The BNF and the October Revolution (Part 1)


October 17 was the 98th anniversary of the Great October Socialist Revolution in the former Soviet Union. Despite the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 and the Eastern bloc because of Stalinist degeneration this world-historic event continues to reverberate around the globe.

For the first time in the history of humanity  workers captured state power and created their own government which survived for 74 years. They demonstrated beyond any shadow of doubt that capitalism can be overthrown and replaced by a workers’ government.  The October Revolution inspired millions of people across the globe.

For Lenin, as for Marx and Engels, a socialist revolution was essentially a world revolution because it was challenging capitalism which had established itself as a world system.

The Russian revolution was a prelude to a socialist revolution in Europe until Joseph Stalin invented the reactionary formula of ‘socialism in one country’ which ultimately led to the collapse of the Stalinist regime in the Soviet Union and the Eastern bloc.

With socialism established  as a world system, according to Karl Marx, only then ‘will human progress cease to resemble that hideous pagan idol, who would not drink nectar but from the skulls of the slain’. 

Whoever is mesmerised by superficial bourgeois progress forgets that such progress is not possible without dragging the vast majority of the people through blood and dirt, misery and degradation. Indeed it is like drinking nectar from the skulls of human beings.

The question is which progress do we recognise?  The progress we recognise is  best captured by the statement attributed to a certain British reporter for the Guardian;  “If manure be suffered to be in  idle heaps, it breeds stink and vermin. If properly defused it, vivifies and fertilises the soil’”.

The wealth of the country is like manure. If it is concentrated in the hands of a few people ‘it breeds stink and vermin’ – passion killings, burglaries, street urchins, theft, corruption, etc but if it is ‘properly defused, it vivifies and fertilises’ the country by ensuring the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people.

Progress for us must mean adequate water, food, clothing and shelter for everyone. It must be a civilisation which ensures that the benefits of modern science, arts and technology are enjoyed by the majority of the people without endangering the ability of future generations to meet their needs from the same environment.  For that reason, the October Revolution continues to be celebrated by socialists and communists across the globe.

The inspiration from the October Revolution at the launch of the BNF  is captured by none other than its founding philosopher-politician Dr Kenneth Koma himself. In his seminal booklet, the Second Phase of the African Revolution has  now Begun, Dr Koma begins his  analysis of the anti-colonial struggle in Africa, its disastrous failure and what needs to be done by casting his argument within a broader dialectical materialist perspective.

‘The original antithesis, the prime cause, of what is happening in the whole world today, is the challenge that the October Revolution in 1917 offered to the status quo of oppression in the world.   The ideal to struggle for is no longer some imaginary golden age in the womb of the forgotten past. The ideal is not only realisable but also the Land of the Soviets became the torch-bearer of what social dreamers  in past ages had fabricated in the fertility of their imaginations. The reverberations of the October Revolution never left the world ever since’.

The BNF  National Democratic Revolution and its tactical position of  the United Front made our struggle an integral part of the world revolutionary struggle against landlordism and imperialism.

Both concepts of the National Democratic Revolution and the United Front have their genesis in Lenin’s thesis on the National and Colonial Question for the Second Congress of the Communist  International in the 1920s. 

These strategic and tactical positions were geared towards forging the unity of the movements of the workers of all countries and the national movements of the colonies and semi-colonies around Soviet Russia and an alliance of all national liberation movements.

Given the revolutionary zeal and enthusiasm of the socialist  founders of the BNF a socialist party should have emerged from the ranks of the BNF by now. 

It is little short of extraordinary that countries like the mountainous kingdom of Lesotho,  the kingdom of  Swaziland, Mauritius, Ethiopia, Somalia, Benin,  Angola, to name but a few, have communist parties  while Botswana does not have one.   This year the 98th anniversary of the Great October Socialist Revolution in Russia coincides with the  golden jubilee of the BNF in Botswana.

This is the opportune moment  to  pause and ask the question; why has a socialist or communist party eluded the BNF for so such a  long time despite the big dreams of our founding fathers and mothers?  And what are the implications for our struggle?

            The advent of a socialist or communist party with its own national political newspaper would qualitatively transform Botswana’s political landscape beyond recognition. Botswana has many political parties but these are all petty-bourgeois political parties.

The country has also witnessed a proliferation of private newspapers and some private radio stations but all them are part and parcel of the bourgeois press. None of them challenges the capitalist establishment.  They take it for granted and operate within its confines.  The birth of a communist party would mean that for the first time workers would have a genuine and consistent spokesperson because a communist party  is the advanced detachment of the working class that champions their cause.

At a party level the formation of the piston engine of  a socialist or communist party within the  BNF providing ideological direction would  put an end to the BNF’s stunted growth and ideological floundering and enable it to function like  a proper united front.

In the absence of a revolutionary core the United Front, the  BNF or even  UDC has little or no capacity to deliver comprehensively and consistently  on the democratic demands of the struggle.        The question of the quality of change we must expect if the UDC assumes state power in 2019 is best answered by none other than Dr Koma in his book, The Second Phase of the African Revolution has now Begun  when asserts that, “The Second Phase of the African Revolution, correctly understood is the National Democratic Revolution.

The National Democratic Revolution cannot be carried out under the leadership of a mass organization, pure and simple. It can only be carried out by an alliance between mass organizations and a socialist party. The socialist party must provide the ideological leadership, otherwise the people sacrifice for nothing.”

The BNF or UDC lacks the piston engine of a socialist party that  provides ideological direction and guarantees the realisation of the demands of the  Second Phase of the African Revolution or what is but the same thing, the National Democratic Revolution.

Such is the influence of neo-liberal globalization today that the average BNF intellectual has somewhat grown rather weary  or hostile to ideological questions required for the qualitative transformation of the Front.

The few revolutionary intellectuals who raise these issues are denigrated and  demonised as being ‘anti-UDC’. Far be it from my thoughts to seek to pooh-pooh prospects of a UDC government in 2019.

But the point must be emphatically made that in the absence of the piston engine of a socialist party within the  BNF/UDC the much anticipated change will not go far enough in terms of liberating our people from the shackles of imperialism and remnants of the feudal mode of production.

Strictly speaking, the current BNF is not  a united front in the true sense of the word. It is more of a Stalinist class collaborationist popular front where workers are placed under the compromising leadership of the so-called ‘revolutionary’ petty-bourgeoisie in an anti-Leninist fashion. Not even the multi-organisational United Front Dr Koma dreamt about at the BNF congress of 1988 has materialised.

Successful National Democratic Revolutions in China and Vietnam were ‘an alliance between mass organizations and a socialist party’. 

The Russian revolution demonstrated the ‘continuous’ nature of the democratic and social demands of the revolution. In Vietnam the Viet Nam Communist Party enjoyed the organizational and ideological autonomy to provide leadership of mass organisations such as the Red Workers Association, Red Peasants’ Association, Communist Youth League, Women’s Association for Liberation and the  Red Relief Society. This United Front was set up after the establishment of the Viet Nam Communist Party. A similar situation prevailed under Mao Tse Tung in China.

In Cuba although the first steps towards the unity of non-revolutionary forces or mass organizations dated back to 1957  Fidel Castro concentrated on building his socialist July 26 Movement first.

This he did to avoid finding himself ‘in bad company’ or trailing after capitalist forces.  Only in 1961 after the socialist July 26 Movement had established itself as a considerable force and its strategy for the struggle had been tested in practice as a decisive political force in Cuban society did Castro turn his attention to achieving broader unity or a united front.

In his book, History Will Absolve Me,  Castro explained his position ;

 ‘ that moment (before 1961)  it was  a thousand times better to stand alone than in bad company. Why is it that back when there were just 120 of us in arms, we weren’t interested in broad unity with all the organisations in exile, while later, when we numbered in the thousands, we were interested in that broad  unity? 

The answer is simple: when there were just 120 of us, unity would have meant a clear-cut majority for conservative and reactionary elements or representatives of interests that were not revolutionary, even though they opposed Batista. We would have been a tiny force in such a union’. 

Lacking  a semblance of organisational, let alone ideological autonomy within the BNF the workers in the BNF are completely ‘in bad company’. Workers  find themselves  in the limbo of a political cul-de-sack with their hands tied at the back.

For instance, 10 years after the formation of the BNF political study groups, the main strategy for training both BNF social democrats and socialists, could not begin thanks to strong opposition from the ‘progressive’ petty-bourgeois leadership. They claimed that this would amount to a communist take over of the party.  Study groups only commenced in 1975 after the overthrow of Portuguese colonialism in Angola by MPLA and Frelimo on Mozambique had created a conducive atmosphere for them. Workers and their intellectual allies are  in disarray and therefore incapacitated from influencing the ideological direction of the BNF or UDC in a meaningful way.


Editor's Comment
What about employees in private sector?

How can this be achieved when there already is little care about the working conditions of those within the private sector employ?For a long time, private sector employees have been neglected by their employers, not because they cannot do better to care for them, but because they take advantage of government's laxity when it comes to protecting and advocating for public sector employees, giving the cue to employers within the private sector...

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