Primitive accumulation and the struggle for socialism

BY: Lowell B. Denny, III| August 16, 2018
Primitive accumulation and the struggle for socialism
QWhat does the historical exploitation and primitive accumulation from the indigenous populations of West Africa and North America have to do with the struggle for socialism and working class liberation today and what are this struggle's flash-points?
AThe struggle for socialism came to Europe at the rear end of one of the longest, most horrific series of crimes in history, where European pre-capitalist, feudal civilization institutionalized 400 years of African forced labor camps, the theft of the entire American continent and much of the Pacific Islands, and genocide. It was these crimes that enabled Europe to enter capitalism and end feudalism. The emergence of those great cities, colonial and metropolitan, like Boston in the Americas and Manchester in the UK, would not have been the centers of bourgeois wealth without the commerce in African men and women by European merchants and the capture of the so-called "New World."

Just as much as these crimes hurled Europe into a purportedly advanced society, it regressed its victims' societies into impoverishment and backwardness. Four hundred years of mass population extraction, extermination, and the theft of a continent severely hindered the natural development of civilizations in the global South.

First Nation civilizations disappeared or faced extermination in the Americas. About 80% of Native Hawaiians died from European disease within a generation. The great African kingdoms, like that in present-day Mali, or emerging, complex societies to its south along West Africa, were obliterated by the loss of millions and millions of its young people to the European slave trade. There could be no comparable Boston or Manchester in Africa without the brain trust of the next generations.

Each world, as it were, produced victims of the capitalist epoch: the industrial laborer, child workers, and poverty in the global North; and the colonized and enslaved in the global South. But as their resistance grew, they found common cause with socialist principles.

These principles were neither new to early African indigenous communities, nor to late-feudal European ones, as during Britain's brief Republic decade where radicalism, 200 years before Marx, so frightened the English establishment it brought back the monarchy.

These socialist ideas were matured and crystalized by radical thinkers of the bourgeois age, like Karl Marx. It's worth emphasizing this last point, that every liberation movement on the African continent was socialist. In any case, socialism and the liberation of the working class were seen as the best tool to correct the many wrongs of capitalist economies.

Among the many flashpoints in this struggle, the two prominent ones were the slave revolt in the richest colony in the Americas, France's Saint Domingue (later Haiti) which traumatized Western capitalism and inspired liberation struggles in South America and among Blacks in North America; then, almost 100 years later, the Bolshevik Revolution, which had the same effect, and produced the Soviet Union. Less noted in North America, the experience of World War I and returning home to lynchings and Jim Crow produced a group of Black veterans who had been exposed to socialists in Europe. They formed the Marxist-oriented African Blood Brotherhood [which later merged into the Communist Party USA].  Another rough century later, where do we stand?  Standing Rock, New Orleans, Puerto Rico, Palestine: as many reminders that old habits of primitive accumulation live on in the new modes of resource capture—and that the path to liberation must lead beyond capitalism.

Image: the Catino planisphere (1502) shows the line drawn in the Treaty of Tordesillas, where Spain and Portugal divided up Africa and the Americas between themselves. (By anonymous Portuguese (1502) - Biblioteca Estense Universitaria, Modena, Italy, Public Domain)
    Lowell B. Denny, III, has a degree in political science from Washington University. His political education began with his membership in Queer Nation-San Francisco, spending two months of work and study in Cuba in the early 1990s, then three months hitchhiking around Mexico where he got to spend a day in jail, and now living in Hawaii where the sovereignty movement is strong. He has worked in publishing, retail, as a school teacher and restaurant waiter. He is a member of AFGE Local 1234.

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