From the September 2006 issue of the Socialist Standard
A brief look at the history of leftwing ideas in Africa.
In the years following independence from colonial rule, left-wing political thinking and activities were not uncommon especially in anglophone Africa. There were lots of vanguardist, anarchist and other pseudo-socialist organisations in many countries.
Some of such movements included the Kwame Nkrumah Revolutionary Guards, Pan-African Youth Movement, United Revolutionary Front, New Democratic Movement, (Ghana); Movement for Justice in Africa (Sierra Leone, Gambia and Liberia); African National Congress, South African Communist Party, Pan Africanist Congress, etc (South Africa).
These were all narrow-minded national pressure groups but whose left-wing leanings nevertheless provided forums where people learned of the existence of an alternative ideology - socialism. In fact that is how some of us later came to learn about and joined the World Socialist Movement.
However, around the mid-eighties the capitalists shot into a higher propaganda gear such as the newly independent countries never thought of. The free market and private sector idea came down so heavily that the leftist groupings were virtually swept off the political scene.
Today only the South African ANC, SACP, PAC, etc are still around but they have all capitulated and metamorphosed into outright right-wing political parties. Even trade union activities have almost become non-existent now except of course on Mayday
when pro-government sections of the working class come out to express their loyalty to the system.
This is the situation that accounts for the absence of even such anti-capitalists demonstrations as are staged in the West and other parts of the world each time representatives of big business hold their summits.
As for socialism (à la WSM), it is yet to be grasped by even the few who still see themselves as socialists here. Almost all of them understand socialism to mean the state capitalism of the soviet era.
Working class thinking
It is not surprising then that one can hardly talk of any positive working class thinking here in Africa. With the intensification of exploitation through a massive invasion of all sectors of the economy by capital, the economic situation of both urban and rural folk has drastically worsened. Under the dire circumstances, peasants drift to the towns with the hope of escaping from the hunger and lack of opportunities whilst the urban factory and office workers are preoccupied devising ways and means of pilfering at their workplaces in order to make ends meet.
Consequently, many of these frustrated people find it difficult to engage in political activities thus reducing the chances of potential cadres deepening their socialist consciousness. Indeed many, in their attempts to stay alive, finally abandon the political struggle altogether. On the other hand, the very few who are fortunate enough to find well paid jobs tend to live ostentatious lifestyles obviously influenced by the type of negative western media output that is predominant here in Africa. A good lot of these people, with an imposed insatiable ambition to "make it", prove more injurious to left-wing politics than their poorer counterparts in the working class who cannot afford the luxury of discussing politics.
As the dominant ideas of the day are but a reflection of the views of the ruling class so is the media replete with information that is as poisonous as it is deceptive. On the one hand the television feeds viewers with adverts and news items which have the infectious intention of making ignorant people (and that means almost all Africa) think and harbour illusions of "making it".
On the other hand the print media and the radio stations are mostly devoted to such topics as religion or race-based discussions. Thus, even when serious issues like poverty, hunger, war, etc are touched, they always treat them in the light of "god will work miracles" or "all African hands on deck". Such ill-fated notions as "Africa for Africans", "African lingua franca", "NEPAD is a winner" etc are all what is found in the media. Naturally, the ordinary people pick them up and continue the misguided debate. That is the part the media play in formulating opinions.
However, in spite of the poverty, hunger and ignorance, the working class could still have had elements within it who would interest themselves with real political issues like it happened between the sixties and the mid-eighties. Yet such a potential situation is hampered by other factors. Foremost among them is religion.
Pushed to the wall by want, many ignorantly flock to religion as the last resort. Western big business, seeing the opportunity, quickly seizes it to its advantage. They worsen the already bad state of affairs by pumping money into the formation of more religious groups; the production of religious material; and the use of food, second-hand clothing, etc as incentives to the religious leaders andbait for the working class. Once captured it becomes an uphill task to salvage them or even let them see reason.
Another problem is the effectiveness of the capitalist propaganda machine. Their ideologues are always at hand to demonise socialism (citing the famous fall of the Berlin wall and the "collapse of communism") and eulogise the virtues of the free market economy.
In fact today seminars, workshops, clinics, and other so-called sensitisation programmes are organised on a daily basis to entrap the poor and hungry people. The issues on the platform of which such meetings are held include HIV/AIDS, the emancipation of women, child abuse, etc. Participants are lavishly fed and at the end of the day paid a generous honorarium. Such programmes are mostly channelled through NGOs. This problem also has the dangerous side effect of getting people used to shunning meetings or groups where immediate financial gains are not available.
In conclusion, though the picture painted looks so gloomy, that does not mean there is no hope. There are several oases dotted around this desert of hopelessness. And especially now that some basic democratic rights seem to be getting the nod from the dictatorships here (for example the criminal libel law has been repealed in Ghana), we only need to keep up the struggle and to give courage to the already liberated.