by Osaze Lanre Nosaze
Africa’s most populous nation has lots of parties that call themselves “socialist” or “communist,” but “all of them fail by the crucial criterion of possessing sufficient interventional capacity for sustained and broad-based influence over the agenda, course, pace, and outcomes of the social conflict between the oppressed and the oppressors.”
The Failure of the Socialist Movement in Nigeria
by Osaze Lanre Nosaze
This article previously appeared in Pambazuka News.
“Having lost its own ideological bearings, the movement could not provide enlightenment and ideological leadership.”
As in many post-colonies, the Socialist movement in Nigeria has failed due to the organic divorce of the movement from the struggles of the oppressed. Revolution is no longer seen as a practical necessity, largely because of the movement’s petty bourgeoisie class origins. To revive the movement, this class needs a deep and radicalizing experience of privation and oppression out of which it can find no escape but revolution.
By organizational failure of the Nigerian Socialist movement we mean its inability to sustain itself as a body of independent, more or less stable and coherent organizations capable of effective effort to connect with, learn from and influence the oppressed social forces in their struggles against the bourgeoisie and imperialism in pursuit of Socialist aims. Quite a few groupings of Socialists exist, some of which self-delusionally describe themselves as “the Socialist Party” or “the Communist Party” of Nigeria. However, the brutal truth is that all of them fail by the crucial criterion of possessing sufficient interventional capacity for sustained and broad-based influence over the agenda, course, pace, and outcomes of the social conflict between the oppressed and the oppressors.
There is certainly no more eloquent testimony of this than the extremely odd phenomenon of the social conflict in Nigeria being at this time primarily of a system-safe and system-reproductive character despite the devastating attacks on the interests of the oppressed occasioned by the bourgeoisie’s program of neoliberal restructuring of the economy. That an otherwise objectively radicalizing material situation has not resulted in a subjectively radicalized mass of the oppressed is, of course, primarily a function of the ideological hegemony of the bourgeoisie. That this hegemony itself has remained unchallenged, however, is in significant part a function of the organizational failure and impotence of the Nigerian Socialist movement.
“Repression by the bourgeois state repeatedly decimated the movement as an organized structure.”
Nigerian Socialists have sought to explain this failure and impotence by one or a combination of the following: the repression of the Socialist movement by the bourgeois state; the outbreak and consolidation of opportunism within the movement; and the movement’s ideological collapse following the fall of existing Socialism in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
It is indubitable that these factors have indeed featured in the organizational failure of the Nigerian Socialist movement and in its impotence in the social conflict since at least 1966. Repression by the bourgeois state – under colonialism as well as under the military dictatorships of Olusegun Obasanjo and Ibrahim Babangida – repeatedly decimated the movement as an organized structure by degrading its capacity to reproduce itself. Employing measures including the detention of activists and leaders without trial, the outright banning of Socialist organizations, and the suppression of public activities by these organizations, these campaigns of decimation have sought to prevent the process of organic interaction and interchanges between the movement as an organized social force and the oppressed social forces, the very process that builds them into a unified social force in the class struggle against the bourgeoisie and its own allied forces.
For the Socialist movement – the possessor and material embodiment of the most advanced and best-organized consciousness of the proletariat in its pursuit of its immanent and transcendent interests – is effectual in the social conflict only to the extent that it transforms in its own image the consciousness and practice of the class and its allies. This transformation cannot take place except by this organic interaction between the movement and the oppressed; theory cannot grip the masses and become a material force in the social conflict except by the two-way interaction of the two. By preventing this interaction, the bourgeois state sought to prevent the establishment of the organic relationship between the movement and the oppressed, which is necessary for the interventional capacity of the former; it sought to prevent theory from becoming a material force. The effectiveness of this campaign of repression is certainly a key factor in the impotence of the Nigerian Socialist movement.
“Transformation cannot take place except by the organic interaction between the movement and the oppressed.”
The cancer of opportunism in the movement is similarly a key factor. If state repression aimed to incapacitate the socialist movement by preventing its interaction with the oppressed masses, opportunism functioned objectively –- i.e. irrespective of the intentions or rationalizations by its agents in the movement –- to subject the extent and terms of that interaction to the accumulation and career interests of these agents.
Sacrificing the interests of the whole working class and other oppressed groups for their own sectional interests, these agents built a Socialist movement whose organization, operation and intervention in the social conflict was governed not by the dictates of the struggle of the oppressed but by those of their personal interests. Thus, “the struggle” meant for these agents and the Socialist movement they created not really the engagement of the oppressed with the oppressor but the conflict with rival groups (of other opportunists in some cases but also of genuine revolutionaries in others) over control of power and the resources of the movement’s organizations.
In other words, the dynamics of conflict in the Socialist movement found its basis, just like those of conflict in the bourgeois polity, in the contradictions of the process of accumulation of power and wealth. This, rather than any serious ideological, programmatic, or strategy differences, has been the principal source of the long and pernicious history of factionalism and splits within the movement, even to this day. Driven by the imperatives of personal accumulation, a leader (and the group built around him or her) who cannot gain control or adequate access to the resources of the organization would rather destroy it or split off to create another that would be under his or her own control.
“The Socialist movement was governed not by the dictates of the struggle of the oppressed but by personal interests.”
Similarly, as the demise of the 1964 Joint Action Committee demonstrates, these leaders prefer to lead tiny organizations over which they have personal control – although such organizations have little capacity to intervene in and influence the social conflict – than to merge them into a larger and more effective organization over which, however, they would have no personal control or over whose resources they would not have unrestricted access. This has been a key factor in the organizational failure of the Nigerian Socialist movement.
Finally, there is the ideological collapse of the Nigerian Socialist movement, by which we mean the more or less complete disintegration of its organic body of premises, methodological principles, theories, concepts, practical goals, ethics, and strategies that receive their logical coherence and social rationale from the transcendent interests of the proletariat and that constitute the movement’s instruments of ideological intervention in the social conflict as an organized social force. This collapse involved any one or combination of the following in the political practice of the organizations or individuals that previously constituted the Socialist movement and many of which still considered themselves socialists:
1. Rejection of a proletariat-led Socialist revolution in Nigeria as a socio-historical necessity whose realization should be the goal of immediate political practice;
2. Abandonment of the perspective of the proletariat in the analysis of social reality;
3. Abandonment of Socialist propaganda among the oppressed classes in the practical social conflict.
Crisis of existing Socialism
Babangida’s war on the Socialist movement left its organizational structure in tatters and severely degraded its interventional capacity. However, the movement would probably have recovered subsequently and begun to rebuild its organizations and capacity, especially in the less repressive environment that came with the demise of General Sani Abacha in 1998 and the advent of bourgeois civilian rule in 1999. That it did not do so was due primarily to its ideological collapse following the fall of existing Socialism in the last years of the 1980s and the early ones of the 1990s.
This ideological collapse of the socialist movement resulted directly from the crisis and collapse of the formations of existing Socialism and of the ideology of their ruling classes. In its history having attained a generally high degree of theoretical development, Socialist thought in Nigeria – especially in its dominant tendencies – always was susceptible to a sterile dogmatism that equated existing Socialism with the only socialism possible in existing world conditions and took the ideology of its ruling classes to be the true Marxism of the epoch. Thus, for the dominant sections of the Nigerian Socialist movement, the crisis of the countries of existing Socialism translated more or less directly into the crisis of Socialism and of Marxism, and the eventual collapse of those countries meant for these sections the collapse of Socialism as a historical project and of Marxism as a worldview and a science of society.
The ideological collapse paralyzed much of the movement and threw it into disarray. Having lost its own ideological bearings, the movement could not provide enlightenment and ideological leadership as an organized body representing a viable alternative to the variety of bourgeois ideologies present in the mass of the oppressed. Indeed, in many a case, the Socialist organization simply collapsed and expired, or, what amounts to the same thing, lost itself in bourgeois ideologies in the self-delusion of radicalizing them.
These are the principal explanations socialists have offered of the organizational failure of the Nigeria socialist movement. However, deeper thought reveals these to be only immediate and contingent factors in a mediated causation with deeper and in fact structural roots. This becomes obvious as soon as we consider the fact that many Socialist movements across the world and particularly in the capitalist periphery have experienced these same conditions without then suffering organizational failure in such a sustained and apparently intractable manner as has the Nigerian movement.
“Socialist thought in Nigeria always was susceptible to a sterile dogmatism that equated existing Socialism with the only socialism possible in existing world conditions.”
The socialist movements in Brazil and other South American countries in the 1960s and 1970s and in South Africa and other Southern African countries all through the 1960s to the late 1980s suffered repression of such brutality, intensity, duration, and totality as the Nigerian socialist movement has never experienced. Yet they were able to sustain themselves in most cases and for most of these periods and after as a body of more or less coherent and effective organizations with the capacity to intervene in the social conflict on a class-wide basis. Even granting for a moment that the Nigerian movement has experienced repression with similar features and that this has played a key role in the persistency of its organizational failure, it still remains to explain this failure in periods relatively devoid of such repression. The movement has experienced the sort of repression capable of incapacitating it and decimating its organizational structure only under the Babangida regime (and to a much lesser extent under the military regime of Obasanjo). Before, between, and after these episodes of repression–which in all cases were relatively brief–the political conditions were relatively benign (even if not conducive) and the Socialist movement could have reconstituted itself organizationally, even if only operating illegally. Why could it not do this?
The problem of opportunism does not answer this question satisfactorily. Many Nigerian Marxists have given a correct explanation of opportunism in the movement. The question is why it has produced organizational failure in the Nigerian movement when it has not in many others. For opportunism has been a global problem in the world Socialist movement since the rise of imperialism in the later decades of the 19th century. It has not, however, had the same organizational result in all the national Socialist movements: some have disintegrated under its influence but others have not. What differentiates the first group from the second? Why has opportunism resulted specifically in organizational failure in the Nigerian Socialist movement when it has not in many others?
“Not all national Socialist movements experienced ideological collapse due to the fall of existing Socialism.”
Similarly, the ideological collapse of the movement cannot be taken as given datum but must itself be problematized. This collapse only took place in the late 1980s and early 1990s; yet the problem of organizational failure has been with the movement since its inception in the 1940s. While it is certainly a factor in explaining the current organizational state of the movement, this collapse itself still needs explanation. For not all national Socialist movements experienced ideological collapse due to the fall of existing Socialism. Why was the Nigerian socialist movement so ideologically susceptible to the fall?
This indeed is the crux of the matter: why has the Nigerian movement been so susceptible to the organizationally destructive effects of repression, opportunism, and ideological collapse when other socialist movements have not? Why have these important but nonetheless contingent and immediate factors resulted in its organizational failure when they have not in other movements?
Organic divorce from the oppressed
As we already said above, the causation of this problem is mediated and has structural roots. These consist in the organic divorce of the Nigerian Socialist movement from the oppressed and their struggle, i.e., the fact that its organizations have functioned not as organic instruments of the struggle of the oppressed, but either as interventional instruments in that struggle by an affinitive but nonetheless extraneous social force or as instruments for the internalization of alien conflicts.
As an organic instrument of the struggle of the oppressed, the Socialist organization is called up by the objective necessities of the domestic struggle of the oppressed and is given both its purpose and reason by those necessities. As we have said above, the organic interaction and interchanges between the Socialist organization and these oppressed social forces build both into a unified social force in the class struggle. On the one hand, this makes the organization not just a necessary product of the struggle but also a necessary instrument for furthering it, which gives the oppressed a stake in its survival and effective operation. On the other, the interests of the oppressed and the demands of the struggle for those interests become the governing imperatives of the organization’s operation and self-reproduction, defining what practices, attitudes, and beliefs are acceptable and what are not, i.e. defining its organizational morality. Thus, the necessities of the struggle provide not only the being and purpose of the organization, but also its morality and the enforcer of that morality.
“The organic socialist organization is disciplined by the necessities of the struggle of the oppressed of which it is an instrument.”
As either interventional instruments of extraneous social forces or instruments for the internalization of alien conflicts, the Socialist organization is called up by the necessities of an alien struggle or of the ideological persuasion of an extraneous social force, and it receives both its purpose and reason from those necessities, which become the governing imperatives of its operation and self-reproduction. Unless it somehow transforms into an organic instrument of the domestic struggle, such a Socialist organization has little need for the organic interaction with the oppressed that we have described above and its interaction with them remains entirely theoretical, perfunctory, and decorative; for its real driving force is external to their struggle. Thus, the oppressed have little stake in it and no reason to take an interest in its survival and proper operation, and the organic interstices created by its divorce from the necessities of the domestic struggle become room for the sprouting and flourishing of practices, attitudes, and moralities other than those disciplined by those necessities.
Thus, the organic socialist organization is disciplined by the necessities of the struggle of the oppressed of which it is an instrument; those necessities define the mores of the organization, provide the enforcers of the mores, and furnishes them with a powerful incentive for action to enforce them. The non-organic organization lacks this disciplining force and the disciplining mechanism it creates. Its discipline is only as strict as the personal discipline and morality of its individual members and no external force exists to control its internal conflicts.
The foregoing provides the basis for understanding the structural susceptibility of the Nigerian socialist movement to the devastating organizational effects of opportunism, repression and ideological collapse.
The dominance of opportunism (as opposed to its mere presence) and its resulting in organizational failure in the Nigerian Socialist movement are a structural function of the absence of an organic relationship between Socialist organizations and the struggle of the oppressed masses. Freedom from the harsh discipline of the necessities of this struggle invites into these organizations persons who cannot bear that discipline and provides liberty for opportunism to flourish in them and to overwhelm them. For, here, the governing principle in every discussion and manoeuvre is not the implications for the interests of the oppressed as a whole but the implications for the personal or factional interests of the leaders and members of the organization. This freedom from the discipline of the struggle at once also prevents the development of any mechanism that can counter and correct the flourishing of opportunism. Since the organization is not to the oppressed a necessary instrument in the struggle to achieve their goals, they have no reason to become part of it or, if they are members, to enforce the morality of the struggle in its theory and practice. Either they shun it or themselves become more or less willing instruments of the opportunism of its leaders. Thus, where this opportunism is not only an ideological one but also involves the pillage of the resources of the organization – as it has often been in Nigeria – there exists no mechanism to control the avarice of the leaders and to subject it to the dictates of the struggle. The conflict over the pillage of the organization, therefore, knows no bounds and it spirals until it destroys the organization.
“The Nigerian Socialist movement has collapsed under repression in most cases.”
This absence of an organic relationship between the socialist organizations and the struggle of the oppressed masses also explains the absence of organizational tenacity and durability in the Nigerian socialist movement in the face of repression, why repression so easily results in the failure of its organizations. A socialist organization that functions as an organic instrument of the struggle of the oppressed is a practical necessity, one that drives Socialists who are committed to this struggle: if the organization does not exist, they must create it; if it exists but is under repression, they must protect it; if it existed but has been destroyed by repression, they must re-create it. Thus, they invest every ingenuity they possess into creating and sustaining the organic socialist organization. Although repression could be so severe as to cripple such an organization and to make its open operation impossible, it has hardly ever been so severe anywhere as to make absolutely any operation impossible. Even in the face of the most severe repression many Socialist movements have been able to undertake measures to sustain their organizations and to maintain some level of operation, including going underground, relocating their command and control organs beyond the reach of the repression, etc. That the Nigerian Socialist movement has collapsed under repression in most cases – i.e. dissolved its organizations – is a function of the absence of an organic relationship between those organizations and the struggle of the oppressed masses, a function of their structural superfluity in the struggle.
The ideological collapse of the Nigerian socialist movement in the face of the fall of existing Socialism was immediately a function of the ideological dependence of the bulk of the movement on the states of that Socialism, which itself was due to the absence of an organic relationship between Nigerian socialist organizations and the struggle of the oppressed masses. Governed by the necessities and challenges of the struggle of the oppressed, an organic socialist organization develops its theories, programs and strategies under the imperative of achieving the goals of that struggle. Although it may borrow ideas, lessons, and insights from another Socialist movement, its perspectives and borrowings are determined in the final analysis by the needs and realities of the struggle in which it is a necessary, organic instrument. This is because its performance –- in terms of the correctness of its perspectives, programs, strategies and tactics, and of their effectiveness in the struggle –- determines not only the fate of that struggle but also its own fate as an organization; for it will quickly lose relevance in the struggle if it keeps failing in it. It, therefore, cannot afford to depend blindly –- i.e., uncritically –- on a foreign socialist movement for its theories, programs, and strategies.
This imperative does not exist for the non-organic Socialist organization, which can therefore afford such ideological dependency. That the bulk of the Nigerian Socialist movement was so ideologically dependent on foreign Socialist movements and for so long is supreme evidence of its organic superfluity in the struggle of the oppressed. That is why with a very few exceptions it has made little contribution of any great significance to Socialist theory but has engaged mostly in wooden and deadbeat academic Marxism, or in merely exhortatory and declamatory popular Marxism. Lacking that organic interaction with the practical struggles of the oppressed that at once grounds theory in concrete reality and yet challenges it to soaring flights of creativity and insight, Nigerian Marxism has mostly just waddled and hopped along the ground after Soviet Marxism like a quacking duckling after Mother Duck.
“The bulk of the Nigerian Socialist movement was ideologically dependent on foreign Socialist movements.”
Now, how do we explain this organic divorce of the Nigerian socialist movement from the struggle of the oppressed? The movement has failed to establish an organic relationship with the oppressed, not simply because of its predominantly petty bourgeois class origins, but because the Nigerian petty bourgeoisie as a class has until the advent of neoliberal structural adjustment generally escaped the extreme privation and oppression that the laboring classes have experienced. It has yet to have a deeply and generally radicalizing experience, an experience of privation and oppression out of which it can find no escape but revolution.
The class was generally comfortable and upwardly mobile in the pre-SAP period, receiving a good share of the surplus from the exploitation of the laboring classes and the dispossession of the oil-bearing communities. Although the neoliberal restructuring of the neocolonial formation has occasioned a drastic reduction in state-mediated transfers to the petty bourgeoisie, the class still receives a significant portion of the social surplus through various sources. These include transfers through expanded employment by foreign monopoly capital operating in Nigeria, foreign and domestic grants to non-governmental organizations, and legitimate and illegitimate enrichment through politics and political activities. Occupational emigration (the brain-drain problem, American Visa Lottery, etc.) and the booming music and film industries serve as important options and escape routes for many of those who cannot find accommodation within these other mechanisms. Although unemployment and underemployment are rife within the petty bourgeoisie – as within the proletariat – a large and growing portion of the class staves off complete destitution by entering into the informal sector.
The class has also experienced little political repression. The period of its most intense and extensive repression – Babangida’s and Abacha’s war from 1986 to 1998 to squash anti-SAP and anti-military rule forces – ended in a bourgeois civilian rule that has restored many liberties of the class almost completely. Thus, this general absence of an objectively radicalizing situation has enabled the bulk of the petty bourgeoisie to still see options and escape routes from its situation and to continue nursing hopes of actually escaping.
“The Nigerian petty bourgeoisie as a class has until the advent of neoliberal structural adjustment generally escaped the extreme privation and oppression that the laboring classes have experienced.”
Those who have come to the struggle of the oppressed have, therefore, not done so as of practical necessity but in most cases as an expression of ideological conviction or as the necessary conclusion of their theoretical analysis. Others have come out of occupational necessity (trade union and human rights workers, for instance). In both cases, they have come to the struggle of the oppressed as extraneous social forces and their Socialist organizations have served as interventional instruments without organic links to that struggle. This has also made possible the transformation of these organizations into instruments of the internalization within it of alien conflicts.
Thus, Socialists who are absolutely committed to the struggle of the oppressed have been few and far between. Their efforts at forging organic links with the oppressed have been generally hindered and frustrated by the majority who cannot or will not make that commitment. That is why they are heroes.
It follows from the foregoing that the structural basis for overcoming the organic divorce between the Nigerian Socialist movement and the struggle of the oppressed – and, therefore, of overcoming the organizational failure of the movement – is that the Nigerian petty bourgeoisie (at least a significant portion of it) must undergo an experience of privation and oppression out of which it can find no escape but revolution. The movement’s history provides strong evidence of this.
It was surely no coincidence that the most successful bottom-up organizing effort of the Socialist movement – in which it established a nationwide network of base and intermediate structures with good links with the struggle of the oppressed – occurred during the 1978-1995 structural crisis of Nigeria’s neocolonial formation and during the worst years of the structural adjustment programs pursued by the bourgeoisie and imperialism to resolve it at the expense of the working people and the middle classes. While the problems of opportunism and infantile schism were abundantly in evidence in the movement in this period, it is a telling fact that it took the brutal campaign of repression by the Babangida regime to break the developing organic links between the movement and the oppressed masses and to decimate the movement itself as an organized force. The privation and oppression suffered specifically by the petty bourgeoisie in the period was such a radicalizing experience for the class that it was driven increasingly to revolution and increasingly to make efforts at forging organic links with the urban working masses, in the realization that it could not make revolution without them. In addition to Babangida's war against the movement, the momentum toward an organic socialist movement was frustrated by the de-radicalizing effects of, on the one hand, the massive infusion of funds from countries of the capitalist center into the growing civil society movement and, on the other, the corruption-fuelling introduction of “free money” into the economy by the military regime.
“It took the brutal campaign of repression by the Babangida regime to break the developing organic links between the movement and the oppressed masses.”
Similarly, we find that in South Africa, Guinea-Bissau, Angola, Mozambique, Cuba, Nicaragua, Brazil and many other countries, the radical petty bourgeoisie predominantly formed an organic link with the oppressed masses in the social conflict when and where they suffered such privation and oppression as they could find no escape from but by the revolutionary path. To the extent and as long as they saw or thought they saw a way out of their situation, they tended to pursue a reformist approach and built alliances with the oppressed masses only to harness them to their reformist program.
More directly relevant to the question we are dealing with, those who in these circumstances nevertheless chose a revolutionary path tended to intervene in the struggles of the oppressed masses as extraneous agents acting on their behalf, as messiahs bringing salvation to the hapless multitudes; and their organizations tended to remain insulated from the masses. In other words, although they intervened in the struggle of the oppressed masses and in many cases made great sacrifices in aid of that struggle, they did not build organic relations with the oppressed masses and their struggle. They did not themselves become one with the oppressed and their organizations did not become the oppressed themselves organized for their struggle against their oppressors; they remained an extraneous, alien social force intervening in the struggle of the oppressed on their behalf.
A radicalizing experience
Any meaningful prospect, therefore, of the Nigerian socialist movement becoming organic, i.e. developing organic links with the oppressed masses on a structural basis, depends on the petty bourgeoisie – or at least significant sections of it – having a radicalizing experience of privation and oppression so severe, total, and implacable that it can find no way out but through revolution. It is, of course, in the very nature of historical things that we cannot predict them with exact scientific rigor. It is, therefore, not possible – and in fact not necessary – to fix exactly when and exactly how this radicalizing experience will occur. Yet Marxism would not be the revolutionary science that it is of society in both its diachronic and synchronic dimensions if it did not consist in analytical tools enabling thought to grasp the material premises and logic of social dynamics and statics.
We are, therefore, able to offer the prognosis that the current immiseration and pauperization of the Nigerian petty bourgeoisie will worsen in the course and immediate aftermath of the next structural crisis of the neocolonial formation if it is grave and long enough. As we have said above, we believe the probability of such a crisis to be very good in light of the current structural crisis of global capitalism and given the structural vulnerability of the Nigerian formation to the vicissitudes of the global capitalist system.
“We should expect the crisis to be persistent and to grow worse over time.”
Already, the crisis in the countries of the capitalist center is occasioning deep cuts in development aid for sub-Saharan Africa, with the result that the externally-dependent civil society is experiencing a funding crisis that is causing many CSOs to downsize drastically or even to suspend operations. The crisis is causing a slowdown in the economies of the centre, thus limiting their capacity to absorb migrant labor from the periphery and especially from Africa. If the analyses of Marxists like Samir Amin and Istvan Mészáros are correct, we should expect the crisis to be persistent and to grow worse over time, with any recovery being weak, short-lived, and followed by another long and intractable crisis.
Should the Nigerian neocolonial capitalist formation go into a prolonged and severe structural crisis in these circumstances, the situation will indeed be most dire for the working masses but also for greater sections of the petty bourgeoisie. This will block off the routes of escape for more and more of the latter and almost certainly drive more of their numbers to revolution, creating simultaneously objective and subjective grounds for the forging of organic relations between them and the struggle of the oppressed.
This is not to say, however, that all effort at building a socialist movement with such relations with the struggle of the oppressed must wait until the next structural crisis. That would be to subscribe to the most brutish sort of mechanistic determinism; it would be to reject the Marxist notion of the dialectical determination of the superstructure by the substructure. For such crude determinism is completely alien to Marxism, a scientific worldview that accords full recognition to the creative and thus active role of the subjective factor in the historical labor process both of reproducing the existing social relations and of fashioning a new society.
That is surely the import of the first of Marx’s Theses on Feuerbach: “The chief defect of all hitherto existing materialism – that of Feuerbach included – is that the thing, reality, sensuousness, is conceived only in the form of the object or of contemplation, but not as sensuous human activity, practice, not subjectively...” Thus, all through its history there have been individuals and organizations in the Nigerian socialist movement who have tried to build organic links with the oppressed and their struggles, even in the periods of greatest affluence ever enjoyed by the petty bourgeoisie.
The task of building an organic socialist movement in Nigeria must commence today even as we anticipate the next structural crisis of the neocolonial formation and the infinitely more favorable circumstances it will create for success at the task. The question is how to do that.
Osaze Lanre Nosaze is formerly Executive Director of the Civil Liberties Organization (CLO). This article, part of a larger work, was written in May 2013.
Edwin Madunagu, The Tragedy of the Nigerian Socialist Movement and Other Essays (Calabar, Nigeria: Centaur Press Ltd., 1980), p.2.) dates the impotence of the movement from 1966, but this is tenable only if one accepts his implied conflation of the socialist movement and the workers movement (Ibid.). We insist, however, on differentiating them from each other. We therefore define the socialist movement as that body of organizations and individuals engaged in the struggle to abolish the social relations undergirding Nigeria’s neocolonial capitalist formation and to replace them with socialist ones. This at once differentiates between the two movements. For it is obvious that not all organizations of the workers movement are engaged in the struggle for socialism, some of them limiting their goals only to achieving the immanent (bourgeois) interests of the working class. They reject its transcendent (communist) ones – the latter however being precisely those that demand the abolition of capitalist social relations and their replacement with socialist ones. Based on this distinction, it becomes possible and indeed necessary to reconsider the question of dating the impotence of the socialist movement. For instance, was the 1944 General strike or even that of 1964 evidence of the potency and interventional capacity of the socialist movement as such or of the workers movement under the influence of bourgeois radicalism rather than socialist ideology? This is one of the very few flaws in Madunagu’s otherwise splendid (although too brief) study of the Nigerian socialist movement.
For instance, the global struggle between the USA and the USSR, or between Maoism or Trotskyism and Stalinism.
Fanon said something relevant to this in connection with the nationalist party in the decolonization struggle. See Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth (Middlesex, England: Penguin Books, 1982).
We see this clearly in the case of Maoism, for example. See Isaac Deutscher, “Maoism: Its Origins, Background, and Outlook,” The Socialist Register 1, no. 1 (1964): 11–37. The South African Communist Party furnishes an interesting case of a socialist organization that experienced a measure of ideological dependence on the Soviet Union but survived the collapse of Existing Socialism and struggled to re-establish its own independent ideological bearings. See “Focus on Socialism,” South African Labour Bulletin 15, no. 3 (September 1990); and “Towards a New Internationalism?,” South African Labour Bulletin 15, no. 7 (April 1991). See also the continuation of the debate in the pages of The African Communist.
See the following by Samir Amin: “A New Phase of Capitalism, or Rejuvenating Treatment for Senile Capitalism,” accessed December 4, 2012, http://www.forumtiersmonde.net/fren/index.php?option=com_content&view=ar... of-capitalism-or-rejuvenating-treatment-for-senile-capitalism&catid=54:critical-analysis-of- capitalism&Itemid=116; and Ending the Crisis of Capitalism or Ending Capitalism, trans. Victoria Bawtree (Cape Town, South Africa: Pambazuka Press, 2011). See also the following by Istvan Meszaros: “A Structural Crisis of the System,” interview by Judith Orr and Patrick Ward, Socialist Review, January 2009, http://www.socialistreview.org.uk/article.php?articlenumber=10672; “Structural Crisis Needs Structural Change,” Monthly Review 63, no. 10 (2012), http://monthlyreview.org/2012/03/01/structural-crisis-needs- structural-change; and The Structural Crisis of Capital (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2009), http://www.readingfromtheleft.com/Books/MR/structural%20crisis%20of%20ca... http://monthlyreview.org/press/books/pb2082/.
Karl Marx, Theses on Feuerbach, 1888