Main FI Index | Main Newspaper Index

Encyclopedia of Trotskyism | Marxists’ Internet Archive

Fourth International, Summer 1955


George Lavan

The Gold Coast Revolution

Militancy Wins Concessions


From Fourth International, Vol.16 No.3, Summer 1955, pp.93-95.
Transcription & mark-up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


THE STRUGGLE of the African peoples for independence has reached high points on opposite sides of the continent – in the East in the Mau Mau guerrilla bands of Kenya, in the West in the Convention Peoples Party of the Gold Coast.

This article will deal with the developments in West Africa, particularly the rise to power of the Convention Peoples Party in the Gold Coast under the leadership of Kwame Nkrumah.

British imperialism in this part of Africa has had to make concession after concession on the parliamentary and constitutional planes. In fact the Gold Coast appears close to that political independence within the British commonwealth attained at the end of World War II by India, Pakistan and Ceylon.

Two things, however, should be kept in mind. First, the Gold Coast has not yet achieved dominion status, though it has been promised for 1956. Second, imperialism does not consist solely or primarily of political domination. The content of imperialism is economic. Latin America, for instance, remains in a semi-colonial relation to Yankee imperialism although nominally politically independent. Britain’s “granting” of political independence is a concession to nationalism made on the calculation or understanding that British economic interests remain basically unmolested. This was the pattern of independence achieved by India, Pakistan and Ceylon. [1]

Thus in the Gold Coast where the Convention Peoples Party espouses general socialist ideas, its rapid march toward full self-government is based on the confidence British imperialism has that the grip of its corporations and banks will not be broken by the nationalist movement – that and the fear the British have of a socialist revolution if it made no concessions.

The most interesting problem in the case of the Gold Coast is why the nationalist movement there has been able to force political concessions from the British overlords while elsewhere in Africa the national aspirations of the people have met with redoubled repressions, as in Kenya and the Union of South Africa. To show that this reaction of the British was not confined to Africa, one should note that a movement for self-government was smashed by brute force in British Guiana, South America.

The Gold Coast, originally a collecting base and shipping point for the slave trade, is one of the oldest imperialist possessions in Africa. The colony, happily, was never settled by white colonists. Until the early part of this century, this part of Africa was considered “the white man’s grave” because of the prevalence of terrible tropical fevers. Thus after the slave trade had ended, the colony saw only a relative handful of British traders, administrators, missionaries, mining engineers, etc. For this blessing it has been suggested that one of the first acts of the government, when full independence is achieved, be the erection of statues to the Anopheles and Aedes-Aegypti mosquitoes – the respective bearers of malaria and yellow fever.

In the absence of European settlers, the people of the Gold Coast were not robbed of their agricultural lands and herded onto reservations to rot in poverty or to become landless laborers and share-croppers on large white-owned plantations, as in Kenya, Rhodesia and South Africa.

Cocoa was introduced into the colony by Tetteh Quarshie, an African who had worked on a cocoa plantation on the Spanish island of Fernando Po where it had been brought from Mexico, its land of origin. Returning to the Gold Coast in 1876, Quarshie brought some cocoa seeds along, planted them, sold seeds to other African farmers.

The spread of cocoa farming, with which the British had absolutely nothing to do, became immensely profitable – for the British. This crop is one of the largest dollar earners for the British empire. In 1951 dollar earnings of the Gold Coast and neighboring Nigeria from cocoa exports alone amounted to 112 million pounds sterling ($313,600,000) – more than the dollar earnings of New Zealand, Pakistan and Ceylon combined.

While imperialism exploits the landless people of East and South Africa primarily as wage-workers and sharecroppers, in West Africa it exploits the African peasants in a historically older fashion – as independent producers of commodities. The British trading monopolies applied with a vengeance the ancient mercantile adage, “Buy cheap; sell dear.” Prices listed for raw cocoa by huge combines such as Unilever were sometimes even lower than the farmers’ cost of production. The same companies sold the Africans manufactured goods at profiteering prices. The conversion of the country’s economy to a virtual one-crop system has meant that almost everything, including much of the food, has to be imported.

During the last war the British took direct control of the purchase and marketing of the cocoa crop. Today Nkrumah’s government controls the purchase and sale of the crop through a marketing board which has a majority of Africans on it. It fixes a price which allows for a stabilization fund in case the world market price should suddenly fall. This fund may also become a means of subsidizing modernization of the country and establishment of many needed social services for the population.

In the 1930s a new spirit became manifest in the nationalist movement of West Africa. In face of the growing radicalization, the intellectuals began giving a socialist coloration to their nationalist aspirations. Trade unionism spread among the city workers. The great depression had sped political development in the most advanced of Britain’s African colonies. Anti-sedition laws and prosecutions, though tried, could not stop it.

In October 1937, after repeated representations to London had failed to secure relief from the double squeeze of the import-export commercial monopolies, a nationwide strike of cocoa farmers and simultaneous boycott of British goods was begun. This action lasted eight months and was remarkable for the solidarity of peasants and city workers and for its militancy.

In 1948 another nationwide boycott of foreign merchants was organized in an effort to force down exorbitant prices. On the day a settlement was negotiated a war veterans’ organization staged a peaceful march to the Governor’s residence to present a petition. The unarmed marchers were fired on by the police. When the news of the killings reached downtown Accra it met a populace already angered by the fact that many of the merchants had not reduced prices as agreed in the boycott settlement. All the furious hatred against British imperialism burst forth. The manifestations lasted for days. They spread to other towns. When the police, had shot their way back into control, deaths totalled 29 and wounded 237.

In the ensuing repression the leaders of the United Gold Coast Convention (UGCC) – which had neither called the boycott nor sponsored the veterans’ march – were deported to a remote section of the colony. This organization was a broad movement which included all shades of Gold Coast nationalism. In the leadership were the “respectable” elements of nationalism – African politicians, businessmen, lawyers, etc. Also in it were some young militants, including Kwame Nkrumah, who had been hired to breathe some life into the UGCC’s organizational work. He had but recently returned to the Gold Coast after studying in the US and England where he had associated with anti-imperialists and socialists.

The bourgeois nationalist leaders had no desire for serious conflict with British imperialism. At the most they sought concessions for that thin upper stratum of the Gold Coast population which they represented. Conversely they had no close ties with the poor, uneducated, un-Europeanized peasants, workers and prospectless youth.

The persecution of the UGCC had given it great prestige with the masses. But a conflict now developed within it. The old leaders wanted to compromise. Nkrumah, utilizing his position as secretary, proceeded to organize the youth and plebian masses of the country in demonstrations against the repression. The conflict came to a head over the new Constitution which the British Colonial Office offered in hope of allaying discontent.

The Coussey Constitution was drawn up by handpicked Uncle Toms and a few of the moderate leaders of the UGCC. While it offered concessions and provided for increased African representation, this was but camouflage for the real control which remained firmly in the hands of the imperialists.

The conflict in the UGCC between the leaders, who were on the Coussey committee, and Nkrumah and his youth, who were bitterly critical, ended in a split.

Vilified by the right wing as “the man who stabbed his country in the back,” Nkrumah raised the slogan of “Self-Government Now” and founded the Convention Peoples Party (CPP) Most of the UGCC branches were under the influence of the youth and they disaffiliated and joined the new party. The UGCC soon became a paper organization headed by the most distinguished figures of the African upper and professional classes. The CPP had the members and started a campaign to organize the masses of the colony.

The Coussey Constitution was presented to the country on Oct. 26, 1949. Within a month the CPP and the Trade Union Congress convoked a Ghana [2] Representative Assembly in Accra, the capital. It was a de facto Constituent Assembly. Some 80,000 people, representing over 50 organizations of labor, farmers, cooperatives, youth, women, etc., attended. This Assembly declared the Coussey Constitution unacceptable to the country and demanded “Self-Government Now.” Moreover, it drew up its own plan of self-government – national and local – and presented it to the British authorities.

The British now tried bribery and cajolery. The CPP leaders, however, refused to compromise. After protracted negotiations, they announced that they would call for a campaign of non-violent non-cooperation to last until the imperialists allowed the people of the Gold Coast an official Constituent Assembly to draw up their own Constitution.

Upon this ultimatum, the British went into action. The CPP press was shut down on charges of sedition. Nkrumah was fined for contempt of court. Every month saw new prosecutions of CPP leaders on manufactured charges.

Finally the CPP announced the deadline – midnight Jan. 8, 1950. The campaign of “Positive Action” (non-cooperation) coincided with a period of labor unrest. Faced with this double threat, the Governor declared martial law. This lasted two months. Public meetings were forbidden, mail censored, travel restricted. Europeans were deputized and armed with clubs and revolvers. These “storm troopers” beat up Africans without provocation, shot many people, raided the CPP offices and confiscated its property. All opposition voices were silenced. Nkrumah and other CPP leaders were hunted down and imprisoned.

When the reign of terror was lifted, the CPP leaders who had escaped the police set about rebuilding their party. They discovered that the fighting spirit of the masses was unbroken. Within two weeks they essayed a public rally in Accra. Over 50,000 people attended. By April they entered candidates in the contest for the Accra Town Council. The GPP won all seven seats by overwhelming majorities. This was the beginning of an unbroken chain of electoral successes which culminated in the first general elections under the Coussey Constitution in February 1951. Of the 38 seats to be filled by popular vote, the CPP won 34. In the district where the imprisoned Nkrumah was put up as candidate he received of a total vote of 23,122 all but 342 ballots. The British Governor was forced to release Nkrumah from jail and to receive him as the head of the dominant GPP delegation in the Assembly.

The new Constitution had been carefully concocted to allow the people of the Gold Coast the illusion of more power through an increased number of directly elected representatives. But these were counterbalanced by representatives of electoral colleges, a number designated by chieftainship councils subservient to the Governor, and representatives from the Chamber of Commerce and the Chamber of Mines as well as ex-officio members appointed by the Governor. Finally the British Governor retained veto power over decisions of the Assembly.

The British imperialists had not foreseen the emergence of a single party backed by the whole population. It had relied on the African upper and professional class, the different nationalities in the colony, the tribal rivalries and the Governor’s power over the chieftains, to keep the African members of the Assembly well divided.

The CPP’s overwhelming victory upset the calculation. The will of the people was so apparent and its appetite so whetted by victory that more and more had to be conceded to the CPP. A change in the Constitution to allow direct election of all 104 representatives in the Assembly was won by the CPP in 1954, Before he resigned, Churchill decided officially to recognize Nkrumlah as Prime Minister – a post never envisaged by the Coussey Constitution.

Certainly the story of the Gold Coast independence movement and its victories is an inspiring one. Certainly the people must be credited for courage and determination, and the leadership of the CPP for boldness and commendable distrust of the imperialists. [3] Assuming that all goes well and dominion status is soon achieved, what then?

The opinion that dominion status is certain has already caused cracks to appear in the formerly solid support enjoyed by the CPP. African businessmen and chiefs, who had climbed on the CPP bandwagon, are now beginning to raise their heads in opposition. Diverging economic interests have begun to cause a differentiation along class lines within the nationalist movement.

The crafty imperialist political manipulators have their hands in this. Similarly they are encouraging centrifugal tendencies within the colony – fostering what has been dubbed a “Pakistan” movement in the Moslem Northern Territories, an economic antagonism between the coastal region and the interior farming province of Ashanti. Moreover an irredentist movement exists in the Transvolta area where the Fwe people were cut in half by the boundary line drawn at the end of World War I dividing the Gold Coast from Togoland.

It may well be that the grip of British imperialism on, the Gold Coast economy will increase rather than decrease in the coming period. There are already indications of this since the CPP went into office four years ago.

The projected Volta River hydroelectric plan will be one of the biggest industrial enterprises in tropical Africa. Involved is not only the construction of a whole complex of aluminum smelters and processing installations to exploit the tremendous bauxite deposits of the Gold Coast, but railroads and a new port. The total capital expenditure runs to some 140 million pounds sterling. A four-way partnership is planned – the governments of the Gold Coast and Great Britiain, the huge capitalist monopolies, Aluminum Ltd. of Canada and the British Aluminum Company.

It is significant that George Padmore, the leading authority on imperialism in Africa and a mentor of Kwame Nkrumah, after a detailed analysis of the Volta River project, sees the British getting almost all the economic benefits of the project and the people of the Gold Coast practically nothing.

The Volta River project will considerably alter the mode of exploitation of the Gold Coast and deepen British penetration. This is in line with the openly discussed plan of British imperialism to make up for its losses in Asia by increased investment and exploitation of Africa.

Up to now the particular mode of exploitation enabled the British – reluctantly to be sure – to grant considerable concessions to the CPP. The Kenya Africa Union and the People’s Progressive Party of British Guiana raised similar political demands. Yet both were ruthlessly smashed by military force. In Kenya, where the land question dominates everything, any political expression by the Africans constitutes a posing of the land question. In British Guiana too, a colony of sugar plantations and landless agricultural laborers, any political expression by the Negro and Indian masses immediately poses the land and labor questions. It is clear that with large-scale direct exploitation of the Gold Coast’s natural resources and labor the relation of the Gold Coast to Great Britain will shift toward the pattern of Kenya, British Guiana, the Union of South Africa and the Rhodesias. The growth of capital investment can give the independence struggle in the Gold Coast a qualitatively different aspect.

The Gold Coast people must beware of falling into the unhappy category of a colony that has achieved formal political independence only to stop in its revolutionary course. The spectacle of nearby Liberia, which is formally independent of the big powers (but not of the Firestone Rubber Co.), should be a constant reminder. Formal independence is not enough. The people of the Gold Coast must carry their revolution forward or it will degenerate.


1. Even so, these new entities remain within the British Commonwealth, and military and naval agreements further tie them to British policy.

2. The nationalists have rebaptized their country Ghana.

3. Since its advent to office the CPP has never ceased to denounce the Constitution as bogus and to demand full and immediate self-government.

Top of page

Main FI Index | Main Newspaper Index

Encyclopedia of Trotskyism | Marxists’ Internet Archive

Last updated on: 2 April 2009