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Imperialism: Unpacking The Primary Contradiction

Armed agents of imperialism

Global and domestic repression under imperialism are counterparts. However, this truth gets distorted in the Global North, even by so-called leftists. Living in imperialist nations, we are constantly propagandized and thus forced to internalize and repeat anti-communist rhetoric. Unless we are vigilant about studying theory and history, this will continue. The best way to attack this is by getting back to the basics.

Many who align themselves with socialism have begun to read at such high levels individually (apart from a communal/ group process) they are unable to effectively reach the masses. They also lack an ability to explain the complexities of theories in simple terms because they do not have a concrete understanding of the terms and theories they prescribe to. As such, anti-imperialism, revolutionary internationalism and revolutionary pan-Africanism are depicted as the latest buzzwords detached from the decades of historical materialism (scholarship, organizing, etc) of revolutions in the Global South that have had clarity on revolutionary ideologies the practiced and the terminologies they used and taught the masses. Most importantly, there was clarity on the primary contradiction.

The U.S. is a settler colony built on the genocide of indigenous peoples of Turtle Island and the enslavement of Africans brought to the land through the Transatlantic slave trade. Yet broadly on the left, settler-colonialism is deemed insignificant. Settler colonialism is a project intended to completely replace indigenous population with the settler one, by any means necessary, as to legitimize and continue in perpetuity the theft of land and resources. This is clear when we examine the movement to Free Palestine. Settler colonialism perpetuates itself through the educational systems instituted post-conquest in settler-colonial projects and through the systematic criminalization of indigenous languages, religions, and cultural practices. Imperialist powers are able to produce a segment of the colonized population that has been indoctrinated into the practices and values of the colonizer bourgeoisie.

The conditions that exist within African poor working-class communities here in the U.S. are the result of intentional systematic neglect under a white supremacist capitalist-imperialist system. African people in the U.S. have a colonial relationship with the larger society characterized by institutional racism that operates in three areas: politically, economically, and socially. Africans in the U.S. are politically stunted with our political decisions made for us due to a lack of power. Africans in the U.S. are economically disenfranchised and dependent on the larger society and this is maintained by a social order that designates police in our communities as occupying forces. 

If settler-colonialism drives imperialist powers, globally and domestically, then it is of importance to break down what imperialism is. Imperialism is defined as “the highest stage of development of capitalism.” Capitalism is an economic system that allows private individuals to own and control the means of production (i.e. mines, mills, banks, factories, forests) and accumulate wealth from the labor of workers who receive less than the value of their labor. Understanding capitalism on its most basic level helps one to understand Imperialism as a worldwide exploitation and oppression of the non-imperialist countries, like the Global South aka the Third World. Under imperialism, each major power has carved out a niche of the world to exploit and still maintains an irrepressible need to expand.

And as we are witnessing, the most effective push for imperialism has been neocolonialism where a segment of the colonized population ultimately becomes the new managers under the system of a national pseudo-bourgeois and petit-bourgeois (the willing Black and brown figureheads for the capitalist-imperialist system). It is the lack of understanding of these systems (capitalism, imperialism, settler colonialism and neocolonialism) that contributes to not only what we are facing as Africans in the U.S., but the inability for us to connect these struggles globally.

As the highest peak of counterinsurgency, the 8-year neocolonial reign of former U.S. president Barack Obama, has set the stage for a bold backing of U.S imperialism by way of patriotism from a colonized ‘Black America’ who historically have been the least favorable to war and furthermore created a massive confusion about the primary contradictions we are up against as organizers, revolutionaries and Africans seeking liberation.

The Obama presidency is most likely the most efficient way to better explain and understand the working system of imperialism as a broader material reality faced by Africans in the U.S. and abroad. The normalization of wars and militarization of our communities in those 8 years cemented domestic and foriegn policy as one accord. Africans on the continent needed to “get over colonialism”, the same way Africans in the U.S. were advised to “take responsibility” for the colonial situation we find ourselves in.

The remnants of imperial settler-colonialism are made prevalent each and everyday. This relationship is a mirror image of the imperial relationship between the U.S and the Global South. “Imperialism is a domestic issue” manifested through the occupation of our communities by militarized police forces. These similarities are most evident when we examine the use of the U.S Department of Defense’s 1033 program and U.S military programs (like AFRICOM, CENTCOM, INDO-PACIFIC COMMAND and SOUTHCOM, etc) used in so-called wars against “terrorism” and drugs.

The U.S military and its hundreds of bases worldwide serve as occupiers in the same way the (overt) police state does in our neighborhoods. What is the difference between the U.S African Command (AFRICOM), which is said to “combat the War on Terror,” and militarized policing units like Operation Relentless Pursuit and Operation LeGend , both used in multiple cities across the country to “combat crime and domestic terrorism”? What is the difference between the murderous Israeli occupation of Palestine (funded by the US) and the occupation of African neighborhoods in the US using IDF trained police units?

The recently passed the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for 2022 included billions for AFRICOM and the continuation of the Department of Defense 1033 program that transfers millions of dollars worth of military equipment to police forces across the country as all progressive measures of Biden’s ‘Build Back Better’ plan has been shredded, proves the money for wars comes directly from money not allotted to the poor. The excess military equipment ends up in the local police departments of African communities here in the U.S. When you hear rhetoric like “Sanctions are an act of war” we can recognize this act of war with welfare reforms. While financial sanctioning may have always been used to enforce compliance, welfare reforms of the 1990s heightened it by terminating a family’s entire aid, placing African families in even worse conditions and ultimately ushered many into the confines of a police state.

It must be continuously reiterated that domestic and global imperialism are counterparts. It is what connects Africans in the U.S. directly to the struggles against imperialism worldwide— From Haiti and the Americas to Palestine to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea to the Horn of Africa. This understanding pushes forward the organizing necessary to defeat imperialism and all of its manifestations. Once Africans in the U.S. understand themselves as colonized people on stolen land, there will be a more precise analysis of how liberation is sought and gained through revolutionary internationalism like the Black Radical Traditions of the past.

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Erica Caines is a poet, writer and organizer in Baltimore and the DMV. She is an organizing committee member of the anti war coalition, the Black Alliance For Peace as well as an outreach member of the Black centered Ujima People’s Progress Party. Caines founded Liberation Through Reading in 2017 as a way to provide Black children with books that represent them and created the extension, a book club entitled Liberation Through Reading BC, to strengthen political education online and in our communities.

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