RACE FOR POWER: REPARATIONS AND THE INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY
Indeed, in the wake of the tragic events of 11 September 2001, it is evident that in the long term the value of the dollar will fall -- as the idea of the U.S. as a safe haven sinks under the rubble of the World Trade Center -- and the value of the "euro" will rise. The increased U.S. reliance on the EU -- and, indeed, the international community -- to wage its war against "terrorism," also suggests that Washington will become more reliant on the world and, thus, will have to heed clarion calls coming from abroad.
The position of Germany in this context is striking. Compared to Britain and France, Germany was not a major colonial power -- in Africa or elsewhere; indeed, one of the major causes of the two blood-lettings called World War I and World War II was Berlin's effort to gain a larger share of the division of the world that would be more in line with what its ruling elite saw as the nation's actual power. The end result was that Germany wound up losing what colonies it had, particularly in Namibia, SouthWest Africa, which -- after Berlin's ignominious defeat in World War I -- was handed over to South Africa. Interestingly, though the WCAR was boycotted by most high-level representatives of North America and Western Europe, Germany dispatched its Foreign Minister who expressed contrition for slavery and colonialism.
Not only is the E.U. embroiled in furious conflicts with the U.S. over all manner of bread and butter issues -- issues which have served as a pretext for war in different times -- but, as well, there are sharp ideological disputes between the two giants as well. The Foreign Minister of Germany is a member of the Green Party -- a party not unlike the party of the same name represented by the much reviled Ralph Nader during the 2000 presidential race -- and the Chancellor, Gerhard Schroeder is a Social Democrat. "Socialism" is not a dirty word in the E.U. as Social Democrats play a leading role in Brussels, the "capital" of the EU. Many in Europe look askance at the U.S. and its "cowboy capitalism" that Washington has sought to foist on the rest of the planet by dint of its leading role in multi-lateral institutions, e.g. the World Bank (led by the Australian-American, James Wolfensohn) and the International Monetary Fund. Many Europeans look down their nose at George Bush, present occupant of the White House, as a Bible-quoting, gun-toting, abortion obsessed, environment polluting, Toxic Texan. They resent his seeking to gun international treaties on global warming, small arms, the International Criminal Court, etc. Just as there are those in Washington who no doubt find it convenient to have leverage against Germany because of Holocaust lawsuits, there are those in Europe who would like to have leverage against the U.S. because of reparations claims. Indeed, those seeking to file lawsuits about U.S. reparations would be well-advised to look into the possibility of filing such claims in European courts, just as those non-governmental organizations seeking leverage should also be peering across the Atlantic.
The Prime Minister of France, Lionel Jospin, is not only a Socialist but a former Trotskyite. Interestingly, he recently endorsed the potentially far-reaching "Tobin Tax," named after Yale professor James Tobin, which would place a tax on cross-border capital movements the funds from which could then be deployed on behalf of the developing world. Thus far, President Fidel Castro of Cuba -- another prominent defender of reparations -- has been one of the few international leaders bold enough to endorse this measure. That Jospin of France would do so is indicative of how quickly political currents can shift -- something reparations advocates should keep in mind. Of course, the "Tobin Tax" has been a non-starter on this side of the Atlantic, not worthy of mention in polite circles. Yet, its redistributive nature is not unlike reparations and is animated by the same spirit.7 Also worthy of note is that Berlin -- at the prompting of Paris -- also has taken the "Tobin Tax" under advisement.
Similarly, at the Durban conference, the French Minister of Co-operation, Charles Josselin, declared, "The French parliament has unanimously adopted a law recognizing that slavery, the trans-Atlantic slave trade, perpetrated from the 15th century against Africans, Amerindians, Malagasies and Indians, constitutes a crime against humanity." One awaits a similar declaration from the U.S. Congress.
In the meantime, it would be quite useful for advocates of reparations to establish firm linkages with the so-called anti-globalization movement, which has shaken the foundations of the leading powers from Seattle to Quebec City to Prague to Genoa. One idea that reparations advocates could usefully bring to anti-globalization circles is the idea that protecting sovereignty -- particularly U.S. sovereignty -- is not necessarily and always a value worth defending. As noted here, often it has been necessary to override U.S. sovereignty-e.g. to protect the human rights of peoples of color, particularly African-Americans. In fact, this notion that anti-globalization means upholding U.S. sovereignty is possibly one reason why participation of peoples of color in the massive anti-globalization marches have been up to par.
In any case, the reparations movement must engage with the European Union in order to advance its worthy goals. Keep in mind that a number of leading members of the E.U. were neither slave trading nations nor colonizing powers -- the Scandinavian nations, whose foreign aid to Africa is proportionally higher than that of the U.S., come quickly to mind. Social Democrats too play a leading role in this region. And just as the Communist Party-USA has special ties to ruling Communists in Cuba and Vietnam, the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) -- which has included former Congressman Ronald V. Dellums among its leaders -- has special ties to European Social Democrats that are well worth exploring.
In that regard, reparations advocates should not only pursue such ties but should also move forthwith to dispatch delegations to leading E.U. capitals to engage in intensive discussions with political parties and other organs of civil society. This is nothing new. During the era of slavery, Frederick Douglass spent a considerable amount of time touring Europe drumming up opposition against the lords of the lash -- the demon slave-owners of the South. That Britain did not intervene on behalf of the South during the Civil War -- though breaking up and weakening the U.S. had been a long-term goal of London, at least since the War of 1812 -- did not occur, not least because of the influence wielded in the U.K. by lobbyists like Douglass. Likewise, the turning point for the crusade against lynching spearheaded by Ida B. Wells-Barnett took place when she toured Europe, bringing to the attention of a larger audience the heinous extra-judicial crimes then being perpetrated against (mostly) African-Americans.
Thus, there is ample precedent for such delegations or, alternatively, opening an office in the E.U. capital, Brussels.
Needless to say, reparations advocates should not limit our lobbying to the E.U. alone. As of now, relations between the U.S. and the world's second leading national economy, Japan, appear to be quite close. Right now, Washington -- after sending the Soviet Union into oblivion after the expenditure of trillions of dollars in taxpayers' money -- is eyeing hungrily the prospect of destabilizing the Communist Party of China, with the assistance of Tokyo. As will be noted below, the U.S. ruling elite is not united on the question of China, not least because of the massive investment there by such giants as General Motors, Kodak, Motorola, etc. Still, surrounding China by dint of alliances with Australia, India and -- if they will cooperate -- Vietnam and South Korea, is high on the agenda of the Bush White House and Japan is seen as a keystone in this arch of containment.
Yet, though it is now largely forgotten, Japan was the nation most admired by African-Americans in the period leading up to the bombing of Pearl Harbor.8 It was Booker T. Washington who told his Japanese interlocutors, "Speaking for the masses of my own race in this country, I think I am safe in saying that there is no other race outside of America whose fortunes the Negro peoples of this country have followed with greater interest or admiration in no other part of the world have the Japanese people a larger number of admirers and well-wishers than among the black people of the United States."9 A few years later, the FBI reported nervously that Marcus Garvey "preached that the next war will be between the Negroes and the whites unless their demands for justice are recognized and that with the aid of Japan on the side of Japan on the side of the Negroes they will be able to win such a war."10 Black Nationalists generally and the Nation of Islam specifically were in the vanguard of this "Tokyo/Negro" or "Asiatic Black Man" formation.11 Once again, it was this leverage that African-Americans had gained abroad that led to concessions at home, on the grounds that having a disaffected and alienated minority at home was not the surest path to national security.12
The bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki changed this "Negro-Tokyo" alliance. Yet, even today there is a sizeable opposition to the U.S. bases sited in Okinawa and elsewhere; a mutually advantageous alliance between those forces and the reparations movement, based on mutual opposition to a common foe could be easily brokered. Similarly, one of the largest Communist parties in the industrialized world is based in Japan; their Sunday newspaper sells more issues than the New York Times. This party too is unsympathetic to continued U.S. occupation of their country. Hence, in addition to creating a liaison with such movements across the Pacific, the long-term interests of African-Americans also suggest that an office in Tokyo is well-advised.
One sure road to Tokyo runs through New Delhi. Though not stressed in this nation, the fact is that Indians may have been more besotted with pre-1945 Japan than African-Americans. A leading hero of India today -- Subhas Chandra Bose -- who ranks with Nehru and Gandhi, fought side by side with forces from Tokyo against the Allies during World War II. Today, Washington hopes to play upon both Tokyo's and New Delhi's long-standing problems with Beijing in pursuit of its anti-China alliance. Unfortunately, one of the many blunders of Beijing in recent times was its 1962 war against India.
India, on the other hand, was a stalwart of the anti-apartheid movement, not least because of South Africa's large Indian minority -- that at one time included Gandhi himself. In order to entice India into an anti-China alliance, the U.S. probably will push for India to secure a permanent seat on the critically important United Nations Security Council, which can only serve to increase its weight in the international community. Furthermore, there are sizeable Indians populations in such critically important nations as Trinidad, Guyana, Kenya, Mauritius, Tanzania, Uganda, South Africa -- and other nations that are often thought of as being part of a Pan-African bloc. This means that reparations advocates would be well-advised to explore extensive and intensive discussions with our Indian counterparts. Of course, this should not exclude alliances with the "Dalits" -- or the "untouchables" -- whose presence within India is not unlike that of African-Americans.
As in New Delhi, so in Beijing. Though there is sizeable U.S. investment in China, it is apparent that ever more powerful forces in this nation would like to dislodge the Communist Party from power. Certainly, the Communist Party of China has made more than its share of blunders and errors vis-à-vis peoples of African descent--particularly in Southern Africa in the 1970s -- and this is no more than a pale reflection of even larger crimes committed against the Chinese people, the Chinese working class above all.13 Yet it is equally clear that Washington should spend more time getting its own human rights house in order -- e.g. by giving serious consideration to the aftermath of the crimes of slavery and Jim Crow -- and spend less time seeking to destabilize nations around the world.
Furthermore, it would be inadvisable for African-Americans to join what very well may be a quixotic crusade against China, just because a sector of the U.S. ruling class has awakened to the sober reality that despite the "death of communism," there remains a Communist Party in power in the largest nation on the planet. Most of all, in international councils, one of the most resolute voices in favor of reparations has been that of China.
Consider Russia as a negative example. During the era of the Soviet Union, Moscow spoke out vigorously against racism in the U.S., helping immeasurably to boost the fortunes of African-Americans. With the advent of the bumbling administration of Boris Yeltsin, what had once been a booming voice shrank dramatically beyond sotto voce to the inaudible. Another "victory" like that and we will be totally undone.
Moreover, sound diplomatic relations with China will open the door to positive relations with other nations with large Chinese populations, including Singapore, Indonesia (which is also the largest predominantly Islamic nation in the world), Malaysia (a nation which does not mind objecting to U.S. policies, as evidenced by their warm relations with Cuba and their refusal to follow the "Washington consensus" in the wake of the 1997 currency crisis in Asia). And, of course, positive relations with Asian nations should not hurt the reparations movement in forging positive relations with the ever-growing Asian-American population.
What holds true for China is even truer for Cuba. Just as Beijing in the 1970s aligned with apartheid South Africa against liberation movements in Angola and elsewhere, it was Havana that fought side by side with the liberation movements to the ultimate victory. It was no accident that the foreign leader receiving the largest applause during the inauguration of Nelson Mandela in 1994 was President Fidel Castro. It was no accident that one of the few non-African heads of state who found time to trek to Durban for WCAR was President Fidel Castro; there he declaimed forcefully on the need for reparations.
The reparations movement needs to engage in urgent consultations with our allies in Havana for no government in the hemisphere is better informed on developments in the Americas. High on the list should be obtaining their reading on developments in Brazil and Venezuela. The Quebec City meeting in April 2001 meant to put forward a so-called Free Trade Agreement of the Americas (FTAA) -- otherwise known as NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) on steroids -- was slowed down in part by the opposition of Brasilia and Caracas. Brazil, which is larger in territory than the U.S,, has pretensions of hemispheric domination all of its own; moreover, unlike the U.S., it has strong progressive political parties, including the Workers' Party which rules the sprawling megalopolis of Sao Paulo -- one of the largest cities in the world -- and has realistic designs on the presidency. Of course, there are those in Brasilia who may be concerned about what endorsing reparations in the U.S. may mean for their own country, whose African derived population may very well be larger than that of Nigeria. At the same time, if reparations for Africa and African-Americans is to become reality, it will be difficult to effectuate if Brasilia does not have prominent seat at the table.
Venezuela also has a large African derived population. As one glance at the visage of President Hugo Chavez will verify. The charismatic former officer has angered Washington, which is concerned with the growing bonds -- trade and otherwise -- between Caracas and Havana, not to mention Venezuela's forward looking foreign policy, which of late has embraced China warmly. As one of the largest oil suppliers to the U.S., this nation is not without leverage all its own in the U.S.
The same holds true for Mexico, the largest Spanish speaking nation in the world and the 10th largest economy in the world. The abject importance of Mexico is one reason why the 2001 election in the city of Los Angeles was of such concern to many reparations advocates. There African-Americans voted overwhelmingly for a staid Euro-American candidate against a progressive Mexican-American candidate, who formerly was a union organizer: the charismatic Antonio Villaraigosa. African-Americans were joined in this effort by the most conservative forces in the city, one of the first times such a "Black-Conservative" alliance has been forged. That the winning campaign also employed offensive white supremacist stereotypes directed at Villaraigosa makes this development even more troubling.
But it is even more troubling from the point of view of the reparations movement. This movement will require allies in the international community, particularly if the polls showing 75% of the population in this nation is opposed to reparations as of now. Mexico, which has maintained sound ties with Cuba since the Revolution and influences profoundly every Latin American nation, cannot be ignored and, in fact, must be courted assiduously if the reparations movement is to gain friends in the international community. Mexico now has the tenth largest economy in the world and the productive forces will only be growing more dramatically there in coming years.
The case of Mexico also points up an advantage of a global strategy. As the Bush Administration -- and the center-right consensus that he represents -- becomes more and more unpopular in the international community, it becomes even more important for reparations advocates to reach out abroad and distinguish ourselves sharply from the government that purports to represent us. Doing so becomes problematic when African-Americans are voting in lockstep with conservatives in Los Angeles.
In fact, the kind of vote that took place in Los Angeles only confirms -- incorrectly, I think -- in the minds of some that African-Americans are just as parochial as their Euro-American counterparts. This cannot help the reparations movement, particularly in an area that will be absolutely essential to ally with: the Caribbean and Africa. The sovereign states there often look to Mexico, rightfully, as an important and influential nation, whose voice it is important to heed, most notably in the higher councils of the Organization of American States and the United Nations. This remains the case despite the often regressive domestic policies of the present Mexican leadership.
Since the days of Marcus Garvey, the voice of Jamaica in particular has been critical in the Pan-African movement; this remains true today as the noted Jamaican diplomat, Dudley Thompson, played a pivotal role in Durban. But for all of the historic importance of the Caribbean, it is appropriate to conclude with the key region that must be courted if reparations is to become a reality. Africa's support for reparations should not be taken for granted, as the example of the Senegalese leadership -- which has expressed skepticism about reparations -- suggests. There are three key nations on the continent and, fortunately, all should be supportive: South Africa, Nigeria and Egypt. Cairo will be critical in this regard for despite our common stances concerning reparations, this North African nation is justifiably skeptical about the position of African-Americans concerning a matter dear to their heart: the question of Israel's illegal occupation and settlements in Palestine. Other than the U.S. and Israel, the international community is united in opposition to occupation and settlements and if African-Americans think they can obtain reparations while remaining silent, or worse, supportive of Israel's illegalities, they are dreaming in never-never land. Joining the international community on settlement and occupations also will garner the reparations movement a friendly audience in the region from Egypt to Iran, and possibly Indonesia and Malaysia as well -- the latter two being similarly important predominantly Islamic nations.
In short, the reparations movement must not stop trying to gain support here at home: to do otherwise would be foolish. Yet, it would be equally misguided to think that reparations can be obtained absent massive support from the international community. The domestic struggle is already presumed. It is the global struggle that must be engaged if we are to overcome.
e.g. Gerald Horne, Reversing Discrimination: The Case for Affirmative
Action, New York: International, 1992.