Slavery of African people in the era of colonialism was the worst and most enduring holocaust in recorded human history. It has been estimated that tens of millions died in the horrific ordeal of transportation and enslavement. The later, murderous, colonial, oppression in other countries and regions – South America, Belgian Congo, British India, to name just a few – hints at the unimaginable scale and duration of slavery’s aftermath. The degradation of slavery has no historic comparison and has never been surpassed. No other event has left such a trail of anti-African and anti-human savagery, oppression, poverty and lack of opportunity. The pervasive consequences of slavery, a few of which can be addressed by reparations, continue to this day.
Colonial slavery, colonialism and settler colonization, have been largely responsible for the wealth European and American societies enjoy today and the impoverishment of the colonies. It is easy to forget, because of the racism and racist brutality spawned by slavery and its consequences, that slavery was essentially a system of economic exploitation. As soon as its rate of profit declined, as Eric Williams explained, its demise became inevitable, with the noble efforts of the anti-slavery movement. The perpetuation of colonialism and after its end, the continuation of various forms of oppression, including the suppression of resisting voices, have all led to the state of poverty in the world today, notwithstanding the slow progress.
John Lewis, the great American patriot, spoke hopefully in his last message about the “next chapter.” Every chapter of struggle fights against a tidal wave of resistance, from the premature termination of reconstruction in the US to the large-scale imprisonment of Black men to keep wages low and divisions intact, to neo-colonial exploitation in ever newer and more sophisticated forms, such as neo-liberalism, and unequal trade liberalization. John Lewis’s first chapter within his lifetime was the civil rights movement. When he first heard the voice of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. over the radio speaking about the “philosophy and discipline of nonviolence,” he never believed, and maybe never even understood as a teenager, that there could be a Civil Rights Act, or a Voting Rights Act, or a Brown v Board of Education, or a Thurgood Marshall sitting on the US Supreme Court. In 1950 Cheddi Jagan and Forbes Burnham could only dream of 1966.
The “next chapter” arrived long ago for the freed colonies, facing imprisonment and killings of leaders, subversion, collusive leaders, overthrowing of governments and massacres – Patrice Lumumba, 500,000 dead in Indonesia, 3,000,000 dead in Vietnam – as soon as dissatisfaction was expressed about unequal relations leading to the extraction of wealth, rather than its investment and the application of sensible policies for economic development. To this day, Guyana remains a primary producer, relying essentially on the same colonial economic base.
In the US, which is now attracting world-wide attention, the potential of the civil rights movement having been exhausted, economic progress of the working and middle classes having stalled since the early 1970s, the rise of the State’s suppressive instincts by mass imprisonment and police killings of African Americans, has generated a spectacular movement of African Americans and a visibly large minority of White Americans, led by the Black Lives Matter organization, demanding reforms under the slogan of Black Lives Matter. This is the “next chapter” in which John Lewis expressed so much hope.
The Black Lives Matter now has a Guyana Chapter. The transplantation of an American organization into a Guyana context, much like the Black Power Movement in the 1979s, may pose some problems for its leaders. The ideology of White supremacy and the scale of inequality and stagnation, proportionately, are not the same in Guyana as in the US. Even if there is an ideology of Indian supremacy, as some African activists argue, the exploitation of Africans in the sugar industry, in the mining industry, in the public service, is not effected by Indians. In these industries and areas of employment, Africans and Indians earn the same and work under the same conditions.
There is the assertion of an imbalance in the distribution of the State’s resources in favour of Indians. If this is so, since Independence in 1966, there has been African led governments for 31 years and Indian led government for 23 years. It is therefore likely to be, if the assertion of imbalance is correct, a structural, not an “Indian,” problem. The issue for African activists of this persuasion is not how to solve the “indian” problem but how to solve the structural problem.
The single most important issue in Guyana is not policies for the benefit of a tiny section of African or other businessmen, or the promotion of entrepreneurs, but the condition of Guyana’s working people. Added to that, historic ethnic divisions in Guyana have led to ethnic insecurity which in turn has led to a perpetual struggle for ethnic dominance and to major political tension and instability. Although largely African policemen killing largely African youth in Guyana is a major problem, Black Lives Matter, Guyana, must also embrace executive power sharing and campaign for its realization as the only permanent solution in Guyana that can eliminate the tension and instability and redress some of the historic injustices of slavery.