Friday, May 18, 2007

Book Review - The Beautiful Ones Are Not Born Yet

The Beautiful Ones Are Not Born Yet by Ayi Kwei Armah

The hero is simply called ‘The Man’ and through him Armah tells the miserable story of most working class family heads all over the world even if their plight varies in degrees. The lack of comfort and security imposed by a system in which a few control the resources leaving the majority at the mercy of a hostile market.

Not necessarily hitting directly at the hypocrisy of leadership, Armah nonetheless leads us to rare moments of revealing insights into the role of leaders in society: men and women coming up with new ways of making despair bearable, like Nkrumah, who posed as "savior " but who had worshippers and had no equals in society.

Leaders are surrounded by people like Koomson, the politician, who represents power and authority and all that they stand for - deceit, corruption, sycophancy, debauchery, etc. Though a common dockworker, he manages to get into the party ideological school and comes out with a mouth filled with empty slogans and with a head that constantly thinks of money. Soon, he is able to manoeuvre his way into the position of Minister of State. As The Man wonders: "Is that the place that changed the dock worker Koomson? Or did he go there after he had changed? Because he had changed. I have seen the place, and I have seen him there, and in Accra. He lives in a way that is far more painful to see than the way the white men have always lived here. Is it true then, that after all the talk that is possible, this is the only thing that men are looking for? There is no difference then. No difference between the white men and their apes, the lawyers and merchants, and now the apes of the apes, our Party men. Is that the whole truth? Bungalows, cars, with drivers in white men’s uniform waiting ages in the sun. Women, so horribly young, fucked and changed like pants".

The man refuses to get involved in anyway with bribery and corruption. He sees and feels the class struggle being expressed in a myriad seemingly unrelated ways - men fighting each other over who should lead a whiteman to a prostitute; groups of soldiers fighting groups of policemen, poor natives, conscripted and sent to faraway lands and made to kill other poor innocent people for no reason, etc.

"I do not believe that even this was fully half the horror we all felt. I know that my friends felt the way I felt. And what I felt inside was the approach of something much like death itself. The thing that would have killed us was that there was nothing to explain all this, nothing outside those and ourselves near us or those even weaker than ourselves that we could attack. There was no way out visible to us, and out there on the hills the whiteman’s gleaming bungalows were so far away, so unreachably far that people did not even think of them in their suffering. And for those who did, there were tales of white men with huge dogs that ate more meat in a single day than a human Gold Coast family got in a month, dogs which could obey their masters’ voice like soldiers at war , and had as little love for black skins as their white master."
Sister Maanan, knowing no better, and having no skills to sell, sells her body and indulges in heavy drinking. This situation is still the same today almost half a century after Amah wrote his book. People still consider the former USSR, China, Cuba, etc as examples of socialist states, thereby confounding the problem facing humanity.

But the author tries, even if inadequately so, to break this vicious circle of ignorance and suffering by relating, through Teacher, "the myth of Plato’s cave." It is quite close to the socialists’ view that until the majority understands and wants socialism, eradicating the current unjust state of world affairs does not stand a dog’s chance.

With what is happening under this system, "it should be easy now to see there have never been people to save anybody but themselves, never in the past, never now, and there will never be any saviors if each will not save himself. No saviors. Only the hungry and the fed. Deceivers all."

However, the author makes reference to "socialism", and it must be pointed out, that what he is actually referring to is the ‘state capitalism’ that was mistakenly seen as socialism, and this is why he uses the word in relation to Castro, Lenin, Nkrumah, etc . He also associates Vietnam, Cuba, North Korea, China, etc. with that same socialism. Thus, understanding The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born, one can see why Nkrumah and his CPP government were never socialist as they were merely striving to emulate the soviet-style brand of state capitalism. The book not just indicts state capitalism but it also provides a ray of hope for a future society in which people will cease to believe in leaders and instead come together as equals to democratically decide how to run society for the benefit of all humanity.

From African Socialist No.1 , Unsigned


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