Class Struggle in Africa

Kwame Nkrumah wrote a number of books and pamphlets. Here are a few notes from his "Class Struggle in Africa" (1970):

"Many members of the African bourgeoisie are employed by foreign firms and have, therefore, a direct financial stake in the continuance of the foreign economic exploitation of Africa. Others, notably in the civil service, trading and mining firms, the armed forces, the police and in the professions, are committed to capitalism because of their background, their western education, and their shared experience and enjoyment of positions of privilege. They are mesmerised by capitalist institutions and organisations. They ape the way of life of their old colonial masters, and are determined to preserve the status and power inherited from them." (p. 12)

"While a racist social structure is not inherent in the colonial situation, it is inseparable from capitalist economic development. For race is inextricably linked with class exploitation; in a racist-capitalist power structure, capitalist exploitation and race oppression are complementary; the removal of one ensures the removal of the other." (p. 27)

"A distinction must be made between tribes and tribalism. The clan is the extended family, and the tribe is the extended clan with the same ethnic language within a territory. There were tribes in Africa before imperialist penetration, but no "tribalism" in the modern sense. Tribalism arose from colonialism, which exploited feudal and tribal survivals to combat the growth of national liberation movements." (p. 59)

"In the era of neocolonialism, tribalism is exploited by the bourgeois ruling classes as an instrument of power politics, and as a useful outlet for the discontent of the masses. Many of the so-called tribal conflicts in modern Africa are in reality class forces brought into conflict by the transition from colonialism to neocolonialism. Tribalism is the result, not the cause, of underdevelopment. In the majority of "tribal" conflicts, the source is the exploiting bourgeois or feudal minority in co-operation with imperialists and neocolonialists seeking to promote their joint class interests." (p. 59-60)

"The methods of neocolonialism are economic control, in the form of "aid", "loans", trade and banking; the stranglehold of indigenous economies through vast international interlocking corporations; political direction through puppet governments; social penetration through the cultivation of an indigenous bourgeoisie, the imposition of "defence" agreements, and the setting up of military and air bases; ideological expansion through the mass communication media of press, radio and television - the emphasis being on anti-Communism; the fomenting of discord between countries and tribes; and through collective imperialism" (p. 70-71)

"Great historical advance is seldom, if ever, achieved without high cost in effort and lives; and those who argue that the transition from capitalism to socialism can be accomplished without the use of force are under a delusion." (p. 80)

"Under neocolonialism a new form of violence is being used against the peoples of Africa. It takes the form of indirect political domination through indigenous bourgeoisie and puppet governments teleguided and marionetted by neocolonialists; direct economic exploitation through an extension of the operation of giant interlocking corporations; and through all manner of other insidious ways such as the control of mass communications media, and ideological penetration. In these circumstances, the need for armed struggle has arisen once more. For the liberation and unification of Africa cannot be achieved by consent, by moral precept or moral conquest. It is only through the resort to arms that Africa can rid itself once and for all of remaining vestiges of colonialism, and of imperialism and neocolonialism; and a socialist society be established in a free and united continent." (p. 87)

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Handbook of Revolutionary Warfare

One of the great leaders and thinkers of the liberation struggle across Africa was Kwame Nkrumah, who would become President of Ghana. He has penned several works, one of which is "Handbook of Revolutionary Warfare" (1968). Reading this book makes clear why writings such as this are not as commonly on reading lists as are others, as pacifist and co-operative propaganda are tools in the neocolonialist enterprise. Nkrumah is notably absent from lists of African authors with the most mentions. A full copy of the book appears to be available here. Some notes:

"capitalism proceeded to introduce not only internal reforms, but external reforms designed to raise the extra money needed for the establishment and the maintenance of the welfare state at home. In other words, modern capitalism had come to depend more heavily than before on the exploitation of the material and human resources of the colonial territories." (p. 5)

"as far as the imperialists are concerned the real solution to the problem of continued exploitation through concessions and reform lies in the concept of "sham-independence". A state can be said to be a neo-colonialist or client state if it is independent de jure and dependent de facto. It is a state where political power lies in the conservative forces of the former colony and where economic power remains under the control of international finance capital. In other words, the country continues to be economically exploited by interests which are alien to the majority of the ex-colonised population but are intrinsic to the world capitalist sector. Such a state is in the grip of neocolonialism. It has become a client state." (p. 7-8)

"Psychological attacks are made through the agency of broadcasting stations like the BBC, Voice of Germany, and above all, Voice of America, which pursues its brainwashing mission through newsreels, interviews and other "informative" programmes at all hours of the day and night, on all wavelengths and in many languages, including "special English". The war of words is supplemented by written propaganda using a wide range of political devices such as embassy bulletins, pseudo "revolutionary" publications, studies on "nationalism" and on "African socialism", the literature spread by the so-called independent and liberal publishers, "cultural" and "civic education" centres, and other imperialist subversive organisations. The paper war penetrates into every town and village, and into the remotest parts of the "bush". It spreads in the form of free distributions of propaganda films praising the qualities of western civilisation and culture. These are some of the ways in which the psychological terrain is prepared." (p. 17)

"The problem is not whether one is born or is not born a natural revolutionary fighter. The problem is not whether revolutionaries are naturally suited to Africa, or Africa to revolutionary warfare. Predestination of this sort never exists. The fact is that revolutionary warfare is the key to African freedom and is the only way in which the total liberation and unity of the African continent can be achieved." (p. 20-21)

"The nationalist phase is a necessary step in the liberation struggle, but must never be regarded as the final solution to the problem raised by the economic and political exploitation of our peoples. For nationalism is narrow in its application. It works within the geopolitical framework produced by the colonial powers which culminated in the carveup agreed upon in 1884 at the Berlin Conference, where today's political maps of Africa were drawn. The various peoples of Africa cannot be, and historically never have been, confined behind rigid frontiers sealing off territories labelled "Nigeria", "Togo", "Senegal", and so on. The natural movements of the African peoples and of their societies have from time immemorial swept along extensive axes as for example from the Nile to the Congo, from Senegal to the Niger, and from the Congo to the Zambesi." (p. 25)

"The struggle will entail hardship and suffering, but it is a phase through which we must pass if we are to accelerate the achievement of a radical, qualitative transformation of the liberation movement." (p. 59)

"Instead of promoting hierarchic, coercive and follow-like sheep relationships, our training will seek to develop an intelligent, egalitarian, critical and self-critical outlook within the armed forces. Our fighters will be self-disciplined, revolutionary men and women." (p. 70)

"Discipline. There must be no abuse of power of any kind. A freedom fighter who steals, loots, rapes or commits any other crime against the community must be tried and severely punished. It should be explained that such a breakdown in discipline endangers the whole revolutionary movement. Discipline comes from inner conviction. It is not a gift, but can be acquired by education, exercise and life in the guerrilla unit." (p. 112)

"The fully-trained guerrilla is armed both ideologically and physically for the revolutionary struggle. The tactics of guerrilla warfare rest in the main with him. With the support of the masses, and with unified direction of the revolutionary party, he is invincible." (p. 122)

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Introducing Liberation Theology

Over the last decades, one of the sources of inspiration for new thinking in development practice has been liberation theology. Dr. Paul Farmer has utilized the ideas (in a less overtly religious form) and conveyed them to a broader audience, as the preferential option for the poor. What is liberation theology? Leonardo Boff and Clodovis Boff (1986, first in English 1987) authored "Introducing Liberation Theology" to provide insight. The book itself focuses quite a lot on the Biblical foundation, justification and purpose, while in this point I draw upon some of the practice-oriented lessons:

"The poor can break out of their situation of oppression only by working out a strategy better able to change social conditions: the strategy of liberation. In liberation, the oppressed come together, come to understand their situation through the process of conscientization, discover the causes of their oppression, organize themselves into movements, and act in a coordinated fashion. First, they claim everything that the existing system can give: better wages, working conditions, health care, education, housing, and so forth; then they work toward the transformation of present society in the direction of a new society characterized by widespread participation, a better and more just balance among social classes and more worthy ways of life." (p. 5)

"The first step for liberation theology is pre-theological. It is a matter of trying to live the commitment of faith: in our case, to participate in some way on the process of liberation, to be committed to the oppressed. Without this specific precondition, liberation theology would be simply a matter of words. So it is not enough here only to reflect on what is being practiced. Rather we need to establish a living link with living practice. If we fail to do this, then "poverty," "oppression," revolution," "new society" are simply words that can be found in a dictionary." (p. 22)

"liberation theology longs and fights for a new society in this world: an alternative society to capitalism, but really an alternative and therefore going beyond socialism as it exists today, embodying the hopes and needs of the least of all peoples and their intrinsic potential, a project with amble resonance in the tradition of faith." (p. 92)

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No Fist is Big Enough to Hide the Sky

Decolonization struggles against the Portuguese are often thought about as Angola and Mozambique, far less does one hear about Guinea-Bissau and Cape Verde. Basil Davidson brings first-hand experience of that struggle, for which he was praised by none other than Amilcar Cabral himself in the Preface. The book, "No Fist is Big Enough to Hide the Sky: The Liberation of Guinea-Bissau and Cape Verde, 1963-74" (1969, with additions in 1981) by Basil Davidson, offers insight into the struggle against Portuguese colonialism, and anti-colonial struggles generally. The book is not a history, nor it is an analysis of deconolization (as Fanon has done). It is more of a travel diary and set of reflections, supported with documents and quotes from the leaders of the struggle.

What can be learned from the movement of the African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde (PAIGC)? From Davidson:

  • "Genuine revolts against an established order begin with necessity. The penalties of guerilla warfare can be accepted, can be justified, only when they are suffered as part of a necessary self-defence. This is a hard lesson that has nothing to do with revolutionary verbalism. A few leaders many understand, from the start, this necessity to use violence both in self-defence and as the only means of opening the door to a better future. But they remain powerless until and unless large numbers of people also feel and acknowledge it. Only then can the bitterness and hope take fire." (p. 9)
  • "one cannot make the revolt first, and think about the revolution afterward. All anti-imperialist revolts take a revolutionary direction. That is their nature. But only those come to fruition which realize, in the course of the struggle, a complete integration of military and political effort within a framework of thought and aim that is revolutionary. Another principle, flowing from the first, is that methods, structures, and objectives must be profoundly and increasingly democratic. Here there can be no question of a group of leaders or fighters, no matter how devoted and sincere, 'making the revolution' on behalf of others. Unless and until the mass of people actively and continually participate in changing their own lives, there will be no change, or none of any value. Not until the farmers in the villages and hamlets embrace the revolution as their own work, as their own thing, does success become possible." (p. 21)
  • "the central concept of national liberation was to be defined not so much as the right of a people to rule itself, but as the right of a people to regain its own history: 'to liberate, that is, the means and process of development of its own productive forces'. So, 'in our thinking, any movement of national liberation which fails to take account of this basis and objective of national liberation may well be fighting against imperialism, but will not be fighting for national liberation'." (p. 53)
  • "'We want no volunteers', Cabral said to me on this point, 'and we shall turn them back if they present themselves. Foreign military advisers or commanders, or any other foreign personnel, are the last thing we shall accept. They would rob my people of their one change of achieving a historical meaning for themselves: of reasserting their own history, of recapturing their own identity'" (p. 62)

It is well worth reading in full.

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