Franz J.T. Lee, January, 2007
Only global socialism, Marxism, can negate world capitalism
Learning from Kwame Nkrumah: African Socialism versus Marxism
With a new socialist party, inspired by a new socialism, with a coming socialist constitution, heading towards a new Socialist Republic of Venezuela, it is pertinent to reflect seriously about the very concept socialism and about Marxism.
Gone are the good old days in Venezuela when Accion Democratica belonged to the Socialist International and was still flirting with socialism.
When I arrived in Mérida in 1979, coming from a "socialist country," Guyana, I picked up the "El Nacional" and on the front page I was informed that "Venezuela is a socialist country." Later I discovered that even some members of COPEI were propagating Christian socialism and communitarianism. Really ideological confusion about what is scientific and philosophic socialism, that is, Marxism, has a very long history in Venezuela and in Latin America. We should really call African familyhood ujamaa and not socialism. Socialism is neither African nor Arab, it is neither obsolete nor new, it is simply scientific and philosophic, it is the dialectical negation of capitalism, as such it is living Marxism, that grasps the imagination of the poor, of the global peasants and workers. Over the last century there existed no work that had more translations and more publications than the Marxist "Communist Manifesto," and yet, very few of us have studied, understood and applied the first theory of capitalist globalization and of world revolution.
Least of all we are grasping Marx's theory of alienation, and about religion, that is, about "the sigh of the oppressed creature." In all probability it was the Canon of the English Church Charles Kingsley that first coined the famous phrase "religion is the opium of the people":
He said: "We have never told you that the ... true poor man's book, the true God's voice against tyrants, idlers, and humbugs, was the Bible. Aye, you may sneer, but so it is. It is our fault, our great fault, that you should sneer, sneer at the only news that ought to be your glory and your strength. It is our fault. We have used the Bible as if it were the special constable's handbook -- an opium dose for keeping beasts of burden patient while they were being overloaded -- a mere book to keep the poor in order." (May 1848)."
Surely, Africa appeared in this proletarian document of 1848 as "barbarian and semi-barbarian" but even Marx and Engels are not saints: like in our case, errarum humanum est, they were simply social products of a racist, capitalist epoch. At any event, as we know, one thing is the teachings of Jesus Christ, another thing is what Christians made out of him across the millennia.
As we ought to know Socialism originated in Western Europe as a direct historical result of the devastating class victory of the bourgeois French Revolution and the capitalist Industrial Revolution over the Roman Catholic clergy and divine feudal aristocracy, as an intrinsic part of the rise of capitalism itself, as its own dialectical antithetical labor negation.
During the epoch of liberal competitive capitalism within the real class struggle between labor and capital, it changed from simple utopian socialism to scientific and eventually transformed itself into scientific and philosophic socialism, that is, into Marxism. This is the only socialism of economic, political and social relevance against modern exploitation, domination and discrimination. It is also the only socialism that still could annihilate capitalism, simply because it is the one and only dialectical negation of capitalism itself. Only with the total annihilation of capìtalism, socialism itself will pass away, as dialectical reality, as negation of the very same thing. Before it cannot vanish into thin air, hence, whether we like it or not, Marxism is here to stay in Venezuela.
The postulation of an "African Socialism" or of a "New Socialism" is an extremely delicate and dangerous issue. Such an ideological drama we experienced half a century ago in Africa, its main Marxist critical figure was Kwame Nkrumah, the then president of Ghana. The historic parallels to the present situation in Venezuela are obvious, hence, without any unnecessary comments, let us highlight some aspects of this social phenomenon and learn about socialism from African history.
One thing is sure: whenever any "socialism" aggressively begins to attack Marxism as "Bolshevism," "Castro-communism," "dictatorship," as being "obsolete" or inapplicable vis-a-vis modern corporate capitalism, especially its main revolutionary tenets like the class struggle or the socialization of the main means of production, then we could safely begin to smell a pro-capìtalist, reformist rat somewhere. This Kwame Nkrumah, who was toppled by an imperialist military coup, taught us decades ago already.
At the beginning of the 20th century modern socialist ideas were carried to Eastern Europe, Asia, Africa, America and elsewhere. In Africa, mainly French- or British-educated African intellectuals, together with European settlers, especially school teachers and civil servants, disseminated all sorts of versions of Marxism across the continent. In this way. especially in South Africa, Ghana, Tunisia and Algeria, Marxism entered the national liberation movements in their anti-imperialist struggle against European capitalism.
However, although leaning heavily on scientific and philosophic Marxism, "African socialism" was simply a formal logical child of "anti-imperialist" African nationalism and "pro-capitalist" Pan-Africanism. During the first half of the 20th century, as part of the global anti-imperialist struggle to achieve national and continental political independence in the "Tiers Monde," in Africa the latter were direct political ideological products. As indicated, they were not stringently anti-capitalist in a Marxist sense.
However, at best, for the most advanced liberatory movements, African socialism became the general political theory of sharing economic resources in a traditional egalitarian African manner.
In the 1950s till the 1970s, in word and deed, this socialist world outlook was expounded and defended by many prominent African revolutionaries -- like Kwame Nkrumah (1909-1972), Julius Nyerere (1922-1999), Gamal Abdel Nasser (1918-1970), Milton Obote (1924-2005), Muammar Abu Minyar al-Gaddafi (1942- ), Amilcar Cabral (1924-1973), Frantz Fanon (1925-1961), Patrice Lumumba and Walter Rodney (1942 - 1980), et al.
Within the limited context of this brief commentary we cannot deal with all their "socialist" and invaluable revolutionary theories and practical contributions, however, it is pertinent to study their true efforts towards achieving world revolution, and to know why until now we failed to obtain global victory. Only as such the Bolivarian Revolution could avoid to fall into the same "socialist" party and reformist pot-holes of yesteryear.
Apart from revolutionary praxico-theoretical thinkers like Fanon and Rodney, ex-President Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana at best investigated "African socialism," and made excellent theoretical contributions. We will just mention a few of his main ideas which concern us directly here in Venezuela today.
In a paper "African Socialism Revisited" read at the Africa Seminar held in 1967 in Cairo at the invitation of the two organs At-Talia and Problems of Peace and Socialism, from an African and global perspective, Kwame Nkrumah at best explained what socialism is all about in a "Third World" region:
"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)"
Precisely because socialism in Africa was losing progressively its Marxist revolutionary essence and also was tending to lose its transhistoric emancipatory content in favor of a reformist distracting terminology and in favor of a general ideological confusion, it was no more concentrating on its liberatory objective, on the anti-capitalist, anti-colonial and anti-imperialist making of socialist revolution (Che Guevara), that is, it failed to eradicate economic exploitation, political domination and racial discrimination forever.
Nkrumah explained what he understood by concepts like a "new socialism" and "new socialists" in the 20th century:
"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 realized without the staggering social malefactions and deep schisms of capitalist industrial society. For true economic and social development cannot be promoted without the real socialization of productive and distributive processes. Those African leaders who believe these principles are the socialists in Africa." (ibid.)
He warned about anti-Marxist, fake "socialism":
"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'." (ibid.)
Across the 20th century we had dozens of caricatures of scientific and philosophic socialism, of Marxism. They not only damaged socialism itself; like Stalinism, they even became the worst examples of capitalist domination themselves. They became classics of what is capitalist tyranny, democratic dictatorship and fascist terrorism.
Humanity, the very globe, cannot tolerate a single new caricature of socialism any more, that is, it cannot take another violation of the last ray of hope for human emancipation.
In 1918, when it became clear that the proletarian revolution could not be extended to Europe and directed towards other metropolitan countries, Lenin and Trotsky were in agreement that the very October Revolution was doomed to failure, because socialism could and can not be established on an island, in one country or in a single bloc of countries.
Only permanent revolution everywhere, global socialism, can negate world capitalism. If the global conditions are now not ripe for socialist transformation, then they will never ever mature again.
Concerning the habit of making "a fetish of the communal African society," of earlier traditional, indigenous and Christian communist societies, Nkrumah warned: ." ... 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. ... African society was neither classless nor devoid of a social hierarchy. Feudalism existed in some parts of Africa before colonization; 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 colonization, although the earlier European contact gave slavery in Africa some of its most vicious characteristics." (ibid.)
Hence, we have to be extremely careful not to relate socialism to obsolete historic realities that have absolutely nothing to do with the real, true modern negation of corporate capitalism, with scientific and philosophic socialism, with Marxism.
We could imagine our liberated societies with all the liberty in our universe, but we should not call something socialism when we really mean capitalism. or anything else for that matter. The Nazis demonstrated to us what "national socialism" was all about.
To know what is socialism, according to Lenin, we should first diligently study Hegel's Science of Logic and his Phenomenology of the Mind; this is a theoretical sine qua non to understand Marx's Capital. If not, then we should be extremely cautious in our claim that our revolution is heading towards a "new socialism of the 21st century." As principle of hope, the German philosopher Ernst Bloch has stated categorically that Marxist socialism is the New per se. In fact, mutatis mutandis, in a nut-shell, he confirmed that socialism is Marxism, and Marxism is socialism.
Hence, if we do not negate capitalism globally pretty soon, then we could fall deeper and deeper into imperialist "barbarism" (Marx), into the current corporate fascist cesspit.
Four decades ago, Kwame Nkrumah, in all his works, attacked the so-called "African Socialism" ... which is non-existent today ... and tried to introduce living Marxism into African life as transhistoric, global praxis and theory against capitalism and imperialism.
What exodus did he see for Africa out of the coming global fascist cul de sac?
"Socialism is not spontaneous. It does not arise of itself. It has abiding principles according to which the major means of production and distribution ought to be socialized if exploitation of the many by the few is to be prevented; if, that is to say, egalitarianism in the economy is to be protected. ... Socialism depends on dialectical and historical materialism, upon the view that there is only one nature, subject in all its manifestations to natural laws and that human society is, in this sense, part of nature and subject to its own laws of development. It is the elimination of fancifulness from socialist action that makes socialism scientific. To suppose that there are tribal, national, or racial socialisms is to abandon objectivity in favor of chauvinism." (ibid).
Finally, let us repeat what I said a while ago: "The only real, existing socialism is the very negation of capitalism itself." Anything else is a tragedy, a farce.