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International Socialist Review, Summer 1966


Henri Vallin

Nkrumah’s Downfall


From International Socialist Review, Vol.27 No.3, Summer 1966, pp.115-120.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


Friday, February 25, 1966, was a day of great rejoicing among imperialist and bourgeois circles the world over. Imperialists celebrated the downfall of the African nationalist who had led the first successful struggle of a colony in Black Africa for independence, an achievement that set off a chain reaction ending in political independence for nearly all the African states within ten years – Kwame Nkrumah.

As a leading theoretician of Pan-Africanism, Nkrumah again and again voiced the anger of the African nationalists over the repeated crimes and conspiracies of imperialism against the peoples of Africa: when Lumumba was murdered; when Ben Bella was overthrown; when Ian Smith got away with his Unilateral Declaration of Independence for a white settlers’ regime in Southern Rhodesia against the sham “resistance” and “boycott” organized by the “Labour”imperialists in power in London.

Nkrumah’s book Neo-Colonialism – the Last Stage of Imperialism, which was published last year, met with an angry public response from G. Mennen Williams, Assistant Secretary for African Affairs in the US State Department, because of its indictment of the role of American capital in consolidating the economic stranglehold of imperialism over Africa after most areas had won independence. A loan granted to Ghana was even cancelled due to the outcry in Wall Street over the book.

The rejoicing of the world bourgeoisie was due not only to dislike for Kwame Nkrumah. The March 6 London Sunday Times carried a headline, Ghana swings to the West. The generally well-informed Paris daily Le Monde declared March 4 that the “National Liberation Council” installed in power through the February 25 military putsch was preparing to restore industry in Ghana to private ownership. In fact, what began that day in Ghana was to all intents and purposes a counterrevolution.

Revolutionary socialists have many criticisms to make of Kwame Nkrumah. They are quite able to analyze the reasons why his policies led to his own downfall. But they are not so factionally blinded as to fail to recognize a counterrevolution when they see one. Their duty is to oppose it and intransigently fight against it whatever the shortcomings of the regime it seeks to topple. For revolutionists all over Africa, February 25 was a Black Friday indeed!

The imperialist press has printed all kinds of false stories about a “popular uprising” that is said to have toppled Nkrumah’s regime. Nothing is further from the truth. Nkrumah was overthrown through a reactionary military putsch carried out by the Second Brigade of the Ghana army which was staffed by members of the Ashanti tribe, of late more and more hostile to Nkrumah.

Role of Foreign Agents

It seems established that British and American imperialist circles, as well as the CIA and the British Secret Service, conspired with the military in bringing Nkrumah down. The former head of the Ghana Secret Service, one Khow Daniel Amihyia, who was dismissed from his job by Nkrumah and who has lived in London since 1961, boasted publicly of his part in the conspiracy. On returning to Accra, he was demonstratively put in jail for having given the game away.

Terms do not exist sharp enough to denounce the role played by the “Labour” imperialists at the head of the British government in bringing about Nkrumah’s downfall. These gentlemen are against force and violence if it is directed at Ian Smith’s tyranny in Southern Rhodesia. As “humanitarians” they shudder at the very thought of an armed uprising against the inhuman fascist dictatorship crushing the majority of African inhabitants of the Union of South Africa under Verwoerd. But high diplomats, army officers and spies under their orders have calmly employed force to overthrow one of the few governments of Black Africa whose claim to be “socialist” – in the sense of the reformist welfare Social Democracy – was not completely unfounded.

Heading the bourgeois state machine in Britain and administering the affairs of British imperialism, the leaders of the Labour Party have participated in some of the most shameful actions of world imperialism in the past eighteen months – the Belgian paratroop attack against the nationalist government of Stanleyville; the US imperialist aggression against the Vietnamese revolution; the toleration of Southern Rhodesia’s Unilateral Declaration of Independence behind the smoke screen of a fake “blockade.”

For some time Nkrumah himself had felt that an imperialist conspiracy directed against his regime was underway. He issued public warnings about it. Several attempts were made to assassinate him. During one of them he had to use a gun in self-defense, so lax and unfriendly had the police become around him. As one conspiracy after another was uncovered and publicly exposed, the world bourgeois press sneered at his “persecution complex.” Events have shown that these warnings were only too well founded.

However, the real conspiracy that brought Nkrumah down was not the military one, of which he seemed to be expectant for some time (in July of last year he dismissed Major General Ankrah as deputy chief of staff, holding him to be a security risk, and this February he warned parliament against the increasing role of the army in African politics). The real conspiracy was the catastrophic decline in the price of cocoa during the past seven years to nearly one-fifth of what it was in the late fifties. From a peak of over $1,000 a ton in 1957-58, the price dropped to $504 in 1963-64 and down to as low as $210 last summer, after which prices picked up again.

The decline in the price of cocoa came after a peried during which

“they were encouraged by the manufacturers to expand their production, with the assurance that they could count on prices between $560 and $700 a ton at least up to 1970. This July Ghana’s main crop cocoa for shipment between August and September was being quoted at $245 a ton. But the country has already ploughed many millions of pounds into improvement schemes and disease control ... all the effort and investment earned a nil return.” (The Economist, October 2, 1965.)

Now Ghana is mainly a cocoa exporting country. Its economy has all the shortcomings flowing from monoculture – its fate hinges essentially on the price of cocoa. When prices started to slide, the currency reserves built up to $560 million during the forties and fifties began to melt away (they were down to a few million dollars at the time Nkrumah was overthrown). Ghana’s economic development plan, based on the assumption that cocoa earnings would amount to $280 million annually in the late sixties, including 1970, was upset when earnings stagnated around $200 million.

Since Nkrumah did not want to revise the seven-year plan (among other reasons, precisely in order to overcome the dependence of the country on a single crop!), deficit financing was resorted to on a wider and wider scale, the deficit rising to $112 million for the 1963 budget. This in turn meant increased inflation, rising food prices and mounting scarcities in some goods like yams and knives. These developments, completely opposite to the expectations of the people who had voted Nkrumah into power and who had associated independence with the hope of a steadily increasing standard of living, created the general climate of political unrest in which a conspiracy like the one organized by the officers on February 25 could succeed.

It is true that the price of cocoa rose again after last summer. But it did not reach the minimum price of $560 a ton sought by the Ghanaians. It is also true that the catastrophic decline was caused not only by the manipulations of the big chocolate trusts in Britain and the US but also by overproduction due to a vast expansion of output in countries other than Ghana. Nevertheless it is significant that within a few days after Nkrumah’s fall, cocoa for delivery in March-May 1966 was quoted on the London exchange at $499.66 a ton. As late as February 20 the quotation was $448. In any case the damage had been done. The collapse of the price of cocoa bankrupted the Ghanaian exchequer, reduced the standard of living for the Ghanaian people and ended in the collapse of Nkrumah.

Type of Mixed Economy

Ghana’s economic structure was a queer mixture of “welfare socialism” of the type seen in Western Europe and typical neocolonialism. Such a combination hardly seems possible-until the consideration is brought in that the per capita gross national product in Ghana in 1955 was three times that of Nigeria and nearly ten times higher than that of India – the remarkable figure of $460, which appears to be equal to or above that of Turkey!

This high income was mainly due to a long-term rise in the price of cocoa and an effective cooperative system that eliminated most of the middleman’s profit in the wholesale trade and export. A government Cocoa Marketing Board bought at a fixed price all the cocoa planted for the market by the Ghanaian peasants. In addition to the Cocoa Marketing Board, a strong cooperative system was developed by the United Ghana Farmers Council, and a state sector was opened in agriculture, the State Farm Corporation holding 105 farms covering 80,000 acres by the end of 1965. This area was scheduled to be expanded to 220,000 acres by the end of 1969. Mainly food crops like rice were to be grown in this sector.

However, alongside these forms of state intervention in the economy, which were obviously in the interests of the peasant masses and the working population in general, there is a predominantly private sector in agriculture. This includes not only independent small peasants owning their own piece of land but also middle peasants and farmers exploiting labor power on a large scale. Many cocoa growers use migrating sharecroppers from neighboring countries (Togo and Upper Volta), through a system called abusa under which the sharecroppers receive one third of the crop and the proprietors two thirds.

(Nkrumah was readying a new agrarian reform that would have increased the sharecropper’s proportion and at the same time take away half of what the landowner traditionally received, a part going to a National Collective Productivity Fund. Besides this, an Agricultural Development Fund would loan money at low interest rates to the poor peasants, freeing them from the grip of the usurers and moneylenders. Thus two main sources of profit for the rich farmers and village bourgeoisie were threatened. Nkrumah’s hour had obviously struck.)

Industry, banking and international transport display a similar combination of “welfare socialism” and typical neocolonialism. The Nkrumah government made an effort-a costly one-to free the country from dependence on the big British shipping and airline companies. An independent state-owned Ghanaian airline company (Ghana Airways) and a Ghanaian shipping company (Black Star Line) were developed. A large number of state-owned mining, banking and industrial companies were also set up. (In cases of nationalization, handsome compensation was paid to the former owners.)

Parallel Private Enterprise

But alongside these government enterprises, quite a number of Ghanaian businessmen started up private concerns of their own, especially in consumer goods. With the assistance of French and West German private capita], Ghana built a large textile industry. Italian capital helped build an oil refinery which makes Ghana self-sufficient in this field. And the biggest industrial scheme, the $200 million Volta River Project and the $125 million Valco aluminum smelting plant, to make the country self-sufficient in power and aluminum, are completely dominated by international capital (the two big American aluminum outfits, Kaiser Aluminum & Chemical Corporation and Reynolds Metal Comapny, as well as various international banking corporations like the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development, the Export-Import Bank of the British government, etc.).

The latest report of the World Bank gives the total capital investment in Ghana since 1959 (including government loans and aid) as $224 million from Great Britain, $112 million from West Germany, $84 million from the US, $28 million from France, $28 million from the USSR, $28 million from Poland and $5.6 million from China.

There is therefore no doubt about the basic structure of Ghana’s economy being neocolonial. But it is true that within this neocolonial framework, the masses enjoyed a higher standard of living than in the other African countries, not only thanks to a more developed economy, but also thanks to the many social reforms carried out by the Nkrumah regime, such as free education (the number of pupils in primary schools rose from 154,000 in 1951 to 1,480,000 in January 1966), free health service, state insurance, the extension of the piped water system, and nearly full employment. On this hybrid but basically capitalist economic structure, Nkrumah erected a no less hybrid political regime and state power, the basically bourgeois nature of which was to tragically assert itself against its founder in the end.

Kwame Nkrumah broke very early with the first political party of the Ghanaian bourgeoisie, the “United Gold Coast Convention,”and established his own popular “Convention People’s Party,” which received a large majority in the British-controlled general elections. There appears to be no reason to doubt that this party had the genuine allegiance of the masses of simple peasants and urban workers and that it moved continually towards the left. It should not be overlooked that Ghana was the African country with the largest number of British-educated bourgeois entrepreneurs and middle-class intellectuals and administrators. Much of the hate for Nkrumah displayed by the imperialist press for years was really an expression of solidarity with the top layers of the Ghanaian bourgeoisie whom Nkrumah largely eliminated from the direct exercise of political power.

Did Nkrumah thus succeed in creating that strange animal, a brain child of Nikita Khrushchev and other leaders of the Soviet bureaucracy, the “national democratic state”, a creature neither fish nor fowl, neither a bourgeois nor workers state, as proclaimed in the new party program adopted at the twenty-second congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union? Unfortunately for them, events have once again confirmed that the “dogmatic” Marxist theory of the state continues to be much more serviceable in seeking to understand current developments in Africa than any of the revisionists, “new” discoveries.

It is to be understood, of course, that any progressive nationalist, and all the more so a revolutionary socialist, who set out to build a workers state in a country like Ghana would face enormous difficulties. The country is a caldron of conflicting social forces, some of them closer to the age of stone than the jet plane. The tribal chiefs who control most of the more backward areas of Northern Ghana rose up in strong opposition to the government when it sought to introduce ... compulsory primary schooling for girls. Already turned away from the people in the time of British rule, and used as tools by the imperialists to maintain their domination over the masses, these chiefs several times came into sharp conflict with Nkrumah, especially when the central government sought to end their domination in local affairs by setting up town and city councils. They were also dissatisfied at being kept out of the central government.

Besides the rather numerous British-educated bourgeoisie and intellectuals, independent Ghana inherited from the Gold Coast colony a complete system of army and state administration which remained practically intact throughout the entire period of Nkrumah’s rule. In a special supplement to Africa and the World, a magazine published in London with a political line identical to that of Nkrumah’s Convention People’s Party, the editor Douglas Rogers commented as follows on the military putsch:

“When Ghana became independent, it had to take over a colonial army trained and led by British officers ... After independence, Ghana had to take over the old colonial administrative apparatus. Many of the top-rank officials had had years of loyalty to the British colonial regime. They constituted a privileged middle class, like the army officers, and they strongly resented Nkrumah’s struggle to create democracy and social equality in the country. Some of them were connected with chiefly families who have retained a smoldering resentment at the introduction of modern local government, with municipal and town councils increasingly assuming the power previously vested in the traditional chiefs.

“As the socialist, democratic revolution grew and spread, there remained an underlying potential for counter-revolution.”

The analysis is fairly correct; but the conclusion is a half truth which hides the central fact. It is precisely because the revolution had not grown to a point where it became socialist, where it destroyed the economic power of the propertied class, where it overthrew the old, imperialist-installed state machine, that the “potential for counter-revolution” could be so easily used to bring down Nkrumah!

Douglas Rogers seems to miss a decisive point. What is to be noted in Nkrumah’s downfall as well as in the earlier downfall of Ben Bella is precisely the failure of all attempts to reconcile irreconcilable class conflicts, the failure of all attempts to “build socialism” without a workers state that has previously destroyed the bourgeois state machine, the failure to find an “African road to socialism” based somehow on national solidarity and class collaboration as opposed to the classic Marxist-Leninist road of revolutionary class struggle.

Failure to Disarm Generals

When Rogers states that Nkrumah was unable to eliminate the Sandhurst-trained officers of the Ghanaian army, because that would have meant “instant armed resistance,” he forgets that by leaving them in charge of the army nothing was gained. They finally rose against Nkrumah anyway, and in the meantime the masses had become demoralized. Wouldn’t it have been better to meet them in a trial of strength at the time independence was won, when the mass movement was rising and buoyant and could have swept away any resistance attempted by a few hundred neocolonialist-minded officers?

Wasn’t it Nkrumah’s policy to try to conciliate the backward, reactionary tribal chiefs in relation to his “welfare socialism”? Wasn’t there even a blueprint announced in June 1965 to set up a national organization of chiefs and include it as part of the government’s party, the Convention People’s Party? Wasn’t the same conciliatory policy followed towards the native bourgeoisie and foreign imperialism? Wasn’t this the root of the evil?

Nkrumah was undoubtedly the main spokesman of revolutionary nationalists in Africa who wanted to unify the continent. He stood up strongly against most of the political schemes and plots imperialism hatched in Africa. But his attitude towards the neocolonialist stooges and reactionaries heading the majority of African states remained contradictory at best.

On the one hand he offered asylum to many revolutionary exiles from neighboring countries or South Africa who continued to struggle for the emancipation of their peoples. The Sawaba movement of the Republic of Niger, the Kamerun guerrilla fighters, the outlawed left opposition of the Ivory Coast, and various national organizations of South Africa had their headquarters in Ghana. Guerrilla training camps were opened on Ghanaian territory for several of these movements. All this speaks in favor of Nkrumah.

Unity of Opposites

But on the other hand, he sought to unify Africa not by means of a revolutionary mass movement from below but by cementing together the various existing states with their – in most cases utterly reactionary! – governments, armies and high functionaries plundering their respective treasuries. And that, of course, was contradictory to the highest degree. That the reactionary governments of Africa ganged up against Nkrumah was more or less inevitable. That he succumbed again and again to their blackmail because he wanted to “unify Africa” with their help and assistance was a tragic mistake. At the latest “summit” meeting of the Organization of African Unity in Accra, he even agreed to their demand to expel the foreign political refugees from Ghana. Before he could keep his promise, his enemies eliminated him from power.

In addition to these historically futile attempts to win reconciliation from his irreconcilable class enemies, Nkrumah suffered from an overdose of paternalism in his attitude towards the Ghanaian people. Again it must be stressed that the task of building up a mass movement along genuinely revolutionary-socialist lines in a backward country like Ghana is extremely difficult. National and tribal peculiarities must indeed be taken into account, and ways and means found to express socialist ideas in a manner that catches the imagination of the people.

But considerations of this nature can in no case justify the systematic use of the mystique of the leader cult which Nkrumah cultivated around his alleged role as “osagyefo” (redeemer) of the country.

This was combined with ever-increasing bureaucra-tization of the Convention People’s Party, of severe repression of trade-union autonomy, of rampant corruption among the government and the party functionaries, of growing privileges to the party and state bureaucracy. (The crassest case was that of Minister Edusei’s wife ordering a gold (!) bed to be paid for out of the public exchequer. There is no doubt that Nkrumah knew about the corruption of most of his ministers, and that he was both unable and unwilling to eliminate this disease, perhaps because he also participated in it.) Such a policy, based upon lack of confidence in the masses, could only heighten the apathy induced by the unfavorable change in the economic climate.

For more than eighteen months now, the African scene has gone from bad to worse. The overthrow of the nationalist Stanleyville government by Belgian paratroopers and Tshombe’s white mercenaries; the military coup that overthrew Ben Bella; the elimination of the Communist Party and all left-wingers from the civilian government in Sudan; a series of military coups d’etat in the neocolonialist states controlled by French imperialism like Dahomey, Central African Republic and Upper Volta; the way Ian Smith could get away with his Unilateral Declaration of Independence, and now the overthrow of Nkrumah, all point in the same direction-a seemingly uninterrupted wave of counterrevolutions is sweeping Africa. Only the military coup in Nigeria can be listed as a partial exception.

That this wave is not yet over is indicated by the fact that after Nkrumah’s downfall, Oginga Odinga, leader of the left wing in Kenya, was dismissed as vice-president of the country and expelled from the government party, the Kenya African National Union, which he had helped to found. Sekou Toure in Guinea, Modibo Keita in Mali, Nyerere in Tanzania, and even Nasser in Egypt feel insecure. As for President Obote of Uganda, he escaped Nkrumah’s fate a few weeks ago only be striking first himself and putting nearly half his cabinet in prison.

Without doubt what is involved in this wave of counterrevolution is a considered imperialist plot, in which both the CIA and the British secret service play their role, to stem the tide of the African revolution before it undermines the foremost strategic and economic positions held by imperialism in that continent -the Rhodesian copper belt and the South African gold and diamond fields. The systematic way in which imperialism is able to organize these coups, with virtually complete passivity on the part of the Kremlin, is at the same time a severe indictment of those forces that have claimed “peaceful coexistence” is possible on the basis of the pledge of imperialism not to export counterrevolution

Lessons of the Coup

It is significant that some nationalist leaders are trying in their own way to draw some lessons from Nkrumah’s fate. Nyerere made a public appeal for amplification of the African revolution and not to be frightened by the temporary victory of the counterrevolution in Ghana. In a resolution adopted by its national council meeting in Bamako on March 15-16, the National Union of Workers of Mali called on the workers (o defend the fruits of their revolution at all costs, and urged them to organize the workers’militias in the workshops, construction sites and other enterprises. This is certainly a step in the right direction.

Basically, the imperialist move to re-establish stooges rather than to be satisfied with preserving economic power under the administration of popular nationalist leaders, reflects desperation in the face of historical trends. It demonstrates that the margin for conciliation between the fundamental interests of world imperialism and the nationalist masses of Africa, fighting for independence but still lacking clear socialist consciousness, has become narrower and not wider.

From the viewpoint of imperialism, it is a thousand times preferable to exploit the wealth of a semi-colonial country through the instrument of a popular nationalist leader of the bourgeois (Nehru, Sukarno) or petty-bourgeois (Nkrumah, Nasser) type, than through the rule of military stooges like Suharto, Ankrah or Ky, who have no durable mass base in the country at all and who can only sooner or later provoke mass uprisings which are much more costly to keep in check (look at Vietnam!) than underwriting nationalist leaders with a mass following.

If imperialism nevertheless feels compelled to put these stooges in power everywhere, it is because it believes too much is at stake and that the chances of African nationalism developing even under petty-bourgeois leaders are too great. The call for a Pan-African army to wage war against the white settlers’ Southern Rhodesia – which would have been only a stage towards war against Verwoerd’s apartheid regime – is certainly not unrelated to the decision of imperialism to do away with Nkrumah.

These counterrevolutionary coups can succeed only if the masses are relatively apathetic – a condition for which the nationalist leaders themselves often bear the main responsibility (as in the cases of Ben Bella and Nkrumah). But the apathy cannot last. The African revolution historically is on the rise. The social and economic factors feeding the revolutionary process are becoming stronger, not weaker. It is only a question of time until some striking success of the revolution will break the series of counterrevolutionary victories.

Such a success could in turn become the starting point of a process of permanent revolution, neutralizing eighteen months of permanent counterrevolution, provided that the lessons of these defeats are correctly assimilated. The balance sheet of these eighteen months shows the historical failure of the petty-bourgeois nationalist leaders, who, while paying lip service to socialism and while taking some genuinely anti-imperialist measures, proved unable to destroy either the state machinery or the economic props of neocolonialist power, both in their own countries and in Africa, because they feared to mobilize the masses on a broad scale and to organize them democratically.

The African masses, who will rise again, must learn to arm themselves and to root out officers and army cadres groomed by imperialism. They must learn the need to expropriate the foreign and indigenous capitalists, to destroy the bourgeois state apparatus and to set up a new state of their own, a state of the workers and poor peasants. They must learn how to establish the historical continuity between tribal communism and modern communism. They must learn to see that Africa will be united not by hodgepodge of feudal emperors, bourgeois presidents and neocolonialist stooges, but by fighting masses, from below, and on a socialist basis. And they must learn that to achieve results, it is necessary to build revolutionary-socialist parties, based on the body of experience assembled in scientific socialist theory, by-passing those who want to lead them into the dead end of some odd-type “African socialism.”

Under these conditions, the revolution can make a sensational comeback, even in Ghana, in fact especially there!

March 20, 1966

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