Tuesday, May 10, 2022

Pan-African "Socialists" (1963)

 From the February 1963 issue of the Socialist Standard

Pan-African socialism, so-called, is essentially a creation of West Africa. But with the spread of education and the growth of communications in Africa these ideas have been absorbed also by Africans living in the East and the South of the continent. The main African political parties in these areas all claim to be Socialist. Frequently their leaders appear in London and ask the workers of Britain to support them in their struggle against imperialism. But nationalism is incompatible with Socialism and it is actually a barrier against the spread of Socialist ideas. On occasions it is even worse; for nationalism frequently hinders even the effective organisation of workers on the trade union field which is so essential under capitalism. Recent events in Central Africa well illustrate this point.

In Southern Rhodesia the Pan-Africanists whose political party, the Zimbabwe African Peoples' Union was recently outlawed, have provoked a split among the African workers. Previously there was only one organisation claiming to represent the African worker, the Southern Rhodesia Trade Union Congress (SRTUC), led by Reuben Jamela. However, Jamela betrayed a pro-Western leaning by maintaining, in defiance of Ghana, that the SRTUC should remain affiliated to the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU). In addition, Jamela, although himself a nationalist, held that . . .
the declared position of Jamela's trade unionism is that the workers as workers must not be involved in politics and it has been argued by politicians and trade unionists that the two cannot mix: trade unionism must be for economical well-being of the working class, while politics is the game of both the worker and employer for political and social rights.
Without in any way supporting Jamela, we must say that the arguments which he presents against the association of the trade unions with the nationalist parties are basically sound. After all, trade unions are primarily organised to protect the workers of a particular trade section, or of a group of more or less allied trades. People of varying political and religious views are united in trade unions on one issue alone: the recognition that collective action is more effective than individual action when dealing with employers. Politics within the trade union tends to destroy this unity. This is what has happened in Southern Rhodesia. The Pan-Africanists have broken away from the SRTUC and set up their own African TUC which is rapidly gaining support at the expense of the SRTUC and which, incidentally, has not been banned.

The particular party which it is suggested the unions support is, despite its Socialist pretensions, basically capitalist and nationalist. The nationalist case for turning the trade unions into little more than the labour wing of the nationalist party is based on an appeal to racial sentiment. “The absence of large African companies,” argues The People's Voice, “of African-owned mines and large factories—a natural consequence of colonial oppression—turns the African workers in an anti-imperialist direction. The European colonialist became the enemy of the African workers,” but the paper goes on to suggest that because of this the trade union struggle is against the “European rulers” just as is the African political movement and hence it is reasonable for them to unite.

But is the trade union struggle exclusively anti-European? Whatever may have been the position in West Africa, the idea that the European in Central Africa is merely a “monopolist” or a capitalist is as absurd as the notion that all Jews are financiers. First, there are over 80,000 European workers in Southern Rhodesia compared with 9,000 European employers and self-employed and, second, although nearly all the large businesses and factories are European or foreign owned, there are in actual fact more African businessmen than European. Nor the the Europeans the only people who have opposed African strikes. ZAPU’s allies in Northern Rhodesia and Nyasaland have done just this and worse.

In July this year the supreme council of the Northern Rhodesia African Mineworkers’ Union decided to call a strike for higher pay as they considered the copper mining companies' offer inadequate. Kenneth Kaunda's United National Independence Party decided that a strike at this time might harm their chances in the October general elections. UNIP therefore advised the workers to accept the offer and itself took steps to prevent the strike. During the weekend before the strike was due to begin leaflets were distributed calling on the workers not to strike. One such leaflet, signed by A. B. Mutemba, UNIP Kitwe, Kalulushi and Mufilira Regional Secretary, read:
Tell all our people that UNIP docs not agree to the strike call. This strike will spoil our forthcoming elections. We ask you all to report for work as usual. If you want a strike you will do so after October — not now. Anyone who strikes on Tuesday will be regarded as an enemy of the African cause (Northern News 9/7/62).
Other leaflets, later repudiated, accused the union leaders of organising the strike for their own selfish ends. As a result of these leaflets so much confusion was created that the union decided to call off the strike. At least this is one explanation, but the strike was called off after Kaunda had met the union leaders. Only later did it become known that one of these leaders, previously not known as a nationalist, had agreed to stand as a UNIP candidate in the elections. Whatever the reason, UNIP and the Companies won. This episode clearly shows the attitude of the Pan-Africanists towards the trade unions: they want to see the African workers organised in order to use them for their own ends.

The Malawi Congress Party, led by Our Great Ngwasi Kumuzu Banda (Ngwasi means '‘sage" but is probably better translated “fuehrer”), which rules Nyasaland has also clashed with the unions. No sooner had the MCP formed the government than it acted against some strikers, members of the Motor and Allied Workers Union, whose leaders had called a strike for higher pay. A Pan-Africanist writing later complained “what a burden it was for the new African Minister to start his duties by solving a strike problem," and went on:
In any event, the Malawi Congress Party condemned the strike and since then the destructive actions by this Union have been less apparent. (Daily News 22/6/62.)
Trade Unions
This turned out to be a little optimistic as the Motor and Allied Workers Union and the Commercial and General Workers’ Union continued their “irresponsible*’ and “destructive actions” of trying to improve their members’ working conditions and living standards; For their trouble the leaders of these unions were suspended from membership of the MCP and accused of “importing Trade Union ideas from America and Western Europe in this country.” This was judged incompatible with the principles and policy of the party. Which is a frank admission that the MCP is not in favour of allowing the workers to form genuine trade unions or of allowing them to strike.

Banda and his colleagues have continued to abuse and insult these union leaders whose only crime appears to be their belief that trade unions should be independent of Government. In August Dr. Banda referred to these trade unionists as “self seekers who are misleading the workers” and accused one of getting money from Europeans to “further his selfish ends.” Banda went on to say that his ruling Malawi Congress Party “will crush mercilessly anyone who allows himself to be used by imperialists and colonialists.”

Such is the way the Pan-Africanists treat the workers when once in power. With African businessmen it is a different matter. Far from saying that the African worker has no interests in common with these African property-owners the Pan-Africanists seek to win them for their cause. UNIP has a clause in its programme which reads: "to work and protect the interests of commercial traders and help them in their progressive business schemes." The Daily News (10/9/62) reported that at a ZAPU meeting “Mr. S. J. Ndebele ... urged African businessmen to rally behind ZAPU and sacrifice both money and time.” In addition the President of the African Farmers’ Union is also a well-known ZAPU member. Such is the confusion of Pan-African “Socialism” that it preaches the identity of interests between African worker and African capitalist and ignores the European worker. Indeed one of the smaller African nationalist parties in Southern Rhodesia which calls itself Socialist, the Pan-African Socialist Union, has denounced ZAPU as a “capitalist multi-racial organisation ” and one of its leaders is on record as having said: “I loathe European membership in a pure African nationalist organisation.” Pan-Africanism as a political creed has more in common with Fascism, insofar as it is a radical nationalist movement, than with Socialism and there are no grounds at all on which Socialists can support it.

It is not an accident that African nationalist parties, once in power, “crush mercilessly,” to use Banda’s own words, the workers’ independent trade unions. Even people with more regard for democracy than Banda or Nkrumah, people like Nyerere, who have taken in Western liberal ideas, are forced to pass laws restricting civil liberties and trade union freedoms. They do so because they have chosen to develop capitalism in their respective countries. Why this means they must attack the workers was recently well explained by a writer in Africa Today. “Independence,” he writes, “upset the conditions under which the African union movement had flourished. The state is African now, not European; the issue of patriotism can be, and is, turned against the unions if they oppose the government. The state is concerned with holding down labour costs in both private and public sectors. ... Governments dedicated to rapid economic development obviously must hold down, or reduce, real wages in order to raise capital.” So it is in Ghana and in Tanganyika; so it will be in Central Africa. It is for this reason that the right to strike is more often denied than granted in post-colonial Africa.

This in itself is a good enough reason why the workers of Britain should not listen to these glib nationalist leaders who come here asking for help — help to “crush mercilessly” the workers back home. Nor is there any hope for the workers of Africa in nationalism or racialism; Socialism remains the only hope for the workers of the world. But in Central Africa the workers of all races have yet to learn that the dividing line there, as elsewhere, is that of class not colour. White and non-White workers should stand together against White and non-White property owners. The sooner the workers realise this the better. Meanwhile the danger of racial clash remains.

Adam Buick

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