The great European powers which plundered and colonised Africa have left it with the most crippling legacy of poverty and under-development.

The complex political developments on the continent are beyond the scope of this document except in the most general terms. What is essential as the starting point of any analysis of politics in Africa, however, is an understanding of the insuperable barriers in the way of the development of these countries in the epoch of monopoly capitalism and imperialism.

Africa, perhaps more clearly than any other continent, provides the proof of the argument of Marxism that the fate of all the peoples of the earth is now inseparably bound together with the progress of the socialist revolution internationally.

We have shown how the immense scale and sophistication of the productive forces of modern industry stand in contradiction to the division of the world into separate nation states. Private ownership and the nation state stand as the fundamental barriers to progress even in the giant economies of the imperialist powers.

While recognizing that the nation state no longer plays a progressive role, Marxists have always supported wars of national liberation and the setting up of politically independent states, freed from colonial rule. The formation of these states has been progressive because, with the foreign ruler expelled, a less complicated situation faces the working class and poor peasants in the struggle against local rulers, landlords and capitalists.

But in giving this support unconditionally, Marxists systematically combat all illusions in a ‘national’ solution to the material problems of the working people.

The internationalist approach of Marxism stands in direct contrast to Stalinism, which cultivates false beliefs, not only in a ‘national-democratic stage’, but in the possibilities of ‘national development’, a ‘national road to socialism’, etc.

At their inception, the new states of the ex-colonial world are faced with the complex of contradictions between the world productive forces, their own weak productive forces, and the nation state and private ownership.

Even mighty India, with double the population of Africa, is suffocated in its development as a result. India’s motor industry has a 60% subsidy through protection against foreign competition—but still sells only 34 000 cars a year. In 1980, its steel industry was operating at only 68% of capacity—and still steel had to be imported, together with coal and cement.

Partial nationalisations prop up many industries which would simply not exist if exposed to the full force of international competition. Nationalised industries in India hold three-quarters of the country’s industrial assets, and together make a loss!

Thus the nation state can partly protect local economic development against the pressures of the world market even on the basis of capitalism, but only at the expense of heaping up massive new contradictions. Fundamentally the nation state is a barrier to the integration of the productive forces internationally, which is possible only with a revolutionary transformation of society.

Even, as we have seen, where private ownership is overthrown under proletarian bonapartist regimes, the national state apparatus is entrenched and undergoes a huge parasitic development. The national self-interest of each Stalinist bureaucracy drives them even to wars against each other (witness the Sino-Soviet split and the border clashes between the two; the military conflict between Vietnam and China; the war between Vietnam and Kampuchea, or that between Ethiopia and Somalia, etc).

It is only the movement of the working class, and revolutions bringing the working class to power with conscious Marxist programme and leadership, which can break down the nation-state barriers, end imperialism, and lead to the harmonious integration and development of the productive forces internationally under democratic workers’ control.

Africa: Divided and Poor

Africa is a continent of vast resources—of rich mineral deposits, and mighty rivers to serve as sources of energy. Yet, even taken as a whole, its gross annual production is tiny in relation to its resources and the needs of its people.

The total value of production in sub-Saharan Africa (excluding South Africa) in 1980 was $100 000 million—the equivalent of the assets of the Shell and Exxon multi-national oil companies.

This reflects both the crippling legacy of colonial rule and the continued impasse of development on the basis of capitalism. In most of Africa, the imperialists have invested very little. It is estimated that 40% of the total private foreign investment in Africa south of the Sahara between 1880 and 1936, went to South Africa; 18% to Zambia and Zimbabwe; 15% to Zaire, Kenya and Uganda—and only negligible quantities of investment elsewhere. The same pattern was repeated after World War II—up to 1961 half the new private investment in Africa went to South Africa.

By 1960 there were only about 10 million African wage earners (including seasonal labour). But to consider the economy of Africa as a whole does not take into account the full extent of the problem. As a result of colonial rule, Africa has suffered appalling Balkanisation and national fragmentation. This forms one of the major barriers to development.

The Organization of African Unity, established to promote African unity, bases itself on maintaining the ‘territorial integrity’ of existing states. Unable, because of the rottenness of capitalism, to even develop and unite their own countries, its member-states cannot take a single material step towards the unification of Africa. Yet everyone publicly recognizes that African unity is essential if the continent is to progress!

The resulting impotence of the OAU has been repeatedly demonstrated in every real crisis—over the civil war in Nigeria from 1967 to 1970; over the crisis in Angola in 1975; over Chad in 1981; in their inability to unite today to support the people of the Western Sahara led by Polisario against Moroccan claims to their country.

In 1981, during the Libyan intervention in the civil war in Chad, the governments of the Central African Republic, Ivory Coast, Gabon and Senegal all actually asked for more French soldiers to garrison their states against Libya! Niger and Cameroun have also sought defence agreements with the French.

Increasingly the national leaders grouped in the OAU feel themselves like so many pigeons, waiting to be picked off by coups and revolutions. They huddle together, anxiously trying to curb the quarrels in their ranks. As though compensating for weakness, they splash out on lavish conferences and public displays. The recent OAU conference in Sierra Leone cost $130 million—the equivalent of about one-fifth of the country’s gross annual production! The year before that, in Liberia, it cost $200 million.

Nevertheless, President Tolbert was assassinated while he was the current Chairman of the OAU. The leader of the Liberian coup, master-sergeant Samuel Doe, was at first boycotted by a fearful OAU—but then admitted once he seemed fixed in his seat.

The unremitting turmoil in Africa, and the brittleness of the continent’s ‘nation states’, is an expression of economic stagnation and bankruptcy.

When conquered by imperialism, Africa as a whole was at a lower level of economic development than other regions of the colonial world. While there was a significant indigenous trade, the bulk of the population lived by direct subsistence from the land. There was little development of a peasantry in the sense that it had existed in Europe, or still exists in Asia or Latin America. Nor was landlordism much developed.

Simultaneously, there has been a far lower density of population in Africa, and hence less pressure on the land.


With colonial conquest, however, capitalist market relations began to penetrate the traditional societies. Cash-crop agriculture developed, shaped by the imperial powers to serve the needs of their economies.

In certain colonies—such as Kenya and Rhodesia —white settler populations gathered and dominated agricultural production with methods of large-scale capitalist farming. In other colonies (such as Ghana and Senegal) an indigenous peasantry developed, producing crops no longer for the subsistence of their own communities alone but also for sale on the market.

This narrow economic basis of colonial capitalism provided little or no foundation for the domestic accumulation of capital or the development of industry, as had occurred in Europe.

Thus with the partial exception of South Africa (dealt with in later chapters), Nigeria and Egypt, African countries have had no possibility of developing any significant industrial base able to stand up in the high winds of world capitalist competition.

Large-scale industry based in the advanced countries dominates world markets. Under-development, poverty, and dependence on cheap labour mean that the domestic market in Africa is cripplingly small. The huge cost of developing major manufacturing industries is completely out of the reach of these countries, and even if they could finance them, they would be unable to use their capacity because of the existing pressures of capitalist ‘over-production’ and stagnation on the world market.

Terms of trade

Therefore, manufacturing industry, where it has developed in Africa, has generally involved relatively small-scale production of fairly elementary consumer goods. Every step forward in this direction, however, also involves increasing imports of machinery and other capital goods.

Because of the power of the imperialist monopolies, Africa, like all the ex-colonial world, is subjected to super-exploitation through the terms of trade.

Africa is more exposed than any other part of the world to the vagaries of world trade in primary commodities. Thirty-two ‘major resource commodities’ account for about 70% of its non-fuel exports, compared with 35% for all ‘Third World’ countries, and 10% for the world as a whole. In 1975, at least 20 countries in Africa derived more than half their export earnings from a single product.

Worsening inequalities in the terms of trade have been apparent throughout the independence period in Africa. For example, in Senegal, peasants got fewer francs for a kilo of peanuts in 1968 than they got in 1960, while the price of small farm equipment rose more than 250% in the same period.

In the Central African Republic, the official producer price paid for cotton doubled in money terms from 1970 to 1978, while the price of manufactured goods trebled.

In spite of spiralling inflation, the official prices paid to producers remained virtually stagnant in a number of African countries in the 1970s. Between 1978 and 1980, the terms of trade of the non-oil producing countries of Africa fell as a whole by about 8%, and even the World Bank admits that this loss of purchasing power “will probably be permanent”. (A fall in raw material prices is a characteristic feature of capitalist crisis.)

All this has meant intolerable hardships, especially for the poor peasants, who, unable to afford advanced machinery, have to work harder and harder to receive less and less. Thus in Zambia, for instance, peasants now have to grow three times as much maize as they did during the 1960s, to buy a similar shirt, blanket or hoe. Not surprisingly, many peasants do not find it worthwhile to produce for the market, and return where possible to producing for their own needs alone.

As a result of all these factors, this fertile continent, with its vast potential for agricultural production, today faces the most severe food crisis in the entire world.

Food Crisis

Because of the pressures of capitalism on agriculture, with the increasing ruin of production for the market, there has been a steady drift of population to the towns. Although not yet on the scale of Asia and Latin America, there has been a big growth of shanty towns on the outskirts of the cities.

In 1960 only three cities in Africa south of the Sahara had populations exceeding 500 000. In 1980 there were 28.

Kinshasa now has at least three million people.

Lagos’ population almost doubled between 1975 and 1980—and could reach 20 million by the year 2000. Already the average living space per person is only three square metres, and only half the city’s population has access to clean running water—the rest having to buy it by the bucketful.

Together with the increased flow of population from the land to the towns, the crisis of peasant agriculture has meant a steady decline in food production per head of population.

On the continent as a whole, food production per person fell 7% in the 1960s, declined a further 15% in the 1970s, and is likely to continue deteriorating throughout the 1980s, according to a recent UN World Food Council report.

Food consumption is 10% less per head than 10 years ago, despite a doubling of grain imports in the 1970s to 11 million tonnes. Over the past few years, Kenya, Zambia, Zaire, Malawi, Zimbabwe and Mozambique have all been obliged to import maize from South Africa. The UN report warns that Africa’s total food imports are expected to triple by the mid-1980s.

In the dry regions of the continent Africa’s food crisis means appalling famines.

In the past half-century 650 000 square kilometres of once productive land on the southern edge of the Sahara have been turned into desert. The desert is now advancing by seven to eight kilometres a year. The causes of this are complex, but are substantially economic and social, involving over-grazing, destruction of trees, uneconomical methods of cultivation, etc.

In the arid regions of the world, one person now dies of hunger and malnutrition every six seconds. Many of these are in Africa.

In the Sahel region, stretching from Senegal to Somalia, at least 150 000 died of famine in 1973 alone. Since then there have been the famines in the Ogaden and in Karamoja.

In 1980, after crop failures made worse by the turmoil of war, more than 150 million people in 26 African countries were hungry. In the Sudan today, 10 million people are at risk from starvation.

To overcome these problems and reverse them would require truly vast investment, and an economic and social transformation impossible on the basis of capitalism or within the framework of the national state.

The crisis of peasant agriculture is made insoluble by the combined effects of neo-colonial domination, the widening gap between agricultural prices and the inflated prices of imports, and the weakness of the domestic market and general impoverishment of the population in the towns.

Peasants will only produce food over and above their own immediate needs if they derive some benefit from this—if they can exchange the surplus for manufactured goods, for fertilisers, implements, clothing, radios and other products leading to the advancement of their conditions of life.

But if the economy cannot provide these things—at least at prices the peasants can afford—there is no inducement to increase production. In turn, the stagnation of agriculture fuels the vicious circle of under-development.

In a number of countries in Africa, as in other continents, the state has attempted to intervene and compel the peasants to increase production without any corresponding economic inducement. Invariably this leads to disaster.

In Mali, which is effectively under a military dictatorship, the state ‘Office du Niger’ has organised the collective exploitation of the peasants, backed up by military force. Fixed quotas are imposed on the peasants to sell quantities of food to the state. If the peasants refuse to meet these quotas, soldiers come and beat them up.

Because of the low level of technique, and resulting low productivity of agriculture, the peasants are often left with only enough rice to feed themselves and their families for little more than half a year, after the quota of food has been handed over. They quickly discover that the more isolated villages—further from the reach of the state—are better off.


Thus there is a tendency for peasants to escape as far as possible into subsistence farming or, where they are able to produce a surplus, to smuggle it over the border into neighbouring countries where a higher price can be obtained.

Cereal production has fallen to half the level of the 1950s.

Unable to solve the crisis by these methods of coercion, the regime in Mali resorted to looking for increased foreign aid to promote the mechanisation and development of agriculture.

But as a condition, the aid donors are now imposing a ‘free market’ on Mali. By this is meant that price controls on food have to be lifted, as a supposed inducement for the peasants to produce freely for the market.

But how can food prices be raised without threatening the towns? Immediately the impoverished workers and unemployed of the towns are faced with disaster. Without the healthy development of industry and rising employment, there cannot be a development of the domestic market and effective exchange of commodities between town and country. The situation lurches from one contradiction to another, and the vicious circle of dependence and under-development is maintained.

By one route or another, the regime comes into contradiction with the mass of the population. Temporarily it can balance uneasily, manoeuvring between the peasants and workers, oppressing both while attempting to set the one off against the other.

The regime has also manoeuvred and tacked in foreign relations between the Soviet Union on the one hand and the imperialist powers (especially France) on the other. While the working class in Mali is struggling for independent unions against the military dictatorship, the Soviet bureaucracy, vies with France for the sympathy of—the regime. The Malian armed forces, which are used to suppress the peasants and workers, have been trained by about 200 Soviet advisors and supplied with Soviet planes and equipment.

Mali alone has the agricultural potential to feed the whole of West Africa—but this is impossible unless society is freed from the shackles of capitalism and from the contradictions of neo-colonialism and the nation state.

It could not be excluded that the regime in Mali could pass over, under severe pressure from the masses in a revolutionary crisis, to the reconstruction of state power on proletarian bonapartist lines. Already most of industry is nationalised, with state enterprises accounting for about 75% of industrial output.

But even such a turn would not fundamentally change the impasse of backwardness and poverty which the people face. For a small and weak economy, with no possibility of developing an independent industrial base, reliance on imported machinery and technology would continue unabated.

The creeping paralysis of the economies of the developed Stalinist states means that there is now less and less possibility for their under-developed allies to gain the necessary assistance there.

The desperate search for increased aid from the West is one of the factors which has produced, for example, the recent turn by Sekou Toure’s officially ‘Marxist’ Guinea from a close relation with the Soviet bureaucracy toward a new alignment with imperialism.

Zero Growth

On a continental scale in Africa there is now a generalised crisis of agriculture and industry, reflected in social and political stresses and storms. Even the bald statistics of growth demonstrate the depth of the impasse.

In the 1970s, output per person rose more slowly in sub-Saharan Africa than in any other part of the world. Death rates are the highest in the world and life expectancy the lowest. Of the world’s 31 countries with an income of less than $200 per head, 21 are African.

In 19 African countries per capita income grew by less than 1% a year between 1969 and 1979, and 15 countries recorded negative growth. In the whole of the 1980s Africa is expected to show zero growth!

These are the devastating consequences of the international crisis of capitalism in this, the least developed part of the capitalist world.

As the continent falls further and further behind the developed industrial powers, as the value of exports falls or stagnates, one African government after another is obliged to cut back on its already inadequate development plans. It becomes less and less possible to afford the cost of the necessary imports of industrial goods.

Already, on average, the foreign currency reserves of the states in Africa are sufficient only to cover about two months of imports. At the mercy of world market forces manipulated by the monopolies, any African country can be precipitated into the severest crisis by a sudden fall in the price of its main export product.

Similarly, any breakdown in the transport network, the choking up of the ports, etc., can leave these countries within a matter of weeks unable to maintain their exports and thus unable to pay for current supplies of vital imports.


Occasionally, small rescue operations by the international bankers, covering deficits with foreign loans, may enable bankrupted African governments to stagger from one crisis to the next. But Africa provides the least attractive prospect of anywhere to the international money sharks.

The bankers of the West have already burned their fingers badly in the case of Zaire. This country, once talked of as the “Brazil of Africa”, has a quarter of the world’s copper, half the world’s cobalt, and vast diamond and other mineral resources.

On the basis of rising world copper prices in 1973-4, hundreds of millions of dollars were borrowed from the West to finance development. When the oil price quadrupled, the price of copper slumped and the economy was shattered.

By June 1975, Zaire was unable to pay the interest on its loans. The banks agreed to reschedule the debt, but still received no interest. A special IMF task force was sent in, but withdrew again without result. Then the World Bank sent a mission under a Dutch economist, also without result.

Now the banks accept that they will not get back their $4,5 billion loaned to Zaire!

But what can they do about it? As the American magazine Newsweek expressed it, the concept of bankruptcy has no real meaning for a nation, for it is no longer possible to send an imperial gunboat up the river to seize a nation’s assets.

It is irony indeed that the rapacious bankers are now becoming ‘victims’ of their own imperialist world crisis.

Under the present system the working people of Zaire face a losing battle even for their daily bread. They carry on their backs the impossible burdens of neo-colonial domination, combined with the exploitation of local capital and the vicious oppression of a corrupt military regime.

The Mobutu government has given Kinshasa the reputation of the ‘corruption capital’ of Africa. He has personally siphoned hundreds of millions of dollars of Western loans and aid into personal bank accounts in Europe. His possessions include blocks of flats, stately homes and land in Belgium, Switzerland, France, Spain and elsewhere in Africa.

But Mobutu’s crimes merely epitomise a condition which saturates the state.

There is simmering hostility to the regime throughout Zaire, and it can only maintain its grip by the most ruthless measures. When, in 1978, there was a popularly supported armed rebellion in the mineral-rich Shaba province, Mobutu was only able to re-establish his grip with the aid of French paratroopers.

If corruption has reached unparalleled proportions in Zaire, it is none the less endemic in all the capitalist regimes of Africa.

This is inevitable because, in the stagnation of their economies, the ruling bourgeois and petty-bourgeois elites have no possibility of advancing their position and enriching themselves by the ‘normal’ methods of capitalist exploitation. They are in the position of scavengers who must content themselves with the leavings where the great lions of capitalism have already fed.

Thus it is through the apparatus of the state that they seek to enrich themselves—by bribery, pilfering and the taking of kick-backs on the side. Corruption seeps down through the whole state bureaucracy, affecting and perverting even the smallest official function.


In these countries, the character of the state reflects the economic impasse, the weakness of the capitalist class, and the simmering discontent of the mass of the people. Within years of political independence, most of the impotent ‘parliaments’ constructed by the colonial powers on the model of London or Paris were swept aside. Many of the leaders of the independence movements became personal dictators, ruling through the machinery of one-party states, or were displaced by military coups.

Thus the unresolved crisis of society and the contradictions between the contending classes has given rise (as elsewhere in the ‘Third World’) to bonapartist regimes, rising above the pressures of the classes in conflict and balancing between them, always in the interests of the survival of capitalism. The state apparatus has grown overweight and top-heavy, absorbing huge proportions of the national product just in the payment of salaries to the bureaucrats.

The new burdens imposed by the world capitalist downswing heighten the tensions immeasurably. Coups and counter-coups, a veering between military and civilian rule, take place at an accelerated pace. In some countries, such as Uganda and Chad, the unresolved centrifugal tensions of national fragmentation crack the state machinery itself apart into near total breakdown.

Any country in Africa could be taken to illustrate the impasse of economy and society facing the entire continent as a result of the delays of the world socialist revolution. Here we have space for only a few examples, each of which, in its own way, is significant.

‘Socialism’ in Tanzania?

Since the 1960s, many in Africa have looked to the example of ‘Tanzanian socialism’ in the hope of finding there an alternative, both to the exploitation of capitalism and to the totalitarian system of Stalinism.

In fact, no revolutionary transformation of society, involving the abolition of the capitalist system, has taken place in Tanzania. While attempts have been made by the Nyerere government to improve the conditions of the working people, the experience of Tanzania over the past twenty years has rather gone to show the complete impossibility of establishing stable reform in an under-developed country—irrespective of the intentions of the leaders.

The ideas of ‘African socialism’ have been based on the belief that the pre-capitalist rural communities of Africa could serve as the foundation and model for the development of society on lines of democracy and equality, avoiding the emergence of class divisions, of class struggle, and class rule.

Such ideas have proved to be completely utopian. They ignore the fact (which Marx long ago explained) that the very development of the productive forces—the basis of all progress—itself inevitably liquidates the old communal societies and provides the material foundation for class stratification.

The transition to socialism is possible only in conditions of abundance arising from the highest development of the productive forces, modern industry and technique.

Those conditions are present on a world scale. Because of the international nature and scale of modern productive forces, it is impossible for national economies to develop far in isolation or to find their own ‘national’ road to socialism (however long they might strive to do so). The case of Tanzania shows conclusively that the struggle for socialism in Africa cannot be separated from the struggle for socialism world-wide.

Tanzania is one of the poorest countries in Africa. With a population of 18 million, about 90% are peasants while (in 1975) the number of workers in industry amounted to only 72 000.

At independence in 1961 there were very few industries, and these were mainly foreign-owned and under foreign management, largely concerned with the processing of agricultural products. There was no local bourgeoisie to speak of except a small Asian merchant class. The African middle-class could gain a foothold only through control of the state.

Also under pressure to improve the conditions of the people, Nyerere’s government moved in the late 1960s to bring most of the economy under state control. But industrial growth, starting from a very low base, has inevitably involved increasing dependence on imported industrial goods.

Foreign investment has been negligible, while the surplus generated domestically has been far too small to sustain the development programme. Thus an increasing proportion of the development budget has had to be financed from foreign aid.

From a low point of 24% in 1967/8, this proportion had risen to 68% by the end of the 1970s. Tanzania’s foreign trade is overwhelmingly with the West, and only in marginal quantities with China, Russia and Eastern Europe.


After independence, the state bureaucracy was Africanised while its control was extended over production and distribution. On the one hand this cut across the hoarding and over-pricing of the merchant class, but on the other hand substituted for it the inevitable stifling effects and corruption generated by bureaucracy.

Growing quantities of the surplus generated in the economy go to provide salaries and perks for the higher rungs of state employees. The middle and upper rungs of the civil service have expanded in number from 4 452 posts at the end of 1961 to well over 20 000 by 1980.

The evils of bureaucracy have become superimposed on the evils of under-developed capitalism. Because of the small surplus and extreme poverty of the population, the regime has had to constrain the self-enrichment and conspicuous consumption of the bureaucrats. This has been taken, especially outside Tanzania, to support the regime’s claim to ‘socialism’.

But the conditions faced by the workers and peasants of Tanzania result in growing cynicism towards such claims. There is widespread smuggling and cheating, and an elaborate magendo (black market) system involving large numbers of officials operates at the expense of the poor.

Shortages of food have become acute, especially inland, where mealiemeal, soap, cooking oil, sugar and paraffin often sell for three times the official price, if available at all.

In an effort to increase peasant production, while bringing it under state control, the regime launched the ujamaa programme, and later, ‘villagisation’ on a national scale.

But, for the peasants there is no advantage in collectivising production unless there is a return for increased output in the form of a supply of manufactured goods and services. Without a material basis to support them, purely ‘moral’ incentives prove impotent.

Unable to gain the support of the peasants for voluntary villagisation, the regime carried this out by force.

Certainly, as a result, the peasants gained advantages of water supply, schools and health services. 48% of the 8 000 villages have water; 92% have primary schools; and 35% have medical dispensaries. Adult literacy has risen from about 10% (in 1960) to more than 73%.

But beyond that there has been little advantage for the peasants, and living standards in rural areas are now in decline. Compulsory quotas have to be imposed on the villages for communal production.

Not surprisingly, the peasants stubbornly resist this, and there has been hardly any progress beyond subsistence farming. Only about 20 villages are said to be truly communal. At least 95% of the agricultural land is still farmed on an individual basis. Without ploughs, the peasants still depend on the hoe—a symbol of under-development which is actually made an object of glorification by the regime.

Cashew production fell by a half during the 1970s, while coffee production also fell. By the end of the decade, Tanzania’s exports of tea, coffee, cotton, and sisal had dropped to the level of 1962.

At the same time, the real value of peasant production was eroded by the adverse terms of trade on the world market. By 1979, for example, it required 13 tonnes of tea for Tanzania to import a tractor, compared with 5 tonnes in 1972. This was experienced by the peasants as a dwindling in real terms of the official state-imposed prices for their crops.

The swollen bureaucracy has become an enormous drain on the economy. In the case of cashew nuts, more is spent on the administration of the product than on producing it. And it is now costing Tanzania more in administration costs to produce a kilo of pyrethrum than the world market price for the product!

The large standing army of 35 000 adds to the drain on the economy, which became severe during the military intervention in Uganda.

Such is the parlous state of the economy that in June 1981 Tanzania’s foreign reserves covered only two days’ imports. Arrears in payments to foreign suppliers stretched back 24 months. With industry operating at only 30% of capacity, inflation was running at 30-40%, real wages of the workers had fallen 40% in a decade, and the government was trying to reach agreement with the IMF.

Now, in March 1982, President Nyerere has announced the suspension of all development projects proposed for the next year.

He said that policies during the 1982-3 fiscal year would be aimed at “consolidating and rehabilitating existing projects”. The little foreign currency the country would earn next year would be used to pay for parts and other essentials.


Yet it was only recently that the regime announced a “twenty-year industrialisation programme” giving priority to heavy industry, intended as a basis for the manufacture of machine tools, plant and other capital goods! This utterly utopian programme has now ended in the swamp of the impossible contradictions of under-development and the international capitalist system.

Neither Nyerere nor the Tanzanian ‘socialist’ bureaucracy can find a way out of these contradictions. A way forward will be found only if the small but militant Tanzanian working class can rise to the task of leading the nation, drawing to itself the radical youth and peasants, and striving to link up its struggle and the fate of Tanzania with the development of the working-class movement throughout Africa and internationally.

To succeed in that difficult task, it will be necessary to take up the scientific ideas of Marxism and internationalism.

The period ahead will be one of great turbulence and conflict in Tanzania, made all the harsher by the one-party dictatorship which the regime of Nyerere has imposed. The ruling party, the CCM (the successor to TANU) is not, as is claimed, an authentic party of workers and peasants but an instrument of the bureaucracy.

Independent trade unions have been suppressed in Tanzania and worker organisation brought under state control.

The National Assembly is regarded as a talking shop, with many of its members appointed. Power is in the hands of the CCM, but within the party itself only one-sixth of the NEC are elected by the National Conference.

The Central Committee is even less a representative body. Most real decisions are made by Nyerere himself, together with his close advisers.

Nyerere skilfully balances and manoeuvres at the head of the regime, playing off rivals against each other. While maintaining a personal reputation for incorruptibility, he makes his subordinates scapegoats for the pervasive corruption of the government.

But in the crisis which Tanzanian society now faces, it may well be that Nyerere’s traditional methods of bonapartist rule will prove inadequate, and that there may be a turn towards involvement of the military in government.

Nigeria Moving into Crisis

In contrast with Tanzania, Nigeria is the strongest and most developed capitalist country in Africa north of the Limpopo.

With a population variously estimated at between 80 million and 100 million, Nigeria is a giant of Africa. One in every four Africans is Nigerian.

Moreover, it is the only country on the continent where, on the basis of a significant growth of industry, there has been a substantial development of an African bourgeois class.

The basis for this in Nigeria’s case has been its oil wealth. At independence in 1960, oil provided only 2,6% of the country’s export earnings. But today oil accounts for well over 90% of export earnings and 80% of all government revenues.

Nigeria is also one of the few countries in Africa having a well-developed small peasantry, with a long history of providing a variety of products for the market.

Nevertheless this vast and populous country has been plagued since independence by serious problems of national division and fragmentation. There are over 250 different language groups, as well as significant economic and social differences between the various regions.

After independence, the still weak national bourgeoisie proved incapable of holding the country together, just as it could not satisfy the demands of the peasants and workers. The opening up of Nigeria’s oil resources at first merely exacerbated regional rivalries among the elite.

Thus, after six years of unstable parliamentary government, there was a military takeover, designed to suppress the struggles of the masses and impose a semblance of ‘national unity’ on the bourgeoisie, while capitalist development was undertaken.

Nevertheless, civil war broke out between the regions, and raged for more than three years, inflicting ghastly suffering on wide sections of the people.

It was only in 1979, after thirteen years of military rule involving no fewer than four coups, that there was a precarious return to civilian government and the holding of elections.


This changeover was forced by the growing unpopularity of military rule, by mass hostility to the corruption of the army officer corps, and by a rising movement of the working class against the military’s policy of “wage restraint” which had caused substantial cuts in living standards.

On a capitalist basis it has been impossible to develop either agriculture or industry in correspondence with the vast potential of the country.

Assisted by state policy, and on the basis of the oil boom in the 1970s, it was possible to undertake a programme of Nigerianisation or “indigenisation” of industry. Thus whereas in 1966 Nigerians owned only 7% of private sector capital, by 1976 they owned about 42%.

But this development of the national bourgeoisie has taken place mainly in the realm of the production of light and intermediate goods, mostly consumer goods.

Nigerian industry has remained characterised by its heavy dependence on imported heavy industrial goods, and even materials. While the book value of foreign investment in Nigeria has trebled, manufacturing as a percentage of domestic product has stayed stubbornly below 10%.

The huge potential market of the Nigerian population has not sufficed to ensure an all-round industrial development. The dependence of capitalism on cheap labour squeezes the market, with the result that special assistance from the state is necessary to promote the domestic manufacture of even nails, concrete blocks and lead pencils. In 1980, only 10% of yarn for the textile industry was produced locally, although the country could be an exporter of cotton-based products.

Most Nigerians are actually worse off after the period of growth based on the oil boom. The country is characterised by huge disparities of wealth. In the towns, about 85% of the population live in extreme poverty.

Capitalism in Nigeria, unable to promote a healthy development of the domestic market, has thereby also been unable to develop agriculture. Agricultural production has been falling well behind population growth for over twenty years. From being self-sufficient in food, Nigeria now has to import substantial quantities of it—to the extent of 15% of total imports.

Measures of compulsion directed towards the peasantry, price controls on agricultural products, etc., have resulted in much of Nigeria’s groundnut crop being smuggled into Niger. Cocoa is smuggled to Benin, where it is exchanged for cheaper textiles. In town and country, the ‘parallel market’ has burgeoned.

To escape crisis, the capitalist class must always seek to develop the productive forces further, but the contradiction of the system is that each successive development reproduces the crisis on a higher level. The very progress of the Nigerian capitalist economy has made its dependence on oil absolute. Without oil, it would have been impossible to finance imports; nor could the country have afforded the high rate of government spending, which has been running at about 30% of GDP.

Nevertheless oil is a wasting resource. Realising this, the Nigerian bourgeoisie embarked on a strategy to broaden their export base by 1990. Hence the shakily-based government of Shagari launched an extremely ambitious $125 billion five-year development plan. The aim has been to enable Nigeria to compete for export markets with the advanced capitalist countries.

But already the world crisis of capitalism has manifested itself as a savage crisis of Nigerian capitalism also. The recession in the industrialised countries of the West (not least in the USA which has been buying half Nigeria’s oil) has produced a slump in the oil market. Not only has the price of oil been forced down once again, but the volume of exports has been cut.

The development plan budgeted for exports of 1,9 million barrels a day—but in August 1981, with its oil price cut by $4 a barrel, Nigeria was exporting only 650 thousand barrels a day.

Investment plans had to be drastically cut. Imports exceeded exports by an average of $650 million a month. In the course of the year, two-thirds of Nigeria’s foreign exchange reserves drained away. Shortages became widespread and government revenues dried up. At one point the state was unable even to pay the wage packets of the civil servants and was faced with a rash of strikes.


Now, in March 1982, with a further fall in oil prices, and a renewed decline in oil exports, the Nigerian government has announced a total freeze on imports. That represents a crisis of major proportions.

In all probability, if food imports are not resumed, domestic food prices will have to rise.

With one million job seekers coming onto the labour market each year, unemployment will rocket faster than ever. It will be more and more difficult for the state to finance the army—the biggest in sub-Saharan Africa, which has been used in the past as a kind of ‘social sponge’ to keep the unemployed off the streets.

Already there have been big struggles of the working class for a national minimum wage, with the unions demanding double the level of wages which the government has been willing to fix. Now these struggles are certain to intensify.

While the size of the army has been cut since the civil war, the police force is being vastly expanded, from 80 000 (in 1960) to an expected 220 000 by 1984. While presented as a measure to combat rising crime, these forces are being prepared for confrontations with the working class.

At the same time there will be new pressures towards national fragmentation. The present constitution, in an attempt to keep Nigeria together, allows a considerable flexibility in the creation of new states within the federation. But already there are sixty-one different demands for the creation of new states!

If not immediately, then certainly in the course of the next few years the parliamentary regime in Nigeria will be rocked by unmanageable crises, and there could well be a new turn to a military or military-police dictatorship.


But as in the past that would not solve any of the social or economic problems, and would only heap up further explosive material within society and the state.

Nigeria has no way out on a capitalist basis. At the same time it is extremely unlikely that there could be a development in the direction of proletarian bonapartism. Because of the extent of development of industry, the growth of the bourgeoisie and the size of the petty bourgeoisie adhering to it, it would require thorough-going revolution in order to transform Nigeria. The weight of the working class in society means that it is the only social force which could lead that struggle.

The organised labour movement in Nigeria is over thirty years old. The trade unions claim more than three million members. There is a long history of independent workers’ struggle both against military and civilian regimes.

The fear of the ruling class for the workers’ movement is indicated in the fact that the party-political system is carefully made the exclusive preserve of the bourgeoisie and petty bourgeoisie. The unions are formally forbidden by law from participation in party politics—a measure designed to prevent the formation of a workers’ party.

This situation means that any bourgeois government—military or civilian—would be on very shaky foundations in Nigeria. The working class, organised on a Marxist programme in a struggle for power, could readily win over the bulk of the ranks of the army to the tasks of the revolution.

Therefore the crisis of Nigerian society, in much the same way as in the more industrialised countries of capitalism, will come to turn in the years ahead upon a struggle within the organised workers’ movement for a revolutionary programme and leadership.

Which Way Ghana?

Likewise in nearby Ghana, the working class has the capacity to lead the peasants, the radical youth and middle class, the lower ranks of the army and the unemployed towards a solution of the nation’s problems.

Ghana is today in the midst of a revolutionary upheaval. But that revolution is presently in a blind alley, as a result of the lack of a clear revolutionary programme and leadership of the mass movement.

Ghana provided the spear-head of the struggle for independence in Africa. Following the withdrawal of British colonialism, the Ghanaian working people have experienced a succession of leaders, policies and regimes. They passed through a series of zig-zags under the government of Nkrumah; they have experienced civilian governments, right-wing military coups and ‘left-wing’ military coups; they have experienced programmes of reform followed by programmes of counter-reform. They have seen promises made, promises broken, and promises followed by new promises.

Twenty-five years after independence, the Ghanaian economy is in tatters, while per capita income is lower in real terms than twenty years ago. In a country where 10% of the people have 80% of the wealth, the living standards of the workers and poor peasants have fallen savagely. This has been despite the growth of industry from around 2% of GDP in 1958 to around 17% by 1980.

On the familiar pattern of the under-developed countries, capitalism in Ghana has been able to develop in the main only consumer-oriented light industries. Industry has remained heavily—and increasingly—dependent on imports. 70-80% of Ghana’s foreign earnings have come from the export of cocoa. In the past the production of cocoa rose steeply—but for whole periods even this did not compensate for the instability and real falls in the cocoa price.

Then the general impasse of the capitalist economy began to manifest itself in the crisis of agriculture. Owing to the lack of investment, there was little new planting and Ghana’s cocoa has come increasingly from ageing trees with a resulting decline in quality and quantity.

In the course of the last decade, an absolute fall in production has combined with other factors to precipitate a severe crisis throughout the economy.

In 1975, 397 000 tonnes of cocoa were produced; in 1981, only an estimated 270 000 tonnes. The transport infrastructure broke down, and resulted in an accumulation of cocoa in country areas where it rotted because of inadequate storage.

The bankruptcy of Ghanaian capitalism has also been reflected in a crisis of the currency. In 1981, while there was an official exchange rate of 6,5 cedis to the pound, they were exchanging on the ‘black market’ at the rate of 50-55 to the pound sterling.

All these factors combined to produce a huge increase in the smuggling abroad of cocoa and other products. Cocoa could be sold in foreign currency across the border, and then converted to cedis at the unofficial rate. Attempts to force the peasants to sell their cocoa at low official prices, on an officially controlled market, has long produced chronic smuggling, particularly in the outlying areas.

In recent years the amount of cocoa by-passing the official market has been estimated at 40-50 000 tonnes a year. By 1980, that amounted to a loss in foreign exchange equivalent to 15% of the total import bill.

Simultaneously, food production has been in absolute decline. It decreased 21% between 1970 and 1978, while Ghana’s population grew 30% per annum. Young people have been leaving the rural areas and flooding to the towns; because of transport breakdowns fertiliser cannot be transported to the farmers; much of rural trade has been reduced to barter; and there has been a persistent breakdown of essential supplies to the towns.

Urban poverty, rising unemployment, low wages, the stagnation of the domestic market, and chronic shortages of foreign exchange meant that—by 1981—most of Ghana’s industry, apart from brewing and cigarette-making, was running at only 20-30% of capacity.

There were sharp increases in malnutrition, disease and child mortality. Hospitals lacked essential drugs, bandages and sometimes even water. Roads and bridges were in a state of collapse.

With 70% inflation in 1981, the minimum daily wage of a worker could buy little over half a loaf of bread. Many have been reduced to buying ‘edible cowhide’ instead of meat. Little wonder that the Ghanaian workers refer to their own survival as “the Ghanaian miracle”!

On top of these unbearable conditions was piled the profiteering of the Ghanaian merchants and capitalists, and the gross pilfering and self-enrichment of the upper layers of the government bureaucracy. Corruption, oozing from every crevice of the state, was said to be as rife as in Zaire.

In the early 1960s, the radical government of Nkrumah had attempted to secure and elevate the position of the Ghanaian petty-bourgeoisie through state controls against the depredations of imperialism. While taking measures to control the working-class, Nkrumah had also been obliged, under intense pressure from below, to concede reforms. But on the basis of capitalism, the masses repeatedly lost as much as they gained. Popular support for Nkrumah waned.


At the same time the imperialists, fearing that Nkrumah might move towards the overthrow of capitalism, financed through the CIA the officers’ coup in 1966. Such was the disillusionment of the masses at that time in Nkrumah, that there was no popular movement in opposition to his overthrow.

But the worsening conditions and oppression of the masses during more than a decade of right-wing civilian and military governments have made the days of Nkrumah appear in retrospect as a golden age. The crisis in society, the economic decay, the worsening poverty of the people and rampant corruption among the elite, set in motion also splits and upheavals within the army.

The lower ranks of the army have very poor conditions and live in close contact with the workers and peasants from whom they are drawn. Increasingly also the lower officers have been affected by the ferment in society.

This provided the background for the coup in 1979, when Flight-Lieutenant Rawlings briefly took power.

Buoyed up by popular enthusiasm and the support of the lower ranks of the army, he nevertheless had no idea of how to proceed to resolve the crisis of, Ghanaian society. His programme was confined to an attack on corruption.

In the days after the coup three former military heads of state were executed, and traders accused of profiteering were publicly flogged. But not knowing what to do with power, Rawlings surrendered it again to the capitalist class, with the army under its old commanding stratum, and was himself sent into compulsory retirement.

In subsequent interviews, Rawlings made it clear that he had headed the coup to open a safety valve for the releasing of popular resentment, in order to forestall a full-scale revolutionary mass movement which could have led to the disintegration of the army and the over-throw of the Ghanaian state.

The capitalist government of President Limann, elected in 1979, pledged itself to eliminate corruption, while turning to policies of economic austerity in an attempt to restore the health of capitalism and satisfy the IMF.

From this resulted worsening conditions for the poor, while all the old evils of corruption, profiteering, etc., returned with a vengeance. Rawlings’s earlier attempt to “teach a lesson” to the ruling class had failed. Capitalism requires not lessons but overthrow.

The fragile basis of capitalism and of the state machinery in Ghana was demonstrated again in 1981, by the coup which brought Rawlings out of retirement and to power once more. The background to it was the rising mood of popular anger, including the threat of a national strike by the working class over the cost of living. The coup itself was almost unplanned, met no real opposition, and was virtually bloodless. It was a pushover.


For their part the Ghanaian elite are desperately hoping that Rawlings will once again stop short of decisive measures against capitalism. On the other hand, the mass of the people are looking for a real revolutionary transformation of society as the only solution to their problems.

Rawlings balances uneasily between these conflicting pressures.

Once again he does not know what to do with power. His modest life-style and resolute hostility to corruption gives him an enormous personal following in Ghana. But “anti-corruption” is not in itself a revolutionary programme, as has already been shown.

Nor do the vague radical ideas and anti-imperialist phrases of ‘Nkrumahism’ show a concrete way forward. To counter the power of the right-wing, the senior military officers and top civil servants, Rawlings has called for the formation of “people’s democratic committees” in industry, the army, and on the land. But unless real power over the day-to-day running of society is exercised by these committees—linked together democratically on a country-wide basis—they cannot provide an effective alternative to the capitalist state machine.

For the time being, because of the weakness of the forces of reaction, and the weakness of the organised forces of Marxism within the Ghanaian working-class, this precarious balance of class forces can continue. Rawlings has composed his first government roughly equally of pro-capitalist and anti-capitalist elements.

But Ghana will inevitably sink deeper and deeper into economic disintegration unless society is transformed.

If the working-class does not resolve the situation by taking power, then with the cooling and disillusionment of the movement there will probably be a reconsolidation of the state apparatus and a renewed development towards the right.

Nevertheless, it will be very difficult for the ruling-class and the higher ranks of the army to organise a savage reaction because they are already so thoroughly discredited and loathed as a result of their record of the past.

It is also inherent in the situation that the pressure of the masses may force Rawlings far further to the left than he intends to go, into measures against capitalism and the power of the old elite. Since 1979, the bourgeoisie internationally has been haunted by the spectre of an ‘Ethiopian’ development in Ghana.

Ethiopian Revolution

In Ethiopia, in 1974, the famine brought about under the rule of the emperor, Haile Selassie and the landlord nobility was the last catastrophe even the officer class was prepared to tolerate. The callous indifference of the emperor and the landlord class to the death from starvation of hundreds of thousands, together with the accumulated social contradictions in a backward country under the pressure of imperialism, pushed the middle layer of the officer caste to organise a coup.

This in its turn awakened the movement of the small working class in Addis Ababa and the students and petty bourgeois layers in the capital and the towns. It awakened the peasantry also into a huge movement to take control of the land from the landlords.

In the face of this, the thousand-year-old empire and its class structure crumbled into dust.

The crisis in the army and the attempts at counter-revolution from above, acted as a spur on the revolution. The movement of the classes and the revolutionary turmoil in Ethiopia in its turn had its effect on the new ruling junta in the army. It produced splits and conspiracies of officers, reflecting the classes in battle and the developing civil war in the whole country. There could be no going back to the old order.

Capitalism and landlordism presented no future whatever to the mass of the population or even to the officer caste themselves. Before them they had the example of Russian ‘socialism’, a system offering them the elevated position of a military-bureaucratic elite. Conflicts and splits in their ranks, resulting in repeated purges and executions, soon ended in the victory of Lieutenant Colonel Mengistu, a former senior officer of the emperor. Under the pressures of the masses he went all the way, declared himself a “Marxist-Leninist” and set about creating a one-party totalitarian dictatorship in the image of Moscow.

The Ethiopian revolution opened the way to land reform and other major advances. At the same time the Dergue (Mengistu’s regime) has been incapable of resolving Ethiopia’s festering national conflicts.

Haile Selassie’s empire had been built on the brutal oppression of numerous national and tribal minorities. The “Marxist-Leninist” Dergue, far from recognising the right of the national minorities to self-determination, has continued their subjugation. The shameful war against the Eritrean freedom struggle, commenced by Haile Selassie 20 years ago, is being fought unabated by the new regime in Addis Ababa.

Also in the Ogaden region, in what began as an attempt to crush the guerrilla struggles of the Somali minority, the regime was drawn into war against the neighbouring state of Somalia—a proletarian bonapartist regime similar to that in Addis Ababa itself. (As a result, the Somali regime has turned to imperialism for support.)

It is worthy of note that the Russian bureaucracy, after supporting both the Somalian regime and the Eritreans against Haile Selassie, have simply switched their support to the Ethiopian regime. From the point of view of Soviet foreign policy, Ethiopia is the most important state in the region—an ally for which it is apparently well worth sacrificing Somalia as well as the Eritrean people.

The imperialists were unable to intervene directly to crush the Ethiopian revolution by military means and could only grind their teeth in impotence, as the workers and peasants were organised and armed to carry through the revolution.


In the case of Ghana, while developments broadly similar to those of the Ethiopian revolution are possible, there are also differences which tend to weigh against it.

The peasantry does not confront a landlord class as in Ethiopia. The forces of counter-revolution, which were entrenched in Ethiopia, are presently pathetically feeble in Ghana—and as Marx explained, it is very often counter-revolution which acts as a whip driving the revolution forward.

Moreover, industry in Ghana is much more developed and, unlike in Ethiopia, the working-class is a substantial force, with a militant tradition of independent organisation. More than half a million workers in Ghana are in trade unions.

The international reverberations of carrying the Ghanaian revolution to completion would be felt throughout West Africa and Africa as a whole. It would be much more difficult to consolidate a totalitarian regime on Stalinist lines from above, moving to suppress the democratic voice of the working class.

Moreover, for Ghana to swing over to economic dependence on the Soviet Union would be regarded as a very mixed blessing by the Russian bureaucracy. It could be faced with even bigger requirements of economic and military aid in the case of Ghana than in Ethiopia, where a massive arms bill equivalent to $2,2 billion has been incurred. It would not be surprising if Soviet diplomats are presently exerting pressure on Rawlings to prevent him going over the brink.

The power of Nigeria, almost on the borders of Ghana, is another factor tending to stave off an ‘Ethiopian’ development.


During the 1979 coup Nigeria cut off oil supplies to Ghana as a warning to Rawlings. Now Ghana looks to Libya for oil. The possibility of a Nigerian military intervention would be a factor weighing with Rawlings and his associates. But that would be an extremely dangerous course for the Nigerian ruling class (or imperialism) to take under the present circumstances, since in turn this could set fire to a revolutionary movement in Nigeria.

Throughout West Africa conditions are ripe for revolution. This was demonstrated in an extraordinary way even in tiny Gambia in 1981.

The Gambia has only one industry (except the obligatory brewery), and its economy is dependent solely on groundnuts and tourism. With a population of 600 000, it has only four secondary schools, no standing army, and only a small paramilitary police force of 358 men.

But the crisis in society when groundnut production fell from 132 000 tons to 78 000 tons as a result of drought, produced something unheard of in history—a revolution by the police force demanding the setting up of the “dictatorship of the proletariat”! (In such confused and distorted ways the ripeness for a revolutionary transformation of society is shown.)

Military intervention from neighbouring Senegal put a stop to that, and the Gambia has now been formally integrated with the Senegalese state.

In capitalist Sierra Leone, a former colony of Britain, the regime of President Stevens has been in severe trouble. In September 1981, in response to 200% inflation, there were mass demonstrations and a national strike that closed the diamond and coal mines and even the Freetown market.

A state of emergency was imposed, the Labour Congress was banned, its leaders jailed, and all opposition has been gagged.

While malnutrition affects 80% of the children in Sierra Leone, the country continues to be ruled by a ostentatiously rich and corrupt elite. But now it will face movement after mass movement for its overthrow. (It is, incidentally, noteworthy that the detested Internal Security Unit in Sierra Leone has been trained by Cuba and China).

The turbulence of West Africa is repeated to greater or lesser extent throughout the continent. In country after country there are struggles for trade union rights, for the defence of the workers and peasants against falling standards and against oppressive regimes.

We are now in a new epoch, both of the world revolution and of the African revolution. The fate of the African revolution is bound together on a continental scale, and in turn tied to the movement of the working class in the industrialised world.

The rise of the working class as a revolutionary force in any important country, with a class-conscious programme and leadership, will have immense repercussions throughout Africa. Within Africa, a victorious revolution in either South Africa or Nigeria would in turn lead to the transformation of the continent, and open the way to a pan-African Socialist Federation, to join in the socialist transformation of the world.

Continue to Chapter Seven