WORDS: Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, excerpt from Class Struggle in Africa (New York: International Publishers, 1970)
IMAGES: Leeroy Jason, photographer based in Johannesburg, South Africa (*captions by Jason)
In spite of Africa’s socio-economic and political diversity it is possible to discern certain common political, social and economic conditions and problems. These derive from traditional past, common aspirations, and from shared experience under imperialism, colonialism and neocolonialism.
There is no part of the continent which has not known oppression and exploitation, and no part which remains outside the processes of the African Revolution.
To facilitate exploitation, colonialism hampered social and cultural progress in the colonies. Friction between tribes was in some cases deliberately encouraged when it served to strengthen the hands of colonial administrators.
In this colonialist situation, African workers regarded the colonialists, foreign firms and foreign planters, as the exploiters. Thus their class struggle became in the first instance anti-imperialist, and not directed against the indigenous bourgeoisie. It is this which has been responsible in some degree for the relatively slow awakening of the African worker and peasant to the existence of their true class enemy – the indigenous bourgeoisie.
At the core of the problem is the class struggle. Class divisions in modern African society became blurred to some extent during the pre-independence period, when it seemed there was national unity and all classes joined forces to eject the colonial power. This led some to proclaim that there were no class divisions in Africa, and that the communalism and egalitarianism of traditional African society made any notion of a class struggle out of the question.
But the exposure of this fallacy followed quickly after independence, when class cleavages which had been temporarily submerged in the struggle to win political freedom reappeared, often with increased intensity, particularly in those states where the newly independent government embarked on socialist policies.
Inequality can only be ended by the abolition of classes. The division between those who plan, organize and manage, and those who actually perform the manual labour, continually recreates the class system. The individual usually finds it very difficult, if not impossible, to break out of the sphere of life into which he is born; and even where there is “equality of opportunity”, the underlying assumption of inequality remains, where the purpose of “opportunity” is to aspire to a higher level in a stratified society.
For the African bourgeoisie, the class which thrived under colonialism, is the same class which is benefiting under the post-independence, neocolonial period. Its basic interest lies in preserving capitalist social and economic structures. It is, therefore, in alliance with international monopoly finance capital and neocolonialism, and in direct conflict with the African masses, whose aspirations can only be fulfilled through scientific socialism.
Many members of the African bourgeoisie are employed by foreign firms and have, therefore, a direct financial stake in the continuance of the foreign economic exploitation of Africa. They are mesmerized by capitalist institutions and organizations. They ape the way of life of their old colonial masters, and are determined to preserve the status and power inherited from them.
But on the credit side, a new grass roots political leadership emerged during the independence struggle. This was based on worker and peasant support, and committed not only to the winning of political freedom but to a complete transformation of society.
Started out strong, in my opinion, with the words about class structure post-independence. Then, you lost me with the later Nkrumah quotes. Scientific socialism isn’t the answer. It has never worked, and never will, on any significant scale. It was a nice, ideal seeming system at the time (and now), but it will never happen.
@IanMoone: Thank you for your response. Please note that the writing, in its entirety, is from Dr. Kwame Nkrumah’s 1970 treatise, Class Struggle in Africa. Even 42 years later, this muse is still relevant, particularly his main thesis concerning unbalanced power relations in Africa. Leeroy Jason’s photography vividly draws out these parallels, in our opinion. It seems you disagree with Nkrumah’s take on scientific socialism as a pragmatic solution to continental progress. Nothing wrong with that. What workable solutions do you propose?
Sorry if I wasn’t clear, but I am aware that all the writing was Dr. Nkrumah’s. I simply meant that his quotes used later in the post were those that I have trouble reconciling. “Inequality can only be ended by the abolition of classes” is a statement that I do not totally disagree with. I do believe that the abolition of classes is a goal that is unattainable, however. The class structure is so ingrained that I believe it makes more sense to attempt to work within the system rather than to essentially start anew building a system based on scientific socialism. There is no simple solution for increasing equality, unfortunately. I think it’s important to support entrepreneurship that is conscious of social and environmental impact. Although agriculture is not the most popular vocation for the youth, it is extremely important that we encourage socially responsible growth in the sector. A massive percentage of Africa’s poor are subsistence farmers that could benefit greatly from locally owned business better integrating them into the market system — and paying fair market prices for their goods. Obviously this is just one example in one sector of the economy, but it is an important first step towards lowering income inequality. By raising the economic power of rural farmers and communities, other sectors of the economy will also benefit. The newly economically empowered can then better advocate for changes to the political system because they have a stronger voice. Again, this is just one off-the-top example, but there are no easy answers.
Forgot to add…Amazing photos!