Africa be my metaphor

And, for a time, it looked as though – with Nkrumah and Nyrere, Cabral and Machel and Mondlane, Lumumba and Sankara – it looked as though that dream of a united, socialist Africa would come true. Africa, then, was a metaphor for the aspirations of the whole of the Third World.

But today, just twenty years on, and what do we see? An Africa that has been subjected to narrow nationalisms, ravaged by dictatorships installed or kept in situ by the West, plundered by multi-national corporations, under-developed by the World Bank and the IMF, and condemned to generations of dependency through Structural Adjustment Programmes – that deem education, the life-blood of our countries, to be the privilege of the few and not the right of the many. And the cries of Uhuru and Ujamaa have been stilled.

We have moved into a new world order, instigated by the technological revolution, a new capitalist order – an order in which capitalism knows no bounds, knows no frontiers, brooks no opposition, a voracious capitalism, a rampaging capitalism, a capitalism that locks racism and poverty in deadly embrace all over the Third World – and nowhere more so than in Africa.

‘The problem of the 20th century’, declared that great savant, William Burghardt Du Bois, at the turn of the century, ‘is the problem of the color line’. Today, the colour line, is the power line is the poverty line. Those who are poor, and are powerless to break out of their poverty are also those who, by and large, are non white, non-Western, Third World. Poverty and powerlessness are imbricated in colour, race.

Discrimination and exploitation feed into each other today in a way that is much more profound and much more obscure than it was under industrial capitalism. Industrial capitalism made no bones about exploitation – about reifying work and turning workers into so many units of labour. And discrimination – racial, gendered – was structured into such exploitation. But capital did not have it all its own way. There was always opposition to it on the part of organised labour – and Marxist ideology. The technological revolution however, has freed capital from the exigencies of labour, dis-aggregated the work force, removed it from its congeries of thousands on the factory floor and defused it in assembly lines across the world so dissipating its strength while, at the same time aggregating capital into multinational corporations and international conglomerates and so concentrating its strength. And the fall of Communism – itself occasioned by the inability of centralised economies to harness the technological revolution – has further strengthened the hand of capital and let it loose upon the world.

Capital is no longer rooted in one place, importing cheap labour. It can, instead, take up its plant and walk to any part of the world where labour is cheap and captive and plentiful. And that invariably means the underdeveloped countries of the Third World .As within the Third World itself, capital can move from one reserve pool of labour to another at will – from Malaysia to Sri Lanka to Ghana to Mexico, extracting the last ounce of profit from the daughters and sons of uneducated peasants drawn by Western consumer culture into the quick-fix, feel good, high-tech money economies of the city.

We are back to primitive accumulation, plunder on a world scale. Only, this time the pillage is accompanied by aid, sustained by expert advice and under-pinned by programmes and policies that perpetuate dependency. The IMF, the World Bank, SAPS, GATT are just a few of the organisations, schemes, projects which, under the guise of developing the Third World, plunder it, under the guise of giving it aid, throw it into eternal debt and, under the guise of promoting democracy, set up governments accountable to them and not to their own people.

But then, Western governments are themselves in thrall to multi-national capital. The state no longer controls capital, capital controls the state. Trade no longer follows the flag, the flag follows trade. Western governments go where multinationals take them, to set up regimes that are friendly to capital, hospitable to capital. Democracy is the ploy that gives the West entry, aid is the gift that bids it stay. SAPs and FTZs go with the gift – to shape Third World economies to the multinationals’ desire. Trade agreements and commodity price fixing, patents and intellectual property rights then lock them into paralytic dependency.

And racism is tied into that dependency. No longer credo or ideology, racism is a simple, ordinary, everyday fact of dependent life: a historical deposit of slavery and colonialism, which lies in the interstices of dependency and seals it. At best, it allows of charity, not of equality; of patronage, not justice; of compradorism, not freedom.

The Third World may, after the fall of Communism, no longer serve as a valid category in terms of its original paradigm, but, in terms of the exploitative relationship between the richest and poorest nations of the world, there is still a Third World – and it is still demarcated from the other two by race and power. And in the context of global capitalism, ‘Third World’ is a term that is more evocative of its status than ever before: the First World is naturally, organically, capitalist; the Second World opts to be capitalist; the Third World has capitalism thrust upon it. (The newly industrialising countries may not fit neatly into this paradigm, but they are still captive economies, maintained by repressive regimes, in hock to Western powers.) The only difference now is that the bourgeoisie of the Third World is not a national bourgeoisie opposed to international capital on behalf of its people, but an international bourgeoisie in cahoots with international capital in the exploitation of its people – and such a bourgeoisie is colourless.

Such an understanding of capitalism-sans-frontiers, and the worlds it throws up, not only sheds light on the displacement of whole populations within and between Third World countries and continents, but also on the forced migration of peoples to the West in search of asylum. And, invariably, these are political refugees fleeing the authoritarian governments that the West has set up and/or sustained in the interests of multinational capital. To decry them, then, as economic refugees is to all overlook the basic fact that it is their economics that creates our politics that makes us refugees in their economies. Racism and imperialism work in tandem, and poverty is their handmaiden.

And it is that symbiosis between racism and poverty that, under those other imperatives of multinational capitalism, the free market and the enriching of the rich, has come to define the so-called under-class of the United States of America and, increasingly, of Britain and western Europe. I say ‘so-called’ because it is not so much a class that is under as out-out of the reckoning of mainstream society: de-schooled, never-employed, criminalised and locked up or sectioned off. If they are an under-class, they are an under-class within that deprived, immiserated third of society that monetarism and the market have created – a replica of the Third World within the first.

The culture of racism is a culture of violence, bred in the nexus of ‘colour and poverty and powerlessness’, both global and local, at once – not just out there in the tropics, as Eliot might have said, but ‘squeezed in the tube-train next to you’- and requires to be addressed at that level of complexity and immediacy, both at once – on the mean streets, and in the groves of academe both at once. The struggle against racism and the struggle against imperialism are indivisible. The struggle for Africa cannot be separated from the struggle for the Third World. The struggles of Black peoples cannot be separated from the struggles of oppressed peoples everywhere. Black is not the colour of our skins, but the colour of our politics. And Africa is its metaphor. And the freedom that our politics seeks is the freedom that that other great savant, Robindranath Tagore, living at about the same time as Du Bois, summoned up in these lines:

Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high; Where knowledge is free;

Where the world has not been broken up into fragments by narrow domestic walls;

Where words come out from the depth of truth; Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection;

Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way into the dreary desert sand of dead habit;

Where the mind is led forward by thee into ever-widening thought and action – Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake.