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How Imperialism and Postcolonial Elites have Plundered Africa: And the Class Struggle, Anarchist-Communist Solution

category international | imperialism / war | opinion / analysis author Thursday March 31, 2016 05:34author by Lucien van der Waltauthor email tokologo.aac at gmail dot com Report this post to the editors

Published in 'Tokologo,' numbers 5/6, pp. 17-19.

Roughly 50 years ago we saw the dismantling of most of the European colonial empires in Africa. High hopes greeted the "new nations" that merged - and certainly, a move from colonial rule, with its racism and external control and extractive economies, was progressive.

However, many of the hopes were soon dashed. Politically, most independent African states moved in the direction of dictatorships and one-party systems, normally headed by the nationalist party that took office at independence - and, over time, the military became a major player too. Many of these states were highly corrupt, even predatory, and the gap between the rising local (indigenous) ruling class, and the masses, grew ever vaster.

africa_plundered.png

How Imperialism and Postcolonial Elites have Plundered Africa:
And the Class Struggle, Anarchist-Communist Solution

by LUCIEN VAN DER WALT

Roughly 50 years ago we saw the dismantling of most of the European colonial empires in Africa. High hopes greeted the "new nations" that merged - and certainly,a move from colonial rule, with its racism and external control and extractive economies, was progressive.

DISAPPOINTMENTS OF INDEPENDENCE

However, many of the hopes were soon dashed. Politically, most independent African states moved in the direction of dictatorships and one-party systems, normally headed by the nationalist party that took office at independence - and, over time, the military became a major player too. Many of these states were highly corrupt, even predatory, and the gap between the rising local (indigenous) ruling class, and the masses, grew ever vaster.

These gaps did not start in the colonial period, as many African societies were already very divided, but they continued and grew over time. The new ruling elites largely emerged from educated middle class groups, along with traditional aristocracies; from independence on, the masses never ran the "new nations."

These were followed by neo- liberal restructuring from the 1980s. Poverty and inequality is widespread, joblessness exists on a massive scale, with more people in absolutely poverty and in warzones here than in any other region worldwide. Postcolonial plans to industrialise the economies by building up local manufacturing through closed, protected economies largely failed. Today, the entire GDP of sub-Saharan Africa, including its economic powerhouse, South Africa, is less than half of that of a single European country, Germany.

REJECTING RACIST EXPLANATIONS

Leaving aside South Africa, with its peculiar history, how can this economic situation be explained? We can immediately dispense with views that Africans are more corrupt or less capable.

Besides being based on racist ideas, the fact is that massive economic failures, inequality, repression and low levels of industrial development can be found everywhere - including in parts of Europe, notably its eastern and southern regions.

THE ROLE OF COLONIALISM

A more common explanation, widespread on the left, lays the blame almost completely at the feet of colonialism.

This argument correctly points out that the insertion of much of Africa into the capitalist world economy as a producer of raw materials (from farming or mining) put it at a disadvantage. A country where the core of the economy rests on exporting goods like cocoa or mielies is very vulnerable. If sales or prices fall, serious problems arise. Since these same 'agro-mineral' economies have to import expensive but essential manufactured goods, they are doubly vulnerable.

Many postcolonial industrialization plans were funded by revenue from raw material exports - taxes and where state ownership was extensive, profits - but these dried up in the 1970s with a global capitalist crisis. To try rescue the situation, many states borrowed heavily, but got into ever-worse debt. Some countries, like Zambia, had a window of around 9 years from independence (1964) to global crisis (1973) to try and change decade-old patterns; their prospects were never great.

African economies, heavily oriented to the export of raw materials produced by cheap labour, entered major crises from the 1970s.

BUT MORE THAN COLONIALISM

The problem, though, with this explanation, is that it tells us very little about why countries that export very valuable raw materials - like Nigeria, with its large oil industry - are also in dire economic straits. Indeed, Nigeria consistently has both power and petrol shortages, despite being the world's 12th biggest oil producer. Related to this, not every country with a colonial history remains trapped as a raw material producer or economic loser.

Besides obvious examples like the USA, a former British colony, we could compare Ghana and South Korea, British and Japanese colonies respectively, independent within a few years of each other, with similar economic problems and population sizes and periods of colonial rule. Ghana has endured decades of economic crisis and has lost Western investments and business for years. South Korea has become, despite civil war in the 1950s, a major industrial power, with a larger economy than many Western countries.

A colonial history also does not explain, by itself, why - despite the problems - the ruling class in these countries remains incredibly wealthy: there is an issue here with how resources are controlled that is lost in explanations that look only at colonialism. A focus on external problems leads to a blindness on internal class dynamics.

ACCUMULATION-BY- CORRUPTION

It is when we look more closely at internal class structures that the answer emerge. In much of sub- Saharan Africa, the new ruling elites that took over from the colonial powers used the state for accumulating wealth. This took the form, in many cases, of direct corruption, which in turn led to declining economies as infrastructures like power and roads started to collapse. Rather than serve imperial interests, this situation led to falling exports of raw materials and political instability.

Since the rise of corrupt rulers is key here, the corruption must itself be explained. At independence, unlike many other regions, there was not much in the way of a local capitalist class. There were few local industrialists, as compared to say India, which meant little local pressure on the state to deliver.

This also meant there was little space for the elites that took power at independence to accumulate wealth - other than by using the state. With the state as the main site of accumulation, vicious ruling class factional battles erupted, leading to a cycle of repression, military coups, one-party states and instability. Often tribal, racial and religious divisions were fanned in these fights, leading to violence.

THE BALANCE OF CLASS FORCES

Working class movements were also not very strong (unions were quite small)and the left often very weak. This made it difficult to start putting brakes on the corrupt elites. As dictatorships spread, unions and dissidents were repressed or co-opted. In the countryside, the system of rule by chiefs and kings, used by the colonial powers, was kept. The small farmers, many of them peasants, are always hard to organize - and rule through chiefs made this even worse.

So, while colonial history is part of the problem, it should not be used to excuse local ruling classes, who plundered their homelands and crushed the popular classes.

THE FREE MARKET MESS

The neo-liberal measures adopted in the 1980s had mixed results. Since they blamed all the problems on state intervention, ignoring the world economy, many of their plans were completely wrong - even in capitalist terms. Generally poverty, job losses and prices increased dramatically, although this would probably have happened anyway.

The result was massive revolts, which led to a wave of governments falling. But since these "second liberation" movements generally had very little in the way of a political agenda, besides some democratic reforms, most ended up in the wilderness. Political rights were expanded but the corrupt state remains, as does the agro-mineral economic structure. Recent growth is driven mainly by more demand for raw materials by Asia, but the basic problems of poverty and instability remain.

THE NEED FOR A RADICAL BREAK

Only radical change - a new Africa, based on libertarian and socialist development - can end this vicious cycle. This includes a struggle against the African elites, as well as against imperialism. And this requires, in turn, a break with "third worldist" ideas that ignore class issues inside Africa, and nationalism, which calls for a unity of all Africans - which can only mean a pointless unity between local oppressors and their victims.

And without a progressive left and anarchist agenda, the frustrations and misery of the masses will simply be filled with empty ideas ("democracy") or reactionary movements (like Boko Haram) and sentiments (like racism and hatred of immigrants).

Related Link: http://zabalaza.net
author by Alternativa Libertaria/FdCA - Ufficio Relazioni Internazionalipublication date Fri Apr 01, 2016 04:07Report this post to the editors

Come l'imperialismo e le classi dirigenti postcoloniali hanno saccheggiato l'Africa: la lotta di classe ed il comunismo anarchico come soluzione
by LUCIEN VAN DER WALT
Pubblicato su 'Tokologo,' n° 5/6, pp. 17-19.

Più o meno 50 anni fa abbiamo assistito allo smantellamento della maggior parte degli imperi coloniali europei in Africa. Grandi speranze avevano salutato le "nuove nazioni" che si erano formate - e certamente, c'era stato un loro progressivo discostarsi dal dominio coloniale, con il suo razzismo, il controllo esterno e l'economia estrattiva.
Delusioni dell'indipendenza
Tuttavia, molte delle speranze furono presto deluse. Politicamente, gli Stati africani più indipendenti si sono trasformati in dittature o in sistemi a partito unico, di solito guidati dal partito nazionalista che aveva preso il potere al momento dell'indipendenza - e, progressivamente anche l'esercito ha assunto un ruolo sempre più importante. Molti di questi stati erano altamente corrotti, anche predatori, e il divario tra le locali classi dirigenti indigene che si erano affermate e le masse, è cresciuto in misura esponenziale.
Queste piaghe non hanno avuto origine dal periodo coloniale, dato che molte società africane erano già molto divise, ma si sono reiterate e si sono sviluppate nel corso del tempo. Le nuove classi dirigenti erano emerse in gran parte da gruppi di classe media istruita e dalle aristocrazie tradizionali; invece, dall'indipendenza in poi, le masse non hanno mai gestito le "nuove nazioni".
Sono poi seguite le ristrutturazioni neoliberiste degli anni '80. La povertà e le disuguaglianze sono molto diffuse, la disoccupazione esiste su larga scala, con un tasso di persone in stato di assoluta povertà e in zone di guerra che qui supera quello di qualsiasi altra regione del mondo. I piani postcoloniali di industrializzazione delle economie con la costruzione di una industria manifatturiera locale tramite economie chiuse e protette, sono in gran parte falliti. Oggi, l'intero PIL dell'Africa sub-sahariana, compresa la sua potenza economica, il Sud Africa, vale meno della metà di quello di un unico solo paese europeo come la Germania.
Respingere le spiegazioni razziste
Mettendo da parte il Sud Africa, che ha una storia peculiare tutta sua, come spiegare ciò che è successo all'economia africana? Possiamo subito sgombrare il campo da quelle interpretazioni secondo cui gli Africani sarebbero i più corrotti o i meno capaci.
Oltre ad essere basate su idee razziste, queste spiegazioni non tengono conto del fatto che i grandi fallimenti economici, le disuguaglianze, la repressione e bassi livelli di sviluppo industriale si possono riscontrare ovunque - comprese intere aree dell'Europa, specialmente nelle regioni orientali e meridionali.
Il ruolo del colonialismo
Una spiegazione molto più comune e diffusa nella sinistra dà la colpa quasi del tutto al colonialismo.
Questa argomentazione fa giustamente notare che l'inserimento di gran parte dell'Africa nell'economia mondiale capitalista come produttore di materie prime (agricole o estrattive) ha messo il continente in una condizione di svantaggio. Un paese in cui il nucleo dell'economia poggia sulla esportazione di merci come il cacao o il mais è un paese molto vulnerabile. Se le esportazioni o i prezzi scendono, sorgono subito gravi problemi. Dal momento che queste economie 'agro-minerali' devono importare beni costosi ma essenziali, ecco che sono doppiamente vulnerabili.
Molti piani di industrializzazione postcoloniali sono stati finanziati da entrate derivanti dalle esportazioni di materie prime - tramite le tasse e, dove la proprietà statale era soverchiante, dai profitti - ma questo flusso di capitali si prosciugò negli anni '70 con la crisi globale del capitalismo. Per provare a salvare la situazione, molti Stati si indebitarono pesantemente, sprofondando sempre più nel vortice del debito. Alcuni paesi, come lo Zambia, ebbe una finestra di solo 9 anni dalla sua indipendenza (1964) alla crisi globale (1973) per cercare di cambiare un modello vecchio di un decennio; ma le loro prospettive non sono mai state granchè.
Le economie africane, pesantemente orientate verso l'esportazione di materie prime prodotte con madopera a basso costo, sono entrate in una grave crisi a partire dagli anni '70.
Ma c'è molto di più oltre il colonialismo
Il problema che sorge con la spiegazione coloniale, è che essa ci dice molto poco sul perché i paesi che esportano materie prime di grande valore - come la Nigeria, con la sua grande industria petrolifera - si trovano anch'essi in una disastrosa situazione di ristrettezze economiche. Infatti, la Nigeria ha sistematicamente sia l'energia petrolifera che la carenza di benzina, pur essendo il 12° più grande produttore di petrolio al mondo. A questo proposito, va detto che non tutti i paesi con una storia coloniale alle spalle rimangono intrappolati nel destino di produttori di materie prime o di perdenti economici.
A parte esempi alquanto ovvi come gli Stati Uniti, una ex-colonia britannica, potremmo confrontare il Ghana e la Corea del Sud, l'uno colonia britannica e l'altra giapponese, divenuti indipendenti nel giro di pochi anni l'uno dall'altro, con similitudini sia nei problemi economici che nelle dimensioni della popolazione e dei periodi di dominio coloniale. Il Ghana ha sopportato decenni di crisi economica e ha perso da anni gli investimenti ed il business occidentali. La Corea del Sud è diventata, nonostante la guerra civile nel 1950, una grande potenza industriale, con un'economia più grande di quella di molti paesi occidentali.
Una storia coloniale inoltre non spiega, di per sé, perché - nonostante i problemi - la classe dirigente di questi paesi rimane incredibilmente ricca: c'è un problema qui relativo a come le risorse vengono controllate e che non trova spiegazioni guardando solo al colonialismo. Una accentuazione sui problemi esterni porta ad una cecità sulle dinamiche di classe interne.
Accumulazione con la corruzione
Ma quando si guardano più da vicino le strutture di classe interne, le risposte emergono. In gran parte dell'Africa subsahariana, le nuove classi dirigenti che hanno preso il posto delle potenze coloniali hanno utilizzato lo Stato per accumulare ricchezza. Il che ha preso la forma, in molti casi, della corruzione diretta, che a sua volta ha portato ad economie in declino mentre infrastrutture come l'energia e le strade hanno cominciato a crollare. Invece di servire gli interessi imperialisti, questa situazione ha portato alla caduta delle esportazioni di materie prime ed alla instabilità politica.
Dal momento che la chiave interpretativa qui è l'aumento dei governanti corrotti, occore dare una spiegazione anche alla corruzione. Al momento dell'indipendenza, a differenza di molte altre regioni, non c'era una classe capitalista locale. C'erano pochi industriali locali, a confronto ad esempio dell'India, il che significava ben poche pressioni a livello locale sulla capacità distributiva dello Stato.
Ma significava anche che c'era poco spazio per le classi dirigenti che avevano il potere al momento dell'indipendenza, di accumulare ricchezza altrimenti che ricorrendo allo Stato. Con lo Stato come luogo principale di accumulazione, sono scoppiati crudeli scontri tra fazioni delle classi dirigenti, portando ad un ciclo di repressione, di colpi di stato militari, di Stati a partito unico ed alla instabilità. Spesso le divisioni tribali, razziali e religiose si sono dispiegate a ventaglio in questi conflitti, portando alle violenze.
I rapporti di forza tra le classi
I movimenti della classe operaia non erano molto forti (i sindacati erano piuttosto piccoli) e la sinistra era spesso molto debole. Questo ha reso difficile iniziare a mettere i freni alle classi dirigenti corrotte. Col moltiplicarsi delle dittature, i sindacati e gli oppositori dissidenti sono stati repressi o cooptati. Nelle campagne, si è mantenuto il sistema di governo dei capi e dei re, già utilizzato dalle potenze coloniali. I piccoli agricoltori, molti dei quali contadini, sono sempre difficili da organizzare - ed il governo gestito dai capi ha reso la situazione peggiore.
Per cui, anche se la storia coloniale è una componente del problema, non la si dovrebbe usare per giustificare le locali classi di governo, che hanno saccheggiato i loro stessi paesi e represso le classi popolari.
Il disordine del libero mercato
Le misure neoliberiste adottate dagli anni '80 hanno avuto risultati contrastanti. Dato che si dava la colpa di tutti i problemi all'intervento statale, ignorando l'economia mondiale, molti dei piani neoliberisti sono stati completamente sbagliati - anche in termini capitalistici. In generale la povertà, la disoccupazione e i prezzi sono aumentati in modo drammatico, anche se questo probabilmente sarebbe accaduto comunque.
Ne sono scaturite rivolte di massa, che hanno portato ad un'ondata di governi dimissionari. Ma dal momento che questi movimenti di "seconda liberazione", in generale, non avevano granchè in termini di programma politico, a parte alcune riforme democratiche, la maggior parte di loro sono degenerati. I diritti politici sono stati ampliati, ma resta lo Stato corrotto, così come la struttura economica agro-minerale. La recente crescita economica è trainata principalmente dalla maggiore domanda di materie prime dall'Asia, ma i problemi di fondo della povertà e della instabilità rimangono.
La necessità di una rottura radicale
Solo un cambiamento radicale - una nuova Africa, fondata su uno sviluppo socialista e libertario - può mettere fine a questo ciclo di violenza. Il che significa una lotta contro le classi dirigenti africane, come pure contro l'imperialismo. Ed è necessaria anche una rottura con le idee "terzomondiste" che ignorano la questione di classe all'interno dell'Africa, e col nazionalismo, il quale chiama all'unità di tutti gli Africani - cosa che può solo portare ad una sorta di inutile unità tra gli oppressori locali e le loro vittime.
Senza un programma politico promosso dalla sinistra progressista e dagli anarchici, le frustrazioni e la miseria delle masse troveranno risposte in idee vuote (come la "democrazia") o in movimenti reazionari (come Boko Haram) ed in sentimenti come il razzismo e l'odio verso gli immigrati.
LUCIEN VAN DER WALT
Link esterno: http://zabalaza.net
(traduzione a cura di ALternativa Libertaria/fdca - Ufficio Relazioni Internazionali)

 
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