By Moses Uneh Yahmia
In life, as in history, it has been proven that there can be no objectivity in the rendering of historical verdicts. Historians analyze historical accounts based on their own class interest. For example, American bourgeois historians will never heroically record the role of Brother George Lester Jackson of the Soledad Brothers, for challenging the racist American justice system. In their historical accounts, through self-censorship, they have presented him as a radical black extremist who was jailed for theft and subsequently killed in 1971 when he tried escaping from prison.
For us, he was a revolutionary par excellence who fought against not only racial segregation but also the excesses of capitalism that subjected both black and white working class to extreme agony and misery. Bourgeois American historians will present Abraham Lincoln as the man who ended slavery in America because he signed the Emancipation Proclamation in 1862, declaring that as of January 1, 1863, all slaves in America would be freed. On the contrary, this declaration was an empty dramatic rhetoric. Slavery still existed after January 1, 1863. It was the heroic uprisings of slaves themselves that led to their emancipation.
This distortion of history which has existed in every society known to mankind and which is for the purpose of reflecting a particular class interest (usually a dominant class), is also akin to Liberia. The history of this space has always been the history of those who ruled, and the conquest of the dominant class. We learned in school only about those who came here in 1822. Little is said about those who were here prior to 1822. We are only taught the history, religion and etc. of those who came here in 1822 in their tail coat and bowler hat which represents nothing but a caricature of American culture. But very little is recorded of the cultural and traditional rituals of the indigenous mass of the people. This has been the rule rather than the exception.
This historical distortion through the denial of the truth and self-censorship of the reactionary writers of Liberia’s history, is also reflected in the narration of the ideological motives and the root cause of the April 14, 1979 Rice Riot. The historians of the ruling clique present what occurred in Monrovia on April 14, 1979 as the starting point of Liberia’s carnage. They argued that President William R. Tolbert was instituting measures to promote the local production of rice by increasing the price of imported rice but the Progressive Alliance of Liberia (PAL) and the Movement for Justice in Africa (MOJA) took advantage of the gullibility of the people, and led them on the street to destroy lives and properties. This is how the people’s determination to change the course of history on April 14, 1979 has been misconstrued by remnants of the moribund oligarchy of the True Whig Party.
They have included this ahistorical falsehood in the educational curriculum of the state to stamp in the heads of students a guilty verdict of patriots who experienced the violence of black apartheid in Liberia and chose to challenge such a system. In their established churches, through ill-prepared sermons, they say to our people that Liberia was better until some people with foreign ideology came and brainwashed the people and led them to challenge the state on April 14, 1979. The remnants of this oligarchy still control the Liberian media. Therefore, they used the radio and newspaper to parrot such falsification to our people that those who led the April 14, 1979 Rice Demonstration plunged the country into backwardness.
As students with progressive consciousness who have seen through this historical travesty, it is our responsibility to tear to pieces this reactionary version of history from the perspective of the oppressed class’ interest, and establish how April 14, 1979 was never the starting point of Liberia’s problem. April 14, 1979 never happened as the result of any brainwashing from PAL and MOJA. Brother Jonathan Jackson, Jr., in the foreword to his uncle’s (George Lester Jackson) “Soledad Brothers” postulated: “Revolutionary change happens only when an entire society is ready. No amount of action, preaching, or teaching will spark revolution if social conditions do not warrant it.”
The True Whig Party had led the state at the expense of the majority mass of the people. Economically, the people were deprived. Politically, they were isolated. By 1975, Liberia had recorded an annual GDP of over 600million from the mining, agriculture, forestry and trade sectors of the economy. Economic growth amounted to just the development of underdevelopment of the people while the ruling clique which was the lackey of foreign capital that dominated the economy, swam in the cesspool of wealth. Article One, Section 11 of the 1847 Constitution of Liberia deprived majority of the people from voting because they did not own property and pay hut taxes. How did they expect the people to have owned properties when a property ownership right was on a de facto basis and concentrated in the hands of the cliquish ruling class? How did they expect the mass of the people to pay hut taxes when they played no part in the appropriation of the surplus value accrued from the instruments of production?
The people would not have come on the streets of Monrovia on April 14, 1979 had their social conditions been in line with their ontological vocation to become full humans. Had the people’s social existence been favorable at the expense of the productive forces of the Liberian society, no amount of revolutionary rhetoric from PAL and MOJA would have put them on the street. But the people’s stampede into history on that faithful day was not only a protest against the increment of the price of imported rice. It was also a reaction to the growing social contradictions brought forth by the over 125years of minority oppressive rule in Liberia. The ruling clique took the initial long years of silence and submission of the masses to mean that the people would not fight for change in the republic. Little did they know that the quantity of social contradictions was leading to a large number of very small changes which finally produced a qualitative leap on April 14, 1979.
The workers, students, handicraftsmen, urban poor and etc. came out in their numbers to vent out their indignation against a system that treated them as cannon fodders and not as partners to a holistic nation building process. They came out to express their disagreement with a system that subjected their forebears to slavery not only on the Fernando Po Island in the 1920s and 30s but also on the rubber plantations of elite elements of the oligarchy. Among the mass of the people that came out on April 14, 1979 were brilliant university students who were following the wave of revolutionary agitation in Africa and Latin America.
They were following with solidarity the role of the Black Consciousness Movement and how such movement headed by Steve Bantu Biko served as the vanguard revolutionary movement against Apartheid in South Africa after the incarceration of key struggle icons of the ANC, PAC and the SACP. They saw how the South African Students Organization (SASO) was playing a decisive role in intensifying the struggle against Apartheid. Those students were following with deep interest the role of the New Jewel Movement in fighting for the revolutionary overthrow of the brutal dictatorship of Sir Eric Gairy in Grenada. Anyone who expected those students with growing progressive consciousness to have sat passively with insensitivity to the injustices and social discards of the republic would be nothing but a decrepit old man longing for the days of his youth in his senile decay.
We are not surprise in the least at how the oligarchy used the armed forces to react with reactionary violence against the revolutionary action of a people that had suffered long years of oppression. This is a ruling class that was so nervous for it had not been challenged by the people since its long years of misrule like it was challenged on April 14, 1979. And the false bourgeois Liberian historians who represent nothing but the parochial interest of such false aristocracy indicated that the violence was initiated by the people. We say to those elements of reaction, that in any process of revolutionary change, it is not the revolutionary forces that introduce violence. But rather it is the status quo that does so because of its refusal to allow the emergence of the revolutionary reconstruction of society.
We pay revolutionary homage to the over three hundred martyr comrades who lost their lives at the expense of the reactionary armed violence unleashed on our people by the True Wing Party Oligarchy on April 14, 1979. The long years of burying the heroic sacrifices of these struggle icons by the remnants of the old order has come to an end. For us, we don’t analyze history by examining only the ideological motives in the historical activities of human beings. We also consider investigating the origins of those motives, or ascertaining the objective laws governing the development of the system of social relations such as the one put in place by the True Wing Party which subjected our people to a very hostile social existence for more than 125years. We also study with scientific accuracy the social conditions of the life of the masses of our people, and how they struggle to bring about a qualitative change in those conditions. It was for no other reason for which on April 14, 1979, the mass of the people stood up to an inhumane system in the TWP’s oligarchy but their fight to change the course of history in the direction of the vast majority of Liberians who had been victims of inevitable poverty and economic deprivation.
About the author:
Moses Uneh Yahmia is a staunch apologist of the left tendency in Liberia. He appreciates the struggle of people who are considered the progressive forces in the political history of Liberia. He believes they are not saints. But they put their lives on the line to change the course of history in the republic. Brother Yahmia believes their struggle was never a failure. They dealt decisively with the contradictions that emerged in their generation. It is the responsibility of the present generation to, instead of condemning the progressives; it must take up from where they stopped. Brother Yahmia can be reached via [email protected]