From International Socialism (1st series), No.85, January 1976, pp.30-31.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).
Minding Their Own Business: Zambia’s Struggle Against Western Control
Penguin African Library 90p
Zambia is one of the most important countries in Africa. For the ten years after its independence in 1964 it was like a black salient in a region dominated by white minority regimes in South Africa, Rhodesia, Namibia, Angola and Mozambique. Added to its strategic position is its mineral wealth – its copper mines – meant that for the first few years after independence Zambia enjoyed huge foreign exchange reserves unlike most Third World countries. They also meant that Zambia has, for Africa, a large and militant working class.
Martin’s book traces the development of Zambian economic policy up to about 1970. He shows how, under the guidance of Kenneth Kaunda, Zambia evolved from a mixed economy combining state intervention with large scale foreign investment to an economy dominated by state corporations with majority shareholdings in a large number of companies. The turning point came in August 1969, when Kaunda announced that the state was taking a 51 per cent share in the copper mines.
Martin is on the whole sympathetic to this economic strategy of ‘state capitalism’. Funded by the reserves provided by copper experts, the state would direct the economic development of the country while ensuring that the country had the necessary technical expertise through agreements with foreign companies within the framework of the 51 per cent takeovers. Demands for higher wages or for workers’ control by the copper miners were to be ignored as contrary to the national interest. The surplus value produced by them should be ‘maximised’ in order to be invested.
‘If there is indeed a conflict between “state capitalism” and workers’ participation, the national interest seems to require that state capitalism should be preferred’.
Martin paints an optimistic picture of a country struggling for economic independence with some degree of success. He is able to do this because he largely ignores the bitter political and tribal divisions in Zambia since 1964, not to speak of Zambia’s isolation in the face of the white minority regimes with which she has such close economic links.
Today the picture he paints has as much relation to reality as a fairy tale. The world copper price was falling when this book was first published in 1972 (it’s a pity Martin didn’t bother to update it for the Penguin edition). The effect of the slump has been to send it shooting down. Zambia’s once bloated foreign exchange reserves are rapidly approaching zero. Imported inflation and poor harvests has forced Kaunda to subsidise food prices and buy maize from Rhodesia and South Africa. The end result has been to send Kaunda cap in hand to Vorster, his greatest enemy.
Today Zambia is the main advocate in black Africa of détente with apartheid. Black guerillas are gaoled or denied bases. The Zambian working class harried by inflation is knocking at the door.
So this book has the curiosity value of describing an option that has since failed. If in the ’60s and early ’70s Kaunda was one of the most potent symbols of a ‘Third World’ solution between imperialism and revolution, today no-one better than he represents its failure. There is no solution for Zambia that is not international and that does not involve the establishment of workers’ governments in Lusaka and Pretoria.
Last updated: 9.2.2008