by Tom Keefer
The Two Row Wampum is one of the oldest treaty relationships between the Onkwehonweh (original people) of Turtle Island (what Indigenous nations called North America before European colonization) and European immigrants. This treaty was made in 1613 between the Dutch and the Haudenosaunee as Dutch traders and settlers moved up the Hudson River into Mohawk territory. The Dutch initially proposed a patriarchal relationship with themselves as fathers and the Haudenosaunee people as children.
According to Mohawk historian Ray Fadden, the Haudenosaunee rejected this notion and instead proposed that:
“We will not be like Father and Son, but like Brothers. [Our treaties] symbolize two paths or two vessels, travelling down the same river together. One, a birch bark canoe, will be for the Indian People, their laws, their customs and their ways. The other, a ship, will be for the white people and their laws, their customs and their ways. We shall each travel the river together, side by side, but in our own boat. Neither of us will make compulsory laws nor interfere in the internal affairs of the other. Neither of us will try to steer the other’s vessel.”
Well aware of the political and military strength of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy, the Dutch agreed with the principles of the Two Row. As was their custom for recording events of significance, the Haudenosaunee created a wampum belt out of purple and white quahog shells to commemorate the agreement. The Indigenous legal scholar John Borrows described the physical nature of the Two Row Wampum as follows:
“The belt consists of two rows of purple wampum beads on a white background. Three rows of white beads symbolizing peace, friendship, and respect separate the two purple rows. The two purple rows symbolize two paths or two vessels traveling down the same river. One row symbolizes the Haudenosaunee people with their law and customs, while the other row symbolizes European laws and customs. As nations move together side-by-side on the River of Life, they are to avoid overlapping or interfering with one another.”
The Two Row Wampum treaty made with the Dutch became the basis for all future Haudenosaunee relationships with European powers. The principles of the Two Row were consistently restated by Haudenosaunee spokespeople and were extended to relationships with the French, British and Americans under the framework of the Silver Covenant Chain agreements. It was understood by the Haudenosaunee that the Two Row agreement would last forever: “as long as the grass is green, as long as the water flows downhill, and as long as the sun rises in the east and sets in the West”.
While 2013 marks the 400th anniversary of the introduction of the Two Row to Europeans, it is important to note that the concept of the Two Row and the idea of reciprocal relationships of peace, friendship and respect between different entities has a much deeper connection to the Haudenosaunee world view.
The Two Row is a foundational philosophical principle, a universal relationship of non-domination, balance and harmony between different forces. The Two Row principles of peace, respect and friendship can be extended to any relationship between autonomous beings working in concert. These include nation-to-nation relationships, dynamics between lovers and partners, and the relationship between human beings and our environment.
While the Two Row Wampum was created to commemorate the introduction of the Dutch Republic and is derived from Haudenosaunee traditions and philosophy, it is also consistent with the outlooks of many other Indigenous peoples seeking to accommodate themselves to the sudden arrival of Europeans on Turtle Island. Almost universally, Indigenous peoples extended their hands in peace and friendship to the newcomers to their lands, and sought to improve their lives through trade and friendship with these newcomers. But at the same time, Indigenous people were intent upon maintaining their own ways of life.
The Two Row can function as a framework for decolonization right across Turtle Island, since holding true to the Two Row means supporting the right of Onkwehonweh people to maintain themselves on their own land bases according to their own systems of self governance and organization. These traditional Indigenous systems are opposed to the values of the capitalist economic system. Rather than being driven by notions of “profitability” and production for markets, traditional Indigenous economics are based upon localized subsistence production taking place in harmony with nature.
In this framework, people do not “own” land, but belong to the land as a part of creation and safeguard it on behalf of coming generations. In most traditional Indigenous societies, resources and wealth were shared, and production was geared towards meeting human needs, rather than the of commodities to be bought and sold on the market.
The Two Row Wampum remains a treaty relationship that Haudenosaunee and other Indigenous nations defend today, even if the Canadian state has failed to uphold the principles of the treaties it inherited from the British Crown. Since the capitalist economy which so degrades and exploits the majority of non-Indigenous people has proven incapable of upholding this agreement, it is time for those who support Indigenous rights on the non-Indigenous side of the Two Row to reclaim these principles. We should not be surprised that the rapacious British Crown and the imperialist Canadian state is not willing to respect the self-determination of Indigenous peoples or uphold the Two Row Wampum. But that doesn’t mean that the majority of people in Canada cannot be won over to living by the principles of genuine peace, respect and friendship with Indigenous peoples on this land.
With the rise of a new cycle of Indigenous struggle through the Idle No More movement, and with the global crisis of capitalism intensifying, the 400th anniversary of the Two Row Wampum is a perfect moment for us to start redefining this relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples.
For more information about the Two Row Wampum, please visit http://tworowsociety.com/.
by James Chemose, Eric Omwanda & Owen Sheppard – LCO
In the year 1963, Kenya attained a partial, political independence from the hands of its British colonial masters by both the edge of the sword and political negotiation. For many within Kenya, this was a cherished dream come true after many years of labour and sacrifice: freedom from the colonial government, which forced Kenyans to carry identity papers called kipande, engaged them in forced labour, alienated them from their lands, and paid low wages and salaries to black Africans, just to mention a few abuses.
From the early days of British imperialism in Kenya, communities resisted this invasion and abuse in unique ways.
The Giriama community of the coastal region was one of the first to rebel against the British. This group showed enormous bravery and strategic acumen through the guidance of their leader Mekatilili wa Menza, a woman who spearheaded their guerrilla campaign against colonial rule between 1913 and 1914. Despite slowing the progress of colonialism at a crucial moment when the balance of forces did not clearly favour imperialism, Mekatilili was eventually captured in 1914 and taken to Western Province, where she was assassinated.
Other elements within indigenous communities opted to collaborate with the colonialists. Settlers and missionaries often tricked local leaders by offering them presents, such as a bicycle that was offered to King Mumias of the Wanga in exchange for his cooperation. These early comprador elements greatly smoothed the way for theft and militarization of land and resources.
Settlers soon controlled a sufficient base to occupy the land, confiscate livestock and other resources from indigenous peoples, and appropriate or import the capital necessary to begin building inland cities. Kenya’s capital Nairobi was established in 1899 as a supply depot along the new East African railway system built to hasten resource extraction from interior areas of the continent.
As colonialism reached maturity, indigenous people were increasingly denied the right to grow cash crops such as tea and coffee, these industries being placed under strict settler control. Indeed, settlers took over much of the fertile land and left Africans with less productive areas. The British occupation of Kenya’s Central Highlands, where favourable climatic conditions allowed for European-style farming and the absence of endemic malaria, was so intensive that the region became known as the “White Highlands”.
Necessarily, this process of settlement caused mass displacement of indigenous people. This and the machinations of colonial divide-and-rule policy stoked so-called “tribal” rivalries that continue to simmer today. Far from a clash of cultures, these tensions stem from ongoing issues of land appropriation.
In fact, the expulsion of subsistence farmers from their lands and the complete, imposed transformation of the economic system in most communities created a class system. Farmers became indentured labourers in rural areas, or members of the new urban proletariat. Inevitably, this created exactly the conditions of impoverishment, class solidarity, and organization needed for the coming independence struggle.
By the 1950s, numbers of trade unionists and freedom fighters had joined the Kenya Land and Freedom Army (KLFA), which became known as the Mau Mau movement. Mau Mau was a guerrilla army under the leadership of Stanley Mathenge and Dedan Kimathi, the objective of which was to harass the colonialists off the land. According to Ogot and Ochieng’ in their book Decolonization and Independence in Kenya, members of Mau Mau and their allies set aside ethnic differences incited and heightened through colonialism, instead drawing on solidarity against their common imperialist enemy. In fact, although the Mau Mau movement largely drew its membership from the Kikuyu ethnic group, Luo people calling themselves Onegos also formed a Mau Mau group to fight alongside them. (p40)
Many Mau Mau militants were killed in brutal repression and reprisals including RAF bombing raids and civilian concentration camps not unlike those the British had recently liberated in the fascist-held Europe of WWII.
Ultimately Britain’s superior military resources exhausted the capacities of the armed resistance. But the fighting had also sapped the colonial government’s resources. The administration realized it would be economical to release the the Kenya colony into the hands of moderate African independence activists such as Jomo Kenyatta. Trained in the UK as a lawyer, Kenyatta successfully presented himself as the civilized alternative to armed struggle. In return for guaranteeing the undisrupted flow of capital, he was permitted to become the first president of an independent Kenya.
Unfortunately, despite the Uhuru (Independence) government’s pledges of harambee (“let’s pull together”) and “African Socialism”, full measures were not taken to build an equal and democratic society. Public control over the economy, including vital services like transportation and telecommunications, was not protected. Public assets were gradually sold to foreign-based companies more interested in making profits for European shareholders than serving the needs of people. Issues left over from the colonial period, such as uneven infrastructure development and land distribution, were never remedied.
All these factors have worsened social inequality following independence, and opened the door to continued ethnic tensions often incited by politicians. In 2007, this sort of political incitement along ethnic lines resulted in rampant horizontal violence, characterized as a “war”, following the general elections. A thousand were killed in fighting and approximately 600,000 internally displaced.
Now, with another General Election just around the corner on 04 March, it remains to be seen whether the dispossessed of Kenya will remember their tradition of resistance to exploitation and stand united in the face of those politicians who mediate public dissent against the demands of foreign and local capital. The many ongoing “peace campaigns” in poor and working-class areas of Nairobi rarely develop beyond sloganeering, and certainly do not place a class analysis at the centre of the electoral violence issue.
It is ironic that those who desire peace in Kenya might do well to think on the words of one of its chief historical detractors, the very Winston Churchill who served as British Prime Minister through much of the Mau Mau war: study history.
The occasion of the 200-year anniversary of the War of 1812 has brought Tecumseh back into the spotlight. The Tecumseh that many Canadians have been presented with is a great native leader who fought for the British Crown and helped save Canada from the Americans. This victor’s image of history is presented with little detail about what Tecumseh and the great alliance of Indigenous nations he led actually fought for.
Tecumseh (March 1768 – October 5, 1813) was born near the Chillicothe, located in what is now known as Old Town, Ohio. His father Pucksinwah was the head of the Kispolotha clan, and was murdered by an American hunting party when Tecumseh was only six years old, leaving him to be raised by the Shawnee and guided by his older brother.
When Tecumseh was born, a great meteor was seen streaking across the sky. This meteor was recognized to have great significance and was called the Panther Spirit by the old men. Tecumseh’s father Pucksinwah gifted him with his name Tecumseh, meaning “Panther Across the Sky”.
At age eight Tecumseh was already exhibiting the characteristics of a great leader, and by the spring of 1783 he took part in his first battle against the whites. He continued to travel across the continent, inspiring many nations and gaining recognition as more than just a magnificent warrior, but was also a political statesman, a humanitarian, a visionary, an incredible orator, and to some a prophet.
The Shawnee, like many of the northwest nations, realized that their total elimination was imminent if they did not resist the invading nations (United States and British Canada), with their flood of frontiersmen invading their lands. Tecumseh concluded that the only possible method of opposing the advancement of invading white settlers was to successfully obtain the cooperation of all the Native Nations to act with one heart and one mind.
Over the course of a decade, Tecumseh travelled throughout Turtle Island, giving speeches that inspired the Delaware, Haudenosaunee, Wyandotts, Potawatomies, Wendakes, Ottawas, Chippewas, Winnebegos, Foxes, Sacs, Menominees, Lakota, Mandans, Cheyennes, Natchez, Choctaws, Creeks, Seminoles, Chickasaws, Alabamas, Biloxis, and Cherokees. He even met with many nations usually considered traditional enemies. Tecumseh stood strong and confident proclaiming: “Brush the slavery from your eyes and create your new power, your new society.”
Tecumseh never entered into any treaty negotiations and openly condemned those who did. In one such instance with American Governor William Henry Harrison, Tecumseh said, “How can we have confidence in the white people? When Jesus Christ came on earth, you killed him and nailed him to the cross.”
As the Americans and British were set to return to war in 1812, Tecumseh chose the lesser of two evils and allied his cause and supporters with the British.
Although he aligned with the British, he maintained a vision of an alternative society, a society where all Native Nations would come together, creating a civilization distinct from that of the white settlers. This was to be a vision where an extensive use of land would be shared by all Native peoples, solidifying their self-determination and maintaining ways of life in balance with Mother Earth.
The enemy that Tecumseh fought were the leadership of the white American settlers, which have since materialized into the superpower known as the United States of America, the leading imperialist force in the world today. This force wages war against nations all across the world in all aspects of life – environmental, social, physical, political and so on. The defeat of Tecumseh’s alliance only opened the way for the colonization of peoples all across the world.
Tecumseh’s temporary alliance with the British proved fatal after he was betrayed in battle. Although Tecumseh wanted to take a stand against American forces, he was encouraged to retreat to the Thames River where his forces would receive a full provision of winter supplies. Once on the Thames, General Henry Proctor promised to stand with Tecumseh, but Proctor and the other redcoats cowardly retreated, leaving the native forces to fight alone. On October 5th, 1813, Tecumseh was laid to rest in an unmarked grave. One can only wonder how different our continent would be today if Tecumseh and his alliance had survived and fulfilled its vision of an independent alliance of native nations.
At the bicentenary of Tecumseh’s death in battle, the potential to rebuild Tecumseh’s alliance not only remains, but is strengthened by the fact that many settlers and other newcomers are also under attack by capitalism. We can and must build on Tecumseh’s vision by strengthening the alliance between native nations, while also expanding it to include the unification of all nations from all directions, for the land and its people.
Giibwanisi is a founding member of the Anishinaabe Confederacy to Invoke our Nationhood (ACTION) and Oshkimaadziig Unity Camp, a land reclamation within the occupying ‘Awenda Provincial Park’ two hours north of Toronto.
by Makaya Kelday
New York –It was an especially frigid February afternoon in lower Manhattan, as our crowd huddled outside the Cinema Village theatre awaiting our entrance to see the new documentary, Long Distance Revolutionary, about Amerika’s most famous Political Prisoner, Mumia Abu-Jamal.
The film, directed by Stephen Vittoria and produced by Prison Radio director Noelle Hanrahan, opened the night before to a sold out showing. This was the
first run of a tour that includes L.A., Seattle, Calgary, New Orleans, Miami, and your city if you request it.
Though the seats were full people continued to file into the theatre, leaving only a small area in the back for standing room that was soon taken up by the petite frame but enormous spirit of Pam Africa, along with her entourage. It was a family affair indeed, as Ramona Africa entered behind her, along with some children of the MOVE family. It’s only fitting that after all the support Mumia has given the MOVE family throughout the continued incarceration of nine family members, and the bombing of their Philadelphia home in 1985, that they would continue to support him, not only by heading up the International Concerned Friends and Family of Mumia Abu-Jamal committee, but also attending, coordinating and/or speaking at all events held on his behalf (see article from 2008 by BASICS with Ramona Africa).
The lights dimmed on the crowded theatre and our conversational murmurs turned into boos and laughs, and one chant of “Free Palestine!” as the big screen before us ran a Starbucks ad, which was then followed by a Target commercial that garnered a similar crowd reaction. Ironic ads for an event such as this one, but they somehow served to unite the audience, as we turned to our neighbors to share our laughs and/or disgusts, and reminded us that we are all here for the one common, broader cause of justice, and more specifically, to support Brother Mumia.
Long Distance Revolutionary distinguishes itself from previous documentaries about Mumia, In Prison My Whole Life, and A Case for Reasonable Doubt because it doesn’t focus at all on Mumia’s legal case, and instead follows his career as a journalist. From his teenage years as the Minister of Information for the Philadelphia chapter of the Black Panther Party, to his broadcasts at Temple University, to a journalism career that includes work for NPR, the Associated Press, a presidency at the Philadelphia Association of Black Journalists, and ultimately from behind bars, from where he has written seven books and thousands of commentaries. The film features the likes of Angela Davis, Cornell West, Dick Gregory, Alice Walker, M1, Rubin “Hurricane” Carter, and many other speakers who share their thoughts on Mumia’s work, as well as a group of young artists, writers, actors, and activists who recite excerpts of some of Mumia’s pieces throughout the film. Director Stephen Vittoria uses no frills or fancy effects, and no convenient editing, which allows Mumia’s poignant and thoughtful words to speak for themselves.
Rather than continue to allow their incarcerations to define them, we are made to remember that our political prisoners were accomplished men and women in all different areas of life before they got to where they are today. Like Mutulu Shakur who is a celebrated doctor of acupuncture, and as Sundiata Acoli is a gifted mathematician, Mumia is a brilliant journalist whose work has rendered him exiled on Amerikan soil. And after watching Long Distance Revolutionary, though it does not go into his case details whatsoever, it is clear that Mumia’s choice of weapon – his words – is really what the system sought to kill.
But after 30 years on death row (last spring Mumia was moved to general population) the system has still failed to silence him. We hear his voice on rap records, see his name on French streets that have been named after him, and find his image on t-shirts worn by his supporters that claim residencies from Canada to Japan to Germany to South Africa.
Long Distance Revolutionary is just in time to parallel the new “Free Mumia in 4” campaign, and will become an important piece of modern revolutionary history, documenting one of our heroes of the struggle, a revolutionary writer by the name of Mumia Abu-Jamal.
For more info go to www.mumia-themovie.com.
By Jordy Cummings
Richard Seymour’s “Unhitched”, a slim and scathing denunciation of turncoat scoundrel Christopher Hitchens is a thoroughly satisfying and politically important book by one of the few remaining great radical left journalists. I have to hand it to Seymour – this book was a cathartic read. No one uses words like “yawp”, let alone carefully modulated jazz-like prose, end a subsection with a cacophony of righteous snark, veer over to an allegory, and then back to yawping. No one that is, but Richard “Lenin’s Tomb” Seymour.
When I was an undergraduate, trying to be a lefty journalist and immersing myself in the literature of the Left, I was largely politicized by an emerging pantheon of great left-writers and thinkers. They were people I wanted to meet, people I wanted to be. I am of that “layer” of those politicized in the late 90s and early 2000s. There was of course Chomsky and Said up at the top of the list, then of course Howard Zinn. But standing above all else, there were those two Nation columnists, Christopher Hitchens and Alexander Cockburn. In the last ten years we’ve lost all but one of the pantheon. When Zinn and Cockburn died, there was barely a peep – indeed one person of my acquaintance, a regular reader of CounterPunch in earlier years, recently admitted that he didn’t even know that Cockburn was dead. When Said died, there were certainly some tributes, but a lot more spite, including from Hitchens. But when Hitchens died, it seemed the world mourned. From the left to the right, people remembered a great “contrarian”.
The Hitch! He may have hated religion but he loved the surgical bombing of brown people. He may have ended his life with a paean to the workers’ uprising in Wisconsin, but he also famously opposed abortion and was a critic of feminism. By golly, he attempted to fuse Tony Blair and Tony Cliff. As Seymour points out, Blair even sent a mourning tribute to him as did his favorite US president, the “revolutionary” George W. Bush. Hitchens had been a vocal supporter of what he called Bush’s “bourgeois revolutions from above” , that is to say, transforming the social and political relatIons of foreign countries through military domination that would be embarked upon by US intervention in the Middle East.
How did Hitchens then break from this pantheon? I recall when I really got into Hitchens, it was his denunciation of the Clintons, “No One Left to Lie to”– right around the time he put his old friend Sidney Blumenthal on a collision course with perjury charges. At the time, all that was apparent was Hitchens’ righteous critique of Clinton breaking with even the most mild liberalism, his consolidation of neoliberal restructuring of social provisions, his absolute screw-up on the health care front, his pursuit of a new imperialism. There were also funny bits of gossip, as Hitchens had known Clinton back in their Oxford days – indeed for many reasons, not the least of which is that Hitchens truly was a marvelous writer, this is a book worth reading – though it is not clear how much of the substantive critique of Clinton’s public policy came from Hitchens, as opposed to from Sam Husseini, a brilliant D.C.-based reporter who, like many if not most of his comrades, Hitchens ended up stabbing in the back and initially not properly crediting his work.
As Seymour points out, Hitchens’ beef with the Clintons was largely personal, and somewhat disjointed and nearly sociopathic. Indeed, this all went back to when Clinton was first elected, Hilary Clinton not showing up to one of Hitchens’ dinner parties, as one journalist mentioned to Seymour. To be snubbed by the new elites was an affront to Hitchens. He became, in Alexander Cockburn’s words, “Hitch the Snitch.” After his close friend Blumenthal dropped a bit of gossip about Clinton’s “friend with benefits” relationship with Monica Lewinsky, while stating publicly that the White House wasn’t spreading such rumours, Hitchens testified before Ken Starr that his friend had been lying. No matter what one thinks about the Clintons, or those who allow themselves to be employed by the Clintons, the notion of ratting out a friend to a reactionary puritan prosecutor like Ken Starr, is not the makings of a decent human being, let alone a comrade of any sorts.
What Hitchens did not mention was his own support of Clinton’s foreign policy in the Balkans – in which he had already come to accept the US as a force for good in the world, a progressive force sweeping away the forces of reaction. What followed is well known, and is for a younger generation of readers, the Hitchens they knew. Immediately after September 11 attacks, he spoke of caution, of not veering into overreaction, yet soon he was picking fights with anyone who dared question US reaction or even contextualize the attacks as “Anti-American” or worse. His early smears of Noam Chomsky and many others allowed for the entry – even into some quarters of the Left for a short time – of talk of loyalty, of patriotism.
Hitchens became the patron saint of what some came to call “The Decent Left”, those who signed the “Euston Manifesto.” Seymour’s first book (“Liberal Defence of Murder”) gives a history and analysis of this tendency, and is well worth the read. But Hitchens went far beyond even the “decent left” in his calls for civilizational warfare, his shocking and even genocidal Islamophobia (stating that he refused to share a planet with this “enemy”), even, tragically, his disavowal of his early and stalwart Anti-Zionism.
When things went wrong, he cloaked himself in the last refuge of a scoundrel – religion, or rather opposition to it. Iraq would have gone well, said Hitchens in his final public persona as scourge of religion, if not for those meddling Muslims killing each other. Religion had “poisoned everything” alright, but Hitchens did not attempt to examine religion like a good Marxist, looking at it as a social relation, a product of a many different inter-related social forces. Instead, he had the perspective of an upper class 19th century rationalist – and this was nothing new. Seymour unearthed some columns from the 80’s where he denounces progressive religious figures like the assassinated Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero, among others. The condescension shown by Hitchens and his co-thinkers towards those of faith was as aggressively offensive as anything else he did.
As noted, Hitchens’ break with his anti-Zionism was one of his last great acts of apostasy, that is to say, betrayal of a faith, whether political or religious. He had after all co-edited “Blaming the Victims” with Edward Said, a longtime friend and someone who once held a powerful intellectual and fraternal influence over Hitchens. Right as Said was dying, Hitchens took it upon himself to write a very wrong-headed and offensive, even personal criticism of Said’s “Orientalism”, a review that appeared not weeks after Said passed away. This move was what one journalist described to Seymour as Hitchens’ final personal act of transformation, his cutting of ties with those upon whose shoulders he climbed. It was one that incensed even people who had already lost faith in him. Going all the way back to his brief time as an active Leftist, he had a tendency to slander former friends. Unhitched is especially interesting to those of us with some familiarity with 20th century Left history, with juicy quotes from Hitchens’ erstwhile comrades , including Tariq Ali, Alex Callinicos and the late Chris Harman. It’s unsurprising, that Hitchens wrote a wrong-headed review of a Perry Anderson book. By most accounts, while a talented orator and pleasant company, Hitchens never really took his involvement in revolutionary socialism all that seriously, by one account moving on as it was a hindrance to his rising in the world of journalism.
To outward appearances, Hitchens broke with the International Socialist Tendency over the group’s support for military-based forces in the Portuguese Carnation revolution. In Hitchens’ telling, these were “Baader Meinhof elements” on the wrong side of history. Hitchens imagines that he was not in a Leninist organization, when in reality, he was friendly with (but not a member of) a faction opposing democratic centralism within the IST at the time but was in no way a “full time organizer” or even a serious-minded activist.
This was part and parcel of Hitchens’ extremely crude understanding of Marxism. Hitchens’ mined his particular leftist tradition for a conceptual vocabulary, without having any real understanding of the concepts with which he was working. (Incidentally, while Seymour doesn’t mention this, Hitchens wrote an introduction to a 1971 edition of Marx’s “Civil War in France” that is an absolute hoot!) While a very sensitive – if somewhat conservative – literary critic, Hitchens simply didn’t get Marxism. His deterministic understanding of history as linear path to be followed, allowed for an admiration of the legendary neoliberal Margaret Thatcher, quietly even supporting the Malvinas war of 1982. What is more, he called 1492 a “great year” in human history, writing off 500 years of genocide against indigenous peoples as just so much debris. Plenty of critiques could be raised of the work of Marxists he condemned at one point or another, even while identifying as one. But Hitchens didn’t engage with what was wrong with what he criticized– at best, he just poked fun.
Hitchens, Seymour points out, was not like other political or religious apostates, notably the first generation of neoconservatives who rejected their early political impulses, that had “grown older and wiser and that’s why I’m turning you in”. There also wasn’t a sudden moment but a series of moments. But the truth is, Hitchens was never really on the side of the people to begin with. In Seymour’s estimation, Hitchens was a petit-bourgeois social climber who wanted to be close to power whatever the source, whether that be the movers and shakers of the socialist left, the American left intelligentsia, the world of “letters”, even the department of Homeland Security.
But his case is far more interesting, and redolent of the degeneracy of intellectual culture in a general sense. He wasn’t merely an opportunist with no principle, playing an act. He really believed that his shifting positions as a journalist had such significance that he would have to alter his entire social milieu, and even more so, this produced a categorical imperative to screw over his former friends and comrades. Not only did he slander Said and Chomsky, call Cockburn an Anti-Semite, not credit Sam Husseini properly, accuse Sam Husseini of having hidden knowledge of terrorist acts, claim Perry Anderson was on the wrong side of history and so on and so forth, but also embrace David Horowitz (who he had once denounced in a memorable piece back in the late 80’s) and Paul Wolfowitz, architect of the war in Iraq. He also felt that in doing so, he was no more than a bearer of the blind law of history itself.
Like Hitchens, Seymour is a brilliant writer, capable of the same balance of rhetoric and snark, good phrasing and humour. Unlike Hitchens, however, Seymour is on the side of the people and has a solid grounding in historical materialism. Indeed, while accessible, this book itself is an exercise in the craft of historical materialism – while certainly relying in a secondary fashion on gossip and interviews with Hitchens’ friends, much of the book constitutes a critique internal to Hitchens’ entire written output, showing the germ of his late-in-life position was present from the start. Indeed, he uses Hitchens’ own logic against him. Hitchens is hardly unique as a baby boomer with complicated and shifting politics, always wanting to be on the “right side of history.” The difference is, Hitchens lived the baby boomer sell-out , the integration into neoliberal ideology, publicly, and left plenty of damage in his wake.
Did it matter? Is this important outside of the intelligentsia, Left and otherwise? I would argue that it is. Hitchens was a very effective propagandist for war. Without his propaganda, and particularly his support for McCarthyist tactics towards his former friends, which allowed those not identified with the Left to use such tactics, helped open up a whole new authoritarian discourse around loyalty. The fact that the American public is cheering on the pro-torture liberal-imperialist film Zero Dark Thirty these days is not unrelated to the pioneer of post-9/11 “War on Terror Intellectuals”, that disgusting turncoat, Christopher Hitchens.
Jordy Cummings is a PhD candidate at York University and a member of CUPE Local 3903. He has written for Basics, the Bullet, CounterPunch and Socialist Studies and is the Interventions Editor at Alternate Routes.
On saturday, October 13, over 60 people commemorated the 25th anniversary of the assassination of Thomas Sankara at an event held in Toronto.
Thomas Sankara had led a revolution in Burkina Faso, from 1983 to 1987, during which the country saw unprecedented participation of the masses toward a collective goal of self-sustained development.
Pictures from the event organized by The Group for Research and Initiative for the Liberation of Africa (GRILA), Network for Pan-Afrikan Solidarity (NPAS), and International League of People’s Struggles (ILPS), can be seen here.
Below is a documentary of Thomas Sankara.
Thomas Sankara was also rememberd in Senegal where the ILPS helped coordinate the event. See the report written by Demba Moussa Dembele below. Read more…
Written by the Network for Pan-Afrikan Solidarity - October 10, 2012.
First published at http://pambazuka.org/en/category/obituary/84655
‘…an authentic national middle class ought to consider as its bounden duty to betray the calling that fate has marked out for it, and to put itself to school with the people….’ 
The Network for Pan-Afrikan Solidarity (NPAS) offers its condolences to the immediate members of Brother Charles (Charley) Roach’s family as well as to his fictive kin in the Afrikan Canadian community and those in social movement organizations throughout Canada and elsewhere. Brother Roach passed away on October 2, 2012 from brain cancer at the age of 79. Brother Charley was a lawyer, organic intellectual, Pan-Afrikanist, artist, police accountability advocate, community-builder and anti-imperialist/anti-colonialist. He was based in Toronto, Canada.
Hopefully, news of the dear comrade’s death will be met less with profound sadness than with joy and appreciation for our having had the chance to share time and space with him. We ought to celebrate his life, which was well-lived, and committed to the pursuit of justice. We should recognize Charles’ record of service, which would have made Frantz Fanon and Amilcar Cabral proud of this member of the intelligentsia who devoted his life to the emancipation of the oppressed.
We can assert without fear of contradiction that Brother Charley betrayed the calling that fate so often marks out for those who pursue the practice of law. Rejecting the paths that lead too many lawyers and other professionals toward blatant complicity with forces of oppression, Brother Charley placed his knowledge and skills at the disposal of Afrikans and other members of suffering humanity across the world. It would have been quite easy and is generally financially seductive for members of the Afrikan petit bourgeoisie or professional middle-class to sell their services to the highest bidder and become handmaidens for the systems of exploitation. Our dearly departed brother committed what the Guinea-Bissau revolutionary Amilcar Cabral termed ‘class suicide’ by rejecting his class identity and as such ‘completely identified with the deepest aspirations of the people to which [he] belong[ed]’ 
It is the position of NPAS that Brother Charley exemplified the best of the Afrikan intelligentsia who embrace the radical tradition of the struggle for liberation. The presence of this man in the Afrikan community was made even more glaring and self-evident due to the relative absence of other members of his class from the work of militant and oppositional activism and grassroots organizational development. Among the ranks of the professional Afrikan middle-class and their counterparts in academia as professors and students, we often find a disdain for or estrangement from genuinely transgressive work and action for social emancipation and Afrikan liberation. It is apparent that many of the Afrikan middle-class fear endangering what Bishop Desmond Tutu calls the ‘crumbs of compassion thrown from the table of someone who considers himself [their] master.’
Brother Charley rejected opportunities to receive the perks and profits that are attendant with playing compliant to oppressive systems. Having worked for the City of Toronto as a lawyer he left to better serve the people as an independent legal advocate. Later in life he turned down the opportunity to work as a provincial judge. He would have had to make an oath of allegiance to the Queen of Britain and that would have compromised his anti-colonial and anti-white supremacist commitments. According to Peter Rosenthal of the law firm Roach, Schwartz & Associates, ‘One of his most persistent projects is the abolition of the oath of allegiance to the Queen as a condition of citizenship. The monarchy, he believes, is a symbol of colonialism, an insult to both his African and Irish roots, and contravenes his belief in equality [anti-racism]’.  Our dear brother who has gone to the realm of the ancestors walked the talk with strength of character and humility. He was a true role model, par excellence, for younger activists and organizers!
He is a positive example for the Afrikan-Canadian middle-class, especially those in academia who celebrate in words their love of the concept praxis , which goes beyond writing and publishing little-read papers that call for tearing down the walls of Babylon. Praxis comes with doing the work of liberation or being politically active. Brother Charley’s body of work includes challenging state violence inflicted by the police against Afrikan people. His role in the creation of the Black Action Defence Committee and the work that it did in limiting the number of Afrikan people killed at the hands of the armed wing of the state will remain a shining tribute to his legacy as an engaged organic intellectual.
Charles Roach was also a cultural worker and a supporter and practitioner of the cultural arts. Retired educator and comrade-in-arms Lennox Farrell shares with us the type of artist that Brother Charley was to our struggle:
‘An artist, Mark Twain like Charley, also believed that art is never politically inert; inane sometimes, but never inert. Art is active. Art is activating! In addition, art in its many manifestations is not only the fusing of form and function into beauty, it is also, in the jaws of injustice, that tongue speaking politics to power’. 
The culture of an oppressed people may be used as a weapon of struggle. According to Cabral in the text National Liberation and Culture:
‘The value of culture as an element of resistance to foreign domination lies in the fact that culture is the vigorous manifestation on the ideological or idealist plane of the physical and historical reality of the society that is dominated or to be dominated. Culture is simultaneously the fruit of a people’s history and a determinant of it. 
Brother Charley saw in the cultures of Afrikan people the force for resisting white supremacist erasure of self, identity and community and collaboration with colonialism. He was born in Trinidad where the people used carnival arts to assert their humanity and push back against the idea of the cultural inferiority of the Afrikan during the periods of enslavement and post-emancipation.
In 1967, during the centenary celebration of the settler-colonial state of Canada’s independence Brother Charley ‘was a leading player in the creation and development of Caribana, Toronto’s annual African-Canadian celebration’.  The 1960s in Canada witnessed an explosion in the population of Afrikans migrating from the Caribbean as a result of changes to the explicitly white supremacist immigration system and the dire need for workers. The latter situation was the outcome of White workers staying in Europe to participate in its post-World War II reconstruction. Afrikans in Toronto used their resistance culture of carnival to send a message that they were here to stay and would not be silenced by the twin forces of economic exploitation and racist domination. Caribana was thus created to affirm the cultural integrity of Afrikan-Caribbean people and their culture as well as beat back the advance of the corrosive imposition of psychological oppression.
Brother Charley and his comrades of the time were not only preoccupied with the artistic and psychological weaponry elements of culture. At Caribana’s inception, its founders envisioned the festival being used to finance the erection of a community centre and community development programmes for the people. The members of the Afrikan working-class were struggling with their oppressive condition as racialized and gendered workers in the Canadian labour force. These pioneers, especially Brother Charley, saw no divide between meeting the material needs of the people and attending to the requirements of the psyche for affirmation and a healthy environment.
Using culture to educate, mobilize and organize the oppressed and their allies, our champion of a brother was an important contributor to the creation of the International Festival of Poetry of Resistance in Canada. His actions and thoughts in the area of culture boldly affirm Toni Cade Bambara’s exhortation that, ‘[t]he responsibility of an artist representing an oppressed people is to make revolution irresistible.’  Unlike the socially useless direction of mass culture and the frivolous nature of popular culture, the cultural work of our brother significantly contributed to maintaining a culture of resistance to imperialism, white supremacy, sexism, capitalism and other structures of exploitation. Along with our professionals, intellectuals, and academics, many of our poets, painters, and other cultural workers have much to learn from people like Brother Charley.
All in all, the Afrikan Canadian writer and law school graduate Anthony Morgan sums up the essence and contribution of the organic intellectual Brother Charles Roach as a humanist and fighter for social justice:
‘He demonstrated that true love of and respect for self and community meant not disregarding one’s connection to a people that suffers from disproportionately high and chronic rates of unemployment, underemployment, poverty, glorified thuggery, academic under achievement, police surveillance and brutality, and incarceration. To the contrary, Roach remained ever cognizant of and engaged by the words of the great Caribbean-American writer and activist, Audre Lorde, who once said, “Your silence will not protect you.’ 
[i] Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth, (New York: Grove Press, 1963) 150.
[ii] Amilcar Cabral, “The Weapon of Theory”, Address delivered to the first Tricontinental Conference of the Peoples of Asia, Africa and Latin America held in Havana in January, 1966 http://goo.gl/tbj4I
[iii] The Desmond Tutu Peace Foundation, http://www.tutufoundation-usa.org/exhibitions.html
[iv] Peter Rosenthal and Vivian Pitchik, Charles Roach: Homage to a warrior, NOW, July 19-26, 2012, vol 31 no 47, http://goo.gl/9jH5B
[v] “Praxis is the process by which a theory, lesson, or skill is enacted, practiced, embodied, or realised. “Praxis” may also refer to the act of engaging, applying, exercising, realizing, or practicing ideas.” Retrieved from http://goo.gl/xmF3g
[vi] Lennox Farrell, “A tribute to ‘Canada’s first citizen’, Charley Roach,” Share, 3 Oct. 2012: http://goo.gl/bWZE5
[vii] Amilcar Cabral, “National Liberation and Culture,” Transition, 1974, 45: 13,http://goo.gl/KzSxP
[viii] Timothy Appleby, “Veteran civil rights lawyer dead at 79,” The Globe and Mail, 3 Oct. 2012: http://goo.gl/hfJ31
[ix] Peter Jackson, “The politics of the streets: A geography of Caribana,” Political Geography, March 1992, 11 (2): 133.
[x] Aisha Brown, “The king of pop’s progressive impact,” Examiner, 27, Jun. 2009:http://goo.gl/KseR0
[xi] Anthony Morgan, The Black Canadian activist who was never a citizen, The Huffington Post, 4, Oct. 2012: http://goo.gl/9n8ag
We are now in February and for Africans in North America it is a significant month. It is usually observed as Black History Month.
February is taken as an opportunity to acknowledge African people’s struggles and achievements and commemorate significant moments in the fight against white supremacy, capitalism, sexism and other forms of oppression.
Some of us use this month to reflect and rededicate ourselves to the revolutionary or radical African political tradition.
In the spirit of collective self-criticism, are we at the point where Black History Month is due for a name change and focus? Read more…
by J.D. Benjamin – BASICS Issue #23 (Nov/Dec 2010)
This year marks the 40th anniversary of the invocation of the War Measures Act during the October Crisis of 1970; the largest mass detention in Canadian history, only surpassed by the arrests during the G20 protests of this year.
Although the October Crisis began with the kidnapping of James Cross by the Front de Libération du Québec (FLQ), the federal government had been considering using the War Measures Act against the left and nationalist movements in Quebec since at least May 1970. Read more…
BASICS Issue #24 – by S. da Silva
To many, the unprecedented crackdown and detention of over 1000 activists, dissidents, even regular people, at the G20 Summit in Toronto seemed to express the emergence of a ‘police state’ in Canada. For others, it was unbelievable that this could happen ‘here,’ that things like this only happened elsewhere, in ‘other’ places, like in third world countries or under military dictatorships.
Some Canadians may recall the internment of over 9000 ‘enemy aliens’ during World War I – mostly the Ukrainians who were reduced to slave-like labour, working under the barrel of a gun, clearing, draining, and cultivating new lands for more worthy settlers. Many more will also remember the dispossession and internment of some 22,000 Japanese Canadians during World War II. However, ceremonial apologies have rendered these events regrettable things of the past and have nothing to do with today, right? Wrong. Read more…