Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Music For The Masses (2017)

The Proper Gander Column from the November 2017 issue of the Socialist Standard

The most oppressive regimes of the last century didn’t only use their military strength to maintain a hold over people. As the documentary Tunes For Tyrants: Music and Power with Suzy Klein (BBC4) shows, both the Russian and German states used music to reinforce compliance. The series’ three episodes cover the years between the end of the First World War and the end of the second, when both states were moving towards totalitarianism, reminding us of the similarities between the extreme left and right wings of capitalism. They endorsed and encouraged particular styles of music, but the styles they suppressed reveal just as much about politics and culture during this turbulent era. In the programme, alongside archive footage and performances by the BBC National Orchestra of Wales, Klein talks with experts and people who played music at the time.

In the first years after the Russian Revolution, its state used music to try and engineer a cultured and united working class, such as through the appropriation of The Internationale as an anthem. Another approach was the founding in 1922 of the Persimfans orchestra to bring classical music to the populace. The orchestra played without a conductor to emphasise its collective approach and egalitarian principles, a method which Klein snippily compares to communism itself: ‘a good idea in theory but hard to achieve in practice’. Around the same time, avant-garde music was used to promote Russia as forward-thinking and experimental, such as the Lenin-sponsored tour by Leon Theremin of his eponymous electronic musical instrument, and composer Arseny Avraamov’s Symphony of Factory Sirens, which also incorporated car horns, machine guns and foghorns. Avraamov called for the destruction of all pianos, as they were a symbol of the old order, and because the Russian word for ‘grand piano’ also translates as ‘royal’. These lofty ideals quickly became corrupted as the Russian state solidified its power. In a more brutal way than Lenin, Stalin wanted music to be infused with the state’s values, and those outside this narrow vision risked being sent to the Gulag. The careers of composers like Dmitri Shostakovich and Sergei Prokofiev hinged on whether their work met with Stalin’s approval. Theremin moved out of Russia before the end of the 1920s, while Avraamov fell out of favour with the elite and died in poverty.

In Germany of the 1930s, the Nazis also began controlling what music was considered acceptable. They devised the notion of ‘degenerate music’, that which was judged to ‘contaminate’ German ‘purity’ because it was influenced by other traditions. Jewish musicians were all branded ‘degenerate’, and the Jews and Music ABC directory blacklisted thousands of people, from prominent composers like Felix Mendelssohn and Gustav Mahler to part-time pianists. Other ‘degenerate music’ included the avant-garde and modernist, cabaret music (which had embraced satire, pacifism and gay rights in its lyrics) and jazz. This music provided an outlet for expression and a sense of community for those who played and appreciated it, these groups being targeted by the Nazis. So, the notion of ‘degenerate music’ is more about oppressing others than any abstract idea of ‘pure’ art. Perhaps surprisingly, music was permitted in concentration camps, as long as it helped subdue or control the prisoners. Camps had their own orchestras (Auschwitz had 12), and footage of the concerts they performed was used as propaganda to downplay the holocaust.

The classical music of which the Nazis approved gave them ‘a veneer of respectability’, according to Klein. Hitler admired Richard Wagner’s operas for conveying fantasies about nationalism, heroism and mythology, and ordered performances of them to be staged before rallies, and even as a show of strength as the Nazis were close to defeat. For Klein, the toxic spirit of the age is summed up by Carmina Burana by Carl Orff (1937), popular with both Nazis and later aftershave advertisers. For Klein, this tune has become a ‘cliché of macho apocalyptic glory’.

A state – especially a totalitarian one – needs its citizens to accept an ideology and situation that isn’t in their best interests. Trying to convince someone to do this through rational arguments isn’t likely to work, so states have capitalised on how music affects us on a non-rational, emotive level. Strident, passionate music like Carmina Burana and Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries is undoubtedly rousing to hear. As Professor Erik Levi says in the documentary, Wagner’s music can be overwhelming, bypassing thought to seduce the audience. The effect is amplified if music is part of a rally, with thousands of people marching in time, the scene dressed up with flags and banners. Such an imposing spectacle could sweep someone up, deafening them to the vile ideas behind. The same process applies to the patriotic anthems sung by organisations like the Hitler Youth and Pioneer Movement; a choir of people all singing the same song implies and forges unity. In Britain, music encouraged by the state reflected the stoicism and respectability seen as the values which would win the war; Vera Lynn’s songs were judged to be too ‘slushy in sentiment’ by the BBC. Radio programmes like Workers’ Playtime and Music While You Work were broadcast to and from factories, intended to boost morale and improve productivity among the workforce.

Although states no longer use music to manipulate to the extent they used to, the same kind of bombastic marching songs are still played at military parades, whether in Russia, America, North Korea or Britain. Music’s power to stir our emotions has instead largely shifted to the market, where it’s been commodified, whether through advertising jingles or Ed Sheeran albums. The working class has still kept a hold on music’s ability to reinforce a message, through protest songs, punk, rap, rave, even through the chants heard at football matches. As Tunes For Tyrants usefully explores, it’s the message, the ideology behind music that we should listen out for.
Mike Foster

Rear View: Learning from the past (2017)

The Rear View Column from the December 2017 issue of the Socialist Standard

Learning from the past 
This year is the 200th anniversary of the birth of Marcus Thrane, an early pioneer of working class organisation in Norway. He along with other workers established the Drammen Labour Union in 1848. The union’s call for universal suffrage (granted to men in 1889, women in 1913), better schooling, reduced prices for certain commodities, as well as agricultural subsidies, and the extension of mandatory military service to those with property, were met with a dismissive response from the king. One of the motions at the national conference of 1851 was for revolution. Thrane perhaps fearing the wrath of the ruling class, lobbied against this decision and the motion was not, in the end, carried. The historian Tore Pryser, however, sees Thrane in favour of revolution but not before all other avenues were tried first. The Socialist Party is opposed to reformism but not necessarily individual reforms which may be of benefit to our class. Here are just two of many examples as to why we have been encouraging workers for over a century to take the revolutionary road rather than innumerable well-trodden reformist blind alleys: ‘women will have to wait 217 years before they earn as much as men and are equally represented in the workplace, research finds as gender pay gap worsens’ (, 2 November) and ‘the number of children living in poverty will soar to a record 5.2 million over the next five years’ (, 2 November).

Back to the future 
The Socialist Party is an organisation founded on scientific methodology and as such must constantly re-examine its principles and practices. Our Declaration of Principles is no exception yet has stood the test of time. One principle states in part that ‘ the emancipation of the working class will involve the emancipation of all mankind, without distinction of race or sex.’  Such a statement may seem reserved for a Star Trek future, yet we should remember that capitalism as a system of society with its glaring inequalities, war and want alongside wanton wealth has not always been with us. Socialists argue, however, that it has long outlived its usefulness and scientific research shows that we lived very differently in the past. ‘The Ju/’hoansi people of the Kalahari have always been fiercely egalitarian. They hate inequality or showing off, and shun formal leadership institutions. It’s what made them part of the most successful, sustainable civilisation in human history’ (, 29 October).

Stuck in the present 
Judging by Donald Trump Junior’s recent tweet – I’m going to take half of Chloe’s candy tonight & give it to some kid who sat at home. It’s never to [sic] early to teach her about socialism – he probably thinks Bushmen support the two recent US presidents with that name and primitive communism is found in North Korea. Another member of the 1 percent, who unlike Trump climbed the greasy pole rather than inherited her wealth, tweeted the following reply: ‘fill her bucket with old candy left by her great-grandfather, then explain that she has more because she’s smarter than all the other kids’. This exchange was reported by (1 November), who perhaps ought to be thanked for not providing any definition of socialism. We are happy to oblige: a system of society based upon the common ownership and democratic control of the means and instruments for producing and distributing wealth by and in the interest of the whole community.

Reinventing the past 
The mendacious mass media says that China is socialist or communist, yet capitalist hallmarks, such as class society, commodity production, profit motive, exploitation of wage labour, markets, etc., exist there as they do worldwide. Further evidence is supplied by a recent article titled ‘Always Stay Professional’. Inside China’s Booming Butler Schools, Nothing But the Best Will Do’ (, 1 November). Here we learn that some of China’s 1,590,000 millionaires wish to live the life of Riley Downtown Abbey style! ‘Students pay 50,000 rmb ($7,500) for a six-week course on food presentation, how to iron shirts the proper way, and maintaining serene decorum at all times…. Students learn how to choose fine wine but also good Chinese liquor, teach tai chi, perform a tea ceremony and caddy on the golf course. For many, it’s another world.’ Indeed. ‘…15-hour days and endless drilling. How to clean a toilet, iron a tablecloth, use tape-measures and plastic blocks to get table placings perfectly aligned. It’s a regimen of burns, blisters and bottomless cups of coffee’. The Ju/’hoansi people work only 15 hours a week.

The Dogma of Lenin (2017)

Book Review from the December 2017 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Dilemmas of Lenin’, by Tariq Ali (Verso Books 2017)

Opening this book, you might expect to find a Lenin who is an open-minded, flexible, freethinker. This was not the case – and anyone who has ever met a Leninist will tell you a better title would have been ‘The Dogma of Lenin’.

In the field of so-called ‘Lenin studies’ (Lih, etc) nuanced critique is supposed to have replaced the ‘Great Man of History’ approach. So Ali writes ‘this book was written to put Lenin in his proper historical context … Lenin was a product of Russian history and the European labour movement.’ And that Lenin would have died in exile without the First World War and the events of February 1917. However, by p.2, comes something of a reversal, and a flavour of the rest of the book ‘First things first, without Lenin there would have been no socialist revolution in 1917. Of this much we can be certain.’

Worse still, it suffers from a teleological interpretation, for example; asserting ‘this [lack of revolution] is where the Bolsheviks as a party were headed strategically and tactically before April 1917.’ And ‘Lenin understood that if the moment were not seized reaction would triumph once again’.

Ali argues the Bolshevik victory in the Russian Civil War demonstrates peasant support. Combined with urban proletariat support in the Russian Revolution, Ali concludes the Russian Revolution was not a ‘coup’. A laugh might be forgiven at the statement ‘It was only after Bolsheviks won majorities in the soviets that they set the dates for an insurrection’.

And of Bolshevik slogans ‘Land, Peace and Bread’ Ali makes the unlikely claim that ‘behind each word lay a set of ideas encompassing Bolshevik ideology.’ Later he states ‘Bolshevik slogans were not particularly if at all socialist.’

Also strange is that Ali claims that Lenin’s rage (at Kamenev and Zinoviev exposing his date for insurrection), was both understandable but in the end didn’t matter at all. Lenin’s peace deal with Germany was ‘shameful’ but also ‘necessary’ (and ‘compromise’ is a word reserved for opponents). ‘War communism had been necessary to win the civil war’ but in the absence of a German revolution the ‘New Economic Policy’ was then necessary (and later ‘there was no credible alternative’). With no hint of irony is written ‘contempt for political chameleons stayed with Lenin all his life’.

Later chapters include one, ostensibly on the contribution of women to the revolution, but seemingly devoted to the women in Lenin’s life. Lots of criticism is expressed for 11,000 American troops Woodrow Wilson sent to invade Russia during the Civil War, but very little by comparison for 1.4 million German troops Kaiser Wilhelm II sent Eastwards during the First World War. This can only be explained as anti-Americanism, later confirmed in a dig at American academics.

As the final chapter, the Bolshevik-Menshevik split (following whole sections on ‘dilemmas’ of ‘Terrorism and Utopia’, ‘Internationalism, Socialism, Empires and War’) is wholly inappropriate. Both chronologically and in terms of significance of ‘dilemmas’ it should have come first.

The epilogue is worse than the rest of the book, reprinting an autobiographical Lenin analogy on climbing a high mountain. This is really a ‘great man’ approach to looking at Lenin, and one we would reject.

Mass Psychology (2017)

Book Review from the December 2017 issue of the Socialist Standard

Wilhelm Reich and the Function of the Orgasm, Short Biography, Book Reviews, Quotes, and Comments’. By Peter Fritz Walter

Socialists know Reich as one of those who have tried to combine Marx and Freud, though he was always more Freud than Marx. In the 1930s he was a member of the German Communist Party and wrote The Mass Psychology of Fascism in which he argued that the type of sexual repression that people in Germany had suffered in childhood had contributed to making them prepared to support an authoritarian ideology like fascism. Later, in the 1960s this pamphlet enjoyed a popularity as if it had been entitled ‘The Mass Psychology of Capitalism’.

In the meantime Reich had moved on and had become a quack doctor claiming to have discovered a cosmic force called ‘orgone’ that could cure cancer, leukaemia and the rest. He got himself jailed over this and died in prison in 1957. No doubt he was sincere but people don’t have much sympathy for those who offer false hope to cancer sufferers.

Reich always regarded himself as a scientist and was convinced that he had made the same sort of ‘scientific discovery’ as other scientists. In this book, Walter argues that Reich was nearer to ‘the Eastern medical approach’ (with ‘orgone’ being the same as ‘chi’) and was ‘the true founder of the Aquarius Age’, i.e. that he was nearer to so-called ‘alternative medicine’. There is some truth in this. Walter regards this as a compliment.
Adam Buick

Free Money for All (2017)

From the December 2017 issue of the Socialist Standard

It will never happen
“Free Money for All” was the headline of a review in the Evening Standard (9 March) of a book advocating a universal, unconditional basic income (UBI) paid by the state to every citizen as a matter of right. The writer’s not the only one of course. There’s an international organisation advocating it, the Basic Income Earth Network or BIEN (

It’s also the official policy of the Green Party. Richard Branson is the latest billionaire to lend his support to the proposal (LINK). However, the scheme is impracticable under capitalism and would be unnecessary – in fact, meaningless – in a socialist society.

It is not the state handing out ‘free money’ that is impracticable but handing it out to everyone unconditionally. The state has long given ‘free money’ to the ‘poor’ but this has not been unconditional – you have to be poor to get it and have to prove that you are poor. In Britain up to 1948 this was paid out locally and administered by Poor Law Guardians. In 1948 these payments were nationalised and called ‘National Assistance’, later ‘Social Security’, and now ‘Income Support’. It’s still basically the Poor Law, though, with the government as the stingy Poor Law Guardians.

What the state is doing is making up the income of the poor to a set minimum – the poverty line – by giving them ‘free money’. It’s a very basic Basic Income.

It is conceivable that this could be made conditional only on proving that you are poor, as is the case now for old age pensioners. So if you are of working age there would be no need for you to prove that you are unfit for work or have been actively seeking employment. As long as you were poor, you would get ‘income support’ unconditionally. Some UBI proponents argue that this might even be cheaper as it would remove the need for so much form-filling, checking and snooping. That’s a language governments understand and pilot schemes are already underway in Finland, Canada and the Netherlands to see if this is true. In the general election the Green Party promised one in Britain. It’s what Richard Branson wants too. Although this would be unconditional (apart of course from having to be poor in the sense of having an income, if any, below a given level), it is not universal. It might even be introduced but it would merely be a cost-saving reform of the so-called Welfare State. So, yes, such a ‘partial basic income’ is something possible under capitalism.

What BIEN, the Green Party and others want is universal ‘free money’, a payment by the state to everyone as a step towards a different kind of society or at least a different kind of capitalism. The big difference is that the ‘free money’ would be paid, not just to the poor, but to every wage and salary worker too, in fact to everyone, even capitalists (‘Green Party unveils manifesto plans to . . . give cash handouts to millionaires by introducing a universal basic income, as the Daily Mail (24 May) put it, typically). One major objection to this can be summed up in a single word –  Speenhamland.

Wage subsidy for employers
In 1795 the magistrates in this Berkshire village decided to pay some ‘free money’ out of the Poor Law rate to poor but working farm labourers so as to bring their income up to a subsistence level. This amounted to a subsidy to their employers who were thereby able to continue to pay below subsistence, i.e. starvation wages. The practice later spread to other counties in the South of England. Marx mentions this in passing in Volume I of Capital:
  ‘At the end of the eighteenth century and during the first decade of the nineteenth, the English farmers and landlords enforced the absolute minimum of wages by paying the agricultural workers less than the minimum as actual wages and making up the balance in the form of parish relief.’
In fact, all state payments to workers are a wage subsidy to employers. The tax credits that Gordon Brown introduced are widely recognised as being this, but so are family allowances (which have relieved employers of the need to include an element or so much an element for maintaining a family in the wages they pay).

When in June last year there was a referendum in Switzerland on the principle of introducing UBI its advocates didn’t disguise the fact that its introduction would reduce wages. In fact they openly admitted, even proposed it:
  ‘Wages are going to adapt themselves to become a complement to Basic Income. For example with an Unconditional Basic Income of 2,500 Swiss Francs, someone who at present gets 8000 Swiss francs from their employer will not get more than about 5,500 or so wages which will come to be added to their Basic Income’ (LINK).
Beyond the wages system?
So, everybody would be given ‘free money’ by the state up to the poverty line and this would be topped up by wages paid by their employer. Some, such as the advocates of ‘Fully Automated Luxury Communism’, see this as a  first step towards breaking the link between work and consumption. They envisage the part coming from the state in people’s income gradually increasing until this is where their most of their income comes from – a gradual dying out of the wages system.

That’s not going to happen. If the wages system is going to be abolished (as it should be) it won’t and can’t be done gradually, but what about the state paying everyone a povertyline basic income? Could this happen? Capitalism is based on the wages system, on most people being forced by economic necessity to work for an employer to get money to buy the things that they need. A universal basic income paid to everyone would undermine this. While it would not remove the pressure to work for an employer it would put workers in a better bargaining position with their employers over wages. This wouldn’t be a bad thing of course, but it would have economic consequences. The higher wages would be at the expense of profits, but profits are what make the capitalist economy go round.

But more, where is the money to come from? Since the state produces nothing it would have to come from taxation but in the end taxation falls on profits (taxes on wages, as both Adam Smith and David Ricardo recognised, are passed on to employers). So, unless wages fall as the Swiss basic-incomers advocate, UBI would represent a massive redistribution of income from profits, the source of investment, to popular consumption. This would severely disrupt the capitalist economic system which is driven by investment for profit.

If, on the other hand, wages did fall, it would represent a redistribution of income within the capitalist class from those employing fewer workers to those employing many; which would cause other problems and disputes. So, as far as capitalism is concerned, it does not make sense and wouldn’t work. It’s just not going to happen. Even so, there is quite a bit of common ground in the arguments advanced in favour of UBI and those in favour of socialism. Both start from the same realisation that we are living in an age of potential abundance but that this abundance is not realised as resources are wasted in mere wealth-shifting activities such as investment banking, advertising, and legal services (our list is longer since socialism would render money and the whole financial system redundant). If these, and other forms of waste, were eliminated then society could produce enough to eliminate poverty, improve education and health care, and provide everybody with a comfortable   retirement. This is undoubtedly true. This redirecting of resources currently wasted, together with the removal of the profit barrier, would mean that more useful goods and services could be provided and an abundance – a sustainable abundance – achieved.

Socialism would also decouple consumption from work. In other words, what you consumed would no longer be tied to how much you obtained from the sale of your working skills or even to how much work you did (or were deemed to have done). After all, this is precisely what the slogan “from each according to their ability, to each according to their needs” means. But this of course is not going to be possible under capitalism.

So, to sum up: while an unconditional income for the poor is possible under capitalism as a reform of the welfare state, a universal unconditional basic income for everyone is not. The objectives which those who favour it want – a sustainable abundance and breaking the link between consumption and work – can only be achieved on the basis of the common ownership and democratic control of the means of production.
Adam Buick

Party Politics in Africa (2017)

From the December 2017 issue of the Socialist Standard

A Culture of Political Vengeance
It is nowadays believed that political opposition parties in most African countries are indispensable to the parliamentary system of democracy in the sense that opposition parties help to promote checks and balances in the way society is governed.

The supposition that opposition political parties when left unchecked may easily become agents of regime change is a fact, especially when we take into consideration the reality that opposition parties in most countries in Africa are fighting to win political power at all costs. Indeed every opposition political party seems to be working for a political revolution in the guise of championing working class political, social and economic interests by overcoming their political and economic marginalization.

But, once in power, opposition political parties easily shed their revolutionary clothes when confronted with the realities of political and economic problems. Opposition political parties in African countries are denied the freedom to pursue their political agendas and are more or less perceived as a threat to political stability.

After attaining their political independence some African countries adopted a one-party system of government on the premise that only the doctrine of ‘Marxism-Leninism’ could succeed in welding the diverse ethnic groups together.

After the end of the Second World War, and the division of the world into West and East, most African nationalist leaders looked to the Soviet Union, China and Cuba for political and logistical assistance in their political struggle against European colonialism. The military and economic development programmes achieved in Russia and China were a political marvel to African nationalists. Modibo Keïta in Mali was one of the first African political statesmen to adopt ‘Marxism-Leninism’ after achieving political independence. Then, in countries such as Angola, Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Namibia movements fighting for political independence turned into guerrilla movements given the hostile political conditions existing at that time. FRELIMO, SWAPO, ZANU-PF and MPLA received military assistance and training from China and the Soviet Union. In Ethiopia and Somalia, Mengistu Haile Mariam and Siad Barre set up single party political dictatorships that attempted to apply a so-called ‘socialist’ doctrine that  was in most cases resisted by those ethnic clans who practised Islamic religion and cultural traditions instead.

Meanwhile, one-party rule was imposed in Zambia and Tanzania, even though neither country suffered from ethnic tensions.

The Marxist conception of the economic conditions giving rise to social classes was seemingly alien to African historic sociological perceptions in the sense that the entrenched dualistic pattern of urban and rural communities to be found existing in every African country posed a challenge to the otherwise authoritarian political programmes implemented by the one-party state.

The one-party state properly defined was the antithesis of parliamentary democracy given that political freedom of any kind was banned. The one-party state was effectively a police state. The rapid growth achieved under one-party political regimes in terms of economic and peasant empowerment remain largely unrepresented and it is fair to point out that creation of co-operatives both in Zambia and Tanzania (Ujaama) did happen to raise agricultural production (peasant farmers) in the respective countries. But because state capitalism – let alone socialism – cannot succeed for long in a single country, unforeseen and unanticipated political and economic misfortunes that began in the Soviet Union led to the vast political changes that contributed to the collapse of one-party states in Africa and beyond. In particular, the wind of change that swept across Eastern Europe and Africa originated from political and economic developments taking place within the Soviet Union after President Gorbachev came to power in 1985, when the old state capitalist regime there began to crumble under its own economic inefficiency.

Without any kind of ideological, military and economic support from the Soviet Union one-party political regimes could not withstand the ever increasing demands for political patriotism by the masses.

In Zambia Dr Kaunda had survived two military coups in 1979 and 1987, while the command economy set up in 1972 was visibly crumbling, characterized by food shortages and rampant smuggling of mealie meal, sugar, cooking oil and kerosene to the nearby Congo (Zaire). In 1985 President Nyerere of Tanzania resigned as head of state and was succeeded by Ali Hassan Mwinyi. Then in 1986 the whole Copperbelt erupted into simultaneous uprising against the UNIP government due to persistent mealie meal shortages and Dr Kaunda reacted swiftly by confiscating privately owned milling companies. Many prominent politicians and Zambia Congress of Trade Union leaders were arrested and detained. In South Africa President de Klerk released Nelson Mandela from 27 years’ imprisonment and it was now clear that the political values that Dr Kaunda  had strongly held and supported had come to an end. In 1991 the first ever multi-party elections were held and Dr Kaunda and his party UNIP were defeated by the MMD under President Chiluba.

Contested election results
From 1990 until today political patriotism in Africa has given rise to endless civil wars and ethnic crises that were largely absent under one-party political regimes. Political pluralism, defined as periodic change of government through parliamentary elections, has proved to be a delicate political experiment in Africa since African political statesmen have shown a reluctance to surrender political power through the medium of the ballot box. Fraudulent elections have been employed and many attempts made to apply corrupt methods by those in power.

Corruption and outright police intimidation sponsored by the ruling parties have seen the suppression of the press and political demonstrations in many African countries. Parliamentary democracy has stalled into a political conflict between the ruling parties and the political opposition.

Why has there been so much violence during and after elections in Africa?

Political elites in African countries show no restraint in manipulating the masses through feeding them lies in order to win their political support during elections. In certain cases the personal ambition of elites are showcased in ethnic animosities that tend to end in violence and even genocide.

African countries face economic crises that are in many cases a consequence of political instability. Civil wars arise from lack of democracy or a complete disregard of the political freedom of the masses. In a divided and conflict ridden country, conventional notions of justice – which encompasses political equity and fair play – are conspicuous by their absence.

The violation of human rights has been one of the lamentable issues highlighted by the opposition parties in African countries. Most governments in Africa are not only based on nepotism, but are corrupt and inept. Political and social insecurity takes the form of trampling upon the political freedoms of the opposition parties. The suppression, coercion and intolerance of opposition parties are significant factors giving rise to political conflicts in Africa. 

Woe to the vanquished
Although the international community continues to praise Zambia as a living example of political democracy and peaceful political transitions, the realities on the ground prove otherwise. In l994 the second President, Frederick Chiluba, amended the Zambian constitution to disqualify the former president Dr Kenneth Kaunda from standing as UNIP presidential candidate.

In 1996 Dr Kaunda was subjected to severe molestation and had also escaped a police-inspired assassination attempt during a political rally in Kabwe in 1994. Dr Kaunda was declared an immigrant and was immediately arrested and put in prison.

The culture of political vengeance is what defines African plural politics as those who are defeated during the election are treated as enemies of the political parties in power.

After winning the presidential elections in 2001 by defeating UPND leader Anderson Mazoka, President Mwanawasa slapped a corruption allegation on Frederick Chiluba in the name of stamping out corruption from the MMD.  Chiluba and his co-accused were only declared innocent by President Rupiah Banda in 2010 (after Mwanawasa had died). When President Sata defeated MMD President Rupiah Banda in 2011 he instructed the public prosecutor to withdraw Rupiah Banda’s presidential immunity in order to face corruption charges concerning the importation of oil from Nigeria in 2009. Rupiah Banda and his son Andrew were only declared free and innocent when President Lungu became president after the death of Sata in 2014.  The foregoing shows that previous leaders have been subjected to political vengeance by those who come to power.

The political longevity of the ZANU-PF under President Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe was partly due to the charismatic status of Mugabe both within the African Union and Zimbabwe. The lack of a vibrant political opposition within Zimbabwe was betrayed by parochial ethnic and tribal allegiances to the ZANU-PF. Indeed both dictators Mobutu Sese Seko and Idi Amin were ousted from power through outside pressure (Rwanda and Tanzania). Political stability, defined as a cordial political relation between major political players in a given country, remain strained because opposition parties in Africa tend to dispute the results of presidential elections, notwithstanding any endorsement by overseas election monitors.

No way out under capitalism                                                   
The common perceptions held by eminent African politicians and intellectuals is the belief that Africa’s economic underdevelopment and political instability stems from the biased economic and political relations between Africa and European developed nations (neo-colonialism). Various reports published by the UN special agencies, the World Bank, the IMF and the Economic Commission of Africa reveal that parts of Africa often have the highest growth rates (and birth rates) while the rate of Africa’s social poverty remains higher than the rate of population growth. The continent is drought prone. Demography, drought and desertification are a triple threat to Africans’ continued existence and a triple source of political conflicts. The situation is exacerbated by a huge foreign debt, the depletion of natural resources, uneven regional economic development, and lack of physical capital as well as institutional decay.
Kephas Mulenga

Greasy Pole: Beware of Leaders (2017)

The Greasy Pole column from the December 2017 issue of the Socialist Standard

It can be a time for their widespread regret, if not mourning, when any of our political leaders reaches the end of their time of dominance and the exposure of their futile dishonesty, leaving them with little more than a badge signifying their removal from the scene. Like Neville Chamberlain in 1938 waving his little piece of paper from Hitler to the crowd at Heston Airport. Like Ted Heath and his Three-Day Week which would replace slump with prosperity. Like Theresa May and her snap general election which was going to sweep away the muddle of Nick Clegg and that Coalition along with hapless Ed Miliband. But also, less enduring, there was John Moore who ended his time as Baron Moore of Lower Marsh. Moore was once favoured by Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher with a rocket-like rise up the Greasy Pole to the heights of Secretary Of State for Health and Social Security, where he enforced such changes as to nominate him Mr Privatisation with all the implicit rewards.

One response to this was from Ken Clarke, who during his time has occupied so many ministerial prominences – among them Health and Social Security – along with his preference for cigars, alcohol and jazz music. He assessed Moore as ‘bright and likeable…very popular with the press’ but someone who ‘…knew nothing about either health or social security and, as far as I could see, had no views on the subject. He was soon both overwhelmed and unnerved by the sheer scale of the problems he faced and the expectations he had to live up to’. Another Tory colleague compared him to ‘…a frightened rabbit mesmerised by oncoming headlights’. Except that Moore’s difficulties went rather deeper than that, for in November 1987 in the midst of the chaos of his life as a Cabinet Minister he was struck down by bacterial pneumonia. His desperation was such that his struggle to conceal his condition was undermined when he collapsed at a Cabinet meeting. He chose to be treated at a private hospital which at that time was charging thousands of pounds a day, but soon there was no alternative for Thatcher but to cut his Ministry in two and pass the portfolio for Health to Ken Clarke before, in 1989, sacking Moore from the Cabinet. In 1992 Moore gave it all up, standing down from Parliament to work his talents as Baron Moore of Lower Marsh in the House of Lords – which he attended only rarely – and to return to his former fields of profit gathering in banking and industry. 

Among the persistent critics of Moore in the Commons was Edwina Currie who at one time seemed to go out of her way to be one of Thatcher’s more unwise appointments. For example there was the occasion when, as a junior Minister for Health, she informed the nation that ‘…in the Winter it was the Northerners who, neglecting to keep warm, die of ignorance and chips’. In her younger days in Liverpool she had spent a lot of time adoring the Beatles in the Cavern Club before she became a rampant Tory through her time absorbing Economic History at the London School of Economics. She was elected to Parliament in 1983 for South Derbyshire, by which time she had amassed a reputation as a ‘virtually permanent fixture on the nation’s TV screen saying something outrageous about just anything… the most outspoken and sexually interested woman of her political generation’ – an assessment suitable to her affair with the future Prime Minister John Major, which lasted some four years when he was a Party Whip hoping to be promoted through the ranks. But then it was Major who, after reaching the heights of Chief Secretary to the Treasury, felt it necessary to end the affair, leaving her distressed but not so much that she could resist accusing him of ‘sexism’ and ‘racism’ and describing him as ‘one of the less competent Prime Ministers’ and later as ‘…too small minded in character, too small in intellect in the end’. And she did not consider it was the end of all affairs, asking herself, as she picked over the memories: ‘I daydream about another affair. Now, who might be interested?’

One of Currie’s responsibilities in the Ministry of Health was a Task Force involved in running the Broadmoor Hospital, that nervously guarded and controlled institution where the most dangerous and unpredictable of offenders are confined after being medically certified as in need of restraint as well as treatment. Currie appointed Jimmy Saville to the Task Force, allowing him keys which made him free to roam the hospital with access to every part of it and mingle with the patients including those who were severely disturbed and heavily medicated. That was before the full facts emerged of Saville being himself a highly unstable character, but there was still good reason to act with caution in so threatening an environment. Among the other disturbing events which Currie was active in was as Health Minister in 1988 when she provoked the fury of the dairy farmers and milk sellers by announcing that most British eggs were contaminated with salmonella. As a result some four million hens were slaughtered with a huge financial loss to the producers which brought about Currie’s resignation as a Minister. The panic and anger did not die down for some years; in 2001 it was revealed that at the crucial time there was a severe epidemic of salmonella in the hens but by then Currie was well into her alternative professions as a TV performer, writer of romantic fiction and the like.

In the ideal (for the politicians) world there is often an assumption that when a leader drops out they leave a swathe of affectionately wistful memories. But all our experience of examples of this – Moore, Major, Currie –  emphasises it is not so because their period in power followed the established interests of the higher, owning, exploiting class. It is our part to rebuild world society so that it is freer, safer and humane.

Industrial Unionism. (1931)

From the January 1931 issue of the Socialist Standard

In a recent issue we reviewed briefly an American pamphlet by a Mr. Clausen on "American Socialism—or Labour Unions versus Company Unions.”

The author was formerly a member of the S.L.P. and held that De Leon’s position had been dropped by the present S.L.P. We invited Mr. Clausen, as we have invited the S.L.P., to explain how an economic organisation can take and hold the means of production. Mr. Clausen sends us a letter of 19 foolscap pages, but he omits to deal with the question at issue. The god he worships—De Leon—could not show the power of the industrial union to take and hold, and so our pamphleteer avoids the main point. We have specifically challenged all supporters of direct action who claim to accept Marx to show where Marx supports their theory. Marx insisted that the workers must win political power and capture the State machine to obtain supremacy. Until Daniel De Leon flirted with industrial unionism he held that "none but the political weapon can dislodge the usurpers and enthrone the working class ” (Two pages from Roman History, page 46).

Our critic tells us that the great combines of U.S.A. "dominate the political government by reason of commanding the economic conditions of the country.” This is the very opposite of the facts. The property-owning class can only "command” the economic conditions by being in political control.

Their economic interests unite the capitalists into political parties to control the governing machine so that their economic interests can be defended. Hence the fierce struggle in the U.S.A. to win a majority of the working-class voters to maintain capitalist control. Even the political corruption proves to what lengths they will go to win control of the all-dominating political machine.

Mr. Clausen admits this when he says that "they [the capitalists] are combined through the political government in order to hold the proletariat in subjection."

In spite of this Mr. Clausen repeats as his argument De Leon’s anarchistic utterance that the emancipation of the workers must be achieved by the workers "through an economic organisation of the working class without affiliation with any political party."

That is "direct action.” And, like all anarchist policies, it ignores the enormous power of the State machine to suppress revolts. It ignores, too, the lack of resources of the workers when on strike, "locked out,” or "locked in.”

Industrial Unionism cannot establish Socialism, for it organises the workers by industry and divides the workers up into industrial sections, each concerned with its own industry. De Leon’s claim that only a worker in an industry can represent the workers in that industry is a rejection of the class struggle and the common interests of the working class. The Socialist Party hold that the workers must first of all realise their common interests and unite into a class organisation as Socialists struggling for political supremacy. The forms of the workers' economic organisation under capitalism will reflect the growing class understanding and Socialist ideas of the workers. The notion that only a plumber can represent a plumber may be Syndicalism, but it has nothing in common with Socialism.

Mr. Clausen’s lengthy attack on the S.L.P. for its recent gymnastics is composed almost entirely of material of very little interest to most readers of this journal.