The last thing us younger generations need is the dilution of our mood. By all means speak for yourself and if you wish to defend the spectacle of democracy that is the representative model that Britain employs, be my guest. We, however, do not see representation in our system and never have. Hence, the lowest voting rate in the last General Election was in our demographic, where a meager 40 percent of those eligible cast their vote, 20 percent below the national average.
We are pissed off, for good reason. The high water mark has been reached. Unlike those writing their editorials who suckled on the teat of the state in the post-war years, my generation have our roots in the legacies of Thatcherism. Corporate Britain reigns supreme. Housing is unaffordable and university a debt to bear for the rest of our lives, reduced to luxury we question whether we can afford. The dreams of our youth are chipped away and dredge of a life serving the interest of others predominates. Our reward is smaller property for startlingly higher prices that prices out the vast majority.
Inequality in Britain is astounding compared to our neighbours. Cynical economics employed by successive chancellors from both Labour and the Conservatives have used house price inflation to fuel the economy. Those who owned houses pre-boom saw their social position improve exponentially. Those who did not have ownership face being moved out of the job-filled cities either by circumstance or force. In their short-sightedness, policy makers have left us with social conditions that the generation who like to laud above us never had to contend with. Their pontification falls on deaf ears.
We know what Labour did. We know the positives and the negatives. But the Victorian era understanding of the deserving and undeserving poor was given roots by New Labour. Not only that, the education reforms, privatisation and even the loathed ATOS checks on incapacity benefit were brain childs of Labour’s neo-liberal modernisers. Class politics have returned in a huge way and knowing this full well, we exist under a state that relentlessly constrains all of the social vessels that we could once employ to get our voices heard. Radicalism is gone. The left has been decimated.
The victory of the US and its allies in the Cold war, spearheaded by Thatcher and Reagan, tore into the social structures that were in place to stem radicality as soon as the threat of revolt was controlled. Full spectrum dominance eviscerated the possibility of a world without US dominance, even if it is now being brokered by a semblance of multi-polarity.
Throughout Europe a crass, simplified, highly propagandistic narrative has been the hallmark of our education. America and Britain are the global policemen of our world, helping the free world. What we have seen in the news flies in the face of what we read in our textbooks. We know that the global corporations are bound to US militarism. We see the propping up of client states. We see the hypocrisy and geo-political interests that channel warfare, so we are receptive to the call for dissent, revolt and the return of a revolutionary spectre haunting Europe.
Ask a Greek, Cypriot or Spaniard what power they have at this moment in history. The neo-liberal orthodoxy has brought the war home and a whole new type of engagement is necessary to confront the difficulties of our time. The advancements and defeats of recent history mean the historical analysis offered by Marx and Marxists is now highly limited. We need to develop new ontologies, committed to core principles; a modern form of Chartism with an established series of demands that fuels social action. Riots, upheaval and instability are coming. Who knows what next?
Faced with the problem of political participation of our time, voting is an irrelevancy. Clung on to by the privileged, the cloak to throw over the pan that sets alight. The riots were a contained explosion that indicated the radical disavowal sections of my generation had and continue have with current orthodoxy. The next time will not be quelled by the re-introduction of what should have been basic rights. We have targets in our crosshairs. Those in power must heed the warnings and start to shift, else they’ll be pushed to. And that is what democracy is about.
We have an information gap regarding the beginning of the Libyan uprising. For a few days, the east of the country was destabilised. The eastern peoples and tribes believed that a new dawn had emerged and Gaddafi years were over. To many (whether the majority or not still remains unknown) this led to elation. However, this (mass) eruption was momentary, for Gaddafi’s crackdown looked to be ending all potentialities of change. Gaddafi seemed to be on course for a complete reclamation of power. The only thing standing in his way was the “International Community”. The imperial intervention is the only reason the armed conflict perpetuates. It is for this reason that the leaders of the rebels continue to reject the terms of ceasefire – for they know their only hope of power is shot from NATO planes.
The topic of discussion “Imperial Adventure or Humanitarian Intervention?” was inherently misleading, a false dichotomy and allowed the cancerous moral ambiguity to take hold of the room. Three of the panellists disagreed on the actions our government should have taken. Oliver advocated intervention, Ahmed supported it as the forces he is intimately connected with required intervention to continue to hope for change and Richard thought diplomatic routes could have been tried before intervention, which is never right.
Sukant Chandan took the position that needed to be taken; our problem is with the UK government, solely, and we must meet discuss, plan and act on how to stop their imperial aggression from the inside. As Andy Higginbottom, Ethesham Haque, myself and Fiona Edwards echoed from the floor – we must focus our attention on our governments and “get serious about British imperialism”. In case anyone missed it, the forum was the Equality Movement. A place where we collectively come to understand how we are living in the belly of imperialism and educate ourselves about our government’s machinations before we even begin to politicise about others. As this seemed to elude the majority of the room, one can only conclude that the equality movement, as it stands, is a forum for anti-imperialism at a time when the people it speaks to and with are not anti-imperialist. The moral supremacy of those who prescribe to the ideals of the West makes a straw man of the anti-imperialist position, so allow me to restate it.
Gaddafi is opposed on many levels and for many reasons. Libyan society has its own internal dynamics that only Libyans can truly know and overcome – it is not for us (i.e. those in the belly of the beast) to speak of their struggle to justify our own governments action, implicitly or explicitly. As most can see only too clearly – the pointing of the finger towards the third world is a diversion away from the brutality of our world, at this very moment in Bahrain, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Iraq… Moreover and most importantly, the fingerprints of our intelligence services are all over the murder scene that is Libya. Let us unite in opposition against the perpetuators of these crimes.
While one may feel that Sukant Chandan, like Ortega, Hugo Chavez, Fidel Castro, Louis Farrakhan, Mumia Abu Jamal and many others have bent the stick too far in supporting Gaddafi, their general attempt to re-humanise the de-humanised is necessary. Anti-imperialist integrity demands relentless focus on the perpetrators of the current global order and the denial of their right to decide who is and is not human. One should never make other country’s leaders accountable to our government and our constructed and decrepit ethics of “human rights”, by proxy. Cries for “dignity”, “democracy” and “equality” sufficed to find consensus within the room on Friday. However, it was fundamentally problematic as it was predicated not on rational argument – but emotion. Areas of disagreement were contested with screams from the floor. Two of the panelists (Ahmed and then Richard) demanded that Sukant “shut up!”, while Oliver constantly harassed Lowkey to stop him from talking. With such a departure from reasoned discussion, a basic and always banal point was missed.
The CIA employs people in Langley whose sole function in life is to work out ways of maintaining power. The most obvious conclusion, therefore, is that empire’s interests were in both Gaddafi’s basket and the bitter tribes of eastern Libya. This is not to say that the governments determine the cause of history. Rather it is consistent and well known policy to build diplomatic dams to ensure that any radical sentiment can be contained with reforms that conserve the general order and/or make strategic gains. Effective strategies are contingent upon planning and a feasible transitional power structure, such conditions require years of meticulous planning and negotiations.
There is now a mountain of evidence that French, US and British intelligence services were in play from the very beginning. So, we must posit the hidden fist that precipitates the market’s hand. As I have argued elsewhere, morality is never the catalyst for military force and to even humour the possibility is to fall into the realms of ideology. Likewise, as Sukant argued from the platform, imperial intervention is not engaged upon on a whim. The decision to engage in Libya was taken by our government not on the basis of caprice, but strategy. If one refuses to accept this, then it is a legitimate question to ask “how do you consider yourself anti-imperialist?”
If one holds that our government invaded the sovereign territory of Libya on the basis of unverified and unsubstantiated claims of “massacres” to prevent a “greater massacre”, then one accepts that our government is at war for reasons that include morality, compassion and a form of internationalism. Advocates of such a position, are, as far as I am concerned, are liberal. The fundamental lesson of Iraq has not be learnt – don’t believe the words of leaders and embedded correspondents.
Holding such a position does not entail that the Libyan people are represented by those who seek to negotiate terms with imperialism. Never did Sukant or anyone undermine the legitimate grievances of the Libyan people, who are not all “contras”. The masses should not be forgotten, neglected or spoke past. The reason the anti-imperialist position is taken is not tokenist, foolish support for old leadership, it is because we must understand the liberation of the world’s people requires a true break with 500 years of imperial rule from the North European peoples and their settler colonies. We must also pay homage where it is due, for all Gaddafi’s faults (and, yes, there are many) he did fund, support and facilitate anti-imperialist struggles throughout the world. The Libyan crowd who attended the meeting and heckled Sukant non-stop exposed that they’ve little care for what Gaddafi does internationally, as they have such grievances with him domestically. Such a position is understandable, for a Libyan. Not supposed Internationalists.
The Libyan people stand in an intolerable situation. Once again, collective punishment is being administered by the forces of empire against the mass population for the power of their leadership. As I write this, the people are being bombed with depleted uranium infused rockets by a conglomerate of Western governments and their neo-colonial client states. Libya has tribal conflict grounds enough for civil war – and it is a battle of structural elites one ruled by a variable who the West hate (especially the tories), the others trusted figures who know how to do business. In between all of this are the Libyan masses – who lack proper representation and are stranded between a rock and a hard place.
The rebel’s leadership are strongly neo-liberal and represent sections of Libyan society, bitter at Gaddafi’s stifling of their interests, economic and otherwise. The “Interim Government” has been recognised by the French, Qatari, Italian and Portugese government and have begun a process of privatising the nationalised Central Bank and Oil industries. Just like in Iraq, the destabilisation of the regime is followed by the seizing of the countries assets through a scheme of privitisation. The language is more complex, the procedure more beauracratic, but the will remains colonial, and the architects remain Western.
There was nothing new in the build up to this war – anyone who is a serious about anti-imperialism did not fall into the trap of moral ambiguity. There is not a case of Western interventionism that was engaged in for compassionate reasons. The state cannot operate on such a level, to humour it is deeply naive. Seymour himself recognises this, as he sees the state as a structure composed of the interests of capital – neocons just call it realism. We call it empire and empire works to further its interests continuously.
However, empire’s time is coming to an end; it is freefalling and will have hit the ground before the end of our lifetimes. While hurtling towards the ground, austerity budget in hand, it is prone to lash out and attempt to reclaim its losses. We must not take our eyes off it and make sure the beast dies its long overdue death. The Libyan intervention is the containment of the Arab Spring, an attempt from empire to stifle third world momentum. It is an ill conceived plan to make strategic gains. It could be a disaster, let us hope it is and that the Libyan people unite to slice the fingers off the imperial forces. Though, one at the moment must admit, the West may have a dream come true if the world remains enchanted. As Gideon Rachman articulated in the Financial Times other day:
“policymakers in Washington…have a dream. In this, the governments of Syria and Iran are toppled and replaced by much more moderate regimes. The Israelis, reassured by the disappearance of their biggest foes, agree to the creation of a viable Palestinian state. Egypt stabilises and becomes a prosperous democracy. Colonel Gaddafi is defeated and the grateful Libyans hail the west as heroes. A new and legitimate Yemeni government takes up the fight against al-Qaeda. The Saudi government embraces reforms that defuse its internal crisis, and keep the oil flowing.”
The invasion was got through on the basis of an information gap, filled by international media and a diasporic Libyan community. Diplomacy was not extended, just arms. Now the imperial airforce controls the skies of another Arab country, bombs its people at will and our radicals want to perpetuate the moral ambiguity that this thrived upon. It is just like Iraq in this respect. Think about the amount of people queueing up to assassinate Saddam, both literally and metaphorically. When the time came to invade, there were thousands of Iraqis ready to sing to the tune of empire to kill their foe. With Libya it is no different. With the destruction of Iraq witnessed by all, one would think the world would have learnt a lesson, especially the world’s self-professed radicals. Instead, they deliver talks substantiated with moral ambiguity. As far as I am concerned, it is not possible at this moment in history to be neutral between forces – it is clear what the terms of this conflict now are and those who take the side of the rebellion, side with the imperialists. This goes some way to explaining why Richard Seymour has “far more in common” with a neo-conservative follower of Irving Kristol than a third-worldist.
“It is no use painting the foot of the tree white, the strength of the bark cries out from beneath the paint” (Aime Cesaire).
After years in the doghouse, the doctrine of humanitarian intervention is once again scratching at the door – begging for a return from exile. The line of obfuscation: “we were hijacked by neo-cons in the case of Iraq, really the doctrine stands for the type of morality exhibited in Sierra Leone or the Balkans”. The recent media contortions of unrest in Libya have not only opened the doghouse, but added a sense of immediacy to the need for debate of this issue and let the mongrel back in.
Having myself previously espoused the theory, believing it to be a continuation of the internationalism of the left, I critique it on the most fundamental issue with the doctrine – that it is a moral cloak. The doctrine is of no practical value – it is merely ideological. Platitudinous as it may be, it needs to be said: military aggression is never “humanitarian”, neither is starving third world countries through sanctions, installing puppet governments nor riding rough shot over historical and cultural traditions. Abstract morality, the supposed guiding principle, necessarily excludes historical analysis – as from a vacuum it is far easier to make blunt Manichean decisions where the West is good and all systems that are different are evil. Engaging in a genuine global political discussion of ethics entails fidelity to the truths of history – acknowledging that Western imperialism in all its forms and guises is not the solution, but the fundamental problem stifling true progress through imposing its will upon the world. Our global ethic seeks to break the chains of hegemony and unleash the forces, some good, some bad that have been excluded from the modern conception of statehood and stability.
Humanitarian language is spoken to drive up popular support for what would otherwise be seen as antithetical to the values of freedom, democracy and justice. The self-acknowledging imperialist does not care for internationalism and does not recognise the universality of their obligations. Their support is harnessed through statistics and analysis about the effect on Western markets – a cost/benefit analysis suffices to garner their support.
Fluffed up language about alienated and oppressed “others”, who require the liberal media to speak for them is used for a purpose. At times prefiguring imperial intervention it is worth comparing the business and mainstream news. The business is brazen in its intentionality – the mainstream news argues for the same conclusions, not through appealing to heads or wallets, but to hearts. It is of no coincidence that the manual for liberal intervention is dusted off when the cost of a barrel of oil has increased to as much as it was pre-Iraq. Liberal humanitarianism carries the “compassionate” along with the imperial without the vast majority being aware of this reality.
Although bereft of practical functionality, the doctrine evokes “morality” as if it is absolute and recognised by all. An analysis of our moral heart is instructive. Principles of exception run through all moral calculuses from Bentham to Rawls. Action based (deontological) and consequentialist (teleological) ethical systems have restricted scope that essentially break down to subjective choices on the part of the moral agent. When applied internationally a deeply Eurocentric and worrying political ethic manifests. The realpolitick, as most know only too well, restricts moral salience to nation-hood, cultural affinities or whiteness. The unseen foundation upon which abstract thought takes place is oppression.
Liberal internationalism is paternalistic and neo-colonialist at heart. The presupposition is that the Enlightenment provided the whole world with the tools and pathway for progress – in light of this, all that predated must be destroyed for the dawn of the new demands the disintegrating of the old. The march of “progress” and “civilisation” can only be described as barbarous. World history will judge the damage of our new ontologies – our whole way of being in the world is infected with a sense of mastery. Liberal internationalism is predicated upon the global hierarchy which places the thought, products, culture and lives of the West on high and all “others” upon low. Our moralising is nothing more than a shrill call for assimilation.
Human Rights may purport to be universal. In their abstract form, the declarations are universal in scope – but never in application. That many do not even reflect upon their inconsistent and contradictory ethics is enough to underwrite their claims. Universal morality is not an ideal that I wish to shatter, rather, like Aime Cesaire: “I have a different idea of a universal. It is of a universal rich with all that is particular, rich with all the particulars there are, the deepening of each particular, the coexistence of them all”. It is time we all realised we cannot attain this ideal without acknowledging the rotten core of Western morality and its vacuous and decrepit universality, and follow the consequences of this realisation through, no matter the cost. In the short term this entails removing the West’s global military and “diplomatic” presence, not extending it.
I’d like to preface this with an apology. I’m sorry that my writing on the EDL thus far has taken them seriously in their claims. Their threatening nature, though significant, has been grossly inflated and exaggerated. After Bradford (AKA: “the big one”), we have a clearer picture. What they represent is deeply problematic and needs confronting; however, as an entity – they are redundant, vacuous and failing by their own standards.
Aylesbury, Stoke, Dudley, Bolton and Manchester show that the EDL are not toothless; in their optimum conditions they can and will inflict real damage. However, their aim is to pacify the Muslim community through fear. They cannot do this without taking on the strongest Muslim areas – some of those being Tower Hamlets and Bradford where they’ve categorically and unequivocally failed. Which leads one to question: how much further can they really go? Their aims of escalating to Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales have hit the rocks due to a distinct lack of popular support and an unreceptive police force (unlike in England). In England, they have not stirred up racial tensions in the intended way, despite having no nationally unified resistance to speak of and quite overt support from the police. The fact they have to high-tail out of areas like Bradford, Tower Hamlets, Birmingham and Cardiff says it all. The EDL are provocateurs – nothing more, nothing less.
British cities like Birmingham, London and Bradford have a cohesion that transcends the ideological milieu on which the EDL thrive. Islam, in such areas, far from being a problem to the community is embraced. Throughout the Isles of Britain ties exist that run deeper than the prejudices of the post 9/11 world. In the face of such solidarity the EDL are powerless. The EDL are losing both on the streets and in public relations. Some are even going so far as to label the EDL “cowards”. Based on the numbers who turned up for “the big one” – which was at maximum around 700 – it is clear that there is a lot of fear in their ranks. It may be that like any good ideology, they are forced to believe their own lies; genuinely believing that there are “no go areas” for whites in Britain. Hence, they are too terrified to stand up to these “Muslim ghettoes”.
Anyone who is not a racist or paranoid will realise that such claims lack all validity. The Black and Asian youth of this country have grown up in a climate of harmony compared to their parents and do not indiscrimately attack whites. Most, however, are conscious of recent history and will actively fight to maintain the path of progress when challenged. Hence, within the marginalised communities of our cities, there is a brotherhood that is not tangible – but which manifests in times of crisis. In Birmingham this alliance has actualised numerous times to get the EDL out – in an extremely effective fashion and we saw it materialise to great effect in Bradford.
Now I may as well state the platitude that in the fight against the EDL – all have their roles to play. HOPE not Hate’s statist approach stops marches. Unite Against Fascism’s counter demos get good coverage and offer the chance for solidarity beyond racial lines. However, while their roles are important in their own right – this summer’s defeat of the EDL cannot be ascribed to these leftist groups. Autonomous, well organised and rational youths have been the primary buttress. The EDL are a force mobilised to cause damage and fight. The danger they present is that when the clashes occur and the police get involved – the youths get caught between fighting the police and the EDL. However, wisdom is seemingly omnipresent throughout Britain. The angry youths are not attacking the police despite provocation – instead they are maintaining a discipline and only acting in self-defence. The actions of the youth in Birmingham and Bradford are paradigms for us all.
The UAF’s counter-demo was well monitored by the police. There were police lines that penned protesters in. Understandably among the Muslim youth there was a reluctance to walk into such constraints. The vast majority of those who felt the need to be a presence on the street therefore maintained presence in their local communities where they would only act if the EDL made moves towards their localities. When the EDL were seemingly allowed to break police lines and make such movements, they were confronted by a few hundred predominately local Asian youths who fought off the EDL in a highly restrained and dignified manner – but one that left the EDL bloody, bruised and humiliated. It is a testament to the organisation of local communties that there were no images of youths wrapped in Kefiyyehs rioting on our televisions this weekend.
The role of the left in all of this is minimal. HOPE not Hate are too closely associated with the British state to take any position of radicality to confront the threat posed by the rise of nationalistic sentiments in the UK. Unite Against Fascism are an important organisation who can facilitate important community events that exhibit that there is far more that unites the population of Britain, than what divides them. However, their modus operandi is to get the image of unity across – so essentially are confined to the realm of PR. When rampaging thugs are on the street attempting to beat up Muslims and Asians – neither group have the ranks or the philosophy to be a force worth relying upon.
The way to defeat the EDL in urban areas is to look to the street. The “Urban youths” who white lefties tend to avoid are foundational to anti-fascist movement in this country. To put it crudely, due to their emotional and historical connections to the fight against racism they are the foot soldiers of the movement when and if confrontation amounts. Any anti-racist national movement in this country has to support and defend these youths. Attempts should not be made to recruit them into organisations that hope to sever them from their communites, rather organisations should facilitate them and stand with them to ensure all police provocation is monitored and recorded so that Bradford 2001 and Kensington 2009 (the site of the Gaza demonstrations that led to 119 arrests) never happen again. We know the Muslim youth of this country are willing to take steps that “lefties” are not. Therefore, they deserve our full support. Instead, so far in the post-Bradford climate both HNH and UAF are screaming victory for their actions, praising the youths – but not engaging with, let alone facilitating or supporting the philosophy of anti-racism that has emerged through praxis.
Decentralised, wise and aware youths are the future of the movement – we need to harness our institutions so the state cannot vilify them. Without them this summer, this article would have been a completely different tone. Instead, the summer of escalation for the EDL has failed – ending in an almighty bang. POWWW!
Courtesy of Sophie Freeland-Haynes:
‘Resistance and change are not only possible but continuously happening. But the effectiveness of resistance and the realization of change depend on people developing a critical consciousness of domination and its modalities, rather than just experiencing them.’ (Fairclough, 2001:3)
23 April 1997 – Moscow
The Russian Federation and the People’s Republic of China (hereinafter referred to as “the Parties”), desiring to develop a partnership based on equality and mutual trust for the purpose of strategic interaction in the twenty-first century, and considering the responsibility to the international community, that they bear as permanent members of the Security Council and also considering their common approaches to major international issues, declare the following:
1. In a spirit of partnership, the Parties shall strive to promote the multipolarization of the world and the establishment of a new international order.
The Parties believe that profound changes in international relations have taken place at the end of the twentieth century. The cold war is over. The bipolar system has vanished. A positive trend towards a multipolar world is gaining momentum, and relations between major States, including former cold-war adversaries, are changing. Regional economic cooperation organizations are showing considerable vitality. Diversity in the political, economic and cultural development of all countries is becoming the norm, and the role played by the forces in favour of peace and broad-based international cooperation is expanding. A growing number of countries are beginning to recognize the need for mutual respect, equality and mutual advantage – but not for hegemony and power politics – and for dialogue and cooperation – but not for confrontation and conflict. The establishment of a peaceful, stable, just and rational new international political and economic order is becoming a pressing need of the times and an imperative of historical development.
2. The Parties are in favour of making mutual respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity, mutual non-aggression, non-interference in each other’s internal affairs, equality and mutual advantage, peaceful coexistence and other universally recognized principles of international law the fundamental norm for conducting relations between States and the basis for a new international order.
Every country has the right independently to choose its path of development in the light of its own specific conditions and without interference from other States. Differences in their social systems, ideologies and value systems must not become an obstacle to the development of normal relations between States.
All countries, large or small, strong or weak, rich or poor, are equal members of the international community. No country should seek hegemony, engage in power politics or monopolize international affairs. The Parties believe that the renunciation of discriminatory policies and practices in economic relations, and the strengthening and expansion of trade, economic, scientific, technical and humanitarian exchanges and cooperation on the basis of equality and mutual advantage will promote their common development and prosperity.
3. The Parties are in favour of establishing a new and universally applicable concept of security. They believe that the cold-war mentality must be abandoned and they oppose bloc politics. Differences and disputes between countries must be settled by peaceful means, without resorting to the use or threat of force. Dialogue and consultations must be pursued with a view to promoting mutual understanding and confidence, and peace and security must be sought through bilateral and multilateral coordination and cooperation.
The Parties are of the view that the Commonwealth of Independent States is an important factor in ensuring stability and development in Eurasia. They stress that the Agreement between the Russian Federation, the Republic of Kazakstan, the Kyrgyz Republic, the Republic of Tajikistan and the People’s Republic of China on confidence-building in the military field in the border area, as well as the Agreement on the mutual reduction of their armed forces in the border area are of great importance and can serve as a model for the achievement of regional peace, security and stability in the post-cold-war era.
The Parties intend to facilitate the disarmament process and emphasize the importance of signing the comprehensive nuclear-test-ban treaty and implementing the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons. The Parties express concern at attempts to enlarge and strengthen military blocs, since this trend can pose a threat to the security of individual countries and aggravate tension on a regional and global scale.
4. The Parties are of the view that the role of the United Nations and the Security Council must be strengthened, and they highly appreciate United Nations efforts to maintain world peace and security. They believe that the United Nations, as the most universal and authoritative organization of sovereign States, has a place and role in the world that cannot be supplanted by any other international organization. The Parties are confident that the United Nations will play an important role in the establishment and maintenance of the new international order.
United Nations peacekeeping efforts should focus on the prevention of conflicts or their escalation. Peacekeeping operations can be conducted only on the basis of a Security Council decision and only with the consent of the countries concerned, in strict compliance with the mandate issued by the Security Council and under the Council’s supervision.
Whenever the Security Council, in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations, adopts a resolution on the use of sanctions, the damage caused by the imposition of such sanctions, as well as damage to third countries and neighbouring regions, must be kept to a minimum. The sanctions themselves must be eased and lifted in due course in the light of the implementation of Security Council resolutions.
The Parties express their readiness to cooperate closely with the United Nations and its specialized agencies and to strive to improve the effectiveness of the United Nations activities. The Parties intend to hold regular consultations on matters relating to the work of the Organization and to coordinate their actions in this area in the light of prevailing circumstances.
5. The Parties stress that numerous developing countries and the Movement of Non-Aligned Countries are an important force that promotes multipolarization and the establishment of a new international order. Interaction among developing countries is gaining momentum. Their role in international politics is growing, and their share in the world economy is increasing. The rise of the developing countries will provide a powerful impetus for the historical process of establishing a new international order. These countries should take their rightful place in the future new international order and participate in international affairs on an equal and non-discriminatory basis.
6. The Parties note with satisfaction that the establishment and development of a Russian-Chinese partnership based on equality and mutual trust for the purpose of strategic interaction in the twenty-first century is in keeping with the development of the international situation and international relations in the post-cold-war era, fully meets the vital interests of the peoples of the two countries and is conducive to peace and security in the Asia-Pacific region and the world as a whole.
As permanent members of the Security Council, the Russian Federation and China, adhering to the principles of partnership, good-neighbourliness and friendship, equality and trust and mutually advantageous cooperation, and in strictly abiding by the principles of international law, are forging a new type of long-term inter-State relations that are not directed against third countries. This provides important practical experience for the establishment of a new international order.
The Parties intend to make active use of and strengthen the existing system of summit meetings and high-level contacts. Their heads of State, heads of Government and Ministers for Foreign Affairs meet regularly to exchange views on bilateral relations and major international issues. Guided by a sense of their historical responsibility for world peace and development and for the future of mankind, the Parties are strengthening coordination and cooperation in international affairs. The two countries are making efforts to ensure friendly coexistence and cooperation on an equal footing with all other States and are making their due contribution to the strengthening of world peace and the common progress of mankind.
7. Mankind is on the threshold of a new era. The peoples of all countries are faced with the increasingly urgent question of the kind of international order they will live under in the next century. The Parties call on all countries to engage in an active dialogue on the establishment of a peaceful, stable, just and rational new international order, and they are prepared to take part in a joint discussion of any constructive proposals to this end.
FOR THE RUSSIAN FEDERATION: FOR THE PEOPLE’S REPUBLIC OF CHINA:
(Signed) B. YELTSIN (Signed) JIANG Zemin
This document has been posted online by the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA). Reproduction and dissemination of the document – in electronic and/or printed format – is encouraged, provided acknowledgement is made of the role of the United Nations in making it available.
This essay is the Introduction to the new edition of Discourse on Colonialism by Aimé Césaire (Monthly Review Press, 2000).
Aimé Césaire’s Discourse on Colonialism might be best described as a declaration of war. I would almost call it a “third world manifesto,” but hesitate because it is primarily a polemic against the old order bereft of the kind of propositions and proposals that generally accompany manifestos. Yet, Discourse speaks in revolutionary cadences, capturing the spirit of its age just as Marx and Engels did 102 years earlier in their little manifesto. First published in 1950 as Discours sur le colonialisme1, it appeared just as the old empires were on the verge of collapse, thanks in part to a world war against fascism that left Europe in material, spiritual, and philosophical shambles. It was the age of decolonization and revolt in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. Five years earlier, in 1945, black people from around the globe gathered in Manchester, England, for the Fifth Pan-African Congress to discuss the freedom and future of Africa. Five years later, in 1955, representatives from the Non-Aligned Nations gathered in Bandung, Indonesia, to discuss the freedom and future of the third world. Mao’s revolution in China was a year old, while the Mau Mau in Kenya were just gearing up for an uprising against their colonial masters. The French encountered insurrections in Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco, Cameroon, and Madagascar, and suffered a humiliating defeat by the Viet Minh at Dien Bien Phu. Revolt was in the air. India, the Philippines, Guyana, Egypt, Guatemala, South Africa, Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, Harlem, you name it. Revolt! Malcolm X once described this extraordinary moment, this long decade from the end of the Second World War to the late 1950s, as a “tidal wave of color.”
Discourse on Colonialism is indisputably one of the key texts in this “tidal wave” of anticolonial literature produced during the postwar period—works that include W.E.B. DuBois’ Color and Democracy (1945) and The World and Africa (1947), Frantz Fanon’s Black Skin, White Masks (1952), George Padmore’sPan-Africanism or Communism?: The Coming Struggle for Africa (1956), Albert Memmi’s The Colonizer and the Colonized(1957), Richard Wright’s White Man Listen! (1957), Jean-Paul Sartre’s essay, “Black Orpheus” (1948), and journals such asPrésence Africaine and African Revolution. As with much of the radical literature produced during this epoch, Discourse places the colonial question front and center. Although Césaire, remaining somewhat true to his Communist affiliation, never quite dethrones the modern proletariat from its exalted status as a revolutionary force, the European working class is practically invisible. This is a book about colonialism, its impact on the colonized, on culture, on history, on the very concept of civilization itself, and most importantly, on the colonizer. In the finest Hegelian fashion, Césaire demonstrates how colonialism works to “decivilize” the colonizer: torture, violence, race hatred, and immorality constitute a dead weight on the so-called civilized, pulling the master class deeper and deeper into the abyss of barbarism. The instruments of colonial power rely on barbaric, brutal violence and intimidation, and the end result is the degradation of Europe itself. Hence Césaire can only scream: “Europe is indefensible.”
Europe is also dependent. Anticipating Fanon’s famous proposition that “Europe is literally the creation of the Third World,”2 Césaire reveals, over and over again, that the colonizers’ sense of superiority, their sense of mission as the world’s civilizers, depends on turning the Other into a barbarian. The Africans, the Indians, the Asians cannot possess civilization or a culture equal to that of the imperialists, or the latter have no purpose, no justification for the exploitation and domination of the rest of the world. The colonial encounter, in other words, requires a reinvention of the colonized, the deliberate destruction of her past—what Césaire calls “thingification.” Discourse, then, has a double-edged meaning: it is Césaire’s discourse on the material and spiritual havoc created by colonialism, and it is a critique of colonial discourse. Anticipating the explosion of work we now call “postcolonial studies,” Césaire’s critique of figures such as Dominique O. Mannoni, Roger Caillois, Ernest Renan, Yves Florenne, and Jules Romaine, among others, reveals how the circulation of colonial ideology—an ideology of racial and cultural hierarchy—is as essential to colonial rule as police and corvée labor.
Surprisingly, few assessments of postcolonial criticism pay much attention to Discourse, besides mentioning it in a litany of “pioneering” works without bothering to elaborate on its contents. Robert Young’s White Mythologies: Writing History and the West (1990) dates the origins of postcolonial studies to Fanon’sWretched of the Earth, despite the fact that some of the arguments in Fanon were already present in Discourse.3 On the other hand, literary critics tend to skip over Discourse or dismiss it as an anomaly born of Césaire’s eleven-year stint as a member of the Communist Party of Martinique. It has been read in terms of whether it conforms to or breaks from “Marxist orthodoxy.”4 I want to suggest that Discourse made some critical contributions to our thinking about colonialism, fascism, and revolution. First, its recasting of the history of Western Civilization helps us locate the origins of fascism within colonialism itself; hence, within the very traditions of humanism, critics believed fascism threatened. Second, Césaire was neither confused about Marxism nor masquerading as a Marxist when he wrote Discourse. On the contrary, he was attempting to revise Marx, along the lines of his predecessors such as W.E.B. DuBois and M.N. Roy, by suggesting that the anticolonial struggle supersedes the proletarian revolution as the fundamental historical movement of the period. The implications are enormous: the coming revolution was not posed in terms of capitalism versus socialism (the very last paragraph notwithstanding, but we shall return to this later), but in terms of the complete and total overthrow of a racist, colonialist system that would open the way to imagine a whole new world.
What such a world might look like is never spelled out, but that brings me to the final point about Discourse: it should be read as a surrealist text, perhaps even an unintended synthesis of Césaire’s understanding of poetry (via Rimbaud) as revolt and his re-vision of historical materialism. For all of his Marxist criticism and Négritudian assertion, Césaire’s text plumbs the depths of the unconscious so that we might comprehend colonialism through his entire being. It is full of flares, full of anger, full of humor. It is not a solution or a strategy or a manual or a little red book with pithy quotes. It is a dancing flame in a bonfire.
Aimé Césaire’s credentials as colonial critic are impeccable. Born on June 26, 1913, in the small town of Bass-Pointe, Martinique, he and his five siblings were raised by a mother who was a dressmaker and a father who held a post as the local tax inspector. Although their father was well-educated and they shared the cultural sensibilities of the petit-bourgeois, the Césaires nonetheless lived close to the edge of rural poverty. Aimé turned out to be a brilliant, precocious student and, at age eleven, was admitted to the Lycée Schoelcher in Fort-de-France. There he met Léon-Gontran Damas from Guiana, one of his childhood soccer-mates (who would go on to collaborate with Césaire and Senegalese poet Léopold Sédar Senghor in launching the Négritude movement). Césaire graduated from the Lycée in 1931 and took prizes in French, Latin, English, and history. Unlike many of his colleagues, he could not wait to leave home for the mother country—France. “I was not at ease in the Antillean world,” he recalled. That would change during his eight-year stay in Paris.5
Once settled in Paris, he enrolled at the Lycée Louis-le-Grand to prepare for the grueling entrance exams to get into the École Normale Superieure. There he met a number of like-minded intellectuals, most notably Senghor. Meeting Senghor, and another Senegalese intellectual, Ousman Soce, inspired in Césaire an interest in Africa, and their collaborations eventually gave birth to the concept of Négritude. There were other black diasporic intellectual circles in Paris at the time, notably the group surrounding the Nardal sisters of Martinique (Paulette, Jane, and Andrée), who ran a salon out of which came La Revue de Monde Noir, edited by Paulette Nardal and Léo Sajous. Another circle of Martinican students, consisting mainly of Etienne Lero, René Ménil, J.M. Monnerot, and Pierre and Simone Yoyotte, joined together to declare their commitment to surrealism and communist revolution. In their one and only issue of Légitime Défense, published in 1932, they excoriated the French-speaking black bourgeoisie, attacked the servility of most West Indian literature, celebrated several black U.S. writers like Langston Hughes and Claude McKay, and denounced racism (paying special attention to the Scottsboro case). Césaire knew about the Nardal sisters’ salon but found it entirely “too bourgeois” for his tastes. And though he had read Légitime Défense, he considered the group too assimilated: “There was nothing to distinguish them either from the French surrealists or the French Communists. In other words, their poems were colorless.”6
Césaire, Senghor, Léon Damas, and others were part of a different intellectual circle that centered around a journal called L’Étudiant Noir. In its March 1935 issue, Césaire published a passionate tract against assimilation, in which he first coined the term “Négritude.” It is more than ironic that at the moment Césaire’s piece appeared, he was hard at work absorbing as much French and European humanities as possible in preparation for his entrance exams for L’École Normale Superieure. The exams took their toll, for sure, though the psychic and emotional costs of having to imbibe the very culture Césaire publicly rejected must have exacerbated an already exhausting regimen. After completing his exams during the summer of 1935, he took a short vacation to Yugoslavia with a fellow student. While visiting the Adriatic coast, Césaire was overcome with memories of home after seeing a small island from a distance. Moved, he stayed up half the night working on a long poem about the Martinique of his youth—the land, the people, the majesty of the place. The next morning when he inquired about the little island, he was told it was called Martinska. A magical chance encounter, to say the least, the words he penned that moonlit night were the beginnings of what would subsequently become his most famous poem of all: Cahier d’un retour au pays natal (Notebook of a Return to My Native Land). The next summer he did return to Martinique, but was greeted by an even greater sense of alienation. He returned to France to complete his thesis on African-American writers of the Harlem Renaissance and their representations of the South, and then, on July 10, 1937, married Suzanne Roussy, a fellow Martinican student with whom he had worked on L’Étudiant Noir.7
The couple returned to Martinique in 1939 and began teaching in Fort-de-France. Joining forces with René Ménil, Lucie Thesée, Aristide Maugée, Georges Gratiant, and others, they launched a journal called Tropiques. The appearance of Tropiques coincided with the fall of France to the fascist Vichy regime, which consequently put the colonies of Martinique, Guadeloupe, and Guiana under Vichy rule. The effect was startling; any illusions Césaire and his comrades might have harbored about colorblind French brotherhood were shattered when thousands of French sailors arrived on the island. Their racism was blatant and direct. As literary critic A. James Arnold observed, “The insensitivity of this military regime also made it difficult for Martinicans to ignore the fact that they were a colony like any other, a conclusion that the official policy of assimilation had masked somewhat. These conditions contributed to radicalizing Césaire and his friends, preparing them for a more anticolonialist posture at the end of the war.”8 The official policy of the regime to censor Tropiques and interdict the publication when it was deemed subversive also hastened the group’s radicalization. In a notorious letter dated May 10, 1943, Martinique’s Chief of Information Services, Lt. de Vaisseau Bayle, justified interdicting Tropiques for being “a revolutionary review that is racial and sectarian.” Bayle accused the editors of poisoning the spirit of society, sowing hatred and ruining the morale of the country. Two days later, the editors penned a brilliant polemical response:
To Lieutenant de Vaisseau Bayle:
Sir, We have received your indictment of Tropiques.
“Racists,” “sectarians,” “revolutionaries,” “ingrates and traitors to the country,” “poisoners of souls,” none of these epithets really repulses us. “Poisoners of Souls,” like Racine, . . . “Ingrates and traitors to our good Country,” like Zola, … “Revolutionaries,” like the Hugo of “Châtiments.” “Sectarians,” passionately, like Rimbaud and Lautréamont. Racists, yes. Of the racism of Toussaint Louverture, of Claude McKay and Langston Hughes against that of Drumont and Hitler. As to the rest of it, don’t expect for us to plead our case, nor vain recriminations, nor discussion. We do not speak the same language.
Signed: Aimé Césaire, Suzanne Césaire, Georges Gratiant, Aristide Maugée, René Ménil, Lucie Thesée.9
But in order for Tropiques to survive, they had to camouflage their boldness, passing it off as a journal of West Indian folklore. Yet, despite the repressions and the ruses, Tropiques survived the war as one of the most important and radical surrealist publications in the world. Lasting from 1941 to 1945, the essays and poems it published (by the Césaires, René Ménil, and others) reveal the evolution of a sophisticated anticolonial stance, as well as a vision of a postcolonial future. Theirs was a vision of freedom that drew on Modernism and a deep appreciation for pre-colonial African modes of thought and practice; it drew on Surrealism as the strategy of revolution of the mind and Marxism as revolution of the productive forces. It was an effort to carve out a position independent of all of these forces, a kind of wedding of Négritude, Marxism, and surrealism, and their collective efforts would have a profound impact on international surrealism, in general, and on André Breton, in particular. Tropiques also published Breton, as well as texts by Pierre Mabille, Benjamin Peret, and other surrealists.10 In fact, it is not too much to proclaim Suzanne Césaire as one of surrealism’s most original theorists. Unlike critics who boxed surrealism into narrow “avant garde” tendencies such as futurism or cubism, Suzanne Césaire linked it to broader movements such as Romanticism, socialism, and Négritude. Surrealism, she argued, was not an ideology as such but a state of mind, a “permanent readiness for the Marvelous.” In a 1941 issue of Tropiques, she imagined new possibilities in terms that were foreign to Marxists; she called on readers to embrace “the domain of the strange, the marvelous and the fantastic, a domain scorned by people of certain inclinations. Here is the freed image, dazzling and beautiful, with a beauty that could not be more unexpected and overwhelming. Here are the poet, the painter, and the artist, presiding over the metamorphoses and the inversions of the world under the sign of hallucination and madness.”11 And yet, when she speaks of the domain of the Marvelous, she has her sights on the chains of colonial domination, never forgetting the crushing reality of everyday life in Martinique and the rest of the world. In “Surrealism and Us: 1943,” she writes with a boldness and clarity that would come to characterize her husband’s Discourse on Colonialism:
Thus, far from contradicting, diluting, or diverting our revolutionary attitude toward life, surrealism strengthens it. It nourishes an impatient strength within us, endlessly reinforcing the massive army of refusals.
And I am also thinking of tomorrow.
Millions of black hands will hoist their terror across the furious skies of world war. Freed from a long benumbing slumber, the most disinherited of all peoples will rise up from plains of ashes.
Our surrealism will supply this rising people with a punch from its very depths. Our surrealism will enable us to finally transcend the sordid antinomies of the present: whites/Blacks, Europeans/Africans, civilized/savages—at last rediscovering the magic power of the mahoulis, drawn directly from living sources. Colonial idiocy will be purified in the welder’s blue flame. We shall recover our value as metal, our cutting edge of steel, our unprecedented communions.12
Although the influence of surrealism on Aimé Césaire has been called into question recently, the question of his surrealism is usually posed in terms of André Breton’s influence on Césaire. Surrealism in this context is treated as “European thought,” and like Marxism, considered foreign to non-European traditions. But this sort of “diffusionist” interpretation leaves no room for the Césaires (both Aimé and Suzanne) to be innovators of surrealism, to have introduced fresh ideas to Breton and his colleagues. I want to suggest that the Césaires not only embraced surrealism—independently of the Paris Group, I might add—but opened new vistas and contributed enormously to theorizing the “domain of the Marvelous.”13
Aimé Césaire, after all, has never denied his surrealist leanings. As he explains in an interview: “Surrealism provided me with what I had been confusedly searching for. I have accepted it joyfully because in it I have found more of a confirmation than a revelation.” Surrealism, he explained, helped him to summon up powerful unconscious forces. “This, for me, was a call to Africa. I said to myself: it’s true that superficially we are French, we bear the marks of French customs; we have been branded by Cartesian philosophy, by French rhetoric; but if we break with all that, if we plumb the depths, then what we will find is fundamentally black.” And, in another interview with Jacqueline Leiner, he was even more enthusiastic about Breton’s role: “Breton brought us boldness, he helped us take a strong stand. He abridged our hesitations and research. I realized that the majority of the problems I encountered had already been resolved by Breton and surrealism. I would say that my meeting with Breton was confirmation of what I had arrived at on my own. This saved us time, let us go quicker, farther. The encounter was extraordinary.”14 Furthermore, even as a communist deputy in the later 1940s, Césaire continued to publish poetry for surrealist publications such as Le Surréalisme en 1947, an exhibit catalogue edited by André Breton and Marcel Duchamp. His surrealist imagery is undeniable in two poetry collections from that era, Les Armes Miraculeuses (Miraculous Weapons) in 1944 and Soleil cou coupé (Beheaded Sun) in 1948.15
Césaire’s essay, “Poetry and Cognition,” which he delivered during his seven-month visit to Haiti in 1944, and which appeared inTropiques the following year, represents one of his most systematic statements on the revolutionary nature of poetry. Opening with the simple but provocative proposition that “Poetic knowledge is born in the great silence of scientific knowledge,” he then attempts to demonstrate why poetry is the only way to achieve the kind of knowledge we need to move beyond the world’s crises. Césaire’s embrace of poetry as a method of achieving clairvoyance, of obtaining the knowledge we need to move forward, is crucial for understanding Discourse, which appears just five years later. If we think of Discourse as a kind of historical prose-poem against the realities of colonialism, then perhaps we should heed Césaire’s point that “What presides over the poem is not the most lucid intelligence, the sharpest sensibility or the subtlest feelings, but experience as a whole.” This means everything, every history, every future, every dream, every life form, from plant to animal, every creative impulse—plumbed from the depths of the unconscious. If poetry is, indeed, a powerful source of knowledge and revolt, one might expect Césaire to employ it as Discourse‘s sharpest weapon. And I think most readers will agree that the passages that sing, that sound the war drums, that explode spontaneously, are the most powerful sections of the essay. But for readers who are expecting a systematic critique replete with hypotheses, sufficient evidence, topic sentences, and bullet points, you are bound for disappointment. Consider Césaire’s third proposition regarding poetic knowledge: “Poetic knowledge is that in which man spatters the object with all of his mobilized riches.”16
Surrealism is also important to the formation of Discourse because, like the movements that gave rise to Pan-Africanism and Négritude, it has its own independent anticolonial roots. I am not suggesting that Césaire’s critique of colonialism necessarily derived from the surrealists; rather, I want to suggest that the mutual attraction engendered between Césaire (and many other black intellectuals at the time) and the surrealists can be partly explained by affinities in their position toward Empire. Up until the mid-1920s, the European surrealists were largely cultural iconoclasts who made radical pronouncements but displayed little interest in social revolution. But that would change in 1925, when the Paris Surrealist Group and the extreme left of the French Communist Party were drawn together by their support of Abd-el-Krim, leader of the Rif uprising against French colonialism in Morocco. They actively called for the overthrow of French colonial rule. That same year, in an “Open Letter” to writer and French ambassador to Japan, Paul Claudel, the Paris group announced: “We profoundly hope that revolutions, wars, colonial insurrections, will annihilate this Western civilisation whose vermin you defend even in the Orient.” Seven years later, the Paris group produced its most militant statement on the colonial question to date. Titled “Murderous Humanitarianism” (1932) and drafted mainly by René Crevel and signed by André Breton, Paul Eluard, Benjamin Peret, Yves Tanguy, and the Martinican surrealists Pierre Yoyotte and J.M. Monnerot, the document is a relentless attack on colonialism, capitalism, the clergy, the black bourgeoisie, and hypocritical liberals. They argue that the very humanism upon which the modern West was built also justified slavery, colonialism, and genocide. And they called for action, noting, “we Surrealists pronounced ourselves in favor of changing the imperialist war, in its chronic and colonial form, into a civil war. Thus we placed our energies at the disposal of the revolution, of the proletariat and its struggles, and defined our attitude towards the colonial problem, and hence towards the color question.”17
While “Murderous Humanitarianism” certainly resonates with Césaire’s critique, he had less faith in the proletariat—the European proletariat, that is—than those who signed onto this document. Moreover, as a product of the period following the Second World War, Discourse goes one step further by drawing a direct link between the logic of colonialism and the rise of fascism. He provocatively points out that Europeans tolerated “Nazism before it was inflicted on them, that they absolved it, shut their eyes to it, legitimized it, because, until then, it had been applied only to non-European peoples; that they have cultivated that Nazism, that they are responsible for it, and that before engulfing the whole of Western, Christian civilization in its reddened waters, it oozes, seeps, and trickles from every crack.” So the real crime of fascism was the application of colonial procedures to white people “which until then had been reserved for the Arabs of Algeria, the coolies of India, and the blacks of Africa” (14). Here we must situate Césaire within a larger context of radical black intellectuals who had come to the same conclusions before the publication of Discourse. As Cedric Robinson argues, a group of radical black intellectuals, including W.E.B. DuBois, CLR James, George Padmore, and Oliver Cox, understood fascism not as some aberration from the march of progress, an unexpected right-wing turn, but a logical development of Western Civilization itself. They viewed fascism as a blood relative of slavery and imperialism, global systems rooted not only in capitalist political economy but racist ideologies that were already in place at the dawn of modernity. As early as 1936, Ralph Bunche, then a radical political science professor at Howard University, suggested that imperialism gave birth to fascism. “The doctrine of Fascism,” wrote Bunche, “with its extreme jingoism, its exaggerated exaltation of the state and its comic-opera glorification of race, has given a new and greater impetus to the policy of world imperialism which had conquered and subjected to systematic and ruthless exploitation virtually all of the darker populations of the earth.” DuBois made some of the clearest statements to this effect: “I knew that Hitler and Mussolini were fighting communism, and using race prejudice to make some white people rich and all colored people poor. But it was not until later that I realized that the colonialism of Great Britain and France had exactly the same object and methods as the fascists and the Nazis were trying clearly to use.” Later, in The World and Africa (1947), he writes: “There was no Nazi atrocity—concentration camps, wholesale maiming and murder, defilement of women or ghastly blasphemy of childhood—which Christian civilization or Europe had not long been practicing against colored folk in all parts of the world in the name of and for the defense of a Superior Race born to rule the world.”18
The very idea that there was a superior race lay at the heart of the matter, and this is why elements of Discourse also drew on Négritude’s impulse to recover the history of Africa’s accomplishments. Taking his cue from Leo Frobenius’s injunction that the “idea of the barbaric Negro is a European invention,”19Césaire sets out to prove that the colonial mission to “civilize” the primitive is just a smoke screen. If anything, colonialism results in the massive destruction of whole societies—societies that not only function at a high level of sophistication and complexity, but that might offer the West valuable lessons about how we might live together and remake the modern world. Indeed, Césaire’s insistence that pre-colonial African and Asian cultures “were not only ante-capitalist . . . but also anti-capitalist” anticipated romantic claims advanced by African nationalist leaders such as Julius Nyerere, Kenneth Kaunda, and Senghor himself, that modern Africa can establish socialism on the basis of pre-colonial village life.
Discourse was not the first place Césaire made the case for the barbaric West following the path of the civilized African. In his Introduction to Victor Schoelcher’s Esclavage et colonisation20, he wrote:
The men they took away knew how to build houses, govern empires, erect cities, cultivate fields, mine for metals, weave cotton, forge steel.
Their religion had its own beauty, based on mystical connections with the founder of the city. Their customs were pleasing, built on unity, kindness, respect for age.
No coercion, only mutual assistance, the joy of living, a free acceptance of discipline.
Order—Earnestness—Poetry and Freedom.
Reading this passage, and the book itself, deeply affected one of Césaire’s brightest students, named Frantz Fanon. It was a revelation for him to discover cities in Africa and “accounts of learned blacks.” “All of that,” he noted in Black Skin, White Masks(1952), “exhumed from the past, spread with its insides out, made it possible for me to find a valid historical place. The white man was wrong, I was not a primitive, not even a half-man, I belonged to a race that had already been working in gold and silver two thousand years ago.”21
Négritude turned out to be a miraculous weapon in the struggle to overthrow the “barbaric Negro.” As Cedric Robinson points out inBlack Marxism: The Making of the Black Radical Tradition, this was no easy task, since the invention of the Negro—and by extension the fabrication of whiteness and all the racial boundary policing that came with it—required “immense expenditures of psychic and intellectual energies of the West.” An entire generation of “Enlightened” European scholars worked hard to wipe out the cultural and intellectual contributions of Egypt and Nubia from European history, to whiten the West in order to maintain the purity of the “European” race. They also stripped all of Africa of any semblance of “civilization,” using the printed page to eradicate their history and thus reduce a whole continent and its progeny to little more than beasts of burden or brutish heathens. The result is the fabrication of Europe as a discrete, racially pure entity, solely responsible for modernity, on the one hand, and the fabrication of the Negro on the other.22
Yet, despite Césaire’s construction of pre-colonial Africa as an aggregation of warm, communal societies, he never calls for a return. Unlike his old friend Senghor, Césaire’s Négritude is future-oriented and modern. His position in Discourse is unequivocal: “For us the problem is not to make a utopian and sterile attempt to repeat the past, but to go beyond. It is not a dead society that we want to revive. We leave that to those who go in for exoticism . . . . It is a new society that we must create, with the help of our brother slaves, a society rich with all the productive power of modern times, warm with all the fraternity of olden days.”
Then comes the shocking next line:
“For some examples showing that this is possible, we can look to the Soviet Union.”
By 1950, of course, Césaire had been a leader in the Communist Party of Martinique for about five years. Under the Communist ticket, he was elected mayor of Fort-de-France as well as Deputy to the French National Assembly. Now, given everything he has written thus far, everything that he has lived, why would he hold up Stalinism circa 1950s as an exemplar of the new society? Why would a great poet and major voice of surrealism and Négritude suddenly join the Communist Party? Actually, once we consider the context of the postwar world, his decision is not shocking at all. First, remember that Communist parties worldwide, especially in Europe, were at their height immediately after the war, and Joe Stalin spent the war years as an ally of liberal democracy. Second, several leading writers and artists committed to radical social change, particularly in the Caribbean and Latin America, became Communists—including Césaire’s friends Jacques Romain, Nicolas Guillen, and René Depestre. Third, Césaire, who was reluctant to become involved in politics, discovered early on that he could be effective. Almost as soon as he was elected, Césaire set out to change the status of Martinique, Guadeloupe, Guiana, and Réunion from colonies to “departments” within the French Republic. Departmentalization, he insisted, would put these areas on equal footing with departments in metropolitan France. Césaire’s eloquent and passionate arguments led to a law in 1946 resulting in departmentalization. However, his dream that assimilation of the old colonies into the republic would guarantee equal rights turned out to be a pipe dream. In the end, French officials were sent to the colonies in greater numbers, often displacing some of the local black Martinican bureaucrats. By the time he drafted the popularly known third edition of Discourse in 1955, he had become an outspoken critic of departmentalization.23
Thus, given Césaire’s role as Communist leader, we should not be surprised by Discourse‘s nod to the Soviet Union, or even the final closing lines of the text, in which he names proletarian revolution as our savior. What is jarring, however, is how incongruous these statements are in relation to the rest of the text. After demonstrating that Europe is a dying civilization, one on the verge of self-destruction (in which the chickens of colonial violence and tyranny have come home to roost while the white working class looks on in silent complicity), he proposes proletarian revolution as the final solution! Yet, throughout the book, he anticipates Fanon, implying that there is nothing worth saving in Europe, that the European working class has too often joined forces with the European bourgeoisie in their support of racism, imperialism, and colonialism, and that the uprisings of the colonized might point the way forward. Ultimately, Discourse is a challenge to, or revision of, Marxism; it draws on surrealism and the anti-rationalist ideas of Césaire’s early poetry and explorations in Négritude. It is fairly unmaterialist in the way it cries out for new spiritual values to emerge out of the study of what colonialism sought to destroy.
Césaire’s position vis-à-vis Marxism becomes even clearer less than one year after the third edition of Discourse appeared. In October 1956, Césaire pens his famous letter to Maurice Thorez, Secretary General of the French Communist Party, tendering his resignation from the party. Besides its stinging rebuke of Stalinism, the heart of the letter dealt with the colonial question—not just the Party’s policies toward the colonies but the colonial relationship between the metropolitan CP and the Martinican party. Arguing that people of color need to exercise self-determination, he warned against treating the “colonial question . . . as a subsidiary part of some more important global matter.” Racism, in other words, cannot be subordinate to the class struggle. His letter is an even bolder, more direct assertion of third-world unity than Discourse. Although he still identifies as a Marxist and is still open to alliances, he cautions that there “are no allies by divine rights.” If following the Communist Party “pillages our most vivifying friendships, wastes the bond that weds us to other West Indian islands, the tie that makes us Africa’s child, then I say communism has served us ill in having us swap a living brotherhood for what looks to have the features of the coldest of all chill abstractions.” More important, Césaire’s investment in a third-world revolt paving the way for a new society certainly anticipates Fanon. He had practically given up on Europe and the old humanism and its claims of universality, opting instead to re-define the “universal” in a way that did not privilege Europe. Césaire explains, “I’m not going to entomb myself in some strait particularism. But I don’t intend either to become lost in a fleshless universalism . . . . I have a different idea of a universal. It is of a universal rich with all that is particular, rich with all the particulars there are, the deepening of each particular, the coexistence of them all.”24
What Césaire articulates in Discourse, and more explicitly in his letter to Thorez, distills the spirit that swept through African intellectual circles in the age of decolonization. This pervasive spirit was what Négritude was all about then; it was never a simple matter of racial essentialism. Critic, scholar, and filmmaker Manthia Diawara beautifully captures the atmosphere of the era and, implicitly, what these radical critiques of the colonial order, such asDiscourse on Colonialism, meant to a new generation: “The idea that Négritude was bigger even than Africa, that we were part of an international moment which held the promise of universal emancipation, that our destiny coincided with the universal freedom of workers and colonized people worldwide—all this gave us a bigger and more important identity than the ones previously available to us through kinship, ethnicity, and race . . . . The awareness of our new historical mission freed us from what we regarded in those days as the archaic identities of our fathers and their religious entrapments; it freed us from race and banished our fear of the whiteness of French identity. To be labeled the saviors of humanity, when only recently we had been colonized and despised by the world, gave us a feeling of righteousness, which bred contempt for capitalism, racialism of all origins, and tribalism.”25
In light of recent events—genocide in East Africa, the collapse of democracy throughout the continent, the isolation of Cuba, the overthrow of progressive movements throughout the so-called third world—some might argue that the moment of truth has already passed, that Césaire and Fanon’s predictions proved false. We’re facing an era where fools are calling for a renewal of colonialism, where descriptions of violence and instability draw on the very colonial language of “barbarism” and “backwardness” that Césaire critiques in Discourse. But this is all a mystification; the fact is, while colonialism in its formal sense might have been dismantled, the colonial state has not. Many of the problems of democracy are products of the old colonial state whose primary difference is the presence of black faces. It has to do with the rise of a new ruling class—the class Fanon warned us about—who are content with mimicking the colonial masters, whether they are the old-school British or French officers, the new jack U.S. corporate rulers, or the Stalinists whose sympathy for the “backward” countries often mirrored the very colonial discourse Césaire exposes.
As the true radicals of postcolonial theory will tell you, we are hardly in a “postcolonial” moment. The official apparatus might have been removed, but the political, economic, and cultural links established by colonial domination still remain with some alterations.Discourse is less concerned with the specifics of political economy than with a way of thinking. The lesson here is that colonial domination required a whole way of thinking, a discourse in which everything that is advanced, good, and civilized, is defined and measured in European terms. Discourse calls on the world to move forward as rapidly as possible, and yet calls for the overthrow of a master class’s ideology of progress, one built on violence, destruction, genocide. Both Fanon and Césaire warn the colored world not to follow Europe’s footsteps, and not to go back to the ancient way, but to carve out a new direction altogether. What we’ve been witnessing, however (and here I must include Césaire’s own beloved Martinique, where he still holds forth as mayor of Fort-de-France) hardly reflects the imagination and vision captured in the brief pages of Discourse. The same old political parties, the same armies, the same methods of labor exploitation, the same education, the same tactics of incarceration, exiling, snuffing out artists and intellectuals who dare to imagine a radically different way of living, who dare to invent the marvelous before our very eyes.
In the end, Discourse was never intended to be a road map or a blueprint for revolution. It is poetry and therefore revolt. It is an act of insurrection, drawn from Césaire’s own miraculous weapons, molded and shaped by his work with Tropiques and their challenge to the Vichy regime, by his imbibing of European culture and his sense of alienation from both France and his native land. It is a rising, a blow to the master who appears as owner and ruler, teacher and comrade. It is revolutionary graffiti painted in bold strokes across the great texts of Western Civilization; it is a hand grenade tossed with deadly accuracy, clearing the field so that we might write a new history with what’s left standing. Discourse is hardly a dead document about a dead order. If anything, it is a call for us to plumb the depths of the imagination for a different way forward. Just as Césaire drew on Comte de Lautréamont’s Chants de Maldoror to illuminate the cannibalistic nature of capitalism and the power of poetic knowledge, Discourse offers new insights into the consequences of colonialism and a model for dreaming a way out of our postcolonial predicament. While we still need to overthrow all vestiges of the old colonial order, destroying the old is just half the battle.
- The Monthly Review version is a reprint of the revised and expanded third edition put out by Présence Africaine in 1955. The first edition was published by Éditions Réclame.
- Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth (New York: Grove Press, 1967), p. 102.
- Robert Young, White Mythologies: Writing History and the West (London: Routledge, 1990), p. 119. A compelling defense of Césaire’s Discourse, which has influenced my thinking on this text’s relation to postcolonial studies, is Bart Moore-Gilbert, Postcolonial Theory: Contexts, Practices, Politics (London: Verso, 1997). He argues that Discoursenot only anticipated Fanon, but works by Homi Bhabha, Edward Said, Wilson Harris, Chinua Achebe, and Chinweizu.
- See, for example, A. James Arnold, Modernism and Négritude: The Poetry and Poetics of Aimé Césaire(Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univ. Press, 1981); M. A. M. Ngal, Aimé Césaire: Un Homme à la Récherche d’une Patrie (Dakar: Nouvelles Éditions Africaines, 1983); Lilyan Kesteloot and B. Kotchy, Aimé Césaire, L’Homme et L’Oeuvre (Paris: Présence Africaine, 1973); Jane L. Pallister, Aimé Césaire (New York: Twayne Publishers, 1991); Susan Frutkin, Aimé Césaire: Black Between Worlds (Miami: Center for Advanced International Studies, 1973).
- Arnold, Modernism and Négritude, pp. 1-8, quote from page 8.
- Quote from “An Interview with Aimé Césaire” appended at the end of Discourse; Arnold, Modernism and Négritude, pp. 8-9; on black diasporic intellectuals in Paris, see Tyler Stovall, Paris Noir: African-Americans in the City of Light (Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1996); Brent Edwards, “Black Globality: The International Shape of Black Intellectual Culture,” (Ph.D. dissertation, Columbia University, 1997).
- Maryse Conde, Cahier d’un Retour au Pays Natal; Césaire, Analyse Critique (Paris: Hatier, 1978); Norman Shapiro, ed., Négritude: Black Poetry from Africa and the Caribbean (New York: October House, 1970), p. 224; Pallister, Aimé Césaire, pp. xiii-xiv.
- Arnold, Modernism and Négritude, pp. 12-13.
- “Lettre du Lieutenant de Vaisseau Bayle, chef du service d’information au directeur de la revue Tropiques, Fort-de-France, May 10, 1943″ and “Reponse de Tropiques à M. le Lieutenant de Vaisseau Bayle, Fort-de-France, May 12, 1943,” (signed Aimé Césaire, Suzanne Césaire, Georges Gratiant, Aristide Maugée, René Ménil, Lucie Thesée),Tropiques, vol. 1, ed. by Aimé Césaire [fascimile reproduction] (Paris: Éditions Jean-Michel Place, 1978), Documents-Annexes, pp. xxxvi-xxxviii.
- See Michael Richardson, ed., Refusal of the Shadow, pp. 7-15, 69-182; Franklin Rosemont, ed., André Breton—What is Surrealism?: Selected Writings (New York: Pathfinder, 1978), pp. 83-92; Arnold, Modernism and Négritude, pp. 12-13.
- Quote from Penelope Rosemont, ed., Surrealist Women: An International Anthology (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1998), p. 137; Franklin Rosemont, “Suzanne Césaire: In the Light of Surrealism,” (unpublished paper in author’s possession).
- Penelope Rosemont, ed., Surrealist Women, pp. 136-37. “Surrealism and Us: 1943” is also reprinted in Michael Richardson, ed., Refusal of the Shadow: Surrealism and the Caribbean, trans. by Michael Richardson and Krzysztof Fijalkowski (London: Verso, 1996), pp. 123-26, but I prefer Rosemont’s translation
- Brent Hayes Edwards offers an illuminating description of Césaire’s poetic challenge to surrealism. While he sees Césaire’s work as a departure from Surrealism, I like to think of it as a transformation. Brent Hayes Edwards, “Ethnics of Surrealism,” Transition 78 (1999), pp. 132-34.
- Jacqueline Leiner, “Entretien avec A.C.,” in Tropiques, vol. 1, ed. by Aimé Césaire [fascimile reproduction] (Paris: Éditions Jean-Michel Place, 1978).
- Pallister, Aimé Césaire, pp. 29-33.
- Reprinted as “Poetry and Knowledge” in Michael Richardson, ed.,Refusal of the Shadow, pp. 134-145.
- Rosemont, ed., André Breton—What is Surrealism?, pp. 36-37; Maurice Nadeau, The History of Surrealism, trans. by Richard Howard (Cambridge: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1989, orig. 1944), p. 117; “Murderous Humanitarianism,” reprinted in Race Traitor—Special Issue—Surrealism: Revolution Against Whiteness 9 (Summer 1998), pp. 67-69. The document first appeared in Nancy Cunard, ed., Negro: An Anthology (New York, 1996 reprint, orig. 1934).
- Cedric J. Robinson, “Fascism and the Response of Black Radical Theorists,” (unpublished paper in author’s possession); Cedric J. Robinson, “Fascism and the Intersection of Capitalism, Racialism, and Historical Consciousness,” Humanities in Society 3, no. 6 (Autumn 1983), pp. 325-49; Cedric J. Robinson, “The African Diaspora and the Italo-Ethiopian Crisis,” Race and Class27, no. 2 (Autumn 1985), pp. 51-65; W.E.B. DuBois, The Autobiography of W.E.B. DuBois, ed. by Herbert Aptheker (New York, 1968), pp. 305-306; Ralph J. Bunche, “French and British Imperialism in West Africa,” Journal of Negro History 21, no. 1 (January 1936), p. 31; W.E.B. DuBois, The World and Africa (New York: International Publishers, 1947), p. 23.
- Césaire, Senghor, and their colleagues in the Négritude movement had been fascinated with Leo Frobenius, the German irrationalist whose massive ethnography, Histoire de la civilisation Africaine, provided a powerful defense of African civilization. See Suzanne Césaire, “Leo Frobenius and the Problem of Civilization ,” in Michael Richardson, ed., Refusal of the Shadow, pp. 82-87; L.S. Senghor, “The Lessons of Leo Frobenius,” in Leo Frobenius: An Anthology, ed. E. Haberland (Wiesbaden: Franz Steiner Verlag, 1973), p. vii; Jacqueline Leiner, “Entretien avec A.C.”
- Aimé Césaire “Introduction to Victor Schoelcher,”Esclavage et colonisation (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1948), p. 7; also quoted in Frantz Fanon, Black Skin, White Masks, trans. by Charles Lam Markmann (New York: Grove Press, 1967), pp. 130-31.
- Fanon, Black Skin, White Masks, p. 130.
- Cedric Robinson, Black Marxism: The Making of the Black Radical Tradition (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 2000).
- Arnold, Modernism and Négritude, p. 14, pp. 169-70; Susan Frutkin, Aimé Césaire: Black Between Worlds(Miami: Center for Advanced International Studies, 1973), pp. 26-27.
- Aimé Césaire, Letter to Maurice Thorez (Paris: Présence Africaine, 1957), p. 6, p. 7, pp. 14-15.
- Manthia Diawara, In Search of Africa (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1998), pp. 6-7. Although the specific topic of Diawara’s essay is Jean Paul Sartre’s “Black Orpheus,” he is speaking generally here about a whole body of literature that includes works by Césaire and Fanon.
I have been whispering this amongst friends for a while, but I figured I may as well formalise it. Kate Tempest is the most outstanding British emcee I have heard, period. Her live, spoken-word album “Broken Herd” is testament to this declaration.
For those who believe art should be more than mere escapism, Kate is pure gold. Her poetry starts from the gritty realism of London streets: “London is as London does and I hear London calling”. The transcendence offered is not merely to find beauty in the world as it is – the overriding message is to change the world as the present is gruesome, cold and indifferent. We – common humanity – have a capacity that far outreaches our current output and way of being. The drive of the album is to encourage us to attain our essence, to overthrow the shackles of capitalism that have alienated us from our core being “Just ‘cause we can’t see the bars, don’t mean we’re not in prison”. Kate’s position is humanistic in the essentialist mould “life is about getting back to what was given”, yet her poems distil this message into a potent form that has a universality that could never be attained in the academic world.
Hands down, Kate is one of the greatest emcees to have graced the mic in Britain. Her technical ability is among the best, switching flows effortlessly. Her lyrical content in unsurpassed in my eyes by any other rap artist I have heard. For a long time, I have argued that Hip-Hop is a modern form of poetry. Yet, no other emcee, to my mind, has made this as apparent as Kate Tempest. Kate unashamedly laces her verses with the wisdom of the great figures of literature, citing Sophocles, Beckett, Shakespeare, Joyce, Blake…among many others. If you want to learn how to write, “you must read”. In The Becoming Kate cites “the Wu” as her inspiration. A mix of Wu-Tang clan and Blake may sound pretentious – but Kate is far from that. Maybe if one replaced the gritty, gravelly London accent that courses through her prose with a middle-class plumy accent one would judge her differently. But it is the eloquence of her words, her construction of sentences, her ability to sum up a feeling amongst the youth in a matter of utterances that makes Kate one of the voices of my generation. I write this, not because I agree with what she says. In fact, philosophically, I am poles apart from Kate at points. Her poems are awe-inspiring, not simply because they pick up upon a message that needs to be told, not because they conform to an agenda, but because they are brutally honest – stripping off the pretence and offering one unrefined, articulate, intelligent, motivating prose that will awake all with an open mind to a world that we have been socialised into and/or too lazy to confront.
I wanted to call this blog ‘Frank Talk’, but that was taken. Biko, a revolutionary committed to fighting oppression, used the pseudonym ‘Frank Talk’ to write his most provocative writings. This blog exists for the same reason as Biko’s struggle is still our struggle. Confronted by a world of disinformation and confusion, a penetrating discourse is needed. This blog is committed to speaking in as forthcoming a way as possible.
I flag up articles I consider worth reading. Publicise political causes and post my own work mainly around current events, militant political theory and praxis.