Monday, June 27, 2022

Ghana: The Ruling Class and the State (1999)

 From the August 1999 issue of the Socialist Standard

The concept of classes and class struggle in most African educational and political forums is treated as if it were a cultic secret; a taboo subject. This is not surprising. Class struggles and classes are basically about state power, a fact rightly considered as subversive and extremely dangerous by the ruling and propertied classes, and embarrassing by “objective” academics.

The attitude of academics whose intellectual output supports the capitalist establishment therefore goes beyond mere academic interest. The alleged non-existence of classes and class struggles in Ghana serves the interest of the “haves” both at the national and international levels. It explains why the intelligentsia and politicians strive, even if they have read and understood Marxism, to any lengths to mangle and decant it of its essence. It enables the most vicious and corrupt political leadership to harp on about the so-called harmonious development and the social homogeneity of the African population. Marxism is normally seen as an ideology of violence and division and therefore un-African.

There are two distinct systems of production in Ghana; the modern dominant capitalist sector and the traditional sector. Formerly the capitalist sector was supported by indigenous capital, foreign private capital and state capital. Since 1983 when the government embarked on its privatisation drive, the situation has witnessed a major shift with the marginalisation of the state sector and the virtual asphyxiation of an already fledgling indigenous private capitalist sector. The IMF and World Bank-propelled economic programme has all but put foreign private capital in a very strong position. What is of crucial importance here is the role that these sectors in the economy play in the appropriation of surplus labour. The garb that they present themselves in is of less importance to slaves of capital. They are all vampires whose existence depends on the exploitation of workers. It is the unpaid part of the daily total labour of the Ghanaian worker which is the source of capitalist surplus value. This form of exploitation is not too difficult to identify in the privately-owned enterprises—both foreign and domestic. It is less visible in the few surviving state enterprises. But the fact that there are two aspects of reality must not be lost sight of—the outward appearance of a phenomenon and its true nature.

On the surface, state enterprises present a picture of belonging to the workers. As if to emphasise this fact it is often said that they state belongs to everybody and it is the money of the people that has been used to set up the enterprise. However, the workers are completely shut out of management decisions and have no role in deciding how surpluses should be distributed. The fact is that surpluses extracted from workers in the state enterprises go mainly to the privileged minority class, who control the Ghanaian state, albeit in a subordinate position to international finance capital. The results of production are monopolised, appropriated by this class for the purposes of enrichment and domination of the toiling worker.

It goes without saying that a society like the Ghanaian society in which the labour of the majority is appropriated by a few would inevitably present sharp contrasts in wealth and poverty. In Ghana the privileged minority class almost exclusively have access to bank credit facilities and other privileges like good and higher education, better housing, etc. The situation of the underprivileged is however worrisome. According to the government statistician more than 30 percent of them live below the poverty line. Average real wages and salaries are only 25 percent of what they were in 1968 and per capita income is still $460, exactly what it was in 1957 when Ghana attained independence. The ability of one group to appropriate the surplus product of others has thus engendered the division of the society into classes.

The Ghanaian capitalist class is extremely factious and splintered. Outwardly it presents a picture of monolithicism, but in reality it is fragmented, into “comprador” and “national” sections. There is also a large petty bourgeoisie. Issa Shinji objects to the use of the term “national” to describe one of the segments of this class on the grounds that there is a remarkable absence of the qualities that are normally attributed to the bourgeoisie in Europe. Colonialism discouraged local business enterprise in the colonies; while its policy in the metropolis was free trade. Anyone wishing to achieve wealth and status in the then Gold Coast or present day Ghana therefore had to chase a career in the professions, civil service or the armed forces or work within the banks, industrial enterprises and mining companies, which were by and large controlled by foreigners.

The “comprador” segment is that which is made up of those capitalists who consciously collaborate with imperialism in an attempt to bolster their class interests. In Ghana it is closely linked to Japan Motors, Mobil Shell, Ashanti Goldfields Corporation, etc. It stubbornly protects the interests of these multi-national companies, both politically and economically because it reckons quite rightly that the rate of its profit maximisation and therefore its survival is directly connected to the fate of these companies.

The “national” bourgeoisie on the other hand has a stronger tendency to strive for internal capital accumulation; but this desire is not because it wants to redistribute its wealth to the poorer classes. What it seeks to do is to monopolise for itself the opportunity to milk the working class. Its struggle against foreign capital therefore does not make it more progressive than others. It merely seeks to control all the levers of economic exploitation and this does not make it any different from the comprador section as far as the Ghanaian working class is concerned. The “comprador” and the “national” capitalists have one thing in common—the maintenance of the current relations of production which are based on exploitation. Vampires are all the same—they suck the blood of their victims.

The national bourgeoisie in Ghana has however been incapacitated in its struggle against foreign capitalist interests operating in the country for a number of reasons. It lacks managerial experience, depends heavily on imported raw materials, and is given to a riotous and vulgar lifestyle. But what dealt the so-called national bourgeoisie a more devastating blow was the economic policies of the government, dictated by the two Bretton Woods Institutions—the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. The agreement of the government to devalue the cedi led to the rise of the cost of imported materials needed for production. Apart form this the conditions imposed by the donors for the distribution of credits made it more difficult than before to obtain loans to oil the wheels of the domestic manufacturing sector. These coupled with the liberalisation policy led to the influx of an avalanche of cheap goods from the United States and Western European import substitution industries, operating through south-east Asian client states, thus robbing domestic producers of hitherto protected markets. The domestic private sector which is controlled by the national bourgeoisie was suffocated because its avenue for domestic accumulation of capital was choked.

The state, class and political power
The fractionalised nature of the ruling class in Ghana (and most African states) often engenders a high level of political competition in it and hence a high degree of politicisation. Any group within it which emerges triumphant in this competition normally gains a number of advantages. The control of government and the state machine facilitates its monopolisation of the economic means of production and it can manage political power to the exclusion of the other groups. Thus political party campaigns since 1957 have not been geared towards any fundamental structural changes in the economic base of the state to improve the lot of the toiling masses. All the political parties are representatives of the various factions of the capitalist class whose ultimate objective is not the dismantling of the state machine, but its maintenance and the furtherance of their economic interests. This explains why the political parties in Ghana today, in whatever garb or guise they present themselves—Busia-Danguali, Nkrumaist or Third Force—sing the same song: the maintenance of the wage and profit system. All claims to fighting for the common people are not only hollow and meaningless concepts to mask their devious intentions; but actually the funeral dirges of the working people. And they often succeed in carrying out their sinister designs because no genuine alternative choices are presented.

The state thus becomes a major plank for the building-up of the economic power of that section of the bourgeoisie that wins elections and for the consolidation of its political power.

The state is used to procure as much money as possible through over-inflated contracts, corruption and outright plundering of public coffers. As a result the people who voted politicians into office become disenchanted with them, and a feeling of alienation among the masses sets the stage for the rejection of the leadership in the next election. The leaders then become insecure, strengthen the apparatus of repression and brutalise those who had supported them and their opponents alike. An atmosphere of insecurity is created as a by-product of this situation, and the leaders become pre-occupied with the politics of survival, with remaining in office at all cost. In the resultant manoeuvring for security of office all state institutions are personalised. In other words retention of high office and promotion come to depend on the presumed loyalty of the individual to the “Great Leader”. The army and the police are never disregarded. These coercive institutions become active foci of these conflicts and are drawn willy-nilly into the vortex of these battles. They too are divided along these lines of sectional interest and their neutrality becomes compromised. Their response to the demands of the ruling class cannot be predicted with certainty, and they become exposed as pawns in the power games of the capitalist class. The fragility of the neo-colonial state becomes glaring and it cannot be counted on as an instrument of control and reform.

Adongo Aidan Avugma

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