ISJ Index | Main Newspaper Index

Encyclopedia of Trotskyism | Marxists’ Internet Archive

International Socialism, Spring 1966


Harold Jackson

Class and Party


From International Socialism, No.24, Spring 1966, p.37.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


Political Parties in French Speaking West Africa
Ruth Morgenthau
OUP, 55s.

This book gives an extremely competent survey of political developments in French-speaking West Africa from the second world war until independence from France (1956-60). The actual struggles against French control, the intertwining of developments in France itself with those of the colonies (with representation in the French parliament) – which conditioned the dynamics of the independence movements in a way very different from that of the former British colonies in Africa – all this is painstakingly and lovingly analysed. This is followed by four case studies of Senegal, Ivory Coast, Guinea and Mali – that on Guinea being of particular interest as the Parti Démocratique de Guinée was the only mass party to have a real trade-union base.

By the time of independence a single party system had come into existence or was in the process of doing so in each of the eight new states, and political power passed to these single parties – mass parties in the four case studies (above), and patron parties in Upper Volta, Niger, Mauretania and Dahomey. The discussion of this trend is particularly interesting, adding considerable depth to the concepts generally used in analysing parties in colonial situations.

Nobody can reproach Mrs Morgenthau for her interest and concern with these African parties – indeed when her doctoral thesis on the subject was produced in 1958 it was highly relevant. Yet no work is probably so closed, so out-dated as this type of study. As she herself seems to realise in her concluding chapter the parties she has described are relevant only to what has proved to be a very short historical period. ‘The unifying nationalist struggle was over and many controversies came to the fore’ (p.356). Thus increasingly some groups gravitate towards the ruling party; others, especially trade unionists, become increasingly disaffected. The political and institutional structure is no longer worth studying on its own, as it no longer gives expression to the common aspirations of the majority of the population.

Rafter, it now serves to confuse matters. The issues of importance can no longer be grasped through the political superstructure. Works like Rene Dumont’s L’Afrique Noire est Mal Partie (1962) are the relevant types of study, focussing directly on the economic structure and social relationships of class groupings. In a way Morgenthau sees this: ‘On development depends the capacity to implement the social reforms already on the statute books and agreement on yet other reforms. Without development, there can only be a new status quo around which society hardens into castes’ (pp.357-8). One might add the rider that even with development, at least of the type which these countries will see, taking their position in the world market into account, society at the very least will harden into classes based directly on economic interests. The problems now are of mobilisation and capital accumulation: no mass party, not even that of Guinea, is going to bring about development other than at the expense of their own people. The important division is no longer between mass and patron-type parties, which tells us about the pre-independence social struggles, but between relative success and relative failure in accumulating capital. This more than any other factor will determine the class nature of these countries. Where it fails an amalgam of traditional elites and a bourgeois caste, neither saving nor investing, but controlling the machinery of state, will wield power: where it succeeds a centralised administrative core, together with private capitalists in greater or lesser profusion (almost certainly lesser) will form the ruling class.

Political parties in this process cannot remain democratic mass movements; they form into instruments of coercion. Studies which concentrate on them can no longer be fruitful, as Morgenthau’s has been in casting light on the social processes in the countries concerned.

Top of page

ISJ Index | Main Newspaper Index

Encyclopedia of Trotskyism | Marxists’ Internet Archive

Last updated on 15.5.2008