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Monday, January 09, 2006
Achieving our Liberation, part IV

Note: This is the fourth and final in a series of posts, the whole of which might be a conference paper. Comments are encouraged on parts or on the whole.

Might Not Our Own Foreignness be the Source of Our Liberation?

The struggle for national liberation, as Lenin suggested, must escape the world system in order to achieve any semblance of democracy. However, both Lenin and Sartre subverted this goal of liberation and wedded it to the European problems of their day. It is through these theorists’ works, because they acknowledged the injustice of the colonial situation, that we come to understand that the program for escape from the system cannot emerge from Europe, but must arise from the colonized. Dussel, observing the limits of a concept of liberation developed in the European context notes, “a European theology of liberation will bring out clearly the question of Christianity and the class struggle, but within the limits of a national Marxism and [only] before moving on to the theory of dependence.” Both Lenin and Sartre imagined their radicalism within the boundaries of a European identity in the service of the class struggle—the socialist world revolution was seen as emerging from Europe—and noted the colonial only to the extent it highlighted the dominative logics of capitalism and imperialism. European Marxism, Dussel continues, “has not yet seen that struggles of the proletariat within the centre itself…can be oppressive in terms of the colonial proletariat of the periphery.” Furthermore, Eurocentric liberations imagine that the “national liberation of the dominant countries goes hand in hand with the social liberation of oppressed classes.” The struggles in the periphery exist only because of injustices and contradictions in the center for the European Marxist. Once justice is achieved in the center, the effects of it—like everything else in world history according to this point of view—spread to all the corners of the globe.

Dussel maintains there is another philosophy of liberation emerging from the outsiders who use their otherness to the system as an escape point for change. “Latin-American [or non-European] theology…is a product of the periphery, coming from outsiders, from the lumpen of this world. Their inspiration is not only sheer necessity…but also the desire to liberate…” Non-European ethics emerge outside the affairs of the center in an effort to combat their own domination. The periphery struggles partly because it has to—otherwise the center would continue its exploitative power relations—and partly because of the desire for liberation—a complete destruction of the system which oppresses them—a desire that only emerge from the outside. “To achieve the breakdown of the closed system of sin, otherness has to attack it subversively. The ana-lectic (what is outside the system), the absolute Other…breaks into the closed system and becomes flesh [as liberator]…The liberator…discloses himself as the herald of the new system over against the old system of sin, imperialism, and oppression…” The claims for justice, or what Lenin called democracy, subvert the political, economic, and ontological system to destroy it. The claim for justice is a response to sin and domination; it arises from the outside, and must challenge the accepted practices and means of relation.

The political theory of Amilcar Cabral constitutes a response to the traditional Marxist theories of national liberation. John McCulloch, a historian of Cabral’s political theory, notes that Cabral emerged in particular strand of African socialism devoted to the theorizing the gaps in classical Marxism of imperialism as an ideology. Another historian, Patrick Chabal, adds that the combination of “demands [for] justice” and his African nationalist orientation inspired Cabral to write and to act in the service of national liberation. In Cabral’s political theory, we find a strong criticism of the class struggle as the relevant operative and analytic ordering principle for anti-imperial struggles for liberation, and, a belief in the necessity of acknowledging that every people has a history. I shall organize my comments around two themes of (1) the importance of national culture to an ethic of liberation and (2) the necessity of postcolonial independence from the world system .

Cabral maintains that classical Marxism denies the particular historical subjectivity of individual peoples through its emphasis on the class struggle.
Does history begin only from the moment of the launching of the phenomenon of class and, consequently, of class struggle? To reply in the affirmative would be to place outside history the whole period of life of human groups from the discovery of hunting, and later of nomadic and sedentary agriculture, to cattle raising and to the private appropriation of land. It would also be to consider…that various human groups in Africa, Asia, and Latin America were living without history or outside history at the moment when they were subjected to the yoke of imperialism.

The class struggle framework leaves too many peoples outside the processes of history when we know, in fact, that those peoples too experience time, and, that there was history before the class struggle. Instead, knowledge of “the essential characteristics of some of the colonized peoples” would further the precision and application of the analytical category of the class struggle. Knowledge of those essential characteristics is knowledge about the colonized culture, which are “the fruit of a people’s history and a determinant of history.” National culture “reflects at every moment the material and spiritual reality of society”; therefore, the culture contains the physical history of the people.

In substituting national culture for the class struggle, Cabral de-centers the class struggle as the fulcrum of history—“if class struggle is the motive force of history, it is so in a specific historical period”—and situates the mode of production—a nation’s technological level and system of ownership—as the undercurrent to historical processes. In that way, Cabral’s theory take the concept of class, which had become spatially and temporally universal in Marxist-Leninism, and particularizes it to the history of nations. “If one the one hand we can see that the experience of history before the class struggle is safeguarded, and we thus avoid for some human groups in our countries and…continents the sad position of being peoples without history, the on the other hand we can see that history has continuity even after the disappearance of class struggle or of classes.” Thus, every nation achieves historical subjectivity—whether, properly speaking, they have classes or not—and the moment of conflictual class relations becomes no more or less important than any other phase of history. To suggest otherwise would be to be to maintain that, as Dussel phrases it, “the peripheral world would appear to be a passive spectator of a thematic that does not touch it, because it is a “barbarian”, a “pre-modern”, or it may simply be in need of being modernized.””

This ethic, of de-centering Europe and its historical developments as the fulcrum of history, reveals itself most clearly in Cabral’s vision of the struggle for national liberation. For him, national liberation is a common calling to all to take up arms against imperialism, but is a particular national project “in each of our countries…against our weaknesses.” The struggle against self is also a part of national liberation and concerns “the present and future of our peoples” and expresses “the international contradictions in the economic, social, and cultural (therefore historical) realities of each our countries” without which the project of national liberation “runs the grave risk of poor results or of being doomed to failure.” National history, then, is also important—not just because it removes Europe from the center of the colonial imagination but also—because it gives the concrete starting point and destination of liberation. “National liberation”, according to Cabral, “is the phenomenon in which a socio-economic whole rejects the denial of its historical process.” Each culture has its own historical process of the development of the nation’s mode of production that the imperialist postponed; specific knowledge of that historical process is a prerequisite for attaining liberation beyond political independence. If the national productive forces and the national historical processes are not similarly liberated, then the future of a people still lies suffocated and buried under the imperialist boot.

Defining national liberation merely as national independence from a colonial government, Cabral continues, is a “vague and subjective” expression of a “complex reality.” In reality, national liberation is “the inalienable right of every people to have their own history; and the aim of national liberation is to regain this right usurped by imperialism.” In present day contexts, Cabral maintains, “the principal aspect of…struggle is…against…neocolonialism.” Neo-colonialism, the indirect domination of one nation by another is particularly pernicious for Cabral because the imperial power “by allowing the social dynamics to be awakened [in the dominated nation]—conflicts of interest between the native social strata or class struggle—creates the illusion the historical process is returning to its normal evolution,” which is “reinforced by the existence of a political power (national State), composed of native elements.” Cabral refers to the false native elements that run the state as pseudo-bourgeoisie. Their false consciousness emanates from mediating function they play for neo-colonialist domination in the continued arrested development of the national productive forces.

The national liberation movement is a challenge to the imperial world system, and, consequently, must attempt to escape it. The present international political economy co-opts even the most nationalist of the “pseudo-bourgeoisie” native elements because they cannot “freely guide the development of the [national] productive forces.” The inability of the native elite to become fully national bourgeoisie—via Lenin’s theory of nationalist capitalist formation—means that the imperialists, through the world political economy, continue to usurp the freedom “of the process of development of the national productive forces.” The difficulty of the challenge to overcoming a neo-colonialist international political economy for both Cabral and political theorists is that the world economy operates through “preferential investments”, “aid to underdeveloped countries”, the eagerness of postcolonial leaders to accept compromise over revolution, and “the threats to world peace, posed by the prospect of atomic war.” We can do it, however, Cabral maintains, if we accept that the armed struggle of the periphery is necessary to attain a peace where each nation no longer feels compelled to “get involved in the…disputes and conflicts which are splitting the world.” The armed struggle may seem problematic as a route to world peace; however, Cabral notes that the armed struggle is merely necessary for co-existence after which violence would cease. “To co-exist” Cabral wisely noted, “one must first of all exist, so the imperialist ad the colonialists must be forced to retreat so that we can make a new contribution to human civilization, based on the work, the dynamic personality and the culture our peoples.” Each nation’s position to the world order “must be and remained based on the fundamental aspirations of our peoples…We must be capable—and free—to adopt without equivocation any position which aims to serve the dignity, emancipation, and progress of [all] peoples.”

The freedom of postcolonies to pursue the unique dignity of their national histories limits the destructive aspects of the capitalist international political economy. In the present system, the strength of a state’s economy legitimates and enhances its ability to enact militaristic and aggressive foreign policies. Fear of China’s growing economy, for instance, encourages symbolic censure rather than political action from the international community about the lack of democracy. Smaller, less central economies, like the former Yugoslavia, are more likely to suffer invasion for their human rights abuses. The United States and Great Britain, due to their centrality to the world economy, found themselves military unopposed when they entitled their campaign against “terror” “Operation: Infinite Justice.” True justice requires the dignity only found in liberation from the dictates of the political economic world system.