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Chris Harman

Osagyefo Pensant

(Winter 1964/5)

From International Socialism (1st series), No.19, Winter 1964/5, p.31.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Kwame Nkrumah
Heinemann, 12s 6d.

The subtitle of this book is Philosophy and ideology for decolonisation and development with particular reference to the African revolution. It is a conscious attempt to give a unified view of reality that is at the same time an ideology – a weapon in struggle. For this reason it moves from an emphasis on purely philosophical questions in the first few chapters to an attempted evaluation of the present situation of African society on the basis of this view of reality.

Unfortunately the purely philosophical questions are not so much answered as evaded. What purports to be an attempted evaluation of reality essential for the African liberation movement turns out to be a hotchpotch of convincing, but disconnected and elliptical, arguments on the one hand and dogmatic assertions on the other. It is not so much wrong as unilluminating. What is most worrying is that the author believes that what he is arguing for is some form of ‘dialectical materialism’. Many of his arguments are little more than common sense assertions, while others reduce themselves to statements of the sort that ‘materialism is egalitarian’. Perhaps the most pertinent comment on this sort of philosophy is that made by Gramsci (in criticism of Bukharin’s mechanical materialism) – that it confuses the struggle of ideas with military struggles. The method of the latter – to attack one’s weakest opponent at his weakest point – fails in ideological conflicts because it leaves the position of one’s important opponents untouched. It is doubtful whether this book will contribute to a loss of ideological self-confidence on the part of its author’s opponents or to a raising of the level of consciousness of his supporters.

The sources of these weaknesses become clear in the later parts of the book. Here an attempt is made to present a social philosophy. Many criticisms can be made of this. For instance, despite the materialistic claims of the author he sees the development from feudalism to capitalism as one of a combination of ‘continuity of fundamental principle with a tactical change in the manner of expression of the fundamental principle’. Slavery, Feudalism, Capitalism and Socialism are seen as ideals governing society. He identifies those material forces that affect the development of society with the form of property. This he sees as allowing him to claim some sort of affinity with Marxism. He argues that because they are both based upon the same principle – that of the absence of private property – African communalism and socialism are ‘fundamentally’ the same. For the former to develop into the latter what is needed is a development of the productive resources without the development of private wealth. All that is required to prevent this is close adherence to the materialistic ideology outlined in this book. Needless to say such an argument is far from Marxism. In particular it ignores what must be basic to any Marxist analysis – the developing human interaction with the world expressed in the division of labour. Possible effects of the changes in the division of labour (both in the internal economy and in relation to the external world economy) upon the communitarian societies are not examined. Marx himself showed, for Indian societies, that a complete change in the content of the social structure of primitive communist societies, without the development of private property, can result from a major change in the productive forces. This the author ignores.

With the development of the division of labour ignored – and with it any account of the interaction of human praxis and material forces – what remains? A method of analysis that is both mechanical and idealistic. The conclusions are idealistic insofar as the will of the party leadership is seen as the sole factor determining the development of reality. They are mechanical in so far as the only forces capable of transcending and changing the material environment – consciously organised classes – are ignored. The result is a methodology that enables the author to ignore the major determinants of social development while using pseudo-socialist terminology to hide this omission. The difficulty (from the author’s point of view) is that such an ideologically emptied ‘Marxism’ cannot present a unified and coherent view of the world. Its tedious eclecticism certainly is not the philosophy for the African revolution, even if it is a useful doctrine for the new rulers of Africa to inculcate.

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