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Alex Callinicos

In the Eye of the Storm

(May 1975)

From International Socialism (1st series), No.78, May 1975, p.32.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

In the Eye of the Storm: Angola’s People
Basil Davidson
Pelican African Library, 90p

Rhodesia: White Racism and Imperial Response
Martin Loney
Pelican African Library 70p.

WHEN I was in Moçambique last year after the coup in Lisbon the local paper was serialising large extracts from one of Basil Davidson’s books. Few things brought home to me more clearly the tremendous change in Southern Africa over the last year than the fact that this one time Salazarist rag should now be publishing the writings of one of the liberation movements’ most committed publicists in the West. This indicates how these books must be judged: how they help us understand not simply the histories of Angola and Rhodesia, but also the present situation in those countries, after the Portuguese coup and the Lusaka talks between South Africa and Zambia.

Both books’ greatest strength is their historical grasp. Davidson takes as his theme the African response to Portuguese colonialism and traces the diverse paths of collaboration and resistance since the appearance of the Portuguese in the late fifteenth century. In doing so, he establishes a continuity between the long drawn out struggle against the Portuguese by the tribal kingdoms of what is now Angola and the war of liberation waged against Salazar and Caetano by the MPLA.

Loney’s framework is more sharply defined. He attempts a class analysis of the subjection of the Shona and Ndebele peoples to Western capitalism. In doing so, he relates the original occupation under Rhodes’ auspices to the inter-imperialist rivalries of the late nineteenth century. He then goes on to explain how the present ‘Rhodesian problem’ arises out of the emergence of an indigenous capitalism with its own interests to pursue independent of those of imperialism through the plantation of an autonomous white settlement in Rhodesia.

No such settlement ever took place in Angola. The reins of power remained always firmly in the hands of Lisbon; while in Rhodesia self-government was delegated to the settlers in 1922. Moreover, until very recently Angola has remained an economy based on the use of forced labour and the extraction of raw materials by the metropolitan power. In Rhodesia, the comparatively early development by the settler bourgeoisie and international capital of significant manufacturing sector, whose growth was especially rapid after 1945, led to the emergence of a sizable urban working class. These differences help to explain the different ways in which the liberation movements have developed in Rhodesia and Angola. The dynamic of Rhodesia nationalism has always derived from the urban black population; while, although the national movement in Angola began in the cities, it has gained the strongest roots in the countryside.

Both books are weakest when it comes to the present. Loney is excellent on the way in which successive British governments both Labour and Tory have placed the interests of British companies with investments in South Africa, but is very weak on explaining the disputes that continue to bog and divide the liberation movements, even though they are now united under the African National Council. The role of the working class in the revolution is reduced to a matter of ‘economic and numerical significance’. Both are aware of the danger of neo-colonial solutions, of the splitting of the liberation movement through the buying off of a section by imperialism but both, and particularly Davidson are weak on the alternatives.

This is a matter of significance extending well beyond Southern Africa. Davidson, quite rightly, sets the problem of solutions in Angola in the context of solutions for the peoples of Africa, Asia and Latin America, that is, of the entire ‘Third World’. He sees the problem as one of how to grapple with, the material backwardness of these countries. In these terms, ‘always the problem comes back to the same initial question’ ‘how to mobilise the rural multitudes for more work and better work?’ The problem for Davidson is one of developing the economic base of these countries by freeing peasants from the traditional economy so that they can work in industry or modernised agriculture and raising the productivity of labour in these sectors. From this point of view, neo-colonial solutions fail because they are ‘elitist’, i.e., because they do not mobilise the rural masses. Crudely put, because their interests are tied up with those of foreign capital, the neo-colonial elites are unable to break down the barriers of rural society and provide the modernised sectors with the pool of labour it requires. What is required is an elite (Davidson calls it ‘leadership’) who, because it is not bound up with Western capital, will be forced to mobilise the masses for development and the national economy in order to survive.

The development Davidson champions is a form: of capitalist development. The problem is seen as one of solving the problems of economic backwardness and imperialist exploitation within the confines of a single national economy. The solutions can only come on the backs of workers and peasants since the surpluses necessary for economic growth can only come from them; hence Davidson’s concern for ‘more work and, better work’: without a large number of potential workers without any links with the traditional economy and hence having to sell their labour power in order to survive and in whom the habits of speedy and efficient work must be inculcated so that a sufficient emount of surplus can be extracted from them, capitalist development cannot take place.

Both books lack the perspective of international working-class revolution as the only way out of the problems of the peoples of Angola and Rhodesia. An alternative to imperialism without exploitation can only come if the hold of capitalism on the world economy can be broken: thus FRELIMO in Moçambique is now teaching us, as in the interests of economic survival in a region dominated by apartheid South Africa, the new government in Lourenço Marques backs detente with Vorster, refuses to provide bases for South African guerrillas and uses the strategic hamlets created by the Portuguese as a way of controlling the rural population. If the task of revolution in Southern Africa is seen as its role in sparking off and spreading world revolution, then the working class occupies centre stage. Only the black workers’ movement, now an increasingly powerful force owing to the strikes of the last few years, can provide the leadership of a revolution against all forms of capitalism in Southern Africa.

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