Delegates at the Dilemmas of Humanity: Pan African Dialogues to Build Socialism conference. Photo: Conference media team
The world’s attention will be on the city of Johannesburg next week as Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa will convene the 15th annual BRICS Summit (August 22-24). Organized under the banner of “BRICS and Africa: Partnership for Mutually Accelerated Growth, Sustainable Development, and Inclusive Multilateralism,” this year’s conference could potentially usher in a new era of cooperation among the global South.
Over 40 countries have expressed their interest in joining BRICS, including 23 countries that have officially applied for membership. Meanwhile, leaders from 71 countries across the Global South have been invited to participate in the upcoming conference’s dialogues.
The summit is being held against the backdrop of major geopolitical shifts. “There are growing cracks in the unipolar international order imposed by Washington and Brussels on the rest of the world through the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), the international financial system, the control of information flows (in both traditional and social media networks), and the indiscriminate use of unilateral sanctions against an increasing number of countries,” notes the No Cold War campaign in its ninth Briefing Paper.
With growing talk of the emergence of a new or “multipolar” world order, the BRICS project “is centered around the question of whether countries at the nether end of the neo-colonial system can break out of that system through mutual trade and cooperation, or whether the larger countries [including BRICS] will inevitably enjoy asymmetries of power and scale…and therefore reproduce inequalities rather than transcend them,” writes Vijay Prashad, historian, journalist, and director of the Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research.
In this context, a crucial question emerges — how must the working class position itself to advance its aims? Just weeks ahead of the BRICS Summit, this question was discussed at the “Dilemmas of Humanity: Pan African Dialogues to Build Socialism” conference held in Bela-Bela, South Africa, on July 17-20.
An agenda for the working class
Speaking to Peoples Dispatch on the eve of the conference, Phakamile Hlubi-Majola, the national spokesperson for the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA), had stressed that “it is very important for the working class to come together with a very clear framework and demands about what it wants from these discussions around BRICS.”
“Working class formations definitely should insert themselves in these conversations…We are sick and tired of being used to rubber stamp policies that leave us worse off…If we are going to have conversations of us [the Global South] playing a greater role in a multipolar world, then we [the working class] should not be left behind and our demands should take center stage,” she noted.
The Dilemmas of Humanity regional conference in South Africa brought together 184 delegates from 38 anti-imperialist, anti-capitalist, and pan-Africanist organizations and movements from across Africa and other continents.
In its final declaration, the conference affirmed the need to construct “Pan African Socialism as the necessary historical conclusion of the National Liberation struggles against colonialism, launched by modern Africa’s Founders.” Noting that the National Liberation struggle remained unfinished in Africa, the conference demanded an end to the colonial occupation of Western Sahara and the Chagos Islands.
It further called for the unity of all anti-imperialist organizations in the struggle to dismantle all foreign military bases on the African continent. Moreover, amid the “growing internationalization and militarization of social conflicts in the Sahel and parts of Southern Africa” that are “destabilizing the continent,” the conference “encouraged the establishment of people’s platforms” to end insurgencies. The conference also called for an end to the war in Sudan and stressed the imperative of an immediate ceasefire leading to a negotiated settlement.
It further supported the “evolution and expansion of BRICS as a potential antidote to the unipolarity of our current world.”
The declaration also expressed support for an anti-imperialist defense of nature and for peasant agroecology and food sovereignty as “tools of decolonizing food systems and advancing socialism.” The conference declared its defense of the rights of workers to organize themselves into democratic and worker-controlled trade unions.
In pursuit of national independence, social justice, democracy, and socialism, the conference also expressed its solidarity with the people of Palestine, Cuba, Venezuela, Haiti, and Mali. It expressed its commitment to a “just and lasting peace” in the war between Russia and NATO in Ukraine, and noted that China had exercised “great restraint in the face of all forms of provocations” by the US and its allies.
Building socialism as the path towards the future
Grounded in the understanding that capitalism has no solutions to the problems that confront humanity, the South Africa regional conference was organized around eight themes, each with a dedicated commission that produced a resolution which was then deliberated upon and adopted by the Conference’s plenary as part of the Final Declaration.
Regarding ‘urban struggles for dignified housing,’ and recognizing that “land and housing struggles must be understood as building blocks for our broader task of socialist construction,” the conference resolved to adopt political education as a tool of organizing, to reject the “sectarian politics of NGOS and multinational corporations that appropriate working class struggles,” to reject the commodification of land and demand that “its social value replace its commercial value,” and “to denounce the ongoing land-grabbing in Africa” by MNCs with the help of neoliberal states.
Emphasizing that capitalism and imperialism perpetuate patriarchy, and as such, all struggles against patriarchy must be rooted in class analysis, the conference resolved to “build a revolutionary, international platform of militant, working class women and landless peasants capable of resisting neoliberalism, imperialism, and neo-colonialism” which would be complemented by consistent activism.
The plenary further pledged to fight for opportunities for women and girls and to organize campaigns and collective action days against all forms of gender stereotypes, as well as to work towards full gender equality at all levels within the participating organizations and to empower working-class women by organizing them along specific struggles while addressing barriers to their participation.
“Capitalism remains a non-viable, exploitative, damaging and violent system towards the peasantry…[it is] committed to over-production for the accumulation of profit…the capitalist system submits workers and peasants to poverty; it produces food for profit and not to feed the people,” noted the final declaration.
On the question of agroecology, food sovereignty, and the struggle for socialism, the plenary then resolved to conduct regional agroecology and food sovereignty campaigns as “indigenous, popular, and scientific frameworks for resolving humankind’s food and nutritional crisis,” to improve the quality of life and to protect cultures and biodiversity; to restructure social relations to “detach peasants from the grip of agribusiness and empower them” including through popular sovereignty over land, water and other resources; to join the struggle of women to own and control the land they till.
Raising concern over the fact that neoliberal capitalism had turned healthcare into a commodity reserved for the wealthy few as opposed to a “social resource” for all, the plenary resolved to advocate for health information and advocacy to be institutionalized in the public education system, to initiate small health projects as demonstrable examples of an effective public health system, to honor indigenous knowledge and solutions, and to denounce the role of multinationals in health and other sectors, including food production.
The vital role of education
“We recognize that the minds of our young people are keenly sought after by imperialists for the purpose of exploiting and brainwashing them…and with the ultimate objective of securing control of the continent through a demographic advantage in the future,” the final declaration stated.
Around the theme of youth and dignified education, the plenary resolved to “conduct a thorough class analysis” to understand the impact of capitalism on particularly poor and working class youth, to document and popularize education programs based on socialist principles while also strengthening existing centers of “true learning which nurture the seeds of revolution by teaching Marxist theory, the heroism of African liberation movements, and the resilience of our forefathers,” and to advocate for policies that empower working class youth on issues related to land, housing, and a dignified life of work.
This, in turn, is also necessary to address the “tragedy of young migrants from our [African] continent dying on the seas in search of what is perceived as a better life in Europe.”
Another major concern raised during the conference was the changing nature of the working class under capitalism – including increasing informalization, casualization, and the international fragmentation of the production process itself — and the organizational challenges this posed for trade unions.
“Our task is to develop a joint program of common demands that unite the working class [including organized, unorganized, employed and unemployed workers] without prejudices…a political axis must be formed between movements, community-based organizations, unions, and revolutionary vanguard parties,” the text reads.
The conference resolved to develop tactics and strategies to organize workers in the context of the changing world of work, high rates of unemployment, and the 4th Industrial Revolution, while defending existing gains secured by trade unions, and for unions to serve a revolutionary educational and political purpose in building vanguard parties and raising consciousness. It further committed to building solidarity — not just international and Pan-African solidarity — but ties between workers in urban areas and the peasantry.
Contending with the “immense propaganda machinery of the ruling class,” the plenary affirmed that in order to “get on to the front foot and articulate our ideas, we must elevate the experiences, analyses and aspirations of the working peoples in struggle.” To this end, the final resolution on the question of arts, media, culture, and communications resolved to strengthen and boost collaboration among people’s media projects, to elevate the voices of the working class, to develop a platform for the exchange of information and media between organizations, movements, and media projects, and to support progressive organizations in developing their own media units to advance their ideas and work.
At a time when people are still struggling against colonialism and exploitation, the plenary declared its commitment to launch a campaign in solidarity with the Palestinian people fighting for liberation from the colonial apartheid Israeli occupation, reaffirming that the occupation must end and the Palestinian people’s right of return be upheld.
It further denounced all sanctions imposed by the US and its allies which directly affect about 30% of the world’s population, and rejected the “indirect sanctions imposed on even more people around the world through neo-colonial debt and bogus treaties.”
Finally, the plenary also promised to launch a rolling mass action campaign to remove all foreign military bases from Africa.
Addressing the Organization of African Unity 60 years ago, Kwame Nkrumah had warned that even as countries across the continent were overthrowing the yoke of colonialism, this was “equally matched by an intense effort on the part of imperialism to continue the exploitation of our resources by creating divisions among us.” This effort is on full display today, as imperialism grows more belligerent and violent.
In the face of these attacks, the conference’s final declaration called on mass movements to consolidate themselves, to position themselves as protagonists in the struggle for political power, and for political parties “to rise to the occasion and play a vanguard role in defining strategies and tactics that will keep us on the path to a future where our people live with dignity”
“We join the struggle for socialism to win.”