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Alex Callinicos

Black Star

(December 1974)

From International Socialism (1st series), No.73, December 1974, p.31.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Black Star: A View of the Life and Times of Kwame Nkrumah
Basil Davidson
Allen Lane, £2.50

The High Price of Principle: Kaunda and the White South
Richard Hall
Penguin African Library, 50p

EACH of these books attempts to analyse the record of the leader of an independent African country in terns of the clash between the leader’s idealism and the harsh reality of post-colonial Africa. In both cases the idealism was a variety of ‘African socialism’, the ideology of a specifically African road to socialism independent of the rivalry of East and West.

That ideology argued the irrelevance of an outdated marxism harping on the necessity of an internal class struggle and emphasised instead the virtues of traditional African society which could serve as the basis of a communitarian non-violent socialism.

We can understand in broad outline the changes in the nature of world imperialism that made possible the relatively painless concession of independence by Britain to Nkrumah’s Ghana and Kaunda’s Zambia (see, for example, Nigel Harris’ essay in World Crisis) and the way in which the ideology of African socialism served the interests an an indigenous lower middle-class which needed to mobilise especially the urban masses in the independence movement but which was unwilling and unable to face the possibility of a socialist revolution.

What we lack, however, are good and detailed studies of particular nationalist movements, locating them in an analysis of the class structure of the country concerned and of its relationship (within the context of Africa’s overall relation with Western capital) to the advanced industrial world, East and West. Both these books fail in different ways to provide us with such studies.

Nkrumah is of course a figure loaded with a special symbolic weight as the leader of the first African colony to get independence after the war and because his overthrow by the military in 1966 is taken to represent the foundering of the wave of Pan-Africanism and nationalism in the new post-colonial Africa. Davidson seems to be so oppressed by this symbolic value and by a desire to defend Nkrumah against left and right that he is unable to rise above idolatry. Most of the relevant facts are there: the use of money accruing to Ghanaian cocoa-farmers to increase the liquidity of British capital, Nkrumah’s failure to challenge imperialism in any fundamental way after his attainment of power, his anti-trade-union policies, but there is a failure to synthesise them in any critical framework.

At each moment of crisis in his career, the conclusion is invariably reached that Nkrumah could not have done anything other than what he did do. We are left with a sense of the inevitability of the failure of anyone even verbally (like Nkrumah) committed to radical change in Ghana and, in the final judicious summing up, with a suggestion that Nkrumah was too advanced (i.e. radical) for his time. Anyone reading this book will find no facts that are not available elsewhere: I found it a disappointing waste of time and I don’t like to think of anyone else going through the same experience.

All that Hall’s book shares with Davidson’s is the same general concern with the clash of high ideals with an unbending reality. Zambia’s situation is quite different from Ghana’s: a copper-rich country with a sizeable industrial working-class, caught between its dependence on international capital and its insertion in a region dominated by the white settler-states, Rhodesia and South Africa. Hall is very good at documenting this double dependency – the long battle between Kaunda and foreign capital over Zambian control of the copper mines, the economic war with Rhodesia since UDI, the shooting war between Rhodesia and Portugal and the liberation movements backed by Kaunda, the continual attempts by the white South to subvert Kaunda’s rule.

He also records Kaunda’s increasing disillusion with Harold Wilson’s Labour government after his original high hopes (Kaunda with Obote of Uganda and Nyerere of Tanzania together listened to the BBC World Service’s report of the 1964 general election and cheered every seat Labour won), a disillusion caused by Wilson’s failure to take any effective action against the rebellious white settlers across the Zambezi in Rhodesia.

Hall’s book, while sympathetic to Kaunda, does not glass over Kaunda’s failures and the steady progression towards the destruction of all opposition (although he does omit some very damning facts, for example, the deportation of 129 dissident Zimbabwean freedom fighters to Rhodesia to internment and perhaps execution at Smith’s hands); it is however basically just a piece of very good journalism. He does not address himself to the general question of Zambia’s relationship with foreign capital; nor does he locate his discussions of Zambian politics in an analysis of the social base of Kaunda’s United National Independence Party. This does not prevent this book from being very much worth reading for anyone interested in the situation of independent black Africa or in the fate of revolution in Southern Africa.

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