Kwame Nkrumah led Ghana to independence from Britain in 1957 and became its first president. As an anti-colonialist and a Marxist, Nkrumah was keenly aware of how colonial and imperialist forces mobilise xenophobic sentiment to break up the solidarity of the workers.
This is a lightly edited excerpt of Kwame Nkrumah’s Class Struggle in Africa (1970, International Publishers).
Under colonialism, the workers’ struggle was largely directed against the foreign exploiter. It was in this sense more an anti-colonial, than a class struggle. It has, furthermore, strong racial undertones. This class-race aspect of the African workers’ struggle remains under conditions of neocolonialism, and tends to blunt the awareness of the workers to the existence of indigenous bourgeois exploitation. The workers’ attack is directed against Europeans, Lebanese, Indians and others, while the indigenous reactionary exploiter is overlooked.
In neocolonialist states where there are immigrant workers, and where unemployment is rife, a similar situation develops. The anger of workers is surreptitiously fomented and directed by the neocolonialist puppet regime not so much against its own reactionary policies as against the “alien” workers. It is they who are blamed for the scarcity of jobs, the shortage of houses, rising prices and so on. The result is that the African immigrant worker is victimised both by the government and by his own fellow workers.
The government brings in measures to restrict immigration, to limit the opportunities of existing immigrants and to expel certain categories. The indigenous workers, for their part, are led to believe by the government’s action, that the cause of unemployment and bad living conditions is attributable in large measure to the presence of immigrant workers. Mass feeling against them is aroused and helps to increase any already existing national and ethnic animosities. Instead of joining with immigrant workers to bring pressure on the government, many of them strongly support measures taken against them. In this they show lack of awareness of the class nature of the struggle; and the bourgeoisie benefit from the split among the ranks of the working class.
Workers are workers, and nationality, race, tribe and religion are irrelevancies in the struggle to achieve socialism.
In the context of the African socialist revolution there is no justification for regarding non-African workers as a hindrance to economic progress, and there is similarly no justification for the victimisation and the expulsion of migrant African labour from one territory to another. In Africa there should be no African “alien”. All are Africans. The enemy wall to be brought down and crushed is not the African “alien” worker but Balkanisation and the artificial territorial boundaries created by imperialism.
The migrant urban population can be a very powerful force for the spread of revolutionary socialism. The many workers who go to the cities and to other African countries to work for a period of time and then return to their homes, link the revolutionary movements of the proletariat with the countryside and with the labour movements of other states. They are an indispensable part of the revolutionary process, and the permanent mobility of the African labour force must be encouraged and organised.
Large-scale migrations of people is a feature of Africa. There is on the one hand, the migration of country folk to the towns, and on the other hand, the migration of labour from one country to another. Towns are largely the product of external forces. They developed, in the main, as a result of the market economy introduced by European colonialism. Among the reasons for the migration from the countryside to the towns, are the search for employment; the desire for cash to buy manufactured goods, and to pay for the education of children; and the wish to enjoy the many amenities of town life.
There has in recent years been a great increase in the urban population of Africa. Broadly, the class structure of African towns may be said to include, the bourgeois class of professional, intellectual, bureaucratic, military, business, political and managerial elites; the school teachers, clergy, small business men, executives in government departments, shopkeepers; and the lower middle-class strata of junior clerks, artisans, tradesmen and semi-skilled workers. Secondly, there is the working class, comprising the broad mass of petty traders, manual workers, market women and migrant labourers. Finally, there are what may be described as the “declasses”. These are the beggars, prostitutes and general layabouts who form the lumpen-proletariat; and those – mostly young people – connected with petty bourgeois or workers’ families, who go to the towns from the rural areas, and who usually do no work but live at the expense of their families. These young people may play an important part in the liberation struggle. They are in touch with both town and countryside, and may become effective revolutionary cadres.
Members of the bourgeois elites mix freely in clubs and societies, which cut across race and emphasise social class. The existence of class feeling is shown in the desire of many to join associations which will enhance status. The higher the educational qualification, the higher the status and opportunities for top level employment, an overseas education being rated the highest qualification of all.
The migrant labourers bring with them their own social strata, ideologies, religions and customs. Some of them become completely submerged and absorbed within the local population. But relatively few settle permanently. The vast majority work for a few years and then return to their native home. According to the 1960 census in Ghana, only 25% of the population of Takoradi were of local origin. In Kumasi, the figure was 37%. In Sekondi, 40% only were of local origin. In 1948, over half the population of Takoradi, and 36% in the case of Accra, had lived in those towns for less than five years. It is estimated that about 40% of wage earners in Ghana are migrants.
Though the percentage of migrant labour among urban population elsewhere in Africa may differ substantially, wherever immigrant labourers exist, they represent a vast mobile force which can become a vital factor in the African socialist revolution. They can assist the integration of workers in the revolutionary struggle and infiltrate every sector of the neocolonialist and bourgeois economy.
Under conditions of neocolonialism, migrant labour tends to retard the development of class consciousness and to hinder the growth of workers’ organisations. Migrant labourers form their own tribal associations, which are mainly benefit societies.
Yet there was a big expansion of trade unionism in Africa after World War II. In many countries, trade unions participated actively in the liberation struggle, organising strikes, boycotts and other industrial action. The development of trade union militancy was vigorously opposed by the colonial powers who tried and sometimes succeeded in eroding the leadership by reformism and the infiltration of right-wing socialist ideas.
In May 1961, on the initiative of trade unions in Ghana, Guinea and Mali, the All African Trade Union Congress was held in Casablanca, at which 45 trade union organisations and 38 countries were represented. The All African Trade Union Federation (AATUF) was set up, founded on the principles of proletariat solidarity and internationalism. A rival trade union organisation, the African Trade Union Congress (ATUC), was founded in January 1962, as the result of a conference held in Dakar attended by delegates from African organisations affiliated with the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions, and eight independent trade union organisations. No mention was made in the Charter of the Confederation of African Trade Unions of either foreign monopolies or proletariat internationalism.
The African trade union movement must be organised on a pan-African scale, be genuinely socialist oriented, and developed as an integral part of the African workers’ class struggle. For this purpose, an All African Trade Union Congress must be established to coordinate and direct trade union activity throughout the entire African continent. It must be quite separate from the trade union organisations of other countries, though work at the international level in close association with them.
Urbanisation is at the core of social change. Therefore, industrialisation, which is the main cause of urban growth, determines the social pattern. With growing industrialisation, the African proletariat will increase in numbers and become more class conscious.
At present, Africa is industrially one of the least developed continents in the world. It produces one-seventh of the world’s raw materials, but only one-50th of the world’s manufactures. The share of industry in Africa’s total income is less than 14%. This situation is a legacy of imperialism and colonialism, and the exploitation of Africa to serve the interests of international monopoly finance capital. But it is also a result of the continuing imperialist and capitalist exploitation of Africa through neocolonialism.
Western monopolies still dominate about 80% of the volume of African trade. A significant factor in recent times has been the rapid development of United States penetration.Between 1951 and 1955, direct US investments in Africa increased more than two and a half times, from $313 million to $793 million. Particularly deep penetration was made into South Africa, Rhodesia (Zimbabwe) and Congo Kinshasa (Democratic Republic of the Congo).
The methods of neocolonialism are economic control, in the form of “aid”, “loans”, trade and banking; the stranglehold of indigenous economies through vast international interlocking corporations; political direction through puppet governments; social penetration through the cultivation of an indigenous bourgeoisie, the imposition of “defence” agreements, and the setting up of military and air bases; ideological expansion through the mass communications media of press, radio and television, the emphasis being on anti-communism; the fomenting of discord between countries and tribes; and through collective imperialism – notably the politico-economic and military cooperation of Rhodesia, South Africa and Portugal.
Neocolonialism, by its very nature, cannot overcome its own problems and contradictions. Imperialism is moribund capitalism; neocolonialism is moribund colonialism. Both sharpen the contradictions in their nature, which eventually lead to their destruction. Neocolonialism cannot prop up the governments of the “new bourgeoisie”, and promote stable economic development when the objective is profit for the foreign investor. Therefore, the indigenous bourgeoisie can never become a really safe governing class, and the need arises for more and more forceful intervention from external interests, and repression from within. This state of affairs accelerates the emergence of a really revolutionary class struggle.
The granting of economic “aid” from capitalist countries is one of the most insidious ways in which neocolonialism hinders economic progress in the developing world, retarding industrialisation and delaying the development of a large proletariat. Only 10% of US “aid” to Africa is spent on industrialisation, and most of this is in those areas regarded as “safe” for capitalism. In contrast, 70% of aid from socialist countries is spent on industrialisation and the organisation of profitable production. Interest rates on loans from capitalist countries vary from between 6% and 8%, whereas socialist creditors charge only 2%. Aid from socialist countries is used mainly for state projects. This again is in striking contrast to “aid” from the West, which is almost entirely in the private sector.
France spends something like two thousand million francs on “aid” to the francophone countries in Africa. These two thousand million are the means by which France maintains very close cultural, political and economic ties with them, for they are large markets for French exports. In fact, the “aid” is considered by French governments to be “good investment”. A considerable proportion of money disbursed as bilateral “aid” from the West either does not leave the donor country at all, the “aid” being provided in the form of goods, or returns in a relatively short period as payment for additional exports, or in other ways.
Of every £100 of bilateral “aid” disbursed by the United Kingdom in the period 1964 to 1966, £72.50 was “aid” tied to the supply of British goods, or resulted in direct spending on British goods and services. Multilateral “aid” similarly serves mainly to improve the economic position of the donor countries. It has been estimated that the UK has secured export orders of over £116 for every £100 of its multilateral “aid”, due largely to the operations of the International Development Agency (IDA). For example, a recent Whitehall study on the subject has calculated that for every £100 contributed to IDA by the UK in 1964-1966, IDA spent about £150 on UK goods. Indeed, many projects accomplished through foreign “aid” are designed to help the donor’s balance of payments rather than the recipient’s economic development.
The recipient is burdened not only with a costly loan to repay, but also sometimes with uneconomic projects, and with political and economic strings which hamper independent development and positively retard economic growth.
Credits are granted by capitalist states to countries of Africa, Asia and Latin America, so that they can be equipped with the infrastructure necessary for their further exploitation by private monopolists. The aim is political as well as economic. It seeks to block socialist advance by winning over the indigenous bourgeoisie, by giving them an interest in the business; and at the same time to extend the stranglehold of international monopoly finance on the economies of the developing world.
The rural proletariat small farmers and plantation workers producing cotton, sisal, cocoa, coffee, rubber, citrus fruits and other crops, which bring them within the orbit of international trade and industry, are strategic links in the chain of African proletariat struggle. Imperialism in its neocolonialist phase, however, draws the bulk of its profits from its grip over the advanced sectors of production such as mining, manufacturing, commerce, retail trade, fisheries and transport. About 90% of all Western capital invested in Africa is sunk into enterprises connected with these sectors, and it is in these key sectors where the industrial proletariat – the indispensable labour force for the continued existence of neocolonialism – is in a position to spearhead the socialist revolution.
Attempts have been made to deny the existence of a working class in Africa. In areas where it has been impossible to ignore its existence – such as the mining areas of South Africa, Congo Kinshasa and Zambia – strenuous efforts have been made to integrate it within the neocolonialist, capitalist system of exploitation. This is done by fostering the growth of trade unions under reformist leadership by granting a certain measure of “welfare” benefits. In some parts of Africa, specially in the highly developed mining areas, Africanisation policies are pursued to placate workers, and wages and salaries of Africans are brought closer to expatriate levels. This has had the effect in some cases of making the workers less likely to indulge in revolutionary activities.
The tendency in the transitional period between capitalism and socialism is embourgeoisement. The working-class vision of socialism during this period may be blurred by the corruption of the “welfare state”. In these conditions, the worker becomes a well fed Philistine and turns towards reaction and conservatism. Socialist revolution then becomes a minor issue.
Economically and industrially, Europe and the US are ready and poised for socialism. There are the necessary material ingredients which could make socialism possible overnight. In the US when automation and cybernation aided by nuclear energy reach their highest form of development, the forces of production will have been developed to a point at which there could be the classless society which Marx predicted could come only under communism. But although the US is at present one of the most affluent and industrialised countries in the world, it is at the same time one of the most socially and politically backward.
A part of the working class of Europe and the US had identified itself with capitalism. Strata of workers have become embourgeoised, and have thus weakened the working-class forces for socialist revolution. In 1968, some ten million French workers went on strike and practically paralysed the government, and yet, they were unable to achieve revolutionary change.
Throughout the world, student protest has become an increasingly prominent feature of contemporary times. But students suffer a double alienation. They are alienated from the establishment, and in many cases from their own families; but more important, they are alienated from the working class which should make use of their efforts in the revolutionary struggle.
In Britain, English manual workers who vote conservative provide the party with nearly half its electoral strength. Economic affluence, or status aspirations induce many members of the working class to claim middle-class membership. In the so-called “welfare state”, many working class live like the lower middle class. Economic satisfaction leads to middle-class identification, which in its turn results in conservative voting.
In this situation, extension of voting rights to the mass of the population has not so much reduced the power of the ruling class as caused the radicalism of the working class to decline. The tendency for some working-class movements in capitalist societies to confine their activities only to trade unionism is a danger to socialist advance.
While conditions of embourgeoisement exist among the working class of capitalist countries, an added responsibility rests on the exploited peoples of Africa, Asia and Latin America to promote the world’s socialist revolution. In this process, the African proletariat has a vital and strategic part to play as the African revolution gains momentum.