The struggle of the people of the global South has gone through many phases in response to the changing nature of the enemy they faces. The people’s enemy has put on different masks at different historical periods. Colonialism has posed as saviour of natives; capitalism has hidden its real nature by posing under the slogan, ‘freedom of choice’; imperialism has been presented as fight against terrorism, and perhaps most important, dictatorship of bourgeoisie is presented as ‘democracy’. In keeping up with these guises, the exploited and oppressed people have also had to change their tactics: anti-colonialism at one time; anti-neo-colonialism and anti-capitalism at another; anti-imperialism at all times. Their struggles have been accompanied by appropriate slogans to guide and inspire people. These have included calls such as Marx and Engels’ Workers of the world, Unite! You have nothing to lose but your chains!. Lenin defined the need at the time of the birth of USSR as follows:
We are confronted by problems which are not to be solved by conferences or congresses (even congresses of Soviets), but exclusively by peoples, by the masses, by the struggle of the armed people.
Mao added to this rich history of struggle for socialism and communism with the following thought:
Revolutions and revolutionary wars are inevitable in class society, and without them it is impossible to accomplish any leap in social development and to overthrow the reactionary ruling classes and therefore impossible for the people to win political power.
In more recent times, Fidel Castro, Ho Chi Minh, Kim Il Sung, Che Guevara and other revolutionaries around the world have added their voice to the struggle against capitalism and imperialism. Malcolm X popularised the term, By Any Means Necessary and at one time it was heard everywhere around the world where people challenged imperialism.
Similar sentiments have arisen from almost every struggle. In Kenya, perhaps the best know is the one associated with Dedan Kimathi, It is Better to Die on our Feet than Live on our Knees. Mau Mau set the struggle of the working class ablaze with its demand for Land and Freedom. Its method of achieving these — an armed resistance — became the symbol of anti-imperialist struggle around the world. Another call from Kenya taught that No Rights are Achieved Without Raising Arms in the Struggle.
While people’s voice in these and other slogans and writings have energised the anti-imperialist struggle and given an ideological foundation for them, imperialism has not been quiet. It has resisted all these thoughts and initiatives. Notice how it has removed Democratic People’s Republic of Korea from people’s consciousness — it is as if it no longer exists. When it is allowed to exist, it is shown as a negative example and as a ‘failed’ society.
It is not just countries that have been thus ‘disappeared’. People’s history of resistance and their struggles are also being wiped out, deleted. So are thoughts of how to struggle. One no longer hears call of ‘By any means necessary’. Forgotten also is Mao’s guidance, Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun. This is achieved by a number of ways that imperialism uses. Taken one at a time, they seem not so serious; taken as a whole, they show a well worked out pattern of creating a resistance-free imperialist world.
The first tool is an economic one. Imperialism uses its financial control over nations and globally via IMF, World Bank and WTO to ensure that working people are kept at the edge of existence and totally immersed in their struggle to survive and to get food, clothing, housing, medical care for themselves and their families. This leaves no time or energy to organise, resist or have any anti-capitalist, anti-imperialist thoughts. The imposition of a comprador leadership and government in countries of the South then enables these financial organisations to impose their rule to suppress working people further. ActionAid (2023) sums up the working of imperialist finance:
The IMF’s insistence that countries prioritise debt repayments, rather than seeking a systemic solution to debt, is a major obstacle to spending on health, education and climate action. Globally six billion people are now facing austerity, largely owing to the IMF’s reluctance to accept that its economic model has failed.
No, its economic model has not failed. It has achieved exactly what it intended to achieve: impoverishment of working people and the transfer of their wealth to imperialist powers. It has created class divisions which ensure that the comprador bourgeoisie in each country can be relied upon to do the bidding of imperialism. People have no power in this setup.
Yet, people are stubborn. With all the difficulties created by imperialism, they continue to organise, unite and resist. So imperialism bans any organisation that can become a central unifying factor. Key targets are trade unions and progressive political parties and social organisations. This again is not enough to kill resistance. Imperialism comes in with its tried and tested solution: assassinate key leaders who are essential for ideological and political development of people. Patrice Lumumba, Muammar Gaddafi and Pio Gama Pinto are the clearest examples.
When all these measures fail, imperialism has the final say: use of armed forces and police forces that are trained, armed and guided to serve its interest against those of working people. Massacres, mass murders and shoot-to-kill policies are not isolated incidents. They are part of the overall policy of imperialism, directed from Washington, London, Paris and Berlin and implemented by their local comprador rulers. Their way of seeing the world and thinking is then imposed through mass media, education, and now, social media too. It is then easy to make people believe that There is no Alternative (TINA) to capitalism and imperialism. Thoughts of socialism are either not allowed or when allowed, socialism is shown in the most negative ways. ‘Failures’ of socialism are compared with ‘success’ of capitalism even as people are killed and maimed by policies from the capitalist world.
Cultural wars against people are the silent weapon in this on-going battle between capitalism and socialism. Capitalism needs to kill people’s class consciousness and culture is the weapon of choice.
Imperialism’s methods need to be understood before an effective resistance is built up. At one level, it creates the so-called failed state when imperialism invades and destroys a country, its social and physical infrastructure. The way is then open to find new ‘leaders’ who are open to advice and loans from IMF and the World Bank to rebuild the country destroyed by imperialism. It is a model devoid of politics of resistance, just dependence on imperialism for survival. Think Somalia and Libya as prime examples, among many others.
Besides the ‘failed state’ strategy, imperialism sets about ‘small’ wars in multiple countries, using the armed forces it has trained and equipped as well as the extreme right it has always nurtured. While people are busy extinguishing these small fires, imperialism is left free to privatise and take over social institutions and services. Small fires have big profits, besides improved arms sales for their armament industry.
And yet the old-style colonial conquest and massacres of local people has not been abandoned by imperialism. This time round, it uses ‘Israel’ it has created to take over Palestine. ‘Israel’ is then freed to carry out genocides, massacres and exile Palestinian people, including children and women. People around the world are kept busy with calls for ceasefire while the genocide, destructions of hospitals, schools and infrastructure continue. Nobody has time to see the hands of capitalism and imperialism behind the genocide and destruction of Palestine.
In this situation of resisting ‘failed states’, genocides and ‘small wars’, people’s energy is dissipated. Their emotions are drained. They have no time or energy left to resist the on-going attacks from their comprador leaders and the IMF-imposed austerity which drives people to unemployment, homelessness and to food banks. Capitalism and imperialism watch the scene from a safe distance from all this turmoil it has created and laugh all the way to offshore banks. People’s lives are ruined but financial and armament industries are fine. Capitalism and imperialism are in good health.
By Any Means Necessary
Perhaps the greatest damage that imperialism does is to close people’s minds to resistance by relegating the thoughts of resistance by ‘Any Means Necessary’ to the dustbin. The reason one hears so little of this today is to do with constant propaganda that such methods are no longer needed. There is parliamentary democracy, freedoms of thought and assembly, free press, modern education that make ‘any means’ unnecessary, so goes the propaganda.
But by closing the door to ‘any means necessary’, people’s resistance is also closed. Imagine if the Bolsheviks, the Communist parties of China and Vietnam had abandoned armed resistance; if Mau Mau had abandoned armed resistance in favour of the earlier method of petitioning colonialism for land and freedom, if the guerrilla movements in Cuba and other places had accepted that armed resistance is not required. There would have been no revolutions, no socialism, in the world. Capitalism would have had total triumph.
And yet, the ruling classes in all capitalist countries are armed to the teeth, including with biological and atomic weapons. They are armed and ready to used the weapons against people. In this situation, people cannot resist exploitation and oppression by ruling out key weapons of armed resistance against an armed enemy.
‘By any means’ does not necessarily imply armed resistance, although it does include it. New and old methods of resistance, including armed resistance, need to be combined and developed to meet new challenges. Imperialism today has become more powerful and the old-style armed resistance needs to be updated. At the same time, it is weaker today in other ways and resistance needs to hit at its underbelly. These are difficult times, but so were the days when slaves fought for their freedom, when USSR and People’s Republic of China were born, when the Vietnamese resistance defeated France and USA, when Mau Mau fought their wars from forests and towns. In reality, resistance has more weapons and freedoms today in order to develop strong ideological unity among people. The first step is to refuse to accept imperialist restrictions on what is, and what is not, appropriate for our struggle. Freeing ourselves from the mental prisons created by capitalism and imperialism opens up new roads to freedom and provides new (and old) weapons in this intense class struggle against capitalism and imperialism.
Our call in this war is to Fight Capitalism, to Fight Imperialism. By Any Means Necessary. We have nothing to lose but our chains!
1 The Communist Manifesto.
2 Lenin Calls for Revolution (1917). Available at: https://alphahistory.com/russianrevolution/lenin-calls-for-revolution-1917/ [Accessed: 21-11-2023].
3 Mao: On Contradiction (August1937), Selected Works, Vol. I, p. 344. Available at: https://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/mao/works/red-book/ch05.htm. [Accessed: 21-11-2023].
4 Taken from a poster from Vita Books (Nairobi), 1986.
5 Mao Tse Tung: Quotations from Mao Tse Tung. Available at: https://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/mao/works/red-book/ch05.htm. [Accessed: 21-11-2023].
6 ActionAid (2023): Fifty Years of Failure: The International Monetary Fund, Debt and Austerity in Africa. Available at: https://actionaid.org/sites/default/files/publications/Fifty%20Years%20of%20Failure.pdf. [Accessed: 22-11-2023.
Shiraz Durrani is a Kenyan political exile living in London. He has worked at the University of Nairobi as well as at a number of public libraries in Britain. He then lectured at the London Metropolitan University. Shiraz has written many books and articles on aspects of Kenyan history and on politics of information in the context of colonialism, capitalism and imperialism. His latest book is Guerrilla Incursions into the Capitalist Mindset: Essays with Focus on Kenya,1979-2023. Some of his articles are available at https://independent.academia.edu/DurraniShiraz and books at: https://www.africanbookscollective.com/search-results?form.keywords=shiraz+durrani