ASI 2006 – Chairman Omali Yeshitela on: The State and the National Question

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African People’s Socialist Party Chairman Omali Yeshitela

The following presentation was made by Chairman Omali Yeshitela at the 2006 Conference to Build the African Socialist International.

I want to talk about the question of the nation. Many of us have never even considered the question of a nation and what does this mean. There has been an element of struggle and controversy around this question for a very long time.

The contemporary use of the term nation is something that has come out of Europe. There is obviously a tendency among human beings for social organization to grow larger and more complex. It moves from family to tribes, clans and what have you. Now we’re talking about this entity that is called the nation.

In Europe, the 19th century was characterized as a period of nation building. What we now know as Europe was essentially this territory of warring bands of tribes constantly at each other’s throats who defined themselves essentially in relationship to each other. What began to change that is Europe’s moving out of Europe and engaging in what we call the slave trade and colonialism.

There begins a process where the forces we now refer to as European are engaged in capturing Africans and other territories in what Karl Marx would refer to as the primitive accumulation of capital — turning Africa into a warren for the hunting of black skins and interring the so-called Indians in the Americas into the silver and gold mines to bring up resources to go to Europe.

This aggression that was coming from Europe against the rest of us then began to change the definition and the concept and perception of the people who occupy Europe. Now primarily the definition that they have is not in comparison to each other, but in relationship to the rest of us.

Slavery and colonialism define European nation

This becomes, in part, the thing that helps to first give identity and consciousness of a sameness among folk that we now know as Europeans, and this is the economic process that binds them into the same situation.

One thing that makes this significant is that which has given rise to a common consciousness among Europeans is the same process that is affecting the solidarity and unity of other peoples around the world. As a part of this process, Africa was divided in 1884. The whole process of enslaving and colonizing Africans and sending us around the world was also a part of this.

If France would leave France and travel all the way to Cameroon or England would leave England and travel all the way to what we call South Africa and engage in economic relationships there, then you know left to itself, historical processes would have brought African people together into an economic process.

It makes more sense for an African in South Africa to have found himself trading with an African in West Africa than it makes for an African somewhere in Cameroon finding himself in France.

It seems to me to have been a logical kind of thing that would have happened, but all of this was disrupted. African people now have been dispersed as a part of this process. But it didn’t just happen to Africans. It happened to the indigenous people throughout what we now refer to as the Americas. The peoples were disunited. Borders and economic entities were created in order to separate people from themselves and from their assets.

This same process that gave rise to a certain kind of disintegration among the rest of us gave rise to a consolidation of consciousness and a political economy that united white people into this thing that we characterize in my estimation as the European nation.

This same process that gave rise to a certain kind of disintegration among the rest of us gave rise to a consolidation of consciousness and a political economy that united white people into this thing that we characterize in my estimation as the European nation.

This same process that gave rise to a certain kind of disintegration among the rest of us gave rise to a consolidation of consciousness and a political economy that united white people into this thing that we characterize in my estimation as the European nation.

I believe that there is a European nation, and that European nation again developed its consciousness and economic life as a consequence of the attack on the rest of us. This nation is characterized in part ideologically by Christianity and by whiteness. It got its definition in relationship to the struggle against us and essentially to the struggle against Islam.

To be a part of this nation, you have to be white and you have to be Christian. You can be Christian and not a part of this nation if you’re not white, and you can be white and not a part of this nation if you’re not Christian.

If you don’t believe that, go to Germany and visit some of those places where they put people in ovens and where even now they are considered outcasts in certain ways. If you don’t believe it, see Turkey on its belly even today trying to become a part of the so-called European nation. It can’t because it’s Muslim.

I’m saying that a certain consciousness, a certain cultural affinity and certain ideological basis for being a part of this nation emerged. When you look at places like France, Germany and Belgium, what you’re looking at essentially is how State entities emerged around specific areas of capital in the world.

Those of us who have been involved in leftist, socialist, communist movements have been most familiar with Stalin’s definition of what a nation is supposed to be. That includes certain things like a common language. Well that’s nonsense.

All you have to do to recognize that is go someplace like Belgium. What language do they speak in Belgium? I should say what languages do they speak in Belgium.

Many of the people that they now refer to as French didn’t even speak the language until sometime in the 17th century, and the ruling class in Finland spoke a different language than most of the people there. Not only that, most of the ruling class throughout Europe were intermarried.

So even as we walk around talking about these different nations, we’re not looking at different nations. We’re looking at a single nation that is sometimes divided and defined in part by capital and the organization of the State that protects particular blocks of capital.

Nationalism builds nations

Prior to the emergence of capitalism, Europe was characterized in terms of social system by feudalism. Feudalism was something close to slavery except people were tied to the land essentially. They couldn’t be sold and bought as in slavery, but if the land was sold they went with the land. And it was the feudal State that kept the order.

With the emergence of capitalism, it meant that now you have a new social force coming into life that we know as the working class. The working class is an entity that is free to sell its labor power to the highest bidder.

Well what is it then that holds the worker loyal to the State that we’re talking about? You don’t have the feudal State anymore because the feudal State has been overthrown.

“If France would leave France and travel all the way to Cameroon or England would… travel all the way to what we call South Africa and engage in economic relationships there, then you know left to itself, historical processes would have brought African people together into an economic process. ”

So now what has to happen is the society moves to solve this problem by finding other means by which it makes people loyal to it, and this is the concept of the nation. This is where the nation emerges, and then along with it the nation-state where you have the same flag, the pledge of allegiance, and all these other things that unite people who otherwise have no basis of being united with their ruling class. Patriotism is only unity and solidarity with the bourgeois State. That’s all patriotism is.

Like in America, we say that a U.S. patriot is a white nationalist. Sometimes there are white white nationalists, sometimes there are black white nationalists, and sometimes there are Mexican white nationalists, but a U.S. patriot is a white nationalist. Just like a British patriot is a white nationalist. They act like white people, whether they are white or not.

 

I think we should also consider the fact that when you look at the question of the emergence of the nation in Europe, then nation was born through the process that gave birth itself to capitalism. Hence, it was born as a bourgeois nation.

Now, someone once said you don’t have nations until you have nationalism. Nations don’t build nationalism. Nationalism builds nations.

I read a quote one time from somebody who was involved in France in this whole struggle to bring about the so-called French nation. He was quoted as saying, “We have created France. Now we must create Frenchmen.”

Defining the African nation

So then what becomes the task of the African revolution? Well, history has set certain tasks for us.

How can Africa move forward into a future for ourselves and for our children? It can’t do it within the context of these borders, which have been created by imperialism.

We do it by struggling to consolidate the African nation. The African nation is one that has been dispersed throughout the world in the process of building capitalism itself.

That means when we identify the nation now, yes, we’re talking about black people. Certainly that is an obvious aspect of it. We’re born into the nation in that fashion.

I’ve heard somebody say they disagree with the concept Nkrumah put forth of an all-African nation from Cape to Cairo, but I think that’s right. I heard somebody say that you draw the line someplace because about 70 percent of the Arabs live in North Africa, but I remember a time when some of the Arabs who live in North Africa were able to call themselves Africans when Nkrumah was alive.

When the African Revolution was alive, it was something everybody who lived there wanted to be. And they accepted the historical mission that Africa has to accomplish in order to be free. That was the dominant factor.

But with what we call independence in Africa, it’s almost as if history has ended. The African Revolution is not a factor in Africa or anyplace else in the world and the movement of Arabs around the world is a factor. So now instead of Arabs wanting to be Africans, you’ve got Africans wanting to be Arabs in Africa. (Applause)

This is because at least it seems to be contributing somehow to the future. It seems to be defeating imperialism.

We have to, as revolutionaries fighting to raising up the African working class to its full stature as the African ruling class, deal with the consolidation of the African nation. We define what the African nation is, and we say that Africa and African people can’t be free unless we bring all of us into the process of the consolidation of the African nation.

So an aspect of defining the African nation is that we’re black, but I believe that it goes beyond that. I don’t think the African nation will ultimately be defined the same way the European nation has been defined — just on religion and race. Even though I believe who we are as African people will be a dominant factor.

I believe also that people who live in Africa, who actively accept the historical mission imposed on African people for its unification and liberation under black power, may possibly be coming into the African nation in struggle.

I don’t believe you can have like what they have now in South Africa where white people who were yesterday the oppressor can just stand before Bishop Tutu and say, “yeah, I did all this and now I’m sorry,” and then say, “well we’re a part of the nation, too” and still be able to dominate us.

I think being a part of the African nation is going to mean accepting the historical mission that has been imposed on Africa and its people. That’s what Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe talked about when he talked about who the African is.

I also wanted to say some things about our need to accept ourselves as one nation and to disregard those borders that separate us from each other and our assets. Because that’s the only function they have.

We have a situation where we walk around with all these names that have been imposed on us by our imperialist enemies. So we’re Haitians, we’re Jamaicans, we’re Trinidadians, we’re South Africans, we’re Black Brits, we’re Afro-Germans.

Like the brother was saying, we call ourselves Cameroonians. Cameroon is a name that the Portuguese gave to the area because they found a lot of shrimp there. So now Africans are walking around calling themselves shrimp.

Or look at Ivory Coast, where the white man found elephant tusks that they needed to make billiard balls and piano keys. So Africans are walking around calling ourselves elephant tusks.

Look even at someplace like Ghana. You know people call themselves Ghanaians, but the traditional Ghana wasn’t even in the place that the people now call Ghana.

My point is that all of these identities have been imposed on us by imperialism. We are none of those things. We are African people, and unless we come to understand that we are one Africa, one nation, we will never ever be free.

We have to reject these borders and the consequences of these borders, this concept of being Brits and Portuguese and Brazilians and all these other things that have been imposed on us.

So we define what the nation is, because our problem is the same as the problem of Europe. Europe had a problem that it had to resolve and that is the basis for the development of the concept of the nation in Europe.

We have a problem that we have to resolve in terms of our freedom and our capacity to produce and reproduce real life for our own benefit.

African working class must lead

The other thing I would say about that is the African petty bourgeoisie cannot lead this struggle. It is absolutely incapable of leading this struggle.

You might know some who you like. They might be your uncle or your cousin, but they cannot lead this struggle.

The only force who can lead this struggle is the African working class aligned with the poor peasantry that’s made every sacrifice in every struggle that we’ve ever made in Africa but has benefited less than everybody else.

“What is it that stands between a homeless person with no place to stay and those empty houses that should otherwise be available? It’s the State in the form of the police.”

So unlike in Europe, where the struggle for the nation was lead by the educated classes, the bourgeoisie and what have you, the struggle for the African nation will be lead by the African workers. Therefore it will not be a reactionary, bourgeois nation. In fact it will be a revolutionary nation of the African working class.

This nation, recognizing that such a process is happening throughout the world, throughout Latin America and other places around the world, will be able to work in solidarity with other emerging nations in national liberation struggle.

The world that all of us want to see, which is a world without borders will then be possible. We’ll have one world of people who will be free and capable of producing a situation where there are no slaves and slavemasters, no bosses and workers just free people.

So that’s what I wanted to contribute on this question about the nation because there has been so much mystery imposed on us by this question.

I used to talk with people who considered themselves Marxists, and they’d tell us what Stalin said the nation was. But it didn’t make sense because it didn’t speak to our reality.

I don’t care what your formula is. If it doesn’t speak to my reality, it is a senseless situation.

We have to have our own definitions of our reality. Not senseless definitions that we simply snatch out of the sky, but having their basis in a historical materialist analysis of our reality.

That’s what we have to do. That’s our responsibility as a people.

The State is an apparatus of repression

I want to say one other thing briefly, and that relates to the question of the State. Because if you don’t understand the question of the State you will also be in trouble.

Some people want to talk about “get the white guy,” and while that might generally be a feel good kind of idea, it does offer complications. (Laughter)

In human society, we have seen that any time there is this contradiction in society that emerges between the haves and the have nots — and those who have have it as a consequence of expropriating value from those who do not have — there must be some instrument in order to maintain that order.

If you look in the United States, it’s common to see people standing in front of these little stores with Styrofoam cups begging for money that they might buy something to eat with on one hand. On the other hand, you will find supermarkets that are filled with food, sometimes overflowing. At the end of the day, if they have food left, they will take it and throw it away rather than give it to the people because if they give it to the people then the value of the food goes down from their perspective.

Now what is it that prevents the person with the Styrofoam cup begging for food from simply going into the supermarket with a shopping cart and getting everything they need to eat? It is the State in the form of the police.

In the United States, you find that a lot of people have no place to live. I’ve seen that in Ghana and other places, too. They sleep under bridges, in the bushes and other places. At the same time, you find there are abandoned houses all over the place. Empty houses.

What is it that stands between a homeless person with no place to stay and those empty houses that should otherwise be available? It’s the State in the form of the police.

There are hospitals where there are empty beds everywhere and sick people everywhere. What is it that stands between a sick person and one of those empty beds if you don’t have any money?

If you don’t have any money, you take yourself and get in one of those beds and see how quick the police will be there to get you out. It’s the State.

The point that I’m making is that the State is this organization that emerges that has to be there to protect the status quo. It is a repressive entity. It is there for repression. That’s the only purpose of the State.

The State apparatus must be destroyed

So it’s not enough to just want to get some white guy. The struggle has to be for State power. You have to have the power of the State.

The first thing you have to do is destroy the State apparatus that is used to oppress you.

So if you don’t know anything else about South Africa, you know the same State is in place today that was in South Africa under Vostra and all the other terrorists that kept our people repressed.

So it doesn’t matter that you have black faces with Mbeki and his so-called African renaissance because the same apparatus that was there to keep African people in prison and to keep us locked into the same situation is there today.

Part of the task in South Africa, as in other places, is we have to destroy that State apparatus, and then we have to put another State in its place.

As socialists, what are we talking about? Socialism actually means the armed workers in power.

So that’s the struggle that we are confronted with as a people. We are talking now about constructing a socialist United States of Africa, and it is going to be fighting the struggle on various fronts in the world.

So when I fight in the United States, I fight for the African nation. I’m not fighting for the Civil Rights Movement.

I don’t give a damn who the next white man who gets elected in America is. My objective is to fight on that front because imperialism has developed a State capacity, a State power that extends all over the world.

In fact, it extends to Sierra Leone. They’re building FBI and CIA stations in Sierra Leone today. The British military is in Sierra Leone today.

That says something about what our job as a part of the African nation is right here in England. Because British troops couldn’t be in Sierra Leone if they had to protect the home front form Africans who recognize that we are talking about the African nation! (Applause. Uhuru!)

That’s the struggle we’re involved in. I want us to be thinking about these questions.

Sometimes we’re afraid of questions of theory because we’ve been beat up by these half-baked intellectuals who are engaged more in intellectualism than the struggle and because we borrow our ideas and our definitions too often from our oppressors.

I think we have to investigate these things that I’m talking about. My discussion about the nation and the State is based on a historical materialist assessment.

Look at the history. Look at where the concept of the nation comes from that we’re dealing with. Look at how it emerged in Europe. Look at the process that gave rise to it — slavery, colonialism and the emergence of capitalism. See where they came from, and you will understand that you’re talking about a white nation that was born at our expense.

So we have to grapple with some of these questions, some of these issues and theoretical questions as well because our revolution, our practice must be informed by advanced revolutionary theory.

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