Thursday, April 21, 2016

Kinnock's Tanzanian illusion (1985)

Editorial from the September 1985 issue of the Socialist Standard

You can always test the authenticity of those who claim to be socialists by asking for a definition of socialism. For example, a "socialist" who tells you that the Russian Empire, where independent trade unions are illegal and criticism of the government leads to imprisonment, is an example of socialism in action clearly knows as much about the subject as the Duke of Edinburgh does about living in a slum. Likewise, anyone who says that Labour governments have run socialism are soon answered by a Labour Party chairman who stated that “Never has any previous government done so much in so short a time to make modem capitalism work" (Douglas Houghton, The Times, 25 April 1967).

In July Neil Kinnock visited Africa, ostensibly to show his concern for those dying as a consequence of the world capitalist system which he and his party perpetuate. While there he paid a visit to the so-called socialist nation of Tanzania, presided over by Julius Nyerere. If we are to believe Martin Kettle's Guardian report of Kinnock's trip ("Kinnock counts himself as a Nyerere fan", 26 July 1985), the Labour leader was most impressed by the Tanzanian effort to create "socialism in one country". What. then, can we learn from this "socialism" ?

In 1967 the Arusha Declaration of Socialist Reconstruction initiated Nyerere"s policy of ujamaa. Stripped of its ideological pretensions, this policy is based on the assumption that state regulation of industry and agriculture will lead to prosperity for all the people. In short, it is a policy for state capitalism. At the time of the Arusha Declaration Tanzania’s most profitable export was sisal. 230,000 tonnes of which were sold annually. In 1984 a mere 47,000 tonnes were exported, largely because of the state’s economic mismanagement of sisal production. Although there is no natural or technological reason for the decline in sisal production, profits are falling because strict capitalist standards of efficient exploitation have not been adopted by the state-run Tanzanian Sisal Authority (TSA). In response to this Nyerere, who is due to retire as President in November, has ordered the beginning of a process of privatisation of the sisal estates. By returning them to private capitalist ownership and control he and his government hope to increase profits. So, after a recent visit to the sisal-growing Tanga region of his country. Nyerere ordered the TSA to declare that it will sell off twelve of its thirty-nine estates to private investors within the next year. Shortly before this the state- controlled Morogoro Oilseed Processing Company (Moproco) was informed by the government that its most profitable assets were to be sold off to private investors. Nyerere insists that all of this is in line with the ujamaa policy: "ujamaa is here to stay" he stated in a recent speech (reported in Concord- a Nigerian publication - 13 June 1985). But at the same time Nyerere"s party, the Chama Cha Mapinduzi. is advocating the policy of tujisahihishe which is based on the assumption that “socialism" must learn from the economic methods of Western capitalism.

Let us take a look at what it is that has impressed Kinnock about Tanzania. Clearly, it is not a socialist society. Apart from the fact that socialism cannot under any circumstances exist in one country, there is nothing about the Tanzanian economy which distinguishes it from capitalism. Production is for profit; workers receive wages which are less than the value of what they produce; the state exists in order to regulate the profit system; access to goods and services is determined by how much money people possess. Tanzania can be characterised as a state-capitalist country — a nation in which the main productive forces have been nationalised.

Kinnock does not understand the difference between state ownership (capitalism) and common ownership (socialism) and therefore he is "a Nyerere fan". But, in the light of recent economic developments in Tanzania, there is reason to believe that Margaret Thatcher might be joining Kinnock in the fan club. After all, what can be more acceptable to Thatcher's outlook than the transfer of centralised state ownership to private ownership? Is not Nyerere"s policy in relation to Moproco and TSA not a Tanzanian version of Thatcher s policy for British Telecom and Britoil?

If Kinnock is a fan of such policies in Africa may we assume that a future Labour government led by him would do the same in Britain privatise the unprofitable NCB, perhaps? The hard fact for partisans of the conflict between state capitalism and private capitalism is that neither offers any alternative to the problems generated by a society which produces for profit rather than need. Some private-capitalist countries will nationalise industries when it is profitable to do so (that is why nationalisation in Britain was initiated by avowedly capitalist parties) and some state-capitalist countries will privatise, as Tanzania is doing now. None of this has anything to do with socialism, which will only be established when workers get rid of both private and state capitalism. For Neil Kinnock to help spread the illusion that there is socialism in Tanzania is proof either of his political ignorance or his dishonesty; whichever it is, we can be sure how far to trust him when he preaches to workers about socialism.

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