Black People : African Socialism Revisited

Discussion in 'Black People Open Forum' started by Pharaoh Jahil, Oct 31, 2004.

  1. Pharaoh Jahil

    Pharaoh Jahil Well-Known Member MEMBER

    Aug 2, 2003
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    The term “socialism” has become a necessity in the platform diction and political writings of African leaders. It is a term which unites us in the recognition that the restoration of Africa’s humanist and egalitarian principles of society calls for socialism. All of us, therefore, even though pursuing widely contrasting policies in the task of reconstructing our various nation-states, still use “socialism” to describe our respective efforts. ‘The question must therefore be faced: What real meaning does the term retain in the context of contemporary African politics? I warned about this in my book Consciencism (London and New York, 1964, p. 105).

    And yet, socialism in Africa today tends to lose its objective content in favour of a distracting terminology and in favour of a general confusion. Discussion centres more on the various conceivable types of socialism than upon the need for socialist development.

    Some African political leaders and thinkers certainly use the term “socialism” as it should in my opinion be used: to describe a complex of social purposes and the consequential social and economic policies, organisational patterns, state structure, and ideologies which can lead to the attainment of those purposes. For such leaders, the aim is to remold African society in the socialist direction; to reconsider African society in such a manner that the humanism of traditional African life re-asserts itself in a modern technical community.

    Consequently, socialism in Africa introduces a new social synthesis in which modern technology is reconciled with human values, in which the advanced technical society is realised without the staggering social malefactions and deep schisms of capitalist industrial society. For true economic and social development cannot be promoted without the real socialisation of productive and distributive processes. Those African leaders who believe these principles are the socialists in Africa.

    There are, however, other African political leaders and thinkers who use the term “socialism” because they believe that socialism would, in the words of Chandler Morse, “smooth the road to economic development”. It becomes necessary for them to employ the term in a “charismatic effort to rally support” for policies that do not really promote economic and social development. Those African leaders who believe these principles are supposed to be the “African socialists”.

    It is interesting to recall that before the split in the Second International, Marxism was almost indistinguishable from social democracy. Indeed, the German Social Democratic Party was more or less the guardian of the doctrine of Marxism, and both Marx and Engels supported that Party. Lenin, too, became a member of the Social Democratic Party. After the break-up of the Second International, however, the meaning of the term “social democracy” altered, and it became possible to draw a real distinction between socialism and social democracy. A similar situation has arisen in Africa. Some years ago, African political leaders and writers used the term “African socialism” in order to label the concrete forms that socialism might assume in Africa. But the realities of the diverse and irreconcilable social, political, and economic policies being pursued by African states today have made the term “African socialism” meaningless and irrelevant. It appears to be much more closely associated with anthropology than with political economy. “African socialism” has now come to acquire some of its greatest publicists in Europe and North America precisely because of its predominant anthropological charm. Its foreign publicists include not only the surviving social democrats of Europe and North America, but other intellectuals and liberals who themselves are steeped in the ideology of social democracy.

    It was no accident, let me add, that the 1962 Dakar Colloquium made such capital of “African socialism"’ but the uncertainties concerning the meaning and specific policies of “African socialism” have led some of us to abandon the term because it fails to express its original meaning and because it tends to obscure our fundamental socialist commitment.

    Today, the phrase “African socialism” seems to espouse the view that the traditional African society was a classless society imbued with the spirit of humanism and to express a nostalgia for that spirit. Such a conception of socialism makes a fetish of the communal African society. But an idyllic, African classless society (in which there were no rich and no poor) enjoying a drugged serenity is certainly a facile simplification; there is no historical or even anthropological evidence for any such society. I am afraid the realities of African society were somewhat more sordid.

    All available evidence from the history of Africa up to the eve of the European colonisation, shows that African society was neither classless nor devoid of a social hierarchy. Feudalism existed in some parts of Africa before colonisation; and feudalism involves a deep and exploitative social stratification, founded on the ownership of land. It must also be noted that slavery existed in Africa before European colonisation, although the earlier European contact gave slavery in Africa some of its most vicious characteristics. The truth remains, however, that before colonisation, which became widespread in Africa only in the nineteenth century, Africans were prepared to sell, often for no more than thirty pieces of silver, fellow tribesmen and even members of the same “extended family” and clan. Colonialism deserves to be blamed for many evils in Africa, but surely it was not preceded by an African Golden Age or paradise. A return to the pre-colonial African society is evidently not worthy of the ingenuity and efforts of our people.

    All this notwithstanding, one could still argue that the basic organisation of many African societies in different periods of history manifested a certain communalism and that the philosophy and humanist purposes behind that organisation are worthy of recapture. A community in which each saw his well-being in the welfare of the group certainly was praiseworthy, even if the manner in which the well-being of the group was pursued makes no contribution to our purposes. Thus, what socialist thought in Africa must recapture is not the structure of the “traditional African society” but its spirit, for the spirit of communalism is crystallised in its humanism and in its reconciliation of individual advancement with group welfare. Even If there is incomplete anthropological evidence to reconstruct the “traditional African society” with accuracy, we can still recapture the rich human values of that society. In short, an anthropological approach to the “ traditional African society” is too much unproven; but a philosophical approach stands on much firmer ground and makes generalisation feasible.

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