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   Vol.65/No.28            July 23, 2001 
Patrice Lumumba and revolution in the Congo
Pamphlet describes anticolonial struggle, U.S. and Belgian imperialists' assault on revolution under UN cover
(feature article)
Printed below is an article appearing in the newly reissued Pathfinder pamphlet Revolution in the Congo. This article was originally published in the January–February 1965 issue of the Young Socialist. Titled "Background to the Congo," it reviews the fight by the Congolese people that led to political independence in 1960 from Belgian colonial rule; the role of anti-imperialist leader Patrice Lumumba in the Congolese freedom struggle; and how, under the cover of the United Nations, U.S. and Belgian imperialism intervened in the Congo, orchestrating the ouster and assassination of Lumumba to install a pro-imperialist regime. See "Imperialism vs. Congolese freedom struggle" on the facing page for additional information on the Congo events of the 1960s. Subtitles are in the original article. Copyright ©1965 by Pathfinder Press, reprinted by permission.

The Congo has been the scene of unceasing turbulence since June 30th, 1960, the day the Congolese gained formal independence from Belgium. Real independence, however, consisting of self-determination in all spheres of life, could not be obtained simply through a change in the political relationships between the Congo and Belgium. This change only set the stage for a new and deeper struggle, the struggle for economic independence.

Not only Belgium, but France, England, and particularly the United States had no intention of allowing their vast economic holdings in the Congo to be jeopardized by the new Republic. Increasingly, as the Congolese struggle became one for economic independence, these foreign powers and their agents within the Congo became formidable opponents of independence. The deepening struggle drove divisions into the Congolese peoples, widely separating those who fought for complete independence from those who desired to remain within the economic confines of world capitalist investment.

The partisans of independence were further divided on tactical questions: Could independence be obtained peacefully, through parliamentary means? Or was it necessary to engage in armed struggle against the imperialist powers and their Congolese puppets?

A few years is a very short time for a revolutionary movement to learn the answers to these questions. Their opponents, the imperialist nations, have developed the political instruments of economic exploitation over decades. In the Congo, they employed a variety of tactics in their overall strategy of holding Congolese mineral wealth to the world capitalist market.

The major foreign economic holdings in the Congo are in the vast mineral enterprises of the province of Katanga, which in 1960 realized about 60 percent of the total Congo revenues. Most of Katanga's mineral reserves are owned and mined by a giant U.S.-British-Belgian controlled corporation, the Union Miniere du Haut Katanga (UMHK). In 1960, with annual sales of $200 million, UMHK produced 60 percent of the uranium in the West, 73 percent of the cobalt, and 10 percent of the copper, and had in the Congo 24 affiliates including hydroelectric plants, chemical factories and railways.

The Cold War and nuclear arms race had been very profitable for Congolese enterprises. Besides mineral industries, many other factories had been built by foreign capitalists. Belgium invested over $3 billion in the Congo, and the U.S. about half a billion--much of it coming from the Rockefeller family who purchased everything from pineapple plantations to car companies.

At first sight, it would appear that the U.S. and Belgium had common interest in preserving the Congolese market, and in the last analysis this is true. But in the initial period of independence, U.S. investors attempted to take advantage of the fact that Belgium would lose her political reins on the Congo. Just prior to 1960, U.S. capitalists greatly increased their Congo holdings, and they continued to do so through last year. David Rockefeller, for example, bought the bauxite industry, Bauxicongo, in 1959; and the Rockefellers have increased their share of UMHK as well as other large enterprises.

Other American corporations have put their fingers in the Congo grab-bag, including American Metal Climax (Arthur Dean, U.S. delegate to the Geneva conference on disarmament was a vice-president) and the Tempelsman and Son (Adlai Stevenson was president). From 1961 to 1963, U. S. investments doubled to $1.2 billion--nearly the amount presently invested by the U.S. in Brazil.

But the United States interests in the Congo are not uniform. In the crucial copper industry, there has been a world overproduction of copper, amounting to about 10 percent of the world produce, the same amount as is produced in Katanga. Thus giant copper industries in this country, like Kennecott and Anaconda, which get most of their copper from Chile, would just as soon see the Katanga copper industry destroyed, as fall into the hands of a competitor like Rockefeller.

Swedish capitalists also have large holdings in competitive copper enterprises. Bo Hammarskjold, elder brother of the late UN Secretary General, was on the board of directors of the Swedish controlled Liberian Iron Ore, Ltd., a corporation which found American allies in the desire to diminish Katangese competition.

With such an investment pattern, it is easy to see why the imperialist nations were interested in ensuring their control of Congolese mineral wealth; but it is also easy to see why the tactics of maintaining this control might differ between nations, and within the nations, themselves.  
UN intervention
Upon achieving political independence, the Congolese held a general election to determine the membership of their democratic parliament. The majority of seats were won by the largest independence force, the Congolese National Movement, headed by the revered leader of the independence struggle, Patrice Lumumba. Lumumba was named Prime Minister.

However, no sooner had Lumumba been elected, than Belgium began to take steps to weaken his government. The Belgians had forced the Congolese to allow them to maintain an army and air bases in the Congo, ostensibly for "mutual cooperation." A week after independence, when Congolese soldiers demonstrated against their Belgian officers with a demand for pay and rank raises, Belgian troops fired on the demonstrators. Lumumba, in turn, removed the Belgian officers, and appointed Josef Kasavubu cornmander-in-chief.

The Belgians quickly exploited the situation they had provoked. Claiming that Lumumba was inspiring "racial hatred" and couldn't be trusted to govern the Congo, they rushed in new troops, and separated Katanga from the Congo Republic--using Moise Tshombe, a wealthy plantation owner and businessman as their Katanga front-man.

In this crisis, Lumumba correctly accused the Belgians of having "carefully prepared the secession of Katanga," and asked for the immediate help of the United Nations . . . a fatal error, as Lumumba himself learned, all too soon. The United States completely dominated the UN.

Seizing the opportunity to extend foreign military control in the Congo, the U.S. pushed the UN to meet Lumumba's request, and the UN sped troops to the Congo July 14. They had no intentions of driving Belgium out of the Congo. The temporary commander of UN forces, Alexander, flatly stated, "friendly relations established" with the Belgians.

It was almost immediately apparent to Lumumba that the UN was double dealing, and he requested outside support from the Soviet Union, to intervene "should the Western camp not stop its aggression."

By July 30 the Belgians had built up a force of over 10,000 troops, and the UN army had refused to enter Katanga. On August 2nd, Antoine Gizenga, Lumumba's right hand man and delegate to the UN, told Hammarskjold:

"We do not understand that we, victims of aggression, who are at home here, are being systematically disarmed [by the UN force] while the aggressors, the Belgians, who are the conquerors here, are permitted to keep their weapons and their means of inflicting death."

In Katanga, Belgian troops crushed uprisings of Congolese soldiers and miners, and protected Tshombe's efforts to suppress opposition from minority leaders in the Katanga parliament. The UN closed broadcasting stations in Leopoldville and commanded Lumumba not to meddle in Katanga.

According to Under-Secretary Ralph Bunche, the UN's mission was to "pacify and then to administer the Congo." From the very outset, it was clear that the UN did not recognize the duly elected government of Lumumba, and intended to restore a pro-Belgian, pro-U.S. government.

However, world pressure, not only from the Soviet bloc, but from newly independent African nations which threatened to draw their armies out of the UN force, demanded that the UN live up to Lumumba's request. At this point, the tactics of U.S. and Belgian imperialism temporarily diverged.

The United States recognized the necessity of a temporary maneuver to avoid international criticism. World opinion had a particularly significant effect because the September 1960 opening of the UN was scheduled to be addressed by Nasser, Tito and Nehru, the leaders of the neutral nations; by Khrushchev; by Toure of Guinea and Nkrumah of Ghana; and by Fidel Castro.

This array of world leaders could have had an unusually damaging effect on the U. S. public image--protector of the free world; and this image could only be protected to a limited extent by restricting Khrushchev and Castro to a confined area of New York, and preventing them from appearing on TV.

Consequently, the United States pressured the UN to end Belgian occupation. On August 21, Hammarskjold told the Security Council: "The Belgian chapter in the history of the Congo in its earlier forms is ended. The in charge of order and security."  
Lumumba's murder
By this time the Congo crisis had had a second important divisive effect, this time on the Congolese themselves. Elements of the next largest political party after the Congolese National Movement, the Abako Party, led by Kasavubu, threw their cards in with United States interests.

Kasavubu, who had been powerless in the original government, now took sides against Lumumba, demanding that he be ousted, and sending a separate delegation to the UN. This gave the UN a considerably stronger hand in the Congo, even though many UN members, led by Nkrumah, held that Lumumba was the head of the only legitimate Congo government.

Castro, who delivered his famous UN speech indicting the U.S. for support of Batista throughout the Cuban revolution, charged that Col. Mobutu, Kasavubu's military aide, had been advised and encouraged by U.S. officials.

Unfortunately, Lumumba continued to rely on appeals to the UN, undoubtedly supported in this futile effort by the Soviet Union. Khrushchev held the ill-advised position that "Dag, not the UN," was responsible. Instead of exposing the UN as a pawn in the hands of the State Department, and building an independent military force in the Congo to protect the legitimate government, Lumumba and his Soviet allies played into the hands of the imperialists and Kasavubu.

On September 5, Lumumba was summarily removed from office, Soviet representatives were ordered out of the country, and a military dictatorship was established under Col. Mobutu. In the UN, the independent nations strongly opposed these moves, blaming them on Belgium, and demanding the restoration of Lumumba--all to little avail. Overridden by the U.S. and her UN lackeys, their motion to restore Lumumba was defeated November 22 by a vote of 53-to-24.

Again Lumumba temporized, this time fatally. Remaining in Leopoldville until the end of November, his belated effort to escape was doomed to fail. On December lst, Lumumba was seized, publicly mauled in a truck before U.S. TV cameras and imprisoned in Leopoldville; this while UN forces stood by.

On January 18, Kasavubu, in return for a "roundtable conference" with Tshombe, handed prisoner Lumumba over to the Belgian stooge. A January 18 AP dispatch reported that on Lumumba's arrival at the Katanga airport, Swedish-UN soldiers watched while "Lumumba and the other two were dragged off the plane.... They were clubbed, hit in the face with rifle butts, kicked and pummeled."

And, as it became clear upon UN investigation months later, Lumumba and his two aides were subsequently murdered. Their deaths were reported by Tshombe, February 12.  
Tshombe and Katanga
During these few months, the lessons of United Nations intervention were slowly being assimilated by Congolese revolutionaries. Gizenga established the legitimate government's headquarters in Stanleyville, and more and more Congolese joined in open rebellion. It was obvious that the provisional government of Kasavubu would not last without reconciliation with Katanga, and the U.S. pressed for a federated Congo government which would include Katanga.

The U.S. publicly broke with Belgium and forced the UN to demand an end of Katanga secession, which the Security Council adopted February 21st, 1961--eight months after their intervention to "defend" the Congo Republic.

But Belgium, and those U. S. interests which composed the Katanga lobby, refused to go along with this maneuver. Here, a movement cropped up calling itself the "Committee to Aid the Katanga Freedom Fighters," and Tshombe, who had been bolstered by Belgian troops until their forced removal, set about to build an army which could resist the UN, financed by Belgium. With no support from the Congolese, however, Tshombe recruited his "freedom fighters" from rightist white rabble throughout the world. A February 5, 1961, AP dispatch described them:

"These 'mercenaries' are being joined every day by new soldier-adventurers. Lured by high pay, they have come from the United States [Cuban exiles], Britain, France [ex-Foreign Legionnaires], West Germany (ex-SS men].... South Africa [fascists], Rhodesia--and, of course, Belgium. Some of the better types become officers, but the others are undisciplined, untidy, rowdy and ruthless....

"One Frenchman confided in a melancholy moment: 'People don't like us. We get good pay for killing women and children."'

The battle in Katanga, which lasted until January 1963, had other sordid aspects which were exposed by the Belgian and English press. The UN, for example, used 1,000 pound blockbusters on Katangese industrial centers, civilians, and hospitals--military weapons well suited to destroying large industry (competitors), members of the House of Commons pointed out, but hardly applicable to the battle against Tshombe's small mercenary forces. Such goings-on had little press coverage in this country.  
Revolutionary defeats: 1962
What is obvious in retrospect, that the apparent break of Tshombe from the Kasavubu government, and subsequent "roundtable conferences" between them, were maneuvers by the imperialist powers to crush the revolutionaries, was not apparent to many of the Lumumbists.

In February of 1961, Kasavubu ended the Mobutu dictatorship and appointed Joseph Ileo and Cyrille Adoula heads of a new government, patterned after the U. S. federation plan. Tshombe and Kasavubu met in March, 1961, at Tananarive, Malagasy Republic, and invited Gizenga to attend to join a federation.

Although Gizenga, already in control of large portions of the Congo, refused to go to the Tananarive conference, he later attempted to make peace with Kasavubu. In mid-1962, while the UN was fighting Tshombe, Gizenga achieved a detente with Kasavubu.

Again the Lumumbists had incorrectly appraised the real intentions of the imperialist controlled Kasavubu regime, and they suffered a new setback. Kasavubu turned round and arrested Gizen-ga, threw him in prison, and disarmed the Stanleyville forces. Gizenga remained in prison until June 1964.  
End of UN Occupation
By January, 1963, after nearly two years of battle in Katanga, the United Nations forces had gained virtual control of the province. Attempts to reinstate Tshombe in the Kasavubu-Adoula government, which would have satisfied both Belgium and the United States, proved unsuccessful, and Tshombe was "forced' into exile. His mercenary army was temporarily shelved in the neighboringPortuguese colony of Angola.

With Gizenga in jail, the Adoula government attempted to build a stable base for neocolonialist investment. Three years of struggle had decimated the Congolese economy--inflation was rampant in Leopoldville, and thousands of refugees from the countryside poured into the city looking for work.

At the same time, however, the Congolese people remain staunch Lumumbists, and guerrilla struggles emerged in several different areas. In the Leopoldville shantytown, where thousands of jobless refugees were huddled together, virtually every hut bore portraits of Lumumba, and it was impossible for Adoula's police to enter the area in uniform.

It was clear that Adoula's attempts to attract foreign capital (see his January 28, 1964, advertisement in the New York Times, "Private Enterprise in the Congo") were not alone sufficient to hold up the faltering government. But it was also impossible, given the world pressure on the UN, to turn the "anti-Katangese" UN army into a direct "anti-Lumumbist" force. Standing by while Lumumba was murdered and Gizenga was imprisoned was one thing; openly fighting the Lumumbists on three fronts, quite another.

For these reasons, the United States was forced, once again, to alter its Congo policy: the United Nations army would be replaced by...Tshombe's mercenaries.

In his brief "exile" from the Congo, Tshombe was well groomed for a new role in Congo politics. Over the summer of 1963, Tshombe conferred in Brussels with Foreign Minister Paul-Henri Spaak and the U.S. Ambassador. Harriman was sent to address Spaak and the Belgian trust La Societe Generale, the largest shareholder in UMHK; and the U.S. and Belgium agreed to merge forces. A new maneuver was at hand.

On June 30, 1964, United Nations forces were pulled out of the Congo, and Tshombe returned--as the "saviour" of Congolese independence. He replaced Adoula, and proclaimed that the "National Congolese Army" would be able to handle the "rebels." As evidence of his sincerity, Tshombe released Gizenga.

Two days later he brought his mercenary hooligans out of hiding and called upon the U. S. for military assistance.

A literally complete press blackout of Congolese guerrilla efforts, between the fall of Gizenga in mid-1962, and early 1964, makes it impossible to trace in detail the revolutionary struggle during the latter period of U N occupation.

It was evident by last February that there was extensive fighting in Kwilu, headed by Pierre Mulele, who had been minister of education in the Lumumba government. By early June, the liberation struggle had opened up two other fronts. Gaston Soumialot fought in the eastern province of Kivu, and occupied Uvira May 19; and a third force fought in Northern Katanga, gained control of the whole shore of Lake Tanganyika and captured Albertville and Baudouinville in late June.

Obviously, Mobutu's army was in continual retreat. There have been many reports that his Congolese soldiers refuse to fight their brothers, and give up without effort. By early July, Stanleyville had been recaptured by the Lumumbists, and a new government established, headed by Christophe Gbenye. Exactly how much control Gbenye's government has over all the guerrilla fighters is unclear.

Although the United States did not admit military support of the mercenaries until October, first reports of U. S. military assistance appeared in June. According to the New York Times, two T-28's, flown by Cuban exiles, were being used by Mobutu's army, June 13. Mobutu was reported to be battling guerrilla forces numbering 5,000 to 7,000, average age, about 20!

Since that time, the U. S. has supplied Tshombe with a paratroop contingent, army counterinsurgency "experts" and 33 known additional aircraft, including B-26 bombers. Against even such minimal modern weapons, the guerrillas, without any anti-aircraft guns whatsoever, and using the most crude weapons--spears and bows and arrows--have been reported to be retreating.

To a certain extent, we can see that the story of the Vietnamese war is being repeated in the Congo: after a series of maneuvers to maintain "friendly" quasi-democratic governments in the Congo, the U. S. has ended up in a position of open support for another hated dictator--and in this case, one who cannot get his own people to fight the oppressive war. As in Vietnam, U.S. support includes guns, dollars, and "advisers."

To date, it is by no means apparent that the Lumumbists have organizational and programmatic unity, capable of opposing the overwhelming odds of the U. S. military intervention. There is no guarantee that there will not be new compromises between certain Lumumbist leaders and the puppet regime. The great loss of Patrice Lumumba has not been salvaged by the appearance of a new nationally recognized leader.

But it is also clear that throughout the course of the struggle, there have been groups of revolutionaries who refuse to submit to the rule of imperialist controlled governments. These fighters maintained unrelenting struggle against the Kasavubu regime, and they continue to oppose the Tshombe regime. It is from their cadres that a viable and organized revolutionary movement can emerge, capable of ending once and for all imperialist subjugation of the Congo.
Related articles:
Thirst for revolutionary books
Imperialism vs. Congolese freedom struggle
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