Friday, June 27, 2008

Social Democracy for Africa? Part 3

Continued from Part 2

Recalling on the Monbiot reform ideas that were recommended here, vis-à-vis proper and fair African integration into the global economy, via democratization of international institutions like UN and WTO, while doing away with debt creating & collecting regimes like the World Bank and IMF; well, these would obviously be short term measures, which would have been done in the sort of “transitory period” mentioned above, since social democracy was and is expected to be protracted, and attained at a yet undetermined time. It is dependent on the readiness of the proletariat in not only minor economies, but also in major capitalist economies. In the long term, these measures cannot be viable substitutions for social democracy, in alleviating not only the internal contradictions of a capitalist economy, but also on the global scale. Simply put, the changes recommended by Monbiot, though certainly doable in the short run, have not yet been undertaken, precisely because they are incompatible with the capitalist apparatus. Consider for instance this piece,

June 24, 2008

The City of London is to cancel its free-parking concession for electric vehicles because... the scheme has become too successful.

Battery-car maker NICE has branded the move "barmy" and pointed out that it has come in the week the British government is expected to publish its renewable energy strategy - which will point to the benefits of boosting the market for electric vehicles.

"The reasons for scrapping this incentive are plain daft," said NICE co-founder Julian Wilford. "The city’s Department of Environmental Services has said free parking encourages people to use electric cars; surely that’s the point?

"Electric cars emit no air pollutants or carbon dioxide and are far cleaner than conventional cars, buses and taxis. We think the city’s decision has nothing to do with improving the environment but everything to do with short-term financial gain."

The company has welcomed moves by forward-thinking authorities such as Westminster Council. Working with EDF, the Energy Saving Trust and Transport for London, Westminster has installed 10 new "juice points" across - on-street charging sockets for battery cars. More local authorities are now following Westminster’s lead by offering incentives such as residents’ parking concessions and free charging facilities.

"Automakers are moving mountains to bring electric models to market but we have cars on sale now," Wilford said.

"Removing the parking incentive creates uncertainty at a time when people need clear, long-term signals on the benefits of clean electric motoring."

Courtesy of

An example of a good thing being incompatible with capitalist objectives. If nothing else, it shows that capitalism isn’t necessarily a progressive vehicle for technology; rather, in certain cases, it actually purposefully impedes important technological progression. In fact, the electric vehicle technology had all along been with us since the early 20th century, and yet even now—in the 21st century, society isn’t being allowed to take full advantage of it. The heavy-polluting internal combustion engine was thus outmoded a long time ago. Another example, say in the US, is the crumbling infrastructure; most notably exemplified by the recent Minneapolis bridge collapse, and the breaking levees across parts of the nation. In light of the recent flooding events in Louisiana and the US Midwest for example, it was repeatedly brought to government attention over the years, that the preexisting levees were outmoded and were in need of replacement by better designed and more robust types, yet virtually nothing has since been done to correct the problem. Funding for moving forward space programs in areas where the search for extraterrestrial natural resources would actually be beneficial to humanity as whole, have seen diminishing funding efforts in countries at the more advanced stages of the space program apparatus, while militarization of space has received more enthusiastic spending by the powers that be. Active efforts have been made in the US by the religious zealots of the financial oligarchy—for example, mainly through bribery [in the form of grants], to lure scientists [*] into making science compatible with religion. Progress in technology has foremost been allowed in areas where it has been resolutely subordinated to the advancement of the profit objectives of capitalism. “Economic viability” has become the capitalist catchphrase for this condition. Technology is usually misconstrued as coming out of capitalism; in actuality, technology occurs side by side the apparatus of capitalism, as processes of modern social development. Therefore, technology and industrialization need not be the monopoly of capitalism. These are certainly compatible with social democracy, and their importance isn’t obviously lost on major protagonists of this movement; recalling Lenin‘s claim for instance, we have:

Modern socialist consciousness can arise only on the basis of profound scientific knowledge. Indeed, modern economic science is as much a condition for socialist production as, say, modern technology, and the proletariat can create neither the one nor the other no matter how much it may desire to do so; both arise out of the modern social process.”

..or this from Trotsky,

“A definite renunciation of the theory of an isolated socialist economy will mean, in the course of a few years, an incomparably more rational use of our resources, a swifter industrialization, and better planned and more powerful growth of our own machine construction. It will mean a swifter increase in the number of employed workers and a real lowering of prices — in a word, a genuine strengthening of the Soviet Union in the capitalist environment."

So, the importance of modern science and industrialization is not in question, but how they are subordinated to serve the needs of society as a whole, as opposed to the profit drive of a few.

Getting back to Stalin’s mindset of “socialism in one nation”, one has to only also look at his actions on the international stage. While Lenin and Trotsky continued to build solid ties with social democracy and workers’ political parties in major capitalist European economies, forming a relationship on the international stage which would not subordinate its cause to bourgeois politics in respective countries of the socialist network under any circumstance, Stalin actually consulted and encouraged workers’ political parties in the aforementioned capitalist economies to subordinate themselves to counterrevolutionary bourgeois parties and rulers, presumably as something that would assure their long term survival. This in itself was undoubtedly a fundamental breach of social democracy revolution. Take for instance, the Chinese Communist Party; in 1927, the then dedicated-workers’ party had been engaged in a bitter struggle against the bourgeois-appeasing [including foreign imperialist parties] Kuomintang elements, led by Chiang Kai-shek, who felt that the Communist elements of the United Front [created to tackle the warlords and unify China in post-Qing Dynasty China] were looking to dominate the said Front, when it was advised by Stalin to subordinate its cause and continue to maintain unity with Chiang and his supporters within the United Front. Chiang and his clique had sent their gangster proxies to provoke workers’ militia in Shanghai into armed combat, as a pretext to implement an emergency state and thereof disarm the latter. The Communist Party heeded these Stalin advises, and called on workers’ militias—then under the Communist guidance—to disarm themselves before Kuomintang troops under Chiang’s instruction entered Shanghai. As it turned out, this disarming was a futile undertaking; Kuomintang troops upon arrival, proceeded to ruthlessly crush the Shanghai workers’ militia anyway. The result would be, Communist party members who survived Kuomintang brute dispersed and sought refuge in the countryside areas; the Chinese Communist party never recovered from that onslaught. Whatever remained of it, eventually turned to counterrevolutionary forces in China, and Mao would eventually head it. And who could forget the betrayal of the Spanish Revolution, as a product of Stalinist Soviet influence?!

Even with respect to Germany, the German Communist Party [KPD] decided not to form a united front against the Nazi party with the Social Democracy Party [SPD], which was then dubbed as “social fascists”, in line with Stalin’s theory of the “Third Period” — part of a three stage temporal-theory of social conditions for workers' movement. During Stalin's reign and under his influence, several communist parties branded other socialist parties as "social fascists", usually those which professed to be "social democracy" advocates, presumably for being subservient to counterrevolutionary bourgeois regimes at a time when decisive workers revolution was to take the stage. Stalinist communist parties even went as far as to misbrand "Trotskyite" socialist organizations, since the latter's politics was deemed to be distinct from the former. Communist parties that succumbed to Stalin’s influence to some degree or another, as the German Communist party would become years after its botched attempt to overthrow the bourgeois government, refused to be allied to entities branded as such. Now of course, the Social Democracy party itself was then no longer what its name implies; it in fact, did give into bourgeois politics, and hence, no longer a social democracy-implementing entity. Still, a united front between the Social Democracy Party and the Communist Party, despite difference in politics and if only temporarily, would have seen much stronger workers’ offensive against the Nazi political surge, and might have well prevented the coming to power of the Nazi party[1 - clickable; learn about the driver behind Stalin‘s Third Period theory]. In all these political maneuvers of Stalin, he was vehemently opposed by the Left Opposition of the Bolshevik party, headed by Trotsky. Yet, critiques of the latter almost never mention these fundamental differences in the political course undertaken by Stalin on the one hand, and Lenin and Trotsky on the other; rather, they have a vested interest in homogenizing their agenda, and obfuscating their stark differences. Thus, the “Third Period” policy of Stalin itself, amongst his other reckless actions — like signing the non-aggression pact with Hitler and easing the Soviet Nation’s defenses [2 (clickable)] — played no small part in coming to bite Stalin in the behind, when the Nazis were handed power. Nazi Germany would come into conflict with Russia, as Trotsky rightfully predicted.

Stalin himself would purge Trotsky and other Left Opposition members, his harshest opponents, from the party. Today, opponents of Lenin & Trotsky attribute this anti-democratic move to earlier Bolshevik decision to *temporarily* ban quasi-factionalism within the party; they argue that Stalin merely brought back that practice and hence, unfairly singled out by Leninists and Trotskyites alike. What they don’t bother to bring to attention, is the fact that the earlier decision to ban factions was to be an extraordinary *temporary* wartime measure at a time when total party unity was vital for its survival, and was actually voted on by the party constituents; it was not to be made into something of a policy—as was the case with Stalin. In fact, Stalin went further as to even execute and imprison Bolshevik Left Opposition members, some of whom sought refuge outside Russia. During this period, some exiles further examined the economic apparatus of Capitalist societies in which they sought refuge, and as mentioned briefly earlier, noted aspects of it which are reasonable enough to continue using under a social democracy apparatus, and aspects of it which undoubtedly warrant abolishing. These do not amount to reforms; in fact, to recap on SEP’s David North notes:

“It is helpful to keep in mind that Trotsky belonged to a generation of Russian Marxists who had utilized the opportunity provided by revolutionary exile to carefully observe and study the workings of the capitalist system in the advanced countries. They were familiar not only with the oft-described "horrors" of capitalism, but also with its positive achievements. The countless hours they had spent studying Das Kapital were enriched by many years of observing capital in action. Upon their return to Russia — and this applies especially to those who were among Trotsky’s closest associates during the years of exile — they brought with them a keen understanding of the complexities of modern economic organization. If political struggles had not invested the issue with such profoundly tragic implications, they would have dismissed as simply laughable the idea that Russia could somehow leap into socialism merely by nationalizing its own paltry means of production. Far from overtaking and surpassing capitalism on the basis of national autarchy, Trotsky argued that a vital precondition for the development of the Soviet economy along socialist lines was its assimilation of the basic techniques of capitalist management, organization, accounting and production.”

That is to say, don’t fix that which is not broken; adopting “basic techniques of capitalist management, organization, accounting and production” itself is not an ineffectual or flawed concept; rather, these "basic techniques" comprise various social processes that the capitalist apparatus itself inherited and perfected, and whose effectiveness lies with how they are applied: that is, whether they are privatized to benefit the wealthy few, or 'nationalized' to benefit the bulk of society, the majority of which happens to be the modern working class.

Trotsky and the Left Opposition of the Bolshevik party vehemently voiced criticism against Stalin’s turning the party into a bureaucratic one:

"It is in contradictions and differences of opinion that the working out of the party’s public opinion inevitably takes place. To localize this process only within the apparatus, which is then charged to furnish the party with the fruits of its labors in the forms of slogans, orders, etc., is to sterilize the party ideologically and politically … the leading party bodies must heed the voices of the broad party masses and must not consider every criticism a manifestation of factionalism and thereby cause conscientious and disciplined party members to withdraw into closed circles and fall into factionalism" [1] - Ibid., pp. 79-80

Essentially, this is to say that removal of inner-party democracy was actually a recipe for breeding strong factionalism within the party. Trotsky goes on further:

"It frequently happens that the party is able to resolve one and the same problem by different means, and differences arise as to which of these means is the better, the more expeditious, the more economical. These differences may, depending on the question, embrace considerable sections of the party, but that does not necessarily mean that you have there two class tendencies…

There is no doubt that we shall have not one but dozens of disagreements in the future, for our path is difficult and the political tasks as well as the economic questions of socialist organization will unfailingly engender differences of opinion and temporary groupings of opinion. The political verification of all the nuances of opinion by Marxist analysis will always be one of the most efficacious preventive measures for our party. But it is this concrete Marxist verification that must be resorted to, and not the stereotyped phrases which are the defense mechanism of bureaucratism." [2]

Now of course, differences of opinions doesn’t mean that counterrevolutionary anti-Marxist elements should be allowed to blossom within a Marxist political party; that would defeat the whole purpose of the party, which is that, it was created precisely to follow through with Marxist philosophical objectives of social democracy. As long as party members were unequivocally dedicated to Marxist social democracy, i.e. the reason the party was created, inner-party democracy embracing its broad members and differences of opinion thereof, towards a singular goal was to be promoted as the strength of the party; this is what Trotsky was essentially conveying in the pieces above. He feels that taking that democratic element away, actually encourages rather than inhibit the development of “closed circles and factionalism” within the party, which undermines the party. Opponents of Trotsky and Lenin overlook these fundamental differences for reasons already mentioned. Stalin’s nationalistic [in contrast to his predecessors’ internationalized] approach of ‘socialism in one country’— which itself was a reaction to the defeats of workers’ revolution in Europe — was to spread onto other formerly resolutely-dedicated genuine workers’ political parties and communist parties alike oversees [many of which came together as members of the Comintern] through Soviet influence under Stalin, upon defeats of workers’ revolutions. David North put it best:

Trotsky always stressed that the political reaction within the USSR against the program and traditions of October was greatly strengthened by the *defeats* suffered by the *international* working class. The initial setback suffered by the Left Opposition in the late autumn of 1923 was definitely bound up with the defeat of the German Revolution, which dimmed hopes that European workers would in the near future come to the aid of the USSR. This was the climate that created a *broader audience* for the nationalist perspective of socialism in one country. The political disorientation produced by the nationalist line of the Soviet leaders inside the Communist International led, in turn, to *more defeats* for the working class outside the USSR.

Stalinist brand of ‘socialism in one country’ has undoubtedly derailed from the social democracy objective of eventually abolishing statehood, of which the Comintern was setup as the starting point. It was thus a fundamental breach of Marxist social democracy, which opponents of Lenin and Trotsky cease to acknowledge. As a result, socialism has been discredited in the eyes of sections of modern working classes in major capitalist economies and even minor ones, who strive for change but are not effectively organized, nor able to come up with a more viable solution than Marxist schematic for social democracy, other than relying on the confines of “unionism” and pressing for mere social reforms or “concessions“ without actually shaking up the overall apparatus of the repressive bourgeois socio-economic order in which they make their living. Now, comes the question: what has Stalin’s influence done in Africa?

Well, for one, in light of the Cold War, bourgeois African figures of independence struggles against colonialism saw the Soviet Union as a counterweight to the major capitalist colonial powers of the so-called “West”. So, those who came into conflict or fell out of favor with the capitalist colonial economies, found a willing ally in the Soviet Union. So, Africa as elsewhere, became battlegrounds for Western/US-Soviet rivalry. During the Cold War, certain bourgeois African leaders like Gaddafi were able to lean on the Soviets to thumb their noses at the capitalist colonial economies of the “West”, even as the latter actively sought to eliminate them. In the Congo, Patrice Lumumba’s fatal mistake was to turn to the Soviets for help. The colonial capitalist powers in the Congo at the time found an African ally in Mobutu, whose betrayal of Lumumba paved way for the latter’s demise. In Southern Africa, we had the "Western"/Israeli-backed savage apartheid regime fight local resistance by the ANC which had members influenced by the Soviets, while at the same time, fighting Soviet-backed groups in Angola. In the African Horn, similar battles were being waged; with the Ethiopians coming under Soviet influence under the Mengistu regime and the Somalis coming under US/"Western" sphere, the Ethio-Somali conflict had the double feature of being a proxy war between the “Western” interests and Soviet interests. Even today, the Ethio-Somali war is a proxy war, but in a reversal of role—with Ethiopia now backed by the US, while Somali warlords being backed by foreign Islamic fundamentalist groups and Eritrea. These are mere examples, but it goes to show that while Soviet objectives were opportunistic and did not really coincide with the interests of the African masses, capitalist global influence was and still hasn’t worked for Africans. In fact, capitalist colonial powers are to blame for much of the socio-economic chaos that Africans had seen from the 19th century onwards. Today, we have people in the capitalist colonial economies placing blame solely and squarely at the post-independence African bourgeois regimes. One such example that comes to mind, is Carol Lancaster, former deputy administrator of the US Agency for International Development and a former deputy assistant secretary in the State Department's Bureau of African Affairs. She says:

“By the mid 1990s—nearly half a century since the beginning of African independence—theories attributing African development failures to colonialism retained little credibility among scholars.” [3]

It wouldn’t be fair, if I didn’t mention’s Ann Talbot credit for her superb diagnosis of this mindset:

“Lancaster is expressing what has become the consensus view not so much of academics, but of Western governments, the IMF and the World Bank, which are attempting to impose free market economic policies in Africa. Like them she insists that African governments must become “transparent” and “accountable”. She does not mean that their activities must be open to the scrutiny of the mass of their populations or democratically accountable to them, but that they should be answerable to international institutions that represent the interests of global finance capital and responsive to their demands for profit.

To blame “African socialism” for Africa's failure to develop is a convenient fiction. Any serious examination of the continent's history shows that the reasons for Africa's backwardness lie in the centuries of foreign domination it suffered, dating back to the time of the **slave trade**. This **helped to fuel the development of capitalism in Europe, but deprived Africa of millions of able-bodied people** and fomented predatory wars that disrupted its economy.

Over half a century of direct colonial rule followed. While most of the African colonies gained formal independence in the 1960s, they could not break free from the political domination of the former colonial powers, nor from the economic exploitation of the giant corporations that controlled the trade in African commodities and control finance.

This system of exploitation has continued to the present day. Indebted African countries are net exporters of capital although they are among the poorest in the world. Debt relief has had very little effect, despite the fanfare with which it was proclaimed.

To understand why the imperialist powers were able to continue to exploit Africa, it is necessary to look more closely at the relationship between the West and leaders like Nyerere and Nkrumah. The regimes Lancaster blames for all Africa's problems came to power with Western backing. Western governments also encouraged them to provide limited welfare measures, particularly health care and education. The World Bank underwrote their schemes for industrialisation and agricultural development. The colonial authorities had, in many cases, drawn up plans for these projects before independence was granted. Tanzania under Nyerere became one of the largest recipients of World Bank loans. Without this support the Pan-Africanist regimes could not have survived.”

Then there was the issue of the Cold War, which I had just briefly mentioned above; Ann Talbot adds:

“Western governments and the international institutions they financed were prepared to support the so-called African socialist leaders because they feared that social unrest could lead to popular uprisings, and that the Soviet Union would take advantage of this to gain control of the continent's strategic resources. This had been the guiding principle of British policy in Africa since the end of the World War II, when Labour Foreign Secretary Ernest Bevin warned Prime Minister Clement Atlee, “sooner or later the Russians will make a major drive against our positions in Africa.””[4]

Furthermore, Stalin‘s role…

“In the colonial and semi-colonial countries, the Stalinists rejected a perspective based on the independent political mobilisation of the working class and revived the two-stage theory of revolution, according to which the working class could only struggle for socialism after the bourgeois democratic revolution had been achieved. Over time, the bureaucracy's growing scepticism in the possibility of socialist revolution was to be transformed into a conscious opposition to what they correctly viewed as a threat to their own privileged existence in the Soviet Union.

It was Stalinism's political disarming of the workers' movement, combined with its opportunist shifts in policy before the Second World War, that did the most to encourage the growth of Pan-Africanism. In an attempt to make an alliance with the fascist powers, Stalin had sold oil to Mussolini when he invaded Ethiopia and had signed a pact with Hitler. When Stalin later tried to make an alliance with Britain against Hitler, he ordered Communist Party members to drop their support for anti-colonial movements. This discredited socialism in the eyes of broad masses, having its greatest impact in India where the Communist Party supported the war effort while the Indian Congress Movement maintained its opposition to British rule.

The betrayal of the Indian anti-colonial struggle had an indirect effect on the Pan-African movement, then still largely an American based organisation. George Padmore, a leading West Indian Communist Party member, quit and then joined the Pan-African movement. He successfully turned it into an African-based movement by presenting it as the only consistent opponent of imperialism.

In Africa, the Stalinists repeatedly showed their willingness to coexist with capitalism. One of the most outstanding examples of their counterrevolutionary role was in Sudan, which had the largest Communist Party, with 10,000 members, in Africa outside of South Africa. It helped the nationalist Numeiry to power in 1969. The Soviet Union made no protest the following year, when, having used them to defeat his Islamist opponents, Numeiry expelled all the Communist Party ministers from his government and imprisoned and executed Communist Party members.” - Ann Talbot

Continued colonial presence and the growing exploitation that accompanied it, ignited mass unrest across the African continent, which prompted local colonial regimes to adopt the policy of appeasing those power-aspiring bourgeois “activists” who sought to gain political leverage by joining the anti-colonial mass movements and appointing themselves as front line spokesmen of those movements, but were willing to bargain with colonial administrations. This move by local colonial regimes was obviously meant to placate mass unrest, and avert the eruption of overwhelming mass social revolutions in their colonial “empires”. In a brief synopsis on African class struggles, Talbot points out:

“Faced with revolutionary movements in Italy, Greece and Yugoslavia, and insurrection in Malaya and Indo-China, the British and French governments feared that the poverty to which they had condemned millions of Africans would prove to be even more fertile ground for revolutionary ideas. This was borne out when their attempts to increase the level of exploitation in Africa evoked widespread opposition amongst a population radicalised by their experiences of the war.

Rural layers had been swiftly proletarianised during the Second World War. Many were recruited to the armed forces, or conscripted to labour on sisal and rubber plantations…Manufacturing output [in South Africa] increased by 116 percent and the industrial labour force grew by 53 percent, the majority made up of black workers.

The African working class emerged from the war numerically stronger and increasingly militant. There were major strikes by tens of thousands of workers in Nigeria, French West Africa, Guinea, Zambia and South Africa in the next 2-3 years. Rural areas were not exempt from these movements. Post-war evictions in Zimbabwe to make room for more white settlers led major strikes in 1945 and 1948. European plantation owners' demands for more forced labour in the Ivory Coast led to mass protests. In Kenya, the Mau Mau movement attacked both native chiefs and the white settlers who had dispossessed peasant farmers.

Thousands of ex-servicemen returned to Africa with new ideas and expectations. It was an ex-servicemen's demonstration in 1948 that precipitated moves to independence in Ghana….A committee of 40 African notables was appointed [by the British colonial admin.] to look into the causes of the disturbances, and recommended that African ministers should be selected from a legislative assembly partly elected by adult male suffrage. Although the real power remained with the governor, this was an unprecedented move in an African colony.

The British had cultivated a layer of government appointed chiefs and their educated supporters in Ghana. It was to this wealthy layer that the Colonial Office envisaged gradually handing power over local matters, but the continued development of popular opposition both to British rule and to this entrenched privileged layer forced a change of plan. In 1951, the Convention Peoples Party under the leadership of Kwame Nkrumah put itself at the head of popular protests and won a majority of the seats in the Legislative Assembly. Governor Sir Charles Arden-Clarke summoned Nkrumah from prison and invited him to be Leader of Government Business.

Nkrumah was the first of the Pan-African leaders to come to power. His *journey from prison cell to government was a pattern that was to be followed in an increasing number of colonies*, as the British sought to maintain their power in Africa through a system of indirect rule.

Their suspicion of the Pan-Africanists, whose socialist rhetoric had led the British government to fear that they would ally themselves with the Soviet Union, diminished as a result of Nkrumah's *cooperative attitude*.

Discussions between Britain and the US

Recently released documents from the time show how Britain and the United States discussed the situation in Africa in the context of the Cold War and concluded that independence under Pan-African leadership was the only way to protect their interests. The British Foreign Office feared that too rapid a move to independence might “expose volatile and unsophisticated peoples to the insidious dangers of Communist penetration”. Alternatively they recognised that intransigence would run the risk of “provoking the African turn more readily towards the Soviet Union”…”

Source: Link; makes very interesting reading!

That last few paragraphs are especially worth noting. Thus, far from shaking up the bourgeois socio-economic framework of their local colonial capitalist regimes, bourgeois “Pan-African“-advocating figures who subordinated genuine popular anti-colonial resistance movements to bourgeois cause by taking up leading roles of those movements, actually maintained that framework and sought to benefit from it after achieving political power or leverage.

To be continued...see: Part 1, and Part 4

[1] - Ibid., pp. 79-80
[2] - Ibid., pp. 84-85
[3] - Lancaster p. 21; Aid to Africa: So Much to Do, So Little Done
[4] - quoted in John D. Hargreaves, Decolonization in Africa, Longman, 1996, p. 147
* - quotes of Ann Talbot, and/or

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