BUILDING SPN TO MEET THE ASPIRATION OF THE WORKING MASSES
BUILDING SPN TO MEET THE ASPIRATION OF THE WORKING MASSES
DSM 21st Congress Resolution
The Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM) passed a resolution to form the Socialist Party of Nigeria (SPN) in the National Committee meeting held on April 14 & 15 2012 with the aim of putting forward a political alternative for the Nigerian working masses that could stand in elections. The resolution empowered the NEC to work towards registering the party. All along in the past 2 decades, the DSM has spearheaded a campaign for the trade union leaders and other left organizations to form a political party that will defend the interest of the people, but all to no avail.
The trade union leaders formed the Nigerian Labour Party in 1989 before it was refused registration by the Babangida-led military junta. The trade union leaders who lacked the will to build a party for the masses fizzled out without a fight. Between then and now no political party, not even a reformist workers party has been formed, let alone built. The NLC leadership formed the Labour Party, initially as the Party for Social Democracy, in 2002 and has since abandoned the party for political jobbers and corrupt bourgeoisie. Key trade union leaders like Adams Oshiomhole abandoned the Labour Party for the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), now known as All Progressives Congress (APC), to become the governor of Edo State. Without a clear political alternative and anti-capitalist ideology driving the trade union movement, current trade union leaders lack the will to sustainably defend the interest of the working masses.
Despite the character of Labour Party, we made efforts at becoming members of Labour Party but were consciously stopped from joining, particularly in Lagos where we are most organized. Labour Party leaders, especially some trade unionists, were fearful that we would build support within the Labour Party as we had done previously within the NLP in 1989 and then later within the National Conscience Party. In 1989 the NLP national leaders so feared that we would win majority support within the Lagos state NLP that they delayed holding a state congress, this time round with the current Labour Party they often simply stopped DSM comrades joining. In contrast, everywhere bourgeois politicians and jobbers who cannot contest in the establishment parties, find a ready platform in Labour Party. The National and state leaderships, some of them former or current trade union members, willingly embrace these politicians. This happens for two reasons, (1) because these labour leaders lack alternative economic policies and strategy of building the party, (2) for pecuniary reasons. Hence, the Labour Party has not shown any difference from other bourgeois political party, it is just ‘Labour in Name’ but bourgeois in character and leadership, something summed up by the party copying policies of other ruling bourgeois parties like imposition nomination fees on anyone wanting to stand for any position, whether it be a Ward Chairman or National President. It explains why it has not been attracting change-seeking persons and why we had to pull-out completely from the party.
There are other left organizations that are either enmeshed in the theoretical bankruptcy of waiting for the right wing trade union leaders to do the revolution or are directly or indirectly with the bourgeois political parties. Most of these so called bankrupt socialist have buried their heads in the bourgeois Labour Party or APC, usually refusing to make any public comment on the Party’s policies. The DSM leadership made overtures to some left organisations and their leadership to build a new left political party but they refused. Opportunism is the reason why all these left elements have refused to work together with the aim of building a party for the masses. Due to ideological bankruptcy, they are incapable of building a left party. At best they expect the next steps towards a working class party to come via the right wing dominated trade union movement or the “progressive” section of the bourgeoisie; what is mostly the case is that they just want to be quietly accommodated.
It is true that historically in some countries the trade unions helped form workers’ parties, but that is not automatic and in Nigeria the trade unions have so far refused to even try to seriously build a working peoples’ party. This has left a vacuum which bourgeois forces, like the SNG or ethnic based groupings, may seek to take advantage of in the future. That is why, instead of passively waiting for some day when the trade unions may do something, the DSM has decided to take the initiative and form the SPN. Actually history shows that, if the NCP had not effectively dis-integrated after a right wing takeover, it could have played an important role in building a working peoples’ party. In the 2003 election the then DSM-led Lagos state NCP won 77,330 votes, 9.64%, in the Lagos West senatorial seat, with the Labour Party, under its then PSD name, getting just 266 votes, 0.08%.
The political space today in filled with confusion, illusion and grandstanding. The ruling class will always have one excuse or the other and constantly raising and dashing the hope and aspirations of the working masses. Immediately after one election, the ruling class work towards the next election without any concrete achievement. Virtually, all sectors of the economy are in shambles with ruling elite looking clueless. Their neo-liberal capitalist policies, mostly captured through the self-serving Public-Private-Partnership, has failed but has made the rich much richer and the poor much poorer.
In 1999, the ruling elite promised that the civilian administration would improve the lots of the masses compared to the military. In 2003 and 2007, they claimed that they were still learning the tenets of “democracy”. In 2011, they mostly accused the masses of not voting enough and that if they had come out to vote massively, the country would have been be better for it, whereas those who voted only chose between the devil or deep blue sea. Now, they are sowing a new illusion in town, which is that a ‘stronger opposition’ is the only way out of the problems.
The ruling Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP) has woefully failed since it came to power in 1999. The economy is worse than it met it. It has spearheaded mass sack in the civil service in the name of ‘right-sizing’ while claiming to be creating jobs; cost of living is on the increasing while the PDP experts claim to be fighting inflation; through its pro-rich economic interventions, over 3 trillion naira of public funds have been handed over to bank chiefs while over 20,000 workers were sacked; privatizations and deregulation is implemented on a wide scale level with its dire implications on the working masses. The current crisis in PDP is normal with the bourgeois political party and the split shows that it cannot unite the people due to personal ambitions couple with regional and ethnic interest. Only working people are capable of uniting the country with a socialist policies, program and tactics built on solidarity and cooperation.
Since 3 major political parties (ACN ANPP and CPC) came together to form the APC and were registered some months back, there has been an intensified campaign that Nigeria will be saved after power is rescued from PDP, but these opposition politicians are as corrupt as those in ruling PDP. How are these opposition parties fundamentally different from PDP? For instance, ACN, a key component part of the APC implements harsh anti-people policies as the PDP. Fees are astronomically increased in public tertiary institutions, multiple taxation were imposed on the masses through tolling, double taxation and fines, democratic rights of the working masses are willfully trampled upon in ACN controlled states including Lagos. The Lagos APC is not only arresting people on the street but also detaining them illegally and deporting them to their so called ‘state of origin’. Lagos State University is the highest paying fees amongst public Universities in the country, yet it lacked basic facilities. Only socialist policies of nationalization of the commanding height of the economy and democratic management by the working people couple with massive investment in the different sectors and infrastructures can sustainably rebuild the economy and guarantee prosperity for the working masses.
Hence, the APC’s opposition does not offer a real alternative to PDP. It is thus no accident that APC has been calling stridently on dissident elements in PDP to join its party. Of course, the APC may want to profit from crisis in the PDP, but this cannot actually change the anti-poor character of the party. Indeed, it is possible for the party to get consideration among some layers of the working and oppressed people because of the absence of any alternative party, even a reformist one. But this can only lay basis for its downfall. Many people looking for lesser evil may believe APC should be given chance, but the failure of APC state governments will further undercut its electoral base. The building of SPN will play a significant role in galvanizing the growing layer of those disenchanted with the so-called opposition party.
The only alternative is a working class alternative with socialist policy and programmes. That is why the DSM has come to the conclusion that a political party of the working masses even if it is small now should be formed and built. The SPN can start to fill that void, raising the banner of independent working peoples’ representation, if built with the democratic ethos. Though, it does not mean that we should surrender the campaign for a mass working political party, it only means that we combine both strategy of building and campaigning for a broader and mass political party. Leon Trotsky said “where tradition is lacking, a striking example becomes relevant.” At no time has Nigerians been offered a clear cut socialist alternative. Our ideas will resonate amongst the working masses if we remain consistent and steadfast while striving to build support in workplaces and communities.
ARE WE BUILDING PARTY FOR THE WORKING CLASS?
Part of the excuse of the other lefts against SPN is that we are building a sectarian party for the working class, rather than building the Labour Party, considered by them as a mass working people’s party. This is clearly a wrong analysis. A question these idle lefts have refused to answer is what would they have done if the Labour Party had not been established by the trade union leaders. They have also failed to address the question of how you will build within a party that is in-and-out capitalist, corrupt and clearly anti-worker? How do you relate socialist programme and manifesto with participation in such a party?
In reality, there is no single direction for political alternative for the working people. As a result of political and ideological transformation of the labour movement leaders to the right due to the collapse of the Soviet Union and its so-called ‘socialism’ (in reality Stalinism), many mass workers’ parties and social democratic parties have irredeemably gone to the right, implementing neo-liberal policies and abandoning any significant strand of reformism. In this scenario, working people are left in the lurch politically. While any mass reformist party, no matter how limited its reformism, would be welcomed if there was no other working class based party and could possibly be worked in, the reality is that we cannot continue to tie our forces to the apron string of this Labour Party, a capitalist party with no mass workers’ base. It will be like committing political suicide for serious socialist forces. At the same time, we cannot continue to bemoan the absence of genuine workers’ party. It is no accident that in the post-World War Two situation, the reformist workers’ parties, though with pro-capitalist leadership, were still rooted in the working class. At this stage, some layers of the capitalist class and pro-bourgeois labour leaders, still believed in the use of reformism to reboot capitalism.
Today, the exact reverse is the case. We are in an era where capitalists are more emboldened on the basis of collapse of Stalinism and various eras of growth. The past reformists and their parties have abandoned this toga of reformism and embraced full fledge neo-liberal capitalism. This goes hand on hand with de-proletarianization of reformist parties, as seen in decline of workers’ membership of workers’ and social democratic parties in Europe. In Nigeria, the Labour Party leadership and labour leaders ab initio want to prevent, not just socialists, but also workers from joining the Party en mass. As a result of general disenchantment with these parties, mass formations are springing up globally signalling the readiness of mass of workers to build political alternative. It is on this basis that we first participated in NCP, and later joined the LP, with the aim of building a left bloc. But this was prevented politically and often practically by the Labour leaders. It is on this basis that we also called on pro-labour lefts groups, especially through JAF, to join in the campaign to build a broad party. But as a result of the amorphous nature of JAF, it could not play this role. This is the background last year’s initiative by the DSM to form the SPN.
WHAT IF SPN IS NOT REGISTERED?
One of the lame and lazy excuses raised by some lefts, especially SWL, as regards SPN is that it will not be registered. To these self-styled socialists, the whole question of building political alternative should be reduced to question of registration. This is not unexpected; they are petty bourgeois socialists who are not prepared to make serious sacrifices or build practically. They prefer to raise false populist programmes to recruit wayfarers, while making no public criticism of the Labour Party they are members of. It is noteworthy that the SWL’s National Chairperson is also simultaneously a Deputy National Secretary of the Labour Party and that some SWL have been employed by the Labour Party led Osun state government. Surely, many are earnestly waiting for the SPN to be denied registration.
However, beyond this, we need to also discuss the possibility of the party not registered. Surely, the ruling class will ensure that the party is not registered if they do not feel threatened with possible fallout of not registering us. This is necessary so as to prepare our comrades for such development. It is necessary to say that the party may be denied registration, under various guises. Sometime ago, a party, African Revolutionary Party was denied registration, because of the word ‘Revolutionary’, which was considered subversive by INEC. The party had to change its name to African Renaissance Party to get registered. So we should consider such possibility. What then will be our attitude towards such?
In the first instance, we must use such occasion to raise the profile of the party by embarking on mass campaign to draw attention to why we are denied registration. Such campaign aside involving production of leaflets, posters, media campaign, rallies, etc. should also be international. Through this, we can further raise the profile of the SPN, and possibly recruit more people into the party. It is through such a campaign that we can continue the struggle for the registration and popularizing the party. Of course, legal action can also be considered.
Even if the party is registered, it is not impossible that labour leaders can try to undercut social base of our party among workers by trying to direct them to join Labour Party or by playing more roles in the party. Also, on the basis of our campaign either for registration or after registration, labour leaders may be pressured to answer question why they are not building the Labour Party. In both cases, we should not be hostile towards any workers who may join that party, but maintain that the party can only make meaningful headway of it built as on clear-cut, anti-austerity and socialist programme alongside a democratic, de-monetised, internal structure. We can also raise the idea of joint work with LP if it is built in this direction.
HOW FAR HAVE WE GONE?
Over 18 months now the party was formed, the DSM and others have tried to set up structures and putting all modalities to meeting the 1999 constitutional requirement for registering a political party. Just to mention in passing that the constitutional requirement for registering a political party is undemocratic let alone the ‘notoriously undemocratic Electoral Act’. For instance, two key constitutional requirements for registration is that an association seeking registration must have its NEC membership spread across 2/3 of the 36 states and Abuja as well as having a national office in FCT Abuja.
Despite the undemocratic nature of the requirement, the SPN has set out to meet the conditions. Democratic structures have been put in place and elected interim officials in Lagos, Oyo, Osun and Rivers States. There is the potential to do same in 3 other states in few months time with one of the states in the North-Central.
On August 17, 2013 there was a meeting in Bida, Niger State for the SPN members at the North-Central zones as well as a meeting at Abuja; on August 18, another meeting was held in Kaduna for the North-West contacts and members. To further the consultation/mobilization two crucial meetings were held in Port Harcourt (for South-South) on September 7 and Aba (for South-East) on September 8, 2013. These 5 meetings were promising in terms of the character and participation. The only zone left out was North-East because of the state of insecurity. However there are SPN contacts and collaborators in North-East and a possible visit to the zone is eminent in the future.
After the first SPN National Convention is held on November 16 in Lagos, an NEC has been elected and a national office secured in Abuja, the party will send its application to INEC. The SPN has to submit its application early enough, say early 2014, to give enough time to conduct political agitations should INEC refuse to register it. This is also putting into consideration the electoral law that stipulates that no party will be registered 6 months into a general election.
HOW TO BUILD THE PARTY AND THE TASK AHEAD
SPN can only be built when it is oriented to the working class. Orienting the party to the working class can be done in the following ways:
(1) Intervening in working class struggles in work places, communities and other issues affecting other unorganized working class with the aim of recruiting and consolidating the most conscious elements.
(2) Reaching the working masses with ideas through our publications like leaflets, newspapers etc.
(3) Holding regular state, local government and ward meetings where we have forces using the meetings to plan more campaigns, interventions and recruitment.
(4) Giving task and responsibilities to members that are newly recruited so that they are encouraged to play an active part in building the SPN by campaigning, helping to recruit others and fundraising.
(5) Holding EC meetings or leadership meetings before the general meetings as a means of working out programs and interventions.
(6) Holding public programs such as symposiums and public meetings as a means of reaching out.
(7) Making available statements, party pamphlets and other materials to the members to read. These also have to include ideological materials and possibly hold meetings around these materials for clarification.
Registration is not automatic as INEC that has registered 2 new bourgeois parties recently can refuse to register the SPN. SPN members across the federation must be ready for political actions and propaganda as well as court actions. These actions must not stop members from recruiting and building the party. In fact, intensification of our activities is the surest way of forcing INEC to register the SPN. If members build consistently, tenaciously with the required sacrifice and tactics, we can win the heart of the working masses.