by Mucai Wa Kangere. and Kameel al-Assad
“They [Social-Democrats] are just as much traitors to socialism… They represent that top section of workers who have been bribed by the bourgeoisie… for in all the civilised, advanced countries the bourgeoisie rob—either by colonial oppression or by financially extracting ‘gain’ from formally independent weak countries—they rob a population many times larger than that of ‘their own’ country. This is the economic factor that enables the imperialist bourgeoisie to obtain superprofits, part of which is used to bribe the top section of the proletariat and convert it into a reformist, opportunist petty bourgeoisie that fears revolution.”— V.I. Lenin, “Letter to the Workers of Europe and America,” Pravda; No. 16, January 24, 1919
As revolutionaries, communists, and pan-africanists, we are required by our struggle to navigate the conditions we face today. We need to utilize a scientific framework to understand what is going on during times of crisis with the information available to us. We must then take this analysis to continue the struggle for the very future that we know is necessary, a future which is by no means guaranteed for us. That is why we, as members of the All-African People’s Revolutionary Party, have written a joint perspective on the current COVID-19 pandemic. As crisis engulfs the masses worldwide, opportunists, snakes, fascists, and all manner of enemies slither out of the tall grass, poised to prey upon the fear, confusion, and pain that exploited and oppressed peoples are exposed to under capitalism.
The temptation exists to look upon this crisis as an abstract struggle internationally, and a direct struggle locally. Already the stock calls of abstract solidarity for Iran and other nations under sanctions are being issued while the calls for direct action are only directed to communities in the metropole.
We can never abandon the anti-imperialist struggle! We must strike everywhere FOR and WITH the masses everywhere! We must aid our community and simultaneously strike at imperialism or we will be lost to the same consciousness that has allowed imperialism to fester among the socialist movement in the metropole.
PERSPECTIVE – COVID-19 in the Periphery
In the village of Waithaka, Kenya, people are practicing social-distancing and staying away from the usually busy streets. Nowadays only a few shopkeepers and the occasional customer can be seen during the day time. Speaking with small shopkeepers prior to the national quarantine announced on March 23, many expressed fear of the looming lockdown. Their fears include not only the dangers of contracting COVID19, but the impact it will have on their livelihood. News of the pandemic has already begun to affect how many people will be able to purchase food and supplies in Waithaka.
Organizers in Mathare (one of the largest slums in Kenya) cannot foresee where the masses will get food, gas, and other supplies for themselves during the current quarantine. These supplies are in high demand, short supply, and are increasingly inaccessible due to hoarding by the middle classes. The only means the Kenyan masses have left to survive are to loot and expropriate what they need from the stores.
How is the Kenyan Capitalist Class responding?
President Uhuru Kenyatta and health cabinet secretary Mutahi Kagwe issued a set of initial lockdown measures that commenced on March 23rd. These measures consist of a mandatory 7:30pm curfew for businesses, a ban on dining in at restaurants, the closure of all bars, a reduction on passenger limits for matatus (private micro-buses), a 120% increase in public transportation fare prices, and a ban on all public gatherings. The government has also advised social distancing, staying away from crowded areas, and repeated hand washing. The majority of these measures and other necessary health information have been poorly communicated (if at all) in the majority of rural areas and urban slums. The Kenyan government has relied on enforcing draconian measures against the masses to exercise further police powers, while the capitalist controlled media is conducting a propaganda campaign to demonize working people who lack the resources or support necessary to follow the government directives.
The petty-bourgeois middle class have been buying food and supplies out in bulk at supermarkets, and driving out of shopping malls in full cars. Many wealthier Kenyans are preparing to practice social-distancing in luxury, even going up country. Prior to the pandemic reaching Kenya, factories and workshops were busy manufacturing and exporting face masks for the Chinese market without consideration for the domestic need that eventually denied most Kenyans from access to face masks of their own.
How are the Masses in Kenya responding?
Workers and small shopkeepers in Nairobi worry as to how they will make an income and be able to provide for their families basic needs now that the nation-wide lockdown is in place. No one is able to work, and the Kenyan masses are unable to purchase any food if they don’t have savings. Kenyan police have gone so far as to teargas people standing in line at the few markets that remain open.
Currently the Kenyan masses are not receiving any support for lost income, lack of food access, or health care services. The only support currently being provided is free internet access for remote learning. Despite the lack of support the government refuses to even consider tax relief for Kenyan workers. On March 24th, government spokesperson Cyrus Oguna stated, “Taxes cannot be not entirely lifted, because the government must continue to operate… There is no government globally that has been able to remove all taxes because of a situation like this”.
Kibera resident Anna Nyokabi criticized the government’s current distribution of resources: “We don’t have enough water to drink and cook our food, so where will we get water to wash our hands frequently?” Kibera is the largest slum in Nairobi, regularly encountering a lack of clean water, sanitation services, electricity, and food access before the COVID-19 pandemic began to affect Kenya. Several residents have additionally communicated to Kenyan news teams that they have no clean water and all of their sewage lines are currently broken during the current lockdown.
In rural Kenya many factors have disenfranchised the people, capable of devastating the lives of the rural masses. As the means of off-farm income for rural Kenyans has become inaccessible, natural disaster has decimated the only means available for subsistence agriculture and feeding. 73% of Kenyans live in rural areas, with approximately 40% of these people making less than US$1.25 a day. Rural Kenyans have increasingly lost land used for subsistence agriculture over the past 30 years, leading to 55% of necessary income being made off-farm in rural Kenya. The lockdown measures now in place have begun to lead to a severe loss in income for Kenyan farmers, and a situation where many are unable to feed themselves or get access to basic resources.
The limitation of off-farm income for the rural Kenyan masses has exacerbated the devastation of farms and agricultural production during the two months preceding the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic to Kenya. The largest swarm of locusts in the past 70 years has descended upon Kenya and all of eastern Africa. Since February 80 million locusts have been consuming enough food to feed 35,000 people every single day. An additional 20 million people are at risk of becoming food insecure if Kenya and its surrounding nations are unable to receive sufficient resources to control the locust population.
How are Socialists/Communists in Kenya responding?
On March 18, the Social Justice Center Working Group based in Mathare, published a press statement on the COVID-19 situation in Kenya. They have called out the Kenyan government for their lack of preparation and their dismissal of popular demands for cancellations of flights from countries affected by COVID-19. They have also pointed out the contradictions of the Kenyan bourgeois class: “The ministry of health has been in the front line championing for the use of hand sanitizers and hand washing yet has not given a sustainable solution to more than 80% of people living in the informal settlements with no access to water and cannot afford the hand sanitizers”. Towards their end of the press statements they concluded with a list of demands:
- Restore water supply to all estates and slums and crack down on all water cartels extorting citizens
- Speedily dispatch water tankers to areas that have no running water and depend on water points that are congested and expensive.
- Provide free and subsidized sanitizers marked by the MOH.
- Equip government health centers with testing kits, trained personnel and ambulances to be able to handle emergency cases.
- The government must control the prices of basic commodities to ensure most Kenyans can afford and give relief food to those who cannot afford.
If these demands were to be fulfilled they would touch on the material conditions of the poor and working class in urban Kenya. It would help them to be better equipped to combat this pandemic, as well as have access to basic necessities. These demands alone are directed towards the sky, with no corresponding actions or organization. It is necessary to organize and combat the neo-colonial system that created the conditions for these demands in the first place. This statement ignores not only the ideological and colonial conditions that oppress the Kenyan masses, it leaves out a majority of the masses by orienting solely to the urban worker.
We must unite with rural Kenyans to combat foreign imperialism and to combat the capitalists who exploit our resources and our urban workers. We must unite the demands of our urban comrades with the demands for access to land and the return of our resources. We must also reject the xenophobia that has allowed Africans to turn against each other in favor of blaming other Africans for bringing the pandemic to Kenya. The only people to blame for our inability to combat economic, social, and health crises are the capitalists and the neocolonialists who wield the violence of the state and the military to maintain our exploitation.
PERSPECTIVES – COVID-19 in the Metropole
Scene on the Ground
In the metropole a long awaited economic recession is beginning to take effect. Unemployment is rising rapidly, with multiple state unemployment systems in the u.s. crashing from overuse. Surveys indicate that 1 in 9 workers have been laid off, and 1 in 4 workers have had their hours cut. The republican party is taking this opportunity to outflank the democrats and offer immediate checks without stipulations, while the democratic party is attempting to prevent direct funds by arguing for “tax cuts” that only privileged workers who owe taxes will feel next year (the poorest workers do not owe taxes to cut from).
Capitalist entrepreneurs are excited on several fronts. Some have been repeatedly caught engaging in price gouging practices regarding medical, hygienic, and food supplies. Hoarding and panic buying has caused one of the world’s richest nations to experience empty grocery stories and medical accessories to be rationed.
CEO’s, mutual funds, and banks are patiently strategizing how to further consolidate capital in the wake of a disaster, and have already held meetings to prepare to purchase solvent companies, property, and assets at cutthroat rates. Even the pigs aren’t too eager to enforce their fascist fetishes, and have decided to mostly sit back in their offices (if they’re not at home). Despite few (if any) of these issues taking roots in larger nations where the impact has been most severe (such as China), the u.s. has failed to put into practice one of the most important tools in halting the spread of COVID-19 – comprehensive testing. The only group of people in the u.s. with regular access to testing at this time (March 20) are the capitalist class.
How is the Capitalist Ruling Class in the u.s. responding?
The capitalist ruling class has taken the first steps to protect itself during this pandemic. For the first time in a decade the two capitalist parties of the u.s. are in complete lock step about this next step: economic fascism. They are happy to give out token welfare payments to mollify u.s. citizens (and no one else) while simultaneously ensuring $1.6 trillion dollars are immediately placed into the financial markets. Large payments and subsidies are also being provided directly to corporations with little opposition. The u.s. President has silently reauthorized the 1950 Defense Production Act, an executive act which permits the u.s. government to dictate production and guarantee all military contracts over other contracts. This act was initially developed to regain the type of centralized economic control the u.s. government was able to wield during World War I and World War II for the purposes of fighting the Korean war. Without the centralized control of industry at the behest of the military-industrial complex, the type of crisis only seen during wars and pandemics were too chaotic for capitalism to operate without the capitalist state as its guide. The u.s. President at the beginning of February also authorized contingency plans to establish martial law and direct military control if necessary.
The expectation is that corporations will more directly coordinate with the capitalist state during an economic crisis. The economic mechanisms the state has decided to employ were directly developed in Spain and Italy to develop a synthesis between capital and the state during times of crisis. Direct welfare, state ownership of corporations and worker equity programs were all means of cooling down the potential for revolutionary unrest. These developments were accompanied by a quiet national development: the suspension of all union elections.
These tools are all crucial components of what has previously existed under numerous names: the command economy, the war economy, Keynesian economics, welfare economics, the New Deal. In times of severe crisis where the social fabric of society is torn apart, we are presented with a false dilemma. We can demand socialism or accept barbarism. The opportunists, social imperialists, and charlatan socialists instead ask us to drink from the poisoned well of Keynesian economics. Sometimes they use terms like class struggle elections, or reforms now revolution later, sometimes they misappropriate the term “harm reduction.” However, these reforms (which they demand we embrace as a revolutionary tactic) are the very circumstance that sells our movement out to the primary contradiction of our times: Imperialism.
The prominent activists or socialists we see rise today do so alongside demands and actions that only ever directly address those here in the imperial core. They naively believe that in the future socialists in the metropole will have the time and privilege to finally turn their attention and organization to aid the periphery. Until then, direct action and concrete programs of struggle must wait for what is ours first. History has demonstrated whether the actors are fascists, polite social democrats, or just socialists in the metropole, progressive movements in the metropole have historically developed imperialist and chauvinistic perspectives. This will continue so long as they reject that the struggle against colonialism and imperialism must be direct and forthright!
How are the Masses in the u.s. responding?
Among the masses, chaos, disinformation, and conflicting divisions have quickly developed. The petty-bourgeoisie and the bourgeoisie are treating pandemic procedures as a “vacation”. Meanwhile the u.s. proletariat are dealing with the existential fears of job loss, disinformation, the possibility of deportation by the fascists at ICE, and the crisis mentality surrounding goods shortages and social isolation. The only employment remaining open are essential services such as gas stations, grocery stores, pharmacies, and public works. The only places that are willing to hire an increasingly jobless working class are the frontlines for contamination and disease: grocery stores and essential retail.
Disinformation has primarily culminated in two corresponding public campaigns. One is to vilify the Chinese people and other peoples from Asia and southeast Asia. Sinophobic slurs, alongside racist acts and vile xenophobic behavior has increased. Isolated and under informed people are being directed by the fascists in the government and the u.s. media to feel comfortable with overt racism.
The second major disinformation campaign has been initiated by the President of the u.s. to articulate that COVID-19 is a false campaign and conspiracy designed to diminish his “successful” defense of the nation. This campaign interacts purposefully with the racist campaign against Asian peoples. It pretends that the “sudden” arrival of COVID-19 has been manufactured by the Chinese state and purposefully brought into the u.s. Following centuries of legitimate conspiracies, CIA manipulation, Cold War ideological brainwashing, genocide, and war at the hands of a fascist police state, the possibility of improbable and heinous conspiracies at play in our lives is no joke. Among our own people it is necessary to combat these lies with patience and truth when confronted with this propaganda.
How are Communists/Socialists in the u.s. responding?
To summarize, analyze, and engage with different strands of political thought demanded by different communist/socialist groups will not be pursued here for the purpose of clarity so we will address the demands of the largest group in the u.s. left today: the Democratic Socialists of America. They have currently established the following list of demands:
- Development of a COVID-19 Vaccine: from CDC with Free Distribution and that testing is wide and free.
- Guaranteed Protections for All Workers: 30 days paid sick leave, medical leave for all, protective garments for exposed workers, among other demands.
- Protections for People/Workers Without Wages: $3,000 a month for all regardless of status
- Medicare for All: free healthcare without concern for resident status
- Right to Safe Housing: emergency housing for all unhoused, moratorium on evictions taxes and foreclosures
- Keep Communities Safe: moratorium on detentions, deportations, a release of incarcerated people, abolish cash bail
- Bail Out People and the Planet: green new deal, nationalize fossil fuel companies, suspend utility shut offs and bills
- Debt Forgiveness: suspend mortgages and household debts
- Lifting of All US sanctions Against Sovereign Countries: Lift all US sanctions
- Right to Information: free WiFi/internet
- Safe and Fair elections: ensure voting can be mailed in
As we make these demands, we must also prioritize organizing around:
Community Cooperation: mutual aid
Bernie Sanders campaign
Each of these demands is accompanied by approximately a paragraph of explanations and further details that were not printed here. To view the full details of the demands visit the website https://actionnetwork.org/forms/covid-19-petition.
Alone most of these demands could potentially help the material conditions of workers in the u.s. Colonized peoples would be better served with better access to healthcare, the removal of residential or citizenship status qualifiers from accessing social services, and the lifting of sanctions would certainly benefit workers in the periphery. These demands are only possible if we ignore that the rest of the world exists within the economic and social framework where these demands could be realized.
Social democratic demands are frequently touted as militant and potentially revolutionary mobilizations. Socialists in the metropole tail behind the white proletariat and settler-colonial bourgeois ideology by making demands that always ensure that settlers enjoy the first steps towards liberation. This state of affairs frequently demands the “citizens” of the metropole attain their freedom from material wants or needs before all others. Revolutionaries and so-called socialists in the metropole fool themselves with short term demands as their true political program. In a world where neo-colonialism and imperialism operate globally, where a class of workers can potentially be bought off with the super profits of imperialism, it is necessary to ensure our demands and actions are in solidarity with the workers of the periphery. Socialism cannot be the goal unless we are fighting our struggles side-by-side and striking at the very imperialism that is responsible for the metropole to benefit at the expense of the periphery.
“ Economically, the difference is that sections of the working class in the oppressor nations receive crumbs from the super profits the bourgeoisie of these nations obtains by extra exploitation of the workers of the oppressed nations.”– V.I. Lenin
These demands demonstrate another favorite trend of the left in the metropole. They articulate specific, policy oriented demands that seek to address the conditions of workers here (and which even a right-wing government appears to be willing to enact, albeit temporarily). The demands become more nebulous the further these demands stray from addressing the white u.s. worker. Fantastical claims to abolish I.C.E. (which even their touted electoral candidate, Bernie Sanders, only supports as a policy with regards to a bureaucratic reshuffling, its operations unchanged) are discussed without any action plan beyond solidarity rallies. Few groups have actively organized in these communities beyond electoral canvassing, or faced the violence encountered by preventing fascist deportations.
When we reach the topic of the international working class, we are relegated to the shallow cry of “remove all u.s. sanctions”. u.s. sanctions are harmful, they kill untold millions around the world, and have been a powerful tool against anti-imperialist movements. However there are no direct and concrete policies, action plans, or modes of struggle argued to demonstrate concrete solidarity internationally. Legal marches and small rallies ignore the dimensions of imperialism today. Most nations do not have the wealth associated with owning the world’s international currency as the u.s. and the european union enjoy with the dollar and euro respectively. Rather most nations have had their wealth and labor stolen to prop up these wealthy economies. During a pandemic there will be no incentive for capital or labor to remain in the periphery. This exact scenario played out in a delayed manner following the 2008 recession, and the Global South has not yet recovered to its pre-2008 levels. If the metropole is to maintain its wealth, it will rely on the continued exploitation of the periphery.
Who will pay for hospitals and medical supplies overseas that don’t currently exist? The nations of the periphery will be forced to turn to the predatory loans of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, just as they did after the 2008 recession (and the many recessions which have occurred throughout the 1990s and 2000s). Compradors and the colonised bourgeoisie of the periphery will find themselves in the position to sell off their peoples resources, land, and rights in exchange for loans and credit that will allow them to rapidly address the effects of COVID-19. Where these profits can’t be made we will surely see more non-europeans allowed to die in droves, only ever reported as a statistic to falsely portray how “incompetent” colonised people are at governing themselves. Where this investment will be necessary will be where labor is necessary for the metropole to continue consuming the products and resources which are stolen to this day from the periphery.
A United Analysis
The reality of an international pandemic has only begun to have impacts upon our political, social, and economic conditions. Information is flowing asymmetrically and demonstrating how these conditions change at a rapid pace. From the deadly initial medical concerns we are accompanied with a potentially long term crisis. Economies worldwide are reeling in shock and states are expanding the active militarization and agency of the neo-colonial and fascist state apparatuses. As borders are being closed, imports and exports are being restricted, and people are forced to practice social distancing, the state has reinforced its controlling grip on the masses. The following quote from Torkil Lauesen elucidates the political context of this development:
These kinds of catastrophes affect the balance of political forces. It seems many people react to these dangers in a nationalistic and xenophobic way, rather than with solidarity and in a global humanitarian way. You are first and foremost a citizen in the national state, which you expect to take care of you. In this way, the strong national authoritarian state is strengthened. This means that we have to become clearer about what is happening and work to develop political strategies that will counter this trend.Torkil Lauesen
As society approaches revolutionary situations, it is necessary for us to be organized along revolutionary lines. Impending and total crisis from COVID-19 has demonstrated that our organizations are still under prepared for the revolutionary situation. Few if any groups have prepared or practiced a political organization capable of leading in our respective localities in contradistinction to the capitalist state. Mutual aid efforts remain piecemeal, decentralized, and solely concentrated locally. Few groups worldwide have built the sufficient mass organizations to lead any type of resistance to the increased fascist policies of the state.
The litmus test of a revolutionary organization is the ability to demonstrate the strength and foundation it can provide for communities during moments of crisis of the state. If we cannot demonstrate this strength at this time, then our organizing must be criticized and must change.
First and foremost we must move beyond the movementist strategies of “pressuring the state” for change. Following the end of the cold war our movements have been subsumed with legalistic strategies that have been decentralized, de-radicalized, and have failed to create the necessary ideological space to move the revolution forward. The return of socialism within the imperialist metropole has expressed itself through electoral organizing and decentralized mutual aid actions that more frequently resemble nonprofits and charities than organs of workers power. The electoral projects have opened the public consciousness to a framework where the state can reinforce its pacification of the masses by utilizing populist economic policies to further their control over society. Social democratic demands serve no purpose except to reinforce the capitalist state when divorced from revolutionary organization and revolutionary actions.
In the periphery these strategies have recreated a capitalist division by centering and driving all organizing in the urban metropole. This leads to the majority of the rural masses to be ignored and marginalized from socialists and our contemporary organizations. Any organizing that fails to unite the rural and urban masses fails to fight for revolution, and recreates capitalist dynamics in the process.
During times of crisis we are seeing the international nature of our struggle become relegated in the eyes of organizers in the imperialist metropole. People all over the world are suffering from COVID-19 and it does not affect us all the same way. Fighting our struggle alone at home is not sufficient to tackle the contradictions that are being exposed during the pandemic. Many nations in the periphery will not have the capacity for people to employ the necessary medical measures to treat, halt, or prevent the spread of COVID-19. These developments provide the opportunity for increased economic distress, food insecurity, limitation towards resource distribution and a severe downturn in what comprises the incomes of the majority of the worlds workers.
To combat imperialism’s response to COVID-19 we must call to action the following strategies and actions.
- Direct solidarity actions – those in the imperialist metropole must unite their struggle with the periphery. Mutual aid overseas to workers and their respective organizations alongside direct actions to halt the IMF, the World Bank, and the role of imperialist finance in exploitation of the periphery.
- Dual-power organizing – it is necessary that our organizations are united, centralized, and capable of organizing the self-sufficiency of our communities in contradistinction with the state. We must unite the rural masses and the urban masses.
- Combat Social Imperialism – social democratic strategies in times of crisis have been and are being utilized to cement the rise of european nationalism and further neo-colonialism.
- International Coordination – we must purposefully coordinate our strategies and tactics with the global masses, and their constituent workers organizations.
There are no half-steps revolutionaries can take towards the goal of revolution. We cannot exist within a framework where we simply mitigate the effects of capitalism or voice our opposition to it. During the COVID-19 pandemic and in all times of crisis we must recognize the necessity of principled revolutionary organizing, and refuse to accept the exploitation of the periphery for temporary gains enjoyed among a privileged few.
- The terms periphery and metropole are explained briefly in the pamphlet “Anti-Imperialism in the Metropole” https://masslinepdx.wordpress.com/2019/07/04/anti-imperialism-in-the-metropole/
- Uhuru Kenyatta is the son of neocolonialist and first President of Kenya Jomo Kenyatta
- Lauesen, T. The Global Perspective: Reflections on Imperialism and Resistance 2018