As Africa searches for the redesign of the iniquitous economic and political relationship between itself and the Americans and Europeans, it would do no harm to reflect on the ageless proposals that Karl Marx makes in Das Kapital and The Communist Manifesto, write RAMPHOLO MOLEFHE
The current engulfment of the international capitalist system in reckless mismanagement of resources created on the back of the working peoples of the world, themselves relegated to most cruel extremes of poverty and underdevelopment, rekindles the debate about the extent to which the economies of the underdeveloped countries should remain enslaved to those of the Western industrialised countries.
It was plausible in the late 1950s and the early 1960s that the leading intellectuals of the anti-colonial movement should be engrossed in this debate because the conditions for it were implanted in the ideological and practical choices that they had to make about the development of their countries that had achieved national political independence and those that were still fighting for it.
The Africans who fought fascism and the protection of democracy in World War II had not only been exposed to the ideological alternative that was reflected in the contribution of the Soviet Union to the defeat of Hitler, but they were also distressed at the failure of the capitalist countries to extend to them the benefits of the democracy that they had defended with their very lives.
In his introduction to the Communist Manifesto, Vladimir Pozner, points out that "By the time of my arrival the (Soviet Union) had surpassed its 1940 industrial output; only a few years later. In 1957, it ushered in the space age with Sputnik, the first artificial satellite in space; that was followed by Yuri Gagarin's spectacular flight - the world watched with awe and envy as the first ever human being soared into space.
"In the 1950s and the 1960s, the Soviet economy boomed; living standards improved rapidly, the national economy barrelled along, all this leading Nikita Khrushchev to predict that the U.S.S.R. would soon catch up with and surpass the United States as the world's number one economic power.
Along with economic growth came political liberalisation: In 1956 at the XX Congress of the Communist Party, Khrushchev denounced Stalin for the crimes he had committed and special commissions were set up to free millions of people incarcerated in the Gulag.
"At about the same time the Bandung international conference of African peoples on the continent and in the Diaspora had inspired commonness of purpose as Kwame Nkrumah, in 1957 led Ghana to national independence on the Pan-Africanist platform, also writing one of the most influential theoretical works to come out of the continent: "Neo-colonialism, the last stage of imperialism". It was a worthy follow up to Vladimir Lenin's earlier contribution to the discourse: "Imperialism, the last stage of capitalism".
As the African struggle for decolonisation unfolded, it demanded of the leaders and the masses who followed a critical assessment of the alternate world outlooks represented in the United States and Britain in the capitalist camp, and the Soviet Union and China in the socialist East.
The West Indian intellectual Walter Rodney, who wrote "How Europe Underdeveloped Africa," and South African, Archie Mafeje and Basil Davidson who wrote on the African liberation movement, all in one way or the other, presented the African readership with the possibility of disengagement from the dominant international economic system that they experienced by way of slavery, colonialism and the new neo- colonialism.
The African politicians, Nkrumah, Ben Bella, Abdel Nasser, Julius Nyerere, Patrice Lumumba, Sekou Toure, Leopold Senghor and the later generation of Augustino Neto, Gabriel Mugabe, Samora Machel and Marcelino Dos Santos grappled with the problem of finding an African application of Western democracy and the socialist ideal to which they were more recently exposed after the second imperialist world war even as 'communism' had been stigmatised in the education they received in London, Paris and Washington.
The African experiment with establishing socialist democracy was thwarted, among others, by:
Underdeveloped production forces and immature relations of production that blurred the true nature of the relationship between the owners of property and the dispossessed;
Stifled development of an indigenous capitalist class which suffered under the weight of the more financially resourced and administratively interconnected captains of agricultural and industrial enterprise in the Western imperialist countries;
The overhanging euphoria and prolonged celebration of the achievements of the nationalist struggles that reclaimed administration of political affairs from the retreating colonial governments whose practitioners were physically present on the continent;
The smothering of a rigorous scientific and materialist interpretation of history and analysis of the prevalent economic political and economic existence of the Africans by a sentimental attachment among the ideologues of the liberation movement and to nationalist leaders to 'African culture';
Incoherent and distorted development of the working classes which grew only at the economic growth points that had been identified by the Western multinationals, in the towns and not in the countryside, thus undermining all prospects for the development of strong trade unions and socialist and communist parties.
Needless to say, these obstacles to the binding of the working class movement on the continent and its resultant failure to link itself to the international working class struggles manifests itself at varied levels of intensity in each country, in the Francophone countries and in the British colonies, in the Muslim or Arabic countries and in the Christian countries which invariably deny the efficacy of African traditional faith and belief systems, and most divisively, along tribal or ethnic lines which were effectively exploited by colonialism to pre-empt unification of the African labourers in the towns and in the villages.
In this contribution to the imminent discourse, limited in its expanse by the space and time available to African journalism, about the range of opportunities offered by the irreversible dilemma posed to the Western imperialist countries by the credit crunch in their banks and other financial institutions, it is proposed that the survival of the Africans will in part require revisiting the ideological questions that have found no answers in the prosecution of the post-independence agenda of the African countries. It will require revising the Marxist proposition and the Communist Manifesto, both
In 1948, on the very eve of the French Revolution, Marx and Engels published: "Modern bourgeois society with its relations of production, of exchange and of property, a society that has conjured up such gigantic means of production and of exchange, is like the sorcerer, who is no longer able to control the powers of the nether world whom he has called up by his spells."
The metaphor could not be more vivid in its description of the predicament that now faces the political mascots of the imperialist countries which recently gathered at the G8 meeting in Italy. They assembled there evidently to contemplate, away from the irritating gaze of the co-opted leaders of the middle level regional economies of the underdeveloped countries which made up the rest of the 'G20' assembly. The underlying notion, which could not have been as apparent to Marx and Engels then as it was to Lenin and Nkrumah 50 to 100 years into maturation of capitalism into an international system of bourgeois economic enterprise, is the extent to which the compelling force of the profit motive could lead to the decimation of the loose morality and rules of 'fair competition', resulting in what the African press gullibly refers to as the 'global credit crunch'.
African journalists, as Franz Fanon would have found, are eager to own the dilemmas of their heroes in the West, feeding the exploited peoples of the underdeveloped countries the false impression that they play such a role in the ownership and control of the world's economic resources as to create a 'global financial crisis'. In reality, the large majority of the peoples of the globe turn out to be the victims of the reverberations of the credit crunch in America and Europe rather than an acquiescent participant in the creation of that monster.
The European and American captains of the financial institutions, having outmanoeuvred the old state mechanisms in their pursuit of profit, now demand of it public funds generated by the working classes in the form of taxes to retrieve the banks, insurance companies and motor vehicle industries from the abyss of self-induced financial collapse.
That, alas, without commensurate subjection of the financial institutions to sharing of ownership and control of their companies with their workers! That without community oversight of the workings of the multinationals to enforcement of good practices by the trade unions and workers' committees! As if in anticipation of 21st Century excesses of the managers of capital, Engels and Marx continue: "For many a decade past the history of industry and commerce is but the history of the revolt of modern productive forces against modern conditions of production...It is enough to mention the commercial crises that by their periodical return put on its trial, each time more threateningly, the existence of the entire bourgeois society.
The writers find that: "The conditions of bourgeois society are too narrow to comprise the wealth created by them. And how does the bourgeoisie get over these crises? On the one hand, by enforced destruction of production forces; on the other, by the conquest of new markets, and by more thorough exploitation of the old ones. That is to say, by paving the way for more extensive and more destructive crises, and by diminishing the means whereby crises are prevented".
In 19th Century terms, Engels and Marx reflect on the destruction of agricultural products in the American south and Europe in order to protect their farmers against a drop in prices of agricultural goods which would be dumped on Africa and the other starving continents as 'food aid'. In the process, the African farmers would be dissuaded from farming because whatever prices they put on their products could not compete with 'free food'.
The African farmers would then be driven into the labour pool, ready for exploitation by Western multinationals that would arrive to exploit the mines and the forests, leaving behind only toxic waste, prostitutes, petty thieves and corrupt politicians and public officials who thrive on bribes and kickbacks.
The International Monetary Fund and the World Bank would be on hand to prescribe the development plans by which the poor economies of the underdeveloped countries would manage the digging of their diamonds and the slaughtering of their cows, leaving vast sections of the population unemployed and living in abject poverty.It is the continued remoulding of this section of the populace of the underdeveloped countries into a frustrated 'proletariat' that would lead to "direct attacks not against the bourgeois conditions of production, but against the instruments of production themselves; they destroy imported wares that compete with their labour, they smash to pieces machinery, they set factories ablaze, they seek to restore by force the vanished status of the workman of the Middle Ages.
"At this stage the labourers still form an incoherent mass scattered over the whole country, and broken up by their mutual competition..."
More significantly, Marxs observation points out that throwing government regulations and billions of taxpayers dollars at the conduct of what the imperialists call the free market will not, in the long run, satiate the appetites of the ingenious captains of capital and schemers in the ilk of that wonderful capitalist and multi-billionaire, Bernie Madoff, who will forever be in pursuit of that driving motive of capitalism - profit.
As Africa searches for the redesign of the iniquitous economic and political relationship between itself and the Americans and Europeans, it would do no harm to step out of denial and childlike mimicry of the cliches of the Westerners - credit crunch and global financial crisis - and to reflect on the ageless proposals that Marx makes in Das Kapital and The Communist Manifesto.