The dialectics of anti-colonialist struggle reflect the two following opposing realities:
The first reality of anti-colonialist struggle is that the people who are moving to free their land will be fighting enemies who look like them. This is particularly true of an anti-neo-colonialist struggle, when members of the ruling class will belong to the same “race” or nationality as members of the oppressed classes in this territory. So the fight will be between those who belong to (or side with) colonial forces and those who belong to (or side with) all the oppressed subjects of colonial rule (as well as neo-colonial and imperialist rule).
In this case, the masses of the people are fighting to establish a certain political system and its ideology, not just to free the land of some other “race.” They move to overthrow the power of the oppressive class (no matter what they look like) in order to create their own system of power. The Chinese fought the Chinese in order to create a socialist state in China. The Russians fought other Russians in order to create a socialist state in Russia. Even on this continent, the English fought against the English in order to establish a bourgeois democracy (on occupied Indigenous land). So these contradictions are between classes, and their ideologies, and not just between “races.” It wasn’t enough simply to be pro-Chinese, as far as the Chinese “race” is concerned. Any anti-imperialist or anti-colonialist struggle anywhere on the globe means those who support the current order (because they typically enjoy the greatest benefits from it) will move to destroy the revolutionary movement for a new order: a new political, economic and social arrangement (typically representing the majority). People move to protect interests, not merely identities.
However, the second part of this unity of opposites in anti-colonialist struggle is that the people aren’t organizing just to impose an ideology– they are moving to free the land and its people … all the people. Therefore, such a goal would seem to require that organizers of this movement transcend the political differences among the masses of the people, while emphasizing their shared cultural or “racial” identity. In this case, it is important to be pro-Chinese, or pro-Black– to be pro-African. The revolution isn’t being waged just to free the people who may agree with your political views, but to free as many of your people as possible.
We can contrast this type of anti-colonialist struggle with bourgeois elections in the United States. In the latter case, the Republicans are struggling to impose their conservative ideas while Democrats are struggling to impose their liberal ideas, and, no matter which side happens to win, the land mass of the United States will continue to be occupied by white people, and rich whites will continue to grow richer. In other words, in the “American” bourgeois electoral process, the struggle of the voters (the majority of whom are white, on account of colonial genocide) is to gain power within the current political arrangement. In capitalist elections, white people argue with other white people about who to elect– from the wealthy class– in order to keep the present system intact, as we hope to gain greater benefit from the rule of Democrats or Republicans.
Anti-colonialist struggle hardly resembles these cyclical (or cynical) struggles of voters to choose the next President, or some other representative of the ruling class, out of the hope that the few who hold power can be influenced to benefit all the classes below them. In the case of Black liberation, or the global struggle for power by Africans, the goal is to free Black people (Africans). The goal isn’t just to impose an existing ideology on the losing side– the side whose political views are the opposite of the winning side’s political views. This isn’t the divide. The divide is between an oppressive, racist system and those who are oppressed by this system, which is to say nearly all Black people (and so-called people of color).
If the fight were simply between African/Black socialist revolutionaries and African/Black liberals (and Black conservatives, libertarians and so forth), this would be a very lopsided fight indeed, especially in the U.S., where the ruling class has imposed its bourgeois ideology for hundreds of years. In this colonial situation, it would seem necessary for “racial” or national unity to exist– that is, if the goal of the struggle is to free colonized people from the rule of the colonizer.
After all, Africans/Black people are oppressed on account of the fact that they are African and Black– not because they are liberal, conservative, socialist, libertarian, anarchist or anything else. And, even if European/white socialists in the U.S. happen to agree with African/Black socialists, the aim of the Black liberation movement isn’t to gain power for Europeans or free our land (we already have power– too much– and our land is in Europe). So the struggle for Black empowerment would seem to require a movement that transcends the many political differences among Black people, rather than pitting Black socialists against Black liberals.
As a European colonizer (white person), this sort of Black unity is not my business. However, it seems to be the business of every white person who considers themselves to be progressive that we pay attention to the dialectics of anti-colonialist struggle, in order to avoid confusion about the meaning of a new socialist (then communist) global order.
All too often, it appears that white people exploit the political divisions within the Black community in order to promote our own aim of imposing a certain ideology (liberal, conservative, libertarian, socialist, anarchist). Europeans colonizers behave as if only ideology matters, not identity. But it should be obvious that if colonized Africans– Black people– are going to be free, they must be free as a people belonging to their identity (Black or African), regardless of their politics. This is true even when their struggle to be free may require that they move against people who look like them, Black individuals from their own community, because such individuals (although they are Black) stand in the way of liberation– and power. Freedom comes from power, not identity. However, an identity must exist in order to be free and to have power. That’s the dialectic.
White people– because we already have power under the capitalist system– have a different relationship with African people, and with capitalism, than Africans have to each other and to this system. White people in the United States (or anywhere in the world) don’t need to show racial unity because we already have a system that enforces such unity– if not unified culture, then unified political, economic and social power. While we may be oppressed by capitalism, whites are not oppressed by whites– quite the opposite, for we are the oppressors. And even if we are impoverished by capitalism, white people are not poor on account of whiteness. Again, quite the opposite. Whites have gained all the wealth and power which we possess– within this oppressive capitalism system– on account of its violence against Indigenous peoples, Africans and the majority of humanity, and this is true whether we have a little or a lot.
To a large extent, white people cannot avoid being pro-white or showing racial unity because we cannot avoid participating in the pro-white system of the United States: capitalism. Since we depend on this system for all our needs, we promote the aims of white supremacist, colonial capitalism. And whenever we participate in elections (especially as Democrats or Republicans) we are promoting the pro-white ideology of bourgeois rule.
Whites don’t have to be explicitly proud of our identity in order to benefit from its power. In fact, it’s considered tacky to do this and it tends to make the good white liberal very uncomfortable. Blatant white supremacists– like the KKK, the alt-right and Trump supporters– proclaim their pro-white attitude, and their negative attitude toward Black people. They think this obvious racism is beneficial. But they are really just expressing their insecurity about themselves, in the same manner as old-fashioned racists like George Wallace and Strom Thurmond. Because the capitalist system doesn’t have to be explicitly pro-white or anti-Black in order to function as pro-white and anti-Black– it only needs to continue to exist. The same can be said of the United States. The mere existence of the United States of America is an expression of white supremacy.
A white person doesn’t have to be blatantly proud of their white identity– they can simply say they are “proud to be an American.” Because as soon as white people showed up on the shores of Indigenous lands, our very presence on stolen soil, and our eagerness to occupy more space and use up more resources, and enjoy the “American Dream,” indicated the level of our white supremacy– an attitude empowered entirely by the white supremacist capitalist system.
Everything about this capitalist system of power in the United States (and the world) is an expression of white supremacy. However, if we start to feel insecure, and think our position atop the global economy is slipping a bit, we can always fall back on our white identity and declare that we are proud to be white. For instance, white people (including white women) can elect Donald Trump. Thus, we politically benefit from being pro-white.
At the same time, a Black person never directly gains power from being pro-Black. If they are proud to be Black they probably increase the chances of the state coming down on them– although it often does so one way or the other. There are, of course, indirect or subjective benefits to being pro-Black, or being what used to be called “a race man.” A person has to be proud of who they are– or at least conscious of who they are, and be unashamed and unapologetic about this growing consciousness of their identity– before they can move against a system that has taken power from them. And once they have gained this confidence in their identity, and this self-definition of their identity, then they may have the subjective wish (as all wishes are) to seize power– to seize the time and take back control of their lives, labor and resources.
That’s what “Black Lives Matter” is about, at least in part: “we are Black, and we matter” seems to be a large part of the message. It’s certainly what the Garvey Movement was about. Marcus Garvey helped to instill confidence in the masses of Africans in “America” and around the world, so that they would be proud of who they are and then move to gain power for themselves.
And, of course, whenever Black people grow proud of who they are, white people move to destroy them (like we destroyed Marcus Garvey and his movement, as well as Malcolm X, Dr. King, the Black Panther Party and so on). Because we know that the power that we enjoy is based on our theft of power (and resources, labor and land) from Africans, as well as from Indigenous peoples and the majority of humanity.
It’s not only the conservatives and blatant racists who believe it’s “hateful” for Black people to love themselves and be proud of who they are– the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) will put a dot representing a racist, pro-white group right next to a dot representing a non-racist, pro-Black group on its map of “hate groups” in the United States. Never mind that the United States is a hate group– its entire existence is based on a hateful, backward system (capitalism) which continues to move against colonized Africans, whether they are pro-white or anti-white, and whether they are pro-Black or anti-Black.
However, (like Kwame Ture once said) capitalism will make a commodity out of anything. And so the pro-white and anti-Black ruling class of this global economic system will even attempt to profit off pro-Blackness. It’s their business (a Black capitalist business) if Black people want to go along with such an opportunistic scheme by the ruling class of the global economy. But white socialist revolutionaries shouldn’t contribute to this exploitation of pro-Black culture and attitudes, any more than we should attempt to join Black socialist struggles just because we share the same politics. Instead, we need to ask ourselves: how much do we promote the mythological view that just being pro-Black (or pro-“diversity”) will lead to the empowerment of Black people? Do we support a Black candidate for political office, and say, “Well, they’re Black, so that means I’m against racism, because I want them to win”? Do we buy or appropriate– that is, steal– Black culture and tell ourselves, “I’m into this Black music or this Black TV show, or this Black hairstyle, so that means I’m against racism, because I paid money for this commodity?” If we’re actually against racism– or a racist system– we must be against capitalism, all the time, no matter who is running it or what they look like. Because capitalism is robbing and killing Africans all the time.
White people contribute to the confusion surrounding pro-Blackness and the empowerment of Black people by parasitically attaching ourselves to the cultural expressions (the humanity) of the former, while benefiting from an inhumane system’s opposition to the latter: that is, capitalism further subjugates African people, draining their own power, by getting richer off pro-Black culture, thereby adding to the power of this system and the whites who depend on this system for our existence. It’s not that we need to stop buying Black music and watching Black shows … although whites do need to stop making documentaries and other movies about Black people, and we do need to stop capitalizing on their pain in the New York Daily News and other bourgeois media.
But, more than anything, whites who are progressive or revolutionary should recognize the necessity of Black people sticking together, loving one another, and showing unity, even (or especially) if this means excluding us, regardless of our politics. Let Black people be pro-Black.
At the same time, whites whose politics are revolutionary should recognize that the only pro-Black move on our part is to dismantle a system and a state that is inherently anti-Black, so that Africans all over the world (as subjects of their own struggle) will have the power to shape their own community in their own image. And that sort of movement has as little to do with who the next “boss” of this system and this country might be– or who we should support for President, white, Black or otherwise– as capitalism itself has to do with being pro-Black. In other words, less than zero.