The World, Africa and the Struggle for Socialism
The World, Africa and the Struggle for Socialism
By HT Soweto
We are living through one of the most dramatic periods in history characterized by economic crisis, mass movements and upheavals of colossal proportions. About seven years after, the world is yet to fully recover from the “worst financial crisis since the Great Depression of the 1930s”. All the best efforts of the defenders of capitalism through stimulus packages, quantitative easing etc have failed to restore growth rates and return the global economy back to its pre-crisis levels. Currently there are signs that the world economy may be facing a new downturn.
As socialists, we must understand that this economic crisis was not an accident; rather it was an inevitable result of the fundamental contradiction of capitalism â€“ an economic system of commodity production based on the exploitation of the labour power of the working class and the private appropriation of the resultant surplus value or what is otherwise known as profit.
Coming about 400 years ago to replace feudalism â€“ an economic system based on agriculture and land, capitalism has expanded, socialized and transformed commodity production to such a height hitherto unimaginable. Together with this, capitalism has unleashed the development of science and technology thus opening up the possibility of creating a happy and fruitful life for all inhabitants of the planet. For instance given the enormous development of the productive forces, it should be possible today to reduce the working day from 8 hours to 6 hours or less thus allowing the working people to live a healthier and fulfilled life.
However as Lenin pointed out in ‘Imperialism: The highest stage of capitalism’, one of the fundamental contradiction of the capitalist mode of production consist of the fact while under it production “becomes social, but appropriation remains private. The social means of production remain the private property of a few”. The consequence is that capitalism is only able to ensure that a few people â€“ the capitalists â€“ enjoy all the enormous possibilities of a happy life that the development of science, technology and the productive forces opens up. The result is the most acute inequality in history: the 85 richest people in the world have the same wealth as the 3.5 billion poorest people!
The periodic economic crises, including the one we are currently going through, are painful reminders that capitalism which for a period gave enormous impetus to social development has now become a fetter on the further development of the productive forces and society as a whole. From a progressive economic system when it triumphed over the feudal landed aristocracy, capitalism is now an absurdity!
Nowhere is this more acutely demonstrated than the revelation made by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations that about 842 million people worldwide (about 12% of the world population) suffer from chronic hunger. This in a world where the development of modern agricultural techniques means that it is possible to plant almost any kind of crops in almost any part of the world. Every school child is taught that water covers 70 percent of the earth surface. Yet 783 million lack access to clean and potable water while almost 2.5 billion people do not have access to adequate sanitation! This in a world where there is “enormous super abundance of capital” that cannot find “profitable” investment.
According to the United Nations Human Development Report 2014 “despite recent progress in poverty reduction, more than 2.2 billion people are either near or living in multidimensional poverty. That means more than 15% of the world’s people”. Globally 1.2 billion people live on less than $1.25 a day. Due to the effect of the 2007 to 2008 world financial crisis, the International Labour Organization (ILO) estimates that there were 50 million more working poor in 2011.
From the United States to Europe, Latin America to the Arab world, Asia and Africa, the global capitalist economy is reeling from the devastating aftershocks of the financial crisis that began in 2007. Global GDP growth increased marginally from 2.4 per cent in 2013 to 2.6 per cent in 2014.
While the US has continued to recover since 2012 reaching 5 per cent growth rate in the last quarter of 2014, many people remain in “long-term unemployment”. US unemployment rate only declined by 0.2 percentage point to 5.6 per cent in December 2014. This is on top of the steady erosion of the living standards of the US working class. Whereas 26 million Americans were receiving food stamps in 2007 before the recession, the number by 2013 was nearly 48 million. 80% of parents in the US now believe that their children will never have the living standards that they enjoyed, up from 50% who believed this in the 1980. On the whole, the US economic recovery remains vulnerable.
There is at the moment a political awakening in the US. Over the past few years, we have seen the #Occupy movement develop in the US. There is also the 15Now movement campaigning for a raise in the minimum wage. In response to police racial killing of blacks, the #BlackLivesMatter movement was launched. The CWI US Section Socialist Alternative is playing an important role in all of these movements, especially in scoring, in Seattle, the first victory for a $15 an hour minimum wage. According to polls, at least 60% of Americans now look for answers in the development of a “third party” as an alternative to the pro-capitalist Republican and Democratic parties. This mood is given sharp expression in Seattle where a leading member of the CWI Section in US Kshama Sawant won election into the city council and has made waves as a “Socialist councilor money can’t buy”. She was the first Socialist in 100 years to be elected into Seattle council, the first time in many decades since a Socialist won an election in the US. Our comrades in the US are actively campaigning for the building of a mass workers party as an alternative to the two parties of Wall Street.
Meanwhile in the Eurozone, Greece is the poster boy of the economic crisis. Caught up in the inflationary trap of the Euro and the unrelenting demands from the usurious Troika of lenders for more and more austerity, Greeks are fast becoming “Africanized” in terms of the brutal conditions of life exemplified by mounting poverty and about 25.6 per cent unemployment â€“ the highest in the Eurozone! Youth unemployment is higher at 52.4 percent. Whereas Greece economy grew by 0.7% in 2014, the Greek IOBE (Foundation for Economic & Industrial Research) has now reversed a forecast for growth this year of 1.0% made as recently as April. Instead there is a renewed concern that the economy would contract by as much as 2.0-2.5%. According to the IOBE, Greece “would remain in recession next year as well” due to capital controls introduced last month taking a toll on consumption, investment and imports” (Guardian. Lagos, July 24 2015).
The recent retreat by Greek’s Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras is an historic betrayal of the working class not just in Greece but globally. For a bailout worth up to 86 million euros, the Syriza government would have to implement tax hikes, spending cuts, mass privatization and so-called economic “reforms” such as pension cuts! These are all the same austerity policies which Syriza have often opposed and for which it was massively elected early in the year! Shamefacedly, Alexis justifies this bad deal, which is nothing short of a coup against the people’s will expressed through the July 5 referendum, as efforts to avoid the catastrophe of a “Grexit” (i.e. Greece exiting the Eurozone). The truth is that, on the basis of capitalism, the Greek people face catastrophe with either the euro or another currency, the key to a way forward is breaking with capitalism. “Grexit” could have been the starting point for genuinely socialist polices but Tsipras, a so-called “euro-communist”, did not want to break with capitalism. Already as a result of austerity, there is already a humanitarian disaster in Greece. A 25% spending cut on public healthcare has denied nearly a million people without access to healthcare. Now for the first time in 40 years, malaria and other rare infectious diseases have returned to Greece. Greece used to have the lowest suicide rates in Europe, but this have gone up by 60%! A Red Cross report published in October 2013 revealed that the number of suicides of Greek women has doubled.
Now even the harsh deal holds no prospect of economic recovery. Greece’s IOBE think-thank points to “doubts about whether or not the severely weakened Greek economy can support the program after a six year-long slump that has cut national output by a quarter and sent unemployment over 25 per cent”.
A successful challenge by Greece to the Eurozone financial institutions would most likely mean a “Grexit” but it would also have had enormous reverberations across Europe and the world. Indeed, especially if linked to an internationalist appeal, it could spark an European-wide mass movement that could set off the process of toppling capitalism in Europe and enthroning a planned socialist economy that could begin the urgent work of rebuilding economies already badly devastated by over 6 years of austerity.
The Chinese economy is also in crisis with the slowest growth for a quarter of a century. “Real GDP growth is 3-4 per cent at most, one third of China’s provinces are in recession and manufacturing industry is shedding jobs”. Last month, the Chinese stock market crashed losing a whopping $3trillion in three weeks. China is by far the biggest importer of most commodities. African economies are heavily dependent on China’s demand for oil and mineral resources. Therefore a slowdown in China could unleash a new round of global economic crisis.
On the whole, despite marginal growth recovery, the prospect for the world economy remains cheerless. Uncertainty reigns as concern remains high that other factors could intervene to undermine growth. In its latest Economic Report on Africa 2015, the United Nations Economic Council on Africa (UNECA) concludes, after highlighting rather high forecast for world economic growth, in a rather mournful tone “Yet the outlook is uncertain, given the fragility of recovery in the euro area, declining growth in China and Russia, and weakening commodity prices”.
Japan stumbled into a recession in the second half of 2014. Growth slid to 0.8 per cent from 1.5 per cent in 2013 “as a result of the imposition of a higher consumption tax in April 2014. While for a period it caused a surge in growth, it subsequently exerted a downward pressure on private consumption. Now Japan is expected to experience not more than 1.2 per cent GDP growth in 2015. Similarly growth in Russia reached only 0.5 per cent in 2014 compared to 1.2 per cent in 2013, and this is expected to remain unchanged in 2015.
The persistence of high unemployment at 7.8 per cent continues to threaten the slight growth recorded in developed economies. Global unemployment marginally declined from 6.0 per cent in 2013 to 5.9 per cent in 2014. “Youth are particularly affected, with their global unemployment rate reaching 13.0 per cent in 2014 and expected to increase to 13.1 per cent in 2015” (UNECA 2015).
With sluggish growth in Europe, the strategists of global capitalism hope that Africa could offer a new lease of life for capitalism. Now that hope is being undermined by the fall in crude oil price and prices of other mineral resources which are the mainstay of African economies.
Truly Africa’s GDP growth has risen over the past few years in sharp contrast to steep decline in the rest of the world. For instance while the European Union recorded growth of 1.3 per cent in 2014, up from 0 per cent in 2013, Africa’s growth accelerated from 3.7 per cent in 2013 to 3.9 per cent in 2014. Also while the EU is projected to grow by “1.2 per cent in 2015 and 1.4 per cent in 2016”, the figures for Africa are “4.5 per cent and 4.8 per cent, in 2015 and 2016, respectively”. In fact, East and South Asia are the only regions that grew faster than Africa in 2014, at 5.9 per cent.
But against the background of this fabulous economic growth, how do the working masses, peasants and youth of Africa fare? Better or a lot worse? The answer is of course obvious. Despite fabulous GDP growth, mass poverty remains the defining feature of the continent. Indeed Africa is said to exhibit the highest income inequality in the world â€“ with an average Gini Coefficient of 0.529 â€“ while the world average is below 0.4. The World Bank estimates that in 2015, 366 million people in Africa will still be living on less than $1.25 a day. Life expectancy in Sub-Sahara Africa, as at 2013, is 56.8 compared to 74.9 in Latin America and the Caribbean. 4 million children in Africa die before the age of 5. Nigeria, Africa’s largest economy with a GDP of over $568.51 billion, has been ranked second after India in the list of countries with the highest malnourished children in the world. It accounts for 10 per cent of the 160 million stunted children globally (Guardian (Lagos) 12 July 2015). 300 million Africans lack access to clean water supply. In Central, Eastern, Southern and West Africa, only 23 percent of poor, rural girls complete their primary education (UN, 2014). Youth unemployment has reached worrying levels. Unemployment averaged 10.1 per cent in Africa in 2014. In North Africa, it reached 30.2 per cent in 2013, almost four times higher than adult unemployment which is 8.2 per cent.
Just as it is for other countries of the world, capitalism ensures that the benefit of economic growth is not shared equally. This is what explains the paradox of “high unemployment and poverty coexisting with robust growth”. The only people who have benefitted and continue to benefit from Africa’s fabulous growth are the continent’s millionaires and billionaires, corrupt politicians and dictators and of course the multinational companies.
However this fabulous growth also comes with a big Achilles heel. Africa’s growth is concentrated on a limited range of commodities and extractive industries. Two-thirds of the continent’s export is made up of primary goods and resource-based products mainly in their raw form. Apart from South Africa, the top African exporters are its oil exporters. There is little or no manufacturing or industrial sector. Rather from the 1980s till now, Africa has experienced de-industrialization. The collapse of Nigeria’s textile industry illustrates this process. In 1980, Nigeria’s textile market was the third largest in Africa, with over 160 vibrant textile mills providing over 500, 000 direct and indirect jobs. By 1985, there were about 180 textile mills employing about one million Nigerians. By 2009, only about 34 textile companies were still functional employing fewer than 25, 000 workers. Only the services sector – which consists of businesses requiring less capital requirement – has seen some growth in the last decade.
This concentration on primary goods export means Africa’s growth is narrow-based, volatile and incapable of generating enough employment, which only big industries can guarantee, to accommodate its vast working-age population. Summing up its economic report on Africa, UNECA explained that the “current merchandise export structure, dominated by raw and unprocessed commodities, is not conducive to the envisaged level of development”.
This situation is not an accident but a product of the legacy of colonialism and the imperialist domination of African economy. Towards the end of the 19th century during the “scramble for Africa”, the continent was shared out among the developed nations of the world. This was the beginning of the colonial era of Africa’s history. The purpose was to ensure that Africa provided raw materials, precious metals and mineral resources for the industrial centre of Europe while its vast population served as market for industrial goods. Decades after independence, this colonial arrangement still remains in force today through the imperialist domination of the African economy.
There is now the increasing realization that Africa needs to industrialize if it is to transform “growth into sustainable and inclusive development”. But this would mean confronting imperialism which sees Africa as a vast market for its finished goods. For instance the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has 70 per cent of the world’s Coltan â€“ a mineral used in the production of tantalum capacitors for electronic devices such as cell phones. So it should not be out of place if that country builds an industry for the production of cell phone devices for sale on the African market. But the telecom industry is dominated by big multinationals that the local industry in Congo DRC would have to be ready to compete with for a share of the market. In the situation of gross deficit in physical infrastructure, low investment in factors of production and human resources that pervades Africa, industries even if they take off cannot survive. The entire Sub-Saharan Africa has only the same electricity capacity as Poland. In 2012-2013, labour productivity grew at a mere 1.4% in Africa, slower than any other region.
The reality is that the continent’s bourgeoisie arriving late on the stage of world history are incapable of challenging imperialism to industrialize and define an independent path for Africa’s development. To do this would require a decisive break from capitalism and moving along the road of a socialist plan of the economy. This task would have to be taken up by the continent’s powerful working class leading the rest of the oppressed masses in a revolution to end landlordism, capitalism and imperialism.
A factor that will continue to undermine Africa’s growth is the collapse of oil and commodity prices. UNECA describes the impact of oil price collapse on oil- exporting countries in Africa as “marginal”. However a significant impact is likely if “oil prices sink to $33.75/barrel, which might happen in July â€“ through August 2015, if the price continues tumbling at the current rate”. Arising from this, a welter of currency devaluation has hit many key countries in Africa. Nigeria â€“ Africa’s top crude oil exporter – has devalued its currency by 22 percent. Analysts expect a further 15 % devaluation. In South Africa, the rand weakened against the dollar slipping by 0.24%. Ghana has had to cut its growth estimate to 3.5 per cent, down from 3.9 per cent.
East Africa’s biggest economy, Kenya, faces high inflation and rising cost of living. Kenya’s shilling lost more than 8 per cent of its value this year as a result of shortfall in its foreign exchange reserves from tourism and agriculture sector. The tourism sector has been hit by terror attacks resulting in travel advisories by key tourist markets. “Also the agricultural sector, a backbone of the economy, has recorded mixed performance predominantly attributable to unreliable rains with some regions experiencing depressed rainfall”. Yet this economic crisis has not stopped the Uhuru Kenyatta government from spending enormous millions of dollars on the visit of US president Barack Obama to the country. The Kenyatta International Conference centre received a $3million facelift ahead of Obama’s visit. Also the capital Nairobi “was awarded a $500, 000 makeover ahead of Obama’s trip. According to reports, the city’s country government would use the funds to beautify the bustling city in preparation for the visit”. Similarly, Uganda’s current account deficit is expected to reach 10.3 per cent in 2015/16. Zambia’s Kwacha weakened 1 percent against the dollar “as global copper prices declined due to jitters over top consumer China’s economic prospects, wiping out a near 2 percent gain earlier”.
Africa holds one-third of the planet mineral resources! Therefore, the monumental poverty and destitution which confronts its 1.1 billion people is an amazing paradox. However, it is not only the impact of imperialist domination of its economy that is holding back Africa’s development. The Continent’s corrupt capitalist ruling elite are a major obstacle to Africa’s realizing its potentials.
The continent plays host to a number of sit-tight dictatorial leaders who loot their country’s resources dry and repress opposition. For instance, President Teodor Obiang of Equatorial Guinea has been in power for 35 years. “More than 65 per cent of the country’s population have known no other leader beside” him (Guardian, Lagos,10 May 2015). Angola’s Jose Eduardo dos Santos has been in power in 1979! Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe has been in power for 35 years and at 91 years of age is the oldest President on the continent. In Cameroon, “about 80 percent of the population have known no other leader beside President Paul Biya, who has been in power for 33 years”.
In 2011, revolutionary uprisings broke out in Tunisia and Egypt leading, respectively, to the toppling of Ben Ali and Hosni Mubarak’s dictatorships. These were some of the most brutal dictatorships in Africa! Fueled by crisis of unemployment and poverty, these movements showed the powerful strength of the working masses and youth of the continent to bring down dictators and effect change. But in the absence of a mass workers party with a programme for socialist transformation of society, these movements only led to the replacement of the dictatorships with governments that were in no way different. Four years after, none of the aspirations and desires of the workers and youth of both countries have been achieved.
The latest addition to the league of sit-tight leaders is President Nkurunziza of Burundi. Through a sham election last week which was boycotted by the opposition, Nkurunziza has returned himself to power for a third term. So shambolic was the election that even the US was forced to describe it as “neither credible nor legitimate”. The US provides “training and equipment worth about $80 million a year for Burundi’s military and security forces, along with other aid” (Guardian, Lagos, 24 July 2015). The US is known to support many brutal dictatorial regimes across the world. Its condemnation of Burundi’s election is merely to position itself to be able to play a role in shaping and taking control of the enormous opposition that has developed towards Nkurunziza among Burundi’s working masses. This was the same thing imperialism tried to do during the revolutionary uprising in Libya in 2011, but while imperialism was able to help prevent an independent revolutionary movement developing, its intervention helped trigger the country’s break-up. Now in Burundi there is also fear that the developing political crisis risk plunging the country into another round of civil war after a peace deal between Hutu rebels and the Tutsi-controlled army in 2005. A slide back into a civil war could affect the entire region which share similar ethnic composition. Already the violent attack on demonstrators in April and May had created a humanitarian emergency with more than 175, 000 people forced to take refuge in neighboring countries. There was a coup in May which was brutally suppressed but the coup leader remains at large.
Burundi is one of the five poorest countries in the world. Agriculture accounts for 30% of GDP and employs 90% of the population. Coffee and tea are Burundi’s major exports accounting for 90% of foreign exchange earnings. However even though described as resource-poor, Burundi has natural resources like uranium, nickel, cobalt, copper and platinum. Yet it has one of the lowest GDP of any nation in the world and according to the Global Hunger Index of 2013; the nation is the hungriest country in the world. Approximately, 80 percent of Burundi’s population lives in poverty.
But the poor condition of the economy does not prevent a few capitalist ruling elites from living ostentatious life style. The vulgar and luxurious lifestyle of Nkurunziza has been well captured by western Media. A statement by some 20 trade unions threatening strike in 2002 mentioned that while “most honest salaried workers eat only once in a day”, “A handful of dignitaries and corrupt businessmen buy or build villas, drive luxury cars, and send their children to the best universities in Europe and America”.
The struggle against Nkurunziza will not stop because he has managed to organize a sham election to legitimize his dictatorship. Socialists must by all means support the struggle of the working masses and youth of Burundi against the dictatorial regime. However it is significant to note that despite the courage and bravery of protesters in the face of repression, the protests and demonstrations in April and May could not stop Nkurunziza. This is due to the absence of the organized power of the working class that could have brought the regime to its knees through general strikes. As examples in Nigeria and South Africa shows for instance, the working class may be numerically small compared to the population of peasants, youths and other oppressed layers but because of their strategic position in the economy, a workers’ strike can bring the whole society to a standstill and bring down a dictatorship.
Moreso to avoid a democratic change that simply leads to the replacement of the present pro-capitalist regime of Nkurunziza with a similar pro-capitalist regime as in the case of Tunisia and Egypt, the working class has to put its stamp on the course of events through strikes and mass demonstrations as well as building a mass party to struggle for the socialist transformation of Burundi.
South Africa has reached a turning point politically especially following the Marikana massacre in 2012. The massacre of mineworkers by the ANC government in defense of the interests of the bosses was a political earthquake which shook the political establishment to its root. 3 years after, the ANC is still reeling from the political aftershocks. Not only were CWI members in South Africa able to intervene impressively in the strike wave that developed, also our comrades were able, by launching the Workers and Socialist Party (WASP), to contribute to the growing debate within the workers’ movement, especially in the metalworkers’ union, on how to build a socialist alternative to the ANC capitalist government.
Side by side with the economic and political situation in Africa is the question of terrorism. For instance, over 13, 000 have died and over 1.5 million displaced in Nigeria as a result of Boko Haram’s terrorist attacks. Similarly, about 4,425 deaths are attributed to battles between Somalia’s military forces and Al-Shabab. In the Central African Republic (CAR) 2,116 civilians were killed last year in the violent conflict between Seleka Muslims and Anti-Balaka Christians. Similarly in South Sudan, over 1, 817 civilian deaths occurred in 2014 in a civil war.
That terrorism is taking root in Africa is itself a clear signal of the desperate conditions on the continent. In Nigeria for instance, the roots of Boko Haram are poverty and alienation of the mass majority from the proceeds of economic development. Also the inability of the labour movement to unite the oppressed masses in struggle to improve their conditions and end capitalism created a vacuum that Boko Haram was able to exploit in the North where conditions are more desperate. In January 2012 during the general strike and mass protest against fuel subsidy removal, not a single Boko Haram attack occurred which shows the enormous power of the working class in struggle to unite society.
The CWI in Nigeria calls for the setting up of armed, democratic and multi-ethnic community defense committees to protect villages and communities from attacks. At the same time, we call on the labour movement to link the urgent task of protecting communities with the building a mass movement that can begin to fight to eliminate all the social conditions fueling terrorism and extremism. This means a movement to demand a new minimum wage, decent jobs, funding of education, healthcare and social services. We also call for the building of an alternative mass workers party to take political power, end capitalism and enthrone a democratic socialist system that can ensure that Nigeria’s enormous wealth is judiciously used for the benefit of the country’s poor. As a step in this direction, the CWI section in Nigeria formed the Socialist Party of Nigeria (SPN) and is presently campaigning legally and politically for its registration.
The programme of mass struggle and socialism is what is needed in every corner of the globe including here in Africa. Notwithstanding the neo-colonial character of Africa, only the building of movements and mass workers parties that links struggle for democratic rights with socialist transformation can offer the prospect of permanently ending the cycle of poverty, inequality, wars and diseases that ravages the continent.
Tunisia and Egypt offers an important lesson and confirmation of CWI’s perspectives. Unless the struggle to end dictatorship also endeavors to put an end to capitalism, real and long-lasting freedom or democratic rights cannot be won. This would mean taking into public ownership the commanding heights of the economy under workers democratic control and management and the implementation of a socialist economic plan.