Pan Africanism is Petit Bourgeois (middle class) nationalism

9th draft


The perspectives of Pan Africanism is still being used across Africa as a means to objectively justify the continued enslavement of the masses. On the other hand many honest fighters subscribe in various ways, uncritically, to the ideas of Pan Africanism. The political exposure of it is thus an important task.

The core of Pan-Africanism

The essence of Pan-Africanism can be summarised as follows:

  • The conscious use of ‘Africanism’ (‘we are all Africans’) to disguise class differences among Africans (some are capitalist, some are middle class, most are workers and poor peasants)
  • It avoids focusing on capitalism as the main problem
  • It believes in keeping capitalist state structures intact and mere change of personnel is sufficient. As these state structures are instruments of capitalist-imperialist rule, it thus follows that Pan Africanism competes to be their local agent.
  • It places the black middle class at the leadership of struggles. It follows that it does not prepare independent organizations of the working class for its historic role in leading the struggle against imperialism and for the most radical democratic demands
  • It does not see the need for the establishment of independent Communist Parties as the leader of the national liberation struggles or struggles for democratic demands
  • It uses Socialist phraseology to cover up its subservience to imperialism
  • Its vision of ‘African Socialism’ is an extension of the Stalinist ‘Socialism in one country’. Both these cases ignore the fact that a decisive victory of the bourgeois democratic revolution (democratic demands), let alone Socialism in any one country or group of colonies (or ex-colonies), is incompatible with world imperialist rule. Imperialism will never tolerate a victory that gives a local capitalist class any sort of independence and will certainly not tolerate a workers’ state anywhere on the planet.
  • It weakens the struggle against world imperialism as the fate of the working class in Africa is seen as separate from the working class in the rest of the world.

As resistance to colonial control grew, the imperialists turned to the Pan-Africanists to act as a buffer against the resistance of the masses. By tying the struggle of the working class to nationalism and Pan-Africanism, stalinism assisted imperialism in establishing a new form of control (through so-called independent governments, who were still nevertheless capitalist).

The continued existence of capitalism in Africa means the continued dispossession of the vast majority of the people of their land, means the continued expropriation by the giant monopolies of the wealth of the indigenous people. Any attempts to increase local ‘wealth’ means reducing the profits of imperialism, which has developed in Africa on the basis of super-exploitation. Some Pan Africanists who, even in a limited way, have tried to challenge imperialist control, found themselves isolated from their middle class base, and like Patrice Lumumba (Congo) and Thomas Sankara (Burkina Faso), were assassinated by pro-imperialist elements.

The other side of world imperialist control is, that the world division of labour is advancing the basis for the international expropriation of the means of production by the world proletariat, through the future, international Socialist revolution. The struggle for Socialism is international, and to limit it to continental focus is to weaken, indeed to betray the struggle of the world proletariat (working class).

The development of capitalism in Africa

When the development of capitalism had reached an advanced stage in Europe, Africa was still in the grip of primitive communalism, feudalism and slavery. The need to export capital from Europe to find fresh areas for exploitation, led to a bloody worldwide scramble by the imperialists for colonies. Capitalism in Africa did not therefore go through the same slow process of development as in Europe, ie with the rise of guilds and the local urban capitalists, etc. In the early stages direct governorship by the imperialists was the order of the day. This direct rule by colonialism suppressed the local middle classes and local capitalists. Unlike in the period of early capitalism in Europe, when primitive forms such as tribalism were rooted out, the development of capitalism in Africa imposed advanced forms, such as monopoly capitalist control; and the accompanying development of a proletariat (working class), while maintaining and promoting tribalism, racism and ethnicity as a means of social control.

As resistance to this direct colonial rule increased, the imperialists were forced to consider other forms of rule, eg indirect rule through puppet regimes drawn from the local population. The development of the local middle class was permitted and promoted only as a buffer between the capitalists and the exploited mass. The striving for privilege by the local developing middle class clashed with the regime of direct colonial rule. As in the anti-colonial struggles across the world, deal after deal was struck for ending of direct colonial rule but the maintaining of capitalism in Africa. Before freedom from below was achieved, the imperialists granted ‘independence’ on their own terms, thus securing a new form of control. After the second capitalist imperialist world war the countries of Africa were divided up by imperialism often into countries that were not viable economic entities on their own. Capitalist relations and imperialist control was thus entrenched. The surrendering of certain privileges to a new ruling elite was the price imperialism was prepared to pay for the maintaining of its indirect control. In the leadership of the nationalist movements, the imperialists found willing partners for securing ongoing capitalist exploitation. The political aims of the nationalist movements were never the abolition or ending of capitalist rule, but only for the ending of direct imperialist rule. Nationalist programmes may have made reference to Socialism but when the crunch came, the leaders of these movements, in true character of the middle class, sided with capitalism. Such is the nature of Pan Africanism.

The value of Pan Africanism was recognized by the imperialists as revealed in a recently released document of discussions between the British Foreign Office and their counterparts in the United States: ” Pan Africanism, in itself, is not necessarily a force that we need to regard with suspicion and fear. On the contrary, if we can avoid alienating it and guide it on lines generally sympathetic to the free world, it may well prove in the longer term a strong, indigenous barrier to the penetration of Africa by the Soviet Union.” [From Africa: The Next Ten years, Foreign office Document, December 1959, quoted in Nicholas J White, Decolonisation, The British experience since 1945, Longman, 1999, pp 125-126].

Several of the main leaders of Pan Africanism studied in the United States. Azikiwe (1st President of Nigeria), Tubman (1st President of Liberia) and Nkrumah (1st President of Ghana) all studied at Howard University where they came under the influence of West Indian, George Padmore. Padmore was a devoted stalinist and his influence on Pan Africanism was decisive. That a University in the imperialist heartland became a hotbed for stalinist ideas shows how compatible these two worldviews are with each other.

Stalinism and Pan Africanism

George Padmore was a leader of the Communist International under Stalin. His job in Moscow in the early 1930’s was to serve on a special committee to root out ‘Trotskyists’ and oppositionists to the Stalin line from the Chinese Communist Party. Those who argued that the Party in the colonial world be based on a programme for working class power, were driven out. Padmore completely accepted the stalinist 2-stage theory for the countries outside the imperialist centres. According to this theory there should first be a stage of national democratic revolution that would place the peasants and the national bourgeois [capitalist] movements in power, followed by a Socialist stage at some unknown time in the future. Even the perspective on Socialism was that of ‘Socialism in one country’ or ‘African Socialism’ as opposed to the dependence of the struggle for Socialism on the proletarian revolution in the imperialist centres. Padmore influenced Nkrumah, Kenyatta, Nyerere, Sobukwe and others. According to Padmore, an aspiring local black bourgeoisie [capitalist class] would take power in the first stage- these would be the ‘national liberation movements’ across Africa. Stalin’s perspective was for the Communists to merge their programme with the nationalist movements. It followed from Padmore’s Stalinism that there was no need for the establishment of independent Communist Parties in Africa- effectively disarming and disorganising the working class in Africa.

Lenin, in his draft Thesis on the national and colonial questions, 5th June 1920, opposed this: ”the need for a determined struggle against attempts to give a communist colouring to bourgeois-democratic liberation trends in the backward countries; the Communist International should support bourgeois-democratic national movements in colonial and backward countries only on condition that, in these countries, the elements of future proletarian parties, which will be communist not only in name, are brought together and trained to understand their special tasks, ie, those of the struggle against the bourgeois-democratic movements within their own nations. The Communist International must enter into a temporary alliance with bourgeois democracy in the colonial and backward countries, but should not merge with it, and should under all circumstances uphold the independence of the proletarian movement even if it is in its most embryonic form.”

Thus Lenin was saying that any attempt to give the national liberation movements a ‘communist’ colouring must be resisted; temporary help should only be given to revolutionary national liberation movements on condition that the elements that would form the future Communist parties are brought together and trained to understand their task of fighting against the bourgeois democratic movements in their own nations; the Communist party should maintain its independence, even if the workers’ movement is in embryonic form, or a small minority as in Russia in 1917 and much of Africa in the early 1900’s. Real independence can only exist under a union of Soviet states where the working class has taken power, and finally, victory over capitalism can only be achieved when the working class of all countries strive for unity and work together; finally, the Communist International entire policy on the national and colonial questions rest on the closer working together of the workers of all countries and nations in joint revolutionary struggle for the overthrow of the landowners and the local capitalist class; this union alone is the guarantee of victory over capitalism and without which, the abolition of national oppression and inequality is impossible.

During this period, after 1900, there was a strong development of the working class, eg with up to 1 million mineworkers in the Congo as well as in South Africa. Padmore made no attempt to set up Communist parties or to advance an independent class line in Africa or implement any part of Lenin’s approach on the colonial question. Even after Padmore broke with Stalin over his apparent lack of seriousness for the struggles in Africa, he nevertheless still continued with stalinist ideas: According to Padmore:” The only force capable of containing Communism in Asia and Africa is dynamic nationalism based upon a socialist programme of industrialization…”. This ‘dynamic nationalism’ was nothing else but the maintaining of a capitalist state apparatus, in other words, still maintaining an instrument for the violent suppression of the local working class. This was the basis that Padmore appealed to the imperialists to grant independence. Such was the basis that Nkrumah appealed to the British imperialists for independence: ” All we ask of the former colonial powers is their goodwill and co-operation to remedy past mistakes and grant independence to the colonies in Africa.”

Padmore became Nkrumah’s advisor. Nkrumah was the last Prime Minister of the Gold Coast under British imperial rule and after a negotiated settlement he became the first president of ‘independent’ Ghana. The capitalist state apparatus was kept intact. Nkrumah soon declared himself dictator of Ghana. A few years later he was deposed by the very military that had kept him in power. This is the shining example that Pan Africanists hold up to us as a symbol of what each country in Africa should look like. Very little African Socialism- much more like African capitalism — still subjugated to the will of imperialism.

Padmore had no aims of putting the working class in power — rather he was more interested in developing a bulwark /barrier to Communism. His stated development aims were to put in power the local budding African bourgeoisie. Such was the main inspiration of Pan Africanists, including Robert Sobukwe. Throughout Africa the Pan Africanists have put down strikes of workers and working class opposition. In the 1980’s when even the peasants in Zimbabwe were demanding radical land redistribution and a takeover of the capitalist land holdings, the Mugabe regime, with the assistance of North Korean troops put down the peasant uprising. Similarly across Africa the Pan Africanists acted against the democratic aspirations of the masses. The past 45 years of Pan Africanism has confirmed the capitalist and pro-imperialist nature of the Pan Africanists. The very slogan of ” a government of the Africans, by the Africans for the Africans” was put forward by Padmore himself.

Africa for Africans means Africa for the capitalists

The main political slogan of the Pan Africanist Congress, the PAC, and of Pan-Africanism in general is for a ”government of the Africans, by the Africans, for the Africans.” This is a local version of the slogan of bourgeois democracy (capitalist democracy) of a ”government of the people, by the people, for the people.” This common slogan of the capitalists and Pan- Africanists disguises the fact that the ‘people’ and the ‘Africans’ are divided on class lines. The capitalists own the means of production and the working class and landless ‘peasants’ do not own any of the mines, factories, banks or farms. The ‘people’ and the ‘Africans’ are also comprised of capitalists and aspirant-capitalists from among the middle class. How can the working class and landless ‘peasants’ govern when they do not own the factories, mines, banks and farms? Both slogans are designed to hide the fact that the society is controlled by the capitalist class. Under a democracy, while the masses have formal equality with the capitalists, their lack of ownership and control of the means of production results in them remaining subject to wage slavery. The working class is forced to sell their labour power to the capitalist class. The capitalist class has an interest in keeping the working class lowly paid and poor, while the working class has an interest in ending the system of wage slavery and taking over the means of production. The working class and capitalist class thus have irreconcilable, opposing interests. To claim that capitalist democracy stands for real equality is to mislead the working class and fellow poor. Thus the slogan of Pan Africanism of a ”government of Africans, by the Africans, for the Africans” is for a society in Africa of a special type, namely the rule by an African capitalist class. This interpretation is supported by Robert Sobukwe in his Opening address to the Inaugural Convention of the PAC, held on the 4-6 April 1959, when he stated that the PAC ”accept political democracy as understood in the west.”. Thus despite claiming to stand between West and East, Sobukwe made it quite clear that the PAC is for capitalist democracy, in other words rule by an indigenous capitalist class. Indeed, further in the same address, the position on nationalist movements in Africa are spelt out as being for ” the United States of Africa: a union of free, sovereign independent democratic states.” Thus we see that the wage slavery of the ‘west’, of capitalist democracy, is seen as the model for the ‘new’ Africa. This support for capitalist democracy has been supported throughout by the PAC as can be seen from their 2006 Local Government election manifesto: ”The PAC believes that Local government holds the key to restoring faith in the political system.” The masses have lost faith in the capitalist democracy and the PAC believes they are the key to make them believe in this system of exploitation once again. The PAC also pledges in the same manifesto to ensure that there are police stations in new areas. Thus they are committed to ensure that the instruments of state violence against the masses, are in all new areas. Further, in the ‘Brief information on the PAC’ that new applicants to it must have read, it is stated, in a rather confused fashion, that …”the PAC wants the comfortable minority to continue to be comfortable. But the PAC warns that the uncomfortable majority will sooner than later make the comfortable majority uncomfortable.” The capitalists own the means of production and the PAC wants them to continue to do so. All that the PAC wants is ”the national budget should be spent more in the underdeveloped African areas.” Give a bit more reforms to the poor so that the masses can keep quiet, is what the PAC wants. How will they fight for Socialism if they want all their members to pledge that the capitalists must continue to be ‘comfortable’?

As Pan Africanism is for capitalist states run by the local black bourgeoisie, their ‘anti-imperialist’ stance is hypocritical. Each of the states in Africa is tied economically to imperialism and the world economy. By extension, the unity of these capitalist states in the African Union also serves the purpose of subservience to imperialism at a continental level. The legitimacy of the African leaders are used to advance the plans of imperialism on the continent. They do this through the African Union and their programme called NEPAD, ‘New partnership for Africa’s Development’. The Pan Africanists and the other nationalists on the continent are the strongest proponents of this imperialist plan for the further plunder of Africa. If Sobukwe had been alive he would have supported this.

Sobukwe in his inaugural speech of 1959, supports the slogan of a part of the imperialist organs of the UN, when he says, ” on behalf of the Africanists, that with UNESCO we hold that ‘ every man is his brother’s keeper. For every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main, because he is involved in mankind” Included in this ‘every man’ is the capitalist class, who are also part of mankind, and who indeed are ‘keeping’ their fellow part of mankind, namely the working class, and every piece of this continent in the chains of exploitation. The United Nations as a body is supported by the PAC- they even make the claim that they were responsible for expelling South Africa from it. This claim is beside the point, the problem is that the PAC is a supporter of the main imperialist agency the UN, that is responsible for policing the working classes of the world for the banks and giant corporations. This is not a Third way that stands between capitalism and communism; western democracy and the UN stand for capitalism, the rule of imperialism (the giant industrial corporations and banks) and nothing else.

Nepad and Pan-Africanism

The deepening crisis of imperialism-capitalism internationally has meant that the monopolies are searching for new fields for exploitation and for ways to increase their profits. In Africa the imperialist programme is called NEPAD (New Partnership for Africa’s Development). Before being open to comment from organizations in Africa, this Nepad programme was presented to the G5 for amending and approval. Only thereafter was it presented to Africa for implementation. This is a programme for mass privatization; opening Africa for capitalist investment; based on the principle of non-interference over the repatriation of imperialist profits; cost-free investment (ie cost-free to the capitalist class); based on African states paying higher rates of interest. In short NEPAD is a programme for the greater plunder and rape of African resources. This programme even has a ‘peer-review’ mechanism where countries that do not comply with its capitalist principles, stand to be invaded by other African states. It is not without good reason therefore that NEPAD has been called ‘GEAR for Africa’ (after the IMF programme being implemented in South Africa). The PAC does not in any way oppose the regimes in Africa that are implementing NEPAD, thus they must be seen as a supporter, in deed, of this plan of imperialism.

Tanzania and the Arusha Declaration

Julius Nyerere, the leader of the Tanzanian movement, the TANU [Tanganyika African National Union], had cordial relations with the last British governor, Richard Turnbull and together they helped set the terms of Britain’s ‘exit’ and of ‘independence’. Although claiming to be Socialist, the Arusha Declaration, the declaration of ‘independence’ of Tanzania, promoted the maintaining of imperialist domination of the country. The Arusha declaration set out the following as the main basis of the programme for Tanzania:

  1. The biggest requirement is ‘hard work’; the people in the villages must work harder. A 45 hour week is too short.
  2. The people must use their intelligence in production;
  3. Self reliance in Agriculture as opposed to industry is the starting point.

What immediately follows from the Arusha Declaration was that industry and the banks would remain in capitalist hands and that ‘Socialism’ would be built in the villages, ie without the latest technological advances in industry. Even though there was nominal ‘nationalisation’ of the banks and big industry, this was in reality a partnership with international capital, who still remained in control. For example, the sisal industry was still being managed and run by the company that had control under colonialism, etc. The Declaration goes against the international struggle for a 40 hour week and for shorter working hours. Further, the keeping Africa’s production as production of agriculture and raw materials as opposed to greater industrialization, is consistent with the programme of the TANU. This was directly in line with the needs of imperialism in Africa, to keep it as a source of cheap, unprocessed agricultural products and raw materials. In other words, despite its claims, the Arusha Declaration was in line with the plans of imperialism to keep Tanzania’s (and Africa’s economy) totally dependent on the capitalist-imperialist centres. How could Tanzania get even all the latest agricultural techniques by purely ‘self- reliance’ (self-isolation)? The form of control was through the TANU bureaucracy in the villages, who implemented and controlled the forced collectivization of most of the peasant production, creating the so-called ujamma. This amounted to a de-facto expropriation of the peasantry to create agricultural production for the needs of imperialism. Nowhere was control established by the working class or even the poor peasantry and the stalinist idea of a one-party state was imposed. At no stage was Tanzania ever self-sufficient in agriculture and today the country is capitalist, not Socialist. TANU’s form of Socialism was actually a submission to the will of imperialism. The role of Nyerere and TANU was typical of the national ‘liberation’ movements across Africa, using their legitimacy as leaders of the Movement, using Socialist phrases, to further the exploitation of the local masses on behalf of the imperialists.

In his address to the South African parliament on the 16th Oct 1997, Nyerere confirmed his perspective for African capitalism. He moans that sub-Saharan Africa is on its own; that (capitalist) South Africa should play its role in developing Africa, and that ‘we have to depend on ourselves’. What he neglected to mention is that the economy of sub-saharan Africa is controlled by imperialism through local agents; he in fact legitimizes the further super-exploitation by monopoly capital of the working classes in Africa, promoting SA-branded monopolies seeking further fields for exploitation in Africa. In effect this lets imperialism in through the front door to continue the exploitation of Africa. It is noteworthy that his address took place in the period after the adoption of GEAR economic policy by the SA government. The self-isolation policy of Nyerere is typical of the Pan Africanists: dividing the working class in Africa from our working class brothers and sisters in the rest of the world. As a follower of Padmore, Nyerere was put into power by a black bourgeois class dressed up in a ‘Socialist’ disguise.

Africa for Africans divides the world proletariat.

Socialism is built out of the highest advances of capitalism. The world economy is interconnected in many ways and this very feature of rule by giant monopolies points the way forward to the development of World Socialism. Imperialist rule has already established a world-wide division of labour, a world wide division of production. On the other hand, it reinforces the idea that building Socialism in one country or even in one continent is utopia, is impossible. The one fundamental obstacle to Socialism, to human progress, is the fact that the wealth of the world is privately owned and controlled by a handful of capitalists. Turning to Africa, the nature of imperialist control was and still is, to keep Africa as a primary producer of raw materials for capitalist industry in the imperialist centres. Technology is deliberately kept away. It is not a case of ‘underdeveloped’ or of ‘developing’ countries, but of super-exploited working classes that are kept in check by local agents. Working class seizure of the means of production across Africa would be placed under severe strain as much of the latest modern technology has been kept out of Africa. On the other hand, any disruption of the flow of raw materials to the imperialist centres will seriously disrupt world capitalist industry and will not be met with folded arms by the imperialists; they will invade and promote measures of counter-revolution in order to regain control. To look from the narrow angle of only an African perspective is fatally flawed. The best support for the struggle in Africa would be the revolutionary seizure of power by the working class in several of the imperialist centres. The truism of Lenin holds that the revolution may start earlier in the neo-colonial world but would be more difficult to sustain, while in the imperialist centres, the revolution would come later but would be more thorough-going and durable. The fate of the working classes in Africa is thus inextricably tied up with that of the fate of the workers in the rest of the world. To seek a purely African solution, is a recipe for disaster and would result in a major setback for the struggle for Socialism.

Africanism divides the local working class.

Sobukwe, under the influence of Padmore, regards ‘Europeans’ and ‘Indians’ as ‘foreign minority groups’. Whereas he regards the ‘Indian’ group as having class differences within them he ignores that reality from the ‘European’ group. All are classed as oppressors. The white working class are completely ignored and in fact are left, if not driven into, the arms of the reactionaries. On the other hand, Pan Africanism ignores the fact that the middle class now includes the black middle class. Today the capitalist class also includes a small black capitalist class. The recent public sector strike and the strikes on the railways and at SAA, showed a glimpse of what is possible where unity of white workers with the rest of the workers in these sectors, brought the country to a standstill. Imagine what would happen if there was broader working class unity across all sectors of the economy. Working class unity is a basic prerequisite of a successful struggle against any capitalist class. Historically, white workers are still in key sectors of the economy; and struggles, however militant, must eventually run into problems if broad working class unity is not achieved. Up to 1994, white workers also formed the backbone of the army and the repressive apparatus. No revolution has ever been won unless the army has been won over in significant numbers and has been sufficiently neutralized. Sobukwe wants to only depend on ”the illiterate and semi-literate African masses” to be the key and centre of any struggle for ”true democracy”; in other words, on only part of the working class.

Marcus Garvey, another leader of Pan Africanism, believed in the ”… social and physical separation of all peoples to the extent that they promote their own ideals and civilization, with the privilege of trading and doing business with each other. It believes in the promotion of a strong and powerful Negro nation in Africa.” Garvey was in favour of splitting the working class and could not see that exploitation knows no colour. Without realising it, by promoting the split in the working class, Garvey was playing into the hands of capitalism-imperialism, and their strategy of ‘divide and rule’.

If Sobukwe and others were so concerned about the demands of the oppressed masses then they would have waged a struggle against the real rulers of the country. To take but 2 of the most basic democratic demands of the ”illiterate and semi-literate masses” on say, housing and unemployment. To solve or begin to solve these questions must mean a struggle against the banks and against the monopolies in general. This means a start with a democratic demand (for housing for all, say) but for it to be taken to conclusion would mean taking a Socialist measure like expropriation of the banks and the monopolies; it means the seizure of state power. What do the Pan Africanists propose, to achieve this? Western-style democracy!! This is like asking the capitalist to expropriate themselves. What does Sobukwe see the role of the black middle class? He bemoans the fact of a white prime minister being an ex-engine driver and the exclusion of a highly educated black doctor becoming even a head of a municipal council. In essence he wants the black middle class to take up position within the capitalist state apparatus, not for its abolition; in reality for serving the real masters, the capitalist class. The ANC has been in government since 1994 and the conduct of the black middle class has been to serve the capitalist class as its lapdog. What makes the Africanists think that they will do any better? The Paris Commune of 1871 answered the question as to what to do with the capitalist state — it was to smash it to pieces and not to reform it according to models of ‘western democracy’. This means disbanding the army, the police, the courts, the capitalist parliament, etc and the arming of the working class, the setting up of workers’ councils, etc. In the context of the struggle for working class power we have no problem with an engine driver or labourer, white or black, occupying a leadership position. The point is not the colour of the leader but that a capitalist state structure headed by a doctor or worker would still keep the working class in chains. In every transition to ‘democracy’ in Africa, the capitalist state structures were kept intact. In South Africa, the SACP-proposed sunset clauses were fundamentally also for the keeping of the old regime structures intact. (According to the sunset clauses the old police, the courts, the army, the intelligence, the government departments, in essence all capitalist state structures, had to remain intact for a period of 5 years, while the principle of private property - the right of the capitalist class to keep their ownership and control of the means of production- became a principle of the ‘transition’. The nature of the repressive structures have been maintained and the ‘transition’ shows that capitalist exploitation is colour-blind.) Thus we had the ANC joining the capitalist state, as other nationalist movements had done across the globe and in Africa.

Pan Africanism’s notion of ‘African Socialist Democracy’ is thus nothing but a cover for continued capitalist rule. ‘Socialism’ and ‘democracy’ are opposites. Democracy stands for the dictatorship of the capitalists through a capitalist state; while Socialism aims to do away with a state apparatus through a temporary dictatorship of the working class. The capitalist state is not neutral and is an instrument of violence against the unarmed working class. The capitalist state serves only one master — the capitalist class. This is the real meaning of ‘democracy as understood in the West’. Social democrats in Europe also talk of Socialism but in practice are defenders of the capitalist order.

Pan Africanism depends on non-proletarian forces to lead the struggle for Socialism

A Socialist programme is worthless if it does not spell out the social force that not only leads the struggle for its demands and ensures its implementation. Marx, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky were all clear that it is the working class that leads the fight for Socialism. The October 1917 Russian revolution answers the question of which social force, in the current period of imperialist decay, is the only one capable of carrying out the full democratic programme, namely the working class in power. On both these crucial areas, working class leadership and working class power, Pan- Africanism falls short.

Pan Africanism does refer from time to time to the dictatorship of the proletariat (such as in the PAC 1973 organiser’s manual), but the content of all the speeches and documents contradict this. In other words, Pan Africanism depends on either the middle class or the middle class and indigenous capitalists or capitalists to advance to Socialism. By not being for working class leadership in the struggle for it to seize power, it follows that the class that will retain hegemony and control is the capitalist class. In this sense Pan-Africanism is consistent with Stalin’s 2 stage revolution for the colonial world. (first a stage of capitalism and the struggle is led by an alliance of the workers and peasants (or middle class or bloc with the middle class and patriotic capitalists, followed by a stage in the indefinite future when Socialism is achieved). It may be argued that initially, where the working class was weak or insignificant that the middle class intelligentsia would have to lead. This is true but no society has ever been static. Lenin was clear that assistance and support could be given to national liberation movements only on the basis that embryo of a future Communist Party is trained for its role of not only opposing imperialism but the local capitalist class- the preparation of such a Communist Party was absent from the Pan Africanist positions — a stand which directly flowed from the Stalinist perspective for the colonial world. Indeed, in the 1973 PAC organiser’s manual, Stalin and Mao Tse Tung are regarded as continuators of Marxism with Lenin. It is impossible to deal with all the leaders of Pan Africanism and their documents so we deal with some of the main ones (we have already dealt to some extent with Sobukwe, Padmore, Nkrumah, Nyerere and Garvey):

Amilcar Cabral, one of the icons of Pan Africanism, was at least more forthright than Sobukwe on the role of the black middle class. In his THE WEAPON OF THEORY delivered to a conference in Cuba in 1966, Cabral says: ” For events have shown that the only social sector capable of being aware of the reality of imperialist domination and of directing the state apparatus inherited from this domination is the native petit bourgeoisie.” He assumes that the state apparatus inherited from imperialism is the only model that can be used. This means that Cabral was for maintaining the organ of state violence against the working class and poor peasantry and that the indigenous (black) middle class was to be entrusted with the task of ‘liberating’ the people using this very state apparatus. This contradicts the experience of the Paris Commune of 1871 and of the Russian revolution of October 1917, where the working class led the struggle and itself took power, shattering the state apparatus in the process. In these struggles (in France and Russia) the middle class played a reactionary role, supporting the capitalist forces. Indeed the entire history of Africa stands as testimony that the middle classes sided with capitalism and imperialism. Cabral further states that for national liberation to develop towards Socialism depends on class suicide by the petit bourgeoisie and by their morals. He hereby depends on appealing to ‘morals’ rather than on class analysis. Thus we have moralistic Socialism! (Cabral would thus have said that there is no Socialism in Africa because of the lack of morals of the middle class- Any religious leader would be proud of this stance as it is exactly the same the church uses to explain away the continued suffering of the people rather than draw attention to the capitalist system itself).

In reality, the middle class has never taken an independent stand and in the context of world domination by imperialism, they will side with capitalism. The slogan of African Socialism, as raised by the Pan Africanists, has in all cases meant African capitalism and the continuation of imperialist control in a new form. Cabral’s Socialism amounts to using the working class as cannon fodder to achieve the integration of the black middle class into the capitalist system. The dividing line between Cabral’s Pan- Africanism and the politics of the ANC-SACP is imaginary (non-existent) as they both place the black middle class at the leadership of the capitalist state as the next stage in the ‘liberation’ of the people. This is why Mbeki praises the politics of Biko, as there is no fundamental difference between them.

At the 1900 ‘Races Congress’ WEB du Bois, A Walters, HB Brown and HS Williams end their address by appealing ” with boldness and confidence to the Great Powers of the civilized world, trusting in the wide spirit of humanity, and a the deep sense of justice of our age, for a generous recognition of the righteousness of our cause.” In other words they were appealing to the imperialist-capitalist class not to be imperialist-capitalist. Needless to say the imperialists ignored their pleas until many battles had been fought and the capitalists realised that they had no option but to co-opt the Pan Africanists to do their dirty work for them (to continue exploiting and oppressing the masses in Africa). Already in 1900 du Bois and others were offering their services to the imperialists: ”Let the German and French Republic, true to their great past, remember that the true worth of the colonies, lies in their prosperity and progress, and that justice, impartial alike to black and white, is the first element of prosperity.” They were asking the imperialists to allow a black capitalist class to also be granted a chance to develop alongside a white capitalist class in the spirit of the capitalist republics of Germany and France. Their pleas fell on deaf ears.

Patrice Lumumba, in his speech on June 30, 1960, on the independence of the Congo, in announcing his commitment to end all oppression, was still committed to maintaining capitalist relations in the country: ”I ask you to unconditionally to respect the life and the property of your fellow citizens and of foreigners living in our country.” He was assassinated because he dared to assert the equality of the indigenous middle class and aspirant capitalists with the imperialists, and not because he was a Socialist.

Edward Blyden, in his ‘The Elements of Permanent Influence’ on the 16th February 1890, appeals to the morals of businessmen and statesmen (capitalist politicians), to end exploitation and oppression. This is like appealing to the capitalist to cease being capitalists.

Kwame Nkrumah, in his ‘African Socialism Revisited’, in 1967, criticises the ‘African Socialists’ in that he says that pre-Colonial societies were also class societies. Slavery and feudalism arose in Africa before the arrival of colonialism. To return to pre-colonial society is to step back in time and to allow for class society to return. For Nkrumah, all that is needed are Socialist policies, ie for the socialization of the means of production. He does not say which class or social force lead the fight for Socialism or that this path involves the overthrow and shattering of the capitalist state. In practice Nkrumah did not arm the working class and maintained the capitalist state structures in Ghana. In other words, he depended on the indigenous middle class to implement these ‘Socialist’ policies, through a capitalist state apparatus. The representatives of the middle class in Ghana sided with imperialism, leading to the overthrow of the Nkrumah government and the continuation of capitalism in the country.

The 1973 PAC organisers manual is a contradictory document. On the one hand it talks about the dictatorship of the proletariat, on the other it talks about a national democratic revolution, ie that the capitalists remain in power (This is a stalinist conception where the capitalist class remains in power as a first phase and an indefinite second phase when Socialism is supposed to be achieved). For the countryside, the PAC promotes a peasant revolution: ”The overriding motive is to improve the condition of the peasant. They are the guiding and leading force in all activity so designed.” The peasant is a small farmer, whose consciousness is middle class — what they want is bigger land for their individual farming. The PAC regards the peasant as the leading force which should be supported by the workers (or a section of the workers, to be more precise). The aim is to establish in the countryside a ”free market in local economic exchange”. A free market of the peasantry can only lead to the growth of capitalism once again.

The PAC describes a new idea of a ‘social revolution’: ”A social revolution must take place to bring about the required change in society. The purpose of the social revolution is to change the economic and political power of the country from the control of the capitalists to that of the producers of economic wealth, the workers and the peasants. The American Revolution was a social revolution because the power to rule the country passed from the British to the new Americans. The French revolution was also a social revolution because the state power passed from the feudal landowners to the Merchants and industrialists. The Russian revolution was a social revolution because all power passed from Czarism to the people. It was the same with the Chinese revolution. All the other peoples of the world who are fighting today are engaged in social revolutions for the transfer of state power from the capitalists and feudalists to the people.”

Even though power passed from Britain to America in the American revolution, the local American capitalist class held power. Thus power did not go to the working class or even the peasants. Similarly in the French revolution, the power went to the capitalist class, again, the workers were not in power. In February 1917 the Czar was overthrown and there was dual power- the soviets (workers councils) and the provisional government (which was capitalist). Only in October 1917 was the capitalist government overthrown and only then could we speak of the dictatorship of the proletariat. In China, even though the capitalist class was overthrown, what came in its place was the dictatorship of the bureaucracy and not the power of the workers and the peasants. Thus when the PAC is saying that they are fighting for ‘social revolution’, which is the one they are fighting for? Taken together, when viewed with their election manifestos and briefing to new members, the only conclusion that we can come to is that they are for the capitalists to remain in power (comfortable) and that they will be happy with a few crumbs (more budget expenditure in poorer areas). They see themselves as the key to re-establish credibility in the political system (ie capitalism).

The working class in power is the only way to achieve the democratic demands of the masses

The dependence of Pan Africanism on non-proletarian forces means that they are incapable of leading a successful fight for even the most basic of democratic demands.

Let us take the example of Pan Africanism and the land question: The track record of Pan Africanism is for the best land for capitalist industry to remain in the hands of the imperialists. The leader of the PAC, Pheko’s call, at the recent land Summit, for expropriation with compensation of the land means leaving the commanding heights in capitalist hands. The best land that accounts for 95% of the food production in South Africa is under capitalist control (commercial farms). Where will any state get sufficient resources to buy out the capitalists? But more importantly, who will carry out the expropriation? Will it be the same police that the PAC wants in every new area? The same police who are day by day responsible for the eviction of the poor from their homes? Pheko’s call is thus consistent with the practice of Pan Africanism on the continent. How will they carry out the expropriation if their commitment is that the capitalist class must remain comfortable? Even if some token taking over of some land is achieved, this is still done in the context of the system remaining capitalist. Sending everyone back to the land is like turning back the historical clock to turn us all into peasants. With some land being better than others for farming, class divisions will soon emerge, leading to the re-growth of capitalism. The Pan Africanist perspective on the land question is thus a capitalist view. ”Izwe Lethu” [The land is ours], the slogan of the PAC, is nothing else but the war cry of the black petit bourgeois [the middle class] — what they really mean is to appeal to the imperialists to be their new managers.

But there is a further fundamental point which shows that Pan Africanism is incapable of solving the ‘land question’. In the colonies (or neo-colonies) imperialism ruins the peasants, through exploitation of the resources on its own terms, but, they provide no avenue for the surplus population to be absorbed. The ‘landless peasants’ become serfs on the land (work the land of the feudal landlords) or migrate to the cities;. Industry in the colonies is poorly developed. High unemployment is thus a structural feature of imperialist rule. In the imperialist centres (USA, France, Britain, Germany, Japan) industrial crises are the regulator of social production but in the neo-colonies the regulator is famine. Different levels of ‘Aid’ by imperialism to the neo-colonies determines the required number of people imperialism needs to function- the rest of the population are left to starve. Expropriation of the landowners means a direct attack on imperialist interests. Pan Africanism has no answer for the imperialist counter-attack, especially in the light of industry being deliberately kept weakly developed and dependent on the imperialist centres. How will the state survive that has expropriated imperialist assets? Imperialism will just turn off the ‘Aid’ and the supplies to the local industry. The narrow continental focus of the Pan Africanists forces them into fundamental compromise with imperialism. This can only mean watering down and acting against the democratic demands of the masses on, among other things, the ‘land question’.

In South Africa, the peasantry is negligible as a significant social force. What is needed is unity of the urban and rural working class, the working class in the cities and the working class in the countryside, against monopoly capital that controls the bulk of the land. The route to placing land under working class control, to meeting other demands of the working class, to rooting out the vestiges of racism, can only be met through the united working class in power. Any taking over of land in South Africa will lead to the resistance by the capitalist class. To put down each resistance of the capitalist, the entire working class needs to be armed, it needs to be organised. In this sense we need a necessary period of the dictatorship of the proletariat (working class) to suppress the capitalist reaction. The armed working class is clearly not what the PAC wants as they think a police station in every area will protect working class interests. A capitalist state has no interest in expropriating the capitalist class as a whole. It is an instrument of violence against the working class and fellow poor. Thus the capitalist state cannot just be used as if it is above classes. This means that what is needed is a dismantling (smashing) of the old state, the setting up of workers councils [soviets] as the organs of working class power. Such is the only power that can solve the land question. No other class has an interest in taking the struggle for these demands to its conclusion.

Similarly, all the basic demands of the African masses, on jobs, housing, etc, that the Pan Africanists claim to be standing for, can only be met by the working class in power. In this, broader working class unity including the white workers is a pre-requisite for the successful Socialist revolution.

But above all, the struggle for working class power in South Africa or Africa must be linked to the struggle for the working class to take power in the imperialist centres. Without this internationalist perspective, working class power or even full democratic demands in Africa is not sustainable.

Do we say that no nationalist struggles are progressive? NO. The imperialists have colonized many nations across the globe and the struggle of any oppressed nation against an oppressor is legitimate. However the perspective has to be internationalist in that striving for unity of the workers of the world is fundamental and that the capitalist classes of the world are the common enemy. Thus in the neo-colonial world, the democratic strivings of any country, for example for jobs for all, must lead to a clash with the local capitalist class and indeed with the imperialists who are in ultimate control. The perspective should be to start to unite the working class on national level, and crucially, to build real, independent revolutionary working class parties, to lead the struggle for democratic demands through the working class taking power: the resistance of the capitalists and the imperialists will force the workers in power to start to take Socialist measures (such as taking over the factories and farms where the capitalists resist the implementation of democratic demands), which are in the interest of the working classes of the world. The revolution is thus permanent.

Trotsky, in his (later summary of) ”Permanent Revolution” explains this point of working class independence, further:

”The Comintern’s endeavour to foist upon the Eastern countries the slogan of the democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry, finally and long ago exhausted by history, can only have a reactionary effect. Insofar as this slogan is counterposed (our emphasis) to the slogan of the dictatorship of the proletariat, it contributes politically to the dissolution of the proletariat in the petty-bourgeois masses and thus creates the most favourable conditions for the hegemony of the national bourgeoisie and consequently the collapse of the democratic revolution. The introduction of this slogan into the programme of the Comintern is a direct betrayal of Marxism and the October tradition of Bolshevism.”

All over Africa, and indeed all over the world, the middle class leadership of the nationalist movements have had the perspective of using the democratic aspirations of the masses, for the sake of themselves being incorporated into the capitalist system as the preferred agents for capital. Real independence from the capitalists must mean the seizure of the means of production and for these to be placed under workers control. The sad reality is that nowhere in Africa has the working class seized power. It is for this reason that the so-called independent states were politically only partially free but economically still in chains; in other words there has been the ‘collapse of the democratic revolution’. These partially politically free states are held up by the Africanists as models for us to follow; thereby they expose their own political bankruptcy. What exists is African capitalism, absolute slaves of imperialism. This is the future which the Africanists in South Africa want for us. We do not buy into the Cabral model, which would say that the leaders in Africa are immoral because there is no Socialism. These nationalist leaders are as corrupt as their counterparts in the imperialist centres.

The whole world, including Africa, is testimony to the failure of the stalinist 2 stage theory, in reality it is only one stage-capitalism.

Tasks of revolutionaries towards Africa

  1. The stalin conception of African Socialism must be combated and the Socialist perspective of the struggles in Africa placed on a Marxist footing.
  2. A decisive victory for democratic demands in Africa is incompatible with imperialist rule. Thus only a victorious proletarian revolution in the imperialist centres will give real aid and support to develop Africa. While independent revolutionary working class parties are built in Africa, the same holds for the imperialist centres.
  3. Marxist politics must be taken into the worker’s movement in Africa to ensure that they are not used as vehicles to tie the working class to capitalism. The workers’ movement should be built as a vehicle to support the struggle of the masses for true liberation.
  4. Only the working class in power (through soviets or workers councils) can complete the fullest democratic demands.
  5. The working class forces should support the fight against any imperialist exploitation and oppression, while the struggles of the working class must at all times be placed above any temporary alliance that may be made with a non-proletarian force. At all times the deals of the indigenous ruling classes with imperialism must be exposed.
  6. The revolutionary working class party or its embryo must support the most radical programme of bourgeois democracy while at the same time organising the working class to fight in its own interests. There should be a maximum striving for the democratization of the political system, which will help limit the support base of reactionaries.
  7. Political education of the working class and the poor peasantry will increase the scope of the anti-imperialist struggle.
  8. Social demands must be in no way limited to a liberal perspective.
  9. The embryo of the revolutionary working class party should participate in every movement that gives it access to the masses.
  10. Alliances with nationalist forces should be temporary and only made if the workers movement has established itself as an independent revolutionary factor.
  11. An anti-imperialist united front may be considered to expose the bourgeois nationalist forces and to promote unity with international proletarian forces
  12. There should be the striving for abolishing of all differences in rights between local and immigrant workers.
  13. Proletarian forces in the imperialist centres should give financial and ideological support to the working class in the neo-colonies.
  14. There should a general exposure of the predatory nature of imperialist control of the neo-colonial world.

Africans have long been split along class lines, the working class and the capitalist class. The capitalist state needs to be overthrown, not reformed. It is only the united working class that can lead the struggle for real freedom in Africa and across the world. This means the working class taking power. It is time for the working classes in Africa to unite, to shake off Pan Africanism and to build independent revolutionary working class parties across Africa, as part of the worldwide process of rebuilding the Fourth International. Our struggle is against imperialism and the local capitalist classes and their agents. Fundamental is the overthrow of capitalism in the imperialist centres. In this struggle, our allies are the world working classes.

Workers of the world unite, we have nothing to lose but our chains!


  1. The World Socialist Website [The Significance of Leon Trotsky’s thought for Africa today by Chris Talbot 28 Oct 2000] — see website
  2. Speeches of Kwame Nkrumah —Modern History Sourcebook
  3. Speech by the late Mwalimu Julius Nyerere to SA parliament
  4. Julius Nyerere on Lifelong learning and informal education
  5. Nyerere on the The Arusha Declaration 1967 : Modern History Sourcebook
  6. The New South Africa and the Socialist Vision: Thomas K Ranuga
  7. Speech of Robert Sobukwe at the Founding conference of the PAC and speech on the State of the nation August 1959
  8. campaign and recruitment Literature of the PAC [Brief information on the PAC; Why you should join the PAC; Sodla Sonke; Africans reclaiming land; The philosophy of Pan Africanism; Organizer’s pack 1973]
  9. Speech of Amilcar Cabral — the weapon of theory (1966_.
  10. Statement by Pheko after the 2005 land summit
  11. Lenin’s draft Thesis on the national and colonial question 5th June 1920
  12. Results and Prospects — Leon Trotsky
  13. The Transitional Programme — the Programme of the Fourth International
  14. Permanent Revolution — by Leon Trotsky.
  15. Black Power and the Garvey Movement — Theodore G Vincent. (1971)
  16. Thesis on the Eastern Question (Fourth Congress of the Communist International , 5 December 1922)