Where do we situate reparations for black and African people? What canon is fitting to take on its analysis, its nuances and fullness? This is about paying back for labour that was stolen, unpaid for and exorcised out of human beings as if a set of demons or at its lowest as beasts of burden. In trying to understand this cold and calculated act, labour meets another one of its great antitheses, that of dehumanization. Paying back what’s owed to a people historically used to inaugurate a global economic system that will to this day keep them in their place requires no easy and settled meditation.
The call for reparations then asks for a totalising of the forces that enacted the stealing of bodies, minds and souls. We must look at this system’s historical genesis, political core and economic roots. A scientific and materialist investigation that issues from a totality of different but related parts of a whole. We cannot pander to a sentimental approach without running the risk of mere invectives and platitudes that leads one nowhere near a politics of liberation and true reparation.
At the base of this cruel system, we must never forget, lies both the logic and law of a ruthless accumulative drive. It honours neither morals nor ethics, it only knows how to take by coercion or persuasion. And at its superstructural level an ideology, today known to the world as white supremacy, holds the helm to convince that one race of humans are superior to another. To drive home the point, a strange irony ensues that without these labour that was stolen it —this deadly system—would have never existed. You see the coercion at its beginning and so it shall remain in the end so to speak. Both its psyche and materiality points to the violence it will bring to the world.
I’m talking about capitalism. I’m sure you have already anticipated that.
Capitalism itself needed capital to start operating as both an economic system and a political reality that subsume human dignity under the guise of promised freedoms and rights. While the founders of this system were busy taking over from their monarchical dynasties in Europe to bring to life another form of rule; there in the so-called new world black people are being subjected to the worst of all degradation to fund the takeover of the capitalist class and provide its seedling. The black humans snatched from their lands, taking long gruesome journeys filled with agony and pain are now put to work even as they’re separated from kin and skin folk at will. A contradiction ensues that bewilders one: fighting for human rights on one side of the world, while stealing it continually from the other end of the Atlantic. Yet, there was no mistake here. It was systematic, calculated and accepted as the order of things in the very fitness of history.
The psychology of this system cannot work any other way. For even its workers down in the factories of Europe were reduced to nothing but appendages of the machine used to process the raw materials from slave labour. The one who doesn’t own the means produces the ends without pity or mercy. As the system matures and now goes from the factory to the offices of power under the newly founded nation state with its citizens, it expands and increases its pain to the whole world i.e colonialism. Through it all the enslaved African in the fields of the new world still receives the whip and the sting of death at every turning point. Thus western democracy came into the world funded by right-less dehumanized beings with blood, sweat and death.
So why reparations you might ask? Well, isn’t it obvious now that that which is stolen must be returned?
So why reparations you might ask? Well, isn’t it obvious now that that which is stolen must be returned? That which is lost restored? That which is owed paid? It is as simple as that. Period.
But still complex as the fact remains that those who steal deny and swear in all holiness that nothing is owed to the sufferers of yesterday and today. These are claims made even more powerful by the painful fact that there have risen amongst the black masses a class of people who will conspire with capital to steal and snatch even more than ever. They claim to speak for our people but they’re nothing sort of middlemen for the oppressors of yesteryears and today.
Yet as it’s known that power concedes to nothing but power, then the sufferers too must build their power base to take back that which is rightfully theirs. This system must pay for every penny owed which numbers in the millions and billions. They must pay for the pain, the suffering and the death that was there in the fields of the Americas and the plains of Africa. In the process these masses of black people must also clear their ranks of those ruling class betrayers amongst them. This is reparations as class struggle in its conscious stage.
But what about the colonial adventures? How will those fit in our conversation on reparations? What about the neocolonial state that now abound the black and brown world? What about the wage slavery that binds man and woman to the machine without proper recompense for their labour?
Since it exists as a continuity without break for as one system of domination dies, another is born to carry on the burden of providing the seed capital for capitalism —otherwise known as primitive accumulation. We can never see any breakages or discontinuities in how it flows through history. The payment owed then is ongoing which means the struggle for remuneration cannot be but one that roots for a new world order that seizes domination by the neck.
Reparations is anticapitalist politics because its call is at its core about paying back labour for what it’s worth
Reparations is anticapitalist politics because its call is at its core about paying back labour for what it’s worth. Since capitalism accumulates and refuses redistribution of produce, reparations stand at its polar opposite. Hence no call for reparations will be meaningful without a call for the dismantling of the capitalist mode of production. It must be understood that the wage system under capital itself demands for reparations as it appropriates labour power as just another commodity in the market that it can exploit at will. Under the pretense of the worker being free to do as they will, they are bound to a contract to produce much beyond their pay through a complex extension of the working day and time. The wage is only so they can reproduce and sustain themselves so as to go back to work for as long as the capitalist needs them. Their impoverishment builds wealth for the owner of the means of production.
At the bottom of this commodification of labour power of course lies the black worker today even as it was yesterday. With the racialization of capitalism from its very beginning blackness receives the brunt of its dispossession as it bends to carry the burden of the machine. Here the demand for reparations moves from the slave plantations and colonial plunder and extends itself headlong against white supremacy writ large. To take it back to history: this system that was built by stolen black labour cannot advance black life without dying. To pay is one step, to die is its logical conclusion.
We are now left with one righteous alternative. Which is to build a socialist vision for a new world where value from labour is paid in full and a cooperative economy is built that is not run by a murderous market and the whim of a few people while the billion majority groans from poverty and dispossession. The ideological superstructure of white supremacy gives way to a world of the equality of all human beings without regard for the colour of their skin or their gender identity.
Babylon must pay. That’s a fact of history. Capitalism must die. That is the truth of the present. We can’t have one without the other. In the fullness of time, the nation state built on the back of enslaved Africans, which has now permeated every corner of the world, must also disappear. It must give way to a new state that is built on freedom and liberation of all toilers and workers. This is the verdict of history and it can’t be any other way.