I do not believe in prophecy or the inevitability of the triumph of justice over injustice. I do believe that the current administration has and will continue to hasten the unraveling of the US.
I do not believe that such an inevitable occurrence will create a better society. A better society will be the product of clear vision and determined action. I find the former to be increasingly rare in a society whose collective consciousness is addled by conspiracy theories, fear, distrust, hyperindividualism, and anxiety. I think that this past decade’s propagation of the pretense of digital “activism”, the abandonment of critiques of political economy in favor of those centered on an ever-increasing infinity of personal identities and other forms of atomization, and impotent protest has arrested many people’s ability to conceive of “action” in any meaningful manner.
Thus, when the “empire” falls, what will most likely follow are desperate and depraved efforts to sustain it based on more debased forms of neoliberalism, white nationalism, violent religious fanaticism, anti-intellectualism, and pogroms targeting the “rejected and despised”.
It is true that capitalism must be critiqued. It is also true that it must be replaced. For African-centered scholars neither the critique of this system or the conceptualization of alternatives to it can logically draw from the culture which created capitalism in the first place.
For African-centered scholars, capitalism is merely an expression of the European worldview. The alienation, materialism, and misery that it produces are not de-linked from pre-existing traditions that produced the same–albeit with less precision.
For us, ultimately, African traditions must inform both our critique and proposals for alternatives. Whether we consider Mbongi, Ubuntu, Maat, et cetera. we have various cultural paradigms sufficient to inform our efforts to reclaim our culture and to create a more just world.
The synergy between these two goals cannot be understated. We must reclaim our culture as a matter of restoring and healing ourselves. Such knowledge enables us to transform reality up to and including that which should be our core preoccupation–the restoration of our sovereignty. Hence we are not advocating the cessation of capitalism in order to enter into a fantasy of a “more humane” Western hegemony. This is absurd. Nor are we advocating a perpetuation of our subjugation or alienation–consequences of slavery and colonialism–under either the existing or some proposed future system administered by forces opposed to African humanity. Our striving should be the solve the problem facing us fully–not only its economic or political dimensions, but the oppressive worldview that undergirds such a condition.
Dr. Jacob H. Carruthers captures this succinctly where he writes concerning the African worldview and its imperatives: “If then we accept this as a valid worldview, it is apparent that our goal for reorganizing the world must include the restoration of a harmony among the Creator, Nature and man. This is the only world that produces happiness and the fulfillment of man. This means that the negative forces opposing this way of life must be made to not exist (to phrase it in Kemite fashion). In other words, to have peace one must nullify the destroyers without corrupting ourselves.” The key to fulfilling this lies in our capacity to remember who we are and to operationalize such knowledge in both word and deed, for in order to overcome the forces of alienation it is critical that we draw fully and substantively from the deep well of African thought, and to let such wisdom as that of our ancestors to guide us into the future.
Since the 1990s, globalization has been heralded as a means whereby humans would achieve a higher quality of life and greater prosperity. Of course we know that such claims were greatly exaggerated as globalization, as a process, has produced profoundly uneven benefits–allowing vast accumulations of wealth for the global elite while simultaneously producing desolation and dispossession for others. Culturally, it has produced manifold complexities and contradictions in the lives of people the world over.
One day, when the current writing projects are completed, I plan to devote some time to writing about B.R. Ambedkar and W.E.B. Du Bois. One area where I appreciate Ambedkar, was in his critique of Marxism vis-a-vis his interpretation of Buddhism. Du Bois’s relationship to Marxism was complex, reflecting the contradictions of the White left, as well as the limitations of Marx’s theory to addressing the malaise of African Americans. Moreover, Du Bois was influenced by Black nationalism and Pan-African nationalism in various ways, hence tempering his relationship to Marxist theory in some respects.
I compare this to Ambedkar’s discussion of Buddhist philosophy in relation to social inequality. This is from his essay Buddha or Karl Marx.
“A part of the misery and unhappiness in the world was according to the Buddha the result of man’s inequity towards man. How was this inequity to be removed ? For the removal of man’s inequity towards man the Buddha prescribed the Noble Eight-Fold Path.
The elements of the Noble Fight-Fold Path are:
(1) Right views i.e. freedom from superstition:
(2) Right aims, high and worthy of the intelligent and earnest men;
(3) Right speech i.e. kindly, open, truthful;
(4) Right Conduct i.e. peaceful, honest and pure;
(5) Right livelihood i.e. causing hurt or injury to no living being;
(6) Right perseverance in all the other seven;
(7) Right mindfulness i.e. with a watchful and active mind; and
(8) Right contemplation i.e. earnest thought on the deep mysteries of life.
The aim of the Noble Eight-Fold Path is to establish on earth the kingdom”
While Amedkar drew upon Indian philosophy to critique or de-center Marx, Du Bois did not draw upon African philosophy for similar ends. Later generations of Black scholars however would. It would be remiss of me to suggest that Du Bois’s influence would not impact their works even indirectly, as we has, after all, a pioneer of African-centered thought.
Eric Williams’s monumental work Capitalism and Slavery captures the synergistic links between the rise of modern capitalism and white racism. In it, Williams argues that racism, as an ideological framework that argued for and sought to concretize in the realm of social relations the subordination of Africans and the superordination of Europeans, emerged as a necessary by-product of the system of chattel slavery. Williams’s analysis thus shows that racism cannot be delinked from capitalism, and that from this vantage point, the struggle against racism must also necessarily entail a struggle against the malformations of capitalism.
In Kawaida Theory (the body of ideas that spawned both the Nguzo Saba and Kwanzaa), there are seven areas of culture. These are: “history, religion (ethics and spirituality), social organization, economic organization, political organization, creative production, and ethos” (Karenga 1997, 10). Of these, economic organization, offers valuable lessons pertaining to the form and character of our liberation struggle, and is directly related to the principle of Ujamaa, “Cooperative Economics”.
There are two dimensions to be discussed here. First, it is critical that we control the economics of our communities. This means that we must produce, distribute, and consume goods and services produced by ourselves for ourselves. No sovereign people, nor any people aspiring to sovereignty, can attain such a status so long as they remain dependent on another for their basic, day-to-day necessities.
Second, it is necessary that our economic institutions do not reproduce the malformations of the dominant society—that is extreme forms of stratification and dispossession. Ours must be a humanizing system, that is a system that respects the rights and dignity of people over that of capital, profit, and greed, and that seeks to enable people to achieve their maximum development. And as an African people, such systems must also be Africanizing, that is that they must facilitate our process of cultural reclamation and renewal, and reflect the African value system.
This latter point takes us to the root of the word ujamaa itself, which is jamaa. Jamaa translates into English as “family”. Ujamaa translates as “familyhood”, and denotes a collective interest or concern. This is part of why the word ujamaa has been employed to refer to socialism—an economic system emphasizing shared resources and shared profit in the interest of all. This was not due to a reliance on the ideas of any European theorist, but due to the values inherent in the economic systems of traditional African society, which entailed concerns about the collective welfare, the greater good. Thus, while the pursuit of profit was welcomed and envouraged, the values of compassion and generosity were also enforced. Such a sentiment is born out in the ancestral wisdom which states, “Ubepari ni unyama,” which translates as “Capitalism [exploitation] is animalistic”, that is, savage. A just economy, must enhance our humanity, not negate it.
Karenga, Maulana. 1997. Kawaida Theory: A Communitarian African Philosophy. Los Angeles: University of Sankore Press.
Williams, Eric. 1994. Capitalism and Slavery. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press.
I wonder if folks have considered that so-called liberal democracy may have been an ephemeral mode of governance born of a unique convergence of industrial capitalism and increasingly irrelevant monarchies. Marx’s predictions of socialism’s inevitable ascendance notwithstanding, the seamless alignment of capital and the state has shown that other configurations do emerge.
While global capitalism resulted in a diminution of the state’s relevance and power, fascism promises both the states restoration, and the reconfiguration of capitalism along nationalistic lines. Hence if globalization has resulted in the disillusionment of the laboring masses of the world, fascism represents the illusory promise of a restoration to some imagined halcyon days of dignity or greatness.
I recently watched a video where a financial expert offered advice for diasporan Africans seeking to invest in Africa. She highlighted two areas of particular concern to the state and commercial interests: agribusiness and real estate. The agribusiness discussion touched on some things by which I was both surprised and unsurprised. One surprising element is the growing global demand for Ghanaian pineapples. According to my wife, they are quite good. It would appear that many folks in Eurasia agree.
With regards to real estate there’s great interest for housing developments for the cosmopolite elite. Apparently, though there is a great need for housing for the poor and laboring masses, it simply isn’t as lucrative to house them as the petty bourgeoisie. No surprises there. This is the same model that prevails in the hyper-developed west.
Ghana reflects something a bit different from what Walter Rodney postulated (underdevelopment), which I call “uneven development”. This is the pattern that enables the educated elite to enjoy all of the conveniences and privileges that the 21st century offers, while others live a century or more removed from such opulence. You can see this first hand when you go to Accra, two centuries side-by-side. Its very interesting.
Of course my reason in posting this is not simply to critique the inevitable social malformations that capitalism produces, but to highlight the emergent economic forms of the global south where increasingly the diaspora is returning home, armed with cultural and commercial capital, and building edifices to the vapid western model of development.
Yes we should invest in African economies (both on the continent and in the diaspora), but I fear that if we do so absent a vision of economic development that produces Anderson Thompson’s African Principles, that is “the greatest good for the greatest number”, then we are simply playing a game of hegemonic musical chairs–where we take the place of the west as the lords of Black misery. We have to be better than that.
Some brief reflections on the article Nigeria: The “repats” who have returned.
This is a promising development. It is also somewhat unsurprising. While the Black elite has fared marginally well in the West, the suffering of the masses reflects the tenuous nature of our collective welfare. In short, our mid-20th Century forbears were buoyed by dreams of hopes that have been largely unrealizable for their descendants. What opportunities we find have and will continue to contract.
Should we look abroad for opportunity? Certainly, but we should be cautious about the dangers of feeding the unsustainable and rapacious system of global capitalism on the continent. Yes we need economic development, but we need a paradigm of economic development that reconciles human need with the capacity of the planet.
Moreover, we should be mindful that there are over 100 million people of African descent in the Western hemisphere. If our concept of economic opportunity and development consists of the globally mobile, Black cosmopolite elite absconding to Nigeria, Ghana, or elsewhere while our people still suffer under the terror that has so defined our American (North and South) experience, then our vision is deficient. The question that I have asked myself, which I have not yet been able to answer is, how do the economic development initiatives of repatriates in Africa favorably impact our communities in the diaspora? Again, to leave is not enough. Turning away from a problem does not resolve it. We need comprehensive solutions, which will be, as they always are, necessarily multifaceted.
“Every decisive gain achieved by the anti-capitalist forces will be countered by the state against the working class. This repression will be significantly greater against Blacks and other national minorities than experienced by other sectors of the working class. Socialists must come to the conclusion at the outset that there will be no peaceful culmination in the achievement of state power. ”
-Manning Marable, How Capitalism Underdeveloped Black America
“Think about the strangeness of today’s situation. Thirty, forty years ago, we were still debating about what the future will be: communist, fascist, capitalist, whatever. Today, nobody even debates these issues. We all silently accept global capitalism is here to stay. On the other hand, we are obsessed with cosmic catastrophes: the whole life on earth disintegrating, because of some virus, because of an asteroid hitting the earth, and so on. So the paradox is, that it’s much easier to imagine the end of all life on earth than a much more modest radical change in capitalism.”
-Slavoj Zizek, Zizek!
“The importance of socialism to the Kawaida project begins with the fact that the basic tenets of socialism are rooted in African communitarian thought and practice and are thus a part of our cultural heritage. As Nkrumah noted, communalism is the socio-political ancestor of socialism and socialism is communalism in modern form and circumstances. In this regard, we reaffirm the central African communitarian principles of shared work, shared wealth and shared decision-making in an unalienated communal environment–in a word, ujamaa. Secondly, socialism offers the most severe critique of capitalism and thus makes a necessary, even critical contribution to our understanding of the society we live in and struggle to change in the interest of social justice and human development.”
-Maulana Karenga, Kawaida: A Communitarian African Philosophy
“Not all economists have fallen for the notion that growth will go on forever. There are schools of economic thought that recognize nature’s limits and, while these schools have been largely marginalized in policy circles, they have developed potentially useful plans that could help society adapt.
The basic factors that will inevitably shape whatever replaces the growth economy are knowable.To survive and thrive for long, societies have to operate within the planet’s budget of sustainably extractable resources. This means that even if we don’t know in detail what a desirable post-growth economy and lifestyle will look like, we know enough to begin working toward them.
We must convince ourselves that life in a non-growing economy can be fulfilling, interesting, and secure. The absence of growth does not necessarily imply a lack of change or improvement. Within a non-growing or equilibrium economy there can still be continuous development of practical skills, artistic expression, and certain kinds of technology. In fact, some historians and social scientists argue that life in an equilibrium economy can be superior to life in a fast-growing economy: while growth creates opportunities for some, it also typically intensifies competition—there are big winners and big losers, and (as in most boom towns) the quality of relations within the community can suffer as a result. Within a non-growing economy it is possible to maximize benefits and reduce factors leading to decay, but doing so will require pursuing appropriate goals: instead of more, we must strive for better; rather than promoting increased economic activity for its own sake, we must emphasize whatever increases quality of life without stoking consumption. One way to do this is to reinvent and redefine growth itself.”
-Richard Heinberg, The End of Growth
“It is the purpose of education, which ultimately makes it Maatian. The most fundamental difference between Western and African education is its purpose. The purpose of Western education is to train people to function within a Capitalist system, to fill the ranks of the workforce as capitalists, to consume the material things produced by the society, to acquire position, money, power, to gain control over others and the planet. Quite differently, the purpose of Maatian education is the protection and development of all life, society, self, and to respect and care for others and the Earth, to show compassion and create harmonious balance and health.”
-Rkhty Amen, A Life Centered Life: Living Maat