By Owei Lakemfa
The world evolved at various stages of development but conflict and conquest were not usually very far. Great empires rose, but habitually at the expense of the conquered. They also fell, usually due to internal contradictions.
But when two nations, Portugal and Spain, rose with the backing of the Catholic Church, it was the beginning of global power. They conquered and ruled many countries to the extent that the sun never set or rose at the same time in territories ruled or colonised by Spain. Then, a far smaller country, Britain rose, attacking in one form or another, from the 1740s-1940s, 90 per cent of today’s countries and territories.
It made infamous the 1740 poem “Rule, Britannia” by Thomas Aene, a Scot whose homestead, Scotland had been overran by the English and incorporated into Great Britain. It proclaims that Britain rose “at heaven’s command” and that “guardian angels sang this strain Rule Britannia, Britannia, rule the waves Britons never, never, shall be slaves.” However, Britain saw it as its divine right to enslave all other peoples. It was an age of brigandage as European countries enslaved, looted, despoiled and colonised the rest of humanity.
The world began to drastically change when Britain, from 1760, gave birth to the Industrial Revolution which revved on until 1840. It was essentially the birth of steam power and advancement to mechanised production which shifted the economy from its agriculture base to an industrialised one and established urban centres.
Eight years after the Industrial Revolution had firmly set the world on the part of industrialisation, two German friends, Karl Marx, an intellectual, and Friedrich Engels, a merchant, emerged with a document they called ‘The Communist Manifesto’. At the time, it seemed to many a crazy idea as the document claimed that humanity had begun with communal living, on to the feudal system, then, the new capitalist age, but was headed to the communist age where the working people would run the world.
They argued that the capitalist system is based on the naked exploitation of human beings, with the strong ruling over the weak in a dog-eat-dog system. They concluded that the primary victims of this exploitative system which are the workers, farmers and the poor masses would rise to overthrow the capitalist system and give birth to a new world order where exploitation would be replaced by a humane system in which the means of production will be communally, not privately owned, where all shall be equal and have basic human rights.
Not many would have taken Marx, Engels and their allies serious as it sounded like some fairy tale. That was until 1917 when the Russian revolutionaries led by a lawyer, Vladimir Ulyanov, alias Lenin, overthrew the Russian system and established the first socialist state.
There were strenuous efforts by the then dominant world powers to extinguish the socialist flame in Russia, but an alliance they led collapsed because Germany under Adolf Hitler was more interested in recovering the territories and colonies it had lost during the First World War. With the Second World War, the sunset on British global dominance and two new powers, the United States, US and Russia rose, giving birth to the bipolar world and the Cold War.
Russia had expanded to become the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, USSR, and was led by Iosif Vissarionovic Dzhugashvili alias Josef Stalin, a revolutionary from Georgia which was like a speck in the USSR. Stalin’s rise was also a practical demonstration that what matters in socialism is the human being and not his ethno-regional origins.
The two new powers built rival power centres: the USSR gave birth to the Warsaw Pact and the United States to the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, NATO. The weaker countries gave birth to the Non Aligned Movement which was like the neutral wire in electricity.
The Cold War was vicious. When after WWII the Vietnamese threw off the yoke of French colonialism and moved towards independence, the US, fearing the new Vietnamese leaders would ally with the USSR, invaded and in the process killed some three million people. When Korea seemed to be falling into the arms of socialists during its 1950-53 Civil War, international troops intervened. Today, 59 years after that war, about 30,000 American troops remain in that country.
The conflicts between the two powers were so serious that when Cuban youths in 1959 overthrew the cruel Batista military, America fought back with a failed Bay of Pigs invasion and has imposed a crippling blockade for six decades now.
Perhaps the most bizzare move to stop the spread of socialist ideas was in Indonesia where there was a military coup against socialist influence, and from 1965-66, between 2-3 million Indonesians, suspected of being socialist or sympathisers, were massacred.
In Africa, the colonialists forbade socialist thought or activities. Some two million Algerians were killed by France for demanding independence and being suspected of socialist inclinations. In Nigeria, it was criminal to possess socialist literature and an 18-year-old postal worker, Lasisi Osunde, suspected of processing socialist literature was charged with treason.
In 1981, one of the most right-wing and stridently anti-communist leaders in history, Ronald Reagan emerged the American President. Two years earlier, his British version, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, had emerged in Britain. They were so intolerant of other views that they became champions of Apartheid South Africa, declaring the liberation leaders like Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu and Govan Mbeki as terrorists.
Then in 1985, Mikhail Sergeyevick Gorbachev emerged the new Soviet leader. Shortly after, Thatcher, the unbending, unyielding ‘Iron Lady’ of Britain who believed in the capitalist system and ideology as a religion, announced, famously: “I like Mr. Gorbachev. We can do business together.” Thatcher liking somebody, least of all the Soviet leader? What business can the wolf and sheep do together? What business can tie the dog and the tiger? What did ‘Aunty Maggie’ know that the rest of us did not?
Then, Gorbachev unleashed his ‘reforms’ which dismantled the world order. In a salutary way, it led to the unification of Germany but broke Yugolavia into seven new countries under very bloody circumstances, while the USSR itself disintegrated into 15 new countries.
The great Gorbachev, the man who inherited a strong, united country and in six years, broke it into smaller and generally ineffective bits, died this Tuesday, August 30, 2022 at 91. He has been hailed as the man who brought peace to the world. What peace? I don’t know if the world knew peace following the destruction of the USSR. Is the world better today?
I do not think Gorbachev was a Western spy; I think he was more of an agent provocateur, fifth columnist and undertaker.
*Owei Lakemfa, jpournalist, public affairs analyst, writes from Abuja