Sunday, June 12, 2022

Black nationalism in Africa (1965)

 From the June 1965 issue of the Socialist Standard

Nationalism as a political theory originated in Germany around the beginning of the 19th century, when the German nationalists put forward the theory that those who speak the same language form a natural community which ought to govern itself.

This was to develop into racialism and to give rise to talk of the “Anglo-Saxon race ” and the “German race".

Despite the fact that nationalism has no scientific basis for its claims, it has been a powerful force in the world. Of course, it was not something which suddenly appeared out of the blue; its roots are to be found in the beginnings of capitalist development in Britain and France and the effect this had on intellectual life in Germany. This put Germany in a peculiar historical position.

Germans who had absorbed ideas developed in Britain and France turned to nationalism—the unity of all German speaking people—as part of the drive to modernise their country. Similar nationalist movements and theories appeared in Poland, Italy and Hungry, though only in Italy was the movement to have success in the nineteenth century. Here the achievement of national unity and independence was the equivalent of France’s revolution of 1789; it created the political conditions in which the evolution of capitalist society could continue.

In short in many of those countries which underwent capitalist development after Britain and France, the overthrow of the old order was represented as a form of national revolution—in some cases as a move for national unity, in others for national independence and in others for national regeneration. To refer to nationalism as a weapon of the social revolution from feudal society to capitalism is not to say that the nationalist movements were composed of traders and small factory owners. In fact the relationship is not as simple as this.

Capitalism created the social conditions for the spread of nationalism by alienating sections of the population from the old order. It is among this section—students, past and present, modern army officers and wage workers — that nationalists were to be found. These set about agitating among those they considered their fellow nationals in order to awaken their national consciousness.

From Europe, nationalism spread out during the twentieth century to the Middle East and Asia. Today it is spreading through Africa—Macmillan’s wind of change. The outward form of this nationalism varies from country to country depending on historical circumstances, but its essential remains the same; it is an instrument of the capitalist social revolution in relatively backward countries

In Europe the nationalist theories were based on language. In Africa they are based on colour and “race”. For this reason African nationalism is sometimes referred to as “racist ”. This use is permissible in so far as African nationalism does claim to champion the interests of the black people or “race”. Perhaps a better term would be Black Nationalism; this however should not obscure the fact that there are groups working among Africans which do preach race hatred and race domination. These can be called Black Racialist groups.

The intellectual roots of African nationalism go back to the Negro nationalist movements which appeared in America and the West Indies in the first part of this century. These ranged from openly black racialist organisations such as that of Marcus Garvey — the forerunner of the present day Black Muslims in America and the Rastafarians in Jamaica — to the cultural nationalism, so-called negritude, of the poet Aimé Césaire.

From this developed the doctrine of Pan-Africanism, which proclaimed the unity of interest of all Africans and those of African descent. Educated Africans and African students abroad joined in this movement. On returning to Africa, the students set about agitating for national independence. They would have had no success had not social conditions been ripe for the spread of their ideas.

As in Europe and Asia, nationalism in Africa spread only to the degree that the old order was breaking up. The colonial powers, in training Africans as soldiers and priests and civil servants, in employing them in the mines and on the plantations, undermined their own position. For these detribalised Africans formed the social base of the anti-colonialist struggle. Since the war the further break-up of the old order has proceeded apace. So has nationalism. It is only nine years since the first black African state, Ghana, became independent from colonial rule. Now, with the important exceptions of parts of central and southern Africa, most of black Africa has achieved independence.

The regimes that have taken over from the colonial governments have been various. Some have consisted of a motley collection of tribal leaders and opportunist and corrupt politicians. Others have an iron handed industrialising clique. Ghana provides the model of this last type; there the administrative techniques of Russia have been combined with the doctrine of Pan-Africanism to get what Nkrumah calls "African socialism ”.

Other nations which are modelled on Ghana — Guinea, Kenya, Tanzania — are one party states in which a vanguard party is used to mobilise the population for carrying through the capitalist social revolution. Because of the role of the state —and the influence of Russia—it was perhaps inevitable that these regimes would label themselves socialist. In fact they are totalitarian state capitalist regimes in which an élite uses the state power to try to extend capitalism rapidly throughout the area under their political control.

The situation in central and southern Africa is complicated by the presence of a not inconsiderable minority of persons of European descent. These—the whites—once enjoyed certain political and economic privileges at the expense of the Africans. It is in these circumstances that ugly black-white clashes have occurred and will almost certainly occur again. Among both white people and black there are groups preaching race hatred and intolerance. Many of the white workers are under the impression that they can preserve their security through discriminatory legislation. The African workers, on the other hand, see the solution to their miseries in African nationalism. The murders of Mau Mau in Kenya, and those of the Congo rebels, are examples of nationalism in action, just as the terrorist tactics employed by European nationalists in the past were. In Africa, however, they are now complicated as a clash between black and white.

African nationalism and the one party regimes it tends to set up are respectively the theory and practice of the capitalist social revolution in Africa. The spread of African nationalism together with the attempt by the Whites to maintain their privileges, is almost .certain to lead to further inter-racial violence and terror. Nationalism, with its talk of equality, may not at first sight appear as repugnant as racialism pure and simple. It often however, has the same results: bloodshed in which members of the working class are killed—not for their own interests but for those of their masters present and future.

Adam Buick

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