The following article was first published in Proletarian Revolution No. 55 (Fall 1997).
It was like a house that had been eaten by termites. The rebels came along and pushed it over. (New York Times, May 19)
It is true that only a facade was left of Mobutu Sese Seko’s utterly corrupt and brutal government, which had looted and ruined Zaire for over three decades. The Alliance of Democratic Forces for Liberation of the Congo (ADFL) led by Laurent Kabila merely dealt the final blow.
After Mobutu resigned in May, Kabila put up a new signpost to distinguish his government from its predecessor: the “Democratic Republic of the Congo” has replaced “Zaire.” Under whatever name, its purpose is to stabilize the country, something Mobutu was no longer capable of doing.
There were several interrelated causes of Mobutu’s downfall: the collapse of the economy and the infrastructure; the corrupt and parasitic nature of the regime; the anger of the masses in Zaire and the widespread turmoil in neighboring countries; and the withdrawal of support by the imperialist powers when it became clear that Mobutu could not shore up Zaire.
The underlying cause of the tumultuous events in Zaire, however, was both more profound and more universal: the reassertion of the fundamental crisis of world capitalism. Imperialism—capitalism in its epoch of decay—is driven by the class struggle and its own competitive rivalries to intensify its exploitation of the working class and peasantry. It is an oft-cited irony that Zaire, one of the most mineral-rich and therefore potentially wealthy countries in the world, has been among the very poorest. This is the legacy of imperialism.
To drain profit from the masses, imperialism needs political and financial stability. But brutal exploitation inevitably breeds mass discontent. Thus imperialism must bolster its capacity for military repression and seeks to whip up the fires of racial, ethnic and national hatred—in order to divert the hostilities of the workers and oppressed. Imperialism is caught in a massive contradiction; it seeks stability but engenders social instability and rivalries, inevitably leading to bloody uprisings and wars.
Under the rule of imperialism, there is no possibility of establishing a society that serves the masses’ interests. The only answer to the growing attacks is the overthrow of the imperialist ruling classes in the advanced countries, as well as their junior partners in the formerly colonial and semi-colonial lands, through international workers’ socialist revolution. In a nutshell, this is the basis for the Trotskyist theory of permanent revolution. This article is intended to contribute to a serious discussion of the revolutionary road in Africa.
The Zairian civil war was triggered by the fight between the Tutsi-led government of Rwanda and the defeated Hutu militarists, who had perpetrated genocide against the Tutsis and now controlled the mass Hutu refugee camps in Zaire. This conflict overlapped with Mobutu’s decision to call for the expulsion of the Banyamulenge, a Tutsi people in Eastern Zaire, and precipitated the formation of the ADFL. The expulsion wasmeant to deflect the growing dissatisfaction in Zaire by scapegoating “foreigners.” (We believe it was necessary for revolutionaries to give military-technical support to the Banyamulenge in their struggle against Mobutu.)
Kabila, head of a small enclave near Lake Tanganyika, sided with the Banyamulenge and also served as political cover for Rwandan forces fighting the Hutus in the area. Kabila seized the opportunity presented by the early military victories, in large part achieved by the Rwandan government forces, to expand the ADFL—mainly by recruiting elements from Mobutu’s retreating and disintegrating army.
The ADFL’s advance was favored by Zairians eager to be rid of Mobutu. The leaderless masses cheered the demise of the regime but remained observers, not participants. Joy at the fall of Mobutu was combined with uncertainty about Kabila. Thus the masses did not rise up, nor did Kabila make any effort ot call upon them to act. (There was therefore no basis for military support to Kabila as the leader of a mass anti-imperialist or anti-Mobutu struggle.)
It is hard for supporters of Kabila and the ADFL to argue that imperialism is about to be ousted by the new regime. In the past, African nationalists proclaimed their goal to be the destruction of imperialist power. Today, they only demand that imperialism recognize their “independent” role and give them help and leeway to develop within the grip of the world market. But as the world capitalist economy continues to rot, even that modest ambition is doomed.
During the ADFL’s march from the eastern region to the capital, Kinshasa, Kabila was already offering lucrative contracts to foreign companies. As one example, American Mineral Fields, headquartered in Hope, Arkansas—Bill Clinton’s home town—clinched a billion-dollar deal with the ADFL to exploit huge copper and cobalt reserves and a new zinc mine. Royalties from several foreign companies started going directly to the ADFL, providing it with ready cash.
While the state is the major shareholder of the mining industries, investors everywhere were quickly assured that the rebels were ready to privatize the share of the enormous mineral wealth controlled by Gecamines, the state mining company. Privatization will be the key to Kinshasa making the payments on Mobutu’s vast debts and staying within the tight strictures of imperialism’s financial arms, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank. Kabila also moved rapidly to reassure the “international community” by appointing to high positions figures who had been working for institutions in the imperialist countries.
Washington’s final desertion of Mobutu and willingness to back Kabila was crucial to Kabila’s success. France miscalculated and remained tied to Mobutu too long; it is now scrambling to present a better face in Africa. The European Union (EU) announced on August 5th that it was ready to resume economic “cooperation” with Kinshasa after a five year break because of Mobutu. Belgium, the former colonial butcher of the Congo, has also hastened to resume full cooperation after a six-year stand-off.
Although the imperialist powers compete with each other in the Congo as elsewhere, the U.S. is dominant. U.S. imperialism seeks not only to continue extracting the lion’s share of the resources and surplus value created in the Congo but wants as well to find an answer to the seeting instability. The imperialists find no moral objection to Mobutu’s sticky fingers, but they did not appreciate the protests he stimulated nor the collapse of the infrastructure. Both obstructed the smooth extraction of profits. So they ditched Mobutu and, after some hemming and hawing, lined up with Kabila. One reason for imperialism’s doubts about Kabila was his “Marxist” background, but he had renounced the Marxist rhetoric and his former rebel activity not only in words but in deeds: he avoided any role in protests against the Kinshasa regime in the 1990’s.
The U.S. originally preferred Etienne Tshisekedi, the leader of the main bourgeois opposition party under Mobutu. But he was too compromised in the eyes of the masses because of his on-and-off collaboration with Mobutu, and could not provide the strongman rule that capitalist stability requires. Nevertheless, members of Tshisekedi’s party were included in Kabila’s cabinet.
The U.S.’s crocodile tears over human rights and warnings over the safety of Americans were efforts to tighten the leash on Kabila. However, the forced return of Hutu refugees to Rwanda, including the massacre of unknown numbers, removed this excuse for U.S./U.N. intervention. The inevitable violations of refugee and human rights are overlooked by the imperialists when it suits their purpose. Kabila was granted a short grace period after his takeover. As we go to press, the U.S. and U.N. are putting the squeeze on the new regime for the suspected massacre of thousands of Rwandan Hutus during and after the military campaign. If Kabila refuses to cooperate, the penalty will not be immediate intervention but a freeze on major loans and other economic pressures. These issues remain pretexts for intervention hanging over Kabila and his fellow rulers in the region.
Less publicized than the devastating Tutsi-Hutu conflicts as a cause of the upheaval has been the role of the working class. The imperialist media and the African upper-class nationalists have an interest in downplaying these struggles. Therefore some detail is in order, because the workers’ struggle had a crucial impact on events and will have even more in the future. (Our main source is Leslie Winsome’s book Zaire: Continuity and Political Change in an Oppressive State.)
Before the 1990’s, protests against the Mobutu regime had been isolated and largely ineffective. But 1989 saw the fall of the Berlin Wall and the subsequent overturn of Stalinist regimes by working-class-based movements (albeit with illusions in Western capitalism). The effect of popular eruptions against authoritarian rulers appealed to masses who suffered under imperialism and its wayward subcontractors like Mobutu. Mobutu’s party, the Mouvement Populaire de la Révolution (MPR), came to be called “mourir pour rien"—to die for nothing.
Just as Western imperialism sought to prevent both chaos and the potential for real, proletarian, revolution under Stalinism by urging Gorbachev & Co. to erect a democratic facade, the U.S. also pressed Mobutu for democratic reforms. Mobutu had to initiate a “Zairian perestroika,” holding conferences and making other pretenses of consulting popular opinion. As economic conditions worsened, however, protests escalated.
While “perestroika” may have provided oxygen, the economic crisis and Mobutu’s continual betrayal of his promises of democracy ignited the fire of protest. Mobutu, like many other “third world” statesmen, had invested his loot in imperialist countries. Mobutu & Co. pocketed the state’s share of the profits rather than investing in infrastructure and production.
Mobutu’s corruption was blatant; his ruling layer was known as the “kleptocracy.” He allowed roads, railroads, the telephone system, the water supply and education and health to collapse. The gruesome conditions under which the masses lived became notorious. Only a quarter of the people had access to health care or drinkable water, and food shortages were common. Curable and preventable diseases were epidemic; 60 percent of children under 5 suffered malnutrition. Real wages in the early 1990’s were less than 10 percent of what they had been in 1960. The rate of inflation in the 1990’s reached a staggering 2,000 percent and higher. The state mining sector has declined to 10 percent of post-colonial output.
Strikes had broken out sporadically in the past, but Zairian workers began to assert an increasingly independent role among the regime’s opponents. Mobutu had merged the three existing labor unions into one unit of the MPR and successfully turned the unions into virtually impotent state organs. However, when the austerity measures forced on Zaire by the IMF began to escalate in the 1980’s, the unions had organized several significant strikes focusing on wage issues. (Of course, a strike was no small thing under Mobutu’s regime.)
Early in 1990, civil servants at the foreign affairs ministry went on strike for over six months. The strike not only pressed for higher wages but protested against the regionalism and tribalism that favored President Mobutu’s home Equateur region in government appointments. Doctors also struck. Following negotiations with the Union Nationale des Travailleurs Zairois (UNTZA), the government was forced to grant a 55 percent salary increase to government employees across the board, in defiance of IMF rules.
UNTZA soon declared itself independent of the MPR. By late 1990 it had become even more assertive, calling on the regime to reduce inflation and stabilize the currency; it demanded a minimum wage and a new labor code. Many civil servants, teachers and medical personnel joined unions.
The mining industry, the focus of the Zairian economy, was heavily affected by this labor upsurge. Frequent strikes by workers protesting economic conditions added to the problems that Gecamines faced because of the long-term fall of copper prices on the world market since 1975. Looting and rioting broke out in Shaba in October 1991. Additional strikes led the bosses to expel certain ethnic groups from the workforce. When the strife resulted in a 30 percent drop in output in 1991, the company was unable to live up to its commitments to customers. Investment was not forthcoming from 1992 on, given the fears of violence and labor unrest.
In late 1991 foreign troops were rushed to Zaire. In the midst of the ongoing strikes, several Zairian army units protesting low and unpaid wages seized Kinshasa’s airport on September 22. They systematically looted and burned businesses, warehouses and other commercial properties in the capital. The masses, deprived of basic consumer staples because of the ongoing havoc, joined in. Residences and businesses of wealthy Zairians were particular targets. It was when this violence began spreading to other regions that France and Belgium came in to take control of the airport and other strategic points, with U.S. logistical support.
The imperialists had to step in to defend the Zairian state from the strike wave and the popular rising, and that was hardly the last eruption. A transport strike against privatization in 1996 was clearly a factor of no small importance behind Kabila’s recent move to nationalize the transport system. This strike closed down the country’s only seaport, stopped rail transport and halted ferry service on the Congo River. Trains running between the interior of the country and the port of Matadi, Zaire’s sole outlet to the Atlantic, were stopped, and commuter rail service in Kinshasa, a city of six million, was halted.
The working class has been the key actor in the protests but not the only one. The Catholic Church, usually compliant as well as complicit with the regime, was forced to distance itself and play some role in these protests. Students, a consistent sector of opposition, became more involved in the demonstrations. In 1990, a mass slaughter of students after a protest in Lubumbashi (the center of the country’s copper and cobalt mining industry and base of Gecamines) led to the imprisonment of the governor of Shaba province for 15 years, as a concession in the face of growing outrage.
Since Kabila’s takeover there has been notably little serious promise of big changes. In part this is because Zaire’s economic crisis cannot be blamed purely on Mobutu’s corruption. The downward direction has been common to the whole region, with its various governments and different post-colonial histories. It is clear that imperialism still has the whip hand and bears responsibility for the economic disaster.
Thus, while per capita gross domestic product in Zaire had been falling by 4 percent a year since 1976, it has also fallen (at just under 1 percent a year) for the region as a whole. The average per capita income of all Africans has been cut in half since 1965, now standing at an average of 7 percent of what workers make in industrial countries.
Maltreatment of oppressed nations by imperialism is to be expected, but the indigenous governments in power also bear heavy responsibility for the masses’ misery. When push comes to shove, they all defend the imperialist system and act as its agencies, presiding over and defending its exploitation and oppression in their countries.
This does not mean that all African rulers or the class elements they rest on play exactly the same role. Even pawns like Mobutu could become mavericks and parasites on the imperialist relationship, even on their own class. Others, like the military despots who rule in oil-rich Nigeria, are able to use their economic resources as leverage. While they are obviously tied to the world market, they obviously do not simply take orders from afar.
Some junior partners have tried to balance between the masses and the imperialists. They establish Bonapartist strongman rule, projecting nationalist ideology and promising to satisfy the needs of the masses. While postponing fulfillment of the aspirations of the masses, they talk of creating an independent African identity and role. In Africa at the moment, far weaker ideological versions of Bonapartism than elsewhere have arisen, and Kabila is in this mold. They point to a different goal than that dictated by imperialism. In contrast to the “anti-imperialist” nationalists of the past the so-called “new breed” of African rulers openly accepts capitalist development as well as the permanence of imperialism’s existence. Cynically, they also accept the need to accommodate to imperialism in order, purportedly, to achieve pro-African aims. They reflect African capitalist elements who wish to avoid being either open pawns or ostensible opponents of imperialism. We call this outlook “neo-nationalist."
The postwar period of relative prosperity, mass upheavals in the colonies and the Cold War, allowed new African states a certain bargaining leverage in which real gains could be wrested from imperialism. One can understand the false optimism of the middle-class nationalists of that time; there seemed to be a material basis to hope for national economic independence. In contrast, in today’s world the neo-nationalists’ promise of a semi-independent course is nothing but cynical. It signals an attempt to accommodate with imperialism while tacking and veering between it and their own needs as a state comprador bourgeoisie. (In the Congo, the major economic enterprises are nationalized, albeit in “partnership” with various imperialist outfits. Thus the route to higher positions within the bourgeoisie runs through political influence in the government. Dependence on foreign capital is as prevalent as with the weak traditional private bourgeoisie in the oppressed nations.)
Kabila, who had been politically inactive for decades, has kept a low political profile in his months in power as well—hardly the mark of a leader trying to rouse the masses. He styles himself as a continuation of Patrice Lumumba, the first premier of an independent Congo in the 1960’s, who was ousted and killed with CIA involvement. Lumumba advocated the unity of the Congolese people and was a harsh critic of ethnic-based politics and divisions. He was martyred not just because of his willingness to deal with the Soviet Union during the Cold War. Imperialism sought to crush in the bud the mass struggle that Lumumba symbolized. In contrast, Kabila is a broker attempting to stabilize the Congo through a new neo-colonial system, now that the rule of overt counterrevolutionaries like Mobutu has proved ineffective.
Many commentators (for example, the former Tanzanian president Julius Nyerere) hold that the chief fact about the overthrow of Mobutu was that it was carried out by Africans themselves and marked a big advance in African self-assertion. The leader of the “new breed” who helped Kabila to power is President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda, who seized power in 1986; he also backed the Tutsi-based Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) in 1994 when it launched its invasion of Rwanda and ousted the genocidal Hutu regime. Time magazine’s cover story in May on “Africa’s New Order” gloated:
With Museveni as its godfather, this realignment of Africa’s old order tends to be Anglophone in its international voice, pro-American in its diplomacy and obeisant to Adam Smith in its economics. As the old-style Big Men are being pushed aside, so is the influence of France.
Devotion to Adam Smith is a euphemism for devotion to the World Bank and the IMF. Here is a devastating academic assessment of Uganda’s structural adjustment program (SAP), adopted with imperialist approval:
Despite touting Uganda as an economic miracle and likening it to the “tigers” of East Asia, even the World Bank has admitted that real poverty has increased under the SAP. Privatization has led to retrenchments and layoffs, and discriminatory investment policies have marginalized indigenous business and production. Furthermore, in the quest to encourage foreign business and enterprise, the state has turned a blind eye to the conditions of labor, wherein wages are suppressed to below subsistence level and trade union activity strenuously prohibited.
The SAP has also affected access to social services such as health care through the introduction of user fees at government-owned institutions, policies that have placed the cost of basic medicine beyond the reach of the rural poor…. Because Uganda is considered a veritable breadbasket, there is no coherent food security policy. The net result is that the promotion of food crops for the export market has led to domestic shortages, and in some instances … even to famine. Long able to feed its neighbors, Uganda is in serious danger of being unable to feed itself.(J. Oloka-Onyango, in Current History, May 1997.)
If Kabila is to be another Museveni, the masses of the Congo have nothing to celebrate.
Despite this record, the U.S. Black nationalist Elombe Brath, leader of the Patrice Lumumba Coalition in New York, ecstatically defends Kabila and hails the “new day” that Museveni & Co. are bringing to Africa. He wrote about the July summit in Kinshasa attended by nine African presidents, including Museveni and Kabila:
The assemblage was testimony that Africa’s new leaders intend to stand in solidarity with the priority of self-determination, based on their own assessment of the situation from an “on the ground” vantage point. It is this consideration, along with their intentions to cooperate more regionally on salient issues that affect all concerned, and for the first time extend an overture to Africans in the diaspora to participate in this dramatic new direction designed to project Africa’s interest and that of African people worldwide into the next millennia. (Daily Challenge, July 25-27.)
The rhetoric of “self-determination” and regional cooperation is used to cover the fact that these leaders are planning to be a cooperative part of the imperialist order. The content of “the overture to Africans in the diaspora” was spelled out at a subsequent conference of Africans and U.S. Blacks, attended by many of the same leaders, in Harare, Zimbabwe. The same issue of the Daily Challenge reported that “African leaders urged Black Americans … to lobby corporations and the U.S. government for investment…."
Not only Black Americans were invited to the conference. Jack Kemp, the recent vice-presidential candidate of the Republican Party and a noted economic conservative, was on the scene. This unabashed imperialist gushed:
I feel too that I am home because this is the home of civilization…. I plan to tell the American people and my party … to get busy building trade and investment in Africa.
The enthusiasm of types like Kemp for African capitalism tells the real story.
Despite enthusiasm for Kabila outside the Congo, his situation is precarious. In the last days of the Mobutu regime, he neatly evaded a U.S./South African attempt to negotiate Mobutu’s departure and his own accession to power; that would have put him in a puppet-like stance he wished to avoid. Even so, his base is shaky, since it is concentrated in the eastern provinces. As well, much of the population in Kinshasa has been successfully stirred to consider all Tutsis as foreigners. The hostility to the Banyamulenge, as well as to the Rwandan forces associated with Kabila’s rise to power, creates problems for the regime, which has been busy denying foreign dependency. Further, the Congolese sections of Kabila’s army were not won in any political conversion and have no loyalty to Kabila; these ex-Mobutu troops are justifiably despised by the population at large.
Whatever deals Kabila made with local power barons on his march to power are most likely to be ephemeral. Secessionary movements are reported in Shaba province (formerly Katanga) where they have a long history, and elsewhere. Given the decrepit means of communication and transportation—plus the exacerbating regional and ethnic divisions—internal and regional strife can be expected to accelerate. Armed conflict has already been reported in the East between the Babembe people of the Congo, supported by Burundian Hutus, and the Banyamulenge backed by Kabila.
As we write, the reports on the controversies and unrest in Kinshasa surrounding the new regime are far from fully informative. We know that there has been both repression and protest. There have been calls for democracy, and undoubtedly this reflects a genuine sentiment. But it is unclear whether all such protests are under the sway of ruling-class politicians like Tshisekedi. How long can working-class and other popular discontent be pent up?
Kabila’s inaugural ceremony in late May showed that his real base of support was friendly regimes in the region rather than any big layer of the Congolese population. On the podium the presidents of Uganda and Rwanda were joined by the leaders of Angola, Zambia and Burundi in calling on Congolese to support their new government. Absent were representatives of Congo’s peasant associations, unions, student associations and others that participated in the anti-Mobutu protests in recent years.
The bulk of the “political-commercial class"—the state comprador bourgeoisie—in Kinshasa turned away from Mobutu. Now many are demanding to be included in the new regime and to share in its spoils. Kabila’s postponement of elections is meant to buy time to establish his rule.
As desperately as Kabila needs outside support to bolster his fragile regime, it will be hard to retain tension-free relations with the surrounding nations, each of which has its own agenda. If his regime should face an internal challenge, the U.S. and West Europe will keep as low a profile as possible and certainly try to avoid sending their own troops in. Even France, which was openly dispatching armed forces into French-speaking Africa to bolster friendly despots, has now announced an end to such efforts.
Kabila is clearly aware of the ever-present threat posed by the working class. That is why he made the resolution of the unemployment crisis and the reconstruction of the transportation system the main promises in his inaugural address—promises he cannot keep. A Reuters dispatch reported on Kabila’s move to pay public employees for the first time in months:
Many of an estimated 600,000 civil servants in the nation of 40 million are more angered at getting only one month’s pay from the new powers who overthrew Mobutu’s 32-year autocracy last month, than pleased at being paid at all. The workers also learned with bitterness … that pay raises were out of the question…. How the heavily indebted state, which receives next to no tax revenue from a chaotic society, will be able to pay up … is unclear.
Will the working class see through Kabila as it had come to see the possibility of fighting Mobutu in the past decade? We started this article by asserting the need for the overthrow of capitalism in both its imperialist and ex-colonial nationalist forms—that is, for socialist revolution. Recognition of the unique historical role of the working class to lead the socialist revolution is a central premise of Trotskyism, and for that reason we are encouraged to see that our class has begun to assert itself in the Congo. But there is a question: is there enough of a proletariat to serve as the revolutionary agency in the Congo?
Reliable facts on the basic questions of working-class composition are extremely hard to come by. We do know the following. By 1960, both urbanization and the size of the working class in the Congo were high by African standards. 37 percent of adult males were wage earners, and 24 percent of the population was urbanized. Given the dominance of the mining industry, a relative handful of large firms employed half the workforce. So there was already a high degree of concentration, a necessity for the proletariat in achieving a conscious estimate of its revolutionary strength.
But economic backwardness and ethnic rivalries tend to retard the potential of working class consciousness. A particularly divisive and localized mode of colonial rule was inherited, and the particularly dramatic geographic divisions of a vast country were intensified by the lack of a unifying infrastructure and political institutions. Thus even when working class struggles occurred they tended not to spread beyond one area.
After 1965, the growth of the working class stagnated, especially in comparison to the overall population. Mining became more capital intensive, and there was some expansion in public employment and smaller enterprises. But because of surging unemployment, the greatest economic growth came in the highly individualized “informal” sector or secondary economy, where people engage in lumpen activity, petty commodity production, trade and usury—as well as more working-class labor like taxi driving and shoe repair. So on the one hand, there is a large enough working class, which has already proved it can halt strategic sectors of the economy. But it has yet to demonstrate to itself and potential allies that it can lead politically. The important areas of concentration (mining and the public sector, including transport and other key areas) have yet to act in concert.
In Russia at the turn of the century, the working class was numerically small. But it was able to unify and show that it could lead the peasantry and the national minorities—that made the workers’ socialist revolution of 1917 possible. In the Congo, sectoralization and regionalization have been strong enough to inhibit the development of a Congolese working class that sees itself playing that unifying role. Proletarian revolutionaries have to find programmatic demands to address the forging of working class unity in the country.
Consciousness is the key. When the spine of the nationalist movement was a small contingent of the middle class, the working class was just coming into politics. Had the movement thrived, a working-class wing and a drive toward class independence would have developed, as separate class interests came to a head. The murder of Lumumba and the destruction of the movement were devastating material defeats that put this whole development on hold.
While the working class struggle has intensified in the past few years, it seems that political consciousness has not kept apace. Middle-class leadership of the opposition to Mobutu, on the one hand, and the stress on guerrilla warfare on the other, both serve to undercut the growth of class politics. These factors did not promote the growth of proletarian Marxism in the Congo.
Given the limits of our knowledge of the Congo, we can not elaborate a program in detail. Clearly, the working-class vanguard would have to champion the democratic rights of oppressed peoples in and around the Congo. Whether this means defense of the right to self-determination or cultural autonomy in particular cases, we do not yet have an opinion.
Peasants represent approximately 60 percent of the population; under both colonialism and neo-colonialism, part of the capitalists’ ability to maintain low industrial wages was based on transferring the cost onto the rural population through low agricultural prices. Rural development was savagely subordinated, so that there has been a virtually permanent agricultural strike. Therefore, the bulk of farming is for subsistence rather than the market. There is some plantation farming but, like proletarianization, it has pretty much stagnated since 1965. It is clear that the peasants in the Congo, as elsewhere, do not have their own class alternative—they will follow either the bourgeoisie (national or local) or the working class. However, again we need to know more to responsibly formulate proposals concerning the land.
One thing is certain: the building of a working-class revolutionary party in the Congo will be decisive for the working class to fulfill its potential. Given the explosive character of the African scene, a revolution would spread like wildfire. The planting of a revolutionary pole standing for working-class unity, and an alliance with the impoverished peasantry, will represent the desperately needed challenge to the ethnic rivalries and ravaging oppression. Qualitative economic development demands the smashing of the present bourgeois state in the Congo and its replacement by a workers’ state as part of a federation of African socialist states. No individual state can build socialism on its own, let alone the ravaged Congo.
In regard to world capitalism’s need to stabilize the tumultuous region, Nelson Mandela’s effort to push negotiations between Mobutu and Kabila shows that South Africa is trying to play out the role of a sub-imperialist regional power. The black figures in Mandela’s Government of National Unity can only act as a cover for the still white-dominated South African imperial interests, something the latter did not have in the past.
Of course, South African imperialism is subordinate to the dominant U.S. imperialism. Clinton slapped down South Africa’s attempt to win important mining concessions in the Congo but still needs it as a junior partner. It is in Washington’s interest that South Africa use its power within Africa to keep the continent’s masses in line. The South African proletariat has to fight any interventionary role by the “new” South Africa. Given the sharpness of the contradictions still operating in South Africa together with the proletariat’s advanced consciousness, the spark for the development of the revolution in the rest of Africa is most likely to come from there.
The Marxist strategy of permanent revolution rests on the fact that the material preconditions exist for a liberating transformation of the world. Not only is the working class the only class that can make the socialist revolution, but only through proletarian revolution can the democratic and national freedoms that imperialism denies be achieved. The fundamental need for a revolutionary working-class party also requires a struggle to re-create the Fourth International in Africa. The weakness of working-class forces within individual nations in sub-Saharan Africa makes the need for a solidly working-class international party even more vital.
Marxists must tell the truth to our fellow workers: the Congolese working class is not powerful enough to create socialism on its own. But only a nationalist would think that is the question. The Congolese working class has already shown its ability to choke the economy through strike action. Under Mobutu it took on the government repeatedly, mounting strikes and protests. Objectively it has the capacity to lead the revolution to smash bourgeois state power.
However, the building of a revolutionary proletarian party and International will be decisive in determining whether the working class can cohere politically to exercise its leadership. With the leadership of a revolutionary proletarian party and International, the class can become strong enough to take state power, supported by its peasant and petty-bourgeois allies. Through the rise of revolutionary class struggle, a federation of workers’ states can be forged across the African continent.