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Service to What End?

By: 
Kali Akuno
Date Published: 
January 01, 0001

A contribution to the debate on the dichotomy between organizing and service provision in the New Afrika liberation movement

In the wake of the monumental achievement of Hezbollah in repelling the Zionist invasion of Lebanon during the 33 day war in the summer of 2006, and the uncompromising resistance of the Palestinian Hamas since its electoral victory in the winter of 2006, a line is being advanced by various forces within the New Afrikan or Black Liberation Movement that these organizations and the means they employ to organize their people should be emulated as models to organize our own. While both are exemplary models of resistance during this age of extreme international reaction, I argue that neither is fundamentally applicable or desirable to serve as a model of organized resistance for the New Afrikan liberation movement.

The Hezbollah and Hamas Model

While recognizing that neither of these organizations is identical in structure or program, they do share some basic fundamental features and programmatic practices that can be generalized.

  1. Both are religious political entities (Hezbollah being technically an ethno-religious entity), premised on a highly complex, but fundamentally spiritual and/or metaphysical worldview.
  2. Both possess highly centralized leaderships dominated by messianic patriarchs and military command structures.
  3. Both are committed to the objective of the eliminating the occupation and domination of the Zionist colonial entity that is the state Israel.
  4. Both view the armed struggle as the fundamental means of attaining national liberation and achieving their anti-colonial, anti-imperial objectives.
  5. Both provide broad and extensive social services to attract constituents and consolidate their bases of support.
  6. External nation-state patrons (fundamentally Iran and Saudi Arabia) and international Islamic charity networks (Islamic Brotherhood, etc.) financially and politically support both (Hamas was also supported by the Israeli government during its early phases of development to counter the secular nationalist project of the Palestine Liberation Organization or PLO)

When considering these organizations as models, all of these general features, the historic context and programmatic focuses must be taken into account to understand the dynamics of their growth. Most of the current proponents of these models, whom are primarily secularists, typically only cite or highlight select features of these organizations overall programs, in particular their service programs, to explain their relative “success” at base building and mass mobilizing. To site select features to emulate as examples and not the whole of these dynamics, nor the political economy they exist within, can and will lead to grave errors if mechanically applied to the New Afrikan context and political economy.

The material or economic basis of these models and why their service elements play a major roll in base building

To answer this question, some basic aspects of the political economies of Lebanon and Palestine must be clearly understood:

  1. Within the overall world-system of nation-states, Lebanon and Palestine are extremely weak nation-states. In fact, Palestine isn’t yet a legitimate nation-state, only a United Nations mandated political authority. Without extensive external aid or capitalization, neither state is able independently to provide much in the way of basic social services (i.e. public housing, education, health care, child care, social security, food security, etc.)
  2. The weaknesses of these nation-states or national entities stems from the weaknesses and dependencies of their economies within the world-capitalist system. Lebanon’s economy is largely structured and dominated by tourism and regional service provision, particularly financial and educational services. to the Arab elite of the region. Palestine’s pre-industrial economy serves as an essentially a low wage service appendage of Israel’s internationally subsidized economy.

Given this context, the social services provided by Hezbollah and Hamas fill a fundamental void structured by the weaknesses of the states and economies in which they operate and the neo-liberal agendas of their ruling classes (who profit from the privatization of state assets and services). That they have been able to exploit these weaknesses to build popular bases, while laudable to many, is not ideal. It is not ideal because the services offered are not internally financed. They exist in large part as a direct result of external patronage. Should that patronage end or be cut off for whatever reason, these movements would be hard pressed to survive and maintain their bases as presently constituted. The radical transformation of the means of production and social relations accompanying them, premised first and foremost on the self-reliance of the organized peoples so familiar in the more classic examples of “people’s war” for national liberation (i.e. China, Vietnam, Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique, etc.) is glaringly missing from these examples.

To explain why the critical element of self-reliance and social transformation is missing in these cases it is fundamental to reflect on their origins. Reactionary religious forces within the Arab/Islamic world, buttressed by US and French imperialism in the cold war context, deliberately initiated Hezbollah (from the Movement of the Deprived and Amal) and Hamas (from the Islamic Brotherhood) to counter the advance of the progressive, secular national liberation movements, in particular the communist forces, in the region. In this context, the creation of an extensive network of social services was intentionally created as a means to contain the radical social programs being advocated by the left forces that demanded equitable land distribution, the collectivization of industrial production and distribution, women’s rights, etc. The comprador bourgeois forces in these states supported this project of fragmentation and privatization as it relieved them and the state of any social responsibility, while enriching them at the same time. Radical social transformation was never on the agenda of these organizations – anti-imperialism in the form of the expulsion of the Zionist colonial project and the end of US military and economic domination, yes – but clear distinctions must be made between reactionary and revolutionary anti-imperialist initiatives if we are to assess them seriously for application in our context.

Grasping at Straws: Why these models aren’t applicable or desirable

In the quest to solve the general crisis of the New Afrikan liberation movement - i.e. its inability to programmatically counter the low-intensity counter-insurgency war waged against it since the late 1960’s leading to elevated class divisions from extensive neo-colonial buyoff programs, containment of the structural resistance to New Afrikan material depravity and inequity in the form of mass incarceration and the unceasing expansion of a “racist reenslavement complex”, and a fractured political body – it is fundamentally correct for us to leave no stone unturned in the search for answers and models to help us overcome our challenges. However, we should under no circumstances grasp at straws and pursue answers that are fundamentally immaterial or virtually impossible within our context.

Although the argument against the application of the Hezbollah/Hamas model has been provided here in brief, it should be evident that there are a host of reasons why this “service oriented” model isn’t applicable in the New Afrikan case. I will site but two:

  1. New Afrika and New Afrikan people are situated in the very belly of the beast of the strongest nation-state on the planet. There are few weaknesses within this state apparatus that New Afrikans can exploit in the service arena to build mass bases without capitulating to and advancing the current neo-liberal program of the imperialists (such as the School Vouchers movement).
  2. There are no nation-states that either could or would serve as a patron to finance an extensive network of social services to support a New Afrikan liberation project. No nation is presently willing to incur or resist the awesome military threat posed by United States imperialism to support such a project.

More fundamentally there are a host of reasons why the application of the Hezbollah/Hamas model isn’t desirable in the New Afrikan context. Again, I will site but two:

  1. The Hezbollah/Hamas model doesn’t exemplify “teaching our people how to fish” as the ole saying goes. It is premised on the provision of providing people “fish” in the form of social services. Any resistance program that is not about transforming social relations amongst New Afrikans and between New Afrikans and the US settler-colonial political economy (meaning the combination of the state, economic infrastructure, and civil society) will not enhance New Afrikan self-agency and will only lead to the continued exploitation and ongoing colonial subjugation of New Afrikan people, particularly of women.
  2. The Hezbollah/Hamas model does not exemplify a model of participatory democracy. Both offer outstanding examples and lessons regarding discipline, will, and resolve, but not the mass grassroots democratic expression demanded of the New Afrikan context to counter the shallowness of the neo-colonial trappings of bourgeois democracy offered in the United States continental empire.

The Way Forward: Insisting on the tried and true

Without question, the New Afrikan or Black Liberation Movement has some daunting challenges confronting it in the 21st century. For a substantial portion of the working class sectors of the New Afrikan nation nothing short of survival is the fundamental question on the table. How the New Afrikan liberation movement is going to address the question of survival and move beyond it to develop a concrete strategy for national liberation cannot be answered in totality here. I make no pretension towards having any ultimate solution to the crisis confronting New Afrikan people. Those answers will have to organically emerge from the movement of the people themselves. However, what remains true is that the question of our systematic oppression will not be resolved by reformist means within the bourgeois structural confines of the United States Empire. Our struggle for liberation must break the structural chains of white supremacy, patriarchy, heterosexism, colonial subjugation, imperial domination, and ecocide.

What can be offered here are definite answers to certain fundamental organizational and movement-building issues relating to this question of service provision versus organizing.

  1. “The revolution will not be (externally) funded.” New Afrikans are going to have to fund our own liberation initiatives. Our purchasing power makes us one of the largest national economies in the world (somewhere in the range of the 9th or 10th largest in the world-system). So, in perspective we do not lack for resources, what we lack is sufficient self-organization and political unity to direct how and where our resources should be invested. The first step on this road is collectivizing our resources, starting with the implementation of serious dues paying organizations. This strategy and practice is not foreign to our history. We have employed it effectively in our places of worship for centuries, in mutual aid and benefit organizations, in our labor unions and political organizations, etc. This tried and true method is applicable and necessary now as it has ever been. What we are going to have to fight for is the commitment, discipline, and principle in our organizing to re-convince our people practice it in mass.
  2. “We are our own liberators.” In addition to practicing self-reliance in the arena of financing or capitalizing our own movement and initiatives, we are going to have to apply this same principle in the political arena and do our own “dirty” work. We have to be the primary catalysts and agents in our liberation. We can and must try to seize the opportunities provided by the contradictions created by imperialism in the world-capitalist system, in particular the strategic advances created by the various anti-imperialist movements throughout the world (particularly in Latin America and West, Central and Southeast Asia), but we cannot rely about these initiatives to free us. We have to seize the initiative on our own to create the change we deem necessary. One vital arena where we need to start is reclaiming for the liberation movement the social and political space currently being seized by non-profits and/or non-governmental organizations (NGO’s). Although non-profits and NGO’s can be used strategically as mechanisms to do various types of service and advocacy work, in the final analysis they are vehicles of political containment advanced by neo-liberal states and a fraction of international finance capital (its philanthropic wing) to direct social struggles into narrow, non-threatening channels. To blunt the demands for systemic change, these forces strategically seek to limit the struggle to providing privatized social services and un-systemic policy reforms that maintain and fortify the status quo ante of imperialism. We must break this development and ideological tendency in our movement to advance its self-reliant thrust and positioning to advance the revolution.

Kali Akuno is the National Organizer of the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement (MXGM see www.mxgm.org) and the Executive Director of the People’s Hurricane Relief Fund (PHRF see www.peopleshurricane.org). Kali’s views do not represent the views of either MXGM or PHRF, the views expressed are solely the views of the author.