Saturday, July 30, 2016

Political ideas in Africa (2006)

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.

The media
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.


How To Make History (1950)

From the April 1950 issue of the Socialist Standard

Contrary to popular belief, the Labour Party has never been a Socialist Party.” So says Lester Hutchinson, M.P., in the Daily Worker (3.2.50). We cannot do otherwise than agree with him, but his reasons for disputing their claim to be Socialist are not the same as ours. We dispute their claim because we know what Socialism is, how it is to be achieved, and by whom. The means of production and distribution must be taken over by the people as a whole, controlled by them democratically for the benefit of all. The Labour Party’s objective is the opposite of this; to make capitalism work; to get the capitalists of this country out of the mess in which they have landed themselves with their capitalist competitors abroad. To the extent to which they succeed they strengthen capitalism and render it more difficult for the workers of this country to see the necessity for the establishment of Socialism.

“The word 'Socialist’ was thrown at the Labour Party by its Tory opponents as a term of abuse; and it stuck,” says Lester Hutchinson. But it soon became, apparent to the politically ambitious, would-be labour leaders that such abuse was no handicap. On the contrary, it conjured up ideas of social reform in people's minds, it made the Labour Party appear as a workers’ party pledged to improve conditions for the under dog. Few workers knew what was meant by Socialism, but most could be induced to put their trust in leaders who plausibly advocated reforms, even when such reforms stood not a ghost of a chance of becoming law. The Labour Party thus became a free for all in the political scramble. And those who succeeded did so because they saw the pitfalls and avoided them. Those pitfalls were the basic principles of scientific Socialism: the conflict of interests between the workers, who produce all wealth, and the capitalists, who enforce its production by their ownership of the means of production and their wages system.

Throughout its history the Labour Party has steadily discredited any idea of a class struggle, not because the workers are not yet class-conscious in sufficient numbers to warrant it, but because it will bring the end of their leadership nearer as increasing numbers of workers realise that the opposing interests of the two classes cannot be reconciled.

The obvious way to show that the Labour Party was not Socialist would have been to define Socialism and then compare it with their policy and objectives. This is the only sound method, and applies, not only to the Labour Party, but to the Communist Party as well. Both parties would continue the commodity character of human labour-power. The wages system would remain and the surplus value created by the workers would go, under the rule of the Labour Party, to the previous owners as bond-interest. When the Communists deign to state their intentions they seldom go much further than their rivals. They will not pay “extravagant” compensation. Moreover, there is no mention of any change in the workers' status. In short, neither the Labour Party nor the Communist Party are Socialist, though both lay claim to that title.

As Lester Hutchinson says; “This misuse of political terminology has caused and is causing the utmost confusion, and it enables leaders to put across essentially anti-Socialist policies in the name of Socialism.” Both the above-named parties and all their leaders come under this sweeping generalisation. But it is only those who do not understand what Socialism is that are confused. The worker who understands Socialism needs no leading and cannot be misled. It is therefore incumbent on the workers everywhere that they understand individually for themselves what is meant by Socialism, and the part each must play in its propaganda and establishment. That is the only sure way to avoid the confusion and misrepresentation spread not only by the Labour Party and the Communist Party, but by the orthodox capitalist parties as well.

When Marx and Engels placed Socialism on a scientific basis, the choice for the worker lay between Tory and Liberal, but both were capitalist, and the Socialist of those days, knowing what that meant for the workers, said “a plague on both your houses.” To-day the situation has not changed. Only the names are different. Four main parties now come before the workers and ask them to support policies based on capitalism in one form or another. Capitalism with its drudgery and poverty for the mass of the workers, and the ugly threat of atomic warfare taking definite shape.

The greatest obstacle to a clear understanding of Socialism that faces the worker is the confusion spread by the so-called parties of the workers, the Labour and Communist Parties. And the worst and most insidious form of their confusion is that in which they pose as leaders, promising reforms in working-class conditions in return for their support.

This is contrary to the very essence of Socialism, which, being easy to understand and intimately concerned with the worker’s conditions everywhere, proclaims to the individual his personal responsibility in the historical movement of the working class towards the establishment of a sane and rational system of society.

For Socialism can only be brought about by the efforts of the working class. By their understanding, their organisation as a class party, opposed to all the other political parties, whether openly capitalist or alleged labour.

The working class, the class that suffers poverty that is threatened with atomic warfare, with more austerity unless they work harder, must freely organise themselves as a political party that will leave the leaders of other parties cold. Immune to every kind of confusion, and organised for a single objective, they will steadily gain power until they control all political and administrative machinery. They will then proceed to eliminate the machinery of profits and wages, leaving themselves free to organise production and distribution on a democratic basis for the satisfaction of all mankind.
F. Foan