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Webinar C.K. Raju: Decolonisation, Islam, and science

Webinar C.K. Raju: Decolonisation, Islam, and science: Eliminating the anti-Islamic biases in mathematics and science: Monday February 15, 2021, 14.00-15.00 Amsterdam time.

How can you decolonize mathematics. What is the relationship between decolonizing math and Islam? Prof. C.K. Raju deals with these questions in a conversation with Sandew Hira, secretary of the Decolonial International Network Foundation.

Click here to download the PDF with more about the content of the Webinar.

Click here for the lastest article of Raju on the subject.

Click here to register for the webinar.

A decolonial view on the storming of Capitol Hill

Sandew Hira,
January 8, 2021[*]

Introduction

The storming of Capitol Hill, the seat of the US government, on January 6 2021 by Trump supporters is a historical event that tells us a lot about where we stand in world history. Many analysts focus on the unprecedented nature of the action and the role of Donald Trump in sabotaging the American democratic system. Van Jones, a CNN political commentator, explained one of the techniques of sabotage in his TED talk titled What if a US presidential candidate refuses to concede after an election?. If Trump would decide not to concede, this might open the door to violence, which is what happened on January 6 2021.

Two months earlier, Ramon Grosfoguel and I, spent two sessions in our decolonial dialogues (session 4 and session 5) to put the 2020 presidential elections in a historical perspective. This article builds on that analysis.

In the dominant media the storming of Capitol Hill is narrated as a crazy action of extremist followers of a lunatic president. I will argue that this event is not an incident but a rational expression of a process of the rise of an extreme right-wing political class in the USA in the context of the decline of USA as an imperial power that is willing to risk extreme violent means to stop this decline. That class is not only located in the Republican Party, but is also there in Democratic Party. The storming of Capitol Hill is just a prelude of worst things that will follow in the coming decades.

The rise of the US empire

The US empire took off after the war with Spain in 1898, whereby America got control over Cuba, Puerto Rico, Guam and the Philippines. It dealt the final blow to the Spanish empire. But much the world was still controlled by the old empires: England, France, the Netherlands, Portugal and Germany with England and France as the main protagonists. After World War II these states lost their power to the USA and became subservient to the new master of the universe.

The American empire developed an enormous economic power based initially on agriculture and industry but later more on technology. Its multinationals roamed the world for raw materials and minerals. America became the largest economy in the world. It had the highest income per capita. It had the best institutes for research and development.

With its economic power came its military and cultural power. The empire established 800 military basis across the globe. The military industrial complex in cooperation with the tech-companies built the most advanced weapons systems and infrastructure for intelligence services. They engaged in wars and military coup to crush popular resistance against imperialism and ensure the establishment of loyal regimes.

Its cultural elite in cooperation with the cultural infrastructure of media and educational institutions were successful in colonizing the mind. American textbooks are used in all westernized universities in the whole world.  American fast food and cultural icons (music, art) have become global food and global icons.

It was all realized in less than a century and it lasted for less than a century. Because in the last quarter of the 20th century the decline of the American empire had began. Compared to other empires that lasted for hundreds or thousands of years the American empire is one of the shortest living empires.

The decline of the American empire

The decline of the American empire is manifested on four terrains:

  1. The relative decline of its economic and cultural power compared to other countries in the world, the rise of the rest notably China. China is rapidly surpassing as the largest economy in the world. American media are not the only media in the world. There CNN-type of media in all parts of the world. Scientific knowledge is produced outside of the West.
  2. The absolute decline of its economic and cultural power. American technology is now lagging behind Chinese technology. The educational of level of American students has declined in terms of their math and reading scores.
  3. The decline of its military power. Different countries were able to defy American military power for a sustainable period of time. The empire suffered its first loss in its backyard with the Cuban Revolution of 1959. In 1975 the national liberation movement of Vietnam chased the American army out of their country. In 1979 the Islamic movement under the leadership of Khomeini brought down America’s biggest client state down. In Venezuela the Chavistas took and hold power since 1999.
  4. The decline within the country of white power. The total population of the USA will grow from 323 million in 2016 to 355 million in 2030 till 404 million in 2060. The share of non-Hispanic whites (the descendant fro the European colonial powers) will decline from 61% to 44% in 2060. Within forty years whites will become a demographic minority in the USA! The fastest growing group are the Hispanics. Their will increase from 18% in 2016 to 27% in 2060, which is larger than the share of African Americans (from 13% to 15%). The demographic changes bring social and political changes that result in a decline of white power in the US.

An empire in decline create a crazy world

What happens when an empire goes into decline? Basically there are two scenario’s:

  1. The ruling class accepts the decline and thus accepts the authority of the new power that replaces the empire.
  2. The ruling class refuses to accept the decline and ultimately uses all means necessary to ensure its hegemony, even the most crazy means than can endanger life on the planet.

We are living in the second scenario. The rise of Trump should not be seen as the rise of an individual with crazy intentions. It is the rise of a section of the ruling class, a fascist section, that is willing to go where nobody else dared to go.

Currently there are four regions in the world where the US empire is engaged in a struggle to maintain its hegemony:

  1. China with the Chinese South Sea Island, Hongkong and Taiwan as areas of confrontation.
  2. West Asia (the so called Middle East) with Iran, Syria, Yemen and Israel as areas of confrontation
  3. Eastern Europe with Russia and Ukraine as areas of confrontation.
  4. Latin America with Cuba, Venezuela, Nicaragua and Bolivia as areas of confrontation.

In all these area the US starts actions that set fires of confrontation. There is a logic behind these actions: if all regular means of control fail, then it is legitimate to use new means that were once beyond imagination. What goes for the struggle outside of the US, also goes for the struggle in the US. That section of the ruling class in the United States that has come to the conclusion that its hegemony cannot be maintained by regular means, is now prepared to take steps that defies common imagination.

They bring new elements into the confrontation. In Venezuela they used a new form of coup d’état. Guaido declare himself an unelected president and subsequently the US empire and it vassals acknowledge this man as president. This was unheard of. A ferocious economic boycott tries to bring down the elected government. The assets of the legitimate government were seized and brought under the control of the unelected president. In West Asia the US is provoking Iran to an all-out war by killing Iran’s most beloved general: Qasem Suleimani. The US wanted Iran to start an all-out war and hoped that the murder of Suleimani would achieve that. Given the status of Suleimani it seemed unthinkable that the US would ever try to actually assassinate him. And yet they did.

Inside the US Trump – as the most outspoken segment of the fascist section – is leading the struggle under the banner “Make America Great Again”. They took control of the Republican Party. In 2016 they succeeded in gaining state power. They set in motion a series of policies that linger on the border of all-out wars, but because of the war weariness in the American population they must be careful in how far they can go. In 2020 they lost control of the government and were prepared to go where no political force in the US dared to go: to bring the possibility of war, in this civil war, to the capital of the nation in order to regain control of state power.

The storming of Capitol Hill was an outcome of the logic of ultimate confrontation. It backfired for the fascist section of the ruling class, because it failed in its objection. But the logic is still there and the processes that have created this logic are still working.

That is why I predict that the storming of Capitol Hill is a prelude of things to come that we cannot image now. For the coming years maybe things might calm down under the presidency of Biden. It will create the illusion that normalcy has been regained. But watch the underlying processes at work in the decline of the US empire. Then you will not be surprised if events unfold which we would not dare to image.

[*] Sandew Hira is secretary of the DIN Foundation. This article is based on the last chapter of his forthcoming book: Decolonizing The Mind.

Webinar Genocide Memorial Day 2021 Netherlands: Famine as an instrument of genocide

Decolonial International Netwerk and International Institute for Scientific Research in The Netherlands are organizing a webinar on the famines in India during colonialism in the context of Genocide Memorial Day on January 17th.

In her lecture Dr. Mehta will give a short chronology of famines that took place during colonial period and then focus on 1943 famine. She will show some photographs and paintings and play music related to 1943 famine. And most importantly she will talk about people’s response to the famine in terms of famous Tebhaga movement in Bengal.

The webinar is organized in the context of Genocide Memorial Day (GMD). This day is a day to remember “man’s inhumanity to man”. GMD was started in 2010 by the Islamic Human Rights Commission, founding member of the Decolonial International Network, as an annual tradition to commemorate the Zionist attack on Gaza in 2008. Some 1,400 Palestinians, mainly citizens, were killed without any intervention by governments. GMD aims to create awareness about the factors leading up to genocide and what we can do to prevent them.

Speaker: Jaya Mehta
Host: Sandew Hira
Sunday January 17, 2021, from 14.00-15.00 Amsterdam/Paris time

Registration: https://din.today/202101-2

Jaya Mehta

Dr. Jaya Mehta is a senior economist who has been working since 2009, in Joshi-Adhikari Institute of Social Studies. It is a research institute based in New Delhi.
She has been a senior fellow at the Institute of Human Development, New Delhi, Nehru Memorial Museum and Library, New Delhi and Indian Institute of Advanced Studies, Shimla. Before that she worked as a Reader in Gokhale Institute of Politics and Economics, Pune. Dr. Jaya Mehta is a founder member of Alternative Economic Survey Group and has been contributing regularly to its annual numbers.
She has been engaged in studying the agrarian crisis in Indian economy, poverty measurement, women’s issues and theory and praxis of socialist systems. In the year 2009, she coordinated a primary survey on marginal farmers across 8 states of the country, delineating their production and marketing pattern.
Eight volumes were prepared presenting the agrarian scene in the country. After that she has conducted a study on collective farming by women in the state of Kerala. The book related to this study is with the publishers.
She also made a study on working class movement in pre- and post-independent India. Recently, she edited a book, ‘The Russian Revolution and Indian Freedom Struggle” to commemorate 100 years of Russian revolution. She also wrote a booklet on ‘Revolutionary potential of women workers in agriculture’ in 2019 on the occasion of 100 years of death anniversary of Rosa Luxemburg.
She has directed plays and made a few documentaries on various topics related to working class and oppressed groups.

French intelligentsia and Little Tom Thumb: the questionable ethics of the ‘100’ French academics

A response to the Open Letter from ‘100’ French Scholars, which singled out the author for special mention.

Houria Bouteldja

France is no longer a light among nations.

Sartre, Beauvoir, Foucault, Deleuze or Bourdieu are from another era. As for the ultra-white elites who offer themselves as their replacements, they increasingly deserve the name ‘Pale’, as given by the Native Americans to their torturers. Their radiance, now reduced to the dim halo of waning lanterns at a funfair, impresses no one outside their cliques and courtesans. As Rokhaya Diallo noted recently, ‘thanks to the great marketing of a few white intellectuals, “the birthplace of Enlightenment” is sold as an example of peaceful coexistence devoid of all racial tension.’

Therefore, in a strange version of events that only they subscribe to – and which in many ways sums up their entire world view – a significant number among the intelligentsia in France is completely perplexed by the dismay expressed by international onlookers. Faced with the view from outside France, where there is little understanding of their devotion to the myth of French republicanism, and where secularist fundamentalism or the obsession with the veil are met with puzzlement, these French intellectuals insist that foreigners ‘do not understand our values.’ Anyone who dares utter the words ‘race’, ‘whiteness’, or ‘Islamophobia’ is accused of doing the work either of the extreme right or of Jihadists. And if one persists and goes on to mention racial discrimination or social Apartheid, the accusation is none other than treason to universalism!

The right of reply of which they availed themselves in openDemocracy in response to the Open Letter signed by many scholars justifiably worried by the appearance of a form of French McCarthyism within French academia, is a perfect illustration of this attitude. The crudeness of this attempt to save face before an English-speaking public, which understands perfectly the extent to which France’s reputation has been sullied by lies and myths, is obvious to all. I could ignore the sophistry involved in its recalling the existence of other forms of slavery in order to deny the specificity of the transatlantic slave trade or of the colonialism which inaugurated western racism. I can also skip over the minimisation of far right-wing violence under the pretext that it causes few deaths when we are aware that this violence is often ignored by police and other institutions. And I can even let pass the term Islamogauchisme (Islamic-leftism), used by neo-conservatives to dismiss any critique of Islamophobia, and which reminds us of the slur of ‘Jewish-Bolshevism’. In sum, I don’t wish to get bogged down in the extreme poverty and fallaciousness of the letter’s argumentation which stands in for real thinking. Instead, I will address its defamatory nature which targets me as a decolonial activist. This is not because my case deserves the particular attention of the English-speaking public, who doubtless have bigger fish to fry, but because it is representative of the way in which dissent to the gospel of republicanism is treated in the land of Charlie Hebdo and freedom of speech.

It is representative of the way in which dissent to the gospel of republicanism is treated in the land of Charlie Hebdo and freedom of speech.

Habituated to the complacency of the French mainstream media which writes them infinite blank cheques to speak with impunity (French media only allows a tiny number from among the privileged class a right to reply), the ‘100’ signatories of the response hope to be able to drag me through the mud in the foreign press as they do regularly in the pages of French newspapers such as LibérationLe Monde or Canard enchainé.[1] They write,

‘The “Parti des Indigènes de la République” is a case in point, standing as the main “islamist-gauchiste” movement in France. The former spokesperson of the movement, Hourija Boutelja (sic)., even endorsed Mohamed Merah, the 2012 jihadist killer: ‘Mohamed Merah is me and I am him. We are of the same origin and of the same condition. We are post-colonial subjects. I say tonight that I am a ‘fundamental’ Muslim’. We remind the signatories of the letter that Merah killed not only French military men of Muslim ancestry but also Jewish children in a school in Toulouse.’

If anyone was reading this without having any knowledge of the context, they would be justified in thinking that someone as damaging as myself should rightfully be behind bars, especially if they had read the terrifying profile of me published a few days earlier by two eminent French intellectuals in Libération. In fact, Alain Policar and Alain Renault, doctors of political science and philosophy respectively, wishing to be reassuring, explained to a public terrified by the spectre of decolonial thought, that it should not fear the impact of my ideas on the university because everyone knows well that ‘the effect of the racist, antisemitic and homophobic theses of Houria Bouteldja amounts to no more than zero.’

I assure you that I have no intention of throwing myself at your feet and begging you to believe that I am neither an admirer of Jihadism nor a patented antisemite, as our keyboard inquisitors would have it. This is firstly because it would be humiliating, second because it is an illusory exercise (what does my word count for?), and finally because I prefer to trust your intelligence rather than your noble sentiments. I also will not make any attempt to clear my name. I will simply provide a few signposts that, like the breadcrumbs sprinkled by Little Tom Thumb, will direct you, not to me and to who I really am, but to them and to who they really are.

– Breadcrumb 1: in France, apology for terrorism is a crime. However, the speech I gave during a meeting a few days after the mass killing in Toulouse titled ‘Mohamed Merah and I’ did not lead to any legal case being taken against me (despite my detractors’ thirst for one). Those who truncate the text and cite only the first part – ‘Mohamed Merah is me’ – without mentioning the second – ‘Mohamed Merah is not me’ – are thugs who do not deserve the label of an intellectual.

– Breadcrumb 2: In 2015, the Licra, a pro-Israel ‘antiracist’ organisation, mounted a legal complaint against me for ‘incitement to racial hatred’ (antisemitism) due to a text I wrote on philosemitism in which I accused the state of disguising its new modes of antisemitism. The response of the Attorney General, not one known for his ‘Islamogauchiste’ tendencies, was to draft the following opinion: ‘There is no justification for a legal pursuit as the offence does not appear to be sufficiently well-founded, the investigation not having led to the gathering of sufficient evidence.’

– Breadcrumb 3: Many well-known people who identify as Jewish, who obviously have no time for Nazis, have no hesitation in lending me their unconditional support because we have a shared analysis of colonialism, be it that of Israel or elsewhere.

– Breadcrumb 4: In France I am published by La Fabrique, in the US by Semiotexte(e) and in Spain Akal, all of which are antiracist, anti-fascist and progressive publishing houses.

– Breadcrumb 5: The preface to my book Whites, Jews and Us: Towards a Politics of Revolutionary Love was written by Harvard University Professor Cornell West while the preface to the Spanish version is by the Berkeley Professor Ramon Grosfoguel.

– Breadcrumb 6: Our events, demonstrations, and meetings in France are sponsored by renowned personalities including Angela Davis, Mumia Abu Jamal and Tariq Ali.

I could continue adding factual accolades of this kind, but it would be presumptuous to do so. Nevertheless, even if this trail of breadcrumbs does nothing to prove my innocence, it might plant some seeds of doubt about the basis for the accusations against me and about the questionable ethics of those who spread them. It is not that my detractors are unaware of these facts. They knowingly lie, distort and manipulate them. I was going to write ‘with impunity’ but this right of response means that this time they have drawn a blank, thanks to the international media. I could also shame those who defame me by remarking that when I call myself a ‘fundamental Muslim’, I am not referring to any form of religious fundamentalism but to Aimé Césaire who, in refusing to renege on his negritude, famously declared himself a ‘fundamental Negro’. I will stop here because the shame I feel on their behalf is turning into pity and it would take away from what I intend to be a more incisive conclusion.

Indeed, I advise my detractors to take a leaf out of my book. Why not paraphrase the text that they say incriminates me – ‘Mohamed Merah and I’ – and write their own: ‘White Supremacists and Us’. Part 1 could be titled ‘white supremacists are us’ in which they analyse their belonging to whiteness and their connection to state racism. Part 2: ‘white supremacists are not us’ where they explain how to break with the nationalist and imperialist logic they call ‘universalism’ by firstly making an attempt at humility and secondly, proposing a roadmap for abolishing race and creating the conditions for unifying the working class. But this is only fantasy. How could I ever imagine them being counselled by decolonial activists, evolving in their thinking, or going against the grain? To be sure, Little Tom Thumb has helped us uncover who they really are, but unfortunately, he does not have the power to turn lead into gold.

This article was translated into English by Alana Lentin.

[1] These newspapers consistently refuse me the right of reply even though I am continually defamed in them:

http://indigenes-republique.fr/droit-de-reponse-refuse-canard-enchaine/

http://indigenes-republique.fr/droit-de-reponse-dhouria-bouteldja-refuse-par-le-journal-le-monde/

Webinar: The attacks on civil, human and political rights for Muslims in Europe

Din Webinar Sunday December 13th
18.00-20.15 Paris time, 17.00-19.15 UK time,

Background

In 2011 the British government introduced the Prevent Policy that aims to prevent young people to get attracted to radical ideologies, especially radical Islam. The instruments of the government is surveillance  of Muslim youth in schools, universities, mosques and the health system and repression (arrest, interrogation, imprisonment).

In France Muslim leaders are required to sign a declaration that states that Islam is a religion and not a political movement. Muslim parent who complain about Islamophobic caricatures that are show to their children in the classroom are committing a criminal offence and can be deported from the country. Publishing images of police violence will be a criminal offence.

Austria want to ban political Islam by law. People convicted for violating this law could be imprisoned for life of if they are released earlier they could be subjected to electronic surveillance after being released. Associations and mosques that are suspected of adhering to political Islam will be shut down. A central register of imams will be created.

All across Europe there are increased attacks on the civil and human rights of Muslims by governments and are indications of the rise of police states in Europe. This puts important questions on the agenda:

There are two sets of questions we will deal with in the webinar:

Bloc 1: political Islam

  1. What is political Islam?
  2. Who is defining it?
  3. Is it a single monolithic idea or a plurality of views?
  4. Is attacking political Islam a means of shutting down dissenting voices among Muslims?
  5. What is the meaning of political Islam in comparison with political actions based on other ideologies such as Christianity, Judaism, Liberalism, Socialism?
  6. How do Islamic sources articulate political actions of Muslims compared to the sources of other ideologies?

Bloc 2: civil rights, human rights and the rise of fascism in Europe per country

  1. What is the role of zionism in the depoliticisation of Muslims?
  2. How is anti-semitism used by national and EU governments to silence Muslims and their organisations?
  3. What is the relationship between civil liberties such as freedom of speech and political rights of Muslims in Europe?
  4. How will the repression of civil liberties and human rights in Europe effect the position of Muslims and non-Muslims?
  5. How can we fight the rise of the police state in Europe?

 

Video’s to watch

 

In the past few years affiliates of DIN have organized Islamophobia conferences in December. Because of the Covid-19 crisis physical meetings are not possible. Instead DIN will organize a webinar on December 13th from 17.00-19.15 UK time, 18.00-20.15 Paris/Amsterdam time.

The webinar consists of:

  1. Short contributions
  2. Discussions
  3. Panel discussions

Hosts: Sandew Hira and Narges Mobaleghi

Links:

The program of the webinar is as follows:

  • Bloc 1: Hakimeh Saghaye-Biria and Mohamed Al-Asi
  • Bloc 2: Abed Choudry  (on UK), Massoud Shadjareh (on Austria), Houria Bouteldja (on France), Sheher Khan (on Netherlands) and Amanj Aziz (on Sweden

 

Islamophobia in France

In the aftermath of the terrorist attacks in France French newspaper Le Monde published a manifesto on November 2 2020 signed by over 100 French academics which denounced decolonial thought in the French academia. They rally behind Jean-Michel Blanquer, the French Minister of National Education, and calls upon him to create a body responsible for directly reporting cases of violations of republican principles and academic freedom, and developing a guide to appropriate responses. This is direct call for censorship in the French universities.

Decolonial and Islamic scholars and activists wrote a letter to the French nation analyzing the latest Islamophobic policy of the French government and calling for exchanges of views to prevent the interreligious, ethnic and racial confrontations.

Click here for the text of the letter.

Alana Lentin and Gavan Titley took the initiative to write an open letter signed by major international scholars. Click here for the text of that letter.

Decolonial Dialogues by Ramon Grosfoguel and Sandew Hira

Ramon Grosfoguel and Sandew Hira, two theoreticians and board members of the Decolonial International Network Foundation engage in weekly decolonial dialogues to develop a coherent decolonial theoretical framework. The dialogues are recorded and placed on the YouTube Channel of DIN.

The first episode deals with the factor behind the rise of the decolonial movement: https://youtu.be/_4sY112-dKE

The second episode deals with knowledge production. What is knowledge and how is it produced from a decolonial view: https://youtu.be/NJkKUIMxCSA

The third episode deals with political theory and practice in Latin America: https://youtu.be/zO0HbSSUIH0

How to kill a revolution from within: lessons from the Grenadian Revolution

Background

On March 13th, 1979, an event of historical proportions took place in the tiny Caribbean island of Grenada with a population of 80.000 people. Dictator Eric Gairy was overthrown in a revolution led by the New Jewel Movement. A radio address to the population announced a new era in the history of the spice island: “Brothers and Sisters, This is Maurice Bishop speaking. At 4.15 am this morning, the People’s Revolutionary Army seized control of the army barracks at True Blue. Every single soldier surrendered, and not a single member of the revolutionary forces was injured… Let me assure the people of Grenada that all democratic freedoms, including freedom of elections, religious and political opinion, will be fully restored to the people…People of Grenada, this revolution is for work, for food, for decent housing and health services, and for a bright future for our children and great grand-children… LONG LIVE THE PEOPLE OF GRENADA! LONG LIVE FREEDOM AND DEMOCRACY! LET US TOGETHER BUILD A JUST GRENADA!'”

Revolutions are often bloody, but this one was not. Yet, it was a profound anti-imperialist revolution for national liberation, that lasted for four year and collapsed after a faction in the New Jewel Movement led by Bernard Coard staged a coup d’état, arrested Maurice Bishop and part of the leadership of NJM and executed them on October 19th, 1983. A week later the US invaded Grenada and arrested Coard and his gang. The revolution finally succumbed.

The Grenada Revolution had a great impact on anti-imperialist social movements across the world. It especially resounded in the communities of color in the Caribbean, North America and Europe. It inspired many activists to get involved in the anti-imperialist struggle.

At the time of the revolution I was a student in the Netherlands. My family migrated from the former Dutch colony of Suriname in South America to the Netherlands in 1970. During the Vietnam war I became an activist. After the revolution in Grenada I founded the Grenada Committee with other activists. We were a few of the tens of thousands of working bees across the world who were involved in spreading the story of the anti-imperialist struggle, collecting funds to support the national liberation movements, organizing picket lines and demonstrations in support of these movements. We were inspired by the struggle of the people of South Africa, Palestine, Vietnam, Cuba, Nicaragua, El Salvador and Grenada. In July 1983 the Grenada Committee in Holland organized a solidarity trip to Grenada with a group of twenty people, among them journalists, to get acquainted first hand with the revolution. Little did we know that already at that time forces were in play that would lead to the downfall of the revolution within three months after our visit. We were shocked to hear about the execution of Maurice Bishop and watch in horror the unfolding scenario of the US invasion. It was a big political and psychological blow to the anti-imperialist movement. But life goes on. We licked our wounds, recovered and moved forward in our life and activism.

Forty years later new social movements bring new generations of activists into the struggle, especially in the communities of color. Many of them might not have heard of Maurice Bishop and the Grenadian Revolution. Here is a 17 minute video that explains what had happened during the Revolution. Here is a recording of a speech by Maurice Bishop at Medgar Evers college in Brooklyn New York on March 7, 2017 in which he explains the aims and the process of revolution in Grenada. Hearing Maurice speak, still moves me with emotions, especially when he welcomes the UN representatives of the African National Congress and the Palestinian Liberation Organization at the meeting.

Recently Bernard Coard who led the coup against Bishop published a three volumes analysis to explain and defend his actions. He was arrested after the US invasion and tried for the murder of Bishop and his comrades to life imprisonment. In 2009 he was released from prison.

Volume 1 (The Grenada Revolution. What really happened) is the most interesting one. It details the collapse of the NJM from his perspective. Volume 2 (Forward ever. Journey to a new Grenada) and volume 3 (Skyred. A tale of two revolutions) has less information about the inner party struggle.

In this article I make an analysis of the arguments of Coard and draw some lessons of the failure of the Grenadian Revolution for social movements.

I will not give an overview of the revolution, but focus on the arguments that Coard has brought forward. It has everything to do with the question of leadership of a revolution. According to Coard the main and biggest problem that led to the collapse of the revolution was the question of collective leadership. Coard: “The attempts to reason with Maurice over the issue of reaffirming and re-establishing in practice collective leadership, had failed. I believe, in retrospect, that he genuinely did not see the damage he was doing to the Party’s work. While still paying lip service to the principle, he had become convinced that collective leadership was not the norm anywhere and was not necessary for the Revolution to succeed.”[1]

Two models of leadership

If the issue of collective leadership is so crucial for the survival of the revolution, you would expect Coard to dwell on this issue and explain the different forms of leadership and what the arguments pro and contra are for the different positions. At least you would expect a theoretical underpinning of the concept of collective leadership. That is not the way Coard argues. He just assumes that collective leadership should be the norm and puts it against what he calls the Maximum Leader Model of Cuba. Coard: ” It is clear to me now that the Cubans, at all levels, thought that the way we made decisions, was crazy. ‘You don’t rule by Committee; this is a highly inefficient way to do things,’ is what some of their utterances amounted to… Their model of leadership, their culture and experience told them that the Maximum Leader Model was the one that worked. It had been tested over several years, and it had successfully stood up to the mighty Americans. They had therefore set about persuading Maurice that not just his interest but that of the Revolution itself demanded that he assert himself and start taking decisions on his own. ‘There can be several people on a bus heading for some prearranged destination, but there can only be one in the drivers seat!’ was the essence of the Cubans repeated message to Maurice.”[2]

In the narrative of Coard the issue of collective leadership soon narrowed down to the issue of joint leadership, more in particular the joint leadership of Coard and Bishop. Once it became clear that this was the issue, then the discussion did not go into general items like how to build the institution of the party, the role of the party vis-a-vis the masses or the role of the individual leaders towards the revolution. It came down to the question: who is the real leader of the revolution? Bishop or Coard?

Parties and revolutions: the model of Leninism

The role of theory in political struggle is very important. A theory let us understand the character of political struggle and can provide ideas of how to move forward. In the anti-imperialist struggle of the 20th century Marxist-Leninist theory was the dominant framework for many liberation movements. Grenada was no exception. Now there are other theories of liberation in the anti-imperialist struggle.

Coard was a member of the Communist Party of the US when he resided there and later of the Communist Party of Great Britain when he lived in England. In no way did Coard try to provide a theoretical basis for his concept of joint leadership. It is a strange concept: two individuals have joint leadership in a revolution. In all revolutions a single individual was the embodiment of the aspiration of the revolutionary masses: Lenin in Russia, Mao Ze Dong in China, Ho Chi Min in Vietnam, Fidel Castro in Cuba, Hugo Chavez in Venezuela and Maurice Bishop in Grenada. The concept of a joint president of a country, a joint prime minister, a joint leader of a party was never conceptualized in Marxism-Leninism, or any other theory of liberation.

In classical Marxism-Leninism the whole concept of leadership of a revolution was based on the party, an organization of full time revolutionaries who dedicate their lives to organize the working classes (proletariat, peasantry). Through the process of cadre formation they were preparing for the historical moment known as “a revolutionary situation”. Lenin explains the concept of a revolutionary situation and the role of the party: “To the Marxist it is indisputable that a revolution is impossible without a revolutionary situation; furthermore, it is not every revolutionary situation that leads to revolution. What, generally speaking, are the symptoms of a revolutionary situation? We shall certainly not be mistaken if we indicate the following three major symptoms: (1) when it is impossible for the ruling classes to maintain their rule without any change; when there is a crisis, in one form or another, among the “upper classes”, a crisis in the policy of the ruling class, leading to a fissure through which the discontent and indignation of the oppressed classes burst forth. For a revolution to take place, it is usually insufficient for “the lower classes not to want” to live in the old way; it is also necessary that “the upper classes should be unable” to live in the old way; (2) when the suffering and want of the oppressed classes have grown more acute than usual; (3) when, as a consequence of the above causes, there is a considerable increase in the activity of the masses, who uncomplainingly allow themselves to be robbed in “peace time”, but, in turbulent times, are drawn both by all the circumstances of the crisis and by the “upper classes” themselves into independent historical action.

Without these objective changes, which are independent of the will, not only of individual groups and parties but even of individual classes, a revolution, as a general rule, is impossible. The totality of all these objective changes is called a revolutionary situation. Such a situation existed in 1905 in Russia, and in all revolutionary periods in the West; it also existed in Germany in the sixties of the last century, and in Russia in 1859-61 and 1879-80, although no revolution occurred in these instances. Why was that? It was because it is not every revolutionary situation that gives rise to a revolution; revolution arises only out of a situation in which the above-mentioned objective changes are accompanied by a subjective change, namely, the ability of the revolutionary class to take revolutionary mass action strong enough to break (or dislocate) the old government, which never, not even in a period of crisis, “falls”, if it is not toppled over.

Such are the Marxist views on revolution, views that have been developed many, many times, have been accepted as indisputable by all Marxists, and for us, Russians, were corroborated in a particularly striking fashion by the experience of 1905.”[3]

The subjective factor that Lenin refers to is the role of the party of the proletariat that can take decisive actions in a revolutionary situation. Russia at the beginning of the 20 century had a population of 160 million and a proletariat of around 10%. The majority of the population consisted of peasants. In 1917 the European War of 1914-1918 had created a revolutionary situation in Russia. Twenty years earlier the first Marxist party was founded in Russia. In 1903 a split occurred at second party congress of the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party with Lenin’s faction later forming the Communist party that eventually organized the taking over of power in the October revolution of 1917 and established the first workers state in the world. Lenin’s party and strategy would become the model for many socialist parties in the world, especially after the formation of the Communist International (the Third International). The model was simple: a communist party trains its cadres to anticipate a revolutionary situation in which they take power through an insurrection.

Other paths

Although the Russian Revolution is regarded as a classical model of how to make a revolution in reality many social revolutions that came after 1917 did not follow this model. In China the communist party led a peasant population in a long guerrilla war to victory. In Vietnam the communist party led a war of national liberation against a colonial power. In Cuba the revolution was not led by the communist party.

Reflecting on the experience of the Cuban revolution Che Guevara argued: “We consider that the Cuban Revolution contributed three fundamental lessons to the conduct of revolutionary movements in America. They are:

– Popular forces can win a war against the army.

– It is not necessary to wait until all conditions for making revolution exist; the insurrection can create them.

– In underdeveloped America the countryside is the basic area for armed fighting.

Of these three propositions the first two contradict the defeatist attitude of revolutionaries or pseudo-revolutionaries who remain inactive and take refuge in the pretext that against a professional army nothing can be done, who sit down to wait until in some mechanical way all necessary objective and subjective conditions are given without working to accelerate them.”[4]

Che argued against the Leninist view that a revolution is only possible when a revolutionary situation arises. The guerrilla peasant war in China and the wars of national liberation in countries like Vietnam showed other paths of making revolutions. Cuba made a socialist revolution by cadres who were not part of the communist party. In 1979 the revolution in Iran showed that it is possible to have a fiercely anti-imperialist revolution that was rooted in a totally different ideology: Islam instead of Marxism. And in 1999 Hugo Chavez showed that a revolutionary process is possible in which revolutionaries take state power not via an insurrection of war, but through parliamentary elections.

A revolution is a complex process of fundamental transformation of the economic, social, political and cultural institutions of a society. Getting state power is obviously the most important step. But the revolutionary transformation of society is much more than that. Getting state power is a fundamental prerequisite. But getting the masses of people involved in the transformation of their lives is a major and daunting task. In Marxist theory this task was in the hand of the party. The Cuban revolution showed another model: leading a revolution is much more than leading a party. The leader plays a specific role that is not acknowledge in Marxist theory.

On the role of the individual in history

In Marxist theory Russian Marxist Georgi Plekhanov (1856-1918) laid down the Marxist view on the role of individuals in history: “Individuals can influence the fate of society by virtue of definite traits of their nature. Their influence is sometimes very considerable but the possibility of its being exercised and its extent are determined by society’s organization and the alignment of its forces. An individual’s character is a ‘factor’ in social development only where, when, and to the extent that social relations permit it to be.[5]

The role of the individual in revolutionary transformation is very limited, according to Marxist theory. Che Guevara, an Argentinean by birth and an internationalist by conviction, played a leading role in the Cuban revolution. In his farewell letter to Fidel Castro of April 1, 1965, he pointed out to the specific role of the leader of a revolution: “Reviewing my past life, I believe I have worked with sufficient integrity and dedication to consolidate the revolutionary triumph. My only serious failing was not having had more confidence in you from the first moments in the Sierra Maestra, and not having understood quickly enough your qualities as a leader and a revolutionary.”[6]

Based on their experience and common sense the Cuban revolutionaries draw another conclusion, which Bernard Coard dwelt on in his book: the leader as the embodiment of the revolutionary aspiration of the masses. When the crisis developed in the NJM the Cubans sent general Ochoa and ambassador Rizo to Grenada to explain their views on how to lead a revolution. Coard describes part of the conversation: “It concerned Maurice’s decision making powers in certain statements that I had not taken seriously before, namely what Maurice had been told both by General Ochoa and also ambassador Rizo: ‘The leader is the embodiment of the Revolution’ and ‘In a sense, the leader is the Revolution: the two are inseparable’ and finally ‘The leader therefore has certain decision-making prerogatives’. That was, of course, the Maximum Leader Model, the leadership style which had worked effectively for Cuba.”[7]

Coard is not a man of theory, but a bureaucrat of procedures. So he does not develop a theoretical argument about joint leadership in a revolution, but just assumes he is right in the procedures of a bureaucratic organization and thus there is no need for any justification of his position.

As Marxism did not develop a theory on the role of the individual in a revolution, decolonial theory can step in. My theoretical argument follows the experience of the revolutions across the world and common sense. Common sense tells us that when there are two captains on a ship a disaster is bound to happen during the journey. Analyzing the experiences of the different revolutions in the world I draw the following conclusions:

  1. A revolution is process of fundamental transformation of society in which the masses of people play a pivotal role.
  2. Acquiring state power is a absolutely necessary but totally insufficient. The process of acquiring state power is determined by historical circumstances in a country and need not to follow one particular model.
  3. A revolution does not take place in a vacuum. A revolution in a country is not only a struggle against social, economic, political and cultural forces in that country. It needs to take into account that imperialist forces are always at work internationally and nationally.
  4. A revolution needs to develop mechanisms and institutions to get the masses involved in the process of transformation. A party is one institution, but not the only one. Party leadership is one mechanism, but not the only one.
  5. In the initial phase of the revolution some leaders because of their historical role in the struggle of their people, can become the embodiment of the aspirations of the revolutionary masses. (S)he articulates their feelings, expectations and determination for fundamental changes. In this phase and under these circumstances a leader of a revolution has a special role and responsibility in a revolutionary process.
  6. In order for a revolution to succeed there must be a unity of how the institutions and mechanisms of a revolution operate.
  7. Disunity in the leadership of a party can have two sources: political differences on strategy and tactics or personal ambitions. I case there are no political differences on strategy and tactics, political ambitions can destroy a revolution. And this has been the case in the Grenadian revolution.

How personal ambitions destroyed a revolution

At no point in his account of the Grenada Revolution Bernard Coard talks about the differences in strategy and tactics of the revolutionary process. The only problem he discusses is the problem of military strategy, where he tries to argue a case of important differences in military doctrines between the Cubans and hid faction. The Cubans did not foresee a full scale military invasion if the revolution would be strong and vital, but an invasion by mercenaries. Coards faction would prepare for a full scale American military intervention. Beyond these differences he did not elaborate on theoretical, strategical or tactical differences with Maurice Bishop. It was all about bureaucratic procedures and personalities.

Bernard Coard controlled the Organizing Committee of the party and effectively a large part of the organization of the party. Bishop was the embodiment of the revolutionary aspiration of the masses. Coard’s control of the party enabled him to get the Central Committe to accept his proposals.

Coard recounts how one of his followers, Owusu Liam James, puts the proposition of joint leadership to the Central Committee of the party: “Owusu’s fifth and final proposal was effectively for a return to the Joint Leadership model of NJM’s founding Congress ten and a half years earlier, at which Maurice Bishop and Unison Whiteman were elected ‘Joint Coordinating Secretaries’. That join leadership of the NJM had continued for a few years, then gradually it became quietly accepted within our Party that a de facto joint leadership between Maurice and me had replaced it.”[8]

So the question of joint leadership was not a new question. It had always been there. There was a formal decision more than ten years ago that Bishop and his long time ally Unison Whiteman, who was murdered with him in 1983 by Coard’s gang, would be joint leaders. But as things developed Coard regarded himself as the de facto joint leadership, because of his organizational role in the party. And already in the early years there was criticism of Coards aspirations as he himself records: “Maurice had recalled an incident in 1977. ‘When comrade Coard was accused [of] aggressiveness and wanting to grab power I [Maurice], had defended Bernard. He was referring to an attack on me launched by George Louison and Kenrick Radix at an April 1977 [Political] Bureau meeting.”[9]

What Louison and Radix saw was an ambitious man who through bureaucratic control of the party wanted to get recognition as the de facto leader, but lacked the qualities to be a peoples leader. And Coard admits that when he talks about the differences between him and Bishop: “On three separate occasions prior to that 1977 Bureau meeting Maurice had raised with me his stepping down and my taking over the leadership. Each of those occasions came at a moment of extreme stress and political crisis in the struggle against Gairy. One occasion followed the killing of his father by Gairy’s police in 1974. he had temporarily lost confidence and felt that I could handle the political situation better. On each occasion I had pointed out that I was not ‘a peoples person’. I hated speaking on public platforms and used every opportunity to evade that aspect of political work; I was really a behind-the-scenes ‘organization man’ and ‘economic planner and implementer’, not ‘a man for the people’.  Maurice, on the other hand, I had pointed out, was not just a brilliant orator who loved the platform and was unquestionably charismatic; he fed off the energy of the crowd, and the people in turn, off his energy. He was, in my view, born to lead and I told him so frankly on each of these occasions.”[10]

Here Coard says that Bishop was born to lead, but in the rest of his book he argues that Bishop was not fit to lead. That is why joint leadership was necessary. Coard: “In light of all of this pressure, the attempts to reason with Maurice over the issue of reaffirming and re-establishing in practive collective leadership, had failed. I believe, in retrospect. That he genuinely did not see the damage he was doing to the Party’s work. While still paying lip service to the principle, he had become convinced that collective leadership was not the norm anywhere and was not necessary for the Revolution to succeed. He had now largely bought into The Maximum Leader Model. Where he Fidel organizationally, this would have worked. Given, however, Maurice’s organizational weaknesses, this new leadership model was only leading to increasing chaos.”[11]

To be clear, behind the personal ambition of Coard there was an ideological difference with Bishop on the question of the role of the leader in a revolution. In the Marxist-Leninist vision of Coard the party is more important than the leader. The party leads the revolution. But the experience of the Cuban revolution shows that a leader can be the embodiment of the aspirations of the revolutionary masses beyond the role of a party. If the party supports the leader then there is no problem. But if differences arise between the leader and the party, then the revolution is in danger.

What is the logic in a situation like this? If Coard thinks that Bishop is not fit to lead, then the only way to curb his leadership is through bureaucratic control. Coard had officially resigned from the Central Committee so the confrontation between him and Bishop did not take place in the institutions of the party. Coard instructed Owusu to put forward the proposal for joint leadership to the Central Committee: “His joint leadership proposal, Owusu stressed, was strictly for the Party’s internal functioning. Maurice would remain as Prime Minister and Leader of the Revolution. Moreover, all CC documents would be signed solely by Maurice. And “The CC must discuss and ratify all proposals and decisions sought by the [two] comrades,” Owusu proposed firmly.”[12]

Despite his resignation from the Central Committee, Coard was the man Bishop had to deal with knowing that his people in the Central Committee acted on his instruction. And Coard openly acknowledges this: “Having resigned from the CC a year previously, I only attended a CC meeting if my presence was requested for some particular reason. At Maurice’s suggestion, however, the CC met with me the day after its three-day session had ended, to brief me fully on its deliberations and to elicit my feedback. I was also able to carefully study the minutes of the meeting just a few days after it had concluded.”[13]

As Coard puts it, he was really “a behind-the-scenes organization man”, a conspirator who wanted to grab political power by bureaucratic means and control a leader of a revolution that was the embodiment of that revolution. The logic of this process ultimately would lead to a split between the party and the masses. You don’t have to be a skilled theoretician to see this coming. Common sense will tell you this.

The Central Committee had accepted the proposal of the Coard faction for joint leadership. Now the ball was in the corner of Bishop. But Bishop did not go along with this move. Words of the disagreements in the central committee were already circulated among the masses. Given the control of the army by the Coard faction these words draw the logical conclusion: this conflict will sooner or later end in bloodshed. According to Coard Bishop had spread rumors that Coard wanted to assassinate him, so it was necessary to put Bishop under house arrest in order to stop the spread of this rumor. But it was not a matter of rumors, it was a matter of common sense: a political confrontation of this magnitude will sooner or later end in bloodshed.

The logical outcome of the house arrest was the rise of a movement from the people to free their leader from his imprisonment. Coard recalls how easy it was for the supporters of Bishop in the party, George Louison and Unison Whiteman, to mobilize the masses: “For George and Uni, the immense popularity of Maurice, combined with the virulence of the rumor and the inflammatory effect of placing him under house arrest, made the task of mobilizing  people to demonstrate an easy one. Their main task really boiled down to transportation and other logistics.”[14]

The masses were with Bishop. In demonstrations they chanted “We want we leader!” and “No Bishop. No Revolution!” Coard recalls how difficult it was for the party he controlled to convince the masses: “Party members reporting daily on their discussions with workers, had said that ‘the ground’ was ‘hard’. Only a minority, they said, understood the issues. The majority was angry. Some would not listen. Most did, out of respect for many of the Party members and their contribution to workers’ struggle over the years. They, however, expressed their vehement disagreement with the Party’s position.”[15]

The confrontation between the Coard faction and the party they controlled and the masses of supporters of Bishop would end in blood. Leaders from both sides tried to avoid this and so negotiations started. Coard report on a meeting between Louison and Whiteman on the one hand an him and Sello, a supporter of him: “‘But George’, I said, “neither Maurice nor Uni and yourself have held meetings around the country telling people about the Party’s decision on Joint Leadership and why you reject it. Instead, people were whipped up by being told that Phyl [SH: Coard’s wife] and I are planning to kill Maurice Bishop!”

‘The reality is,’ Uni intervened, ‘that people will not accept Joint Leadership. The CC must reverse this decision. There can be no return to Party unity nor peace in the country, without this being done.’

Sello then spoke again. ‘Party comrades up and down the country are asking how it will be possible in the future for anyone in the Party to held accountable for refusing to accept democratically arrived at decisions if Comrade Maurice gets away with doing this. If the Party backs down, they are saying, it means that one man is above the Party. How could a party founded on inner-party democracy survive this, they ask. For Party members, this is a matter of principle. They are asking ‘what would be the future of the Party and the Revolution in such a context?’

‘There will be future for the Party or the Revolution of that decision is not reversed. It has divided the Party and the country, and is endangering the Revolution!’ Uni replied, his voice cracking with passion.

‘Look,’ George responded. ‘You all just have to change the decision! The matter is now in the hands of the masses. They are speaking with their feet and with their chants!’[16]

The Coard faction would not give in, so the logic of confrontation played out and when the masses went to free Bishop, it ended in the execution of Bishop and his supporters, thus opening the door for the American invasion a week later.

Personal ambitions and a bureaucratic approach to questions of revolutionary strategy and tactics had killed a revolution. The American military invasion did not kill the revolution. It killed a corpse.

The strength of a people

The collapse of the Grenadian Revolution led to the death of 20 Cubans, 45 Grenadians and 18 US soldiers in the invasion that followed the execution. It was a traumatic experience for a small population.

The people of Grenada had to cope with their loss. In 1986 US president Reagan visited Grenada and inaugurated a monument in memory of American soldiers who died in combat. In 1989 Fidel Castro visited Grenada and unveiled a monument in memory of the Cuban workers who were killed during the invasion.

In 2001 the government of Grenada installed a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to investigate the killings and develop a policy on how to deal with it. In 2009 Bernard Coard and 17 other people who were convicted for the murder of Bishop and his comrades were released from prison.

In that year the new international airport whose construction was started under the Bishop administration was named after Maurice Bishop.

The Revolution under the leadership of Maurice Bishop was a big inspiration for Grenada and thousands of people outside of Grenada. I and my wife Sitla visited Grenada in July 1983. We were part of those thousands of working bees in the anti-imperialist movement. After the invasion we mourned the loss of a revolution and regained our strength to carry forward in our activism.

One day we will visit Grenada again and pay our homage to the people of Grenada and the revolution that has inspired us and thousands of other working bees in the movement against imperialism and for freedom and justice.

Sandew Hira

The Hague, October 28, 2020

 

[1] Coard, B. (2017): The Grenada Revolution. What really happened?. Mc Dermott. Kingston, p. 94.

[2] Idem.

[3] Lenin, V. (2011): Collected Works. Volume 21. Progress Publishers. Moscow, p. 213-214.

[4] Guevara, Che (1961), p. 1-2..

[5] Plekhanov, G. (1976): On the Question of the Individual’s role in History. Progress Publishers. Original 1898,  Moscow, p. 13-14.

[6] https://www.marxists.org/archive/guevara/1965/04/01.htm.

[7] Coard, B. (2017), p. 93.

[8] Idem, p. 146.

[9] Idem, p. 152.

[10] Idem, p. 152-153.

[11] Idem, p. 94.

[12] Idem, p. 147.

[13] Idem, p. 137.

[14] Idem, p. 242.

[15] Idem.

[16] Idem, p. 228.

Survey on Islamophobia in the US

The Othering & Belonging Institute at the University of California, Berkeley  is organizing a national survey on Islamophobia. The survey will run from Wednesday, October 14th – Monday, October 26th, 2020.The survey is intended for all Muslim Americans, including citizens and residents, who live and/or work in the US.The survey is a national study covering all 50 states and Washington DC.The survey is completely anonymous and will not ask or collect any personal information. More information: https://berkeley.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_3eNoqCL0T9fMMcZ

Statement by DIN on the resignation of Houria Bouteldje from PIR

Houria Bouteldje was a leading member of PIR. PIR is a founding member of the Decolonial International Network. Here is the statement on her Facebook page Houria: https://m.facebook.com/story.php?story_fbid=3843662218982067&id=100000149795764. In response to her decision the board of the DIN Foundation sends her the following message:

Dear Sister Houria:

We have taken notice of your statement regarding leaving the PIR. As we explained in our conversation prior to your final decision, we don’t agree with your analysis and strategy. We understand the pressures under which the PIR had to operate and appreciate the hard work the PIR and you in particular have done in the social struggle in France and internationally. We thank you from the bottom of our heart for your contribution.

For a long period of time we have had friendly discussions in relation to agreements and divergencies with you and our brothers and sisters in PIR on questions of decolonial theory, analysis, strategy, tactics and the building of social movements. Now that PIR is no longer a member of DIN we think that the movement as a whole will benefit from these discussions when we take it to the public domain.

We respect your decision. We want to stimulate that every individual and organization that wants to contribute to decolonial strategy and activism should have their own space in developing their organization and strategy according to their ideas of decolonial theory and activism. The instrument of this development is discussion and debate.
In the coming weeks and months we will engage in comradely discussions on our differences that will hopefully benefit the whole movement.
We hope that we can still work with you and your brothers and sisters on future projects that you might undertake.

With love and care
Sandew Hira
on behalf of the board of the DIN Foundation