JAF THIRD CONGRESS 2014: OPENLY DECLARED FOR SOCIALISM
JAF THIRD CONGRESS 2014: OPENLY DECLARED FOR SOCIALISM
BUT NO AGREEMENT ON WORKING PEOPLES’ POLITICAL ALTERNATIVE
BY AYO ADEMILUYI
Dipo Fashina JAF Chair
The Joint Action Front (JAF), the civil society partner of the two main trade union centres in Nigeria, the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and Trade Union Congress (TUC) in the Labour and Civil Society Coalition (LASCO) held its third Congress on 18th and 19th, January 2014. The Congress, with the theme, Alternative Political Agenda and the task of Rebuilding Nigeria, was held against the background of a growing quest for a clear working people’s political alternative to the compounding socio-economic crisis under capitalism.
The first day of the Congress started with a morning session heralded by opening remarks of the National Chairperson of JAF, Dr. Dipo Fashina, a former President of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU). He restated the goal of JAF which is the conscious mass mobilization of the broad sections of the working masses for system change, which he explained entails the socialist transformation of the society by taking over the reins of political power.
This was followed by short solidarity messages from Affiong Affiong, a female pan-Africanist, Professor Abdullahi-Kano, also a former President of ASUU, and Professor Maurice Fagnon of the Communist Party of the Republic of Benin.
Nassir Fagge ASUU President
The representatives of trade unions also gave fraternal greetings to the Congress. Simeso Amachree of the Trade Union Congress (TUC) reaffirmed the partnership of the trade union federation with JAF in the struggle of the working people against neo-liberal attacks and the task of carrying out system change. Dr. Nasir Isa Fagge, the current President of ASUU, in reminiscence on the last struggle waged by the union against the government in 2013, pinpointed the role of imperialism, especially the IMF and the World Bank in the massive attacks on education in Nigeria and restated the commitment of the union to JAF in the struggle for system change. Avosetiyen Michael, Chairman of Colleges of Education Academic Staff Union (COEASU) branch of Adeniran Ogunsanya College of Education, Ijanikin, Lagos in his own speech condemned the utter neglect of the education sector in Nigeria, which forced his union, COEASU on its current strike.
This was followed by first discussion on the sub-theme, The Global Capitalist Crisis and the Global Revolutionary Waves, which was opened by the lead speaker, Dr. Dipo Fashina. He traced the global capitalist crisis to the 1500’s with the primitive drive of capital for more lands and cheap labour through annexation of the West Indies and subsequently Africa. He highlighted the global revolutionary movements, with the most recent ones in North Africa and the Middle East and submitted on the urgent task of building a broad working people’s political alternative.
Dr. Nasir Isa Fagge, the ASUU President, as the first discussant, highlighted the evils of the neo-liberal capitalist siege by the Bretton Woods Institutions, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank on neo-colonial economies like Nigeria. He argued the need for the working masses in Nigeria and the entire world to unite and defeat the stranglehold of capitalism. Professor Princewill Alozie, (a member of CEPED which is an affiliate of JAF), the second discussant, underlined the stranglehold of imperialism as the basis of the suffering and woes of the working masses in Africa and the entire world and submitted on the need for a global anti-imperialist struggle.
The second session followed after a short break with a discussion on the second sub-theme, National Confab; Reforms or Revolution, with a lead-off again by Dr. Dipo Fashina. He recalled that the debate on the National Conference is not new within the broad left movement and traced a similar debate that broke out within the Campaign for Democracy (CD) in the late 1980’s on whether or not the left should intervene in the Constitutional Conference, which was to be organized by the Babangida regime. He recounted how there was a strong split on this issue with a majority deciding to boycott the Babangida-inspired Constitutional Conference and constituted an alternative National Consultative Forum, made up of popular mass organizations like the NLC, NANS, NBA, etc which led the Babaginda regime to cancel its planned Constitutional Conference.
Segun Sango, DSM General Secretary
Segun Sango, the General Secretary of the Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM), underlined the fact the National Conference is a pure ruse and that the historical task facing the working class movement is to take political power, which have inspired the DSM to initiate the formation of the Socialist Party of Nigeria (SPN) which we are currently making efforts to register with the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). To the concern expressed by Dr. Fashina during his speech on the “existence of two SPNs”, Segun Sango argued that such concern was unnecessary since a political association can only be regarded as a political party under the constitution when registered by INEC. Moreso the existence of two or more socialist parties does not signify a weakness of the left. However, he contended that the DSM is prepared to work with other left forces in building a broader mass workers party. He recounted the experience of the work of the DSM in the National Conscience Party (NCP) when it had broad appeal. At the time this work was lampooned by some other left forces, but it yielded enormous results evidenced by over 77,000 votes won by a leading DSM member, Lanre Arogundade who contested 2003 as the party’s candidate in Lagos West senatorial district.
Akinrinade Kazeem of the Campaign for Workers and Youth Alternative (affiliate of the International Marxist Tendency, IMT in Nigeria) argued that the central challenge facing the working masses that social revolution is the only way out of the capitalist crisis and not reforms and the task for the left to aid them in this task. He submitted that intervention in elections is reformist and does not aid the working masses in drawing the conclusion of revolutionary struggle.
This backward and ideologically bankrupt position on Marxist approach to election was supported by Kunle Ajayi of the Socialist Workers’ League (the Nigerian affiliate of the International Socialist Tendency/Socialist Workers’ Party, Britain). He however added that if there should be orientation on electoral platforms it should then be towards parties like Labour Party and National Conscience Party (NCP) who, he claimed, albeit incorrectly, have today mass appeal among workers. In fact the Labour Party today is a party dominated by moneyed politicians and effectively close to President Jonathan, while the NCP is a very pale, small shadow of the vibrant campaigning party it was in the 1990s and early years of this century.
JAF conference audience 2014, photo by DSM
The discussion revealed that for most of the left in JAF, any effort in building an independent mass working people’s electoral platform is a mere waste of time or, at best, it is not an immediate urgent task.
In their contributions, Abbey Trotsky, Dagga Tolar and Lanre Arogundade, all of the DSM, argued that it is mere day-dreaming for left forces to wait for revolutionary upheavals without a clear programme of day-to-day intervention in the struggles of the working masses with the aim of building an independent working class political alternative. Dagga for instance punctured the argument that attempted to use the experience of Allende of Chile in 1973 as a proof the incorrectness of standing in elections. The main lesson to be learnt, according to him, is the failure of the Allende government to embark on the process of mass mobilization for the socialist transformation of the country after its election.
The second session was another forum of debate on the road to the building of a genuine working people’s political alternative among the left in Nigeria. The fact that some of the other forces on the left have developed a romanticist attitude to class struggle shows the dead-end of their doctrinaire approach to the bankrupt Labour Party, which they have declared as the “traditional (and eternal) party of the working class”.
The second day of the Congress, which was a business session, was meant primarily to discuss specific proposals on building JAF and to elect a new National Executive Committee. Following the confirmation of delegates and observers in session and the adoption of both the agenda of the business session and rules for the conduct of the Congress, the Secretariat report was presented by JAF National Secretary, Abiodun Aremu.
The report highlighted the tasks that were drawn up at the 2nd JAF Congress held on October 8th and 9th, 2011 which preceded the January 2012 general strike and mass protests. This included working towards strengthening the Labour and Civil Society Coalition and to make the leadership more responsive to the Nigerian workers with the reopening of the political party question with the NLC and TUC. It also included the major decisions of JAF then which included a programme of campaign for a Political Alternative.
It ended with a submission on a proper definition of system change, which is regarded as the goal of JAF. However, it erroneously concluded that the system change as conceived in the JAF document is “impossible through the extant electoral arrangement”, giving the impression that participation in elections does not provide an opportunity for the left to build wider popular support for its programme of changing society.
This threw up the debate on the alternative system that JAF should canvass. Majority of elements that commented canvassed for the adoption of SOCIALISM by JAF to project the socialist alternative to the broad layers of the working masses, looking up to JAF for leadership in the struggle. However, lack of agreement on the character of political alternative JAF should work towards means that the adoption of Socialism will in the final analysis remain a mere sloganeering just as the “System Change is Our Goal”..
Specific proposals were agreed on building JAF, which includes a national anti-privatization campaign, deeper relationship with the labour and students’ movement, interventionist programme, building of JAF branches across the country and cells on the campuses, independent membership, education programme and production of publications. There was no resolution of national dialogue as it was not further discussed at the business meeting, even though was raised at the opening session on the Day One.
Elections were also held into the JAF NEC with Dr. Dipo Fashina (CEPED), Achike Chude (JPDC), Abiodun Aremu (UAD), Rasheedat Adesina (CWA) and Peluola Adewale (DSM) returned as Chairperson, Deputy Chairperson, Secretary, Assistant Secretary and Mobilisation Officer respectively. The duo of Solomon Bankole (NCP) and Ruth Suberu (ACIS) were elected for the first time as Public Relations Officer and Treasurer respectively.
Essentially, while JAF was formed as a left and pro-labour civil society coalition to support working class struggles, both independently and in collaboration with NLC and TUC, it lacks a clear vision on crystallizing a clear working people’s political alternative. While the open adoption of SOCIALISM as its programme for system change is the highlight the 3rd Congress, the fact that it could not articulate a programme on building a political alternative still leaves a lot to be desired.
We in the DSM will continue to build our forces and pursue the registration of Socialist Party of Nigeria (SPN) while continuing to campaign for building of mass working people’s political alternative with clear socialist programme.
Twelve copies of the new DSM book, DSM and Struggles for a Working Peoples Political Alternative, and 18 copies of our paper, Socialist Democracy, were sold at the Congress.