If socialism is so wonderful, why don’t more people want it?
Short answer: whiteness. The longer answer (because that’s my style) goes something like this:
According to Marxism, socialist revolution was supposed to happen first in an advanced industrialized nation of the West. This isn’t just because American, English and French people think they (or we) are the center of the universe (although we do). And, of course, Karl Marx– a German– was going to focus on Europe. But Marx and Engels believed that socialist revolution was supposed to happen in England, because its political economy had already undergone such a quantitative advance in the socialization of labor. The class antagonisms that exist between the exploited workers and the industrialists had already reached the point of such tension in England that something had to give. Soon the English proletariat would rise up, seize the means of production from the bourgeoisie, and then the workers of the world (or, at least, of Europe) would unite to lose their chains: a global revolution. But that didn’t happen, not yet. Does this indicate that Karl Marx was wrong? Not necessarily.
Because along came Lenin in Russia, except, he was living in Germany. Germany was behind England in terms of its process of industrialization, but its conditions for revolution seemed to be ripening and growing ready to be made to fall (which is a stolen line from Che Guevara). Russia was decades, if not centuries, behind Western Europe. It was feudalistic, backward– far from the stage of bourgeois democracy which is supposed to precede socialist revolution. And, speaking of Che Guevara, Cuba was another territory that hadn’t been significantly industrialized, according to Western standards: it was a puppet state with many peasants whose brutal dictator was controlled by a great empire just to the north of this small island (great in its capacity for genocidal violence, not civilization). But that was a bit later.
In 1917, a century ago (my skills in math are remarkable), Lenin was still in Germany when factory workers in Russia had the nerve to skip that whole “capitalist democracy stage” and went ahead and suddenly rebelled against the czar and started forming soviets. So Lenin jumped on a train and rushed to where all the action was. C.L.R. James gave some amazing lectures on these events. I’m basically stealing these observations from him. At any rate, the workers in Russia obviously admired Lenin a great deal– he had dedicated his life to revolutionary struggle and socialist theory– so they thought he would tell them to do something different. But he said, “No, keep doing what you’re doing.” (Not his exact words, of course– they were in Russian, and brilliant). And then Russia became the first socialist state (it was never communist, by the way, because actual communism has never existed in this world).
We could look next at socialist revolutions in China, Vietnam and (finally) get around to Africa. But one thing is clear: Germany hasn’t had that revolution. England most certainly hasn’t had it. And the United States, the most “advanced” and industrialized capitalist nation (or empire) in the history of the world, seems to be a couple thousand years away from socialism. So what happened? Again: whiteness.
What has emerged over the course of the past century, since 1917, is a global dialectic that is divided in two different ways, both of which contradict each other. The first unity of opposites is the Marxian concept of the bourgeoisie and the proletariat– the capitalists and the working class– and these are the class antagonisms that exist in almost every nation of the Western world, and also in many areas of the so-called Third World. This is the struggle of the oppressed masses against the oppressive few at the top: the 99% versus the 1%.
However, cookie-wise (or globe-wise), there is another unity of opposites– or dialectic– holding together the world economy today, while also threatening to make it crumble. But this dialectical struggle isn’t just one hundred years old. It started at least five centuries ago when Europe invaded Africa and the Americas and eventually the entire globe, an imperialist attack which led to the creation of a world economic system: capitalism. And within this global economic system, the class contradictions of capitalist society are not simply the wealthy industrialists versus the workers, or the rich versus the poor. It is the white world parasitically existing at the expense of its host: Africa, as well as the rest of the world outside Europe. Thus, Frantz Fanon wrote: “Europe is literally the creation of the Third World.”
Frantz Fanon was an African socialist revolutionary and philosopher who was born in Martinique, a colony of France. He contributed to the revolution in Algeria, a colony of France. C.L.R. James was an African socialist revolutionary and scholar from Trinidad– the same as Claudia Jones and Kwame Ture (formerly known as Stokely Carmichael). Another great African scholar and revolutionary who contributed to socialist struggle was Walter Rodney, from Guyana.
On the African continent, one of the most important contributors to socialist struggle was Amílcar Cabral, who organized revolutionary forces in the small, impoverished colonies of Guinea-Bissau and Cape Verde that had been terrorized for decades by the vicious Portuguese. Portugal gave this same racist, capitalist treatment to the African people of Mozambique and Angola. But these “poor little countries” in Africa are hardly worth mentioning; that is, if we believe in that white supremacist notion that only scale matters: large good, small bad (or at least too insignificant to notice). Our focus is forever on white nations, or just one, the United States. But if a nation in Scandinavia, or another European nation like Germany, is doing something that sounds “socialist,” we’re all ears.
Whites think we have no use for Africa and her impoverished former colonies in Ghana, Guinea-Conakry, Congo, and Burkina Faso. We can be forgiven if we can’t find these African countries on a map, because capitalism wants to erase them from our racist education in the bourgeois schools that it controls. What is less forgivable, so it seems, is the belief that whites in the U.S. have no use for these “poor little countries” in Africa. This belief is not only inhumane, it is also just not true; because, the reality is, these countries in Africa are small and poor, while the U.S. is large and rich, precisely due to the fact that we are using them. “Europe [including its settler colony the United States] is literally the creation of the Third World.” By which we mean: Africa. That’s the dialectic.
Furthermore, some of the most important revolutionary scholars and contributors to socialist struggle have come from these territories of Africa, leaders such as Thomas Sankara in Burkina Faso, Patrice Lumumba in Congo, Ahmed Sékou Touré in Guinea-Conakry and (perhaps the greatest scholar and revolutionary leader of all time) Kwame Nkrumah in Ghana.
Scale does not determine importance. And this is especially the case when we talk about justice and equality. These principles are the antithesis of the notion that only those who are the largest, the loudest, the most powerful deserve our attention. This is why Maurice Bishop, an important socialist revolutionary on the small Caribbean island of Grenada, wrote that “we are not in anybody’s backyard” (namely the backyard of the U.S. under the Reagan regime). To quote Maurice Bishop at length:
“We are a small country, we are a poor country, with a population of largely African descent, we are a part of the exploited Third World, and we definitely have a stake in seeking the creation of a new international economic order which would assist in ensuring economic justice for the oppressed and exploited peoples of the world, and in ensuring that the resources of the sea are used for the benefit of all the people of the world and not for a tiny minority of profiteers. Our aim, therefore, is to join all organizations and work with all countries that will help us to become more independent and more in control of our own resources. In this regard, nobody who understands present day realities can seriously challenge our right to develop working relations with a variety of countries. Grenada is a sovereign and independent country, although a tiny speck on the world map, and we expect all countries to strictly respect our independence just as we will respect theirs. No country has the right to tell us what to do or how to run our country or who to be friendly with. We certainly would not attempt to tell any other country what to do. We are not in anybody’s backyard, and we are definitely not for sale. Anybody who thinks they can bully us or threaten us clearly has no understanding, idea, or clue as to what material we are made of. They clearly have no idea of the tremendous struggles which our people have fought over the past seven years. Though small and poor, we are proud and determined. We would sooner give up our lives before we compromise, sell out, or betray our sovereignty, our independence, our integrity, our manhood [sic], and the right of our people to national self-determination and social progress. Long live the revolution!”
If socialism is so great, why does a “small” and “poor” country like Grenada want it, while people in a large and rich country like the United States do not want it? It is precisely because we are large, wealthy– and white.
The reason why colonizers in the United States (which is to say, white people) don’t want socialism is that, whenever this wealthy capitalist empire experiences yet another inevitable crisis, it can simply rob the people of Africa, Latin America and Asia, as well as “people of color” within its illegitimate borders, and [snaps fingers] just like that the white “working class” once again has jobs, has “upward mobility,” “Morning in America,” “peace and prosperity,” and has a quaint fixer-upper home in Northeast Portland next to a Whole Foods and a Starbucks, across from another Starbucks. In other words, as long as the white population (with all its classes: wealthy, middle-class, working class, poor) can sit on top of the oppressed classes of the world, we won’t need socialist revolution, and (therefore) we don’t want socialism. Well, except the brand of socialism marketed by U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders– we yearn and burn to have a piece of that pie.
But that pie (which is to say, the world economy) has been divided in two contradictory ways: one is the usual division between the rich and the poor, the haves and the have-nots. The other is the divide between Europe and Africa, the colonizer and the colonized.
As long as the capitalists of the Western world can keep robbing the people of Africa, Latin America, and Asia (as well as various islands from Puerto Rico to Hawaii to the Philippines), the contradictions of capitalist empire will be held in check: and the white working class will continue to get our check. We may not get the raise we wanted, and our healthcare benefits may be slashed, and it may be harder to go to college (or pay off our debt), and it may appear that those “Golden Years” of retirement will have to come after age eighty, but we’re still getting paid, regularly– because Africa is getting robbed, regularly. And the more restless or anxious the white population in the U.S. grows– stewing in the white supremacist juices of our subjective idealism (or patriotism)– the more the U.S. (and Canada, Australia, Western Europe and Israel) needs to rob and murder the brown people of the world– to keep us happy. Or at least not so unhappy that we begin to think socialism is a good idea.
Malcolm X recognized this reality more than fifty years ago when he talked about the Bandung Conference that had been held in the mid-1950s. In 1963 Malcolm X said:
“In Bandung back in, I think, 1954, was the first unity meeting in centuries of Black people. And once you study what happened at the Bandung conference, and the results of the Bandung conference, it actually serves as a model for the same procedure you and I can use to get our problems solved. At Bandung all the nations came together … from Africa and Asia. Some of them were Buddhists, some of them were Muslims, some of them were Christians, some were Confucianists, some were atheists. Despite their religious differences, they came together. Some were communists, some were socialists, some were capitalists– despite their economic and political differences, they came together. All of them were Black, brown, red or yellow.
“The number-one thing that was not allowed to attend the Bandung conference was the white man. He couldn’t come. Once they excluded the white man, they found that they could get together. Once they kept him out, everybody else fell right in and fell in line. This is the thing that you and I have to understand. And these people who came together didn’t have nuclear weapons, they didn’t have jet planes, they didn’t have all of the heavy armaments that the white man has. But they had unity.
“They were able to submerge their little petty differences and agree on one thing: That though one African came from Kenya and was being colonized by the Englishman, and another African came from the Congo and was being colonized by the Belgian, and another African came from Guinea and was being colonized by the French, and another came from Angola and was being colonized by the Portuguese– when they came to the Bandung conference, they looked at the Portuguese, and at the Frenchman, and at the Englishman, and at the Dutchman, and learned or realized the one thing that all of them had in common–they were all from Europe, they were all Europeans, blond, blue-eyed and white skins.
“They began to recognize who their enemy was. The same man that was colonizing our people in Kenya was colonizing our people in the Congo. The same one in the Congo was colonizing our people in South Africa, and in Southern Rhodesia, and in Burma, and in India, and in Afghanistan, and in Pakistan. They realized all over the world where the dark man was being oppressed, he was being oppressed by the white man; where the dark man was being exploited, he was being exploited by the white man. So they got together on this basis–that they had a common enemy.
“And when you and I here in Detroit and in Michigan and in America who have been awakened today look around us, we too realize here in America we all have a common enemy, whether he’s in Georgia or Michigan, whether he’s in California or New York. He’s the same man– blue eyes and blond hair and pale skin– the same man.”
Later on in 1964, as a Sunni Muslim, El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz’s views of the white man changed somewhat (although not as much as the attempted liberal whitewashing of his legacy might want us to believe). But Malcolm X not only made the religious pilgrimage to Makkah as a Sunni Muslim. He also met with President Kwame Nkrumah in Ghana: the greatest Pan-African socialist revolutionary and philosopher of all time. And even prior to that meeting, back when “the chickens [of imperialism?] had come home to roost,” Malcolm X had begun to recognize that whiteness is equated with capitalism. He would say, right before the capitalist system of the United States murdered him: “You can’t have capitalism without racism.”
So Malcolm X, as an African in America, had a view of this racist, imperialist and capitalist situation which allowed him to recognize how the global dialectic was divided: by whiteness and by capitalist oppression. And Africans in America are situated (trapped?) today in such a manner that a wealthy, privileged white colonial population remains a massive weight upon them, supported by their (still unpaid) labor, resources, culture and humanity, as well as the stolen land, labor and resources of Indigenous peoples, and (beyond the illegitimate borders of the United States) the land, labor and resources of the world.
If white colonizers don’t want a better healthcare system (even just some reforms to the existing system of bloodsucking insurance companies), then colonized African people are forced to go along with our racist attitude that anything associated with a Black President (or anything that might benefit Black people) can’t be good. If white colonizers don’t want funding for Planned Parenthood, then African women can just … die. If white colonizers want (yet another) mediocre rapist and white supremacist as our President, then Trump is our man; and Black people and “people of color” are stuck with all the negative consequences: deportations, an outlandish wall, travel bans on Muslims, cuts to programs, and, well, the same war on Africa that President Obama was waging, just on a greater scale (so, at last, “worthy” of criticism from liberals).
In this oppressive colonial situation, the main contributors to socialist struggle in the United States have been African/Black revolutionaries, going back to Claudia Jones, and the African Blood Brotherhood, and moving forward to W.E.B. Du Bois (particularly after he married Shirley Graham Du Bois) and then the Black Power movement in 1966 and the Marxist-Leninist organization founded the same year in Oakland, California by Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale: the Black Panther Party.
Now, it seems to me, that the unique positioning of African people in the U.S. would lead white progressives to pay more attention to the contributions of Black revolutionaries and scholars in this settler colony, if not the contributions of Kwame Nkrumah, Frantz Fanon and Africans around the world. Yet we keep getting caught up again in that whole problem of scale.
Compared to a bourgeois “socialist” campaign led by a U.S. Senator, a couple of young Africans in Oakland, California forming an organization for self-defense called the Black Panther Party may not seem like much– at least, to the white population that made the creation of such an organization necessary.
Compared to a bourgeois “feminist” campaign led by an ex-Senator and ex-Secretary of State– a white woman in the ruling class responsible for the murders of countless Libyans, Haitians, and at least one activist in Honduras, Berta Cáceres– it would appear that the Combahee River Collective of Black feminists, gathering forty years ago to write their (not so) famous Statement, is a fairly insignificant movement, not worth (white) attention. Of course, any white woman (trans or cis, queer or straight) who identifies as “intersectional” in their Twitter bio (next to “I”m With Her”) probably owes far more to the Combahee River Collective than to the Democratic Party.
But the aim of capitalism is to mislead us and to make us think that socialism is “pretty good, I guess” … just not the kind of “repressive” socialism in Cuba (“Wasn’t Castro a dictator?!” ), and just not the kind that requires a violent overthrow of systems and regimes– you know, like the way the United States came into existence. Maybe we want the kind of socialism that Sweden has (Sweden doesn’t have socialism) but our main focus is on “taking America back from” … well, the party that just told their base that they were taking America back. Back and forth. “Things go in cycles.” “Things will get better.” And so, for now, let’s go to Starbucks. Which one?
Capitalism wants us to believe that our individual happiness lies (“lies” being the operative word) in changes to our mindset, and by rearranging our mental furniture as we hoard the materials of the world through the brutal exploitation of Africans: brown people.
Capitalism wants us to believe that success in our personal lives is simply an individual choice– just be yourself, work harder, dream harder, read my self-help book (that is, buy my self-help book). Anything but radical changes to the overall system. Because white people can literally afford to buy into this subjective idealist belief, and claim to support nonviolence while still benefiting from imperialist violence against Africa and the globe. We don’t want socialism because– materially and historically– white people are situated in a racist system of colonialism and capitalist exploitation which allows us to avoid this objective reality, and pursue instead some lazy-hazy ideal that is sold to us on our widescreen high-definition TVs. Except now we need a TV with a wider screen, because– according to this racist bourgeois view– scale is everything. Bigger is better. Wider is better. Whiter is better.
If you want a new TV, you go to Walmart (provided you’re wealthy enough to buy it). If you want the rewards of the Hereafter … well, “for you is your religion and for me is my religion.” But if you want to find treatment for your broken arm, you go to a doctor who has the medical knowledge to treat it (again, if you can afford to, while we’re struggling to survive under this inhumane system of capitalism). And if you want to put an end to systemic oppression, and replace capitalism with a system based on humane and egalitarian principles– which is socialism— then you need the scientific theories of dialectical and historical materialism, as demonstrated (not invented) by Karl Marx and V.I. Lenin.
Africans in America have been situated in such a manner– both materially and historically– that they are far more likely to recognize the necessity for scientific socialism and revolutionary struggle than white people are. One thing Africans and people of color don’t want– because nobody in history has ever wanted it– is to be oppressed. And that’s probably why it’s far more likely that Africans in America, and in Africa, and everywhere in the world, along with all colonized people, would want socialism, while white people are voting for Trump (or Clinton or Sanders).
Socialism is recognized by oppressed people as one realistic way to end their oppression. Simple as that. White people don’t want socialism because, for the most part, we aren’t oppressed. Socialism is a way to get white people off the backs of oppressed people. It’s a way to get power. And the oppressed people of the globe recognize that, once we get Europe and white people off our backs, and have power, we don’t want the people who look like us to continue oppressing us the same as the colonizers did. So socialism is a system that can prevent that. Of course, this system will not work all that effectively while there is still neocolonialism. And while there is Western imperialism, there will be neocolonialism. So the oppressed people of the globe recognize: we need to get rid of the whole world economic system. We need a global revolution.
White people don’t think in these terms. We say, “I want a better job– just for me.” “I want a bigger house– just for me (and my family, because my [cisgender] kids are mine too).” “If I can have a long and happy retirement, then let the bombs fall on Somalia. Go ahead, deport a few more ‘illegal aliens,’ if it helps me.”
For whites, it’s all about the individual, or personal property, because that’s how we are taught in the capitalist institutions of the United States. And socialist revolution means that you might have to give up some of those individual rights that allow you to express your unique personality, and explore your infinite appetites, fears and dreams– at the expense of an African worker in a mine, a field, a factory, or a prison. So let the multinational giant corporation G4S gather up the brown people of the globe and erase them– out of sight, out of mind, the same as in our gentrified neighborhood– because in the United States, if something hasn’t happened to you, or me, then it hasn’t happened at all (or at least it doesn’t matter).
Socialism sounds pretty good, as long as we– the parasitic, colonizing white population of the United States– don’t need to give up anything for it, and don’t need to struggle or organize, and, instead, can simply sit back and wait until the next presidential election.