By Alfred P. Kiadii – Contributing Writer
The world is in the throes of a great apocalypse, a pandemic striking the very heart of humanity, decimating global supply chains and bringing very peculiar patterns of life to a juddering pause. It is not a flippant reflection to opine we are in the period of an apocalypse. In it, people speak of darkness and despair, shame and suffering, hope is expurgated from the dictionary of life and the quotidian vocabulary of humanity. In Liberia, it is even more tragic, as a backward regime is presiding over a backward country suffocating a beleaguered people who are displaying symptoms of acute desperation. But it is ‘in a dark time, the eye begins to see,’ according to Junot Diaz.
We are in a perilous time in the homeland — a period littered with hope at the same time marred by darkness. There is a rampaging black fascist phenomenon wreaking havoc on the people against an ascendant tidal wave of ordinary people posing an effective counterweight, radically politicized because of the attendant polarisation that has coloured the Weah regime. These two contrasts lay bare the objective realities in the Liberian polity. And the stake could not be any higher, as it is glaringly contrasting.
The collapsing Liberian society is locked in a confluence of crises of epic proportions. The nation is tethering on the edge of collapse, with its population faced with extinction. Matters are coming to a head, and the outcome looks uncertain. There is mutual contempt on all sides. Mutual cynicism, all with existential dimensions. The cracks in the edifice of the country are egregious. Progressive forces have to intervene in this matter to shape the course of the country’s future. Or else another macabre period is waiting in the wings.
It was the erstwhile British Prime Minister in Benjamin Disraeli who spoke about two worlds apart to highlight the class divide in England—between the lower classes of the labourer and the upper class of property owners, captain of industry, and wealthy barons and baronesses against the working people. In Liberia, this phenomenon is obvious, particularly because of the built-in flaws in the entire edifice of the Liberian polity. But in recent times these divides have been sharpened ad nauseam by the backward forces presiding over the political and economic levers of the state.
The CDC, although the election was rigged for it by Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, swept to power on empty populist rhetoric, the bashing of the system of knowledge production and intelligence itself. Like all populist movements that bask in vainglory, chauvinism and bigotry, the CDC reached for cracks in the body politics of the country—from economic to governance—and offered convoluted streams of consciousness as policy prospectus. What the CDC lacked and would come to haunt it was the lack of alternative perspectives and critiques for the system that produces and reproduces inequalities. And what we can draw from its failure is that in opposition it is easy to mobilize popular anger given that the neoliberal framework creates conditions that frustrate the African masses, but governance is a different ball game. It is the lack of this realization that the CDC project is collapsing under the weight of its own contradictions.
Despite these glaring loopholes, CDC likes to think of itself a revolutionary party. Revolution, militancy, and comrade-ship have become the mistresses of Liberian political parlance. Even the worst reactionaries of the lot are fond of calling themselves revolutionaries, turning radical concepts on their heads, and using revolutionary battle cries to promote self-aggrandizing agendas. These have been the age-old tactics of political gate-crashers and opportunists. And the CDC is guilty of this crime. I often say that donning revolutionary regalia does not make a party any revolutionary. Regalia is the staple of both the right and left. Michael Parenti’s book Blackshirts and Reds: Rational Fascism and the Overthrow of Communism offers an incisive understanding of these matters.
Lenin was clear: ‘Without revolutionary theory, there can be no revolutionary movement.’ Theory shows the trajectory of a political movement and the ends it wants to pursue when in power. To understand this is to understand that a theory is a guide to action, a compass, and an instrument that maps out the contours of a political outfit or social movement. In his tour de force, the weapon of Theory, Amilcar Cabral convincingly posited: ‘It is true that a revolution can fail even though it be based on perfectly conceived theories, nobody yet made a successful revolution without a revolutionary theory.’ Cabral’s submission highlights the indispensability of theory in the political process.
But what we are witnessing in Liberia transcends the individual Weah, although we can trace much to his predilection for looting and the animus of insatiable quest for material acquisition. We are seeing the very edifice of democracy crumbling because it cannot shoulder the peculiar demands of society. It is much also about the failure of an economic experiment based on natural resource auctioning and extractivism, which reduces the nation as a dependency for the supplying of primary products incapable of inducing radical transformation. It is also about the very form of monolithic agriculture, an economy with an over-dependence on one or two cash crops ineffective to shoulder any shocks when the demand for the commodities drops and thus affecting the acquisition of precious foreign exchange. The Weah ascent and the pandemic may have exacerbated the crisis, but the decline of the society has its material roots in structural inequalities at the heart of the economic organization and social relations.
During the decades after the Second Imperialist War, which was fought between the major powers to jostle for sources of raw materials and new markets, the Tubman regime introduced his signature “Open Door Policy”. Based on this national development plan, we saw the dangerous fixation of the regime on the imperialist economic method as a prescription to get the Liberian economy on its feet. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, an offspring of neoliberalism, did not hesitate to copy from the same neoliberal capitalist rule book upon ascending to the presidency after a 14year genocidal civil war. No sooner, when her administration launched various phases of the poverty reduction scheme, did we see the utter impotence of the approach.
The approach pointed to failure even though it was inundated with emancipatory economic rhetoric. Nowhere in the countries of the South have had the poisonous method of the IMF intended to stimulate growth and pay external debt taken a Third World country out of the miasma of underdevelopment. The best this approach has offered is to socialise poverty, privatize not only mineral and natural but also public utilities. This one-fits-in-all approach to development has only pushed the masses into deeper poverty, enriched the domestic elites, and enabled foreign corporations to repatriate surplus profit from natural resource sale into tax heavens and fatten the bank accounts of the shareholders of the multinational firms.
The so-called sixteen billion foreign direct investment helped to sow illusions among the masses and created false hope. In the aftermath of the regime of Madam Sirleaf, the jury is out on the investment. What is left is nothing short of despicable. Poverty skyrocketed, natural resources got sucked up, gold reserves mortgaged on the cheap to criminal multinationals, government assets privatized with tax breaks given to the private concerns. Right before us, the logic that when national assets are privatized or given through private-public partnership will induce an economic miracle and solve the perennial crisis of SOEs, providing huge funds to the national budget has also been discredited.
The Limits of Vainglorious Populism
The creation of an earthly paradise was the hallucination that dominated Weah’s rise to power, although the latter has Ellen and her parasitic cabal to thank for his ascent. What is even more revolting is that the administration is only distinguished by both its incompetence and the bouts of scandals that have marred its lifespan. Yet amidst all these, George Weah, the stalwart patron of grand corruption, continues to overlook the fundamental contradictions in the society. This is not surprising, but a sign of the attendant criminal indifference that is at the heart of the reign of unenlightened and indecent political forces.
Usually, when a country is governed by the most degenerate of the lot and a crime party—that layers of society from the underclass: uncultured, lacking in progressive conception, bereft of ideas, motivated only by greed—the rule of this clique triggers the scandalous ascendant of all its worst values and moral bankruptcy. The layers of corruption, theatrics, and indecencies elbow their way onto centre stage. This is the reality of condition in our homeland—Liberia. A country which unashamedly holds the moniker of a mafia state.
One knows a country is headed for the doom when it displays certain emblematic features to symbolize its stupidity, rot, pain, and dehumanization. It starts with an economic collapse and the infraction of the most elementary principles of the rule of law. Then it leaps to the usurpation of power and consolidation of it — wrest from bodies clothed with authority to exercise. Then there is the creation of a condition of disorientation and the stoking of fear among the population to turn the polity into a milieu for deplorables.
Liberia has become a failed state. The arena of governance is the setting of corruption on a staggering scale. The judiciary is stacked with loyalists of Weah, with a servile Chief Justice whose only use-value is that he is utterly useless to the legal profession but subservient to the wishes of the Weah administration. The National Election Commission is overwhelmed with hapless yes-men and women, thus effectively removing any aureole of credibility around the election. Inalienable constitutional rights of citizens have been revoked. The nation suffers from the torment of lawlessness, repression, and criminal exploitation. A country once feted as an emerging post-conflict success story has relapsed into its former self like a chronic recidivist. All these are natural outcomes when the worst human scum in the society is catapulted to the upper echelons of power to manage society in dire need of the best and brightest to steer it to the shores of development.
George Weah and his gaggle of scoundrels have sapped the energy out of the country. Men who could barely afford funds to take care of basic needs are basking in stolen wealth while the people are condemned to disarticulating penury. Even the much-touted COVID-19 stimulus package which a loan was taken from the IMF has not been given to the people. Yet these cavorting charlatans, led by the loudmouth finance minister Samuel Tweah, are polluting the airwaves with the self-congratulatory pontification of a fantastical budget surplus. A claim only as farcical as the assertion that one does not need to be enlightened to govern a Third World country, but only needs the magic wand of at heart love for the people. This is where we have reached: a country governed by gangsters and con men, unsuited for rational thinking, displaying all the layers of impotence while lying about anything and everything. A backward country in the hands of the formidable lot of reaction is like making a sex mania a guardian of a brothel. You tell me what the outcome will be—rape, pillage, and mayhem!
Dillon and the Idea of the Popular Front
In some ways, the crises in Liberia mirror the realities in Europe, which gave rise to the convocation of the popular front to oppose the fascist onslaught. Different political formations with contrasting ideological proclivities amassed strength, resources, tactic and strategies to oppose the onrushing fascist forces. This salient approach shares semblance of similarities with Mao’s thesis on Contradiction. In it, Mao highlighted the universality of contradiction, the particularity of contradiction, the principal contradiction, and the principal aspects of a contradiction. Such understanding is crucial for political forces, especially during the period of acute crisis when the options for manoeuvre are so limited to binaries.
For us on the Liberian left, we recognize the contradiction in society is between those who own wealth and those who sell out their labour power to produce wealth. It is registered to our cognizance that the crisis of society is the crisis of neoliberal capitalism coupled with the challenge of leadership deficit. These two sums up the Liberian conundrum. That is why we begin from the position that any arsenal of concept that refuses to deal with the questions of imperialism, unequal exchange, and put the working people at the front and centre of the agenda is not fit for purpose and is not ambitious enough to meet the scale of the crises.
However, ideological perspectives are a guide to action. They represent a framework through which different political currents see the world. While we don’t argue about putting down our ideological guide, depending on the scale of the crisis, principal contradictions can become secondary, while secondary can move upward to a principal contradiction. This inflexion is significant given the danger that certain unfolding realities would trigger. Take, for instance, our position on imperialism, neoliberalism, and the comprador valets have not changed. In other for real transformation to happen in the homeland, progressive forces have to take on the various imperialist and oppressive dimensions.
In Liberia, the principal contradiction now is the Weah dictatorship. In these very difficult times when the regime has drawn the lines on the home front and it has shown its hatred and vitriol in so many despicable ways—from purging auditors to chasing out democratic dissenters, rolling back the gain on civil liberties and basic freedoms; pushed the country back to a pariah state, and elevated waste, abuse, and scandal to centre stage. That bankrupt regime has shown all of its misanthropic tendencies. At this point of saturated reaction, it is an existential imperative to build a popular front of progressive forces and vehemently oppose Weah and his sadistic band of gangsters to bring back reasoned debate, ensure society enjoys civil liberties, and push the country back on the trajectory where it can move in a progressive direction.
Darius Dillon, although a figure of many contradictions, offers something which has been lacking in the legislature. He will not take on the bourgeois state. He cannot deal with the system of production and transfer of wealth. He wouldn’t critique the application of the IMF and World Bank’s extended credit facilities and attending consequences of their structural adjustment policies. This is not his ideological orientation. But his presentation about corruption, probity, and propriety give us an important eye-opener for the masses of the people to know the rot at the heart of the Liberian state. Long ago, I had argued that the legislature is terminally useless, and it only exists to promote the fiction that Liberia has three separate but equal branches of government, so the functions of check and balances are on course. So, nobody is arguing that the maintenance of Dillon will serve fundamental purposes and that the legislature would thus be transformed. But to discredit the legislature, the Liberian people need somebody in it with the loudest voice to expose its decadence and depravity.
In one of our articles, we made the following submission: ‘We don’t have any faith in the collective of the legislature. The whole legislature is a façade. Apart from specious filibustering and boring antics, the legislature has always been subservient and played second fiddle to every Liberian leader. A rubber-stamp institution it is, thus making it anachronistic for check and balance, is only on paper. The reality is different. The legislature is the burden taxpayers have to shoulder to make Liberia appears like it has a democracy with three separate but equal branches.’
Even if this assertion is correct and that Dillon is not speaking to any fundamental transformation of the society which places the working people and other layers of the exploited classes front and centre, once the people still participate in elections of the legislature it is our duty to show the limitations and decadence of the legislature and at the same time populate it with radical voices to use it as a bully platform to expose the rotten ruling elements. And that is why we must give Dillon the benefit of the doubt, but we are not romantic idealists to carry water for him.
As Montserrado hurtles towards a senatorial election, the defeat of Thomas P. Fallah is half the battle but an important victory. The object is to disable the CDC fascist engine, turn the tide, and give Weah and his cult a reckoning. And Montserrado would give that reckoning, so we move to the real agenda of liberating the masses of the people. Our people cannot continue to live in backward conditions. They must move in an era where they can build a nation. It is, for this reason, we must alter this stasis. So we can have dignity, equality, and decency!
This societal breakdown is on Weah, his collection of political illiterates, and all those who foisted this disaster on the Liberian people. This diagnosis is important to understand the catastrophe could have been avoided. Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf and her exploitative cabal who relish government acting in the interests of the few, the multinationals, and the business elite corps, and not the many created this farce. To maintain the license of impunity, she imposed this on the people. She must have a deep contempt for our people to impose this wrecking ball on them.
But it is not all gloom and lost. There is a dash of hope. We are seeing a silver lining in the dark cloud. The people are awakening to a new consciousness. The once lethargic people are becoming vivacious into the struggle. Popular mobilization against societal rots such as corruption and rape are making the masses to understand that genuine power lies with them. It is this awareness that has led to their lively participation in politics in all spheres—from social media to activities in the community—our people have refused to remain silent. They have made Weah and his gang butts of joke. It is this energy that progressive forces must seize and direct the struggle against the forces of reaction who have held our country hostage.
Historically, over a century ago, the global capitalist forces erupted into a full-scale war. This war was the first imperialist war for colonial spoils and geographical possessions. That barbarism led to the deaths of 17 million people, while 20 million more sustained curable and incurable wounds. It was in this turbulent historical context of war and economic indignity that Rosa Luxemburg doled out the choice before humanity: either a ’transition to socialism’ or a ‘regression to barbarism’.
Just almost three years into the leadership of the footballing president, the Liberian state has entered the throes of national decline, reeling from the economic form of exploitation and domination, exacerbated by the insatiable greed of an administration with loyalty to conspicuous consumption and the most backward form of accumulation by dispossession. Thus Liberia has entered the sick era of crisis and thus lurching the working poor and oppressed in the doldrums of barbarism. It is so very clear.
This barbarism is ushering a dangerous form of dictatorship, a constant of the Liberian political history which occasioned chaos and created the material conditions for the internecine bloodletting, now resurfaces with a bang. The barbarism of the old type but in different guises has thus knocked the confidence of the poor and oppressed. Barbarism in the lack of healthcare, barbarism in plummeting income levels, and shattering unemployment are now too familiar features of the suffering of our people.
It is important to understand the current historical moment and demand a better society. But one must understand the current context in which the homeland operates with the fact that while there is the emergence of historical figures from among the masses that epitomize the majesty of and vibrancy of the era, taking with them the vibrancy and creativity of the people and turning them into policy action to enact a new society, there are human forces whose maniacal greed, creative dullness, and lack of imagination also showcase the drift of the society into the abyss. These forces embody all the filthiness, degeneracy, and bankruptcy of the era of shame — barbarism.
But we can end this era of shame and the extremes of corruption, looting, and decadence and enter the era of glow where the epochal ascendance of a society on the path to greatness dominates national life. In such a period, there is a flowering of culture, art philosophy, and socialization of surplus dictating the rhythmic flow of the society. Here the masses of the people are on the march, occupying every space of the polity with their politics of transformation, and they are front and centre taking part in the great historical conclave. This is a social revolution. It is what Liberia needs. Hence as we ponder over the task ahead, we must remember the immortal words of Walter Benjamin: ‘The only writer of history with the gift of setting alight the sparks of hope in the past, is the one who is convinced of this: that not even the dead will be safe from the enemy, if he is victorious.’ We must alter this stasis. So we can have dignity, equality, and decency!
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