The Black Power Pan-Africanist Perspective

 The Black race will be exterminated if it does not build a black superpower in Africa by the end of this century.


Socialism or communalism?

By Chinweizu

Several African leaders of the "independence" generation advocated or implemented what they called socialism. Prof. Prah reports that,

By the mid-1960s, practically all African heads of state, with the exception of Haile Selassie of Ethiopia, Leon Mba of Gabon and V.S. Tubman of Liberia had at one time or the other espoused African socialism. Consistently, such ideologues have put a distance between what they variously defined as African socialism, and 20th century Marxian socialist formulae, with the emphasis on class struggle. Tom Mboya anchored his definition of African socialism on the pre-industrial communitarian ethos of Africa. . . . In Tanzania under Julius Nyerere, populist socialism was described as Ujamaa socialism.

-- [African Nation, pp. 80, 81]

 The "African socialism" of many of these leaders was a prestigious misnomer for African communalism. Here is Tom Mboya's exposition of it; his is quite representative of expositions by Nyerere, Kaunda, Senghor, Mamadou Dia etc.

 "In Africa the belief that 'we are all sons and daughters of the soil' has always exercised tremendous influence on our social, economic and political relationships. From this belief springs the logic and the practice of equality, and the acceptance of communal ownership of the vital means of life - the land. The hoe is to us the symbol of work. Every able-bodied man and woman, girl and boy, has always worked. Laziness has not been tolerated, and appropriate social sanctions have developed against it. There has been equality of opportunity, for everyone had land - or rather, the use of land - and a hoe at the start of life. The acquisitive instinct, which is largely responsible for the vicious excesses and exploitation under the capitalist system, was tempered by a sense of togetherness and a rejection of graft and meanness. There was loyalty to the society, and the society gave its members much in return: a sense of security and universal hospitality.

These are the values for which, in my view, African Socialism stands. The ideals and attitudes which nourish it are indigenous, and are easily learnt, for they have been expressed for generations in the language of the soil which our people understand, and not in foreign slogans.

All African leaders who have written on this subject are agreed on these points. President Nyerere has said: 'My fellow coun­trymen can understand Socialism only as co-operation.' And President Senghor of Senegal, speaking at the Dakar conference in December 1962, on the 'African roads to Socialism', said: 'Socialism is the merciless fight against social dishonesties and injustices; fraudulent conversion of public funds, rackets and bribes...'

I have, I hope, given some idea already of the reason why Africans call these attitudes 'African Socialism', and not just 'Socialism'. . . . There is a positive desire, arising out of what may start as a negative reaction, that whatever is of value in Africa's own culture and her own social institutions should be brought out to contribute to the creation of the new African nation.

I wrote earlier about the task of reconstructing the economy in the days after Independence. In the effort to do this, new values have to be established in place of colonial values and we have to decide what part the traditional African social and cultural structure can play in the country's economic development. Its main difference from the European structure, which was of course the one officially favoured during the colonial era, is that it is communal by nature. Most African tribes have a communal approach to life. A person is an individual only to the extent that he is a member of a clan, a community or a family. Land was never owned by an individual, but by the people, and could not be disposed of by anybody. Where there were traditional heads, they held land in trust for the community generally. Food grown on the land was regarded as food to feed the hungry among the tribe. Although each family might have its own piece of land on which to cultivate, when there was famine or when someone simply wanted to eat, he merely looked for food and ate it. . . . 

When money was introduced, the African came to work for wages; but he still maintained contact with his native land as the only source of security to which he could look in old age or in sickness. He was secure in his mind that he could go back to his home and be taken care of by his people. It was a social security scheme, with no written rules, but with a strict pattern to which everyone adhered. If someone did not adhere to the pattern, and did-not take on the obligations inherent in the system, he found that, when he next got into trouble, he received little or no attention.

He was expected to live harmoniously with others in his com­munity, and to make his contribution to work done in the village. . . .

The practice of African Socialism involves trying to use what is relevant and good in these African customs to create new values in the changing world of the money economy, to build an economy which reflects the thinking of the great majority of the people. . . . The challenge of African Socialism is to use these traditions to find a way to build a society in which there is a place for everybody, where everybody shares both in poverty and in prosperity, and where emphasis is placed upon production by everyone, with security for all. . . . In his booklet UJAMAA - the basis of African Socialism, Julius Nyerere brings out clearly the essential difference of African from European Socialism. He writes:

The foundation, and the objective, of African Socialism is the Extended Family. The true African Socialist does not look on one class of men as his brethren and another as his natural enemies. He does not form an alliance with the "brethren" for the extermination of the "non-brethren". He rather regards all men as his brethren - as members of his ever-extending family'. 'UJAMAA, then, or "Familyhood", describes our Socialism. It is opposed to Capitalism, which seeks to build a happy society on the basis of the Exploitation of Man by Man. And it is equally opposed to doctrinaire Socialism, which seeks to build its happy society on a philosophy of Inevitable Conflict between Man and Man.

--Tom Mboya, "African Socialism" in J. Ayo Langley ed. Ideologies, pp. 508-513


Nkrumah differed from all the others. Nkrumah, a self-declared Marxist, espoused Marxism, which is also known as "scientific socialism". He declared "Pan-Africanism and socialism are organically complementary. One cannot be achieved without the other." [RevolutionaryPath, p. 127] Is that claim true? Nkrumah merely asserted but did not bother to demonstrate this dogma of his. Unfortunately, it is false, as false as his many fallacious claims about what "only a continental union government" could achieve for Africans. It is like his opportunistic and Canute-like nonsense that "if in the past the Sahara divided us, now it unites us." [p.129]. Marxism (Scientific socialism) has as much organic or historical or cultural connection with Africa as Hinduism, Taoism or Shinto. Marxism in Africa, just like Christianity, is an alien, imperialist import. For either of them to be organically connected to Pan-Africanism, European cultural imperialism would have to be organically connected to Africa, which is not the case. As Prah pointedly asked: "What is the relevance of ‘scientific socialism' to the notion of African unity? [African Nation, p. 63] If it has no relevance to the objectives of Pan-Africanism or to African history and culture, how can it be correctly said to be organically complementary to Pan-Africanism? That Nkrumah was both a Pan-Africanist and a Marxist, is only a fortuitous coincidence in his intellectual life. It does not make Pan-Africanism and Marxism organically related in any way.

Furthermore, Ayi Kwei Armah has argued, correctly in my view, that

Marxism, in its approach to non-Western societies and values, is decidedly colonialist, Western, Eurocentric and hegemonist. . . . Marxism, in its approach to the non-Western majority of the world's peoples, is demonstrably racist - racist in a preju­diced, determined, dishonest and unintelligent fashion. Wes­tern racists hold that Western art is art, but African art is primitive art. . . . what makes Western art civilized and modern is that it originates in the West ; what makes African art primitive is that it originates in Africa. Racism is luxur­iously illogical. That is partly why, for Marx and Engels, communism is modern, civilized and serious when it appears in Europe (even if it has only a spectral form).The same communist phenomenon, when it manifests itself in the non-Western world, is dismissed as primitive communism, even though it appears there not as a fuzzy liberal specter but in human form - vigorous, pushing toward birth in societies familiar for ages with communism as a lost tradition and a real hope, often aborted, sometimes fleetingly realized.

 --"Masks and Marx", pp. 41-42

Since Pan-Africanism is anti-racist, anti-colonialist and anti-Eurocentric, Nkrumah cannot be correct in claiming that Pan-Africanism and a racist, colonialist and Eurocentric Marxism, a.k.a. "scientific socialism", are organically complementary and that one cannot be achieved without the other. That is tantamount to claiming that anti-racism and racism, anti-colonialism and colonialism, anti-Eurocentrism and Eurocentrism, must be achieved together in Africa.

 In contrast to Nkrumah's "scientific socialism", the African socialism of the other leaders is derived from African communalism and therefore has a historical and organic link to African culture. As Nyerere explained:

"By the use of the word ‘ujamaa', therefore, we state that for us socialism involves building on the foundation of our past, and building also to our own design. We are not importing a foreign ideology into Tanzania and trying to smother our distinct social patterns with it. We have deliberately decided to grow, as a society, out of our own roots, but in a particular direction and towards a particular kind of objective. We are doing this by emphasizing certain characteristics of our traditional organization, and extending them so that they can embrace the possibilities of modern technology and enable us to meet the challenge of life in the twentieth century world."

--Nyerere, "Ujamaa is Tanzanian socialism" in J. Ayo Langley ed, Ideologies, p. 546

Nkrumah would have done well to follow Nyerere and to heed Azikiwe's wise counsel on ideologies:

"it is obligatory for us to adopt a tolerant skepticism in respect of alien ideologies and then examine impartially our aboriginal lore of good living. If we reacted otherwise, then we would be desecrating the legacy which our forebears had bequeathed to us from past generations." - Azikiwe, "Tribalism . . . ", in J. Ayo Langley ed, Ideologies, p. 474

We need to note that both Capitalism and Socialism are ideologies made-in-Europe to solve the peculiar problems of a modern European society in which two antagonistic classes confront each other, one having seized all the society's means of production leaving the other with only its labor to sell to live. Unless and until that situation is replicated in Africa - and that would be a disaster-- these rival ideologies will remain inappropriate for Africa. After all, theories about the camel's way of life should not be applied to the whale's.

 It should be pointed out that the ancestral African political economy combined private ownership with communal ownership. As Kaunda described it:

" our ancestors worked collectively and co-oper­atively from start to finish. One might say this was a communist way of doing things and yet these gardens remained strongly the property of individuals. One might say here that this was capitalism. Collectively and co-operatively they harvested but when it came to storing and selling their produce they became strongly individualistic. They did not finish at that. When it came to sharing the fruits of their labour like meals, for instance, they shared them communally. Indeed, one is compelled to say a strange mixture of nineteenth-century capitalism with com­munism. Yet, as is said above, this was original and the pattern essentially African."

--Kaunda, "Humanism in Zambia", in J. Ayo Langley ed, Ideologies, p. 567

African Socialism or African Communalism?

Why did these African leaders choose the tag "African Socialism" for what was actually African Communalism? I suspect that in the global climate of the 1960s which was dominated by the intra-European Cold War, they found it prestigious to attach a European label to their African-derived political ideology, hence the "Socialism"; but they also needed to distinguish their ideology from European socialism, hence the "African" in the name. But I think the time is past when we should seek to enhance the value of something African by making it seem a variant of something European. Our intellectual independence requires that we name things correctly and on our own terms. I will therefore use the term African Communalism henceforth to describe what has been called African socialism.


Towards an Industrial Communalism

Nyerere, Senghor, Kaunda, Tom Mboya, Mamadou Dia and the rest of them began the process of formulating an ideology for building a political economy that would put in modern form the pre-colonial African political economy of agrarian communalism. The project remains uncompleted and should be continued from where these pioneers left off. The challenge to work out an industrial upgrade of pre-colonial African communalism is before our intellectuals and should be taken up. As Nyerere put it:

"Who is to keep us active in the struggle to convert nationalism to Pan-Africanism if it is not the staffs and students of our universities? Who is it who will have the time and ability to think out the practical problems of achieving this goal of unification if it is not those who have an opportunity to think and learn without direct responsibility for day-to-day affairs" - "Dilemma . . .", in Langley ed., Ideologies p.352

We should then invite our students and academics to take up the challenge and provide us with the much needed Industrial Communalist Ideology and thereby give us a framework of ideas with which to solve our problems, with which to define and pursue our interest in the world.

 I would caution them not to be put off by Nkrumah's unsound dictum that

"Practice without thought is blind; thought without practice is empty." - [Consciencism, New York: Monthly Review Press, 1964, p. 78] We should realize that Nkrumah's dictum is blind to the virtues of division of labor; it suggests that thinkers who are not also agitators should be regarded as having nothing to contribute. And that even a muddle-headed thinker who is an agitator is preferable to a clear thinker who is not also an agitator. Let those talented to think for us unabashedly do so. Let those who are talented agitators and political organizers do that unabashedly. And if we spawn any of those rare persons who combine first rate thinking with first rate organizational skills, we should be thankful and get them to contribute in the way Cabral contributed to Africa and Mao contributed to China, and Lenin to Russia.

 For the benefit of those who take up the challenge, let me stress that they should conceptualize our situation in a comprehensive way, so that the ideology they come up with can help solve our problems comprehensively. Unlike Nyerere, Kaunda and co, who were trying to work out a communalist system, but who did not explicitly impose on their system the conditions for defending it in the world as it is today, those who set out to fashion a neo-communalist system would do well to consciously design it so it can achieve the Black Power necessary to protect it in this century. The mix of principles of ownership of the land and other means of production must be consciously such as to allow the setting up of giant industries. In principle, there should be no reason why a giant industry should not be communally owned by an entire village or town. Modes of ownership by communities should be invented to supplement and complement individual ownership. In addition there is much to be learnt from the Industrialized systems of Sweden and Japan and from pre-colonial Asante. According to Prof. Opoku Agyeman:

Collectivism is the predominant impulse in Sweden, in the sense that the system emphasizes the sovereignty of collective well-being over individual private interests. In Japan, where society is similarly conceived in corporate terms, individuals ‘are seen to benefit only through the elevation of the group as a whole.' In Asante, the welfare of the national society was placed well above calculations of individual self-interest and self-indulgence.

Prof Agyeman further elaborates:

"The logic of the Japanese "capitalist" system places a heavy reliance on the private market. And yet Japan's market economy is not based on Adam Smith's notion "that a society benefits from the liberation of individual greed - each person seeking his own self-interest." In "socialist" Sweden the government's role has been to foster social uses of ownership, which is overwhelmingly private, to ensure the sovereignty of society's interests over private interests. . . . In "mercantilist" Asante, even though the public sector loomed larger than the private, no rigid antipathy to private enterprise existed. On the contrary, the private sector was nurtured by the state to generate wealth through the fostering of a breed of private entrepreneurs.

Socially responsible uses of the ownership of the means of production, private or public, is a demonstrable value in all three cases. In Sweden, while it is acceptable for a private owner of industry to create a fortune, this is conditional on the wealth being used in socially useful ways. In Japan, the private sector exudes social responsibility through a "corporate socialism" that confers such benefits as lifetime employment and egalitarian job practices. In Asante, private acquisition of wealth was encouraged but on condition that the riches were obtained by honest means and hard work and could be relied upon by the system for pecuniary assistance.

--Opoku Agyeman, Africa's persistent Vulnerable link to Global Politics, pp. 92, 90, 91

The great challenge facing African thinkers, whether or not they are also political leaders, is to fashion an industrial communalist ideology to guide the political economy of an industrialized Black superpower. In this task, they have much to learn from case studies of pre-colonial African countries like Asante and Zulu; and also from non-African countries like modern Japan, Sweden, Cuba and China.

Copyright © Chinweizu