By E. Lawrence
Original Post: https://blackcommunityrising.com/blog/still-under-babylon
Still under Babylon
The metaphor of Babylon is a powerful tool of interpretation for any people living under the oppression of civilisation. For African and Caribbean people and the diaspora, the metaphor of Babylon became prevalent through the growth of Rastafari in Jamaica in the 1930s among poor, socially disenfranchised communities. For Rastafari, ‘Babylon’ represents the European civilisation which placed African peoples in captivity through colonialism and global capitalism, whose power the Rastafari seek to resist and escape. Babylon is still used widely today to describe European civilisation and its oppression of peoples under it – whether colonial relations, state violence, or the violence of police forces – the ‘wicked’.
The widespread use of the metaphor of Babylon among African and Caribbean diaspora shows that it speaks to a fundamental reality of the system we live under. The use of this metaphor comes instinctively to many people who are oppressed by this system, but it is worth inspecting this metaphor closely, for it presents profound truths about the system we live under, and it allows us to reinterpret history in a way that shines light on the route to freedom.
Society vs Civilisation
The principal lesson that the Babylon metaphor can teach is that capitalist civilisation is a direct continuation of the civilisations of the past.
Babylon became the capital of a great civilisational empire in Mesopotamia in the 18th century BCE, and it conquered all the cities in southern Mesopotamia, maintained widespread trade colonies, and developed advances in science, art, law, religion, and technology. This was the time of the birth of civilisation.
Before this period, human society had undergone an agricultural revolution, whereby clans who hunted and gathered food settled in villages, developed new irrigation techniques, and an advanced culture and language. The fabric of human society was kept together by its communal character: the provision of its needs – its economy – were provided through collective work and sharing, and egalitarian relations existed between members of villages. The communal life of humans which defines society depended on its moral culture and ideology for survival. The treasured values that strengthened society were social morals such as solidarity, respect, affection, respect for neighbours, acting for community not personal gain, voluntarily helping one another, equality, and free life. In this period, society’s moral culture set the boundaries for the communal management of life – politics – in the village, and also guaranteed that the provision of needs – economy – was conducted in a way that was in harmony with nature. This was a period of freedom for society: the strength of its moral culture and communal self-management meant that private property, commodities, and elite classes were forbidden from emerging, and society could enjoy the bounty of its harvest in peace.
Civilisation is the system of class, city, and state, that developed over society. Over time, groups of men worked to make themselves a class above the rest of society to gain control of the great surplus society was producing from its agriculture. Priests, military leaders, and elders emerged to create a system based on hierarchy and male power, and this power constituted early states. They built temples and cities from which to rule society, and within these they split society into three classes. On the bottom level were workers whose land had been taken from them and who laboured in return for food and shelter. On the second level there were priests, whose job it was to spread the religion and ideology of civilisation to internalise exploitation and slavery in the minds of the people. On the third level were the gods or the rulers, who used their semi-divine status to justify control over society’s surplus. The first civilisation that did this arose around 3500 BCE, and reached its height in Babylon which emerged as a major city-state and then a seat of empire around 2000 BCE. Babylon was the peak of this first civilisation with advanced science, administration, religion and ideology to control the society below it. Babylon developed an extensive empire in Mesopotamia, making colonies of many tribes and peoples, and building the first cosmopolitan, imperial city of ‘seventy-two tongues’ in its capital. This is the same Babylon recorded in Biblical accounts. Babylon was made the capital of Hammurabi’s empire around 1700 BCE, but its most famous period from biblical came hundreds of years later under Nebuchadnezzar II, the same emperor who placed the Hebrews in captivity.
The purpose of civilisation was to place society under its domination. To achieve this, the rulers of civilisation had to destroy society’s moral culture and its ability to manage its own affairs. They knew that a society with strong moral values, strong communal ties and a shared life would not allow the exploitation of civilisation to develop. Therefore, civilisation strove to replace society’s morality with legal codes and tried to replace society’s self-management – its political freedom – with the bureaucracy and administration of states. By doing this, civilisation crushed the culture of society which valued free life and morality, with its own civilisational culture – a highly material culture that valued material objects, power, and wealth. To illustrate this, we can consider the pyramids of Egypt. The pyramids are very large material structures, but their counterpart is thousands of people who were sacrificed to build them, and millions of people who lost the purpose of life: freedom and the immaterial values which make life meaningful. This is why the Babylon in biblical accounts is described as ‘wicked’ in its materialism and ‘confused’ in its lack of meaning.
This understanding of early civilisations has been developed by Abdullah Öcalan who leads a freedom movement of the Kurds – another oppressed people who are still trying to resist civilisation. These people recognise that the capitalist civilisation that oppressed people face today is a direct continuation of the ancient one. The early civilisational states have turned into all-powerful nation states; the first urban centres have developed into cancerous mega-cities; the classed society still persists but with wage workers instead of slaves or serfs; universities and media instead of priests, and the male elites of politicians, bureaucrats, and military generals, instead of kings priests and strongmen. This is why Rastafari employs the metaphor of Babylon to describe today’s system. Rastafari describes the system, just like old Babylon, as a materialistic culture which destroys all human value in order to function, and it rejects the materialism, consumerism, and corruption of capitalist civilisation because of this. Despite the grandeur and the great, dazzling wealth of capitalist civilisation’s cities, what is the real value in that wealth? What human values remain in those cities? Biblical interpretations of Babylon are of a city which worships pagan idols of gold and has lost true value: how true is that today of a civilisation which still worships wealth and money? London, Paris, and New York, and their great architecture can be compared to the great temples of Babylon or the pyramids of Egypt. Just like the people in ancient times who built these temples, how many people in civilisation today are experiencing a crisis of meaning, identity, purpose in life because of the system’s lack of human value? Is there anything meaningful left in these cities, or like Babylon, is it a confused babble of tongues?
Capitalism is the continuation of the original civilisation. It is not the case that the system today simply resembles Babylon. The system we live in today is the direct continuation of it. This system was built in ancient Mesopotamia, and continued to ancient Greece whose philosophers and leaders studied in Babylon to learn the art of civilisation, then to ancient Rome, and eventually to European feudalism, and finally capitalist civilisation. Capitalism wasn’t just created by Europeans in the past 500 years: the Europeans inherited a 5000 year-old system and added new innovations to create the strongest system of control over society that we have ever faced which extracting the surplus from society and nature at an unprecedented level. Bob Marley describes this Babylon system as a vampire, ‘sucking the blood of children and suffering peoples’ day-by-day to build its wealth, and using ‘church and university’ to deceive us with its ideology and graduate ‘thieves and murderers’ to run its system. This is the driving strength of the metaphor of Babylon: it shows this continuity with the past. This is why ‘Babylon’ has been used throughout history to describe civilisation everywhere where civilisation took root – first by the tribes captured by Babylon, then in ancient Rome it was used by the tribes and peoples under the Roman empire, then by Rastafari to describe the British empire and African and Caribbean diaspora living under the Babylon of capitalist civilisation.
Colonialism: a People in Captivity
The metaphor of Babylon is most often used by people who have been placed in captivity by the civilisation they live under. This is why the metaphor is understood so well by Africans, Caribbeans, and the diaspora. It further shows why the system today can only be understood in relation to ancient civilisation, because it reveals another aspect of civilisation – colonialism and empire – that has continued historically into the present system.
Ancient Babylon, after it had placed itself over local society and stolen its surplus product, used this surplus to increase its power and wealth even further, and it did this by trade and colonisation. Babylon conquered tribes and peoples throughout Mesopotamia in the 18th century BCE, building trading colonies and cities just like itself, and it used the money and resources plundered from these societies to build its great temples. This process required great armies, and it was bloody and violent: civilisation is always built on violent conquest. It was the infamous emperor Nebuchadnezzar II who expanded the Babylonian empire to take up huge swathes of Mesopotamia, Canaan, the Arabian Peninsula and even expanding into the Sinai peninsula and attacking Egypt. Nebuchadnezzar used the plunder from this empire and colonies to rebuild Babylon’s imperial grounds, the great temple, the Ishtar gate, and the hanging gardens of Babylon.
How close a parallel is this to British empire and the metropolises of Europe which are built on the wealth gained from the trans-Atlantic slave trade, the trading colonies they imposed with gunships on Africa, the Caribbean and the world, and the plunder of resources in their colonies and through their colonial trade relations today? After all, it was specifically the British Empire that the Jamaican Rastafari saw as the Babylon system; an empire which was the harbinger of global capitalism and which had transported people to Jamaica in chains and left them in poverty.
The consequences for people in Babylon’s colonies would have been similar to our experience of racism today. Whilst people were not understood in terms of ‘race’ – because the scientific categories, terms, and hierarchy of ‘race’ was a European invention three thousand years later – there still would have been ethnic, cultural, and religious hatred of peoples and the free societies they belonged to by the dominant powers of civilisation. Much like today, colonised society would be shunned by the dominant civilisation, subject to insult and humiliation, and had their lives devalued and foreshortened for the sake of putting them to hard labour and extracting surplus from them.
It is this Babylon against which the great resistance of the Hebrew tribes is written in the Old Testament. Abraham, the father of the Hebrew tribes, opposed Nimrod and left Babylonia in search of a new land and freedom, and his story most likely represented the story of many tribal leaders in the region who sought to escape the civilisation. Eventually, the Hebrew tribes built their own Kingdom of Judah and Kingdom of Israel away from the Babylonian civilisation; but several hundred years later, the infamous Nebuchadnezzar II, the ‘destroyer of nations’, expanded the Babylonian empire, destroyed the temple and the Kingdom of Judah which the Hebrews had built and took the Israelites into their first captivity in Babylon.
It is important to understand that the Israelites’ captivity in Babylon is not just biblical invention. This captivity was a common colonial method of civilisation for controlling populations. Many other tribes were taken into captivity by Babylon at the same time as the Israelites, including Arab groups. Michael Seymour explains that the policy of ‘mass deportation’ was one of a number of imperial policies by civilisational powers used to prevent uprisings and crush resistance on the fringes of their empire. ‘When new territory was conquered or a rebellious vassal crushed, an increased imperial presence in the trouble spot was often complemented by the removal of large numbers of the indigenous population to the imperial core, effectively breaking up the rebellious population and reducing the potential for future resistance.’
The similarities between the captivity of the Hebrews and other tribes in Babylon and the imperialist system of capitalism is striking. The British, the Europeans and the US, just like Babylon, have destroyed countless nations, tribes, and free societies and ruined their lands. They brought millions of Africans into captivity in conditions of industrialised slavery far worse than what the Babylonians could have invented, and then they left their descendants – our grandparents – in poverty with no choice but to go to its metropoles and live in the heart of ‘Babylon’ to be insulted, harassed by police, and refused the basic necessities of decent housing and enough food to eat. They went even further: in recent years, as soon as it suited them, the British have continued their policy of mass deportation to force these people back to the Caribbean. It is no wonder the Rastafari see themselves as similar to Hebrew tribes in their ‘downpression’ under the same system. The empires that built capitalism are as old as civilisation itself.
From the moment civilisation developed, society has fled and fought back in resistance. The bible stories of the Hebrews are such examples of society’s resistance, starting with Abraham’s opposition to Nimrod and continuing in Moses’ opposition to the Pharaoh and his exodus from Egypt, where on Mount Sinai height he gave the moral and political code to his tribes. Against the pagan idolatry of civilisation which represented gods in human form and the divine power of civilisation’s kings, the prophets rejected and attacked these idols as acts of resistance, they engaged in intense discussion among themselves as a people, and they developed their own religion and guiding ideologies to escape from the Babylon system and lead them to freedom.
The Rastafari way of life also sees itself as taking up the resistance of the Israelites. Rastafari rejects and attacks civilisation’s idols of money and gold, its ‘reasoning’ ceremonies involve intense discussion on the state of the world, and it follows the quest to escape from European civilisation by finding a ‘Zion’, a free land. The relentless attacks of the system on Africans, Caribbeans and the diaspora, make it clear that we still need to find a free society. We need place where we can live freely, as part of a loving community, with the freedom to pursue our talents, without insult or humiliation, with material comfort and food and housing, with good environmental conditions and clean air to breath, and with care for our health. But in our search for freedom we need to decide where our exodus will take us: whether we will truly find a free society or end up recreating another Babylon.
Zion or Babylon – what’s the difference?
The resistance and freedom movements of many peoples have been attempts to create their own versions of the system that has subjugated them, or to gain a better position within the system. This shows how effective the ideologies of the system are in making people believe that the system is the best thing we can hope for and that no alternative is possible. The ideologies of the system are so powerful and have influenced people’s ways of thinking in so many ways, that even attempts to consciously break away from it have often lead to a recreation of the system.
Rastafari identifies with the story of the Hebrew tribes who escaped captivity and built their own kingdoms, and like the Hebrews, Rastafari hopes to find a ‘Zion’ and a kingdom for itself. After all, the nationalism of the Hebrew tribes which saw themselves as ‘the chosen people of God’ set a basic model which would influence all subsequent nationalisms. When it emerged in the 1930s, Rastafari took inspiration in historical African kingdoms and contemporary African empires in its search for freedom in an African land and to give a sense of dignity to its followers on the basis of an African-centred history. Rastafari saw Haile Selassie, Emperor of Ethiopia who fought the Italian invasion, as the second coming of the messiah and many literally saw Selassie’s Ethopia as Zion, with some even moving there. Despite Rastafari’s horizontal and decentralised structure, the movement very much looks towards hierarchical African kingdoms and civilisation as places of freedom, and this combined with inherent values some parts of Rastafari attribute to blackness, gives the movement overtones of black nationalism. It is no wonder that Jamaican Rastafari, under the weight of the British empire and taking much of its basis in hierarchical Christianity, thought of a free land in the hierarchical terms of these systems – as hierarchical kingdoms and empires of their own, on the belief that kingdoms and empires run by black men would not oppress them in the same way. That is, the context of hierarchical social relations moulded their thinking and made them think in the same way.
The desire to find freedom from the system by creating our own version of it has haunted African and Caribbean freedom struggles and black nationalism in the subsequent decades. These struggles were, in many ways, shaped and moulded by the ideology of capitalist civilisation, which said that a nation state could solve the social problems of society, that industrialism could make our states as powerful as the Europeans, and that by building these versions of capitalist civilisation, we would make historical ‘progress’, becoming ‘modern’ and ‘advanced’ and leaving behind our ‘primitive’ past. But the master’s tools cannot dismantle the master’s house. The creation of our own kingdoms, our own nation states, and our own copies of civilisation, would only strengthen the system and consolidate our captivity under it. Our historical experience up until now proves this point.
The post-colonial states of Africa and the Caribbean have continued the system of colonialism in new forms, and have strengthened capitalist civilisation. The national liberation movements of the 1950s and 1960s, despite their heroic struggle and highest ideals for freedom, took on board the ideologies of capitalist civilisation and often took over the existing colonial structures as their own, and hurried to build their own nation states. It is worth bearing in mind that there were many different elements to these struggles who often split into opposing factions: there were democratic elements who, like Frantz Fanon, saw the need to fight tirelessly against the colonial structures and avoid building new versions of the bureaucracy; there were others who genuinely believed that a national state would solve the social problems created by empire; and there was often a national middle-class who were already collaborating with the colonial powers, and who wanted national liberation so that they could gain control of the national monopoly and the surplus it had stolen from society. This last group can be likened to the Sadducees or the Pharisees who collaborated with civilisational powers against the lower classes of the Hebrews. The national middle-class would often install authoritarian regimes after national liberation, and they worked with the old colonial powers to install new forms of colonialism – neo-colonialism – by selling the country’s assets, making the country burdened with debt, and sending out the police forces to repress and kill people when they protested. It was to the bitter disappointment of many that the same problems continued for society after national liberation: mass unemployment, poverty, political disenfranchisement, and police repression. The question of national liberation and the search for true freedom is still unresolved for people in Africa and the Caribbean. Despite all the ideology of the system, its promises to bring material comfort and freedom for society have never materialised.
The African and Caribbean diaspora in Europe and the US have also had a similar experience of co-optation by the system’s way of thinking. The diaspora in these countries has waged a dedicated and tireless struggle to win rights and equality by seeking reforms from the system. However, despite the achievement of legal equality, the system has continued to exploit us. In the United States it went from slavery, to segregation, to the ghettos, to mass unemployment, to extreme police violence. In Europe, similar developments of containment in cities, unemployment, repressive police violence and deportation can be found. Attempts to win freedom through the system have not worked. Instead, it only created a black middle-class and co-opted individuals into its power in order to control the rest of us, and has kept us dazzled with individual black musicians, sports starts, and celebrities. So we see African and Caribbean individuals in universities, state positions, and private business positions: in return for a share of the monopoly and society’s stolen surplus, these people help to run the system that exploits the rest of us.
Whether we build our own nation states, or seek a position in Europe’s nation states, capitalist civilisation won’t give up its power over society but instead brings us closer to its own power. As we look to overcome capitalist civilisation, it is worth looking at how movements on the ‘left’ of the system have also often been shaped by its ideology.
The results of socialist movements has often been either a reproduction of the existing system, or has failed to go beyond reforms. The socialist states of the soviet-union era shared the same basis of capitalist civilisation: they built even more powerful nation states; they created a classed society where the state administrators were at the top; they shared the ideology of industrialism and pursued limitless industrial expansion; they didn’t remove the monopolies over society’s economy but just put them in the hands of the state; they invaded other countries on a smaller scale; they believed in the progress of modern civilisation and so they often crushed their democratic elements; they shared the view of non-industrial societies as ‘primitive’ and ‘backwards’; and they shared the idea that materialism is far more important than society’s moral and cultural values. For these reasons, the ‘socialist’ states crushed society’s moral culture and politics just like the ‘capitalist’ ones. In reality, both socialist and capitalist states are the states of capitalist civilisation. The movements of the workers themselves have often simply had the intention of seeking reform within the system: a higher share of the national monopoly in the form of higher wages or state benefits. What it is important to understand is that once labourers joined the temples of civilisation, and once people became workers in the factories of capitalist civilisation, they become a part of the system. Even if they are the lowest class in the system, they are still a cog in the machine of the classed-system of civilisation and therefore work within the system. When civilisations are overthrown, they are overthrown together with the lowest classes of the system which are a part of the system. Therefore, the class struggle is not the struggle of one class against another: the class struggle must be the struggle of society against the class-system altogether; the struggle to avoid the class system and state system from developing and to avoid being incorporated into it whether as a worker, slave, or serf.
Tragically, the socialist movements accepted the fundamental basis of civilisation, and so their struggles only created their own versions of civilisation, a ‘Pharaoh socialism’. This does not take away from the heroic struggle waged by these movements and the highest ideals and sincerity of those who fought them: certainly socialism and Marxism has been the biggest influence on organised opposition to the system, including in many black liberation struggles, and so those seeking freedom outside of the system should still aim to work alongside them.
The struggles of black liberation, of rights and equality movements, and of socialism are important experiences in the corrupting ideologies of capitalist civilisation on movements searching for freedom. The master’s tools cannot dismantle the master’s house, and neither can the master’s servants. If we truly seek freedom, then we cannot aim to create our versions of the system: if we allow a line of rulers or new states to form, they would only turn out to be Nimrods and Nebuchadnezzars, which would reinforce our captivity and make our promised ‘Zion’ a new Babylon. These experiences show us that to find freedom we need to break completely from the capitalist civilisation that exists, to mentally fight its traps and temptations, and we need to start by breaking from its way of thinking.
Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery
The freedom struggle is the struggle of society against capitalist civilisation. We need to resist all aspects of civilisation: its classes, its states, its capture of our economy, its armies and, most importantly, its ideologies and its way of thinking. If we cannot resist the capitalist system’s way of thinking, then our resistance will be unsuccessful. One of the most important aspects of this is how we approach our understanding of society and history itself. Developing our own approach to understanding history is important for overcoming capitalist civilisation’s historical propaganda: when it says that it is an invention of the past 500 years and is the end of history; when it gives itself legitimacy by saying it represents society; when it tells those of us exploited by it that we have no history of our own, and thus no future.
The key to freeing our way of thinking is in understanding that civilisation is a separate entity to society. The key is understanding that society is determined by the communal life of humans and the free expression of our collective morality and politics, and social problems emerge when society is denied its morality and politics by an external entity. That is to say: social problems emerge when society is not allowed to act as a society. Civilisation is something that separates itself from society, and places itself over society, in order to exploit it: the classes that emerge separate themselves from the rest of society, the states they build exist over society, and the ideologies they spread infiltrate society from above. Civilisation aims to take over and capture society like this all for the sake of exploiting society and taking the surplus it produces. The classes, states, and ideologies above society can only do this by suppressing society’s morality and politics; that is, suppressing the free nature of society.
In this sense, there is no such thing as a ‘capitalist society’ or a ‘feudal society’. Throughout all these phases of civilisation, it is only the minority at the top who are part of a capitalist system or feudal system. The great majority, the 90% of people are part of a society which is being controlled and exploited by this system. Even if society is caged by these systems, the society still exists: it exists either under great repression where it is barred from expressing its moral and political character, or, small pockets of free society bubble up in the cracks in the system as society’s natural expression. The same goes for economy. There is no such thing as a ‘capitalist economy’ or a ‘feudal economy’. There is only a human economy which provides for the needs of society and is guaranteed by the moral rules and political management of society: capitalism represents an imposition from above that has captured the human economy and turned it into a monopoly for the rulers of the civilisation. This distorts the human economy, though pockets of collective and communal provision of our needs will always bubble up from society.
The reason society always exists alongside civilisation is because civilisation cannot exist without society. The very purpose of civilisation is to take society’s surplus; so if society were to perish, civilisation would come tumbling down. Just like a cancer on the body or a parasite on an animal: if the host dies, then the cancer dies with it. This is why the Israelites understood that Babylon had ‘feet of clay’: despite its shining gold head and great bronze stature, it cannot stand up on its own two feet without society.
In the bible, Daniel interprets the dream of Nebuchadnezzar II and sees a great statue of different metals. The dream showed the weakness of Babylon at its iron and clay foundations, and the phrase ‘feet of clay’ is now used to describe the weakness in people of prominence.
Therefore, history that tells the story of kings and rulers and nation states, and history that tells the story of ‘slave society’ then feudalism then capitalism – this history is nothing but propaganda of the system. This history creates the illusion that the civilisations that have taken over society are the story of society itself, and it encourages society to identify with the system. This history of civilisation ignores the history of the great majority of society who lived before civilisation, who have resisted civilisation, and who have always expressed themselves freely and against it. This history wants to hide the fact that an alternative in society has always existed and still exists. We all know that the system tries to make us imagine, especially as African and Caribbean peoples and diaspora, that we have no history: but this deceit runs deeper than we think.
In this way, we can understand that there are two streams of history: the history of civilisation and the history of society. Just as civilisation has continued since five thousand years ago, from Babylon to the capitalist civilisation, so has free society continued interrupted throughout its longer, older history. It is in the history of society and its expression in the present that we can find our freedom.
Once we understand that capitalist civilisation is not a part of society, we understand that to find freedom for society we have to look to the parts of society that existed before civilisation, that haven’t been absorbed into civilisation, and that magnificently resisted civilisation. Once we recognise the reality of that society, we need to develop structures and ideology that allow free society to express its morality and politics in full and resist capitalism’s takeover of society.
These, once again, are the perspectives of Abdullah Öcalan, the leader of the Kurdish freedom movement and revolution. Öcalan did not write much about the history of pan-African resistance, but we can forgive him this. Fortunately for Africans, Caribbeans, and all the diaspora, our societies have some of the oldest and richest histories of expression and resistance in the world. We will find in our history that we have the strength, knowledge and willpower to build up what we need for free society.
African and Caribbean history of Freedom
Rastafari is a culture of resistance which came from Jamaican communities who were attacked by civilisation and told they had no history. In order to give strength to the people, one of the roles of Rastafari is to give people knowledge of an African-centred history and a sense of pride in their past. Rastafari focused on the civilisational side of African history: on African kings and civilisations, and they took Emperor Haile Selassie II of Ethopia who ruled at the time as their leader. To build a free society we must study the history of free society rather than the history of civilisation, but the Rastafari knowledge of people’s need for history once again shows the power of insight of their way of thinking. The task of understanding our history of freedom is vital if we are to develop a culture of resistance, morality, and politics, and find the way to freedom.
Below I will give suggestions for areas of historical and social study, but this needs to be explored systematically by African Caribbean and diaspora freedom movements who must consult their own history fully, and must go to all parts of their society today to know them intimately. Once this knowledge is found and the connections with historical-society made, it will immediately give a sense of strength to Africans, Caribbeans and the diaspora: we will stand up more strongly because we will recognise the existence and reality of our own historical-society which civilisation has tried to hide from us; it will dispel the myths of the inferiority of a people without a history and will contribute to the curing of internal racism. Once we see the strength of our historical-society, we will be far more confident in building a future for ourselves, because we will see through our past and present strength what we are capable of. Most importantly, by looking at the history of free society and identifying its existence today– its structures and its cultures – we will find everything we need to develop a paradigm to liberate society.
We can start looking into the history of our society by looking at the vibrant tapestry of Neolithic society existing in Africa for the thousands of years of history of the continent before the Europeans even knew it existed. We should examine the clans, then tribes and villages and agricultural societies that existed in great diversity across African regions, and we can study the moral codes of these peoples, their collective values and customs which tied their societies together, and guaranteed their communal life. We can find out what it was in their moral culture that regulated the economy to ensure that all members of their tribes and village were given the means of life, fed and sheltered, and we can determine what moral rules led to a culture of sharing, whereby the surplus of society, rather than being monopolised by a rising class, was shared in great gift economies and formed the basis of solidarity between peoples. Indeed, we can study the tribal confederacies to understand how it is that people from different tribes, villages, and cultures, can work together in unity whilst maintaining their diversity and avoiding submission to a central authority. We can also get to know these parts of free society as they exist today – the internal culture of these societies was so strong that many resisted being absorbed by capitalist civilisation, and those that have resisted and survived constitute leading elements of our free society and we must work with them closely to build this up.
Historically, there are many different forms of organisation across the African continent: a patchwork of tribes and tribal confederacies on the one hand, and kingdoms and civilisations on the other. However, African civilisations and kingdoms take over society just like Mesopotamian or European civilisation: just because it happened in Africa does not mean a civilisation will lead to freedom, and there is nothing radical about the images of African kings. Therefore, even though knowledge of African kingdoms and civilisations is important for curing a sense of inferiority since we can do the same as any other peoples in the world, we should always be discriminatory when working out which parts of history are the history of society itself.
We can look at the interactions of these societies with civilisation and their resistance against African, North-African and Middle-Eastern, and European civilisations. Wherever civilisation tries to take over society, society offers ceaseless resistance, and this is true of Africa in its societies’ unbroken resistance throughout the past few hundred years of European attack. We can see this resistance in the example of free tribes in East Africa and South Africa who confronted European civilisation fiercely in guerrilla warfare and open warfare, and who threw themselves at European armies. We can see the highest expression of these societies’ resistance in the stories of the tribes who, like the Bondelzwarts revolt in South Africa in 1922, when presented with European civilisation or freedom, showed determination to fight and die rather than give up their culture, politics, and freedom which would be a death in itself. We can look at the resistance offered in West Africa, of the armed organisation and resistance in Sierra Leone and Guinea: from the revolt of a famous fighting tribe, the Mendi, who wiped out battalions of colonial troops in 1898, to Haidara’s revolt in 1931, the social revolutionary movement which called peasants to refuse tax and drive away British officials, and demanded with armed force and mass support the confiscation of all Crown lands to be divided among the peasants. We can look at the spiritual and religious movements of East Africa who gave their societies the moral strength to defend themselves. These cultural movements, like Simon Kimbangu’s religious resistance movement in the Congo, resulted in vicious retaliation from European who knew that society’s moral culture had to be crushed to allow for exploitation: they had already devastated European economic monopolies. We can also look at the resistance of African women, such as the 1929 women’s revolt in Nigeria who organised mass protests against economic laws of the colony, seized public buildings, and dragged the European women to the markets to show them what work was, or revolutionary prophetess Alice Lenshina who led the largest peasant movement in Zambia’s history which rejected the materialism of capitalist civilisation and sought to gain the land back for peasants and women, setting up their own settlements and institutions as they went. Women everywhere, as the most exploited part of society with the best knowledge of society, should be in the lead of all freedom movements which should work with them closely. All of these stories of resistance must be identified as the expressions of societies which are constantly striving towards freedom. That African peoples had no inner strength and gave in to European conquest and enslavement, is a lie of European civilisation.
The inner strength of African societies and their will to resistance is shown through the efforts of the diaspora in the Caribbean and the US. We can find this in the story of many Africans transported to the Caribbean who, when they fled the plantations and rejected their role as slaves and took up arms in the mountains, used their experience of society in Africa to build villages, plant their own subsistence economy, and engage in fierce guerrilla warfare. The resistance of these Maroons who are heroes of society, multiple times brought the colonial powers to their knees.
Regardless of the different outcomes of national liberation struggles, reaching their climax in the 1960s and 1970s, we can still understand these struggles as great expressions of society’s desire for freedom, and treat those who waged them with respect. Within these struggles there were different elements: some wanted to create nation states in the sincere belief that it would lead to freedom; others were a cynical middle-class who wanted a share of the monopoly; and some rejected the system of European civilisation altogether, and knew that recreating those structures or allowing them to persist would only lead to continued colonialism in new forms. These liberation struggles are continued today by those fighting neo-colonialism in Africa and the Caribbean, and they represent some of the foremost elements of the society with whom we must work with towards society’s freedom.
For those of us in Europe and the US, we can look at the recent history of our resistance and the present-day expressions of society in the diaspora. In recent decades we can look to the movements aiming to build autonomy for African American society, such as the New Communities Movement which built collective land autonomy for society, Cooperation Jackson building a cooperative economy for black communities, or the heroic Black Panthers movement who equipped society with self-defence and fought courageously to build up their people’s autonomy. In the UK, we can look at the cultural clubs and institutions that our grandparents built when they arrived, their community economic organisations and cooperative housing groups, and both the successes and mistakes in their political organising. Everywhere today, we can see the diaspora engaging in increased experiments with more communal and cooperative forms of providing for our needs: all of these efforts represent expressions of free society and can be worked with closely and systematised. And everywhere today Africans, Caribbeans, and the diaspora are rising up in protest against the continued injustices of the ‘Babylon’ system – capitalist civilisation. This, once again, must be identified as society’s expression of its yearning for freedom, and we must be with these movements to win it.
It is only by finding the truth of society that we can find the basis for freedom. We must always remember that society is captured and social problems emerge when it is denied the expression of its morality and politics, and therefore to free society and solve social problems we must work for the expression and strengthening of society’s morality and politics. Capitalist civilisation is the most highly organised system both structurally and ideologically: it only represents a minority, 10% of the population, but these classes are highly organised with states, monopolies, and ideologies. The majority of society, 90%, is ideologically and structurally weak, meaning that our morality and politics is trampled on by capitalist civilisation and we cannot defend ourselves. Therefore we must develop powerful structures and ideologies to allow for full expression of our morality and politics, for full expression of our social truth and freedom.
As stated, by knowing our historical-society will we find all the ingredients to strengthen society structurally and ideologically. Elements of society’s morality, economic practices, communal forms, democratic traditions, confederacies, cultures and spiritualities present forms that have allowed for society’s freedom. Many elements of society that have not been absorbed by society, that have resisted, still exist and are always bubbling up as society’s natural expression: cultural movements and cultural associations, the unemployed, women’s groups, housing cooperatives and economic cooperatives, young people and youth organisations, religious movements, political resistance movements, protest movements, liberation struggles, indigenous groups and tribal groups and confederacies. We must identify these elements of society and work with them closely: these are the most prominent expressions of free society, and if they have structure and ideology uniting them then society can move towards freedom.
The task of revolutionaries is not to build a ‘new society’ or to ‘socially engineer’ society according to some utopia – social engineering is a tool of civilisations to control society. The task of revolutionaries is contribute to freeing the society that already exists and allowing it to express itself fully. Revolutionaries can do this by contributing to the strength and development of its moral and political culture, and by finding ways to develop this structurally and ideologically. Society already has all the historical experience, knowledge, and willpower necessary to find freedom, so if revolutionaries are part of society and know its history and present, the route to freedom will become clear. One important part of society’s knowledge are the insights of Rastafari, which will aid us in this historic struggle against Babylon.
Rastafari is not perfect, and it slips into some of the hierarchies it aims to oppose. It may be the case that employing religion as a frame of understanding may distort the freedom struggle. Religion is often hierarchical and patriarchal: the model of one god over society sets a model for the rule of one person or group over society. Rastafari itself, despite its resistance to empire, saw freedom in kingdoms and empires, with a strong black nationalist overtone that even risks discrimination against other groups. Rastafari also has strong patriarchal elements that has sometimes excluded women.
However, Rastafari’s insights into history are still invaluable in informing our understanding of the system we live under, which in turn makes the route to freedom clearer. Rastafari has often been shunned and rejected by formal parts of society; and the reason for this is because it tells the truth. Rastafari is one of our great resistance cultures: it has offered self-respect and the spiritual and moral strength to resist to people across Africa, the Caribbean and the diaspora where it has spread. Certainly, it is a compelling lesson on the importance of culture, spirituality, morality, ideology, and metaphysics for the freedom movement. Without a doubt, Rastafari is one part of the free society with whom we must work towards freedom. We have to fight to fulfil the freedom for our society that Rastafari promised when it saw its people poor and hungry. As we go, we will draw on the strength of our societies’ great historical experience and ability, and we will find that, just like in ancient times, the system we are up against was built on ‘feet of clay’.
‘We refuse to be what you wanted us to be. You can’t educate us for no equal opportunity; we’re talking about freedom and liberty! We’ve been working under this system, taken for granted too long. Don’t bow inna Babylon – tell the children the truth about this system, and rebel!’