Talking Drums

The West African News Magazine

Recycled cliches and empty jargon

Kodwo Mbir Bullard, Los Angeles

One great service neo-Marxist intellectuals can do for Third World countries is to evolve a truly viable economic programme for countries that aspire to socialism in the Third World
Dr Kwesi Botchway, the PNDC Secretary for Finance and Economic Planning, is reported to have told an interviewer "the real question is what should a Marxist do faced with the real situation in Ghana, the monetary, and fiscal situation, the condition of the various sectors of the economy, the objective of feeding the people, the living conditions of the masses of the people, NOT from the point of view of any IDEAL conditions existing in one's head, BUT from the real conditions on the ground." (Emphasis mine).

This deep rhetorical question does not reflect so much the helplessness of Kwesi Botchway in his confusion vis-à- vis the economy which he and Rawlings are systematically destroying and driving into chaos, as it does present a real dilemma facing present- day Marxists. Lenin asked the famous question: "What is to be done?" Present-day Marxists are confronted with the question: "What should a Marxist do?"

What is to be done after the Revolution? is an issue which neo- Marxists have not really addressed themselves to. I submit that one of the reasons why neo-Marxists have not addressed themselves to this question is that Karl Marx did not provide any guidelines for practical action beyond his assertions that production and con- sumption were to be socialised, and that society was to exact from each person according to his ability and to give to each person according to his needs.

This, I must say, does not provide any clues for the day-to-day management of a crumbling and complex economy such as Ghana's. This brings me to the question of the whole relevance of Marxism to Third World economies which are trying to bring about higher standards of living for their respective peoples.

While this may shock some of the readers, I think it is true to say that Karl Marx did not care very much for Third World societies and therefore he provides very poor guidance regarding how to manage such economies. For example, Marx describes peasants, who constitute the majority of the population in these Third World countries, as 'a sack of potatoes'!

He believed that these societies were backward and that the best thing to have happened to them was the intro- duction of capitalism into their economies during the colonial era. He believed also that capitalism was a progressive force which, if allowed to sweep over or articulate through the Third World, would destroy traditional ways while improving the forces of production.

In other words, the backward coun- tries were to sit tight while the inexor- able march of capitalism transformed the primitive pre-capitalist economies into advanced industrialised countries enjoying high levels of material prosperity. After capitalism had developed to its fullest potential, according to Marx, the capitalist society would be destroyed by its own internal contradictions through Class Struggle as the ever improving forces of production came in conflict with the existing relations of production.

Karl Marx did not care very much about Third World societies and therefore provided very poor guidance regarding how to manage such economies. For example, Marx described peasants who constitute the majority of the population in these Third World countries as 'a sack of potatoes'!

As Isaac Deutscher describes it in The Unfinished Revolution, 1967, p28, "Marx speaks of the embryo of socialism that grows and matures within the womb of bourgeois society".

Socialism, according to Marx, would then be built upon the ruins of capital- ist society, with the emphasis being placed on redistribution. With the dynamism in production generated by capitalism, socialists in the millenium would not have to worry about produc- tion. It is not sheer coincidence that countries that have been able to establish socialism have been countries that have had strong capitalist foundations.

Examples are the Soviet Union, Cuba, Sweden and Eastern Europe. It is precisely for the same reason that countries such as Ghana, Guinea, Tanzania etc, that have had no capitalist foundations but have attempted to build socialism, have floundered miserably.

The brief summary above may not do justice to the four or so volumes of Capital, but it highlights some of its key relevant sections. From this summary it may appear, albeit contradictorily, that Third World economists who are seeking to bring about im- proved conditions of life through socialist principles, and who, like Kwesi Botchway, find themselves in positions of power where they can initiate or influence policy, may literally have to create conditions that will accelerate the processes of capitalism and capital accumulation in their respective economies.

This is because, according to Marx, no other system has the potentiality to improve the forces of production and raise productivity as capitalism has. This may be a bitter pill for avowed socialists to swallow. Ironically, Marxists who ascend to positions of power pursue policies that thwart the forward march of capitalism. They chase private entrepreneurs out of the country branding them as thieves, exploiters, economic saboteurs, nation-wreckers, etc.

The dominance of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank in international economics and especially development economics, is without question. It is a shame that the Soviet Union has not been able to present a counterbalance in this area. The IMF and World Bank are unashamedly capitalist and they make no bones about it. They spell out their terms and the needy nations are left either to accept them or to leave them.

The Soviet Union has not been able to present anything viable in terms of socialist development backed with real development resources as an alternative to the imperialist option which is offered by the USA dominated IMF and the World Bank.

Countries that have tried to deal with the Soviet Union have found to their disappointment and horror that the Soviets have in their own way also tried to take advantage of their ignor- ance. For example, they dumped antiquated snow-ploughs on Ghana disguised as tractors! Sadat's Egypt and Sekou Toure's Guinea are two other countries which have tried to work with the Soviets but have had to break relations with them and to rush into the wide embrace of the United States out of frustration.

Nyerere started out preaching 'self- reliance' but ended up in the late 1970s and the early 1980s as the most economically and politically dependent on western largesse on the African continent. Faced with these realities, it appears that development economists or lawyers like Kwesi Botchway really have no choice but to swallow hook, line and sinker from the capitalist dregs and to further enslave their economies.

One great service that neo-Marxist intellectuals can do for Third World countries is to bring their very impressive academic arsenals to bear on this problem, i.e. evolving a truly viable economic programme for countries that that aspire to socialism in the Third World; countries such as Ghana and Tanzania that are caught in the bind of being avowedly radical and progressive and desiring to bring about higher standards of living for the mass of the peasants and factory workers, but which are forced for lack of viable alternatives to deal with the IMF and the World Bank.

This would require harder work than merely reading the classics. It would entail rigorously studying their own societies from the social, psychological and cultural perspectives, and from that reconstruct new models based on hard original thinking. This is, after all, what Karl Marx did for Europe.

Short of that, our neo-Marxist intellectuals will forever be churning out recycled cliches and hackneyed empty Marxist irrelevant jargon and will remain the laughing-stock which they increasingly are becoming.

talking drums 1985-03-11 rawlings brutalities at Gondar Barracks