Aug
31

Nkrumah - The Struggle Continues

This is the third of Kwame Nkrumah's publications I have shared notes on. The first was the Handbook of Revolutionary Warfare (1968) and the second was Class Struggle in Africa (1970). This post shares some notes from The Struggle Continues (1973), a collection of short publications that were written between 1949 to 1968. A reprinted chapter "The Big Lie" should be required reading. Some notes:

"In our present vigorous struggle for Self-Government, nothing strikes so much terror into the hearts of the imperialists and their agents than the term Positive Action... The term Positive Action has been erroneously and maliciously publicised no doubt, by the imperialists and their concealed agent-provocateurs and stooges. The political renegades, enemies of the Convention People's Party for that matter of Ghana's freedom, have diabolically publicised that the C.P.P.'s programme of positive action means riot, looting and disturbances, in a word violence." (p. 5)

"In Africa, we thought we could achieve freedom and independence, and our ultimate goals of unity and socialism by peaceful means. This has landed us in the grip of neocolonialism. We could not succeed using non-violent methods. The same power structure which is blocking the efforts of African-Americans in the United States is also now throwing road-blocks in Africa's way. Imperialism, neo-colonialism, settler domination and racialism seek to bring us down and re-subjugate us." (41-42)

"The fact that our enemies decided finally on subversion and violence as the only effective way in which to achieve their objective of halting the Ghanaian revolution and bringing Ghana into the neo-colonialist fold, is a measure of the success of our economic policies. We had proved that we were strong enough to develop independently, not only without foreign tutelage, but also in the context of active imperialist and neo-colonialist resistance." (p. 73)

"Fanon did not mean non-commitment or non-alignment in the commonly accepted sense, though both have come to be associated with the term. The very mention of the "Third World" suggests to some a kind of passivity, a non-participation, an opting out of the conflict between the two worlds of capitalism and socialism. It is this concept which seems to have led to most of the misuse of the term "Third World", and renders its use so misleading. There is no middle road between capitalism and socialism...The expression first came to be widely used when two Conferences of Non-Aligned States had been held" [1961 and 1964] (p. 74-75)

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Jun
10

A Socialist Peace? Explaining the Absence of War

Recently published as: Cochrane, L. (2018) Review: A Socialist Peace? Explaining the Absence of War in an African Country. Progress in Development Studies 18(3): 214-215.

McGovern, Mike. 2017. A Socialist Peace? Explaining the Absence of War in an African Country. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. 249 pp. $ 30.00 (paper). ISBN: 9780226453606

Many studies have sought to understand the causes of conflict, few have done the same for peace. Mike McGovern offers a detailed country study of Guinea in A Socialist Peace? enriched by the author's long-term experience as a practitioner and researcher. The book seeks to understand why Guinea has remained peaceful, or at least why it has experienced the absence of war, despite having many of the same divisions and challenges faced by its neighboring countries, which have all experienced conflict. Building upon ethnographic research, this conundrum is analyzed from anthropological, historical and political perspectives, and specifically focuses upon the legacy of the nation's socialist period (1958-1984).

McGovern argues that it was the socio-cultural and political processes of the socialist period that fostered attitudes and 'orientations toward the future' that cultivated a national identity and thus delegitimatized of the use of violence to achieve domestic aims. During this period, the government envisioned an ideal future, and a pathway to reach that objective, while also requiring collective sacrifice to achieve it. The narrative created a sense both of self-sacrifice and of national unity, and the author argues, a strengthened resilience to overcome difficult challenges. This book builds upon the author's earlier book, Unmasking the State (2013), which focuses upon the socialist period itself. This work expands upon that foundation, inquiring into the legacy the socialist era. Specifically, McGovern analyzes one critical moment in time in 2000-2001, wherein conflict seemed highly probable. The author provides a first-hand account, having lived within that moment wherein people opted for peace, and against war.

As McGovern describes, the Guinean 'socialist' state was not typical in terms of its religious orientation and engagement with foreign investment. It was, however, similar to socialist states in that it exerted a heavy hand into nearly all facets of everyday life to enforce political, economic, social and political change. These included laws and policies (e.g. standing at attention for the raising of the flag), institutions (e.g. trade unions), social norms and psychological ideas (e.g. food taboos) and language (e.g. repetitive use of slogans). Dissent was not tolerated. The processes of the socialist period challenged and created imagined communities, which led to stronger national sentiments, but also fostered divisions. It was not the linguistic, ethnic or religious of the domestic that constituted the 'other', but the external; the colonial, imperialist, refugee, exile.

The author does not explore the role of foundational political experiences as a process to foster greater collective cohesion comparatively. As a country study, that was not expected. However, the theoretical idea raises questions for further study. Tanzania and Kyrgyzstan had similar socialist periods, and similarly have been peaceful in regions that have experienced waves of conflict (the author references these two nations, with more focus on the former). Algeria, Angola, the Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Mali, Mozambique, Sudan and Zambia demonstrate socialist periods can have diverse outcomes. While McGoven makes clear that this 'is not an explanation that trumps or supersedes all others' (p. 221), future research should look into processes that enabled the development of types of (post)socialist 'habitus' (McGovern draws on Bourdieu) that led to greater cohesion and peacefulness. Studies might also compare historical processes of state driven 'unification' efforts, such as Weber's research on the turning of peasants into Frenchmen. This approach of study may challenge the dominant sub-national (often ethnic and religious) focus on identity, and analyze the roles played by national cultures. McGovern's book thus serves as an important resource, as well as the basis for new directions of theoretical and comparative research on peace and conflict.

This book offers a carefully-made and thoughtful argument about the processes and legacy of the socialist period. As an era long past, McGovern also raises a question about the longevity of these foundations. Reflections are offered on the reasons for the decline of nationalist unity in the most recent decade (2006 onward). This is particularly timely for two reasons. Firstly, post-colonial states with socialist foundations are reaching the potential end of their influence, as their half-life diminishes further with the generations. This might draw attention to the political processes involved in the (re)creation of sub-national identities and divisions. Secondly, many nations in the Global South have taken a turn to the 'developmental state', which offers a similarly future-oriented perspective involving collective sacrifice for the greater good. McGovern's study offers perspectives for alternative pathways to peacefulness (or at least the absence of war) beyond the 'democratic peace' that has become dominant since the Cold War era.

McGovern has written a detailed country study that is accessible to readers who are not familiar with Guinea or West Africa, a formidable task nobly accomplished. A Socialist Peace? is well suited for undergraduate and graduate students in anthropology, history and political science, and should become standard reading material across the social sciences.

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180 Hits
Oct
20

The Quest for Socialist Utopia

Bahru Zewde's "The Quest for Socialist Utopia: The Ethiopian Student Movement c. 1960-1974" (2014) is brilliant. It is detailed, and may be of interest to a narrow audience as a result. However, this exploration of the student movement – leading up to the overthrow of the Imperial Regime in 1974 – is extremely well done, and is essential reading for anyone seeking to understand the historical roots of contemporary issues in Ethiopia.

Bahru admirably accomplished his task of "present a more comprehensive and analytical narrative, placing the movement within first its global and then its national contexts. Taking into account both the external and internal components of the Ethiopian student movement" (p. 9). While, at the same time, the book does not set out to defend or vilify any specific group or person. Rather, Bahru argues, "the student movement, the Ethiopian included, has to be viewed not as a philosophical issue but as a historical phenomenon. As such, it has to be understood within the context of its time, not judged from the vantage point of the present" (p. 9.

What was the movement all about? Ending oppression: "There is general consensus that the driving force behind the Ethiopian student movement was rejection of oppression in all its forms. The protests and demonstrations that started to peak after 1965 were directed against one manifestation or another of that oppression. The 'Land to the Tiller' demonstration of 1965 had its objective economic and social equity in the exploitation of the country's most important social and economic asset – land. In 1966, students rose in defence of the poor who were herded in shelters that were considered sub-human. The 1967 demonstration was in protests against the curtailment of the freedom of expression and assembly. The nation-wide protests of 1969, under the slogan of 'Education for All' drew attention to the increasing constraints placed on the poor sectors of society in educating their children" (p. 187).

It was, given the circumstances, a highly influential and effective movement. "For about a decade and a half in the middle of the past century, Ethiopian students made a decisive and fateful intervention in the national affairs of their country", writes Bahru (p. 263). But, the author also wonders how ended up where it did: "there is general consensus that the seventeen-year tenure of the Darg was one of almost unmitigated gloom. The only redeeming feature of that tenure was the land reform proclamation of 1975, which could be said to have been a resounding response both to the passionate calls of the reforming intellectuals of the early twentieth century to alleviate the lot of the tribute-paying peasant (the gabbar) and the slogan of the 'Land to the Tiller' articulated by the students in 1965 (p. 263-264). The author does not only recount the events, but reflects upon them and their significance. For example, he suggests that the radical Marxist ideals with militant adherents were not new in form, but rather a "transmutation of the religious orthodoxy of the classical tradition" and the "Marxist-Leninist writings provided a ready-made justification for such militant opposition" (p. 138). On the future, this eminent Ethiopian scholar, writes: "The country has to come to grips with and move beyond this legacy if it is to have any hope of redemption. At the same time, however, we have to understand that the students did what they did in all genuineness and sincerity. They had not hidden agenda. They were driven by what has driven youth everywhere and throughout the ages – the quest for social justice and equitable development" (p. 280).

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