From Mobutu to Kabila
For Workers Revolution in Africa!
In the middle of May, the forces of Laurent Kabila overthrew the decrepit regime of Mobutu Sese Seko (who died September 7) in Zaire, now again named Democratic Republic of Congo. The fall of the dictator who for more than three decades acted as the linchpin for the African intrigues of the imperialist powers marks the end of an epoch. He was one of the last of the “Big Men” installed by imperialism to safeguard its interests after the end of direct colonial rule at the beginning of the 1960s. Mobutu was a former police informer and sergeant in the Belgian colonial militia, the Force Publique, who following “independence” was named head of the army of the Congo-Kinshasa. As Washington’s man, he played a key role in the assassination of Patrice Lumumba, the radical nationalist leader who gave the chills to the Western capitals. With the aid of the CIA, Mobutu took over in a coup d’état in 1965. His authoritarian regime stayed in power through a combination of ferocious repression against any leftist opposition, and systematic corruption of a docile elite, the Zairean kleptocracy.
During the Cold War, Mobutu served Washington and Paris as their gendarme for the vast Central African region, propping up other puppet dictators like Bokassa in the Central African Republic and Idi Amin in Uganda while he was harassing regimes aligned with the Soviet Union, such as Angola. He served as a base and rearguard for the Angolan marionettes of apartheid South Africa and the CIA: Jonas Savimbi’s UNITA. In exchange for these services rendered, he accumulated a fortune of billions of dollars raked off the considerable “aid” from the imperialist masters to their Third World satraps. But as a result of the counterrevolution that swept through East Europe and the USSR during 1989-92, Mobutu ceased to fill a vital function in a U.S.-dominated “New World Order.” Washington eliminated its subsidies to Mobutu in 1991, and the already run-down Zairean economy plunged into an abyss. All that was needed was a push to bring down the decrepit dictatorship. Kabila was the man picked for the job.
Picked by whom?
The bourgeois press presents the image of the guerrilla vs. the president for life. Kabila was supposedly the man who came out of nowhere, the Guevarist guerrilla who went into the rain forest in the middle of the 1960s and didn’t reappear until the mid-’90s. The Economist (17 May), the spokesman for the London bankers, wrote (with its usual sarcasm): “A failed Marxist revolutionary from a bygone rebellion, he was plucked from the footnotes of post-colonial history by the leaders of Rwanda and Uganda when they needed someone to lead the Tutsi uprising in eastern Zaire.” When Kabila rejected the insistent requests from Washington to negotiate the departure of Mobutu and form a coalition with the “moderate” opposition around Étienne Tshisekedi, there was a rash of alarmist articles from the unofficial mouthpieces for the Western foreign ministries demanding that the new ruler of Congo-Kinshasa hold “democratic elections” soon. In a knee-jerk reaction, much of the left praised the self-proclaimed president Kabila and his “Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of the Congo” (AFDL).
However, contrary to right-wing sectors of the bourgeois press and a large part of the left, Kabila did not lead a leftist guerrilla movement but rather offered himself as a new neo-colonial bourgeois ruler, less corrupt and more effective than his predecessor Mobutu, in order to better serve the interests of imperialism. His troops are not peasants rebels but instead consist largely of units detached from the regular armies of Rwanda and Uganda. They are commanded by their officers, some of whom were trained in U.S. military academies. Kabila signed fat contracts with U.S. mining companies, for which he received millions in cash, as well as vital logistical aid. After conquering the capital of Kinshasa, he immediately outlawed all political activity by forces other than his AFDL and unleashed repression against any outbreak of popular protest. In short, one pro-imperialist dictator has been replaced by another.
Kabila’s troops have carried out numerous massacres of Rwandan Hutu refugees, whom they chased out of the refugee camps. In the tiny Central African countries of Rwanda and Burundi, to the east of the Congo-Zaire, ethnic categories and caste divisions overlap, leading to a particularly explosive social situation amid economic decline. The traditional domination of the Tutsis, historically portrayed as herders and warriors, over the typically peasant Hutus was intensified under Belgian colonialism. At the time of independence, in 1959-61, there was a Hutu uprising in Rwanda, driving several hundred thousand Tutsis into exile. Three decades later, a Tutsi exile army reconquered the country. The defeated regime, dominated by the most reactionary bourgeois Hutu chauvinists, unleashed a genocide in 1994 that killed over half a million Tutsis and “moderate” Hutus before fleeing the country. Now the new rulers of Rwanda are establishing a Tutsi ascendancy in the region. In revenge for the 1994 genocide, they unleashed an offensive against the refugee camps in Zaire, killing not only former soldiers and militia members connected with the previous regime, but also indiscriminately slaughtering any Hutus they found. One genocide was followed by another, which is still underway.
In the fighting between Kabila’s Rwandan/Ugandan-supplied army and Mobutu’s disintegrating praetorian guard, proletarian revolutionaries would have given no support, political or military, to either side. Both represented neo-colonial bourgeois forces. Against the recently installed capitalist regime of “democratic” Congo-Zaire, the principal task must be to work for the formation of a revolutionary workers party, based on the Trotskyist program of permanent revolution and closely tied to the powerful proletariat of South Africa. Black workers played the key role in the struggle against apartheid slavery, but their hopes of social liberation were betrayed by the bourgeois-nationalist African National Congress (ANC) under Nelson Mandela. At first allied with former apartheid president F.W. De Klerk, today Mandela’s ANC governs alone thanks to the nationalist popular front with the COSATU union federation and the South African Communist Party (SACP), which subjugates the workers to their exploiters.
Both in South Africa and in the Congo, the absence of a revolutionary leadership has led to one defeat after another. Whether it is Mobutu or Kabila who is in charge in Kinshasa, the bourgeois rulers are loyal servants of international big capital. In order to overthrow not only the current dictator but the whole system of imperialist domination an internationalist struggle will be necessary, extending to the south to the mines and factories of the South African Witwatersrand, to the rest of the African continent and to the imperialist centers of Europe, the U.S. and Japan. It is necessary to expropriate the real masters of the Congo and its fabulous wealth: the diamond kings, the copper conglomerates, the mining magnates who control the uranium, zinc and strategic metals like titanium and cobalt, which are indispensable for the imperialist war industries. Thus revolutionary struggle in the Congo must be an integral part of the fight for a world party of socialist revolution.
When Africa was divided among the various European powers in the Berlin Conference (1884-85), Belgium grabbed the juicy prize of the Congo. At first its colonial rule was carried out under the cynical name of the Congo Free State, which was administered as a private fiefdom by Leopold II, king of the Belgians. The only freedom that existed in that realm of brutal oppression was that enjoyed by the big capitalist monopolies, above all the Americans Guggenheim, Morgan and Rockefeller, who penetrated the Congo in search of rubber, palm oil and other tropical products. The agents of King Leopold regimented the indigenous population into what amounted to a vast concentration camp, imposing labor conscription and massacring those who put up even minimal resistance. It was a system of state slavery, and over the space of 20 years it reduced the population of the Congo from some 25 million human beings to 15 million. Under the name of Europe’s “civilizing mission” one of the greatest genocides of history was carried out.
At the beginning of the century, this personal rule was turned into a more typical colony, in which mercantile interests dominated. After World War I, the Belgian monopolies introduced mass production in extractive industries, organizing huge plantations and opening mines in the areas of Katanga (copper) and Kasai (diamonds). As a result, a working class was formed: the number of wage workers rose to over 500,000 in 1941. By the 1950s, the Belgian Congo had the second largest proletariat on the continent after South Africa. In order to control the enormous African territories, many times the size of tiny Belgium, the colonial administrators imposed rigid controls. While enrolling 60 percent of children in primary school, Belgian authorities severely limited secondary education, and by the end of the 1950s there were only 100 Congolese university students. In contrast with the British empire, which carefully prepared an indigenous elite to administer its interests when the time came, in the Congo independence came amid tumultuous unrest and the sudden collapse of the colonial regime in 1960.
However, the first nationalist movements had already begun to form. In 1956, the head of the Association of the Lower Congo (Abako), Joseph Kasavubu, came out for independence, and the next year he was elected burgomestre (mayor) of Leopoldville, now Kinshasa. The Congolese National Movement (MNC) was founded, led by a former postal clerk from Stanleyville (now Kisangani), Patrice Lumumba. But at the time of independence the country exploded in a conflict between federalists, grouped around the president, Kasavubu, and partisans of a more centralized state, led by the prime minister, Lumumba. As a result of his fiery anti-colonial speeches, Lumumba was hated by the imperialists. Boycotted by the West, he turned to the Soviet Union, from which he received some limited aid. Patrice Lumumba was no revolutionary but a petty-bourgeois nationalist like Kwame Nkrumah in Ghana, or Sékou Touré in French Guinea. Nevertheless, fearing that a mass anti-colonial movement could quickly radicalize and seeing the Congo as key to the anti-Soviet Cold War in Africa, Washington decided to eliminate Lumumba.
At that point, the United Nations intervened, acting as an instrument of U.S. policy. Kasavubu dismissed Lumumba, who was placed under UN “protection” while the CIA elaborated its plans to assassinate him. At the end of 1960, Mobutu (who had been named army chief by Lumumba) carried out a coup d’état at the head of the colonial Force Publique, whose Belgian commanders were still in place. His troops captured Lumumba, who was turned over to the Katanga separatists under Moïse Tshombé to be shot. In this “Congo crisis” fabricated by the imperialist powers, the country was dismembered by regional civil wars while peasant guerrilla struggles spread, such as the uprising led by Pierre Mulele (pro-China) in the Kasai. But they were defeated by Mobutu, using European and South African mercenaries, and with copious aid from the U.S. (including USAF planes to transport troops into Kisangani). In 1965, General Mobutu promoted himself to president and established his regime that lasted until May 1997.
From the colonial “Free State” to semi-colonial “independence,” Congo-Zaire has remained under the boot of the capitalist empires. During the Cold War, the U.S. and European imperialists saw Zaire (which borders on ten countries) as the pivot for their control of Africa, and for a quarter century political life was frozen under the dead hand of Mobutu. Following the destruction of the Soviet Union, the “Supreme Guide” lost his geostrategic value. Now a new bourgeois ruler has appeared, Kabila, offering his services to the imperialist masters. Under the new regime, a revolutionary proletarian vanguard warn against any illusions in or political support for either Kabila’s AFDL or the “moderate” bourgeois opposition of ex-Mobutuists.
Various centrist pseudo-Trotskyist groups talk of immediately organizing general strikes and even soviets in Kinshasa and the copper mines. This is cynical play-acting rather than a serious effort to provide a revolutionary program. The fact is that the once sizeable Congolese working class has been devastated, reduced to a small fraction of its former strength, in the economic disaster of Mobutu’s last years. The remaining enterprises, such as the state-owned Gecamines mining company (36,000 workers) and Onatra rail and harbor company, are barely functioning. Copper production has plummeted from 506,000 tons in 1988 to 38,000 tons in 1996. Cobalt production is down from 10,000 tons in ’88 to 4,000 tons last year. Total exports fell from $1.3 billion in 1990 to $176 million in 1994 (Africa Confidential, 25 April). Under these conditions, it is urgent to defend the miners and rail workers unions and other organizations of the exploited masses against attempts by the new government to subjugate them.
As throughout Africa, the Congolese working masses will be able to get rid of imperialist oppression and the legacy of colonialism only through international socialist revolution. The working class must rely only on its own forces, rejecting the programs of class collaboration put forward by the various opportunist leftists, and fighting to assume leadership of the peasant masses and all the oppressed. It is necessary to begin the construction of the nucleus of a Leninist vanguard, based on the Trotskyist program of permanent revolution, of international workers revolution. As we denounce the murderers of Lumumba and the likes of Kabila who today use his name to cloak their neo-colonialist submission to imperialism, Trotskyists wage a political struggle against petty-bourgeois nationalism and for proletarian internationalism. The fight for workers revolution in the Congo and throughout central Africa is only possible in the closest collaboration with the South African proletariat and its vanguard.
As Kabila’s forces were approaching Kinshasa, the rulers in Washington who imagine themselves the masters of a “New World Order” tried to push the new ruler of the Congo-Zaire into a coalition with tried and tested flunkeys of U.S. imperialism. Suddenly there was a spate of articles on the so-called moderate opposition led by Étienne Tshisekedi and his Democratic Union for Social Progress (UDPS). Tshisekedi was described as a “longtime rival to Mobutu,” although in reality he was one of the kept politicians who would occasionally be brought in to clean up the regime’s image when things got hot.
When Kabila turned down the calls for a coalition “transition regime,” the New York Times (17 May) lamented, “U.S. Influence Over Zaire Appears Limited.” The next day, the Times headlined, “Zairean Rebel Chief and His Plans Are Puzzle to West.” This feigned lack of influence in the post-Mobutu Congo is a charade. The United States has been intimately involved in Kabila’s “rebellion” from last year on. While the fact that the “AFDL” military forces were actually led by Rwandan and Ugandan officers was occasionally delicately referred to, and finally confirmed in July by Rwandan strong man Paul Kagamé, U.S. ties to Kabila have generally been hushed up. In particular, they have been disappeared by opportunist leftists who supported Kabila. So let us fill in some of the “blank spaces” in the history of Kabila’s conquest.
To begin with, there are the economic ties. As soon as the AFDL forces took Kisangani, North American mining interests rushed to pay court to Kabila. A marriage of convenience was quickly arranged. One company involved was the Canadian-owned Tenke Mining Corp. which in early May won a contract to develop “what may be the world’s largest copper and cobalt deposits” (Wall Street Journal). In exchange, Tenke transferred $50 million to the Zairean state-owned Gecamines, which in turn started pumping millions of dollars into Kabila’s war effort. Another major player in this rush to line up with the new master of the Congo was America Mineral Fields, which signed a $1 billion contract with the AFDL. Although it is headed by a Briton from Mauritius, Jean-Raymond Boulle, AMF is headquartered in Hope, Arkansas, a tiny burg whose main claim to fame is that it is Bill Clinton’s home town.
Boulle of America Mineral Fields said, “We are always looking for the jackpot. At the moment, it’s in the Congo.” When the AFDL was running low on cash in January, Boulle says, “we went to Kisangani to buy diamonds?to the tune of $100,000 a day?to help the local population” (L’Express, 22 May). “We have never given money to Mr. Kabila,” he piously intones. “He simply has the right to use our plane.” And while the rebel leader was using the AMF Learjet, his military leaders were being ferried around the Congo in planes leased from American, Russian and South African “private” charter companies.
Then there are Kabila’s ministers. Even as the fighting was going on east of Kinshasa, his minister of finance, Mawampanga Mwana, was holding a seminar for 30 businessmen at a hotel in the copper capital of Lubumbashi, Katanga (formerly Shaba). According to the Wall Street Journal (13 May), Mwana “worked a room full of international investors like a free-market virtuoso.” Telling his appreciative audience what they wanted to hear, the former adjunct professor of agricultural economics at the University of Kentucky declared, “What we want to do is make sure investors make a profit.” In attendance were representatives of Goldman Sachs, the First Bank of Boston, Morgan Grenfell and other fund managers from Canada, New York, Europe and South Africa. Before that, the Journal (14 April) reported that “planeloads of foreigners have been landing at Goma,” Kabila’s earlier headquarters, in “a scramble that recalls the grab for wealth 120 years ago in this vast land.”
Mwana is not the only U.S.-trained top official in the new regime. The justice minister, Mwenze Kongolo, is a lawyer who was a graduate student at Temple University and then worked for the Philadelphia district attorney’s office. “A guy who processed bail applications in Philadelphia in December will now supervise the police, immigration service, elections, and provincial government in Africa’s third-largest country,” crowed the Philadelphia Inquirer (26 May) in a burst of hometown pride. And how will Kongolo supervise them? Look at his background. Under top prosecutor Lynne Abrams, the Philadelphia D.A.’s office has been notorious for requesting more death sentences, overwhelmingly against black and Latino prisoners, than any other city in the United States. Foremost among those who have been targeted by this in-grown machine of state murder is Mumia Abu-Jamal, the former Black Panther and radical journalist who is the most prominent death row political prisoner in the United States today. Now Kabila’s minister will get to practice “justice, Philly style” on the Congo.
But supplying the money and the ministers for the new regime is far from the only U.S. contribution to Kabila’s cause. Buried deep in an article lamenting Washington’s purported lack of influence over the new government was the laconic statement: “An American diplomat, Dennis Hankins, the political officer in Kinshasa, had already been at rebel headquarters for more than a month, establishing links with Kabila’s main aides.” And Hankins wasn’t the first emissary to visit the rebels. Sources report from the eastern Congo that during the period when the AFDL had its headquarters in Goma, in November-December of last year, the deputy U.S. ambassador in Kigali (Rwanda), Peter Whaley, had “unlimited and frequent” access to Kabila. This was in the period when the rebels were deciding to expand from a regional insurgency into a drive to topple Mobutu. The American diplomat’s comings and goings at Kabila’s HQ were so constant that the revolt became known locally as “Whaley’s War,” these sources said.
The State Department personnel were not operating on their own account, obviously. In his interview with the Washington Post (9 July) admitting that Rwandan military officers led the “AFDL” army, Rwandan vice president and defense minister Paul Kagamé also revealed that he had gotten the green light from Washington for the campaign. “Kagamé...said that months before war erupted, he warned the United States that Rwanda would take military action against Mobutu’s regime and the refugee camps in eastern Congo,” the Post reported. Kagamé “commended the United States for ‘taking the right decisions to let it proceed’.” In August 1996, the Rwandan leader travelled to New York and Washington where he met with State Department officials and “other people in the Clinton administration,” to inform them of Rwanda’s plans.
As the fighting was progressing, American military officials praised the strategy of Kabila’s campaign, comparing whoever designed it to General Eisenhower in World War II. In fact, the rebel campaign was strikingly similar to Eisenhower’s drive on Nazi Germany, when he first systematically occupied key industrial regions before heading for the capital, Berlin. In the Congo-Zaire, the “rebels” first seized the gold mining areas of the northeast, the diamond center of Muji Mbayi and the copper capital of Lubumbashi, and only then proceeded on to the capital. The similarity to Eisenhower’s strategy is no accident, for the person who initiated and made all the key decisions in the military campaign that overthrew Mobutu, namely Paul Kagamé, was trained at the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. At the time (1990), he was head of military intelligence for the Ugandan army, but he was shortly to become the leader of the Tutsi-dominated Rwandan Patriotic Front in its successful campaign to oust the Hutu regime in Rwanda.
From the time the RPF launched its invasion of Rwanda in 1990, Kagamé and his Tutsi exiles have enjoyed the tacit and often active support of the U.S. government. In trying to dispel the “old rumour, namely that ‘the RPF has been trained by the Americans’,” Gérard Prunier argued in his book. The Rwanda Crisis: History of a Genocide (Columbia University Press, 1994), that Kagamé’s stay at Fort Leavenworth was not so special, there were actually “about nine or ten” Rwandan exile officers from the Ugandan army who went to the United States for training. And this training did not stop then. In response to a question at a March 12 hearing of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, a Pentagon spokesman provided a list of 43 Rwandan military officers and non-coms who had received training in the U.S. or participated in training courses given in Rwanda by the American Navy (Rwanda is landlocked!). Moreover, a July 16 report by the Boston-based organization Physicians for Human Rights on a fact-finding investigation in eastern Congo and western Rwanda stated:
The evidence is overwhelming: the new Kabila regime was “made in U.S.A.,” just as was the Mobutu regime it overthrew. One neo-colonial puppet ruler has been replaced by another. Yet much of the left internationally has praised Kabila and his forces as liberators. Stalinists around the world have saluted the victory of the AFDL over Mobutu. Thus the formerly pro-Moscow American Communist Party (CPUSA) applauds “the revolutionary war, led by Laurent Kabila” (People’s Weekly World, 24 May). The South African Communist Party (SACP), in turn, awarded a prize of two red stars “to the Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Congo-Zaire for sweeping away the corrupt and dictatorial Mobutu regime and producing a sense of unity among the suffering people of Zaire” (Umsebenzi, May 1997).
Some of the formerly pro-Moscow Stalinists have been having some afterthoughts about their support for Kabila as evidence of his U.S. backing accumulated. Thus in the CPUSA’s People’s Weekly World (24 May), William Pomeroy reported on the AFDL’s juicy deals with American mining companies, saying that “they bear the marks of understandings that had been arrived at well in advance,” and that this “has not been the common experience of liberation movements.” But in the same issue, Victor Perlo justified the fat contracts, saying that “dealing with capitalist corporations in order to obtain funds and technology for development” is “in accord with anti-imperialist, progressive governments in today’s world.”
In South Africa, the SACP’s Jeremy Cronin declared: “It is no secret that Laurent Kabila’s forces have been heavily backed and assisted by the US.... From the South African side, we need to be careful that, in our support for democracy and for a minimisation of conflict in Zaire, we do not play into someone else’s agenda.” Yet the month before, SACPer Dale McKinley had hailed Kabila’s Party of the Popular Revolution for forming a paper alliance with other imaginary groups in a “national democratic alliance” whose purpose was “to create a democratic state that breaks with the entrenched system of corruption and neo-colonialism” (Umsebenzi, April 1997).
The very concept of a “democratic” capitalist state in Asia, Africa or Latin America breaking with neo-colonialism is a Stalinist-reformist myth. In this epoch of capitalist decay, breaking the stranglehold of imperialism can only be accomplished through workers revolution, establishing the dictatorship of the proletariat supported by the poor peasantry, led by an internationalist communist party and extending the revolution to centers of world imperialism. This is the heart of the Trotskyist program and perspective of permanent revolution. It holds not only for the Congo but in particular for South Africa, with its powerful black proletariat that is key to revolution throughout the continent. The SACP’s contortions over Kabila reflect its efforts to defend its own treacherous role in propping up the new black bourgeois rulers of South Africa under Nelson Mandela.
But the chorus of hosannas for the new rulers of the Congo doesn’t only come from the Stalinists. The United Secretariat (USec) of the late Ernest Mandel, which claims the title of the Fourth International while it constantly betrays the Trotskyist program, declared in a January 30 statement its “solidarity with the anti-Mobutu and anti-imperialist opposition in its struggle to put an end to the dictatorship.” Following the victory of the rebels, the USec has continued to apologize for Kabila, declaring “we can only approve” of the aid by the Ugandan and Rwandan governments to Kabila, and arguing that “The Alliance is by no means a puppet of the United States” (International Viewpoint, June 1997).
In the interests of building “a democratic and sovereign Congo,” the USec offered advice to Kabila on how to govern the country. Its main demand? For a “monetary reform,” such as the one implemented by the Sandinistas in Nicaragua in 1985, to stop inflation and seize illicit fortunes of Mobutu cronies. A curious recipe, since the FSLN’s monetary policies contributed to its ouster in 1989 elections when the Nicaraguan masses, exhausted by the petty-bourgeois Sandinistas’ austerity and the Yankee imperialists’ economic boycott, voted for an open representative of the bourgeoisie. In calling for “a democratic and pluralist Congo” under Kabila (!), the Mandelites utter not a word about the struggle for workers revolution and socialism.
While the USec is blatantly calling for support to a capitalist regime in the guise of fighting for “democracy,” a hallmark of reformism, a number of centrist pseudo-Trotskyists first hailed Kabila and his AFDL only to later try to cover their tracks when the evidence of U.S. imperialism’s backing became undeniable. Among these was Workers Power in Britain and its international supporters in the League for a Revolutionary Communist International (LRCI). Last December, WP called Kabila “progressive” and declared the insurgency “a legitimate struggle against the pro-imperialist Mobutu dictatorship.” By this spring, WP discovered that Kabila was “clearly not hostile to imperialism’s role in the region per se,” that his opposition to French imperialism was only due to the latter’s support for Mobutu, and thus his aim “coincides with that of the US administration.” Nevertheless, it declared, “Despite the petit-bourgeois leadership of the movement, revolutionaries participate in the struggle of the ADLFCZ to overthrow the rotten Mobutu regime” (LRCI statement, 27 March).
There is a common thread linking the support to Kabila by several varieties of Stalinists and a number of groups which falsely claim to be Trotskyist. While at some level making reference to the heritage of the Russian October Revolution, all of these tendencies have abandoned the program of world socialist revolution which inspired that revolution and which was codified by the early Communist International. In the case of Stalin, the rejection of the Bolsheviks’ internationalist program was codified in the nationalist slogan of building “socialism in one country.” This anti-Marxist conception reflected the outlook of a conservative bureaucratic layer sitting atop the economic foundations of the Soviet workers state and seeking some kind of “peaceful coexistence” with imperialism, whether called by that name or not. This was true not only of the Kremlin Stalinist rulers and their supporters in pro-Moscow CPs around the world, but also of the Yugoslav, Chinese, Cuban, Vietnamese and North Korean Stalinists. Instead of fighting for workers revolution internationally, all varieties of Stalinists have looked for alliances with and given support to various petty-bourgeois and bourgeois nationalist forces.
Bolshevik leader Leon Trotsky founded the Fourth International to uphold the program of the early Comintern against its abandonment by Stalin. However, in the absence of new workers revolutions, over time many groups identifying with Trotskyism have abandoned the program of permanent revolution and instead have brought in Stalinist contraband dressed up in Marxist-sounding phrases, like an “anti-imperialist united front” with petty-bourgeois and bourgeois nationalists. Over the years, the pseudo-Trotskyists gave political support to the Angolan MPLA, the Mozambican FRELIMO and Nelson Mandela’s ANC, all of which once had something of a leftist allure. Today many of those falsely claiming to be Trotskyists have abandoned any vestige of socialist rhetoric and talk only of “democratic” revolution in the neocolonies?while embracing Laurent Kabila, who openly supports “free market” capitalism and is anything but democratic. In fact, Kabila has presided over genocidal mass murder.
Where authentic Trotskyism fights for the class independence of the proletariat, the Stalinists and pseudo-Trotskyists stand for class collaboration, tying the workers and oppressed to the very bourgeois forces who massacre them.
To create the image of the ex-Marxist revolutionary Kabila, the bourgeois press recalls that in the 1960s he participated in a guerrilla struggle in the southeast of the Congo, together with the legendary leader of the Cuban Revolution, Che Guevara. However, what Guevara himself wrote about his ally shows that after a series of encounters, he concluded Kabila was a fraud. Extracts from Guevara’s manuscript about the failed guerrilla struggle in 1965 in the Congo were published in the book by Paco Ignacio Taibo II, Froilán Escobar and Félix Guerra, El año que estuvimos en ninguna parte: La guerrilla africana de Ernesto Ché Guevara (1994). The Argentine guerrilla commented: “The dissention between Kabila and Soumaliot [another leader of Lumumba’s MNC] are increasingly serious, and they use them as a pretext to keep on handing over cities without fighting. I know Kabila enough not to have illusions in him....” Kabila, as the leader of the MNC in the southeast, arranged matters so that he was never at the front, spending all his time in Tanzania, supposedly obtaining arms which never arrived.
It was not just Kabila, but all of the surviving leaders of the Congolese National Movement, Guevara complained, and they saw the fight only in African terms. Yet the Pan-Africanism of the MNC differed little from the Bolivarian Latin American nationalism promoted by Guevara, all of which come down to a perspective of seeking a bloc with supposed “patriotic” elements of the bourgeoisie. Nationalism is the common outlook of all sectors of the petty bourgeoisie, from peasants to shopkeepers and professionals. “African socialism,” such as propounded by Tanzania’s Julius Nyerere, or Nkrumah’s talk of “class struggle in Africa” (after he was overthrown in a 1966 military coup) are nothing but leftist window-dressing for the appetites of those who would be a new capitalist ruling class. The episodic “socialist” rhetoric of some of the nationalist leaders expressed their need to use the state as a machine for the primary accumulation of the capital needed to form a bourgeoisie. The only social basis for a genuine fight against the imperialist system and not just the dictator of the day is the proletariat, whose class interests are international in scope.
After his mid-1960s guerrilla struggle faded, Kabila maintained his influence in southeastern Zaire for years as an isolated “warlord.” Kabila himself says, accurately, “I was never a Marxist-Leninist.” In the ’80s, far from waging guerrilla war against Mobutu, Kabila dedicated himself to selling gold and ivory from his fiefdom, while living in Dar es Salaam, where he used to tool around town in his Mercedes-Benz. In 1988, Kabila visited Mobutu in the Zairean dictator’s jungle palace of Gbadolite to plead for aid to the Southern Sudanese rebels led by John Garang, whose other benefactors included Uganda and the United States.
Taken all together, it is clear that Kabila is no leftist guerrilla, not even a sold-out former leftist, but a direct agent of U.S. interests. So are his godfathers Kagamé in Rwanda and Museveni in Uganda. Last April, Uganda was the first country in Africa to benefit from a special International Monetary Fund program sharply reducing the foreign debt in exchange for carrying out IMF-dictated economic policies. The U.S.’ behind-the-scenes support to Kabila and his Rwandan and Ugandan sponsors reflects the growing U.S. intervention in Africa in recent years, whose purposes include undermining the influence of France. The international edition of Time (14 April) ran an article on “Shaking Up Africa.” The article summed up: “With Museveni as its godfather, this realignment of Africa’s old order tends to be Anglophone in its international voice, pro-American in its diplomacy and obeisant to Adam Smith in its economics. As the old-style Big Men are being pushed aside, so is the influence of France.”
The bloody conflicts in Central Africa in recent years reflect the growing inter-imperialist rivalries in the period following the destruction of the Soviet Union. Although for three decades during the Cold War Mobutu was Washington’s man in central Africa, following the collapse of the Soviet bloc, the U.S. cut off the dollars to the corrupt dictator of Zaire. France, whose zone of influence in west and central Africa consists of a bunch of petty tyrants of the same ilk, supported Mobutu up to the end, as it also supported the Hutu extremist regime in Rwanda when the U.S. was backing the Tutsi-dominated RPF. Now the scenario has been repeated in Congo-Zaire. An article in Newsweek (2 December 1996) began: “Welcome to Rwanda, a Central Africa friend so close to Washington that French diplomats mutter darkly about a plot to create an anglo-phone empire from Cape Town to Cairo.”
Even though the new French government under “Socialist” Lionel Jospin is closing its army bases in Africa and talks of abandoning past policies of unconditional support to petty dictators, the inter-imperialist rivalry is growing. In close cooperation with Mandela’s South Africa, Washington has been on an offensive to expand its economic clout in Africa. The late U.S. secretary of commerce Ron Brown declared in a message to Congress that “from now on the U.S. is not going to give way on African markets to the old colonial powers.” In June, Clinton announced an “Afro-American Partnership for Growth.” Henceforth, Washington wants to host a regular “African-American Economic Forum” to gather U.S. clients on the continent in the way that France has summits of French-speaking African countries.
In this inter-imperialist squabble, the opportunist left has lined up with American imperialism, adopting its hypocritical propaganda about human rights. The leftist apologists for Kabila pretend that the AFDL is a petty-bourgeois mass movement like the Sandinista National Liberation Front in Nicaragua, and they seek to push it to the left. Yet Kabila’s regime came to power not through a peasant guerrilla struggle but on the bayonets of Rwandan and Ugandan army units. The arguments used by phony leftists today to justify their support to Kabila are the same that they used to support Khomeini in Iran in 1979. At that time, they put forward all sorts of “anti-imperialist” slogans to justify their support to a “revolution” which was soon stoning women who didn’t wrap themselves in the suffocating chador (veil covering the entire body), hanging homosexuals and shooting communists, while unleashing a bloodbath against national minorities such as the Kurds and Azeris. Today, Kabila’s troops have been enforcing a dress code by ripping the clothes off women they consider “immodest.”
While the Congolese workers movement has been gravely weakened in recent years, the new regime is far from strong. Internationalist revolutionaries must defend the unions and other workers organizations against attempts by the AFDL government to regiment them. Opportunities may arise to impose workers control of production in the mines and other sectors, and for working-class-led mobilizations against the “free market” policies of the new capitalist rulers. In the face of Kabila’s attempt to erect a new bonapartist dictatorship, proletarian revolutionaries must raise the demand for a revolutionary constituent assembly and the perspective of workers and peasants councils to form the basis for a workers and peasants government, the dictatorship of the proletariat, to expropriate capitalism and undertake socialist measures. The fight for a Congolese workers revolution would quickly spill over national boundaries, extending immediately to the Zambian copper belt, and must be intimately connected to the powerful South African proletariat and closely linked to the struggle for socialist revolution in the imperialist centers.
Already the downfall of Mobutu has shaken up governments across the continent. In Kenya, the heavy-handed authoritarian regime of Daniel arap Moi is tottering. Uganda’s Museveni fancies himself “Bismarck on the Nile,” and backed up by allies in Eritrea, Ethiopia, Rwanda and now Congo, his supporters talk of a United States of Africa to undo the legacy of the European colonialists’ 1885 Berlin Conference. But there will be no “African unity” under capitalism, for even though production is increasingly internationalized, capitalism cannot transcend national boundaries, neither in the imperialist West nor in the neocolonies. From the Cape to Cairo, from Mogadishu to Dakar, the fight must be for a socialist united states of Africa. The fight for workers revolution in Africa requires the unmasking of the false socialists who today would have the working masses bow before their new exploiters, and the construction of Trotskyist parties built in the struggle to reforge the Fourth International as a genuine world party of socialist revolution.
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