BY THOMAS SANKARA
In 1983, workers and peasants in the West African nation of Upper Volta, later renamed Burkina Faso, began a revolutionary transformation of their country under the leadership of Thomas Sankara. Burkina Faso, a former French colony, was one of the poorest countries in the world. Sankara was a low-ranking officer in the Upper Volta army and popular public figure. He was named prime minister in January 1983, and used his post to issue strong anti-imperialist statements and to urge the people of Upper Volta to organize themselves to defend their rights against both foreign and domestic moneyed interests.
Along with other radical-minded junior officers, Sankara came into increasing conflict with proimperialist forces in the government. On May 17, 1983, he was deposed as prime minister and placed under house arrest. Thousands of young people took to the streets demanding Sankara's release.
On August 4, 250 soldiers and other opponents of the regime freed Sankara and overthrew the ruling military regime. Sankara became president of the new National Council of the Revolution (CNR).
The revolution brought gains for the country's peasants and workers, particularly in the areas of health care, education, and popular organization. In action, it answered the lie of imperialist powers from Paris to Washington that their "aid" and intervention is needed to "protect" the people of Africa.
On Oct. 2, 1983, Sankara presented "The Political Orientation Speech" on behalf of the CNR in a national radio and television address, frankly stating the challenges confronting the revolutionary regime. Below we reprint excerpts of this speech, the entire text of which appears in Thomas Sankara Speaks: The Burkina Faso Revolution 1983-87, published by Pathfinder Press. It is copyright by Pathfinder, reprinted with permission. Subheadings are by the Militant. BY THOMAS SANKARA
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 [in Vietnam], 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....
Neocolonialism no different in essence
In essence, neocolonial society and colonial society differed not at all. The colonial administration was replaced by a neocolonial administration identical to it in every respect....
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 neocolonial authorities. But they simply give with one hand what they take back with the other....
The peasants, the "wretched of the earth," are also a component of this big majority. These peasants are expropriated, robbed, molested, imprisoned, ridiculed, and humiliated every day, yet they are the ones whose labor creates wealth. The country's economy stays afloat despite its weakness thanks to their productive labor. It is from this labor that all those nationals for whom Upper Volta is an El Dorado sweeten their lives. Yet it is the peasants who suffer most from the lack of buildings, roads, health facilities, and services.
These peasants, creators of national wealth, are the ones who suffer the most from the lack of schools and educational materials for their children. It is their children who will swell the ranks of the unemployed after a brief stint in classrooms poorly adapted to the realities of this country. It is among the peasants that the illiteracy rate is the highest - 98 percent. Those who most need to learn, so that the output of their productive labor can increase, are the very ones who benefit the least from expenditures for health care, education, and technology....
The revolution has as its primary objective the transfer of power from the hands of the Voltaic bourgeoisie allied with imperialism into the hands of the alliance of popular classes that make up the people. This means that the people in power must henceforth counterpose their own democratic and popular power to the antidemocratic and antipopular dictatorship of the reactionary alliance of social classes that favor imperialism....
All of the former political regimes sought to introduce measures to improve the management of neocolonial society. The changes introduced by the various regimes amounted to installing new teams within the framework of neocolonial power. None of these regimes wished to or was able to challenge the socioeconomic foundations of Voltaic society. That is why they all failed.
The August revolution does not seek to install just one more regime in Upper Volta. It represents a break with all previously known regimes. Its ultimate goal is to build a new Voltaic society, in which the Voltaic citizen, motivated by revolutionary consciousness, will be the architect of his own happiness, a happiness equivalent to the energy he has expended....
Need to advance women's emancipation
The weight of the centuries-old traditions of our society has relegated women to the rank of beasts of burden. Women suffer doubly from all the scourges of neocolonial society. First, they experience the same suffering as men. Second, they are subjected to additional suffering by men.
Our revolution is in the interests of all the oppressed and all those who are exploited in today's society. It is therefore in the interests of women, since the basis of their domination by men lies in the way society's system of political and economic life is organized. By changing the social order that oppresses women, the revolution creates the conditions for their genuine emancipation....
The process of revolutionary transformations undertaken since August 4 places on the agenda major democratic and popular reforms. The National Council of the Revolution is conscious that the construction of an independent, self-sufficient, and planned national economy will be attained through a radical transformation of the present society, a transformation that requires the following major reforms:
* Agrarian reform;
* Administrative reform;
* Educational reform;
* Reform of the structures of production and distribution in the modern sector....
The reform of our national economy's structures of production and distribution aims to progressively establish effective control by the Voltaic people over the channels of production and distribution. For without genuine mastery over these channels, it is impossible in practice to build an independent economy that serves the interests of the people....
In the field of health care and social assistance for the popular masses, the objectives to be reached can be summed up as:
* Providing health care available to everyone;
* Initiating maternal and infant assistance and care;
* Launching an immunization policy against communicable diseases through an increase in vaccination campaigns;
* Making the masses aware of the need to acquire good hygiene habits....
In the field of housing, a field of crucial importance, we must undertake a vigorous policy to end real estate speculation and the exploitation of the workers through excessive rents....
One of the essential concerns of the National Council of the Revolution is to unite the different nationalities that comprise Upper Volta in the common struggle against the enemies of our revolution.... The CNR's policy aims to unite these different nationalities so that they can live in equality and enjoy equal opportunity for success. In order to do that, special emphasis will be placed on:
* Promoting the economic development of the different regions;
* Encouraging economic exchange among them;
* Combating prejudices among the ethnic groups, resolving the differences among them in a spirit of unity;
* Punishing those who instigate divisions....
Our revolution is an integral part of the world movement for peace and democracy against imperialism and all kinds of hegemonism. That is why we will strive to establish diplomatic relations with countries, regardless of their political and economic systems, on the basis of the following principles:
* Respect for each other's independence, territorial integrity, and national sovereignty;
* Mutual nonaggression;
* Noninterference in internal affairs;
* Trade with all countries on an equal footing and on the basis of reciprocal benefits.
Our militant solidarity and support will go to national liberation movements fighting for the independence of their countries and the liberation of their peoples. This support will be directed in particular to:
* The people of Namibia under the leadership of the South West Africa People's Organisation;
* The Sahraoui people in their struggle to recover their national territory;
* The Palestinian people struggling for their national rights.
In our struggle, the anti-imperialist African countries are our objective allies. Rapprochement with these countries is necessary because of the neocolonial groupings that operate on our continent.
Long live the democratic and popular revolution!
Long live the National Council of the Revolution!
Homeland or death, we will triumph!
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