'Authoritarian leftists' and Southern African

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Jacques Roux's picture
Jacques Roux
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Feb 20 2007 14:11
'Authoritarian leftists' and Southern African

Was wondering after reading a bit about some 70s era Sub-Saharan national lib. movements which Leninists in the UK etc. must have supported at the time - but what do they think of them now and how do they explain the shift? I'm thinking partic. of FRELIMO in Mozambique and MPLA in Angola, both of which are still in power but obviously very different than how they started off as guerilla armies. Perhaps i should be asking this on RevLeft.

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Steven.
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Feb 20 2007 14:33

I'm sure there everyone would still support them...

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Jacques Roux
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Feb 20 2007 14:36
John. wrote:
I'm sure there everyone would still support them...

? People there don't support them, but i was wondering about how Leninists in the UK/US explain it.

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Feb 20 2007 14:37
rkn wrote:
John. wrote:
I'm sure there everyone would still support them...

? People there don't support them, but i was wondering about how Leninists in the UK/US explain it.

Sorry I meant on revleft. Didn't mean to derail.

Blacknred Ned
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Feb 20 2007 17:15

I don't give a flying fuck who leninists support, supported or will support; what brontosaurus ate for breakfast is of more consequence for my life!

Nevertheless, if you are interested in the liberation movements that shook the foundations of the Portuguese African empire, I suggest you look at Basil Davidson's groundbreaking work on Mozambique, Angola and Guinea Bissau. The main reason that Davidson concentrated so much effort on understanding these anti-colonial movements was that he was barred from entering any British colonies in Africa after receiving a ban from the then Union of South Africa for pioneering reporting of the women who organised the garment workers' union in the dominion.

It has been a few years but as I recall Davidson argues that the anti-colonial struggles in the Portuguese colonies were highly democratic; he characterises them as people's wars (very nearly the title of one of his books IIRC) and argues that they were far from nationalistic. Of course, the nefarious involvement of South Africa in the affairs of neighbouring territories has left little room for the continuation of the social experiments that seem to have marked the movements against Portuguese rule. I would also recommend 'The Black Man's Burden: Africa and the Curse of the Nation State.'

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Jacques Roux
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Feb 20 2007 17:37

Thanks for the info. I was asking about what Leninists thought because the two movements i mentioned were both comprised of self-declared Leninists, who I am led to understand fought for the overthrow of colonialism in their respective areas because they believed they only way to develop their nations was through armed struggle against the colonisers.

But not only were their methods authoritarian (i.e. the rounding up of counter-revolutionaries who refused to 'modernise') but their whole existence was caught up in the modernising project of colonial states. Some have argued that this led directly to movements such as FRELIMO slipping into the role of the colonising government. However they weren't granted the same privileges as the Portugese and instead the bourgeoisie in the new Mozambique just acted as an intermediary class ultimately serving (post)-colonial Europe.

I will check out Davidson when i get a chance, but from your description it sounds like he has a different view from the stuff i have dipped into.

Blacknred Ned
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Feb 20 2007 18:11

It certainly sounds as if we are talking about different movements or different moments. Davidson was very widely respected in Africa because of his willingness to report directly from the action and his reputation as a reporter and historian of Africa from an African perspective. When the Eritreans won their independence from Ethiopia there was a battle in which they expected to destroy an Ethiopian corps; they wanted the outside world to know so they hired some satellite time and invited Davidson to Africa to report on the moment; in his late 70s he made his way there and duly reported the battle; he was the voice that carried the authority and the trust the Eritreans wanted.

Now, he has also been accused of having been a KGB agent and a great deal has been suggested about his time in Yugoslavia during WWII, but on Africa I trust his experience and his writing.

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Feb 20 2007 18:59

Yes it does sound strange, I will try and look into it more.

Wikipedia doesn't have much on him apart from he was MI6 for a while.

Blacknred Ned
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Feb 20 2007 19:27

MI6, KGB.... well not exactly exclusive clubs. I suspect that he was actually in SOE rather than MI6.

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Feb 20 2007 22:38

Basil Davidson is interesting. It's over 20 years since I read his stuff but some of his descriptions of the way the PAIGC organised in Guinea-Bissau may well strike a chord with anarchists. Although it paid lip-service to "democratic centralism", structurally, it was fairly flexible, reflecting cultural and social aspects of the local villages. So if a vilage was relatively libertarian in it's social structure, then this was emphasised in the "liberated zones". Their treatment of Portuguese prisoners was allegedly sound too and if I'm not mistaken, Otelo Carvalho was "turned" by the PAIGC.

Blacknred Ned
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Feb 20 2007 22:46

I think that that is the crucial point. The liberation struggle was built from the ground up and was not nationalist. It is this distinction between nationalist decolonisation and radical liberation that is all important to understanding the imposition of nation-states as they now exist in Africa.

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Feb 20 2007 23:04

I know ZACF have said that they have had certain contact in jails with former liberation fighters, who seem to resonate with the anarchist-communsist critique of the now neo-liberal movements like FRELIMO

gurrier
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Feb 21 2007 01:28
Blacknred Ned wrote:
I think that that is the crucial point. The liberation struggle was built from the ground up and was not nationalist. It is this distinction between nationalist decolonisation and radical liberation that is all important to understanding the imposition of nation-states as they now exist in Africa.

Or, to put it more simply, you can't equate anti-imperialism with nationalism.

Basil Davidson was certainly a brilliant historian and journalist. His writings on Africa just smack of tremendous honesty. Curiously, they are pretty much the only books on African history that you can find in most of Africa, but you can't find them here unless you look really hard.

He also took what was almost a libertarian turn towards the end of his output. His last book was entitled "Africa and the curse of the nation-state". It essentially advocated non-state, participatory forms based on traditional structures as against the state.

Many of the African anti-imperial movements were built from the ground up and were not nationalist (how could they be when the nations were of such recent colonial vintage). The movements in the Portuguese colonies were particularly radical in that they had to be. There was no native bourgeoisie or even bureaucracy. The sum total of native high-school graduates from Mozambique in 1970 was 5. The movements were radical, participatory, based on the peasantry (95%+ of the population) and challenged a lot of the traditional forms of oppression (subjugation of women, tribal hierarchies, etc).

For various geo-political reasons, they were faced with opposition, not from the creaking Portuguese fascist regime, but from NATO. The Luftwaffe was a major player in Mozambique. The South Africans were, obviously, heavily involved there and in Angola - their economy depended on markets and resources drawn from the southern half of the continent.

The movements were inter-nationalist in nature, they combined many different ethnic groups and they weren't attached in any way to any state or nation.

So, on the one side you have a self-organised, internationalist, socially progressive, participatory group of peasants, on the other side you have the militaries of the world's ruling class. If you don't know which side you're on in such a conflict, you really have no business calling yourself an anarchist. If you are neutral in such conflicts unless the movement agrees entirely with your politics, you're destined to be forever an armchair general. The real world doesn't throw up less complicated conflicts.

Of course the trots and leninists are going to fete the leadership - that's what they do. But anarchists should also obviously support them and seek to assist their non-hierarchical and participatory elements. If the events of 1970-75 were to happen today in the Portuguese colonies, our best response would be to send them arms, literature and practical support, while trying to stop our governments fire-bombing their villages. Especially when our tax money is being spent to send bombers to their villages, we should be offering practical support to such anti-imperial movements, trying to encourage libertarian tendencies within their movements, building links with them and chanelling resources to them.

Of course they hardly brought about a social revolution in the ex-Portugues colonies. The leadership of the anti-imperialist movements did, eventually, become a new elite, just like any other nation's ruling class.

But it's not as simple as that.

For a start, the success of the anti-imperialist movements in the Portuguese colonies had many far reaching benefits.

Living standards, health, education and prosperity of the population all showed marked improvements in the period after independence.

The Portuguese fascist regime was weakened to the point where a revolution could take place.

The South African apartheid regime was dealt an ultimately fatal blow.

There is also the consideration that, given the balance of forces and the prevailing ideological tendencies, the ex-Portuguese colonies have turned out remarkably well. Both Angola and Mozambique faced immediate invasion and prolonged high-tech guerilla warfare by South Africa - backed by the US and NATO. In the case of Angola, the war only really ended a couple of years ago and the country was absolutely devastated for some 30 years - completely and utterly wiped out with the majority of the population in refugee camps. In the case of Mozambique, the Portuguese just completely leveled the infrastructure before they left, there was an immediate invasion of a South African proxy force which targeted whatever remained of the infrastructure. Their war went on for over a decade. Given the circumstances, and the fact that they were influenced by Leninist ideas, it is remarkable that things didn't turn out worse. But, even if these movements had been the purest anarchists, they still would have faced some mighty hard problems and things could easily have gone pear-shaped due to the enormous imbalance of forces against them and the duration of the attacks.

The South African defeats in Angola and Mozambique cut off their connection to the continent, which their economy depended upon. When they also lost Zimbabwe, they were completely cut off and that was one of the big things that persuaded south african capital to end apartheid - they regained their traditional regional economic dominance.

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Feb 27 2007 00:36

well said Gurrier.

Just like any kind of real movement (ie in the unions, among women, prisoners, etc), Anti-imperialist struggles will have different tendencies, different wings.

Anarchists should seek to strengthen the antiauthoritarian elements/forces. This of course requires being part of the struggle against the imperialists (but not neccesarily part of any specific organization).

Thanks for laying out the argument so well. I don't understand why this is controversial.

bomvu
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Mar 31 2008 12:21

The authoritarian left continues to try and seek to dominate Southern African studies - these days it is via donor funded NGOs that relentlessly usurp the platforms creates popular struggles, try to speak for these struggles, use their money to fund and totally dominate all networking structures and even assume a right to decided who should represent the popular struggles. In South Africa the worst offenders are the Centre for Civil Society, Ilrig and Khanya College. In 2006 the popular movements told them to get lost and they responded, just like the state, by declaring the popular movements to be criminal....

These authoritarian NGOs survive largely be selling the illusion of global political credibility to Northern NGOs and Northern celebrity leftists. Right now John Pilger is in Durban with the Centre for Civil Society and groups like Action Aid etc use them too. Even though the popular movements have publicly declared that they will never work with the Centre for Civil Society....and even though some people at the Centre joined the state and called the popular movements 'criminals'....See http://www.wombles.org.uk/article2007121403.php and http://www.abahlali.org/node/1391

Some of these NGOs also have links to the SWP in the UK.

It would be good if anti-authoritarian leftists in the UK could challenge this business of the NGOs and celebrity leftists treating NGOs as if they represented popular struggles - especially when the popular movements denounce the NGOs!

We need a new slogan. 'Solidarity with the movements in the South, not the NGOs'