporting dissident forces in each others colonies. Which is why monarchist France sent its ships and soldiers to aid the slavemaster-general George Washington, in his "democratic" revolt against the British empire. The kingdom of Dahomey was able to stay independent of French colonialism until virtually the end of the 19th century, when the rest of West Afrika had fallen, not only because of its large military (whose heart was an elite corp of 5,000 amazons) but because wily King Behanzin had obtained modern rifles, some cannons, and even military specialists from France's rival, Germany.
After having defeated the French several times, Dahomey was only conquered in 1892 when France sent its Afrikan Senegalese battalions, expert at rifle and machine gun, led by its greatest commander, the black general Alfred Dodds. Even the courage of Dahomey's amazon warriors, who fought their way to the black French ranks against machine gun fire, could not prevail against "the discipline and the marksmanship of the Senegalese sharpshooters." Then, as now, only Afrikan men could conquer Afrikans for euro-capitalism. (See: J.a. Rogers. World’s Great Men of Color. N.Y. 1979. pp. 329–335).
25 Kwame Nkrumah. Revolutionary Path. N.Y. 1973 pp. 310–314 (International Publishers).
26 Kwame Nkrumah. Neo-Colonialism: the last stage of imperialism. N.Y. 1970 p. ix (International Publishers).
27 David Rodney. Kwame Nkrumah: the political kingdom in the Third World. N.Y. 1989 pp. 248–253 (Oxford).
28 Fanon p. 70. Also see: Ambassade De France. “First Elections Under Universal Suffrage Held in Black Afrika, a Decisive Step Towards Self-Government.” African Affairs. no.18 N.Y. May 1957.
29 Jazz great Louis Armstrong was sent on a "friendship" performance tour of Afrika by the u.s. state dept. at a time when the u.s. was busy assassinating Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba of the Congo. He later resigned when the u.s. failed to protect civil rights activity from violence.
30 Patrick Chabal. Amilcar Cabral: Revolutionary leadership and peoples war. Cambridge 1983. pp. 172–175.
31 Amilcar Cabral. “Brief Analysis of the Social Structure in Guinea.” In Revolution in Guinea. N.Y. 1969 p. 71.
32 Amilcar Cabral. “The Weapon of Theory.” In Unity & Struggle. N.Y. 1979 p. 133.
33 Cabral. “Brief Analysis …” p. 69.
34 Cabral. “Weapon of Theory.” p. 136.
35 Jomo Kenyatta was a conservative Afrikan leader, educated in London, who was the official head of the legal independence movement. He later became the first pro-Western dictator of neo-colonized Kenya.
36 “Pseudo-Gangs.” S1. June, 1983.
37 C.L.R.. James Nkrumah & the Ghana Revolution. Westport. 1977. p. 131.
38 James. pp. 55–56.
39 T. Peter Omari. Kwame Nkrumah: the anatomy of an Afrikan dictatorship. N.Y. 1970 p. 38.
40 “By then, the Black men on the bus had quickly gotten off and split, lest they be arrested, too. This was a pattern, where the anti-colonial confrontation expressed itself as New Afrikan women against the white colonial order. JoAnn Gibson Robinson, the president of the Women's Political Council and the person who wrote the leaflet that began the Montgomery Bus Boycott, said in her memoirs:
“‘The number of Negro men walking increased during 1954 and early 1955. They walked to and from work, to town, to movies, to see their girlfriends, because of fear at riding the buses. At no time did a single man ever stand up in defense of the women. Although it hurt to be called ‘coward,’ perhaps they were cowards, except for the very few men who challenged authority and paid the price. For at first hint of conflict, the men left at the nearest exit. They didn't dare to challenge the bus operators, who possessed police powers. The men feared arrest and did not expect to get justice in the courts. They had wives and children and could not afford to lose their jobs or go to jail. If they were on the bus when trouble started, they merely got up and got off. Or they avoided getting on the bus in the first place …’” (Although this newspaper has no footnotes, this passage must refer to Gibson’s first-person account: The Montgomery Bus Boycott and the Women Who Started It. (University of Tennessee Press.) Knoxville. 1987. [a somewhat different version of the role of Black women in sparking resistance to the colonial bus system can be found in: Taylor Branch. Parting the Waters. America in the King Years. 1954–1963. (Touchstone) N.Y. 1989])
41 Elisabeth Croll. Feminism and Socialism in China. (Routledge & Kegan Paul.) London. 1978.
42 Edith Thomas. The Women Incendiaries. N.Y. 1966 (George Braziller Inc.).
43 “Women & Children in the Armed Struggle.” Bottomfish Blues. No.6. 1993. An edited version of these articles was published as The Military Struggle of Women and Children (Kersplebedeb, 2003).