Journal of African Marxists.
Morality, Capital, and Democracy
Perhaps the most thought-provoking article in the first issue (November 1981) is that on development strategy by Mohamed Babu of Zanzibar, an ex-minister of economic development in the Tanzanian government--thought-provoking because one is forced to explain to oneself the uneasiness, even perplexity, one feels at certain points in Babu's argument. The essay is a chapter from his new book African Socialism or Socialist Africa? (Zed Press), and it may be that one needs to read the whole book to begin to dispel the difficulties. Anyway, let us take just three of them: the claimed need that an "underdeveloped" nation has for morality, democracy, and capital.
Babu argues that a state geared to balanced development in Africa requires officials with high "moral qualities," indeed a whole range of "super-qualities." He says, "experience has shown that, whatever the power base, proletarian or bourgeois, modern states tend to develop or degenerate in more or less the same manner," i.e., increasing bureaucratic privilege and corruption, repression, etc. Central planning tends to increase the possibilities of corruption, he feels; and if we add to this the African nations' lack of administrative mediation between state and society, then the demands on morality are very great.
A number of questions may be posed. Is not corruption in the socialist bloc directly proportional to the degree of deficiency of a "proletarian power base"? Is it central planning which increases the opportunities for corruption or central (undemocratic) government? If there is a lack of administration on the intermediate and local level, is the answer a more "scrupulous" state or greater administrative autonomy at the local level? Should one not observe that it is often the most repressive and undemocratic of regimes which make the most vociferous demands for "morality" and "discipline"? Is morality really the problem at all, or only the symptom of the problem--the problem being the commercial and central role of the neocolonial state apparatus which provides the main access to wealth for anyone lucky enough to get near it? Everyone, in fact, in a country like Nigeria is aware of the scale and pervasiveness of corruption, and "codes of conduct" are promulgated by the dozen to combat it. But long experience has shown that they make not one jot of difference.
Babu does recognize, of course, at another point, that neocolonial dependency must be broken. But perhaps he frames the problem too simply i terms of the need for capital. His main proposal is "massive and disinterested assistance from the socialist countries," and he mentions as his models North Korea, China, Vietnam, and Albania. Obviously revolutionary regimes require assistance from friendly nations, but putting the emphasis on its being "massive and disinterested" rather than on mass mobilization and the radical reorganization of agriculture may create painful illusions.
Again, Babu does speak of the need for popular democracy and mobilization. It is not that he has forgotten it: the difficulty is that one cannot be sure how he orders the priorities temporally and logically. Thus it is not clear how Babu's repeated demands for popular democracy fit in with the importance he attaches to the need to develop the forces of production and his proposals for doing so. Babu certainly does not approve of Stalinism and its "ruthless measures," and he rejects increasing the burden of taxation on the working people, but he does not appear to be aware of other antidemocratic risks. For example, when he writes that the development of an "independent national economy in the neocolonies is the most essential prerequisite for the emergence of a virile and dynamic working class who will be the future leaders of socialist revolution and who will exercise the dictatorship of the proletariat," he seems to recognize that one needs to create a proletariat, without taking into account that there is only one way to create a proletariat--by exploitation. Indeed it is only by exploitation that the forces of production can be developed to the minimal level necessary for socialist society. To put it simply: if low salaries are required to rapidly develop the forces of production, what does one do about workers' strikes for higher salaries: repression or moral appeals? Or both?
The Military and Classes
The most instructive article in the second issue (August 1982) is Emmanuel Hansen's "The Military and Revolution in Ghana," written shortly before Hansen left his lecturing post in a British university to join the Rawlings government. Hansen considers how Rawlings' intervention is different from other military coups which have taken place in Africa. Does it constitute a revolution, he asks, meaning a radical disengagement from international capitalism, self-reliance, and people's democracy?
Hansen notes that military coups have taken place in all kinds of cultural, political, and historical conditions in Africa, concluding: "This means that there cannot be a single explanatory model or variable which explains military intervention in African states." But surely Hansen is wrong here. While there are significant, even profound, differences between states, the states of Africa do have certain structural features in common, and these are connected with the continental predisposition to military rule. They nearly all have a neocolonial economic-political structure. What this means is that unlike the European capitalist states, for example, they are not able to sustain ruling classes by the consent of the people. They cannot do so for long periods because they cannot conceal their rule under the veil of pervasive and dominant commodity-exchange relations as a true bourgeoisie does. The parasitic and predatory nature of neocolonial ruling classes is clearly manifest to almost everyone. Hence only force can sustain it in the long run. This is not to deny that there are a wide variety of specific conditions in African states dictating the when, why, who, and how of military coups and rule.
The main body of Hansen's argument is excellent, however. He rejects certain approaches to understanding the military coup, such as explanations exclusively in terms of the politics operating within the military body, or in terms of the military as a distinct class. He correctly insists on seeing the military as integrated within the class forces in the society as a whole. On this premise he gives a first-rate summary of the post-independence experience of Ghana.
The July 4, 1979, coup "was in a way a class conflict in the Armed Forces," the rebellion of the lower ranks against the officers coinciding with "the feelings of the lower petty bourgeoisie, the workers, and students," says Hansen. Thus the class division in Ghana cuts across the military-civilian division. Rawlings' second intervention on December 31, 1981, marked an increasing recognition of the location of the class division in Ghanaian civil society and the Ghanaian armed forces. Hansen concludes: "What is significant about Rawlings' second intervention is that it is a coup with revolutionary import. It is the unfolding of the revolution which is now firmly on the agenda."
We look forward to Hansen's reports in future issues of the Journal of African Marxists on the progress and problems of the revolution in Ghana, so that all African progressives may benefit from the experience.
The lead article in the third issue (January 1983) of the journal is Samir Amin's "Is there a Political Economy of Islamic Fundamentalism?" Fundamentalism he defines as any outlook which is rigid and dogmatic and tries to impose a utopian and instant panacea for the human condition. He says, "The main aim of fundamentalists is not to know why things have been and are what they are. What concerns them more is to know in what ways things have deviated from Principles."
Amin considers a particular kind of fundamentalism, namely the Islamic variety which has undergone a resurgence in recent years. He refers to the work of the main ideologue of Islamic fundamentalism (IF for short), Sayed Quotb of Egypt. Quotb judges everything in the light of the principles of the Golden Age of the prophet Mohammed. In this way the history of the Muslim peoples can only be seen as 1,400 years of the betrayal of these principles. It is this betrayal which is at the root of all present disorders, discord, and unhappiness. Reimpose the Principles, and order, harmony, and happiness will once again prevail!
This is all rather banal, says Amin, quite rightly. Can such an a historical view of society have anything distinctive or novel to offer with regard to economic policy? Amin's answer is that it cannot. There can be no distinctively Islamic fundamentalist "political economy." The tenets of IF are so general as to be compatible with a wide range of political and economic positions, from far left to far right.
Consequently, for Amin IF can offer no positive response to imperialism. On the other hand, he notes that "the flexibility of the response is precisely the strength of fundamentalism. It can thereby group together very diverse social forces, whose interests are not necessarily convergent, into a global "refusal." It seems that for Amin this strength of IF is, from the Marxist point of view, precisely its weakness. That is, fundamentalists obscure the issues and are "of necessity destined to tear each other to pieces, as we can see, for example, in Iran."
It seems to me that correct as Amin's brief analysis is, the implied political conclusions are almost entirely negative and lacking in the acumen which befits a political strategist. Only at one point does he say, parenthetically, that "dialogue" between Islamic fundamentalists and progressive activists "on the level of political action is always possible and desirable." He does not expand on this, although this is precisely what interests Marxists and all progressive activists in Africa.
What is of importance is not, as Amin emphasizes, that IF is so general as to allow any political interpretation, but rather those actual instances and aspects in which its political interpretation is progressive. Many important tactical and strategic questions then arise, especially, how do Marxists relate their revolutionary programs to the programs of progressive IF? How do Marxists win over moderate or vacillating adherents of IF to a joint program against the exploiting class? The question, then, in countries which are Islamic or part Islamic is one of creating what Gramsci called a new and progressive "historical bloc" of forces.
I would surely be incorrect to imagine that Marxists are going to achieve social progress, in the conditions of Africa today, in any other way than through alliances of all manner of subjective (cultural, religious, political) groupings which are objectively rooted in the exploited class.
Certainly there is a danger that such alliances and fronts will lapse into reformism and even reaction; but a clear grasp of the class allegiance of cultural, religious, and political groupings can help to circumvent this danger. In other words, as Hansen comes close to suggesting, what difference does it make in the immediate perspective of defeating the exploiting class if a particular grouping is military (or religious) provided that this grouping is part of, or allied with, the exploited class? The relevance of this question should be clear to those of us who have pondered the political significance for the Nigerian revolution of the recent Maitatsine uprisings in the Islamic north of Nigeria.
When Amin says "fundamentalism is the symptom of the crisis, but it is not the solution to it," he should more accurately have said "it is both the symptom of the crisis and could be part of the solution to it." That depends on Marxist leadership. It seems to me that socialism can only come "through the jungle of obscure confrontations," while the "lucid struggles" mentioned by Amin exist only in the purely intellectual scheme of the perfect Marxist revolution.
I have considered only one main article from each of the three issues of the Journal of African Marxists which have so far appeared. There are also very useful articles on South Africa, Liberia, Nigeria, Ethiopia, the law of the sea, Kenya, Walter Rodney's life and work, Pan-Africanism, as well as reports, documents, and poetry. All articles are informative and thought-provoking. Of course, it is easy enough to make ad hoc criticisms of revolutionary analysis and strategies as I have done here. The problems are profound and immense. But one can only welcome the efforts of this lively new journal to participate in the great historical challenge of solving them.
(The Journal of African Marxists is available by subscription from Zed Press, 57 Caledonian Road, London.)
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|Article Type:||Periodical Review|
|Date:||Sep 1, 1984|
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