The African Left - Crusaders without a Cross
By Ousman Manjang
(Published in parts in issues of the union newsletter The Ghanaian Coscience in 1993-94)
The vast majority of peoples in Guinea-Bissau, Angola, Congo, Guinea-Conakry can be said to be in any better conditions than their fellows in Senegal, Ivory Coast, Cameroon or Kenya.
More than a decade of the most thoroughgoing revolution so far known in Africa has not helped Ethiopia break free from even the waves of mass starvation that take tolls of hundreds of thousands each time. In Angola and Mozambique, because of foreign-baked counter-revolution, but perhaps also regardless of it, falling production 1e-vels have led to acutely deteriorating economic conditions and even mass starvation that were virtually unknown under colonialism.
Even if many of them might have been inspired with undoubtable patriotic motivations, Africa's men of the Left have however plunged their respective countries into the abyss of economic collapse, bloody conflicts, destructive social unrest and more often than not, political terror, even if many of these were the direct result of the enemy-sponsored sabotages and aggression. The independence movement was substantially influenced by socialist-oriented politicians and activists who often formulated policies, brought in effective organisationalism, energetic- zeal or helped forge the national liberation struggle and founded some of the new post-colonial states.
Decades after the departure of the colonialists, the promises are not only yet to be delivered, their respective peoples are now in the worst possible conditions. Everywhere in Africa, the so-called non-capitalist path to development has been proven a non-starter and Africa's political Left are now caught in a painful process of disillusionment.
They are now like the crusaders that are suddenly left without a cross, and in their desperation they may be tempted into drawing- the wrong conclusions out of the logic of their debacle and the baby may be thrown away with the bathwater. The blustering jubilation of triumphant Capitalism engenders just this. Lessons drawn from the conclusion of a European struggle are being turned into sacred dogma for universal application.
The Message From the West
The message from the West is not new, only the tone is now unmistakable l-told- you-so fashion. Western capitalist thinking would like it be known to each and every one that man by nature is an egoist individual forced by necessity to become a social animal. Man will therefore only tend for that which is his individual property and do as little as possible for that which belongs to the collective. And in attending to his individual property man is forced into competition with his fellow men that only the fittest can survive. The less fit will have to make do with the crumbs and live by hewing of wood and drawing of water.
Though this may seem unjust, the message goes, it is the only path that can lead to progress for everyone, the unfortunate less fit individuals included. The only sensible, practical political and economic policies that can be evolved from this wisdom therefore, they say, is capitalism. It may pillage continents, wiping them out of all "backward" natives, but capitalism will build huge cities of glass and marble, interconnecting motorways and railroads to connect them and numerous industrial plants to keep everyone surviving and busy.
Capitalism may promote un-egalitarian values. favouring one social group against the other and thus laying the ground for cleavages of group-interest, but it alone can guarantee overall economic growth according to this wisdom. It alone, they continue, has been able to create any quantity of material abundance in modern times. When and wherever it is found in ailment, Capitalism can only be cured with a dose of more Capitalism. Remember, it is the magic formula that lifted a host of countries from the throes of Asiatic backwardness to become fast growing industrial nations.
To get out of her misery, the West remonstrates, Africa must structurally adjust and dutifully swallow All medicine recommended by the IMF and other sorcerers of World corporate Capitalism; make deep cuts out of the incomes of the poor so as to jolt them out of their "lazy" slumbers and incite them into more productive activity. Not only must all state ownership be abolished and corporatist policies be abandoned, the state itself must be reduced to the absolute minimum.
All attempts to regulate economic activities must be discouraged according to the often-quoted gurus like James Buchanan and Friedrich Hayek, basing their views on the seminal theories of Ricardo, Malthus and Smith. The idea is to leave a ground absolutely free for economic competition and release the egoism in people and consequently their creativity. Out of the inevitable disorder that follows emanates Buchauan's spontaneous order created by Adam Smith's hidden hand or Hayek's anarcho-capitalism that will bring the capitalist paradise where the individual ego is allowed the continued ultimate absolute self-fulfilment. This is the remedy that the West aggressively recommends for Africa's malaise.
Post-Colonial Balance Sheet
Even before the present collapse of communist rule in Eastern Europe Marxist- led African regimes had begun taking policies that heralded sharp political turns to the Right. In Angola, Guinea and Mozambique the turn to the Right is unmistakeable. In Guinea-Conakry PDG policies have long been abandoned and most of the social reforms introduced by the Toure regime rolled back effectively. Out of almost fifteen years of excessive revolutionary rhetoric in the People's Democracies of Benin and Congo has emerged nothing worth the name.
The whole Nkrumaist experiment in Ghana of the sixties did little apart from managing the colonial legacy and Modibo Keita's radical agricultural reforms in Mali in the sixties failed miserably even before his overthrow. Nyerere, the propounder of Ujamaa, is now busy making apologetic renunciation of his socialist policies that almost ruined Tanzania. In Benin Principe and Sao Tome the Cape Verde Islands and Ethiopia Marxist regimes there have been either voted or chased out of power.
And though it can be said that the practice of Capitalism failed as much as that of Socialism, it is Africa's men of socialist orientation and persuasion who have yet felt the need for stocktaking, re-evaluation and even ideological renunciation. And yet in spite of all their failures and shortcomings Africa's left-oriented politicians alone have yet offered any prescriptive system of ideas that gives an analytical perspective on the present difficulties and a vision of hope for the future.
The Left alone has any political perception that comes any near to understanding the trauma of the Afro-European encounter and the need for Africa to disengage from the grip of this encounter. It alone has the crusading zeal in its ideological conviction and that social pathos in its politics to provide the self-sacrificing leadership that is mindful enough of its collective responsibilities and the mass attraction and participation necessary in carrying out Africa's liberation process to its successful conclusion.
This in spite of the great failures of left-oriented regimes all over Africa of recent times.
Most corporativist attempts at radical reform in Africa have often been for relatively short durations compared to the life span of decidedly neo-colonial states. The mass unrest and social upheaval that was necessary ingredient in many of these reforms are by themselves formidable obstacles to tranquillity and progress in any society.
Furthermore, few states in Africa have dared cross the boundary of rhetoric to really introduce any socialist reforms of any practical significance. The state farms projects in Mali of the mid-sixties, the UJAMAA-villagisation in Tanzania and the Ethiopian Land Reform of. 1976 were some of the few tangible socialist- oriented projects that truly went beyond empty revolutionary rhetoric, even if all failed.
A good deal of the negative aspects of Africa's post-colonial balance- sheet can be justifiably placed on the shoulders of Capitalism since all post- colonial African states inherited more or less capitalist economies and since most, if not all, of the so-called socialist states were nothing but revolutionary regimes administering dependent capitalist economies. The few states that dared venture out into real Socialism, became more like scare-crows than any source of inspiration for the rest to follow.
A Major Handicap of The African Socialist Movement
The inability to translate its socialist ideas into social facts even when there is sufficient political will and organisational possibilities has been a major handicap of the African socialist movement. With the probable exception of Guinea of the sixties, revolutionary Ethiopia and possibly Mozambique of the late seventies, no country in Africa can be said to have experimented with a clean break with the colonialist past. In fact these three examples represent the three broad currents of the African socialist tradition: the revolutionary states that emerged out of the pro-independence mass parties, the military coups that stumbled into Socialism and the armed national liberation struggles that automatically adopted Marxism-Leninism as their official ideologies.
So one can, indeed, wonder if socialism, ever really got off the ground anywhere in Africa. In spite of the scope of radicalisation of the sixties and seventies, political revolutions were only able to produce revolutionary states helplessly managing inherited neo-colonial economies and state structures. Excess rhetoric aroused masses packed in floras of committees and other organisations marching past leaders in solemn revolutionary postures or pictures of fallen martyrs have remained the most vivid images of Africa's socialist tradition, not vibrant revolutionary changes in social, economic or political relations.
Socialism’s failure in Africa differs therefore significantly from its collapse in Eastern Europe. There, some sort of socialism was practised and found workable, but in Africa, no sort could be worked out and put into practice for any length of time.
And as mentioned earlier, it is not Socialism alone that has failed in Africa. Capitalism has failed at least equally, only less dramatically. Very few states out of the many that are known to have followed capitalist policies managed any better. Africa's post-colonial failures went across ideological and Politico-economic boundaries. The key to Africa's post-colonial failures must therefore be sought beyond the capitalist-socialist perspectives. It is a crisis of governance whose cause can only be sought in the enigma of the Afro-European encounter.
If the practice of both socialism and capitalism has failed everywhere in Africa, can there not be something peculiarly African, probably the result of Africa's unique history that Eurocentric orthodoxies cannot identify, much less comprehend, and integrate into their systems? Some yet unresolved problem that Africa must identify and tackle before anything worthwhile can be done. Something so exceptionally African that it tends to be overlooked and yet so fundamentally essential it determines Africa's fate.
All throughout Africa's post-colonial history, one or the other form of African personality, African socialism, Negritude, Consciencism or Authenticity has been paraded around by successive regimes but more often as a camouflage for the most "exotic" tyrannies or out of fence-sitting fear of the torments of the Cold War than serious experimentations with social living.
Nevertheless, an underlying or implied theme with all of them was the realization that Africa's unique historical experience makes the wholesale importation of alien models of development not only undesirable but largely impossible. This realisation however went only halfway in resolving the issue; identifying what, out of Africa's accumulated experience, has been a major obstacle to hitherto all attempts at building alien-oriented systems remain the major challenge.
Be that as it -oy, all of Africa's post-colonial currents, regardless of ideological persuasions, have accepted without question some fundamental Eurocentric presupposition on social living and development. All African movements, for example, have taken for granted the model of a vast modern state, shrouded in alien apparel and a strange world of officialdom, that had centralised power, supervises economic activity and aimed at expanding its control over all aspects of life. Both take it for granted that this state should be manned by a European-trained governing-class that is far alienated culturally, economically and socially from the subject-classes.
Both Socialism and Capitalism have taken rapid urbanisation, large-scale industrialisation and the creation of mass consumer societies as necessary ingredients in all development prospects. African socialists as well as capitalist have so far accepted these without question. Both have recognised the "inadequacies" of African cultures and both call for modernisation without always being able to make the difference between modernisation and Westernisation.
But all this is not to say that Africa is only a historical special case that does not belong to the mainstream of human history. In fact many of the questions raised by the old quarrel between Capitalism and Socialism are of universal relevance. The ownership of the means of productions, the relationship of labour to capital, the question of whether to plan economic activity or to leave it in the hands of wild market forces, the role of classes and other social groupings in socio-economic development, and so on and so forth are some questions that must be faced by even Africans.
Towards a A Second Reveolution
As Africa embarks upon the verge of a Second Liberation from the despotism of Cold War puppetocracies, Fanon's famous lamentation of the lack of viable political ideology looks more justifiable today than when it was made at the time of the anti-colonial liberation. Because today not only deviating political doctrines are being rejected under the western-designed world order, ideology itself is being declared dead. Henceforth, non-doctrinaire Capitalism, stripped of all socio-political pathos. must be the order of the day, we are led to believe. Africa is being told to forget ideology, her vision of a better future and all prescriptive doctrines of liberation. The prescriptions short and simple, Capitalism and more Capitalism.
The big drama that goes with the collapse of the socialist block of countries is being used to cover up Capitalism's failures in Africa. The West's barrage of propaganda is left virtually unchallenged because the African left is yet to emerge from its debacle to take its rightful place in the ongoing movement for broader democratic and civil liberties. Without its analytical methodology, its energetic organisationalism, and selfless devotion and its egalitarian values it is difficult to see how Africa's Second Liberation can make any better than the last one.
Though the African Left must recognize the new evidence unveiled by the failure of the socialist experiment in Eastern Europe it must not necessarily renounce its Marxism. The fall of socialism in Eastern Europe has not shown any of Marx's major affirmations as factually inaccurate. Indeed one can even reject most of Marx's works, not to mention Engels's or Lenin's, without renouncing Marxism. Marxism does not mean the uncritical acceptance of all of Marx’s theses and the results of all his researches. It is the scientifically verifiable conviction that Marxist dialectic is the right method of investigation and. that this method cannot be perfected upon outside the tradition of its founders.
But, however, without a critical review of its world outlook, a total overhaul of its hierarchy of priorities and a complete identification with the marginalised masses, the African Left has little chance of coming out of its current torpor. Above all, the Left needs to make a critical review of it analytical method to have a firm grasp of the dynamics of African societies and the major determinant of their evolution. The Left must hold on to its contention that a major cause of Africa's economic ruin lies in the inequality of her trade with the rest of the world and in the enormously unequal relations with the West.
But to be able to face such a task the African Left must be able to sort out what in socialist theory is essential and universal from what is only incidental and Eurocentric. Decades of Stalinist deformation had turned official socialism into monolithic cult that allowed little pluralism of ideas. African revolutionary socialists therefore tended to shy away from the task of searching for new methods of application that will take into consideration Africa's main precarious specificities.
The tendency to consider Marxism a a sort of magic wand, perhaps a spill over from the rampant superstition and obscurantism that all African societies resorted to in response to the torments of the Afro-European encounter, led to the attitude of considering Marxism in mythical terms and as a finished end- produce that needed no revising.
The African socialist movement has on the whole failed to decipher the spirit from the letter, or the scientific analytical methods and liberation sentiments of Marxist theory from the incidental and superficial clothing of its European setting. Contemporary testimony as found in the studies of those few but earnest socialist experiments in Africa that were led by parties, groups or autocrats who were actually bent on building socialism will show that without very original re-adaptations to the local situation, no corporativist methods of development can ever go beyond the secluded official world of the state.
Socialism Offered Little Immediate Benefits
Elsewhere, socialist political organisations were able to win political support and influence among sections of the masses with promises of immediate and enforceable benefits like land reform, nationalisations and many other (forms of) re-distribution of social rights and privileges. In Africa Socialism offered little immediate deliverance. It was but a long and painful process of rising tensions, social upheavals, material shortages and above all, massive sacrifices. This was because, before any sort of socialism could be started Africans were obliged to first disengage their economies from foreign capitalist exploitation, a process so painful that only savage terror or the voluntarism that emanates from sustained persuasion can save from mass alienation and hostility. Thus the reigns of state become the primary instrument of terror and the party the tool of political persuasion. The success of the process, or even its durability, came to depend on the ability to keep a subtle balance between two methods, an art that young and inexperienced bureaucracies had great difficulties mastering. The more painful the process of disengagement was, the grater the chances of imperialist-inspired dissent and the more ferociously statal instruments of repression were strengthened.
By and by, economic and political resources became regularly wasted more on strengthening and expanding the state's institutions of repression and orbit of control than (on) the original program itself. In this way, African revolutionary regimes became trapped in a self-revolving cycle of poverty, terror, dissent, civil strife, destruction and political paralysis.
Hence the need for coming to terms with Africa's many jarring specificities. Even if countries do defer in many respects from one another, a common pattern of history and joint suffocation in the hands of European colonialism has led to some shared experiences that combine to make the present African condition. Central to this are the tremors of the Afro-European encounter that still continues to traumatise Africa.
Africans are still going through the process of digesting the meaning of the defeat suffered in the hands of European colonialism. They have for long felt the need for a total overhaul of their world outlook so as to grasp for the secret of western power. Aspects of western culture that made the west modern and powerful had to be identified and assimilated so as to abolish once and for all the torments of this enormously unequal encounter.
The Two Worlds
The agents assigned to this task of identification and assimilation, Africa's westernised elites, got themselves so assimilated they became either unable or unwilling to carry it out. With the help of the colonial structures left behind by departing Europeans they created for themselves and their peers a secluded quasi-European world far detached from the world of the African masses.
The failure of post-colonial African politics has been largely the failure to re- attach these two worlds. Only part of almost all African populations have been yet incorporated or 'integrated into the post-colonial order. The rest remain marginalised in an informal world, engaged mainly in informal economic sectors and enjoying only informal civil liberties. The two worlds live side by side, alienated from each other, with at times overlapping boundaries and shifting frontier zones. One, a leftover from the defeated African past, dispossessed and exploited, and the other, a travesty of the western world and the ways of the former colonial masters. The alienation or contradiction between the two remains a fundamental determinant of contemporary African history.
Onward to the Second Liberation
To be able to carry the Second Liberation through to a successful conclusion, Africans must both disengage from the western controlled world order and re-attach their politico-economic power structures to the marginalised grassroots. It is against these needs that Africa’s choice of paths should be weighed.
The African Left must revise its method of class analysis in or-der to be able to fully grasp this fact. Classical methods of- class analysis that are at hand are often too tainted with Euro-centric stereotypes to be unreservedly adopted as viable methods of appraising African societies.
Few social groupings, defined in Marxian categories, have that self-consciousness, knowledge of their socio-economic stand or class cohesion to be able to carry out political changes in their own name and interest anywhere in Africa. The African Left has generally substituted itself and its organisations in the stead of these Marxian social-classes on whose behalf the imagined or real revolutions are carried out. Broad sections of the marginalised masses, often active in economic sectors that are only weakly tied to the western economic web and not liable to formalistic categorisation, are hardly covered by the Left's political periscope.
The Left has been too busy grappling with the question of whether or not there are classes in Africa that can be defined in Africa that can be defined according to Marxist methods to ask even if this model of social categorisation alone car provide sound basis upon which programmes for revolutionary changes can be realistically launched anywhere in Africa. This model tended to leave significant sections of African societies outside the desired class base. Dismissed as the wavering- petty bourgeoisie, lumpen-proletariat, etc., some of – the most socially active and politically potent and often least integrated are left out of the Africa Left's -dreamt-up constituency. A catalogue of the Left’s mistakes cannot be all taken up here. Suffice it to say that the African Left has failed miserably in her post-colonial experimentation with socialism but this does not mean that it is a spent force.
By way of conclusion, the west has come to bury Socialism. Africa must not take this to be her own funeral. Africa must not follow this exercise because Socialism alone has any vision of disengagement in its programme. Alternative development theories often do not even recognise Africa’s need to disengage, much less opt for it. Consciously or not, such alternatives serve to perpetuate western domination. Clearly, Capitalism in Africa can only be dependent Capitalism. A remote outpost of a Capitalism that is, incidentally, perhaps but significantly, white and western. There is nothing in the collective experiences of non-white peoples that warrants taking this point lightly. Just like Capitalism must save sections of its working people permanently, unemployed and marginalised Africa risked being International Capitalism’s permanently marginalised reservoir. It is the Left's historical responsibility to see to it that this does not happen.
- Ousman Manjang, 1993