Concerning the 500th Anniversary Festivities of the so-called Discovery of America - ICG

Article from Communism #7.

Submitted by redtwister on December 15, 2005

The so-called discovery

12th October, 1492 means for the inhabitants of the continent which is now called America (after the colonizer), the beginning of an endless tale of suffering: exploitation, oppression, state terrorism, repression of any kind of resistance,... still existing today.

"The capital", says Marx in The Capital, "was born running with blood and mud from every pore, from head to foot."

What is called "the discovery of America", as well as the conquest and colonization, which followed, is nothing else but the process by which, at one very precise moment in the past, the capital placed its terrorist conditions of reproduction. Whereas in Europe the primitive, bloody and terrorist accumulation of the capital took centuries, during which producers were evicted and deprived of their means of production (meanwhile, the other pole of the globe was experiencing a concentration of the capital), it was done in a few decades on the American land and the global process only lasted one or two centuries (1).

During the history of the human race, this barbarity, inherent in the development of the capital, and carried out successfully through civilization, is one of the most horrifying events that has ever taken place.

It is no use making comparisons between atrocities, just because the death of one single human being who resisted the capital's civilization should move each of his brothers, who all over the world struggle for the suppression of the system.

Nevertheless, despite the fact that some genocides are given publicity whereas others remain systematically hidden, at least we want to claim that the slaughter of human beings which the capital brought about with the conquest and colonization of the American continent is even worse than the one of the two World Wars together, including, of course, all the murders in the concentration camps built by the European and North-American progressive bourgeoisie in the course of this century!

Denying the festivities that the upper classes of Europe and the whole American continent are preparing to commemorate the 500 years of such a "glorious epoch" means opposing ourselves in practice to the ideology that the capital is forcing on us and means stressing the fact that the terminology used is a sign of it. "The discovery of America", in the language used every day at school, at work, in the shops, in the street, etc., may seem to be no more than the mere, innocent and neutral description of an event. Nevertheless, if we take the time to think about it, we can realize that it is, on the contrary, precisely the subjective and interested vision of the colonizer, the exploiter and of the European dominant class which carried out a successful conquest and colonization: from its point of view and only its, a continent was discovered. The natives who lived on that land never discovered America! Unfortunately, what they discovered at that time was rather THE BARBARITY OF THE EUROPEAN CAPITALIST CIVILIZATION. The very grammatical subject of the "discovery" (who discovered?) doesn't hide very well the historical subject, which shows clearly that it is, in fact, an interested and partial vision of history.

In the eyes of the capital (the genuine historical subject of the "discovery" and of the conquest and colonization that followed), it was, indeed, the discovery of an enormous productive labour force to be used for its valorization and to enable the capital to set up itself as a mode of reproduction of human race. In the eyes, let say, of the members of a primitive communist society that lived on a land called later America, it was a military, political and cultural INVASION; the beginning of the end of its community, the beginning of slaughter, work, exploitation and oppression.

What was, on the one hand, the development of the social form of the reproduction of the European white human race and of its Judeo-Christian culture with its specific forms of exploitation and cannibalism was, on the other hand, and according to the faculty for adaptation to that form of exploitation, either submission in complicity with the local exploiter classes (only the societies in which the exploitation of man by man had existed could adapt themselves to that form of exploitation), either a general physical extermination.

A few months before the 500th anniversary of that fateful day when the capital started imposing the barbarity of civilization on the whole American continent, the dominant classes in Europe and in America are preparing the festivities for 1992 and have got the nerve to talk about celebrating the "discovery" and the "meeting between two worlds", as if two civilizations had met on a voluntary basis to improve their respective way of life, whereas, in fact, the capital led a terrorist and bloody fight to impose itself on the human beings who then lived in "America".

Therefore it is easy to understand why, among the exploited of that continent, a still vague movement started to reject and deny this campaign carried out by all the characters of capitalism: the Church, the Spanish and American (North, Central and South American) governments, the political parties, the media, the cinema..., was born.

Rejecting and denying

Considering the latter as something which represents the movement that rejects and denies such festivities, here is one of the first documents, written almost two years ago, which deals with that.

"The Farmers and Natives Organizations in the Andes, The National and Native Organization of Colombia (ONIC), The National Association of Users Farmers - Unity and Reconstruction (ANUC) and the Union and National Unitarian Federation of Farmers and Breeders of Colombia (FENAGRO), The National Federation of Farmers and Natives' Organizations (FENOC-1), The Confederation of The Native Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE) and The ECUANRUNARI Movement of Ecuador, The Farmers' Confederation of Peru (CCP) and The National Agrarian Confederation of Peru (CNA), The Single Union Confederation of Farmers of Bolivia (CSUTCB) and The No Land Movement of Brazil, who met in Bogota (Colombia) on 14th, 15th and 16th July, considering that:

1.- Whereas the 500 years of the wrongly called 'discovery' and conquest of America are near, the governments, churches, institutions, media, advertising agencies and the big transnational building entrepreneurs have taken a series of initiatives to 'celebrate' what they call 'the meeting of two worlds'.

2.- There was no meeting on that fateful day, 12th October, 1492, but rather a military, political and cultural invasion led by the European continent and more particularly by the Spanish State, which submitted our population to a brutal genocide and cut down the political, economic, cultural and mental evolution of our ancestors. So, what could have been a fruitful exchange of different cultures led to one culture, the conquistadors', dominating the other using arms and evangelization on a discriminating and unfair social basis poisoned by racism.

3.- Death, in all its forms, was the expression of the European civilization on the American land from slaughters to the physical extermination due to over-exploitation, including tortures and exports of illnesses and epidemics. 90 million people died as a result of the killing of the Indian communities: one of the worst crimes against humanity, which is still going on today, but in more subtle ways, which are not, for all that, less brutal and ruthless!

4.- On behalf of the European civilization, supposedly superior, the conquerors ruined a large part of the scientific and technical progress, of the artistic and cultural expressions, of the languages and the social organization of the indigenous peoples to take over everything by evicting the farmers from their lands, by plundering the resources and seizing the fruits of the work of the conquered.

5.- The 'discovery' also meant that Latin America would be, for centuries, enslaved to the interests of the great European powers of that time and to the United States of today. This conditioned the existing drama of poverty, misery and under-development against which our peoples are struggling; this drama being worsened with the oppressive burden of the external debt.

6.- Therefore, it is natural that, as the main victims of these outrages and of the deprivation of our homeland, we want to claim that we reject such "festivities" and want to take the opportunity to think over that fifth centenary and to transform it into a self-discovery of our America, into a reason to bring our support to all the oppressed, or the appropriate time to do so.

We decide to

ratify the meeting of the Farmers and Natives' Organizations of South America, Central America and the Caribbean, convened on 7th and 12th October, 1989, in Bogota (Colombia).

This meeting aims at centralizing and unifying the various dynamics impulsed by people's organizations in the countries of America about the 500-year domination and exploitation, as well as making an opportunity to think over the big challenges of today and give a common answer to the theme."

Our position

The Internationalist Communist Group doesn't hesitate for one single moment to oppose openly all these festivities which our secular enemies are preparing and appeals to the international proletariat to resort to direct action against them.

Billions of dollars have been invested in the festivities and in the campaigns through which they will build the public opinion they need and through which they will harass the exploited of the five continents and more particularly those from America. We appeal to the avant-garde proletariat to take action against such campaigns; we call on them to make of every factory, every school, every mine, every office... the place to denounce parties, trade-unions, governments, media, which take part in the campaign, to make it the sphere of activity against all the previous capitalists as well as against the capitalists of today, who, all, with no exception, have Indian, half-cast, black, white,... blood on their hands.

The ways direct action will be led depend, of course, on the possibilities and on the balance of forces in each place at a time when the international weakness of the proletariat facing its historical enemy is acknowledged; any general recipe would be no more than a mere vain statement. The fact that we don't call on a generalized sabotage or on an insurrectionary and revolutionary strike doesn't mean we don't agree with that kind of action, but it is because, first of all, the proletariat having no international guidance or conscious common action at the moment, it would only be a dream and also because throwing rotten eggs or a few Molotov cocktails during the festivities, going on strike here or occupying places there don't deserve yet the name of sabotage, neither do they imply there to be any general leadership. It will rather be a modest expression of the present rejecting movement that we are struggling for to generalize it and hardenit.

We intend to radicalise it in the deepest sense of the word, that is to say to go back to the roots. And, as we have already said it, the root of the problem is our old-aged enemy: the capital, our well-known enemy, the bourgeois society on the whole, which forced the human race to submit itself to it. That is why hardening the movement against the so-called festivities is, and can only mean, a struggle against the whole capitalism. Moreover, we talk about "generalizing" both in the quantitative and qualitative expansion of the proletarian participation in this struggle, in the sense of the confrontation against all the capitalist forces, and finally, in the sense of the historical relation between this struggle led by the exploited and the oppressed of the five continents during colonization to resist the capital, and the nowadays proletariat's struggle, the everyday struggle against austerity, against capitalist exploitation and the struggle for the suppression of that criminal system. That's the reason why denouncing the festivity campaign and confronting it is not a different struggle, but is rather an additional aspect of the social war between the exploiters and the exploited.

If the struggle is divided, if its contents which is to be a struggle against capitalism, turn out to be a struggle for peaceful coexistence between classes (whether it be on behalf of the meeting between two worlds or of Latin-American unity against yankee imperialism), that would be a reactionary obstacle. That's why,through our struggle against these festivities, we launch an appeal to face and denounce all the bourgeois, left-wing or right-wing forces, which will try to make of the historical struggle against capitalism a mere contradiction among its own factions, between the "imperialists" and the "others", or, which is even worse, among nations: between Europeans and Americans, between inhabitants of South-America and inhabitants of North-America.

Against the bourgeois left-wing

Let's take as an example the point 5 of the document mentioned above. Even if it describes part of the reality, the fact remains that it divides and alters the aims by mixing everything and eventually dissolves the main contradiction into another one, which opposes debtors and creditors of capital, that is to say a contradiction between bourgeois factions, as we denounced it in our central review in French (2).

This is being done consciously or unconsciously, considering as grammatical subject what is not the historical subject: Latin-America; and suggesting continuity between the previous exploited and submitted in all America and this non-subject which is Latin-America. There is no doubt that this position corresponds to the Latin-American bourgeois' interests (and consequently, to those of capitalism), the very bourgeois who stand as a victim of a genocide in which it deliberately took part.

This conjures up an old story: a South-American journalist, who was considering Juan Ramón Jimenez responsible, harassed him saying: "... you, the Spanish, the colonizers,... responsible for the slaughter,... the obscurantists,... your grand-fathers..." He answered quite rightly: "It will be yours, mine, the poor, are overseas in Spain, well buried."

And this is true not only for the Latin-American exploiting class of Latin and European origin, but also for the bourgeois of Indian origin, seeing that in many cases the indigenous dominant classes contributed to the barbarity of colonization. In fact, as we already said above, the natives who didn't live in a society with class exploitation resisted wage labour to the death and/or were exterminated (or killed themselves in many ways, including conscious and deliberate collective infanticide); that's why most natives of today, who are exploited proletarians, are descendants of societies in which exploitation already existed; and besides the fact their own exploiters may have sold them to capitalist bosses, they could accept wage labour capital imposed on them because they were used to working for others, to producing overwork for their "own" native bourgeois. For example, in the Inca Empire, the "mita" and the "yanaconaje" were forms of overwork appropriation that the capitalism later was going to subsume in its being, thanks, in many cases, to the caciques, who watched over labour force.

Latin-Americanism clearly expresses the counterrevolutionary interests of the left-wing bourgeoisie, who, on this occasion, and as every time a proletarian movement expands, tries to turn the class war into an international war of capital (between nations).

The only bourgeois solution to that is:

to hide the real continuity which exists between the previous indigenous communities the capital exploited and slaughtered to deprive them and make proletarians of them, and the today proletarians all over the world;

to hide the real continuity which exists in the Latin-American States, between the local bourgeois and the previous criminals, presenting the enemy as external (or showing an enemy abroad).

to substitute false continuity for the real one, such as asserting that all Europeans and North-Americans are privileged (so as to divide the common aims and interests of the proletariat) and presenting them as the heirs to the colonizing states.

We must acknowledge that the enormous lie according to which there are no poor people in Europe and in the USA, is, objectively, for the proletarians in Latin-America, as strong as a popular prejudice; and the bourgeoisie knows how to use it. Only the proletarians' struggle against their own bourgeois will change this fact. As for now, movements still crop up separately (unlike in the end of the last century and in the beginning of this one when there were unity and various levels of coordination between proletarians in the south, north and centre of the American continent). As far as we know, even the struggle and reject movement of the 500th anniversary festivities makes no exception: the organizations which started working against these festivities in Latin-America were not aware of the indigenous proletarian movement in North-America until there were very important struggles in Canada and some others in the USA which stressed, once more, the same history and the same current interests among the exploited, both in the north and in the south.

To what extent is the protest movement against the festivities infested or dominated by the left-wing bourgeoisie? It is difficult to respond to that point so far and, in fact, the very happening of the festivities and the denouncing of them will tell us about the proletariat's autonomy from that left wing or, on the contrary, the proletariat's subordination to it. That's why the determined struggle against the festivities must always imply the denunciation of the pseudo anti-imperialist left-wing bourgeois.

What seems to us to be objective is, that in all structures and organizations which existed before or which have been developing for two years to denounce the festivities there is an important position of struggle in this respect. In the various spheres for discussion and reflection that have come out both at international level and in each country, we can see that proletarians and proletarian organizations coexist with old leftist or unionist structures (among which many signed the first communique mentioned above). So, we notice that a lot of left-wing capitalist structures, from the Cuban State to the many American intellectual groups or unions of the different countries, which, at the beginning seemed to be opposing the festivities, submitted (in many cases sold themselves), little by little, more or less barefacedly, to the 1992 festivities, and, in many cases, today, they even come to condemn (sometimes, they quell) those who don't sell themselves.

In the first place, with this article we aimed to expound our position on the whole, as a group, against the festivities and, more particularly, we aimed to set out our stand on several topics we received to be denounced and thought about. Nevertheless, seeing the diversity and contradiction they contained, we have chosen, in this first text, to limit ourselves in explaining that our position in the struggle stands against the festivities (denouncing also, on the whole, the left-wing bourgeoisie).

Against the festivities

We will end by reiterating our stand and our appeal to struggle against the 500th anniversary festivities. Nobody knows exactly the real figures of the immense slaughter the world capital will be celebrating, but no one doubts they were dozens of times bigger than those which the imperialists who won the "First and Second World War" attribute to their enemies. Recently, some old information has been published and new studies realized. Researches carried out at the Bekerley University, for instance, prove that of the 25,200,000 inhabitants of the central region of present Mexico in 1519, only 1,075,000 survived a century later, which means a level of extermination (repression, labour, illnesses...) of 24,125,000 human beings. According to a compilation of information made by Adolfo Colonbrees and published in his work: "To the five hundred years of the shock of two worlds", Aztecs, Mayas and Incas counted, at the beginning of colonization, 70 to 90 million of human beings; 150 years later, they were 3,500,000. Let us add, that, seeing that most natives succumbed because of capitalist exploitation, the bourgeoisie brought, as a substitution labour force, the Black from Africa, which cost, according to Jose Chiavenato in "The black in Brazil", 100,000,000 black human lives to our species.

We must also add that all those, calling themselves Marxists, who praise progress and civilization, are making themselves accomplices of all this. In our opinion, it is clear that wavering between supporting resistance to exploitation (the essence of the historical communist position even during precapitalism) and supporting the whole of the progress of Capitalism (the essence of the historical position of counter-revolution, social-democracy), Marx and Engels will come to support, on behalf of civilization, bourgeois positions such as, for example, the war launched by the Yankees against "lazy Mexicans" (3). The Theses of our programme clearly fight against such positions. They denounce progress, civilization (see thesis 32, a.o.) and they claim that the present struggle of the proletariat is not the successor of progress and bourgeois revolution (as social-democracy says), it is the successor of all the exploited classes of the past. We also include, among those whom we denounce as accomplices, the so-called followers of "Communist Left". Indeed, all those who defend that capitalism was in a progressive phase till 1914 or any other date, all the supporters of the theory of ascendance and decadence of Capital, inevitably support the criminal work of the capitalist civilization. Therefore, we are neither astonished by the fact that in the face of the gigantic generalised campaign of the Bourgeois State for the festivities of the 500th anniversary those people didn't say a word, nor by the fact that they have made themselves the accomplice of the festivities.

We shall end this article on the 1492-1992 festivities by repeating our call for social war against capital:

Long live direct action of the proletariat against all the forces of Capital, which are the only ones having true reasons to commemorate five centuries of exploitation and oppression !


1. There might have been preexisting forms of trading capital in America but, anyways, this is not the right time to enter into arguments to know whether or not this antediluvian capital succeeded in leading this barbarity, or to assess how long it would have taken to come, in an autonomous way, to a generalized submission to exploitation.

2. On that subject, see: "La cuestión de la deuda: basta de versos" in Comunismo 19, June 1985, "Deuda externa: las fantasías sin salida" in Comunismo 21, February 1986 and "La question de la dette: assez de prose" in Le Communiste 27.

3. This position is clearly explained in an editorial, which was not signed, in Neue Rheinische Zeitung: "Democratic Pan-Slavism", a reaction to "An appeal to The Slaves" of Bakhunin in which it is said, word for word: "... Will Bakhunin reproach the North-Americans for waging a 'war of conquest', which, of course, meant a severe blow to his theory based on 'justice and humanity', but which was carried out successfully to the advantage of civilization only? Or is it by chance that the wonderful California was snatched from the lazy Mexicans, who didn't know what to do with it? Is it a misfortune for the wonderful Yankees to exploit the gold mines there, to increase the means of transport, to make, in a few years, of the most appropriate coast of that peaceful ocean, a place with a high density of population and a busy trade, to build big cities, steamboat lines, a railway line from New-York to San Francisco, to really open for the first time the Pacific Ocean to civilization and, for the third time in history, give a new orientation to world trade?"

As we can see, it's the traditional bourgeois position in favour of progress and civilization, against resistance to work and exploitation, which Marx and Engels support here.

Some tried to exonerate Marx saying that he was not the direct author of that article but, as we know, the editorial staff of the Neue Rheinische Zeitung was under the sheer and mere dictatorship of Marx. (Engels MEW t.XXI p.19). Moreover, Engels undertook to stress, in a letter to Herman Schüler on the 15th May 1885, that this was, indeed, Marx's position: "As well as the article against Bakhunin and Pan-Slavism, Marx's work and mine of that time can hardly not be separated, since there is division in work."