“WE ARE HEIRS OF THE WORLD’S REVOLUTIONS”
New pamphlet of speeches by Thomas Sankara on revolution in Burkina Faso:
Printed below is the preface and an excerpt from the newly published We Are Heirs of the World’s Revolutions, a collection of speeches by Thomas Sankara, a leader of the Burkina Faso revolution in the 1980s. The pamphlet, also available in French, contains five talks. Copyright © 2002 by Pathfinder Press, reprinted by permission. Subheadings are by The Militant.
On August 4, 1983, a popular uprising in Upper Volta in West Africa, one of the world’s poorest countries initiated one of the deepest revolutions in Africa’s history. Its leader was Thomas Sankara, who became president of the new government at the age of 33. The country was renamed Burkina Faso a year later.
Over the course of the next four years, the Burkinabč revolution carried out an ambitious program of land reform, of struggle against corruption, of reforestation to stop the advance of the desert and counter famine, of giving priority to education and health care, and of women’s emancipation. To apply these measures, the government gave encouragement to the organization, mobilization, and political education of the country’s peasants, workers, women, and youth. Great importance was placed on Burkina Faso’s solidarity with struggles against imperialist oppression and capitalist exploitation unfolding around the world: from the battle against apartheid in South Africa to the revolutionary movements of Cuba, Nicaragua, and Palestine.
On October 15, 1987, Thomas Sankara was assassinated during a military coup that destroyed the revolutionary government.
A week before his death, he had spoken about Ernesto Che Guevara, the murdered leader of the Cuban Revolution, on the 20th anniversary of his death in combat. In a speech that is reproduced in this pamphlet, he said that revolutionaries as individuals can be killed, but “YOU cannot kill ideas”. That statement has proved to be true in his own case. Thomas Sankara has become a symbol for millions of workers, peasants, and youth throughout Africa, who saw in the Burkinabč revolution -- and in its continuing political heritage -- a source of pride and inspiration for the battles for genuine liberation on the continent.
This pamphlet contains five speeches by Sankara: his report to the Burkinabč people broadcast on radio and television throughout the country; his speech to the United Nations General Assembly in New York; his presentation at an international conference in Paris on the preservation of trees; his statement at the first summit meeting of the French speaking world in Paris; his remarks at the opening of an exposition on the life of Che Guevara held in the Burkinabč capital of Ouagadougou.
These speeches offer a striking insight into the uncompromising political course put forward and defended in practice by Thomas Sankara to advance the interests of working people both inside and outside the country over the course of the four years of the Burkinabč revolution.
“The revolution needs a convinced people and not a conquered people, a submissive people that accepts its destiny,” Thomas Sankara often explained. He deeply believed that the peasants and workers of Burkina Faso and the rest of Africa are not primarily victims of imperialist pillage and brutal domination. On the contrary, he believed they were the only social force capable of initiating a revolutionary course to confront and reverse all the oppressive conditions inherited from previous class society and adopted by the national and foreign capitalists and landowners in order to preserve their domination.
He was convinced that armed with a revolutionary leadership and a political consciousness, the workers and small farmers of Africa, like those the world over, have the power to build a “new society free from social injustice” and “imperialist domination and exploitation” and to transform themselves in the process. This message forms the thread running through all the speeches that follow.
Fourteen years after the death of Thomas Sankara and the reversal of the Burkinabč revolution, this proletarian internationalist perspective retains all of its relevance. The speeches published here remain a guide for hundreds of millions of peasants and workers of Africa and the rest of the colonial and semi-colonial world where economic, social, and political conditions are worsening under the impact of the world capitalist crisis.
But even more, they constitute an essential component of politically arming workers and farmers in the imperialist countries in North America, Europe, and Asia who are confronted with the horrors the capitalist system of exploitation and oppression increasingly engenders throughout the world.
“We wish to be the heirs of all the revolutions of the world, of all the liberation struggles of the peoples of the Third World,” Sankara declared to the workers of the world when he addressed them from the tribune of the United Nations in 1984--the heirs of heroic class battles beginning with the American and French revolutions at the end of the eighteenth century through to the October 1917 revolution led by the Bolsheviks that “transformed the world, brought victory to the proletariat [and] shook the foundations of capitalism.”
This pamphlet gives voice to one of the great revolutionary leaders of the modern international workers movement.
BY THOMAS SANKARA:
People of Upper Volta!
Comrades, cadres of the revolution!
In the course of this year, 1983, our country has gone through some particularly intense moments, whose impact still remains indelibly stamped on the minds of many citizens. During this period, the struggle of the Voltaic people has gone through ebbs and flows.
Our people have borne the test of heroic struggles and finally triumphed on the now historic night of August 4, 1983. The revolution here has been moving forward irreversibly for nearly two months now--two months in which the fighting people of Upper Volta have mobilized as one behind the National Council of the Revolution (CNR) in order to build a new, free, independent, and prosperous Voltaic society; a new society free from social injustice and international imperialism’s century-long domination and exploitation.
As we complete this brief stage of our journey, I invite you to look back with me to draw the lessons necessary for correctly determining our immediate and medium-term revolutionary tasks. By gaining a clear view of the unfolding events, we will strengthen our struggle against imperialism and reactionary social forces all the more.
To sum up, where have we come from and where are we going? Those are the key questions that we must answer clearly, resolutely, and unequivocally, if we wish to go forward with confidence to greater and more resounding victories.
The triumph of the August revolution is due not only to the revolutionary blow struck against the sacrosanct reactionary alliance of May 17, 1983.1 It is also the product of the Voltaic people’s struggle against their long-standing enemies. It represents a victory over international imperialism and its national allies; a victory over backward, obscurantist, and sinister forces; and a victory over all the enemies of the people who have plotted and schemed against them ...
The August revolution thus came as the solution to social contradictions that could no longer be stifled by compromise.
The enthusiastic loyalty of the broad popular masses to the August revolution is the concrete expression of the immense hopes that the Voltaic people place in the establishment of the National Council of the Revolution. They hope that their deep-going aspirations can finally be achieved--aspirations for democracy, liberty, and independence, for genuine progress, for a restoration of the dignity and grandeur of our homeland, aspirations that have been particularly flouted during twenty-three years of neo-colonial rule.
LEGACY OF NEO-COLONIALISM:
The establishment of the CNR on August 4, 1983, and the subsequent installation of a revolutionary government in Upper Volta has opened a glorious page in the annals of the history of our people and country. However, the legacy bequeathed to us by twenty-three years of imperialist exploitation and domination is a heavy one. The task of constructing a new society cleansed of all the ills that keep our country in a state of poverty and economic and cultural backwardness will be long and hard.
In the 1960s, French colonialism--harried on all sides, defeated at Dien Bien Phu, and in tremendous difficulty in Algeria--drew the lessons of those defeats and was forced to grant our country its national sovereignty and territorial integrity. This was greeted positively by our people, who had not been indifferent to this question but had instead developed appropriate resistance struggles. The decision by French colonial imperialism to cut its losses was a victory for our people over the forces of foreign oppression and exploitation. From the masses’ point of view, it was a democratic reform, while from that of imperialism it was a change in the forms of domination and exploitation of our people.
This change nevertheless resulted in a realignment of classes and social layers and the formation of new classes. In alliance with the backward forces of traditional society, and in total contempt of the masses, whom they had used as a springboard to power, the petty-bourgeois intelligentsia of that time set about laying the political and economic foundations for new forms of imperialist domination and exploitation. Fear that the struggle of the popular masses would become more radical and lead to a genuine revolutionary solution was the basis for the choice made by imperialism. Henceforth, it would maintain its stranglehold over our country and perpetuate the exploitation of our people through national intermediaries. Voltaic nationals were to take over as agents for foreign domination and exploitation. The entire process of organizing neo-colonial society would be nothing more than a simple operation of substituting one form for another.
In essence, neo-colonial society and colonial society differed not at all. The colonial administration was replaced by a neo-colonial administration identical to it in every respect. The colonial army was replaced by a neo-colonial army with the same characteristics, the same functions, and the same role of safeguarding the interests of imperialism and its national allies. The colonial school system was replaced by neo-colonial schools, which pursued the same goals of alienating our children from our country and reproducing a society that would primarily serve the interests of imperialism and secondarily those of its local lackeys and allies.
With the support and blessing of imperialism, Voltaic nationals set about organizing the systematic plunder of our country. With the crumbs of this pillage that fell to them, they were transformed, little by little, into a truly parasitic bourgeoisie that could no longer control its voracious appetite. Driven solely by personal interest, they no longer hesitated at even the most dishonest means, engaging in massive corruption, embezzlement of public funds and properties, influence-peddling and real estate speculation, and practicing favouritism and nepotism.
This is what accounts for all the material and financial wealth they accumulated from the sweat of the toilers. Not content to live off the fabulous incomes derived from the shameless exploitation of their ill-gotten wealth, they fought tooth and nail to capture political posts that would allow them to use the state apparatus to further their exploitation and underhanded dealings.
Hardly a year passed without them treating themselves to extravagant vacations abroad. Their children deserted the country’s schools for prestigious educations in other countries. All the resources of the state were mobilized to guarantee them, at the slightest illness, expensive care in luxury hospitals in foreign countries.
All this has unfolded in full view of the honest, courageous, and hardworking Voltaic people, a people mired nonetheless in the most squalid misery. While Upper Volta is a paradise for the wealthy minority, it is a barely tolerable hell for the majority, the people.
As part of this big majority, the wage earners, despite the fact that they are assured a regular income, suffer the constraints and pitfalls of capitalist consumer society. Their income is completely consumed before they have even touched it. This vicious cycle goes on and on with no perspective of being broken.
Through their respective trade unions, the wage earners engage in struggles to improve their living conditions. Sometimes the scope of those struggles forces concessions from the neo-colonial authorities. But they simply give with one hand what they take back with the other.
Thus a 10 percent wage increase is announced with great fanfare, only to be immediately taxed, wiping out the expected beneficial effects of the first measure. After five, six, or seven months, the workers finally understand the swindle and mobilize for new struggles. Seven months is more than enough for the reactionaries in power to catch their breath and devise new schemes. Thus, in this endless fight, the worker always comes out the loser …
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