Karl Marx, socialism and Africa’s second liberation

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Charles Onunaiju

On the auspicious remembrance of the 200 year anniversary of the birth of Karl Marx (5th May 1818-May 2018), it would be pertinent to reflect on his work, its impact on the historical trajectory of mankind and re-evaluation of contradictions of the contemporary world system and even to examine the historical context of Africa’s current dilemma. One of Marx’s authoritative biographer, the Latvian-born British philosopher, Isaiah Berlin, wrote of Marx’s theory as “ the most powerful among the intellectual forces which are today transforming the ways in which men act and think” .

Marx was born in Trier, in the German Rhineland. His parents, Heinrich and Henrietta, were of Jewish origin but accepted Protestantism nominally, to enable Mr Heinrich to practise law. The family was reported to be reasonably well off, but not very wealthy. Marx was admitted to study Law in University of Berlin but later switched to study Philosophy at the University of Bonn. Marx’s work consisted essentially in laying bare the laws in the development of society, but especially the capitalist society, which he praised for its monumental achievements in technology and social forms, but whose existential contradictions underline its transitional nature in the society’s trajectory.
However, after the collapse of the former USSR, the first proletarian State, founded on the authority of Marxian Socialist scientific theory, Marxism in Europe, America and even the continents of Africa, Asia and Latin America has had less political appeal. But, the contemporary wreckage of deepening capitalist crisis, especially with its backlash of the rise of right wing extremist populism in the industrial West and deepening misery in Africa has rekindled interest in the study of Marx and the scientific theory of socialism.

In Africa, the absence of theoretical rigour, social and historical contextualization which are dispassionate tools of scientific interrogation of facts have undermined policy outlines, rendering them hollow and inappropriate for the urgent needs of transformation and modernization of socio-economic and political framework of the region. The essential contents of contemporary policy outlines in Africa are regrettably deficit in the grasp of the existential reality, which Amilcar Cabral, Africa’s most rigorous theoretician characterized as “the expression of the internal contradictions in the economic, social and historical reality of each of our countries,” and stressed his conviction “that any national or social project of change, which is not founded on adequate knowledge of this reality runs grave risks of poor results or of being doomed to failure.”

And for those who would scorn theoretical rigour as unnecessary abstraction and distraction, Cabral was convinced that “if it is true that a revolution or a social change project can fail, even though it be nurtured on perfectly conceived theories, nobody has yet successfully practiced revolution without revolutionary theory.” The tragic trajectories in Africa of poverty, misery conflicts and political exclusions are essentially derived from the theoretical lethargy of acute deficit in political and economic imaginations.

Scientific socialism, originally contributed by Karl Marx and Fredrich Engels, is even a key victim of the cascading waves of anti-intellectualism in contemporary African official political establishments, where the straitjacket of received wisdom of policy packages, sometimes handed down from outside, is canonized as true gospel of redemption. It is the misunderstanding that Socialism was first and foremost, a political ideology and a totalitarian one for that matter, a regime type and even a strategy for class war-fare that feed the popular misconception that it has failed in its birth place of the former Union of Soviet Socialist Republic, USSR, and therefore allegedly unsuitable and even unmentionable in the current discourse about the future of Africa and even Nigeria.
However, Socialism or more specifically Scientific Socialism, chiefly the work of Karl Marx and Fredrich Engels, elaborated further in another social context by Vladimir Lenin, was before any other thing else, a scientific investigation of laws of social progress, exploring the forms of its evolution and the context of existential facts and reality which interact to produce the specific context of social relation and the means of securing the material condition of its existence that both recreate and transforms it.

Marx and Engels did not invent these laws but discover their trajectories across all human forms, despite of place and time. These laws which agglomerate the diverse tapestry of the existential material base, in objective terms correspond to the forms of social relations and political organization in specific social and historical context.

Many people claimed that Marx envisaged socialism in more advanced capitalist countries of the West than the backward Russia, where it actually occurred in 1917. However, what Marx envisaged is actually less important, than what he discovered as the laws governing the progression of society ,unhindered or unaffected by the wish, preference of anyone, including himself. The scientific theory of socialism, extrapolates many political conclusions but its value is the rigour of its scientific interrogation of social realities, derived from general principles.

The credibility of Marxism and its eternal universal value is laying out the critical theoretical infrastructure which illuminates the road map that constantly search for questions – calling into questions where others only see ready-made answers and vulgar evidence. Writing in the forward of first volume of Das Kapital, Professor Enerst Mandell, pointed out that Marx’s principal aim was to lay bare the laws of motion which govern the origins, the rise, the development, the decline and the disappearance of a given social form of economic organization and not seeking universal laws of organization. And in fact, the essential thesis of Das Kapital is that no such laws exist.

Marxism is not a scheme of political project or economic organization of any particular place and time but basically a scientific theory to unmask and interrogate social forms in any particular state of historical development. The conclusion of each particular stage is not valid for all times and all circumstances. The profound theoretical universal insight of Marxism – Leninism bears fruit in economic and social organization, when interrogated to the specific condition of historical context and existing situation. The Communist Party of China has been particularly adroit in this synthesis and has produced an awesome economic success and social progress that the world has never seen before. The Communist Party of China has consistently affirmed its abiding faith in the scientific and eternal value of Marxism-Leninism as its practical guide. Building Socialism with Chinese characteristics is the advanced development of Marxism-Leninism in the particular context of China’s existential reality. The Party avows that without Marxism-Leninism, it would never have found the path to advance on the road of its core national priority of modernization and inclusive development.

At the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China held in October, last year, its general secretary, also the President of the country, Xi Jinping, re-affirmed that the party “must uphold the four cardinal principles – keeping unswervingly to the path of socialism, uphold the people’s Democratic dictatorship, the leadership of the Communist party of China and Marxism-Leninism and Mao Zedong Thought.

With China’s national aggregates reaching unprecedented height, President Xi Jinping reported to the historic congress that now “China champions the development of a community with shared future for mankind and has encouraged the evolution of a more inclusive global governance system. China’s confidence in strutting inclusive globalization comes against the backdrop of the retreat of the foremost capitalist and imperialist hyper-power to the shriek cry of “America first”.

The Marxist Theory of Scientific Socialism is a vast ideological resource, open to innovation, constant development and enrichment. The intellectual depth, rigour and discipline necessary to understand and interrogate Marxism and even appreciate its theoretical and scientific ramifications is more extensive and can unravel the myth of Africa’s economic lethargy and political paralysis.Onunaiju is Director, Centre for China Studies, (CCS) Utako, Abuja.Culled from The Sun