C.L.R. James

The Gathering Forces

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II. Contemporary International Class Struggles

The struggle for independence in Africa has advanced the transformation of large sectors of the African societies. Industrialization has proceeded relatively rapidly in many parts of newly independent Africa. We have discussed elsewhere in this work the problems and the promise of this for the peasant populations. It is clear that the transformation that we have indicated has taken place in Asia, liberated from the direct rule of colonial populations a decade earlier than Africa; is now underway in Africa. In the process of this incorporation into modern world society there is need to look carefully and closely at the concrete problems and the direction taken to solve them.

As we have indicated earlier, Lenin in the years after the first successes of the Bolshevik Revolution placed great emphasis on the education of peasants and workers as the keystone of the struggle for socialism. This same question of education, one that is appropriate not for nineteenth century British capitalism but for a twentieth-century African population, is of great importance throughout Africa. It is proper that we devote some attention to such a concrete aspect of the revolutionary world in which we live.

The African peoples themselves have given high importance to the demand for the widest possible education at all levels, for all the people. The Independence movements a their best have been associated deeply with the aspirations of the African people to make great and far-reaching advances in this area.

In Kenya, the Kikuyu people began to build schools by their own efforts as the prelude to independence. The training of teachers was set in motion even before the independence movement became powerful. Indeed, the fight for national freedom in Kenya was intimately linked with the bursting by Africans of the constrictions of the colonialist system of education.

In all African states, education has been and is an important political issue. The meaning of this clear to all Africans. Education is a powerful generator of social change. Independence was only a beginning, a herald of social change. The response of Africans shows that Independence was not thought of as being merely an exchange from white governors to black ones. The African population sees education as essential in order to release its abilities control its own destiny. In the minds of the African masses, education is looked upon as a means to a social end, not as the end itself. The population is concerned not with knowledge. for the sake of knowledge; yet it demonstrates that simply a narrow technical education is not sufficient even to meet the needs of technology itself.

In Africa today we are seeing an unparalleled expansion of universal education and of vocational training of all kinds. In the development of African education, the split must be avoided between the liberal arts and professions on the one hand, and science and industry on the other.

The way ahead can only have meaning if the Africans themselves are in a position to decide the shaping of their own future. The first indispensable step is to acquire knowledge of history, of the world, of science, of technology and of philosophy. Without this equipment the African peoples will remain, and know that they will remain, tied to the colonial past. For these reasons, education in Africa takes on a deeper meaning today than that of the pursuit of academic knowledge divorce-d from the concrete tasks of society.

The African experience clearly displays the contradiction in all contemporary education. While the University of Zambia, for one example, is dominated by British modes of education no longer suitable for the needs of the British people itself, copperbelt miners in Katanga have displayed a remarkable instinct for the kind of self-education required by the modern world.

The educational system of the West, particularly in the spheres of science and technology, and with the lack of integration of history, philosophy and the arts with the sciences, can only drive any modern country further and further backwards in scientific and industrial development. The whole modern world was shaken by an awareness of its own educational weakness by the now worldwide race for sputniks, moon-probes, missiles and space travel. But nowhere, neither in Russia or in the United States, is the educational program even partially effective in dealing with the needs of modern peoples, for exampl , in 1967 it is clear at the conclusion of the Robbins Commission’s recommendations for reforms in British education that any Zambian trained within the British system would have little or no contribution to make in Zambia on the most vital questions of economics, social relations, science or technology.

In Zambia, once the most energetic steps by government and the people were taken to remove all traces of colonial discrimination in the schools, the problems of illiteracy and ignorance of the most elementary types were largely solved. But these successes can provide only the basic tools. It is questionable if the system of further education, and most particularly that of persons proceeding beyond the fifteenth year, is being organised in the best way for Zambians. The whole higher education system is being geared to the pattern of the British educational system, a system which is under sharp and prope:r attack in Britain itself.

The system of advanced education in many modern fields, in which young people, and older ones as well, can continually increase their knowledge and capabilities, has largely become ineffective in Britain. Every skilled technological worker knows that the relative backwardness of British technology developed in proportion to the rapid expansion of the Universities in the last decade. The primary failure in Britain in the field of technological manpower is the insufficiency of properly trained engineers of every kind.

This situation is bound to worsen, as the technical schools become neglected, increasingly inadequate, isolated from broader educational goals, a vestigial part of education as a whole.

While the weakness of higher education remains, and its ineffectiveness becomes more glaringly obvious in Africa,: substantial numbers of workers have acquired recognized skills in all the basic crafts. Basil Davidson, an experienced observer of African developments, has witnessed the dramatic progress in Katanga. There, for many years before liberation, the Union Minière which, after all, had the needs of production and consequent profit uppermost in its mind, discovered that only if it worked on the principle that the skilled white supervisors should have up to a dozen adult Congolese apprentices, could the basic potentialities of the new working class be released.

These apprentices exhibited an enthusiasm and quickness to learn which amazed the white overseers. Davidson saw the notebooks of these native Congolese, notebooks that demonstrated great care and increasing proficiency. All evidence shows that the working class of Katanga, tribal peasants the day before, a working class numbering many tens of thousands, is quite capable of rapid development in technological expertise. The Katanga miners are today running their own nationalized copper mines. It is quite clear that unless these talents and potentialities of Katanga workers, and the mass of people throughout Africa, are to become the basis of the development of society, there will be unleashed a barbarism upon Africa that for years to come will wound all of world society.

The need for a new education remains before all of Africa and the entire modern world. Modern industry needs technicians and technology of all kinds. Modern society needs a multitude of social skills. These must be integrated in such a way as to develop the full potentialities of modern people. But this will not come to pass within the existing system in Africa or elsewhere, where such bodies as British University Commissions supply teachers and lecturers, teaching an already outmoded and pathetic British curriculum.

Teachers and lecturers supplied to Zambia in this way cannot impart other than formal academic instruction. Our world, if it develops the social relations necessary, can have in its possession a technology able to end all ancient oppressions and exploitations. It needs a rapid expansion of technical training at all levels; a training that is both broad and deep in the development of the total knowledge of mankind. Only such an education, in Zambia, for example, can train Zambians to take over most specialized jobs and thus gain control over their own destinies. Without a new educational system based on both the needs and aspirations and talents of the Zambian people and upon the most profound knowledge in all spheres of the modern world, the disastrous story of British technical education would be repeated in an even more disastrous manner in Zambia.

The overwhelming need at this time is to carry forward the new African working class, a class which has come from the peasantry and which has close and continual relations with the peasantry that Chisiza, whom we quoted at length above, relies upon. A large part could be played in this process by enlisting the help of British, American and other workers. Trained and educated workers can, after all, go anywhere and utilise and transmit their knowledge. Such an idea is not fanciful, indeed has been par of the process of the development of the modern world. It was after all Welsh and Cornish and English miners that developed the coal, iron, tin and copper mines of the United States. What is required is the release of the creation social energies of the working class throughout the world. Such aid from workers from the advanced countries would enable the peoples of the underdeveloped countries to defend themselves against all imperialist enemies.

Such a successful struggle against capitalism in Africa, and throughout the former colonial territories, would provide a most powerful ally to the workers of the most advanced countries in their own struggles against this same capitalism. This is not utopianism. It is the meaning of the October Revolution today, fifty years after the workers, soldiers and peasants of Russia proclaimed a new dawn of liberation for mankind.

Last updated on 18 October 2020