Boney Akaeze is a member of Socialist Labour and writes from Asaba, Delta State.
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Historically and fundamentally; every human society rests on an economic system which is a function of the organization, appropriation and distribution of the natural and material resources of the society. Social relations in human societies have also been essentially defined by the type of economic system under which they live, and the world has passed through different such systems before arriving at the present epoch of the dominance of industrial capitalism.
This industrial economic system like the other economic systems that preceded it has continued to thrive on the synergy of vested business interests and the captains of states. This dreadful synergy of capital and the state is at such global scale that it has enabled capitalism to ascend to global dominance spreading with it, affluence of a very few and afflictions against multitudes across all races and nations without exception.
The natural backlash arising from this contemporary inhuman and globalized economic system is the necessity for its replacement by any means possible. This is at the core of the struggle for socialism or for what some persons will prefer to call a mixed economy, to wit: a hybrid synthesized from capitalism, socialism and communism. This has become a global class struggle and the dynamics of international politics and development across the world since the triumph of the industrial revolution in Europe. It is therefore a struggle that should be of paramount interest to every development activist and organizer for system change.
Most often, people use the terms capitalism and socialism in reference to socio-political rather than economic systems/models. This seeming confusion is understandable in view of the fact that a political system is but a reflection of the social relations engendered by the prevailing economic system under which it operates. It should also be understood that the constitutional and organizational framework of the state functions as instrument of control of people as well as the exploitation and appropriation of the material resources of their country. These frameworks are both political and economic. Today, even big businesses operate as systems of power, acting in synergy with the state in an inseparable web. It is therefore on the basis of this clear nexus between capital and the politics of the control of states, that a political system cannot be separated from the economic system upon which it is rested.
It is a popular view in contemporary socio-political philosophy that the primary purpose of the modern state is the protection of life and property as well as enhancement of the welfare, peace and happiness of its citizens. From this popular philosophical perspective, it is therefore envisaged that the polity under the modern state shouldn’t in any guise have room for the enslavement of its citizens. To this end, its economic system ought to be driven by a doctrine which emphasizes not just production of material wealth but its fair distribution. It could therefore be safely opined that from the beginning, the modern nation-state was philosophically conceived to function largely under a socialist economy with a government of, by and for the citizens.
This is a direct opposite of the capitalist socio-economic system which thrives on private property, mass production driven by profit motives and the dominance of greedy, larcenous individualism, as well as the superiority of market and capital in charting the direction of societal development. The fact that the fundamental emphasis of capitalism is on the profit motive force of business, proves it antithetical to the historical essence and philosophical underpinning of the modern nation-state which to all intent and purposes, ought to be socialist in orientation with fair distribution of wealth in society as one of its overriding cardinal dynamics.
This argument is true also against the backdrop of the widely acclaimed notion that the modern state arose out of the necessity to protect man and his society from the cupidity and atavistic brutishness of man in the state of nature where might is right. This notion has been reduced to a ridiculous fantasy by the modern state resting on capitalism as its pillar and cornerstone.
Unfortunately, our society has continued to evolve as a pseudo-capitalist enclave contending with the unbridled tyranny, greed, materialism and preposterous individualism and self-aggrandizement of the very few who command the levers of its power both political and economic. Most States including the Nigerian state rather than acting as the safeguard against these monstrous attributes of people has indeed remained its greatest instrument and enablers.
Our country though termed a federal republic is like other countries of the world under capitalism. They are empires built by internal and external conquests. Their political systems are built and sustained by such mechanisms that enable the rich and their aristocratic cleavages to flourish while poverty, misery and bare peasantry remained the lot of the greater majority of the populace. The consequences of this state of affairs are grinding inequality and other social and economic vulnerabilities bedeviling the very fabric of the country, and which are manifesting in irreconcilable and interminable violent conflicts, insecurity and deadly crimes etc.
Nigeria as it is today, like almost all other countries, is evidently a captured state were the commonwealth of the country is the preserve of a privileged few. It will at best remain a peripheral capitalist society with the type of deep rooted social contradiction and aberrations that will keep it neither stable nor democratic.
Socialism may have been defined differently by as many scholars as may have attempted in their works, to arrive at acceptable definition for the term and concept. However, a common ground is that none of the scholars has ever disagreed that principally, socialism is about the socio-economic system in which the quality of life and the standard of living of the citizens individually and collectively are held to be supreme. A social system in which the welfare of citizens is paramount and essentially speaks to the pivots on which their livelihoods revolves, such as access to quality education, health care delivery, food security, employment and other issues of both social and physical security.
Under the prevailing socio-economic atmosphere in Nigeria in particular, and in fact the world at large, these fundamental objectives of the state are clearly absent and therefore have remained the real sore point of the development of our society. This state of affairs is acknowledged by the conservative and reactionary ruling elites as well as both the liberal and the radical ideological left. However, while the ideological left demonstrates commitment towards an overthrow of the infamous order, the ruling elites pay only fleeting lip service to it, especially when they exploit the obvious hallmarks of the failure of the state as the basis of campaign promises and mantra while soliciting for votes from the electorates during elections.
To some comrades of the ideological left in our country, the only sure way out of this morass is a return of the country to a socialist state under a workers party and a working people’s government. This is no doubt a most noble and patriotic call because it is a call to reset the state to a social system under which it will be able to focus on its primary task. However; the major challenge seems to be that those who share this aspiration are unable to reach a consensus on how the country can achieve this laudable desire. While many of them believe that a socialist state must be synonymous with a state built upon a radical social revolution and premised on the Communist Manifesto of Karl Marx or nothing else, some others believe in the Fabian cum social democracy approach etc. This is much more a case of the conflict of the choice of means in the midst of a unanimity of the desired end.
As a people who are committed to system change in their country, there are some fundamental truths we must face if we are to make any significant impact in our quest for a socialist country that guarantees what Jeremy Bentham referred to as the greater happiness of the greater majority.
Firstly, we ought to understand that the struggle for system change be it through party politics and elections or social action of revolutionary movements, is pure politics. In politics, what is held sacrosanct is the end being sought not the means to it. An organizer in the field of politics must be ready to recognize opportunities some of which may come by accidents. To these accidents he should be able to improvise and create unarguable and fitting rationalizations to justify his choices in keeping with the matrix of strategic pragmatism and tactical urgency.
Political history is replete with this objective reality. Remember that Mahatma Ghandi spearheaded the anti-colonial struggle in India which led to the country’s independence in 1947 on the mantra of Satyagraha (resistance to oppression through non-violent struggle). However, shortly after the country gained independence from Britain, the country under Prime Minister Jawaharial Nehru, who like Ghandi was an apostle of non-violence, invaded and seized the Kashmir Region from Pakistan. This ruthless act was rationalized by these champions of peace in the 20th century to be in keeping with the national interest which they claimed must be pursued by the state at all costs.
To them, non-violence was a tactic, not a commandment to be kept sacrosanct. Politics is a game of tactics and tactics creates compromises where expediency often overrides principles. It is a game in which the ethics of ends and means does not conform to the standards of the angelic world or the morality of parochial vestrymen. We have to play the game as it is, a game of diverse means.
Secondly, comrades in the struggle for the socialist transformation of Nigeria should acknowledge the truth in the words of Franklin D. Roosevelt that ‘politics is not the domain of theoretical imagination but that of accurate perception of reality’. In organizing for change, the organizers must work with what is rather than with what ought to be. They must meet the people where they are and how they are. They must adjust to them and become a part of them before they will adjust to them. They have to be accepted as a part of the people and therefore be disposed to follow they counsel. To this end, we must learn to communicate within the experience of the people. We must organize and move into action. We must realize that preaching socialist ideals will hardly win over to us, the poor Nigerians though whose salvation our struggle is directed at but who have accepted individual material affluence, power and its associated prestige, and the other rapacious and ostentatious tendencies of a decadent materialistic society as the gold standard and triumphant codes of a successful living.
A mass of poorly educated people socialized under gross material deprivation but who share the materialist mental disposition highlighted above aren’t folks to whom anyone should preach socialist and ethical ideals. The organizer for social change should teach them through actions; the foremost of which is relating with them in manners that would make them accept the organizer as their natural voice and leader.
It remains a costly error for us to tend to be oblivious to the fact that after the anti-colonial struggle and going through decades of tyrannous military rule and years of corrupt, parochial and primordial cleavages in civil regimes, our society has steadily deteriorated and degenerated in many dimensions. What we have now is a country where both the oppressors and the oppressed share the same materialistic orientation. The vast majority of our citizens have adjusted themselves to either the naïve religious moral indoctrinations of submissiveness to authority or to the culture of rugged individualism or worst still, the pedestrian notion among many of the congenital greed and corruptibility of every human and therefore the timid suspicion of anyone involved in power politics as a ruffian on a selfish mission to take unrestrained advantage of the public treasury. Some others are even just comfortable with benevolence from any quarters and will never be disposed to any organized resistance against anti-people public policies, oppression and other acts of injustice. This is because such docility is respected as a virtue in the culture under which they have been socialized.
This is why even the most genuine system change activist will hardly escape the cynicism and opprobrium with which the masses often view the average politician. A system change activist can only ignore these facts at their own peril.
It is therefore instructive that in trying to organize and mobilize for socialist transformation in the context of the present day Nigerian society, one should not fail to take to mind those words of Maximillian Robespierre to the Committee of Public Safety in France during the French Revolution where he posited, ‘you must entirely refashion a people whom you wish to make free, destroy its prejudices, alter it habits, limit its necessities, root up its vices and purify its desires’. This is exactly the fundamental task before the organizers for socialist transformation of the country.
All the successful social revolutions in world history were preceded by certain philosophical and ideological currents derived from constructive interrogation, interpretation and exposition of the nexus between the prevailing social order and the poor living conditions of the masses. Malcolm X once said that, ‘the greatest mistake of the movement has been trying to organize a sleeping people around specific goals. You have to wake the people up first, then you will get action’. He also asserted that, ‘I, for one believe that if you give people a thorough understanding of what confronts them and the basic causes that produce it, they’ll create their own program and when the people create a program, you get action.’
Naturally; there is always a condition precedent and necessary for every outcome in life. Chemically, substances must combine in their appropriate molecular ratio to produce a desired compound just as there are appropriate conditions for photosynthesis to take place in plants, for germination of a seed and for pollination in flowers etc. At different times in world history prophets have arisen and created in their people, new awakenings that brought great social impacts upon the consciousness of men. It has also been the same with great philosophers, scholars and statesmen. Every society is a manifestation of the nature of the consciousness of those who populate it, therefore any organizer for social change must understand that the necessary first step in his/her project is to permeate and influence the minds of those to be organized.
We must therefore campaign vigorously for adequate funding of education. It is also very expedient to return to campuses to bring back left ideologically sound students unions and scholars. There is the need to identify social movements and build them up into coalitions with the capacity to engage in social actions.
Furthermore; it is important to bear in mind that a successful organizer for system change works with rather than for the people. The fundamental task is getting the people to the point where a program of action will be created with them through their self-conscious effort. This requires the ability to tactically adjust to the people especially by communicating within their experience, understand their idiosyncrasies and respect their identity, cultural heritage and social shortcomings etc. Always remember that the common people are not ideologically deepened to be bordered about capitalism and socialism. All they are interested in are access to free or affordable education and health care, security of life and property, social and economic security and other issues relating to livelihoods
The consciousness of the victims of brutal slavery, a fascist or an apartheid regime, will not be the same as that of citizens who live under civil regimes corrupted by a neo-colonial rentier and rogue state governed by conservative elites who are backed up by pseudo-bourgeoisie traditional institutions and brainwashing religious teachings. These are tools that shelter naivety, indolence as faith, subservient mentality and the worst form of mental laziness.
In the same vain, organizing workers of a country under factories and huge industrial complexes of capitalism with strong trade unions and a culture of active citizenship, can’t be same as organizing in a country gravitating around ethnic and other local loyalties, with mass unemployment, very large uneducated, pedestrian and uncritical minded population with the absence of a radical press, strong trade unions and radical youth/students movements. With the prevailing consciousness in our country, socialist transformation can only be achieved through the people’s organization and program not from outside and by an outsider.
It will be through the organizer being an integral part of the organization that is steering the program of action to such a defined end. This is where strategy and tactics are important with resistance theories, principles and philosophies often modified to suit the social environment of action. Targeting to win state power through elections in order to build a socialist state without first of all awakening the electorates into a new consciousness, is like hoping to win a decisive battle without building a strong and dependable army. The struggle for the socialist transformation of Nigeria requires therefore that the ideological left move into the field of political action and at worst face the fate of Theodore Roosevelt’s ‘The Man in the Arena’.