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International Socialism, June/July 1969


Basker Vashee



From International Socialism (1st series), No.37, June/July 1969, pp.40-41.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


Rhodesian Perspective
ed. Theodore Bull
Michael Joseph, 30s

African Nationalism
Ndabaningi Sithole
OUP, 35s

The Political Economy of Rhodesia
Giovanni Arrighi
Mouton & Co, 32s

Like all ‘crisis points’ in the world Rhodesia has provoked many political ‘observers’ to churn out books to explain, apologise and pontificate on what is basically a simple situation. As a direct result of British imperialism a minority of about 200,000 settler whites have been able, for a hundred years, to establish a privileged and all powerful position at the expense of the 4 million Africans of the country, who have no political or economic power. The solution that have been suggested may be classified into basically two types: one, the constitutional and legal solutions, and two, the ‘revolutionary’ solution.

Rhodesian Perspective falls into the former category. In the first part of the book the basic injustices and contradictions in every facet of Rhodesian society are analysed, with a somewhat barren condemnation of white policy in land, education, local government etc. The book goes further in the second part to suggest a constitution with 50-50 racial representation in Parliament. A typical liberal solution thus emerges. It is completely useless because it takes no account of the realities of power in Rhodesia nor the historical circumstances in which this power was fossilised.

To ask 200,000 racialists who have fought international capitalism and African resistance for fifty years in order to control the entire economy, to give up some of their power is vain. To expect 4 million oppressed Africans, who have been subjected to the worst forms of imprisonment and deprivation to accept a sop is the height of naivety. The explanation of this naivety lies in the source of these articles. They come from a magazine called the Central African Examiner which was banned after UDI. It was financed by the Anglo-American Corporation in an attempt to mobilise ‘enlightened’ white opinion. It is no accident that the book in the last chapter foresees greater economic co-operation with South Africa, even under majority rule in Rhodesia. It has always been the policy of international capitalism (with support from the UK government), as against the Rhodesian national bourgeoisie (both rural and industrial), to envisage the formation of a black middle class which would include the Nationalist leadership, to ensure that its economic interests could be safeguarded. This policy has suffered bitterly because of the intransigeance of the settler minority, and the pressure from the African peasants and workers on their leadership not to accept ‘liberal’ solutions. Indeed the white governments had to expropriate key sections of the economy (railways and electricity) from international holdings to minimise this ‘subversive’ influence.

A representative of the embryonic African middle-class is Ndabaningi Sithole (recently gaoled for six years for ‘incitement to murder’) whose African Nationalism just reissued in a second edition, has been elevated by some enthusiastic liberals as Rhodesia’s answer to the little red book. Of course it’s nothing of the sort. A touching personal biography, it goes some way towards revealing the poverty and hoplessness of the African situation, but as a contribution to a political debate by the leader of ZANU it fails somewhat. The so-called ‘non-alignment’ theory of the ‘50’s is restated and great play is made of the distinctiveness of the ‘African personality’ (Negritude) and of ‘African socialism’. The latter is a formula for the future development of Rhodesia. It allows for further capitalist development but expects some sort of ‘socialism’ to exist side by side.

It is based on what Marx called ‘primitive communalism’, in rural populations where land is communally owned by extended families and all production is for subsistence with little surplus. Of course, since ‘African socialism’ is based on rural peasant societies it ignored the capitalist revolution which demands the break-up of land into individual units and the break-up of peasant communes for labour in factories. Therefore, objectively this ‘socialism’ cannot be achieved, even given that it were desirable.

By far the best analysis of Rhodesia is the monograph by Arrighi. In a good introductory chapter the author draws a clear distinction between bourgeois models of society and a Marxist model. He further makes a case against the classification of ‘factors’ in social, economic and political types and suggests that there should be only ‘relevant or irrelevant’ factors in any study of society. Thus he draws on a rich source of historical, sociological, economic and political material, illustrating in a convincing way, the superiority of studying ‘political economy’. In his discussion of the pre-war Rhodesian economic base he describes five classes:

  1. the white rural bourgeoisie
  2. large scale international capitalists
  3. white wage workers
  4. white petit-bourgeoisie and
  5. African peasants and wage-earners.

From this he successfully and clearly explains the ‘white coalition’ of a national character, which ganged up against international capitalist monopolistic and expansionist policies. The severe curtailment of international capitalist influence was essential to the white population to enable it to increase its control over both the natural and the human resources of the country. In the examination of the post-war economic base the emergence of a national industrialist class is described. This new class, all white, had a basic conflict with the rural bourgeoisie over African labour. Whereas the industrialists prefer a more liberal system giving stability and security to its labour force the farmers fear that well-paid labour would diminish their ready supply of cheap farm labour. It is this conflict which explains the downfall of the white liberal governments. The national white coalition breaks down as the rural bourgeoisie forms an alliance with the white petit-bourgeoisie and wage-workers against the industrialists and their international connection. As a way of solution the author can envisage no other than a black revolution.

Arrighi’s book is essential reading for anyone concerned with understanding the politics of Southern Africa. (An earlier version of the argument is available in New Left Review No.39.)

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