“Communism” is not a swear word in my lexicon

A retort, by J L Samboma

My "admission" in a previous article that, as a Marxist, I could also be described as a communist, aroused some forthright comments on my Facebook page.  That was not surprising in the least.  It seemed that my crime, according to my correspondents, was to have the gall to call myself a communist – especially at a time when that word is viewed with derision and outright hostility by all and sundry.

As I stated in my original piece, what could be more humane than to want to see the end of exploitation of man by man, to see the world’s wealth being put to the service of those who contribute the most to its creation?  Following is an edited reproduction of my response to one particular correspondent who wanted to save me from myself:

Sorry for not having replied earlier to your posts which, to be honest, really blew me. I have learnt that in this business, one shouldn't jump and start banging on the keyboard just for bang's sake. I also had some other stuff to take care of.

Dogma in American political discourse

So please don't interpret my silence as cowardice to engage with the issues you have raised in your three staccato posts. I have taken this long to respond because, had I done so earlier, I would have overstepped the mark. For, despite the fact that said posts demonstrate you have an agenda - corroborating impressions gleaned from a previous exchange - I still consider you a brother.

I wanted to situate myself in a place where I would deal with the issues devoid of emotional hang-ups. Thankfully, am there now. Preamble over. As my idol Sherlock Holmes would have said, the game is afoot. Now, let's play, dispassionately.

Your first post: " labels are misleading -I prefer to cal myself a pragmatist I will do whatever is practical ,i cannot be ruled by dogma. It's absurd to be locked in to definitions ." (sic)

Labels, indeed, can be misleading. They can be especially "misleading" when they are imposed by others. However, when that imposition is done by oneself, and when one happens to be a politically well-adjusted, conscious adult who has been in this game over two decades, you can bet your bottom dollar that he must know what he's talking about if, not-so-suddenly out of the blue, he decides to call himself a "communist" - the label which you so seem to be so duty-bound to save me from.

You say you prefer to call yourself a pragmatist, a legitimate preference which no reasonable human being would have a problem with, given you're a fully-grown adult entitled to make your own preferences. You are a pragmatist; I am a communist: two adults preferring to call themselves whatever they wish.

You say you cannot be ruled by dogma. Which dogma, dear friend, could you mean in this instance? The dogma of pragmatism, to wit, the flitting from one extreme to the other with irresponsible abandon since our joisting began? The dogma in American political discourse which has permitted you guys to define all political persuasions contrary to yours anathema to civilised life?  The dogma which says that you are allowed to disagree with American power so long as you don't call yourself a "communist?"

Men don’t wear brassieres

In the same post you allege that it is absurd "to be locked into definitions." That, my friend, is in itself and absurd statement, for how else can coherent discourse be conducted if you don't define your terms? Without definitions, without knowing what being a man or woman means, without certainty about what we are to expect from a schoolboy or a judge, a police officer or an astronaut, human existence would be anarchic. So, dear sir, on the contrary, it is living outside acceptable an definition which is absurd.

To illustrate this point further: How would you feel walking down the street and be accosted by a man selling you a bra. No one would begrudge you punching his lights out, for the simple reason that men are defined as people who do not wear brassieres! Definitions, dear Watson, definitions!

As to "dogma," it is in American and other dictatorial discourse - the so-called "pragmatism" of people hiding behind labels - that calling yourself a "communist" brings all sorts of images and connotations to mind. Well, my dear sir, I do not care for those connotations and images. You guys were brought up on cartoons and other propaganda from childhood to hate anything remotely associated with what your Macarthyite propagandists decided was "communism." Remember those racist cartoons with the "Comintern" plotting to take over the world and skewer American children over hot coals? That, sir, is not my problem.  You should take that up with your education board and Walt Disney!

Now to your second post: " Life is subjectively problematic ,why pick up a label you don't need. Been BlaCK IS A LABEL . Why would i need to attach another label ,for what ?" (sic)

On the contrary, life is *objectively* problematic. When you say "subjectively," you are saying that it is only problematic for a select few - which is palpably not the case. Life is problematic for each and every one of us. Go ask Rupert Murdoch or the Dalai Lama. It is an objective fact, which obtains whatever your socio-economic or political co-ordinates.

You say I do not need a label. Please allow me to be the judge of that, my friend. Please do not take it upon yourself to make decisions for me about what I need and do not need. As I said earlier, am a fully-grown adult, and look with not-a-little trepidation at people who presume to know what's best for me than my very own self. Take care of your business - and I'll take care of mine!

Blackness as camouflage

You say being black is a label and one needs no more. Speak for yourself, sir.  Blackness can be a label, as well as camouflage, which a lot of people use to disguise their true political sympathies. Blackness is indeed a label, as is being a man, being American, African, a father, husband, driver, etc. If you don't like labels, then please leave our world. Whether you like it or not, you are going to be labelled one way or another. So choose your own labels if you can. And, as I am an adult - as I mentioned earlier - what's your problem with how I choose to label myself.

You have your own received definition of what being a "communist" is; I have mine. You have never asked me what my "communism" is, yet you choose to associate it with the connotations which have been handed down to you by growing up in America. The arrogance of some Americans never ceases to amaze me!

You may be mortified of being called a "communist." That's for you to deal with. Please do not extend your hang-ups to moi, merci beaucoup very much!

Now to your third and final comment: " religinism ,socialism communism all these isms require belief, they all have doctrines people follow. Inistead of thinking they look to their doctrine for guidance. please keep your labels away from my table." (sic)

Sir, speak for your own limited understanding of the terms "socialism" and "communism."

If you had read my posts - which you should have done if you wanted to make an informed "judgement" on my political positions - my socialism and communism are predicated on the teachings of Marx and Engels and Lenin. I do not care one whit about what you or any other American thinks about my political persuasions.

Marx and Engels were not writing eternal truths. What I take from them is their method of political analysis. Look at their concepts of exploitation, the contradiction between the interests of the oppressed and the oppressor, the truism that your economic interests define your actions - or, which is but a different way to say the same thing, that your actions are a function of your economic interests. These are all profound observations which are intuitive.

You, dear sir, believe these tenets. Yet you choose to split hairs with me, presumably just for the fun of it. You may choose to call yourself whatever you want. As for me, I choose to call myself Marxist because I accept the Marxist analysis of society. I also accept the analysis of society of people like Nkrumah, Malcolm X and others - all of which can be seen from my scribbling. And yet you choose to isolate my assertion that I am a communist, but ignore my Nkrumahism, MalcolmXism and humanism.

Is it because you believe you have found a weak link in my chain of belief. Well, sir, you are mistaken, for, on the contrary, that is my strongest point. My analysis of society using the tools of Marxism informs my humanism and my Pan-Africanism.

Don’t spare my blushes

I am a Marxist; Marx and Engels, the fathers of Marxism, posited that the end-point of their system - which I believe in - was Communism. Therefore, I am a communist, though I do not call myself such in normal parlance. I call myself a Marxist and a Pan-Africanist. But, in the final analysis, yes, you could call me a communist.

Please don't attempt to spare my blushes. I am what I am. The Marxist analysis of society is still valid. And, until someone proves otherwise, I will remain a Marxist - or communist - Pan-Africanist, and a humanist.

Your fourth post: “I try not to get too bogged down in dogma it stifles clinical analysis of the problems.”

My brother, there you go again about what you call "dogma." The problem for you, I believe, is my choosing to call myself a "communist." Leave that to one side for one moment, if you please, and go over all of my scribbling - here and on my blog - and point out one instance of this dogma of which you speak.

My Marxism - my preferred "label" - which, I never tire to point out, informs my Pan-Africanism - is a lens through which I view the world. Tell me that the categories Marx and Engels identified - classes, exploitation, class antagonisms, etc. - are not valid, and then we have something to debate.

Otherwise, you're just spewing Macarthyite-inspired dogma, which you may like to call "pragmatism." I am a" godless being," but that does not preclude me from agreeing with many things Muslims and Christians, or you as a matter of fact, say.  Christians, Muslims, free-marketeers – have all

Your received wisdom - not unique to you but widespread in America, Africa, Europe and elsewhere - tells you that "communism" is evil. Christianity and Islam and Judaism can be evil too, but that does not cloud my perception of individuals who share those belief systems.  Why, then, should my adherence to a method of political analysis inspire such animosity in you?

That analogy with religion is not to equate Marxism to religion, but only to say that people can call themselves whatever they want, as long as they are part of the human race and can contribute to The Struggle in one way or the other.

I do not care for labels, but we cannot run away from them. I hack my own path, no matter what you, the CIA, the Military Industrial Complex, or anyone else thinks. My Marxism is too black for some communists; my Pan-Africanism is to red for some black people. Well, I can live with that. I was not born to please anyone but myself.

We are in this struggle. When I spew dogma, strike me down, but don't call me dogmatic just because I say I'm a communist. I have nothing against you being a non-communist. The material thing is that we are in the struggle together.

A comment from a fellow socialist and Pan-Africanist began: "I am a socialist, a Pan Africanist, an internationalist.” He said he would not call himself a Marxist because it was Eurocentric and that people have adhered rigidly to its precepts.

My response: Indeed, too many Marxists or communists - in Africa and other regions of the so-called Third World - have tended to adhere to a rigid, mechanical interpretation of the insights of Marx and Engels. There's no doubt that Marxism was propounded from a Eurocentric perspective.

Ruthless criticism of everything existing

That is not my Marxism. My Marxism is a framework of analysis, a method of looking at the world, nothing more, and nothing less. For example, classic Marxian thought locates the engine of history within the industrial working classes. Marx and Engels, obviously, were not thinking of Africa when they wrote that. Thus to stick to a rigid, mechanical interpretation of their works is a non-starter. They predicted social revolution in Europe, which we are still waiting for, despite the objective conditions for it have existed for a long while now.

But Marx himself wrote that he was not positing dogma or eternal truths: "If the designing of the future and the proclamation of ready-made solutions for all time is not our affair, then we realise all the more clearly what we have to accomplish in the present - I am speaking of a ruthless criticism of everything existing, ruthless in two senses: The criticism must not be afraid of its own conclusions, nor of conflict with the powers that be." ["For a Ruthless Criticism of Everything Existing"]

It is their method of analysis which one must extract and apply to the concrete conditions which exist in the African setting. Marx puts it better in the first few passages of "The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte," arguably his most accomplished work after Capital.

He says, "A beginner who has learnt a new language always translates it back into his mother tongue, but he has assimilated the spirit of the new language and can freely express himself in it only when he finds his way in it without recalling the old and forgets his native tongue in the use of the new."

From the above quotes, Marx himself was "for a ruthless criticism of everything existing" – even of his own ideas; and he was against his ideas being rigidly interpreted as eternal prescriptions. He was for the use of his method, and against their dogmatising.

Therefore, I call myself a Marxist. I use his method, a tool of analysis which is as potent today as when he and Engels propounded it. That is my Marxism and I don't have any problem using the label. I will obviously have differences with other people who call themselves Marxists or communists or socialists - but that should not preclude me from calling myself a Marxist, or from being scared to do so just because the status quo looks with hostile suspicion upon those who do.

There are Christian sects which engage in satanic and other questionable practices, but it has not stopped millions from calling themselves Christians.

Let's take Pan-Africanism as another example. My interpretation of that ideal is the unification of the whole of Africa - black and north - under a socialist union government of African States. But there are people who call themselves Pan-Africanists because they are black nationalists or because they believe all blacks should unite on the basis of race - no matter that class contradictions make that a pipe dream. There are so-called Pan-Africanist who do not believe in socialism and wouldn't touch people like us with a bargepole. But I still call myself a Pan-Africanist.

We're on the same page on this one, comrade. Labels can be bandied about, but it is the content of those labels which we should be concerned about. Peace, brother.