Raya Dunayevskaya 1959

The African Revolution, I

Source: News & Letters, January 1959. This piece appeared as Dunayevskaya’s regular column, “Two Worlds.”;
Transcribed: by Kevin Michaels.

The heart of the struggle against colonialism has shifted from Asia and the Middle East to Africa. At the very moment when France went De Gaulle, one word was heard loudly and clearly around the whole world: the “No” to remaining part of France from little Guinea (population: 2.6 million) in French West Africa. Unfortunately, the courageous voice of the man who led the quiet revolution-Sekou Touré — was later heard to say to his fellow Africans that he would not stop at introducing “forced labor” if the African people continued their easy ways and failed to shoulder “the responsibility” of industrialization:

“Nothing must impede industrialization,” Touré told John A. Marcu (The New Leader, December 1, 1958). We will use Chinese mass labor methods if necessary.”

Is the Chinese “great leap” — from semi-feudalism to state capitalism via forced labor-to be the road of the African Revolution? We do not believe that the African masses who began the road to liberation directly after World War II concluded in an outburst of elemental, creative activity will now bow to what the African intellectual in a dilemma is dishing out.

When I was in France in 1947 I met a leader of the African movement who described how the African masses, still plagued by tribalism and without any organized labor movement, trade union or political, attempted self-rule after defeat of the axis. He was talking about the French Cameroons where the population as a whole — every man, woman and youth — turned out to try to govern themselves. He said none of the leaders had expected such a mass turnout and did not have sufficient “membership cards.” The revolution was short-lived for soon the French, with the connivance of the American military, sped with gunboats to re-establish their old colonial rule.

The sporadic African revolutions have been overshadowed by the more comprehensive revolutions in Asia and the Middle East which hit at the lifeline of the major warring powers so the self-activity of the masses in far-off African hardly rated space in the press. But this African leader came in person to tell his tale of revolution to the mighty French Confederation of Labor, already under Communist domination. His tale fell on deaf ears for the Communists were then comrades-in-arms of De Gaulle and this African was told to return to Africa and “organize” his people!

The African Intellectual In A Dilemma

While the first stage of the African revolution was thus stifled at birth, the Communists did play at anti-colonialism and in 1949 participated in the Rassemblement Democratique Africain (African Democratic Rally-RDA). In those years Felix Houphouet-Boigny of the Ivory Coast, now Minister in De Gaulle’s Cabinet and author of “We don’t want independence,” spoke quite differently of freedom for the long-oppressed African people. Next to him was the labor leader, Sekou Touré-who even then said that the chief need of Africa was “lots of capital. But to attract capital, we must inspire confidence in investors. Our responsibility is to inform the African people of their responsibility in this matter.”

Thus even before the African Revolution got unfolded, signs were evident among the African intellectuals that industrialization now meant capitalism, although these intellectuals knew how to guild this capitalism as “socialism.” Thus another leader of the Democratic African Rally-Leopold Sedar Senghor-proclaimed “an African road to socialism.” Whatever that might have meant before any of the African colonies gained their independence, it means something very different now that some have state power. In Guinea, for example, they now speak of “single party democracy.” In Ghana Nkrumah chose for it the euphemistic title of “the African Personality.”

In his speech to the All-African Peoples Conference, recently concluded in Accra, Nkrumah somehow made this “African personality” synonymous with “non-violent revolution.” For this he was greatly praised by the capitalist press everywhere, especially in England and America. At the conference itself, however, there were many who could not quite accept the double-talk of “the African personality” equals “non-violent revolution.” How could a Kenyan forget the British white terror? Or an Algerian the barbaric white colon rule that brought De Gaulle to power in France itself?

The biggest of all traps to stifle the African revolution is the trap of “non-violent revolution,” whatever that might mean. Non-violence has little to do with the realities of the African Revolution where it meets the armed counter-revolution, as in Kenya and in Algeria, or the entrenched armed rulers in racist South Africa. It is a straitjacket for the self-activity of the African masses even as the indiscriminate unity of the African state would mean the choice not of a road to socialism, but to capitalism in its most horrific form of state-capitalism. Just as the bourgeoisie has degraded the world, revolution, to where it means nothing but conspiracy, so Nkrumah, who is emulating the old rulers in everything from yachts to canned biographies and statues glorifying himself, is bent on degrading the organization of society on totally new beginnings to where it means all things to all men except the masses struggling for true liberation from barbaric, armed colonial rule.

Will History Repeat Itself As A Tragedy Or As A Banner Unfurled?

History is forever repeating itself without us learning much from it. When capitalism moved from free anarchic competition, to monopoly control, there were socialists who saw in that concentration of capital “order” that would make it “easier” for the workers “to take over.” When that kind of socialism collapsed like a house of cards at the outbreak of World War I, there were middle-of-the-roaders who called for “a United States of Europe” as “a possible stage in the advancement of revolution.” Lenin would have nothing to do with those who considered revolution nothing but a “taking over” of political rule. Unless the population to a man would run production and the state, that type of revolution would lead to nothing but a return to capitalism. Although present Russian totalitarianism is there as big as life to prove the point, the African intellectual if repeating all the old mistakes, and adding some new ones to boot.

The desire for unity of the African peoples is a powerful force. But the desire for unity against colonialism is one thing. It is quite something else when unity is attempted under the catch-all of “the African Personality” which includes republics and monarchies alike, not excluding the classic comprador (native management of foreign capital) rule in Liberia, dominated by the American dollar. None knows this better than Nkrumah’s “advisor on African Affairs,” the famous West Indian writer who has often been a fellow-traveler of the Communists — George Padmore.

That is why he tried to lard “the African Personality” with some “socialism.” He could not do this at the Accra Conference in April since that conference of the independent African states included kings and sultans. There the African Personality got limited to the field of foreign policy: “For too long in our history,” thundered Nkrumah, “African has spoken through the voice of others,” and then down in a whisper: “Now what I have called the African Personality in international affairs will have a chance of making its proper impact.” This, in turn got translated into a sort of watered down neutralism.

By December, the conference, this time held on a non-governmental level, allowed Padmore to expand himself so that the Manifesto for the conference stated that it would “formulate and proclaim our African Personality based on the philosophy of Pan-African socialism as the ideology of the African Non-Violent Revolution.”

While Nkrumah is blending his “Pan-African socialism” with the rule both of the tribal chiefs and British-type industrialization, Touré had his theoretician-the Frenchman Jean Bayer — work up a heady brew called “African communacracy.” This was supposed to blend African communalism and European socialism. If you add to that “single party democracy,” where exactly would all these “roads to socialism” lead us?

Must Industrialism Be Totalitarian

The truth is, by whatever name you call it, neither the new euphemisms, nor the new black color, can hide the old smell of exploitative capitalism. Of course, industrialization of Africa is a necessity. Of course, this cannot be done outside of a relationship to technologically advanced industrial powers. But must the method be capitalistic? Must we see in Africa what we have already seen in Russia and in China-the emergence of a new ruling class that comes with state power and capitalistic industrialization and is totalitarian? The physiognomy of the African intellectual may be idealistic and fresh at first, but the road upon which his present policies set him will make it impossible to resist the objective pull of world state capitalism.

The responsibility of the Marxist Humanist is not that of pushing the Africans helter-skelter on the road of industrialization as if industrialization by itself answered the desire for liberation. Nor must the Marxist Humanist-African or Pan-African, or Yugoslav or French for that matter — create new points of confusion such as “violence and non-violence” which can only blind one to the realities of the true reconstruction of society on new beginnings. Revolution is, after all, nothing but evolution in the fullness of time and in the elemental human form called forth by the need of the creation of this new society on totally new beginnings whose point of departure and point of return alike center around the relation of man to man at the point of production, in the state, and within the context of a human world.