In the following are excerpts from a workshop around the national question that was facilitated by Luwezi Kinshasa, Chairman of the African People’s Socialist Party-UK and the Secretary General of the African Socialist International and Omali Yeshitela, Chairman of the African People’s Socialist Party-USA and the African Socialist International. It was held during the 2006 Conference to Build the African Socialist International, which was held in London, England.
It should of particular interest because it openly takes to task the most widely accepted “scientific” analysis of just what a nation is, Joseph Stalin’s Marxism and the National Question. Stalin’s work on this topic forms the basis of the Marxist-Leninist, Maoist and other anti-revisionist trend’s stance towards national liberation, especially what group are considered able to have self-determination. Even many a Trotskyist has admitted to me over the years (in private conversation of course!) that they have a begrudging respect for Stalin on this point.
It’s safe to say though that for we Yeshitelaists (African Internationalists) have a somewhat different appraisal of Stalin’s work, and its applications, than the Marxist-Leninists, Maoists or other Marxian revolutionaries.
In this discussion comrade Chairmen Luwezi and Omali examine how it was that Stalin was attempting to solve an issue that was a serious problem for the European socialist movement, and was attempting to give an materialist, scientific analysis of the question. However what they also bring to light is the fundamentally Eurocentric nature of Stalin’s definition of a nation and nation formation. They also note that despite the supposed Marxist commitment to the investigative tools of dialectical and historical materialism Stalin’s work on the national question is actually profoundly undialectical. As such, because of its Eurocentrism, it is a problematic document to apply to the struggle for nation formation and national liberation of peoples who have historically suffered under the boot of European colonialism and imperialism.
Finally, I post this piece partially in response to the growing interest among Maoist formations in Canada in Native self-determination, up to and including independence from the settler entity of Canada. While it should be commended that these primarily settler leftist formations are finally coming around to a serious discussion and stance on the Native liberation question (they still have a long way to go though), they are still largely informed and dependent on Stalin’s work on the national question.
Case in point: the Marxist-Leninist Mao Zedong Thought organization Revolutionary Initiative has recently begun forming a reading series titled The Indigenous Question in Canada. Other issues with the list being put aside for a moment, its notable that the list has as its very first reading none other than Stalin’s M&NQ.
So it is largely in reply to this discussion and trend of thought that I post Chairmen Omali and Luwezi’s contributions.
We feel in the African People’s Socialist Party that it is important that we discuss this issue of the national question. Most of the understanding many of our people would have about the question of the nation is an understanding coming from the leaders of the communist movement at the Third International that were defined by people like Stalin.
We want to bring some elements to that discussion in a fashion that would facilitate the growth of African consciousness throughout the African world. Then we can begin to fight for “One Africa, One Nation” wherever we are as opposed to what we see across Africa and the African world where people see themselves as Ghanaians or Zambians or Kenyans.
We understand that the borders we live in at the moment were created in the Berlin Conference, where Africa was divided up among the European powers. Before that, there was an aggression and occupation of Africa by the same western powers who, in the process of attacking Africa, emerged as nation-states.
It was the attack on African and the rest of the world that allowed them to accumulate so much wealth. It was also as a consequence of that attack that we saw the emergence of the nation-state, one single State, able to control and run the entirety of France.
It was also in this process that the French language emerged as the main language of France. It wasn’t the only language spoken in France when the crusades were taking place or when they came to Africa. It is through that process of attacking Africa and the rest of the world that the language spoken by the nobility in control of the region around Paris emerged as the main language of France.
This led people like Stalin to begin to define what constitutes a nation. He said you need to have the existence of the same language, you need to have the same landmass, and you also need to have an economy that holds this population together.
We believe that what is key is for the people to have the same consciousness, to have an idea of who they are as a people. There is no way that we can accept that we as Africans can be defined as Brazilians when everyone knows Brazil was formed in the process of attacking the indigenous peoples of America and of attacking Africa and enslaving Africans.
To be a Brazilian is to be the Europeans who stole the land from the indigenous people and named it Brazil. To be Brazilian it means to be the Europeans who enslaved the Africans.
The Africans can’t be the enslaver and the slave at the same time. To be Brazilian just means you’ve been working to develop to produce life for white people. That’s what to be Brazilian means.
It’s the same to be Ivorian. If you’re from Ivory Coast and you call yourself Ivorian, it just means you belong to part of Africa that produces life not for Africa, but for Europeans. It’s a place where the Europeans got a lot of elephant tusks, so they named the territory Ivory Coast.
It’s the same if you’re from Ghana, Nigeria or Zambia. The Zambian economy was not created to serve the needs of our people. The Zambian State was not created to satisfy the needs of our people. The Zambian State has the power to administrate the economy of Zambia which is an economy designed to produce for Europe, and the State that has been put in place is a State that has been designed from the start to oppress African people.
So we have an economy not designed for African people. We have a State not designed for African people. It’s designed to repress African people so we can continue to produce for Europe, North America and Japan.
So how in the world can you call yourself a Zambian? It’s not your economy and it’s not your State either. That’s where we are.
It is important that we begin to agitate, organize and win our people to the understanding that those nation-states have to go, those borders have to go, and those economies have to go because they are not for us.
So the main reasons that we are suffering, we are told on the TV all the time, is because there is some corruption. Over there is corruption, but that’s not the main reason. They’ll bring all kind of justifications but the nation-states that we have in Africa were not designed for the people. It’s there to repress the people, so all of these have to go.
Because we’ve been living under those nation-states for some time now, many of our people believe they are forever. Anything in terms of nation, as far as African nations or nationality, has not been consolidated. It’s in a state of transition.
You can even think of the ethnic groups we have in Africa. If someone is Ibo, they might think that Ibo have always been Ibo. That’s not the case.
Anyone who knows and has studied the languages can show that the Ibo broke away from another part of Africa.
It’s transitional. It’s not forever, and our people have to understand that the nation-states we have today also are not forever. The only thing we have to do is just look at Europe. The schools used to talk about Yugoslavia, but now you can’t ask somebody to show Yugoslavia on the map. It’s gone. Czechoslovakia is gone. The Soviet Union is gone. The U.S. is not gone, yet.
So the question of one country being independent, one country having self-determination, as Kwame Nkrumah said, it is incomplete. It’s only when Africa is free and united under a continental Black Power State that our struggle for African self-determination will be complete. So I just wanted to say these two things to open the discussion.
This question of the nation is an important question, and it shouldn’t take much for us as African people to understand the significance of this question considering what is happening to our Africa. There was the ridiculous carving up of Africa, and now we are told that all of these little creations of imperialism are separate and distinct nations. We are told that those of us who have been scattered around the world are not a part of the same group anymore in any meaningful way. We are now some aspect of European-created or European-related nations.
So in the United States, after it’s no longer necessary for us to be spooks, jigaboos, monkeys, jungle-bunnies, niggers and Negroes, we’ve graduated to “African-Americans.” Our identity is not our own. It is defined in relationship to something that’s been created by imperialist white power. I am an African-American and here we are Black-Brits and all these other kinds of things.
We have come to believe that the nation is Nigeria. It is illogical for any number of reasons. All you have to do is see that there is some kind of relationship between peoples who live inside this “nation,” as they characterize this border that’s been imposed on us, and people who live outside of it. All over Africa you find this reality.
So we know that something is wrong with that. We know that even though we are supposedly “African-Americans,” which means our national identity is somehow associated with America and not with our people, we still experience some response to what we see happening to people who look just like us some other place in the world. So this question of identity is extremely important.
Most of us have come to understand the question of nations based on our experience where we are located and have not given much thought to it beyond that. Therefore our concept of nations has been something that has been imposed by our relationship to white power.
Even the white people have been having this ongoing historical struggle about what constitutes a nation. Relatively recently in history, there was some intervention particularly by Marxists and, more specifically, by people like Stalin.
Stalin put forth five criteria for what it is to be a nation. It was a struggle for some scientific way that we can define what a nation is.
Of course, a question arises in a society not just because of some kind of abstract exercise, but because people are trying to solve problems in society. Even if the persons who are having the discussion are not aware of it, there is a problem that has emerged in this particular society that has to be spoken to.
European nationhood was consolidated at expense of African national consolidation
This national question emerged inside Europe, in part, because Europe has historically been simply a place of warring tribes that didn’t even have a common identity as a group of people. The concept of the European is something that was not widely or commonly accepted until the 17th century.
What was it, then, that created this notion of a oneness that is now defined in terms of nationality or nationhood in what we now refer to as Europe and among what we now call white people?
It was in the process of looting the world and enslaving Africans that the concept of Europe was formed. Europe and the European were created in this process of looting and robbing the rest of us. Before that there was no generally recognized concept of Europe or Europeans.
So you have the emergence of the “European nation,” on the one hand, but it comes in the process of an attack on Africa and an assault on the consolidation of African nationality. The process that brings white people together is the same process that takes African people away from each other and creates all of these borders that separate us. So the European nationality was consolidated as a part of the process to frustrate and destroy the consolidation of the African nationality. This is the dialectic that we’re working with.
In the beginning it was Europe that was poor and diseased. It was Africa that was generally wealthy. It was Europe that was struggling to meet the capacity to produce and reproduce its life, to take care of itself. Europe had that problem.
For anybody who might have a doubt about it, you can look at the fact that in just four years, between 1347 and 1351, half the white people on earth died from plague. And you have this impoverished Europe that was living in feudal tyranny now making this fantastic leap, in terms of its own development and its consciousness as a people who get identified in the process of getting rid of everyone else.
The European consciousness was forged in a process of advancing all white people. The so-called primitive accumulation didn’t just elevate the white ruling class. It took white people who were tied to the feudal oppression out of that situation and gave them for the first time an opportunity to put their labor power on the market for sale to get the best value they could. Before then they were essentially tied to serfdom under feudal tyranny.
The emancipation of all the white people was founded in the process of attacking the rest of us. So that’s why Marx could say that capitalism was progressive in the development of what he called human society. It is because capitalism raised up all the white people — the workers and the bourgeoisie — at the expense of the rights, resources and well being of the rest of us. Of course, they see the world from their own vantage point.
As far as the Marxists were concerned, that was human society that they were defining that was developing as a consequence.
Now, Europe was still involved in an ongoing process of internecine struggles, and the basis of these struggles all the time, as quietly as it’s kept, was competition with each other for the resources that were coming from the colonial territories and other places.
So because of contention between different groups and tribes of Europeans, this whole national question, came to life and was really important. And then what you find is that in the process of trying to solve these profound problems in European society that have come about as a consequence of the emergence of capitalism, which also came along with the consolidation of what we now refer to as European nations with the emergence of capitalism. Because even as it rescued white people from servitude, at the same time it was putting children in factories and women were working in extremely bad conditions.
And so when they talk about solving problems with the so-called national question, this was an important philosophical task that was forced on society by real relationships in the world at the time. So they came up with a particular view of what the nation was. Then you see the emergence of socialist movements in European society to deal with what they see as the contradictions of capitalism. It treats people so bad.
So they said they needed another kind of society. And they struggled to work out what it is. You had the so-called Utopian Socialists who felt like all you had to do was convince the bourgeoisie, the ruling class to be nicer. Charles Dickens, who wrote “Christmas Carols” to convince the capitalists to treat the workers better, represented this view. “All you’ve got to do is show them, and then they’ll fix everything.”
Stalin’s Definition of Nationhood Illogical
Then you had Marx and Engels, the scientific socialists or communists who understood that these guys are not going to change because it’s in their material interests to keep things the way they are. Through this trend, we begin to see what people refer to as Marxism.
This struggle developed, and the question of nationality became important just to try to forge together a group of people in European society who would fight to overturn capitalism as it was affecting the so-called industrial working class. They had to come up with a concept of the nation to unify the “workers” that they had concluded was necessary to overturn the bourgeoisie.
They recognized that the bourgeoisie has no respect for the borders. They don’t have any damn nationality as such. Only you do. You have patriotism, which is nothing but solidarity with the bourgeois State.
That’s why we say in the United States that a patriot is a white nationalist. You’ve got white white nationalists, black white nationalists and brown white nationalists, because if you’re in the United States and you’re a patriot, you’re a white nationalist because patriotism is nothing but solidarity with the bourgeois State. With the oppressor State.
So they had to solve this problem of making what they assumed would result in the overthrow of capitalism, which they saw as something that is not just local or peculiar to one particular European State, but all of the European States.
And so the Marxists worked out and developed more than anybody else, five criteria for what they say constitutes a nation because they have to solve the problem of unifying all the workers of the world.
The workers of the world did not include the people in Congo who were bringing that rubber from the rubber plantations for Leopold that went to Firestone and other corporations to make tires and other things. It did not include the people in Ivory Coast who were bringing those elephant tusks so that Europeans could make billiard balls and piano keys.
And because we did that to facilitate that development, we are now told that we are a nation of elephant tusks. They say we are the Ivory Coast and they call us Ivorians.
So the process that facilitates the creation of the nation of white people is also the one that defines for us what our nationality is supposed to be. So we are elephant tusks there, and in some places like Cameroon we are shrimp because they got a lot of shrimp there.
What were the five things that Stalin said constituted a nation? That people have to live in a common territory, have a common language, a common economic life, a common history and a common psychological makeup.
But he said that if any one of these is missing, it ain’t a nation. That’s what Stalin said, and all the communists everywhere united with that.
Now, the Marxists characterize themselves as being dialecticians. They see things in an all-sided way. They see things, not simply as they are, but understanding that they are always in a process of coming into being and going out of existence. That’s what the Marxists say on the one hand.
But on the other hand, Stalin’s going to tell me that if any one of these things that he’s put there is missing, it can’t be considered a nation.
What we would say about Stalin’s definition is that it cannot be true. What we’re talking about when we talk about a common economic life, Europe has developed a common economic life through destroying the common economic life of African people.
There should be no doubt in anybody’s mind here that if it were not for the intervention of white power that we in Africa would be speaking the same language, have the same common economy, and our nationality would be consolidated. It’s illogical to assume otherwise.
If I’m speaking French in Cameroon because of the economic relationship that I have with France, it seems to me that I should damn sure be speaking Xhosa if I lived in Sudan because of the relationship I would have with what they call South Africa.
If I live on a continent where the resources that are necessary for life are distributed all over the continent and our economic success as a people would require us to bring in all together, logically we would do that.
If it is logical that a starving England would travel all the way from here to go to what we now call the Americas to get what it needs to survive, then it is logical to conclude that people living on the same damn continent without any intervention would be doing that. It is illogical to assume anything else.
Imperialism frustrated and undermined the consolidation of the African nationality. So we consider the African population a dispersed nation in the making. We are not different peoples. We are a dispersed nation.
So we believe that independent of what’s in your head, every struggle that we are engaged in wherever we are — whether we’re fighting police violence in England and calling ourselves silly names like black Brits or we are in Mississippi and believe the solution is somehow to take five states because we’ve been forged into some kind of “new nation” through slavery — is a struggle to facilitate the consolidation of African nationality and the liberation of our continent and our people. Objectively speaking, that’s what it is.
The role of a revolutionary is to help the masses come to a relationship to this objective reality so that what is in our head is consistent with what is in the world.
Let me give you an example of what I’m talking about. See what’s in your head doesn’t have to be consistent with what’s in the world, but if it’s not, you’re in trouble. You may not even know it for long periods of time, but it will get you in trouble.
If we were never going to leave this room, then, perhaps some of us would think it’s alright if somebody said that this podium is a car. I know it’s a podium, but somebody says it’s a car.
And somebody might work all the time trying to convince everybody in the room that it’s a car, and somebody else might be silly enough to say, “Hell, we ain’t never going to go anywhere anyway. I’ll just let him say it’s a car and forget about it.”
But I have a bigger responsibility to tell you that this is not a damn car, it’s a podium. This is especially if I understand anything about the world that we live in.
One thing that I know about the world that we live in is that if we Africans stay here long enough having this discussion, the police are going to come through that door to get our asses. Those of us who believe this is a car are going to be in trouble because I’m leaving.
And so my responsibility is to help you understand that this ain’t no car, so when they come in here you’ll be able not to depend on riding out of here on this thing right here. You see?
That’s why we have to engage in these struggles. We talk about theory that will reveal to people an objective reality so that what is in our brain is more or less consistent with what is in the real world. That’s the struggle that we’re involved in now.
So in terms of these criteria for a nation, I believe that there are certain aspects of what they say that are true. I believe language will be a factor in the consolidation of our nationality.
Africans talk about this all the time. “We speak so many languages. How are we going to do this?”
But how does language finally get consolidated? Through common economic life. That’s how language emerged in the human species anyway because people had to talk to each other in order to produce.
The problem is that we are not producing together. We don’t have a common economy.
That’s why you will find African intellectuals in Senegal who speak better French than white people in France. They better speak it if they want to be tied to the French economy.
Africans everywhere must consolidate single continental nation for Africa to have a future
But our objective is to take back our Africa. This isn’t an abstract, intellectual discussion that we’re having. The thing is to build the capacity to take back our Africa.
So I believe the question of language is important. I believe the question of land mass is important.
But the problem with Stalin is he spoke as if history were over. That somehow white people enter into history, very late I might add, and then that’s it. But we’re here to tell them it’s just started, and the process that we’re involved in is to recapture our own history.
For the last four or five hundred years it’s been the history of imperialism, and we’ve made history for imperialism. Now the struggle is to make history for ourselves, and the struggle for nationality is a part of that.
Now I’m not a race nationalist. By that, I mean that ours is a struggle for the emancipation of Africa and African people, not the “race” as such because race is a concept that we really don’t have much use for.
You can be fighting against racism all your life. I’m not interested in racism because racism is nothing but the ideas in white people’s heads that facilitates their unity with imperialism in keeping us oppressed. That’s all it is, and I’m not about changing white people’s minds.
Our struggle is for power over our own lives. Henry Kissinger got it right when he said power is an aphrodisiac. If you get power everybody learns to like you.
So if you want to get along with white folks, get some power, and white folks will like you. And you can stand being liked under those circumstances.
I also believe that while I can agree with much of what Stalin said about national identity, I believe the most fundamental component attached to this objective reality is consciousness.
Nationhood is a concept of sameness, and the African consciousness around the world right now has not fully developed around this question. It’s been distorted, diverted and all other kinds of things. There is a concept of oneness here that sometimes we don’t even like.
The Negro like Michael Jackson who does these things to himself doesn’t do it because he doesn’t know he’s one of us, but because he’s ashamed of being one of us. You understand?
The concept of oneness is there even though there are a lot of us that go out of our way and do all kinds of things to destroy ourselves. What we have to do is forge an understanding of what this oneness is.
We identify that as being African. We’re an African people.
This oneness has to become the supreme, most fundamental oneness in this regard. Not absolutely, but it has to become more significant than ethnicity and these false borders that have been created.
This oneness is the thing that will make it impossible for the imperialists to manipulate us the way they have done up to now.
As we talk about history not being static but dynamic, I also believe that this question of the Arab issue in North Africa is one that will be resolved.
I would say that there is an Arab consciousness, and essentially, this consciousness is patriotism. It is a unity with their own bourgeoisie.
Sometimes that happens because the whole people are united in response to an external force that beats up on them. So as a consequence of that, you have an Arab and sometimes what is translated as an Islamic consciousness.
The Arab masses have got the same problem we’ve got. There ain’t no place in the African world where we are not dominated by some reactionary sell-out, neo-colonial petty bourgeois force that works with imperialism — whether it’s a Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice, Thabo Mbeki, Nelson Mandela, Jesse Jackson or any number of other forces.
We’ve all got that problem. At the founding OAU meeting in 1963, Kenneth Kaunda from Zambia said the first thing we want to do is create an all-African bank. That’s the petty bourgeoisie’s interest in banks.
And Ben Bella, coming out of Algeria where the Algerians were engaged with the French, stood up and said, no what we need is an all-African blood bank because we need to march on South Africa and destroy that regime. Who was standing in the best place then? Was it Kaunda, who looked black like me, or Ben Bella? I say Ben Bella was in a better place then.
I think we would have been better off if we had marched with Ben Bella, and I think that would have also helped to have consolidated Ben Bella and all the rest of them into an African consciousness.
The thing that has to happen, in my view, is that everybody in Africa is going to have to fight for African liberation and Black Power.