Fri Feb 03, 2023
February 03, 2023

Stalinism and Pan-Africanism – Part V

In previous articles of this series, we discussed the national struggles of colonial and semi-colonial peoples, particularly on the African continent, including the creation of nationalist and pan-Africanist movements, and the intervention of Stalinist organizations which, despite changes in political position, always aimed at class conciliation and capitulation to imperialism.

By: Américo Gomes

This in an issue of great importance insofar as neo-Stalinist organizations, and the communist parties of several countries, try to appropriate this history of struggle of the oppressed [1]. At bottom, this is a disingenuous position built on a series of historical Stalinist lies and misinformation.

Marxist revolutionaries have always considered the anti-colonial struggle as a highly progressive force. This is because it liberates the populations of colonial countries from foreign dependence, and at the same time lends a powerful blow to the heart of imperialism. Thus, it weakens imperialist dominance and aids in the struggle for socialism for the workers of imperialist countries and around the world. At the same time, it ignites the battle against internal systems of class domination (castes, bloodthirsty monarchies, etc.), paving the way for the winning of democratic freedoms and national economic advancement.

According to Trotsky, Lenin deserves “the merit for the development of a revolutionary strategy for oppressed nationalities” [2]. Lenin based his theory on the works of Marx [3] , and on his own characterization of the beginning of the imperialist epoch: one of capitalist decadence driving oppressive policies, annexations, and wars in the service of the profit motive for the great monopolies.

In the midst of this phenomenon, national and independence movements arose in these colonized and oppressed countries. That is why Lenin vehemently reiterated: “It is necessary to distinguish between the nationalism of the oppressor nation and the nationalism of the oppressed, between the nationalism of the big nation and the nationalism of the small nation”[4]. Differentiating the capitalist countries that are “advanced,” where nationalism has nothing progressive about it, from the nationalism of colonized and the oppressed peoples, Lenin understood that the struggle for the emancipation of oppressed nations and colonized peoples as a fundamental component of the world socialist revolution [5] .

Stalinism is not Leninism

This key element of revolutionary policy was abruptly altered by the Stalinist strategy based on the theory of socialism in one country, class conciliation, and peaceful coexistence with imperialism. As explained above, this created obstacles and opposition to the revolutionary policy of defense and the promotion of the anti-colonial struggle.

The Stalinist policy produced shameful, absurd positions such as the emblematic case of the Portuguese section of the Communist Party, who claimed the imperialist occupation of Africa was progressive. José Augusto Esteves [6], a leader of the Portuguese Communist Party, has stated that it is necessary to “distinguish” aspects of colonization, because despite being a significant and bloody part of primitive capitalist accumulation and responsible for the slave trade, it also “meant progress in human knowledge in various domains ( …) that again took up the path of Human history” [7]. By taking up this view, Esteves underestimates slavery and the history of oppression of the entire black population and nations of the African continent. Slavery resulted in the trafficking of 12-13 million human beings, who were uprooted from Africa and taken to Brazil, the Caribbean, and the United States, transported in terrible conditions by Portuguese slave ships (as well as Spanish, Dutch, English and French), in 35,000 trips between 1514 and 1866, and of which the Portuguese ships carried more than five and a half million.

This neo-Stalinist theory of the Portuguese CP has led to the current conclusion that “Portugal is not a racist country” and, as a concrete political consequence, the PCP is currently opposed to a policy of quotas or other affirmative action measures. The PCP also opposed the central demand of the campaign for a new nationality law, which defended the right to Portuguese nationality to all people born in Portuguese territory, regardless of their parents’ country of origin.

This reasoning also underlies the support for nationalist and pro-imperialist bourgeois governments, and thus abandons the struggle for real independence of nations in Africa and Asia. In Brazil, Jones Manoel of the Brazilian Communist Party (PCB) has argued that Ghana, under the leadership of Kwame Nkrumah, paved the way for the construction of a socialist society. He contends the same was true for Burkina Faso, under the leadership of Thomas Sankara, and in Guinea Bissau under the leadership of the African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde (PAIGC).

Today, we see the failure to build revolutionary leadership in these countries has led to the complete subjection of the working class and the poor to imperialist interests through dictatorial and bureaucratized governments, despite the heroic struggles for national independence. None of these countries expropriated bourgeois and imperialist properties, nor did they allow any independent action of the working class through their own organizations. On the contrary, they repressed the developing workers’ struggles.

Jones Manoel and the CP of Brazil and Portugal have continued to defend the idea that the bureaucratic dictatorships of Angola and Mozambique as examples of States governed by the workers following colonial independence.

In Ghana, there was a struggle for a new Pan-Africanist ideology, based on a “socialism with African values.” Similarly, Amilcar Cabral sought to give a revolutionary direction to the struggle for independence in Guinea, and Thomas Sanara, like many others, was a nationalist fighter. However, none of these countries have come to take even the smallest step towards a socialist society, nor have the workers come to rule these states.

Angola and Mozambique: The Construction of New Bourgeoisies on Authoritarian Foundations

After the glorious and heroic struggle of the people of Mozambique and Angola to free themselves from Portuguese colonial oppression, Stalinism and Castroism, as international organizations, established bloodthirsty dictatorships that gave rise to the formation of new bourgeoisies in the 1970s.

In the case of Angola, Agostinho Neto and the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA), under the pretext of putting an end to any internal divergence, eliminated several leaders and cadres of the MPLA in a series of mass killings. These included massacres such as the one that occurred in May 1977, when it is estimated between 30,000 and 80,000 people were killed, in addition to the hundreds of thousands of prisoners killed in the São Paulo prison in Luanda, and in concentration camps scattered in different parts of the country. In addition, members of revolutionary movements such as “Active Revolt” and youths of the “Communist Organization of Angola” (OCA), who defended the construction of a socialist society, were imprisoned.

Upon his death in Moscow in September 1979, Agostinho Neto had left the country under the command of the MPLA and the corrupt, nepotistic, and dictatorial José Eduardo dos Santos, who made his family one of the richest on the continent. His daughter Isabel dos Santos is considered the richest woman in Africa, with investments in Portugal that reach three billion Euros, which comes from the appropriation of the Angolan national patrimony.

Angola is the second largest oil producing country in Africa, and the world’s fifth largest diamond producer. Despite being rich in resources, nearly 36 % of the population lives below the poverty line, 70 % lives on less than two dollars a day and, in 2015, the country recorded the highest infant mortality rate in the world, as well as the second worst life expectancy rate according to a 2016 report by the World Health Organization (WHO). In addition, only 30% of the population has access to electricity.

Even before independence in Mozambique, when the country was under a transitional government shared with Portugal, the Front for the Liberation of Mozambique (FRELIMO) also eliminated the opposition and its dissidents in the worst Stalinist style. Subjected to summary trials, presided over by Samora Machel himself, many were imprisoned in “re-education camps”, and were subsequently killed in a macabre spectacle on June 25, 1977 (the second anniversary of Mozambique’s independence), when several political prisoners were burned alive.

While in power, FRELIMO developed a foreign policy of collaboration with imperialism. For instance, Machel signed a “good neighbor” agreement with Pieter Botha, the ultra-racist president of South Africa during apartheid, and he organized agreements with the World Bank and the IMF. For these services, Machel was received by the then-President of the United States, Ronald Reagan in August 1982, and was awarded the Grand Collar of the Order of Prince Henry of Portugal. Internally, the “cadres” of FRELIMO gained more and more privileges, appropriating goods forbidden to other Mozambican citizens.

In sum, governments like those of Angola and Mozambique formed new black bourgeoisies that have continued to exploit and oppress the majority of the black population of those countries.

Therefore, practically speaking, the poly-classist policy of Pan-Africanism and Stalinism in the countries where they came to power, has maintained the exploitation of the black working class, and the subordination to imperialism. Consequently, in one way or another, this situation has led to the loss of popular support and the reestablishment of the strength of imperialist policy, which is in a better position to establish dictatorships in these countries.

In view of this, we can see that the Pan-Africanist strategy which led several anti-colonial struggles backed by courageous leaders, having been guided by the policy of class collaboration, failed to defeat imperialist domination and to eliminate the exploitation and oppression of the workers and the poor in Africa.

A revolutionary Marxist policy for Africa cannot depend on an alliance with the national bourgeoisies, which will always be subordinated to imperialism and–at the present stage of history–is incapable of carrying out fundamental democratic tasks such as agrarian reform, the struggle against oppressions, etc. A revolutionary policy for African countries must be solidly based on the class independence of the black proletariat and on the unified struggle with the proletariat of other oppressed nations and peoples of the world.

Our brothers and sisters on the African continent made revolutions. Victorious revolutions. But they did not advance towards socialism because the leadership of these processes prevented the questioning of capitalist exploitation. The leaderships did not have an organization or a socialist program, nor were they based on the working class as the social subject that would be capable of carrying out the tasks of politically controlling the state and reorganizing the economy in a planned way.

Revolutionary processes continue to take place on all continents, however the challenges facing the proletariat and the poor in Africa are the same that must be resolved in South America and in the rest of the world: to overcome the reformist and non-revolutionary leaderships and build a true revolutionary party of the proletariat, with a revolutionary program that will lead definitively to working class liberation.

Unlike a poly-classist policy centered exclusively on the racial question–such as that defended by Stalinism and Pan-Africanism–revolutionary socialism must, using the method of the Transitional Program, combine in a dialectical manner the so-called democratic banners with the struggle against world imperialism and the need for a socialist revolution. This is what Trotsky said in Permanent Revolution: “The specific weight of the various democratic demands in the struggle of the proletariat, their mutual relations and their order of succession are determined by the particularities and by the conditions proper to each backward country, in particular by the degree of its backwardness. However, the general direction of revolutionary development can be determined by the formula of PERMANENT REVOLUTION, in the sense which was definitely given to it by the three revolutions in Russia (1905, February 1917, October 1917).”

A Revolutionary Program

The “Thesis on the Negro Question,” approved at the IV Congress of the Communist International in November 1922, argued that after the First World War resistance against the domination of world capital by the imperialist system grew. This resistance was expressed most clearly in colonized countries: “The international struggle of the black race is a struggle against a common enemy. An international Black movement must be organized on the basis of this struggle: in the United States, the center of Black culture and Black protest; in Africa, with its reservoir of human labor for the development of capitalism; in Central America (Costa Rica, Guatemala, Colombia, Nicaragua and other “independent” countries), where the domination of North American capitalism is absolute; in Puerto Rico, Haiti, Santo Domingo and other Caribbean islands, where the brutal treatment of our black brothers and sisters by the US occupation provoked a worldwide protest of conscious black and revolutionary white workers; in South Africa and Congo, where the growing industrialization of the black population led to all kinds of revolts; and in East Africa, where the incursions of world capital led the local population to start an active anti-imperialist movement.”

Today, a revolutionary organization must start from this programmatic basis for the anti-colonial struggle: “to show black people that they are not the only ones who suffer capitalist and imperialist oppression, that the workers and peasants of Europe, Asia and America are also victims of imperialism, that the black struggle against imperialism is not the struggle of a single people, but of all the peoples of the world.” Emphasizing that “the Black question has become an integral part of the world revolution”.

Trotsky specified the need to build black republics in the countries of Africa, where there is a majority black population. This does not exclude full equality for whites nor “fraternal relations between the two races, depending mainly on the conduct of whites.” [8]

Following these lines, Nahuel Moreno indicated the need for a “Union of South African States, in a great Federation of Black Socialist Republics,” as a programmatic synthesis. [9]

We will only be able to radically change African societies by expropriating the bourgeoisie and placing political and economic power in the hands of the black African working class, and thus pave the way for the destruction of the material basis of all forms of oppression and exploitation.


[1] In Brazil, besides the Communist Party, the Popular Unity is part of these organizations.

[2] Trotsky, “On 90 Years of the Communist Manifesto”, October 1937 (our translation).

[3] Marx, “A people that oppresses another cannot liberate itself”.

[4] Lenin, “The Socialist Revolution and the Right of Nations to Self-Determination” (Theses), February 1916.

[5] Lenin. “Balance of the discussion on self-determination” (October 1916), paragraph VI.

[6] Leader of the Portuguese Communist Party (PCP).

[7] “From the discoveries to the reality of Portugal in April: the fight against colonialism, racism and xenophobia”.

[8] “The agrarian and national questions: observations on the Draft Theses of the Workers Party of South Africa”, April 1935.

[9] Moreno, Angola: the Black Revolution on the March.

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