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International Socialist Review, Spring 1960


Frances James

Africa’s Bid for Freedom


From International Socialist Review, Vol.21 No.2, Spring 1960, pp.46-48.
Transcription & mark-up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


Will the West “lose” Africa the way it “lost” China? Expert capitalist observers are haunted by this question. They have good reason to worry

* * *

THE “revolution of rising expectations” in sub-Sahara Africa has startled the world with its speed and scope. Within the last four years seven African countries have acquired formal independence status. The enormous energy released by Negro Africa’s fight for independence has rocketed the “dark continent” into the brilliant orbit of the mid-twentieth century’s anti-imperialist movement.

Arab North Africa has long been seething with wars for national independence; the Middle East is a whirlpool of anti-colonialist revolution; all of Asia, and indeed the entire world, has been struck with admiration and awe by the giant socialist revolution of 600 million people in New China; now Cuba has taken the road of revolution against the US capitalist colossus and kindled new hope and self-confidence among the oppressed colonial people throughout Latin America.

No wonder gloom and foreboding characterize the mood of Western capitalist, spokesmen as they observe the turbulent African scene. “Can it be that Africa is going the way of China?” they ask. The question is highly pertinent.

What has brought about this change in sub-Sahara Africa? And what chance do the African people have to realize their hopes and expectations?

The political awakening of Negro Africa, first of all, is conditioned by the economic boom of the last two decades. This boom has transformed the economic and social structure of a large part of the continent at an almost unbelievable rate. The extent of the change is indicated by the fact that in the post-War II years exports from these countries have increased on the average of four to five times their pre-war level. The investment of foreign capital in the last ten-year period reached almost six billion dollars. This is approximately equivalent to the total foreign capital investment in sub-Sahara Africa in a period of seventy years – from the discovery of the Kimberly diamond mine in 1871 up to the second world war. (London Economist, Dec. 13, 1958.)

Economic expansion in the Union of South Africa set the impressive record of nearly tripling its industrial production and more than doubling total national output of goods and services in the first post-war decade. In the Belgian Congo there were only 4,200 industrial enterprises in 1947. Ten years later there were 21,000. Kenya petroleum consumption between 1950 and 1957 rose by 500 per cent and consumption of electric power rose by 1,600 per cent. Hydroelectrical projects of enormous capacity are planned or are already under construction in almost every part of the continent.

The construction of dams, of course, is designed primarily to increase production of raw materials for export: rubber, cocoa, cotton, peanuts, etc. But it also affects subsistence farming on lands “reserved” for the African peoples. Africa Digest (London) reports that in Kenya (where production of cash crops on “reserved” lands was prohibited until only recently) “there has been something like an agrarian revolution.” In one province scattered holdings have been consolidated “as a model for others ...”

Modernization of agricultural methods in Southern Rhodesia’s African farms has resulted in production of eight to fifteen bags of grain per acre where previously only two to three were produced. The production per acre on the European farms averages only four to six bags.

Modernization filters down into the most remote villages. Progressive chiefs begin to seek ways and means of putting running water and electric lights in village housing units. The economic boom brings with it the African’s desire and his constantly more forceful demand for a greater share in the continent’s wealth.

By far the most important product of Africa’s boom, however, is the growth of the working class – a social force that could unite the people and resolutely lead the revolution to its logical goal – the establishment of a Pan-African Socialist United States.

The demand for labor in the cities combined with the expectation, especially among the younger generation, of educational and cultural advancement, has resulted in an enormous population shift. The size of the major towns in Northern Rhodesia, for example, was doubled from 1948 to 1950. John Gunther in 1957 estimated that forty million rural inhabitants were moving away from “tribalism” toward urbanization.

This growing proletarian force, living in terrible poverty, suffering discrimination and filled with hatred for the white-supremacist rulers, possesses some unique qualities. Foremost among these is its migratory character.

Migrant labor is established by forcing the African into “native reserves,” then demanding he carry a pass in order to leave the reserve, work in mines, on white settlers’ farms or in industrial centers. This is true even of the largest urban centers and in the technically more advanced areas in Kenya, the Union of South Africa, the mining areas of the Central African Federation and the Belgian Congo.

In Leopoldville only about twenty-one per cent of the working population has broken with rural and tribal ties and is considered permanently city dwelling. In the copper belt of Northern Rhodesia only sixty-five per cent of the workers have their families living with them.

This semi-slave status of the African worker was designed to prevent organized resistance to the intense exploitation practiced by the white rulers. And for a time it had its effect. But today the situation is altering. Workers with experience in union and political struggles periodically return to their villages bringing with them the new ideas of militant freedom struggle.

Despite the difficulty of organizing migrant labor and despite the added difficulty of a segregationist policy of the official union movement, African unions have grown to an estimated one-half million members.

Moreover, the very nature of the workers’ problems – government-enforced color bars, legal limitations on job upgrading, etc. – have compelled the unions to face political questions from the outset. This is why leaders of the trade unions, like Tom Mboya, head of the Kenya Trade Union Federation, become leaders of the Pan-African independence movement.

AFRICA’S industrial development was accelerated enormously by the war economy of the West. The economic and social impact of this process, combined with the influence of the colonial revolution at large, aroused hope and expectation among Africans that they too could build a new life and reap some of the benefits of industrialization. These hopes, however, cannot be realized without uprooting the whole system of colonialism and returning Africa to the Africans. Thus the fight for genuine independence. Thus the revolution of rising expectations. And thus Western capital has acted as the unwitting agent of its own downfall in Africa.

The British, in their east and west African colonies, have long followed a policy of concessions to the rising independence movement to which the name has been attached: “Gradual Self Rule.” This policy permits, when the demand is strong enough, formal independence without loss of capital to British interests. British diplomats have explained that the secret of success of this policy is to “give before the giving is demanded.” Today, there is not a single British colony that is not already “demanding.”

The French held to the “French Union” policy with all power concentrated in the Paris government. Last year the pressure of the colonial revolution forced a change in policy to the concept of autonomous republics within a “French Community.” Threat of withdrawal of all economic aid, arms, police protection, technicians, etc., if a country voted “non“ to remaining within the Community kept all territories except Guinea within French control. Already, less than a year later, in the French colony of Dahomey, African political leader M. Apithy’s party passed a motion demanding independence in 1960 and urging a referendum to consult the electorate, and the Mali Government has made an official demand for independence as soon as possible.

In the Belgian Congo the political movement of the Africans in Leopoldville last January forced an end to the old policy of Belgian “paternalism” and moves toward future self-rule were conceded. So-called “riots” and increased political debate, organization and conflict throughout the Belgian Congo have now won a promise of independence and immediate self-rule.

Imperialist attempts to control Africa through concessions runs immediately counter to the wishes of the white settlers (colons) and mining interests. They, being a small minority holding political power over Africa’s millions, know full well that concessions often sow the seeds of bolder demands. Even the most elementary bourgeois democratic rights would mean the complete isolation and ultimate ruin of the colons. They fear the mass of the African people and can conceive of protecting their privileges only through terror. The political and military strength of the colons in sub-Sahara Africa lies in the Union of South Africa where “apartheid” (complete segregation) policy is projected as the white man’s answer to African expectations.

Increased colon power as an answer to the Freedom movement is pushing upward from the Union of South Africa through East Africa and the Central Federation of the Rhodesias and Nyasaland. The colon power is attempting to destroy the African movement of Nyasaland through arrest of its leaders (Dr. Banda and 500 others are now in prison). Britain sent troops to back up the colons in the “emergency” of last year.

The United States, with its “dollar diplomacy,” i.e., economic control combined with the granting of formal political independence, presents itself more than any other single or combined power, as the “new” liberal imperialism. Last year a special sub-division of the US State Department was set up to handle African Affairs with Assistant Secretary of State Joseph C. Satterthwaite in charge. Official policy toward the Independence movement was stated by him as follows:

“Insofar as these objectives are progressive, just, and constructive, insofar as the methods employed to achieve the objectives are nonviolent and equitable, our attitude – in accordance with our national history, character, tradition – should obviously be one of sympathy and support.” (State Department press release, Oct. 8, 1958.)

Even such guarded words as these have brought a protest from European powers and accusations that the US is encouraging the nationalist movement.

Underlying the “free world” problems of political control lie the economic difficulties of the boom-recession cycle of capitalism. The “slump” of 1957 resulted in a ten per cent average drop in raw material prices on the world market. The loss to Africa due to the drop is estimated to exceed the total of US and USSR aid to Africa for the last five years. Copper production in the Belgian Congo fell by fifty per cent, resulting in mass unemployment in Leopoldville.

The consequence of periodic recessions is by no means the sole economic problem facing capitalism in its drive to “contain” the African revolution. Capital, in the form of government loans and private investment for industrial and development projects is seen by the “free world” colonial “experts” as the only hope of maintaining political control. Yet in areas where the revolution rises to the heat of open conflict, capital tends to move out. This happened in the Central African Federation when the “emergency” was declared and in the Belgian Congo concurrent with the strike wave and “riots” of January 1958.

Still another problem for imperialism is the growing influence of the Soviet Union and China in Africa. The politically conscious forces in the independence movement are wary of the Kremlin and this is not due entirely to their pro-American illusions. Many of them recall with bitterness the exhortations of Moscow to support the imperialist democracies in World War II. They are still waiting for a little of this democracy for Africa.

What the African leaders see immediately, however, is the contrast between the role of the USSR in supporting UN recommendations on the racial situation in South Africa and West Africa and the US abstaining from voting until recently. Moreover, the Soviet Union has loaned money to the independent African states totaling approximately the same as the US loans at about half the interest rate.

The unfavorable situation confronting the US-dominated cold-war bloc has compelled it to “moderate” its tactics. Premature attempts at solving problems by purely military means and naked terror have been curbed. This tactical shift is of course closely linked to the objective of gaining a new foothold for imperialism by the use of two familiar devices:

  1. Split and atomize the movement and paralyze its capacity to act against the common foe.
  2. Gain control over sections of the leadership by means of economic pressure, bribery, threats, concessions, blackmail and playing off one segment against another.

THESE imperialist calculations have the following basis in reality: The African people are divided and fragmented along religious, tribal, cultural and linguistic lines. Over 700 languages exist on the continent. Divide and rule has been the age-old policy of the colonial powers. They have allotted powers in the “reserves” or labor contracts in the ports and mines to hand-picked tribal leaders or chiefs. They fostered tribal loyalties and made these loyalties economically significant. Behind “tribal” riots reported in the news lie many jurisdictional disputes over work opportunities, land tenure and other economic issues. All these conflicts are continuously sharpened and encouraged by the white rulers.

Another factor that favors the success of the “new” imperialist policy is the limited bourgeois and reformist program and outlook of the present leadership of the independence movement. This weakness is strikingly expressed in the illusion that a formally “neutral” but in reality pro-American orientation in the cold war can serve the cause of the African freedom movement. Understandably, the African leaders want the aid of Western capital to help in the industrialization and modernization projects. The idea, however, that such capital can be secured by commitments to line up with the cold-war bloc is, of course, a deadly trap which the capitalist West has adroitly sprung on many occasions.

While these factors are not to be underestimated and constitute a grave danger to the success of the struggle, there are important reasons why the independence movement resists atomization and will not easily lend itself to piecemeal destruction. There are also reasons why the movement is forced by the logic of its development to overcome the limitations imposed by its bourgeois reformist program and leadership.

As we pointed out. the economic exploitation of Africa by Western capital has had consequences far beyond what the capitalist intended. The growth of industry, the proletarianization and urbanization of large sections of the population have served to enhance the interdependence of all areas of the continent. Thus the independence movement tends from its earliest manifestations to acquire a continent-wide scope and perspective.

Here we witness not a mere historical repetition of the old “nationalism” that shaped the modern countries of Europe in the course of their bourgeois revolutions. In the concrete circumstances of the combined historical development of Africa, the tasks of the bourgeois revolutions of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries must be solved in the middle of the twentieth century. In the light of the world pressures imposed on Africa, as well as the peculiarities of the African national problem itself, the solution of these tasks requires an all-continental scope.

The economic and technological problems the newly formed independent African states must face, illustrate this conclusion. Take the hydroelectric plant projected for the Volta River in Ghana. It would supply power to Ghana, Togoland, Nigeria and the French community countries of Dahomey and the Voltaic Republic. The plant on the Congo river will supply parts of the Belgian Congo, Angola and the French equatorial countries. The problems of one-crop economies – coffee in Kenya, cotton in Uganda, cocoa in Ghana – cannot be solved by diversifying crops and developing internal markets within the narrow limits of each separate country. Economic cooperation in broad areas is a technological necessity. Already technical assistance programs exist in several areas. Ghana-Guinea being a significant case among the newly independent states.

In the eighteen-seventies when the European powers staked out their colonial domains in Africa, no concern was given to the social and political problems of the African people. Land tenure, language, tribal structure, religious groups, etc., were all ignored by the European land grabbers and are still ignored by them when labor needs have to be met in mines and on plantations. For example, the Bakango people at the mouth of the Congo River were arbitarily divided into territories controlled by French, German, Belgian and British powers. Thus a narrow, “nationalist” struggle, such as the struggles that established the present national boundaries in Western Europe, is not at all congruent with the freedom and independence aspirations of the Bakango people who live in five separate countries.

The growth of a pan-African concept is reinforced by the fact that European capital dominates the entire area. The African miner sees little difference between Belgian capital in the Congo or British capital in the Rhodesias and the African peasant gets the same vile treatment from European farmers whether on British cotton plantations in Uganda or on Portuguese peanut farms in Mozambique. They all represent European exploitation of African natural resources and labor power for the benefit of foreign capitalists.

As modernization and urbanization preceded the African National Congress movement sprang up around issues of education, work passes and voting rights. The leadership of these Congress organizations, in their early stages, came primarily from the tribal elders, chiefs, the educated elite and others who served the interests of colonial powers as a rule.

Today, when independence has become the dominant and immediate issue, it is the leaders with a pan-African outlook that are winning quite rapidly a dominant position in the Congress movement, the trade unions and in all African political organizations. The Accra Conference of 1958 and the permanent organization of the All African People’s Conference demonstrated that the initiative and the leadership in the immediate future lie in the hands of pan-African leaders such as Dr. K. Nkrumah of Ghana, Tom Mboya of Kenya, Toure of Guinea, Dr. Banda of Nyasaland, etc.

What is most important, however, is not the momentary composition of the leadership but the debates over program that are seething in the whole politically active mass of the population.

Last year the African Congress movement in Northern Rhodesia split over the question of militant mass action versus the passive-resistance methods of the old National Congress. Those supporting the use of violence when necessary in the struggle for freedom formed the Zambesa National Congress which was almost immediately suppressed only to reappear as the United Independence party. This party has just fused with a new split-off from the old Congress movement to form the United People’s party which demands “secession of Northern Rhodesia from the Federation and self-government for Northern Rhodesia now by Africans.”

THE issue of international trade-un-ion affiliation (International Confederation of Free Trade Unions, dominated by the cold-war bloc, versus World Federation of Trade Unions, supported by the Soviet bloc, or “neutrality”) broke into open conflict last May when Mboya called a conference in Lagos, Nigeria, to form the first All-Africa ICFTU organization. It was attended by union leaders from twenty-one countries. K. Nkrumah who supported trade-union neutralism, countered with the calling of a trade-union conference in Ghana at the same time. This conference had delegates only from Guinea, Morocco and the United Arab Republic.

These programmatic and organizational clashes reflect the strivings of the African independence movement to achieve clarity in its concept of where the struggle is going and how it is going to get there. The concept of pan-Africanism, so overwhelmingly dictated by the course of Africa’s historical development, still leaves open the questions: What class in African society can realize a continent-wide organization of the economic struggle to industrialize and modernize? Can such a struggle be led to victory by any group that isn’t ready to break with the capitalist exploiters internationally and take the road of building a planned socialist economy in Africa?

Those who would reject the socialist road for Africa on the grounds that Western capital is required to make progress, fail to take some weighty facts into account. Western capital cannot be obtained by political subservience to Western capitalism without accepting exploitation.

On the other hand, if through the promising development of the African working class, a Marxist program and leadership can be forged that will take the road of socialist revolution – that would indeed contribute immensely to solving the problem of Western aid. The African revolution, taking the Chinese path of expelling imperialism and overthrowing the exploiters, would strike a mighty blow at world capitalism. It would speed the day when the British, French, Belgian and American workers would establish their own power and thereby form an economic and political alliance with Africa and with all the oppressed to build a world socialist society.

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