Ho Chi Minh

Ho Chi Minh (1890-1969), a pseudonym meaning 'he who enlightens', was the leader of the independence struggle in Vietnam and served as the President of North Vietnam (1945-1969). He was a leader of the anti-colonial struggle in Asia, advocating for revolutionary action long before the establishment of the Community Party in 1930. A short book, "The Selected Works of Ho Chi Minh" (2011), presents a chronological ordering of short works (written between 1922 and 1960). Another book, by Walden Bello, put the work in context (to be covered in a future post). Interestingly, Ho worked on a French ship during the 1910s, taking him to ports in Africa and America. He lived in London and then France, and the first contributions in this book were penned while he was in France (until 1923). The next selection of works were penned in Moscow (until 1924), Guangzhou (until 1927), then Brussels, Paris, Thailand, Hong Kong. After 1930, he led the Indochinese Communist Party. The book offers a glimpse into the thoughts, perspectives and ideas of Ho Chi Minh. A few notes:

1922: "The mutual ignorance of the two proletariats gives rise to prejudices. The French workers look upon the native as an inferior and negligible human being, incapable of understanding and still less of taking action. The natives regard all the French as wicked exploiters. Imperialism and capitalism do not fail to take advantage of this mutual suspicion and this artificial racial hierarchy to frustrate propaganda and divide forces which ought to unite." (p. 10)

1922: "While the life of an Annamese is not worth a cent, for a scratch on the arm, M. Inspector General Reinhardt receives 120,000 francs compensation. Equality! Beloved equality!" (p. 26)

1923: "We have racked our yellow brains in vain, yet we cannot succeed in discovering the reason which led the men and women of France to found the remarkable institution called the 'Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals'. First, the reason escapes us because we see that there are still so many unfortunate human beings who appeal without result for a little care." (p. 43)

1924: "The same system of pillage, extermination and destruction prevails in the African regions under Italian, Spanish, British or Portuguese rule. In the Belgian Congo, the population in 1891 was 25 million, but it had fallen to eight and a half million by 1911. The Hereros and Cama tribes in the former German colonies in Africa were completely exterminated. 80,000 were killed under German rule and 15,000 were killed during the 'pacification' period in 1914. The population of the French Congo was 20,000 in 1894. It was only 9,700 in 1911. In one province there were 10,000 inhabitants in 1910. Eight years later there remained only 1,080. In another province with 40,000 black inhabitants, in only two years, 20,000 people were killed, and in the following six- months 6,000 more were killed or disabled." (p. 78)

1945: "All men are created equal. They are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, among them are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness." This immortal statement was made in the Declaration of Independence of the United States of America in 1776. In a broader sense, this means: All the peoples on the earth are equal from birth, all the peoples have a right to live, to be happy and free. The Declaration of the French Revolution made in 1791 on the Rights of Man and the Citizen also states: "All men are born free and with equal rights, and must always remain free and have equal rights." Those are undeniable truths. Nevertheless, for more than eighty years, the French imperialists, abusing the standard of Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity, have violated our Fatherland and oppressed our fellow-citizens. They have acted contrary to the ideals of humanity and justice. In the field of politics, they have deprived our people of every democratic liberty. They have enforced inhuman laws; they have set up three distinct political regimes in the North, the Center and the South of Vietnam in order to wreck our national unity and prevent our people from being united. They have built more prisons than schools. They have mercilessly slain our patriots; they have drowned our uprisings in rivers of blood. They have fettered public opinion; they have practiced obscurantism against our people. To weaken our race they have forced us to use opium and alcohol. In the field of economics, they have fleeced us to the backbone, impoverished our people, and devastated our land. They have robbed us of our rice fields, our mines, our forests, and our raw materials. They have monopolized the issuing of bank-notes and the export trade. They have invented numerous unjustifiable taxes and reduced our people, especially our peasantry, to a state of extreme poverty. They have hampered the prospering of our national bourgeoisie; they have mercilessly exploited our workers." (p. 85)

1956: "We should not stand in one place and wish for another one" (p. 129)

1956: "We are clearly aware that our common enemy's clamours only betray their fear in face of new forces and new victories. Faced with the ever more perfidious schemes of the imperialist reactionary influence, now more than ever, we must strengthen and develop ideological unity, solidarity among communist and workers' parties, and tirelessly struggle to defend the purity of Marxism-Leninism, which is our common treasury; study and apply correctly the theoretical principles of Marxism-Leninism to the realities of each country. We are confident that under the banner of Marxism-Leninism, victory will certainly be ours." (p. 139)

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Culture and Imperialism

 Edward Said's Orientalism (1978) is a foundational text in critical studies, as of this writing was cited nearly 70,000 times. In 1993 Said wrote Culture and Imperialism, which broadens the view, broadens the literature, and engages more literature from the liberation activists and writers, but is cited less (at of this writing nearly 30,000; which still makes it an extremely well read and cited book). The book is longer than Orientalism, at 492 pages (in my Vintage print), which is expected given the wider scope. From a development studies perspective, the connection might appear limited, as the book focuses largely on literature. However, I think this is essential reading and it challenges how people are portrayed, critically analyzes language, justifications made for 'intervention', and offers great insight for anyone reading (or writing) reports (which are often plagued with horrendous orientalist and colonialist attitudes).

From the Introduction, contextualizing this book in relation to Orientalism:

"What I left out of Orientalism was that response to western dominance which culminated in the great movements of decolnization all across the Third World. Along with armed resistance in places as diverse as nineteenth century Algeria, Ireland, and Indonesia, there also went considerable efforts in cultural resistance almost everywhere, the assertions of nationalist identities, and, in the political realm, the creation of associations and parties whose common goal was self-determination and national independence. Never was it the case that imperial encounter pitted an active Western intruder against a supine or inert non-Western native; there was always some form of active resistance, and in the overwhelming majority of cases, the resistance finally won out." (p. xiv)

"Readers of this book will quickly discover that narrative is crucial to my argument here, my basic point being that stories are at the heart of what explorers and novelists say about strange regions of the world; they also become the method colonized people use to assert their own identity and the existence of their own history. The main battle in imperialism is over land, of course; but when it came to who owned the land, who had the right to settle and work on it, who kept it going, who won it back, and who now plans its future - these issues were reflected, contested, and even for a time decided in narrative." (p. xv)

From the text:

"As I shall be using the term, 'imperialism' means the practice, the theory, and the attitudes of a dominating metropolitan centre ruling a distant territory; 'colonialism', which is almost always a consequence of imperialism, is the implanting of settlements on distant territory... In our time, direct colonialism has largely ended; imperialism, as we shall see, lingers where it has always been, in a kind of general cultural sphere as well as in specific political, ideological, economic, and social practices." (p. 8-9)

"The slow and often bitterly disputed recovery of geographical territory which is at the heart of decolonization is preceded – as empire had been - by the charting of cultural territory. After the period of 'primary resistance', literally fighting against outside intrusion, there comes the period of secondary, that is, ideological resistance, when efforts are made to reconstitute a 'shattered community, to save or restore the sense and fact of community against all the pressures of the colonial system', as Basil Davidson puts it. This in turn makes possible the establishment of new and independent states." (p. 268)

"One of the first tasks of the culture of resistance was to reclaim, rename and reinhabit the land. And with that came a whole set of further assertions, recoveries, identifications, all of them quite literally grounded in this poetically projected base. The search for authenticity, for a more congenial national origin than that provided by colonial history, for a new pantheon of heroes and (occasionally) heroines, myths, and religions - there too are made possible by a sense of the land reappropriated by its people." (p. 290)

"Fanon foresaw this turn of events. His notion was that unless national consciousness at its moment of success was somehow changed into a social consciousness, the future would hold not liberation but an extension of imperialism. His theory of violence is not meant to answer the appeals of a native chafing under the paternalistic surveillance of a European policeman and, in a sense, preferring the services of a native officer in his place: On the contrary, it first represents colonialism as a totalizing system nourished in the same way" (p. 343).

"In Fanon's world change can come about only when the native, like Lukacs's alienated worker, decides that colonization must end - in other words, there must be an epistemological revolution. Only then can there be movement. At this point enters violence, 'a cleansing force,' which pits colonizer against colonized directly" (p. 347)

"The most disheartening thing about the media — aside from their sheepishly following the government policy model, mobilizing for war right from the start — was their trafficking in 'expert' Middle East lore, supposedly well informed about Arabs. All roads lead to the bazaar; Arabs only understand force; brutality and violence are part of Arab civilization; Islam is an intolerant, segregationist, 'medieval', fanatic, cruel, anti-women religion." (p. 379-380)

"For two generations the United States has sided in the Middle East mostly with tyranny and injustice. No struggle for democracy, or women's rights, or secularism and the rights of minorities has the United States officially supported. Instead one administration after another has propped up compliant and unpopular clients, and turned away from the efforts of small peoples to liberate themselves from military occupation, while subsidizing their enemies. The United States has prompted unlimited militarism and (along with France, Britain, China, Germany, and others) engaged in vast arms sales everywhere in the region" (p. 386)

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Sankara, An African Revolutionary

If you have heard of Thomas Sankara but don't know much about him and his life, Ernest Harsch's "Thomas Sankara: An African Revolutionary" (2014) is a useful introduction. However, the book is quite brief (152 pages in a small sized book) - it is part of the Short Histories of Africa series. For a more detailed understanding, I would recommend the publication of his speeches and writings (which I will blog about in a future post). What this book does, which his speeches and writings do not, is provide some context, such as his time in Madagascar). Some notes:

"Sankara advanced his political education through more than books and discussions. He was able to personally witness revolutionary change. His last year in Madagascar coincided with an unprecedented period of political upheaval marked by peasant revolts, general strikes, huge public demonstrations against a conservative pro-French regime, and finally a military takeover that steadily brought ever more radical officers into high positions of power." (p. 28)

"There was little difference between colonial rule and "neocolonial society," Sankara said, except that some nationals had taken over as the agents of foreign domination. While the twenty-three years of Upper Volta's independence was "a paradise for the wealthy minority, for the majority - the people - it is a barely tolerable hell."" (p. 54)

"Although the northeast had unexploited manganese deposits, the World Bank and other donor agencies considered extension of the railway to be uneconomical, and therefore declined to fund it. The Sankara government hoped to change their minds by building an additional 100 kilometers of track from Ouagadougou to Kaya through its own financing and labor mobilization." (p. 76)

"At a time when many African leaders behaved like supplicants eager to do anything to attract Western financing, the Burkinabe government insisted that national priorities came first. As the five-year plan put it, Burkina Faso's development strategy had to "base itself on national resources, both human and material, to build the new society."" (p. 91)

"Justin Damo Barro, who was finance minister during Sankara's first year, later revealed that he had tried on four occasions to persuade the president to ask for assistance from the International Monetary Fund, but Sankara declined on the grounds that IMF "conditionality" would spell the end of the revolution, by shifting decisions over basic economic policy away from Burkinabe and toward an external entity." (p. 92)

Regarding seeking partnerships with other governments, Sankara said: "What is essential is to develop a relationship of equals, mutually beneficial, without paternalism on one side or an inferiority complex on the other." (p. 112-113)

"...many African countries originally took the loans, at steep interest rates, on the advice of Western financial experts, who ultimately bore responsibility for the mushrooming of the debt. "Those who led us into debt were gambling, as if they were in a casino. As long as they were winning, there was no problem. Now that they're losing their bets, they demand repayment." Individually, African countries would be too weak to refuse to pay, Sankara pointed out. So he proposed that African leaders stand together and create a "united front" against the debt. The OAU never followed Sankara's advice..." (p. 122)

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Handbook of Revolutionary Warfare

One of the great leaders and thinkers of the liberation struggle across Africa was Kwame Nkrumah, who would become President of Ghana. He has penned several works, one of which is "Handbook of Revolutionary Warfare" (1968). Reading this book makes clear why writings such as this are not as commonly on reading lists as are others, as pacifist and co-operative propaganda are tools in the neocolonialist enterprise. Nkrumah is notably absent from lists of African authors with the most mentions. A full copy of the book appears to be available here. Some notes:

"capitalism proceeded to introduce not only internal reforms, but external reforms designed to raise the extra money needed for the establishment and the maintenance of the welfare state at home. In other words, modern capitalism had come to depend more heavily than before on the exploitation of the material and human resources of the colonial territories." (p. 5)

"as far as the imperialists are concerned the real solution to the problem of continued exploitation through concessions and reform lies in the concept of "sham-independence". A state can be said to be a neo-colonialist or client state if it is independent de jure and dependent de facto. It is a state where political power lies in the conservative forces of the former colony and where economic power remains under the control of international finance capital. In other words, the country continues to be economically exploited by interests which are alien to the majority of the ex-colonised population but are intrinsic to the world capitalist sector. Such a state is in the grip of neocolonialism. It has become a client state." (p. 7-8)

"Psychological attacks are made through the agency of broadcasting stations like the BBC, Voice of Germany, and above all, Voice of America, which pursues its brainwashing mission through newsreels, interviews and other "informative" programmes at all hours of the day and night, on all wavelengths and in many languages, including "special English". The war of words is supplemented by written propaganda using a wide range of political devices such as embassy bulletins, pseudo "revolutionary" publications, studies on "nationalism" and on "African socialism", the literature spread by the so-called independent and liberal publishers, "cultural" and "civic education" centres, and other imperialist subversive organisations. The paper war penetrates into every town and village, and into the remotest parts of the "bush". It spreads in the form of free distributions of propaganda films praising the qualities of western civilisation and culture. These are some of the ways in which the psychological terrain is prepared." (p. 17)

"The problem is not whether one is born or is not born a natural revolutionary fighter. The problem is not whether revolutionaries are naturally suited to Africa, or Africa to revolutionary warfare. Predestination of this sort never exists. The fact is that revolutionary warfare is the key to African freedom and is the only way in which the total liberation and unity of the African continent can be achieved." (p. 20-21)

"The nationalist phase is a necessary step in the liberation struggle, but must never be regarded as the final solution to the problem raised by the economic and political exploitation of our peoples. For nationalism is narrow in its application. It works within the geopolitical framework produced by the colonial powers which culminated in the carveup agreed upon in 1884 at the Berlin Conference, where today's political maps of Africa were drawn. The various peoples of Africa cannot be, and historically never have been, confined behind rigid frontiers sealing off territories labelled "Nigeria", "Togo", "Senegal", and so on. The natural movements of the African peoples and of their societies have from time immemorial swept along extensive axes as for example from the Nile to the Congo, from Senegal to the Niger, and from the Congo to the Zambesi." (p. 25)

"The struggle will entail hardship and suffering, but it is a phase through which we must pass if we are to accelerate the achievement of a radical, qualitative transformation of the liberation movement." (p. 59)

"Instead of promoting hierarchic, coercive and follow-like sheep relationships, our training will seek to develop an intelligent, egalitarian, critical and self-critical outlook within the armed forces. Our fighters will be self-disciplined, revolutionary men and women." (p. 70)

"Discipline. There must be no abuse of power of any kind. A freedom fighter who steals, loots, rapes or commits any other crime against the community must be tried and severely punished. It should be explained that such a breakdown in discipline endangers the whole revolutionary movement. Discipline comes from inner conviction. It is not a gift, but can be acquired by education, exercise and life in the guerrilla unit." (p. 112)

"The fully-trained guerrilla is armed both ideologically and physically for the revolutionary struggle. The tactics of guerrilla warfare rest in the main with him. With the support of the masses, and with unified direction of the revolutionary party, he is invincible." (p. 122)

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