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Spartacist Canada No. 144

Spring 2005

No UN/U.S./Canadian Intervention in Africa!

Imperialist Crimes in Rwanda and Sudan

The following article is based on a talk by Young Spartacus pages editor Jon Seville to a well-attended Toronto public meeting on February 12.

Over the course of three months in 1994, some 800,000 Rwandan Tutsis and tens of thousands of moderate Hutu were systematically murdered in a meticulously prepared genocide organized by forces within the Rwandan government and military. The details overwhelm the imagination. Interahamwe death squads hacked village after village to death with machetes. Neighbours executed neighbours, husbands butchered wives, or were themselves shot by government troops. Sometimes the torture continued over days. Fetuses were cut from the stomachs of their mothers and then hacked apart as the women watched and bled to death.

As the violence began, the United Nations Security Council ordered the bulk of the multinational "peacekeeping" force stationed in the country to withdraw. Imperialist politicians like U.S. president Bill Clinton and French president François Mitterrand repeatedly denied that a genocide was in process, tossing off racist explanations like "tribal resentments" to cover their profound indifference. When the French military finally intervened, it created a cordon sanitaire that allowed the authors of the genocide—longtime French collaborators—to flee into the Congo. The war now engulfing that country is in no small part a result of this intervention.

Fast forward to April 2003. In Darfur, a western region of Sudan, a coalition of secular and Muslim groups launched armed attacks against Sudanese government troops in response to decades of economic privation, repression and political corruption. In retaliation, government-armed militias have carried out a scorched-earth policy of crop destruction, banditry and murder. An estimated 70,000 people have died, and 2.3 million have been displaced. One observer, Alex de Waal, stated that "predictions of up to 300,000 famine deaths must be taken seriously" (London Review of Books, 5 August 2004). A series of "peace agreements" have collapsed as the Sudanese government mouths hollow diplomatic promises while prosecuting the war.

This is the latest episode in a series of military conflicts that have raged in the country for the last 22 years, largely between a northern Islamist government and the historically oppressed south. An estimated two million people have died in a war waged primarily against civilians, many as a result of government-manufactured starvation. I emphasize estimated because there are no truly reliable statistics given the near-complete absence of modern infrastructure and health facilities. At every level, this conflict has been compounded by the effects of British colonial policy, Cold War rivalries and the predations of foreign corporations.

My talk tonight is going to focus on the role of imperialism in Rwanda and Sudan. There is profound anger and desperation over these tragedies, but this anger is being manipulated in defense of forces who are profoundly culpable. The tenth anniversary of the Rwandan genocide has seen a torrent of newspaper articles, movies, documentaries and books: a concerted international propaganda campaign whose principal message is that UN intervention could have stopped the Rwandan genocide, and that the Western imperialist powers should send troops to Darfur. A chorus of voices has perversely argued that Rwanda represents a failure of Western "conscience," thus transforming the genocide into the symbol of a new UN-led "civilizing mission" on the African continent.

The Canadian lieutenant-general responsible for the 1994 Rwandan mission, Roméo Dallaire, has written a best-selling critique of the UN and Western powers' complicity, arguing for a greater role for "humanitarian" military intervention. The social-democratic NDP echoes these calls, pushing the Canadian nationalist myth that this is a "peacekeeping" nation. Many youth and working people, even when suspicious of Western foreign policy, see UN intervention as the only way to stop the horrific violence, however temporarily.

The ideological drive to paint the capitalist rulers of the U.S., Canada or Europe as potential allies of the impoverished and persecuted is based on a web of myths and lies. It is also profoundly dangerous. The International Communist League categorically opposes UN "peacekeeping missions," which are in reality imperialist forces of occupation. The United Nations does not rise above the competing interests of its member states, as U.S. sidelining of the UN in the lead-up to the Iraq war vividly showed. UN intervention has always provided a "humanitarian" cover for the crimes of the imperialist powers, from the 1961 assassination of Congolese nationalist Patrice Lumumba to the murder and torture of Somali youth by Canadian special forces in 1993. The nightmare that Africa confronts is inextricably linked to the international capitalist system. Looking to the UN only strengthens agencies whose express purpose is to guard the current world order.

Today's call for greater Western intervention into Africa occurs in an extremely sinister context. No longer constrained by the military counterweight of the Soviet Union, the first workers state in history, U.S. imperialism has rampaged across the globe for the last 15 years, spreading death in Iraq, Afghanistan, Serbia, Colombia, Haiti and elsewhere. This has led to increasing tensions between the imperialist powers, who have moved to expand their spheres of neo-colonial influence and protect key mineral resources. In particular, France has scrambled to preserve its influence, in part through strengthening its global military infrastructure and securing its role in mutilateral economic and defense agreements. A second-rate power, whose fading claim to imperial glory rests in large part on suzerainty over its former African colonies, France sees the greater economic role played by Nigeria and South Africa—both closely tied to U.S. and British capitalism—as a threat.

Since September 11, the Bush gang has extended the "war on terror" to Africa, opening a military base in Djibouti and "anti-terrorist command centers" in Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda. U.S. forces have assisted military operations in the Sahel, the buffer zone between the oil fields in North Africa and the Gulf of Guinea. Over the next ten years, Africa is projected to become the U.S.' second largest supplier of oil after the Near East. France has responded by strengthening ties with oil rich countries in North and West Africa, undercutting American policies in the UN, and aggressively intervening in its "spheres of influence," for example the Ivory Coast.

Imperialist Lies, Colonial Guilt: Causes of the Rwandan Genocide

The cause of the Rwandan genocide has been the subject of enormous, deliberate obfuscation. The most vulgar example is the mantra of "age-old tribal rivalries." The Hutu and Tutsi are not tribes—a word applied to Africa with careless indiscretion—but share a common language, territory and, in parts of Rwanda, culture. Journalists often refer to the "Hutu genocide of the Tutsi," in a tropical rendition of the Goldhagen thesis that Germans bear "collective guilt" for the Holocaust. This distortion has provided a cover for mass reprisals against the Hutu. The driving force behind the genocide was fundamentally political. This was a systematic plan of eradication targeting Hutu opponents of the regime and the entire Tutsi civilian population—the potential base of support for an invading Tutsi-led army from Uganda. But it would not have occurred without the legacy of German and Belgian colonialism, without the role of the UN and without the direct military support of French imperialism.

Two myths circulate about the Hutu and Tutsi. The first is that the division has its origins in an invasion of Rwanda by iron-working, pastoral peoples from North East Africa who conquered and then subjugated the indigenous inhabitants. No archeological or linguistic evidence exists to support such claims: metallurgy first appeared in the region around the sixth century B.C.; pastoral peoples have existed in this part of Central Africa for at least 2,000 years. This myth was first used by the colonial powers to justify fortifying the rule of a "Caucasoid Hamatic" Tutsi over the "Bantu" Hutu. Africans were supposedly so primitive and savage that the complex civilization of pre-colonial Rwanda must have been imported.

The second myth is that the Hutu/Tutsi division was completely fabricated by colonialism. The main promoter of this African nationalist fairytale is the current Tutsi-dominated government in Kigali, the Rwandan capital, and its foreign defenders. By asserting that these social divisions were imposed entirely from outside, the current Kigali regime can pose as an opponent of ethnic chauvinism while continuing to viciously persecute its Hutu adversaries.

Following the German conquest of Rwanda in the late 19th century, a complex set of social relationships involving clientage, kinship and clan ties that had developed over several centuries was reduced to bipolar Tutsi-Hutu terms of racial dominance. German and then Belgian colonialism greatly strengthened the power of the Tutsi chiefs, eliminated all Hutu office holders and assisted the Tutsi monarchy in conquering the north of the country. Redefining the pre-existing divisions in racial terms, the Belgian colonialists and Catholic Church limited access to education, administrative positions and most jobs to the Tutsi "master race." Collective labour for the state became a Hutu obligation.

The resulting system of "dual colonialism" was a hybrid of direct and indirect rule, where the colonial state employed the Tutsi aristocracy to extract taxes and labour from the Hutu peasantry. Following independence from Belgium in 1962, a Hutu-chauvinist political party came to power that had fully assimilated the racial outlook of their colonial masters. This avowedly "Hutu Power" state instituted systematic discrimination against the Tutsi and launched repeated pogroms.

Like everywhere else in the colonial world, the various ploys of the imperialist rulers served to twist and distort social relations. The imperialist partition of Africa undermined the formation of indigenous property-owning classes while integrating tribal structures and chieftainships into the state apparatus. Following independence, the new African states inherited societies composed of numerous linguistic and cultural groups, often pitted against each other by the divide-and-rule strategy of colonialism. Maintaining and strengthening tribal institutions, these African nationalist regimes were locked into the politics of ethnic dominance and its murderous consequences.

The Rwandan Civil War: Setting the Stage

Political repression in Rwanda and neighbouring Burundi during the 1960s and '70s produced several waves of exiles into Tanzania, the Congo and Uganda. By the late 1980s, there was a large Rwandan diaspora throughout central Africa. Many survived for decades by scraping out an existence in permanent "resettlement" camps. Often denied citizenship and access to farm land, Rwandan refugees were the target of xenophobic attacks. In Uganda, Rwandan Tutsi exiles played a central role in the guerrilla army that brought Yoweri Museveni, a key American ally, to power in the mid-1980s.

In 1990, the Tutsi-led Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF) invaded Rwanda from Uganda in order to overthrow the existing regime and forcibly repatriate tens of thousands of refugees. While the RPF's first advances ended disastrously, by 1993 Rwandan government forces were facing defeat. As the RPF moved into the country, they killed civilians, looted and impressed youth into forced labour. By the beginning of 1993, some 950,000 people had fled its advance—roughly one in seven Rwandans—creating massive social dislocation. On both sides of the civil war, access to and control of land was a driving issue.

Internally, the Rwandan government faced mounting pressure for democratic reform. Rwanda had been in a protracted economic crisis since the late 1980s, largely due to the plummeting of coffee prices on the world market. One of the ten poorest countries in the world, 90 percent of its population engaged in agriculture. In August of 1993, the government, the RPF and the opposition signed a "power sharing" agreement, the Arusha Accord, which temporarily put an end to the fighting. Elements around Rwandan president Juvenal Habyarimana then stalled on the implementation of a coalition government with the RPF, insisting on the inclusion of rabidly anti-Tutsi politicians from the fascistic CDR (Coalition for the Defense of the Republic). Hutu-extremist radio was urging a "final solution" to crush all of the Tutsi "cockroaches." The situation further deteriorated in October 1993, when Melchior Ndadaye, the first Hutu president of Burundi, was assassinated. Following a wave of ethnic violence in Burundi, 200,000 desperate Hutu refugees fled across the Rwandan border. The stage was set.

The Rwandan Genocide Begins

On April 6, 1994, the plane of the Rwandan president was shot down, most likely by Hutu extremist forces in the military. This signaled the start of the killing. The central force behind the genocide was the akazu, which means "little house" in Kinyarwandan. A military and government faction centered on the family of the president's wife, this grouping had long enjoyed substantial French backing. Like many African ruling groups, its privilege derived almost entirely from control of state power, which allowed it to skim foreign aid, tax agricultural exports, shake down local businesses and run smuggling operations. This grouping saw the power-sharing agreement with the RPF and the prospect of an open election as a direct threat to its existence as a core element of the state apparatus.

During the first stage of the genocide, the elite presidential guard assassinated opposition figures, especially moderate Hutu from the south of the country. Then the death squads of the Interahamwe ("those who attack together") moved through the countryside, often mobilizing landless peasants and refugees. The Interahamwe had originally been established as the youth group of the main government party. The orders were given by the akazu. Catholic clergy and schoolteachers played a key role in identifying Tutsi victims. Hundreds of thousands of Rwandans, maybe more, took part in this minutely choreographed savagery. There was scattered resistance, especially in the south. Some Hutu refused to participate, hiding Tutsi. But these instances were exceptional. Others saved friends or colleagues and then joined the mass pogroms.

It torments the intellect that so many Hutu killed their neighbours, friends, lovers, families. In a country plummeting into anarchy, torn apart by four years of civil war, untold numbers faced starvation. Desperate and driven out of their homes by the RPF advance, many killed for land and cattle. With a gun to their head, some killed in order to save their own lives. Others feared that the return of the Tutsi armed forces would lead to the reestablishment of the monarchy and the loss of what little land they had left. Decades of pogroms, chauvinist propaganda and interethnic murder have created societies in central Africa where social conflict plays itself out in the grim dialectic of racial slaughter. This is the ultimate legacy of colonial rule.

Genocide and the Marxist View of History

In a letter to a Russian leftist, Marx's life-long collaborator Friedrich Engels wrote: "But history is about the most cruel of all goddesses, and she leads her triumphal car over heaps of corpses, not only in war, but also in 'peaceful' economic development" (Letter to Nikolai Danielson, 24 February 1893). Engels is not writing about genocide. He is explaining how the material, scientific and cultural gains that humanity has made under class society—from the Egyptian pyramids to modern industry—have come at terrific cost, consuming the lives of untold numbers of the toiling classes. Every monument to bourgeois civilization is a monument to barbarism—no wonder Africans sometimes speak of capitalism as a form of cannibalism. But Marx and Engels' great insight was that with the advent of science and modern industry, this terrific suffering is no longer historically necessary.

By exponentially increasing the productivity of human labour, industrialization has the potential to eliminate want and scarcity—the struggle over the basic means of survival—which is the origin of man's oppression of other humans. A centralized, rationally planned economy could address the unequal distribution of wealth internationally and draw the billions of poor and desperately impoverished around the world into the economic, scientific, cultural and artistic work of creating a fundamentally new society. However, this potential is crippled by the capitalist system, where the application of technology is enslaved to the pursuit of profits, and where competition between capitalists produces economic anarchy. The industrial working class, whose labour creates almost all wealth, has both the power and historic responsibility to rip the means of production out of the bourgeoisie's hands. This is why Marxists see the working class as the fundamental force for progressive social change.

The genocide in Rwanda had nothing to do with the costs of historic progress, but was ultimately the consequence of a decaying system turning in on itself. Rwanda had no working class to speak of and modern industry scarcely existed. The social power Marxists look to, the proletariat, whose material interests transcend racial and ethnic divisions, was simply absent.

In the age of the great mercantile empires, European capitalism tore over 12 million people out of the African continent in the hellish "Middle Passage" to the American slave plantations. During the late 19th century, it conquered the continent with the assistance of the Gatling gun, plundering Africa's resources and impressing millions of Africans into forced labour. Reinforcing the most reactionary and oppressive aspects of pre-colonial societies, colonialism opened the continent to imperialist capitalism, while failing to extend the benefits of the industrial revolution—paid for in significant measure with African blood—beyond a few enclaves. The fate of Africa was chained to the world market and foreign capital.

The modest economic growth and social development that occurred in many countries following independence was devastated during the global economic crisis of the 1970s and the catastrophic economic collapse throughout Africa in the 1980s. To the imperialists, Africa is a "failed" continent, its population a write-off in the blue books of world finance. The explosive alloy of mass desperation and racial chauvinism is not unique to Rwanda. It can and will happen again. The end of Engels' letter which I quoted above reads: "And we men and women are unfortunately so stupid that we never can pluck up courage to a real progress unless urged to it by sufferings that seem almost out of proportion." Without socialism, we face the continuing descent into barbarism.

Imperialist Complicity at Every Step

The great lie surrounding the Rwandan genocide is that foreign intervention would have prevented this catastrophe. In fact, foreign intervention did occur—again, and again, and again. Viewing the Tutsi RPF as tools of the "Anglo-Americans," the French ruling class backed the Habyarimana regime to the hilt. Shortly after the beginning of the war, the government of François Mitterrand sent in 600 troops who assisted in interrogating prisoners, transported massive military aid and managed roadblocks, demanding "Vous êtes Tutsi ou Hutu?" The French underwrote the financial risk of weapons deliveries from Egypt and brokered an arms deal with South Africa. At one point, French officers took complete control of counterinsurgency operations. Throughout this period, hundreds of Hutu opponents of the regime were arrested, and thousands of Tutsi civilians were murdered by the Rwandan army.

The IMF, the World Bank and foreign governments actually increased foreign aid to the Hutu regime during the war. (Rwanda was the number one per capita recipient of Canadian aid.) The UN-brokered Arusha Accord—which like all such agreements was incapable of addressing the fundamental causes of the conflict—in the end only provided breathing space for the génocidaires to organize.

In his book Shake Hands with the Devil (2004), Roméo Dallaire meticulously describes the cynical indifference of the imperialist powers towards the fate of the Rwandan people. In detailed memoranda to the UN headquarters in New York, Dallaire warned that death squads were being organized and described the progress of the genocide. The UN stopped him from intervening. Every suggestion aimed at arresting the progress of the killing was deliberately obstructed. His indictment of the UN's role is worth quoting. He writes of the

"...suffering, mutilation, rape, and murder of 800,000 Rwandans, with the help of the member nations of the only supposedly impartial world body. Ultimately, led by the United States, France and the United Kingdom, this world body aided and abetted genocide in Rwanda. No amount in cash and aid will ever wash its hands clean of Rwandan blood."

Dallaire is an imperialist officer who loyally served Ottawa for decades, including in the occupation of Quebec during the 1970 October Crisis. He is far from our idea of a hero. But he was honestly driven to the edge of madness by the staggering reality of the genocide and Western racism. His book contains moments of furious honesty, like the description of Belgian troops sitting in a local bar, bragging that they know what to do with African "n-----s" and about how many hundreds of people they killed during the UN's "peacekeeping" mission in Somalia. Yet Dallaire dedicates his book to these same soldiers.

His story is populated by complacent, silk-tied UN diplomats who live in palatial mansions and drive black Mercedes while refugees starve near their doorsteps. After the genocide, someone from the Clinton administration told Dallaire that it would take the deaths of 85,000 Rwandans to justify risking the life of a single U.S. soldier, expressing the imperialists' racism to the fifth decimal place. These are the same imperialists Dallaire appeals to, pleading with them to abandon "national self-interest" and adopt a humanist approach to foreign policy. Dallaire's book is an argument for how imperialist militarism, if properly deployed, could have saved the day. It is because he passionately believes his case, and because he writes about Rwandans as human beings whose lives have value, that this account is the most dangerous piece of propaganda in the new "humanitarian imperialism" crusade.

Three months into the genocide, the French government launched "Opération Turquoise" when it became clear that its Rwandan clients faced defeat by the RPF. Authorized by a resolution of the Security Council, the French intervention was in part commanded by officers who had recently acted as military advisers for the Hutu-power government. The Interahamwe cheered French troops, while waving the French flag. The French military often stood by in nearby towns while killing went on unabated in the hills a few kilometers away. Since 1994, France has continued its maneuvers, backing various forces in the Congo and the government of Zimbabwe in opposition to the U.S.' new ally in the region, RPF head Paul Kagame.

In Africa, where the imperialists created artificial states containing a multitude of peoples, the rule of a formerly oppressed people like the Tutsis in Rwanda will inevitably entail brutal methods of forced assimilation, expulsion or genocide. As the RPF took power in Kigali, a million refugees flooded into the Congo, spreading the civil war into that country. When the Hutu military began to use refugee camps to regroup, the RPF and its local proxies killed tens of thousands of Hutu refugees in the Eastern Congo. In 1996, the new Tutsi-led Rwandan army, Uganda, Burundi and Eritrea invaded the Congo (then Zaire) with full U.S. backing to overthrow the regime of Mobutu Sese Seko. Canadian corporations like Barrick Gold and Tenke Mining underwrote this effort in order to obtain rights to the country's vast mineral wealth. One Canadian mining executive later told an African employee: "You Congolese must know that this country and all its minerals are not yours but ours."

Rwanda and Uganda invaded the Congo again in 1998, exacerbating a multi-sided regional war that plunged the Eastern Congo into chaos. The plunder has been so systematic that Rwanda has become an exporter of diamonds. There is not a single diamond mine in all Rwanda. In Rwanda, disappearances and summary executions are now common. A wave of Hutu and Tutsi government politicians has fled the country, fearing imprisonment or murder at the hands of the RPF. All of this has occurred with the knowledge, complicity and direct aid of the same imperialist powers that people like NDP stalwart Stephen Lewis and Roméo Dallaire are now calling on to intervene in Darfur.

Sudan: Colonialism, the Cold War and the "War on Terror"

Sudan is the largest country in Africa, roughly the size of the United States east of the Mississippi, with a population of nearly 30 million people. Over a hundred languages and dialects are spoken, the most common being Arabic in the north and Dinka in the south. Islam was probably introduced to the north in the same fashion as the rest of sub-Saharan Africa, first through commercial networks and later the adoption of Islam and elements of Arabic culture by the indigenous ruling class. Fictional Arab genealogies became markers of elite status.

Northern and southern Sudan were first drawn into a single political economy in the 1820s, when the Egyptian army led by Muhammad Ali invaded the country in search of slaves and gold. As Douglas Johnson writes: "The incorporation of the whole of the south as the state's exploitable hinterland, the intensification of racial stratification and the widespread identification of people from the south with low status were thus consequences of the economic and political system of Turco-Egyptian colonialism" (The Root Causes of Sudan's Civil Wars, 2003). After an Islamic uprising drove Egypt out in the 1880s, Britain conquered the Sudan, instituting a policy to keep the south segregated, welcoming Christian missionaries while banning Islamic proselytizers.

The "Southern Policy" kept the area economically primitive, as the British concentrated economic resources, roads and schools in the north. While giving lip service to the abolition of slavery, the British colonial administration looked the other way while the northern Arab elite kept their slaves. In 1956, under pressure from newly independent Egypt, Britain handed over political power to the northern ruling class. In anticipation of this perfidy, an army battalion in the south rebelled, presaging the first of two civil wars that have continued until today.

The bourgeois press repeats simplistic clichés about "Arab versus African" or "Muslim versus Christian," feeding into the anti-Arab racism of the "war on terror." But the Sudanese war has been driven by a combination of the historic exploitation of the south, imperialist Cold War geopolitics and the conflict over resources, especially oil. During the early 1980s, Sudan was the third largest recipient of U.S. foreign aid (massively in the form of military assistance and modern weaponry), and was cultivated by the Reagan White House as a regional counterweight to Libya and Soviet-backed Ethiopia. The Islamic fundamentalists and military officers who took power in 1989 through a coup d'etat were once considered CIA "assets" because of their vehement anti-Communism and alliance with the mujahedin fighting the Soviets in Afghanistan. Islam has long been the militant ideology of the northern rulers. Far from being the product of a "clash of civilizations," the south's struggle has been driven by resistance to economic, cultural and political oppression.

The second civil war began in 1983 when the Khartoum government, seeking to maintain control over newly discovered oil reserves in the Upper Nile province, unilaterally abrogated the south's regional status and imposed Islamic sharia law over the entire country. The northern government has frequently pursued this war by arming local Arabic-speaking groups displaced by economic privations and encouraging them to prey on their neighbours. The Sudanese conflict provoked an international outcry in the mid-1990s, after it had come to light that government-backed militias had kidnapped and enslaved more than 15,000 women and children from the south. We have denounced the flagrant role that foreign oil corporations, such as Canada's Talisman (which withdrew in 2003), played in perpetuating this conflict and collaborating with the militias in massacres and forced displacements (see "Why Marxists Oppose UN/Canadian 'Peacekeepers'," SC No. 134, Fall 2002). France's repeated military interventions into neighbouring Chad are part of the broader struggle among the imperialists for control of this region.

No Imperialist/African Union Intervention into Darfur!

Darfur is not part of the south, but consists of three separate provinces in the west of the country. Populated by both agricultural and Bedouin peoples devoted to herding cattle, Darfur's entire population is Muslim. The most marginalized province of Sudan, Darfur has received less in social services, economic aid and government posts than any other region of the country. Alex de Waal explains that in the wake of famine in the mid-1980s, which killed over 100,000 people, conflict over diminishing land and resources exploded into battles between agricultural and nomadic peoples. Resentment against the Khartoum government deepened after the Islamic fundamentalist regime of Hassan al-Turabi took power in 1989. A wave of repression swept the county, including the banning of workers' unions and the total cloistering of women in the cities. In Darfur, the bankrupt local administration attempted to rule through public executions and terror, while the laws regarding access to land were revised. Returning Islamic militants from Libya, exiled under the previous regime, further polarized Darfur along racial lines.

But Turabi also extended his hand to Islamic groupings long despised by the northern Arab elite, like the Sufi and West African Fellata. When Turabi was sidelined by the officer corps in the late 1990s, many of his supporters went into opposition against the government, producing a "Black Book" documenting the ongoing marginalization of Darfur. In April 2003, a coalition of secular and Muslim organizations launched an audacious assault against a government military installation, taking an Air Force general hostage. The government responded by supplying arms to Arab militias, called the janjaweed. The militias have murdered, raped and physically branded speakers of Fur, Tunjur, Masalit and Zaghawa, while uprooting their fruit trees and destroying irrigation systems.

Marxists denounce these crimes in the strongest possible terms. But the UN's plan to send over 10,000 "peacekeeping" troops to Sudan, based overwhelmingly in the south, has absolutely nothing to do with "humanitarian" concerns over this carnage. The imperialist powers want to shore up the unstable peace agreement between the north and the south, although they would prefer to subcontract out as much of the work as possible to the states of the African Union, particularly South Africa and Nigeria.

Dominated by the U.S.' South African junior partner, the African Union is otherwise composed of neocolonial satraps and client regimes of the imperialist powers. African Union intervention, pushed throughout Africa as a nationalist alternative to the UN, is simply imperialist occupation at one remove. UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan has repeatedly called to implement starvation sanctions against Sudan. Unlike Rwanda, U.S. imperialism has pressing strategic concerns in Sudan, especially the control of oil reserves in the south and the political stabilization of a country long infamous as a refuge for Islamic fundamentalist groups like Al Qaeda. This is UN "peacekeeping" as a cover for the "war on terror." We demand: No U.S./UN/African Union intervention! All occupying troops out! No to UN sanctions!

Africa and the Collapse of the Soviet Union

The Soviet Union, the first workers state in history, provided a crucial military counterweight to U.S. imperialism. Despite its political degeneration under the Stalin bureaucracy, we fought to defend the Soviet Union. We recognized that its destruction would deliver a staggering blow to working and oppressed peoples across the globe. At the same time, we sought to build Trotskyist parties in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe to remove the Stalinist bureaucrats and return these countries to the path of socialism.

For millions of working people around the world, the Soviet Union represented the possibility for a radically different kind of society, one with no unemployment or homelessness, with universal health care and free education for all. That the USSR went from an overwhelmingly peasant country suffocated by the archaic institutions of tsarist absolutism to the second most powerful military and industrial state in the world had enormous significance in Africa. Even pro-capitalist African nationalists looked to countries like Yugoslavia, whose multiethnic population lived together in peace under Tito's bureaucratically deformed workers state. The USSR gave military assistance to the South African ANC in the struggle against apartheid, while Cuba sent troops to Angola, routing the U.S.-backed South African army and its puppets. The Soviet Union took dock workers from Senegal, like the world famous novelist and director Ousmane Sembene, and trained them in how to make films.

As Soviet leader Gorbachev moved to conciliate U.S. imperialism in the mid-1980s, Soviet aid to Africa began to dry up. The U.S. made clear that with the end of the Cold War, it would no longer bother to prop up its former African puppets. Since the Soviet Union's destruction in 1991-92, a quarter of Africa's countries have been plunged into war and social disintegration, while the rest of the continent is in the grip of an intractable economic and political crisis. The aftermath has been apocalyptic: a rise in witchcraft accusations and the murder of young women; the spread of fundamentalist Islam and Christianity, often intermixed with reactionary practices such as the bride price and female genital mutilation; the complete devastation of the small urban labour forces; forced labour; land shortages and rural conflict. Starting in the late 1970s-early '80s, IMF structural adjustment programs have devastated the meager social services. Famine and the AIDS pandemic threaten the eradication of tens of millions of people across the continent.

Especially since the collapse of the Soviet Union, it has become common for leftists to call on the imperialist powers to play a "humanitarian role." Feminists like the recently deceased Susan Sontag cheered the NATO bombing of Serbia. The self-professed anarchist professor Noam Chomsky called for sanctions against Iraq and he regularly appeals to the supposed principles of "international law." In a recent article, the Canadian International Socialists lamely recite the liberal line that "the Great Powers stood by and did nothing" during the Rwandan genocide (Socialist Worker, 5 January). In France, the fake-Trotskyist Ligue Communiste Révolutionnaire and the supposedly anti-state anarchists of the CNT have provided a cover for imperialist machinations in Africa, signing a statement that calls on the African Union to supplant French troops now occupying the Ivory Coast. Their excuse for lobbying on behalf of these imperialist-backed thugs and dictators? Foreign troops are necessary to avoid another Rwanda. All of these people have fed into the lie that imperialism can come to the aid of the downtrodden.

Imperialism and Permanent Revolution

For revolutionary Marxists, "imperialism" is not simply an evocative characterization of Western foreign policy or the acts of individual corporations—grotesque as they may be. In Toronto, we have gone on protests to denounce the participation of Canadian security firms in the Iraq occupation in order to draw attention to the role of our "own" bourgeoisie. But we do not believe that altering individual company or government policies is a strategy for defending oppressed and subjugated peoples. Imperialism is—in Lenin's words—the highest stage of capitalism. In the late 19th century monopolies, banks and finance capital came to play a predominant role in the functioning of the international economy. Since then, the world has been divided into spheres of influence manipulated and controlled by the main capitalist powers and their junior allies, like Canada. There is no hope of reforming imperialism. It must be overthrown.

As Russian Marxist Leon Trotsky argued in his theory of permanent revolution, the venal despots who run the colonial and neocolonial world are incapable of raising the economic development of their countries to the level of the advanced industrial world. Contrary to the NGOs and "development" agencies, lack of democracy in underdeveloped countries does not derive from the absence of "civil society." Caught between the seething masses and the dictates of their imperialist paymasters, democracy is a luxury the rulers of Africa can hardly afford.

Drawing on the experience of the 1917 October Revolution, Trotsky argued that the fight for national emancipation from imperialism and the struggle for democracy falls to the industrial working class in countries of belated capitalist development. And once the working class has seized power, it cannot stop at these tasks, but must move to destroy private property and establish a workers state. To survive and flourish, a socialist revolution in such a country must be extended to the imperialist heartlands.

But what about countries like Rwanda or Sudan where the working class is weak or non-existent? As Trotsky wrote in The Permanent Revolution (1930): "Then the struggle for national liberation will produce only very partial results, results directed entirely against the working masses.... A backward colonial or semi-colonial country, the proletariat of which is insufficiently prepared to unite the peasantry and take power, is thereby incapable of bringing the democratic revolution to its conclusion." In such cases, there is no purely internal solution. The destiny of these countries is directly tied to the international class struggle, in the first instance to those countries in the region that do have important proletarian concentrations.

In South Africa there exists a powerful labour movement, whose ranks contain many adherents of a socialist vision of society. Since it came to power in 1994, we have characterized the ANC government as "neo-apartheid," underlining that the ANC serves as black frontmen for the same white capitalist rulers. The fundamental contours of South African capitalism are unchanged, while black unemployment, now 50 percent, and poverty have worsened. An estimated 5.3 million South Africans are HIV positive and the death rates are so high that the cemeteries are overflowing. But the ANC government has pursued a deadly policy of denying that HIV causes AIDS and obstructing access to treatment. In a country that produces over 50 percent of sub-Saharan Africa's economic output, instead of science and medicine, government ministers recommend the sangomas—traditional "healers"—whose treatments for AIDS are often lethal.

There is searing anger at the base of South African society. But working-class struggle is blocked by the false leaders of the working class, especially the South African Communist Party and the COSATU trade-union tops who sit in the government administering capitalist austerity. Socialist revolution in South Africa would reverberate around the world, especially among black workers and in the impoverished ghettos of the U.S.

The last two decades have witnessed the near devastation of the limited industrial growth once achieved by many African countries. But small concentrations of industrial workers still exist throughout the continent. An international revolutionary party would link their struggles with the social power of the workers movement north of the Sahara and throughout the Near East. The hundreds of thousands of African immigrants who are a major component of the working class in France and elsewhere in Europe are a critical bridge for the international extension of the revolution, wherever it begins.

The final liberation of the Third World will require the destruction of capitalism in the imperialist countries. The workers of North America, Europe and Japan owe a tremendous historical debt to the oppressed masses of Africa, Latin America and Asia. Only after the working class in the imperialist countries has taken power will the social resources, technology and scientific expertise finally become available to begin addressing the plight of the African masses.

Today, solidarity with the struggles of those targeted by imperialism must begin with opposition to our "own" capitalist rulers. The Trotskyist League fights for defense of the Palestinians, opposes the murderous U.S. occupation of Iraq and exposes the crimes of the Canadian bourgeoisie whose troops are participating in the occupation of Haiti and Afghanistan. We denounce those on the left and in the labour movement who push the lie that Canadian imperialism or the UN can play any kind of progressive role, a lie whose purpose is to reconcile Canadian workers with their exploiters. We fight to build the revolutionary internationalist workers party that will bring the fighting power of labour to bear in the struggle against every manifestation of oppression and state tyranny. We demand: No imperialist/African Union intervention into Sudan! All UN/U.S./Canadian troops out of Africa!

Spartacist Canada No. 144

SC 144

Spring 2005


Imperialist Crimes in Rwanda and Sudan

No UN/U.S./Canadian Intervention in Africa!


Why the Antiwar Movement Didn't Stop the War

Down With Colonial Occupation of Iraq!
Canada Out of Afghanistan!


Support Redfern Aboriginal Militants!


Thousands Raised for Class-War Prisoners

Partisan Defense Committee Annual Holiday Appeal


Japan: For Trade-Union Mobilizations to Stop Deportations!

Close All Detention Centers!


Labour Must Defend Undocumented Workers

Full Citizenship Rights for All Immigrants!


Cops/York Administration Attack Student Protesters

Cops off Campus!


Free Vancouver Activist Justin Goodman!