Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

November 28, 2018

Kinshasa Makambo; Piripkura

Filed under: Africa,Brazil — louisproyect @ 11:46 pm

Despite their geographical distance and socioeconomic distinctions, the countries featured in two new documentaries have a lot in common. They are the Democratic Republic of Congo and Brazil, archetypes of the primitive accumulation of capital that Marx described as ones in which the treasures captured outside Europe by undisguised looting, enslavement, and murder are floated back to the mother-country and turned into capital. Both countries relied on slavery and forced labor for capital accumulation. Additionally, in the modern age both furnished rubber for the burgeoning automobile industry. Finally, both are homes to vast rainforests that are being exploited for commodity production at the expense of the people who dwell within them. Humanity as a whole will suffer the deepening consequences of climate change as rainforests—the lungs of Mother Earth—get chopped down for the benefit of mining, farming, ranching, timber mills, and the like.

“Kinshasa Makambo”, which opens at the Cinema Village on November 30, focuses on the movement to remove Congo’s President Joseph Kabila from office that began in December 2016 after he pushed for a constitutional amendment to allow a third term—especially his own. After making a deal with the opposition party to abide by existing term limits in exchange for leaving office before the end of 2017, Kabila broke his promise and used the cops to disperse massive demonstrations in Kinshasa, the capital city.

Director Dieudo Hamadi immersed himself in the middle of demonstrations that were not only subject to tear gas attacks but machine gun fire as well. It took remarkable courage for him to risk his life making a film that is obviously sympathetic to the movement’s goals. But he also displayed remarkable objectivity in capturing the frustrations and false steps of young people in the leadership of what amounted to a Congo Spring.

Hamadi trains his camera on three young men: Ben, who has been living in exile in New York, Jean Marie who has just been released from prison where he was tortured continuously, and Christian, a supporter of Étienne Tshisekedi whose Union for Democracy and Social Progress party was Kabila’s main adversary. Eighty-four at the time of the protests, he was regarded by Ben and Jean Marie as too old and too moderate to lead the struggle.

As has been the case with young civil society activists globally, the three find it difficult to pull together a movement capable of toppling the dictatorship. In one telling scene, they argue about their ineffectuality with one youth complaining that they are only a Facebook movement.

I strongly urge my readers in New York to see this film that will help you to understand Congolese politics as well as to get some perspective on the challenges youth-based movements have in confronting dictators like Kabila, Mubarak, Assad, et al, when the traditional instruments of revolutionary change such as trade unions and socialist parties are relatively weak.

Although the film does not give any background on Joseph Kabila (and really doesn’t have to), a few words might help you understand the nature of the conflict. He took office in 2001 after the previous president, his father Laurent-Désiré Kabila, was assassinated by one of his bodyguards. When Che Guevara came to the Congo to help build a guerrilla movement to overthrow Mobutu, he hooked up with Kabila who was a Lumumba partisan and the head of a guerrilla group. Che grew frustrated with Kabila’s lack of discipline and returned to Cuba.

Kabila eventually joined forces with Paul Kagame who led the Tutsi militias in Rwanda. After both men took power in their respective countries, they dispensed with the democratic promises they made to the citizenry.

Like the ANC, Kabila came to power in 1997 with socialist pretensions. A year later, Kagame broke ties with him as did Yoweri Museveni, the president of Uganda who also came to power with hopes that he could break with the African strongman past.

Joseph Kabila’s election for his second term in 2012 was widely regarded as rigged. To get an idea of what motivated the poverty-stricken Congolese people (Kinshasa is a vast slum), the Panama Papers revealed that his twin sister Jaynet Kabila Keratsu, a member of parliament, hired Mossack Fonseca to create a company called Keratsu Holding Limited in the Pacific island of Niue just a few months after her brother became president. Like Putin and Assad, this revelation did not lead to the twin despots resigning, and for identical reasons.

“Piripkura”, a Brazilian film distributed by the indispensable Cinema Libre company, opened at the Laemmle in LA on November 26 and at the Angelika in New York today. (For DVD and VOD options, check the official website.) (http://cinemalibrestudio.com/PiripkuraMovie/)

The Piripkura are a nomadic tribe that lived in Mato Grosso region of Brazil and like many such hunting-and-gathering societies fell victim to prospectors, ranchers, lumberjacks and other capitalist predators who viewed indigenous people as a nuisance standing in the way of “development”. Rita, a Piripkura woman who has left the forest to live in a settlement for indigenous peoples protected by FUNAI, the National Indian Foundation. Except for her, the only surviving Piripkuras are her brother Pakyî and her nephew Tamandua who have remained deep within the forest successfully avoiding the genocidal intruders who do not respect the government’s protection of tribal land just as India protected the Sentinelese islanders who killed the missionary who had entered the island illegally to preach the Gospel. On first blush, the Bible might not seem as inimical to indigenous people’s survival as a shotgun but colonialism tends to use them in tandem.

The first half of the film shows FUNAI official Jair Candor penetrating the forest in search of the two remaining Piripkura. If he can document their survival, their territory will remain protected. Suffice it to say that their discovery is a bittersweet experience. You smile because these diminutive and angelic men, naked as the day they were born, are still alive. You also shed a tear because, like Nishi in California, they are the sole survivors of a tribe that once numbered hundreds in their rainforest sanctuary.

This is a timely film because the new, fascist-like President of Brazil has declared his intention to turn the Amazon rainforest into toothpicks, lawn furniture, ethanol, sugar and the like even if it costs the lives of every indigenous person.

I urge my readers to see the film and spread the word about it since it is essential for deepening your understanding of the stakes of a major struggle that will pit progressive Brazilians like Jair Candor against the murderers sharpening their knives. A global movement is necessary to defend the rainforests and the people who call it home. This film is part of this movement and should be enjoyed and supported by everybody respecting indigenous rights.

2 Comments »

  1. Louis, I find your take on current events interesting. We have something in common regarding Hoboken
    I grew up there in 50s’ and 60s’. I remember Mayor John J Grogan. I never had the pleasure of meeting his daughter. Have a happy holiday and a healthy 2019.

    Comment by Robert Svorinich — November 29, 2018 @ 12:41 am

  2. Louis writes on Democratic Republic of Congo and Brazil: »Both countries relied on slavery and forced labor for capital accumulation«, and this needs a clarification.

    The Congo basin was a source of slaves sold to Brasilian plantation owners, a part of the trans-atlantic slave trade, caused by the inability of the European colonizers to force the American natives to work longer than they needed for their survival, and even more to popularize the idea of private property of land. The Europeans had for long time just trade posts on the African coasts. They profited from the fact that most african socities were in a state of social development as the Greek city states were during the Greek Antique times: waging wars against each other, and taking prisoners which were used as labor force in a slavery relation.

    Those European powers changed their attitude towards slavery when they started to move inland from the coast, conquering the land and exploit local labor on plantations or mines. So they had to stop exporting the labor force which they needed themselves. But not as slaves, which as property of the owner needs to be fed by the owner even when she or he is not able to work, but as “free” proletarians or indentured workers.

    This is laid down in the international treaty which was concluded at the 1884/85 Berlin Congo Conference, which also redevided the territory, drew new border lines (e.g. gave the new Congo State ruled privately by the kind of Belgium) the north or right bank of the Congo river so that the Congo State would have direct access to the Atlantic Ocean. By this redrawing, the northern part of the Portuguese ruled territory became an exclave, which is now the Angolan province of Cabinda, bordering in the South to the DR Congo and in the North to Congo (Brazzaville, former french colony).

    Comment by Lüko Willms — December 3, 2018 @ 8:51 am


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