Walter Rodney

Some Implications of the Question of
Disengagement from Imperialism[1]

First Published:1971
Source: The Silent Class Struggle, Issa G. Shivji, ed. Dar es Salaam: Tanzania Publishing House, 1974, 61-68.
Transcription:Susan Campbell
Markup:Steve Palmer
Copyleft: Copyright Tanzania Publishing House.

In Part One, Shivji discusses 'the Neo-Colonial Mode of Production', about which no comment shall be offered here except to say that the basic premise can scarcely be disputed. He is saying that poverty and underdevelopment are caused by the drainage of wealth in the direction of the developed capitalist nations, and that political independence in any given colony does not halt the process of exploitation - which is essentially economic. That position is not new, and Tanzania has in effect given it full support in the Arusha Declaration, which outlined certain steps to be taken to block the outflow of wealth through foreign capitalist exploitation. The Department of Development Studies of the University of Dar es Salaam has graphically illustrated the role of the Arusha Declaration in the economic sphere in the Diagram (shown on pages 63-64). Shivji's invaluable contribution is his frank assessment of the extent to which the re-structuring of the economy has really been taking place as envisaged by TANU and as represented in that diagram.

Before Arusha Declaration - Wabenzi consumption, profits exportedAfter Arusha Declaration - modest consumption, reduced profit export giving greater development


The key notion is that of disengagement. The Editors of Cheche state in their Preface to the original edition of Shivji's paper that


by disengagement, it is not meant total isolation, but reduction of economic dependency, elimination of surplus outflow, utilization of this surplus for construction of nationally integrated economies, equitable cooperation with friendly socialist countries and mobilization of the masses for rapid development and defence.


Nationalization is one method of initiating this disengagement. But it has been shown by studies elsewhere that the benefits of nationalization are not as self-evidence and automatic as they are sometimes thought to be. Shivji provides convincing and disturbing evidence of the way in which the policy of nationalization of foreign enterprises in Tanzania has been deprived of much of its sting.


To attempt to cut the tentacles of imperialism finds a contradiction in joint ventures with subsidiaries that can ultimately be traced to the giant multi-national corporations like Anglo-American Corporation, Metal Box Company, Imperial Tobacco Company, Nestles, etc. The attempt to cut down on net outflow finds a contradiction in the expensive management contracts. The attempt to change the pattern of investment finds a contradiction in the rise of what Shivji calls the economic and political bureaucracy, who continue to direct surplus unduly in the direction of non-essential consumer goods and services. One could also partially explain some shortcomings as unavoidable necessities owing to the relatively weak bargaining position. But no amount of wishful thinking or pious statements can cover over the major problems which Shivji has exposed. They have to be recognised as problems before solutions can be devised.


One must also commend Shivji for not inventing classes where they do not exist - a tendency of mechanistic Marxists. His class struggle is on the international plane. That means that the European, North American and Japanese capitalists stand on one side and the workers and peasants of Africa are on the other. The weapons in this battle are ideological and they are 'structural' in the sense that the workers, peasants and progressive petty-bourgeoisie have to devise a variety of new structures which will replace the old - the national corporations to replace private firms, worker self-management to replace elitist managerial separation from the working class, Ujamaa villages to replace individualist and potentially capitalist farming, self-reliant schools to replace colonial institutions designed to alienate students from their peasant parents. In contrast to South-East Asia and Portuguese Africa, we do not hear the staccato sound of machine-gun fire, and therein lies the justification for speaking about the Silent Class Struggle.


Nevertheless, Shivji's generalisations are sometimes rather loose. He holds that 'the fundamental contradictions in Tanzanian society are to be found in the content and nature of the relationship of Tanzania's economy with international capital.' It would be more accurate to say that the content and nature of the relationship of Tanzania's economy with international capital both in the past and at present has given rise to the most decisive contradictions within Tanzanian society. That refinement is not a mere ideological nicety. It is absolutely necessary so that one proceeds to discern which are the decisive contradictions internally, and how their resolution would in turn break the stranglehold of external capital. Because it is clear that the slow rate of disengagement of the Tanzanian economy from the imperialist world economy is partly due to internal blockages of a politico-ideological nature - apart from whatever manipulations the imperialists are up to.


The Tanzanian reader should ask, 'What are the reflections of the international class struggle on the local scene?' Shivji comes close to home when he begins to discuss the 'petty bourgeoisie'; though unfortunately, this crucial question is dealt with only in the last few pages and the analysis is far from adequate.


Many people find the term 'petty-bourgeoisie' to be pejorative and abusive because of its association with the bourgeoisie - the exploiters of the world. But a case can be made for its continued use as a non-abusive analytical term, describing a local social stratum that lives in a privileged manner in a colonial or post-colonial society. Amilcar Cabral has spent a great deal of time in analyzing strata and sub-strata in Guinean Society, with the functional aim of advancing a national Revolution by any means possible. The success of the Guinean revolution on the battle front and at the level of political and social organization is a potent reason for paying close attention to Cabral's views on this subject. He considers the petty bourgeoisie not as a decadent stereotype but as a stratum with various possibilities, and he includes himself. Cabral was concerned with evaluating the 'nationalist capacity' of the petty bourgeoisie as well as their 'revolutionary capacity' for the post-independence phase. He speaks about a 'revolutionary petty bourgeoisie', meaning that section which has joined the Liberation Struggle and is already carrying it forward in the direction of Socialist reconstruction in the liberated zones. In other words, the African petty bourgeoisie stratum includes Shivji, the other T.Y.L. comrades at the University and most of the national leadership in Tanzania - irrespective of political convictions. Sections of the petty bourgeoisie have broken with their mentors, and individuals within the group have at various times wholly or partially opposed the external and local capitalists.


Shivji puts forward two situations where the petty bourgeoisie allies itself with what he calls 'revolutionary forces'. The first is in the struggle for national independence and the second is 'where the political power has been won by a socialist revolution, thereby cutting all links with the international bourgeoisie'. The first situation was found in the national independence movement in Tanzania: a significant section of the petty bourgeoisie together with the workers and peasants from whom they sprang constituted a revolutionary force represented by TANU. The second situation, however, definitely does not apply to Tanzania. We cannot expect a Socialist Revolution to cut the links between the petty bourgeoisie and international capitalism all in one go. The Socialist Revolution here must to some extent be preceded by the cutting of the links; while viewed from another angle the very cutting of the links over a long period of time constitutes a facet of the Revolution.


Shivji is undoubtedly aware of the fact that for the Socialist Revolution a smaller proportion of the petty bourgeoisie are initially prepared to join the workers and peasants than was the case with the national revolution for political independence. One must take this rift inside the petty bourgeoisie as the point of departure for political action. It is not a question of revolutionary forces against the petty bourgeoisie but of a struggle within that social stratum which is called the petty bourgeoisie and which includes the economic and political bureaucracy, whose actions are most relevant to the question of disengagement from the imperialist economy.


It is very crucial to try and understand why the bureaucracy is so slow in disengaging, why it continues to rely on advisers from the very capitalist firms (not just countries), and why it has not given absolute priority to consumer necessities and capital projects. There are undoubtedly a few elements who are ideologically hostile to Socialism and who are still the direct spokesmen of external interests. There are many more who are indifferent and intellectually lazy, and since they are not committed firmly to change, they two are unwitting allies of anti-Tanzania forces. The silent class struggle involves exposing the difference between revolutionary and non-revolutionary ideas. It involves scrutinizing the overall implications of the policies pursued by the economic bureaucracy at every stage. Because these ideas and policies are associated with individuals, it means drawing the line between those who are prepared to come over to the side of the labouring masses and those who are interested in preserving the personal privileges incompatible with Socialism. In that respect, Shivji's paper is itself a contribution to the Silent Class Struggle.


In the final analysis, it is the peasants who have to disengage from imperialism, so that the value of their labour would be used for providing themselves with goods and services. However, the ideological confrontation is neither directly between the peasants and the imperialists nor within the peasantry itself. The battle of ideas is within the petty bourgeois stratum. Because colonialism cut the peasantry off from access to the positive aspects of bourgeois knowledge such as science, and it never allowed the peasant to gain a comprehensive view of the imperialist system of production with its epicentres in New York, London and Zurich.[2] However the educated African was allowed insights into those matters - mainly so that he could function in the intermediary zones between the peasant producer and the capitalist. The role of the progressive African intellectual is to go beyond the bounds which capitalism imposed and to penetrate the very essence of the system. Shivji presents a chart vividly showing the international ramifications of the local companies entering into partnership with the N.D.C. This is not secret information but it requires initiative to seek it out; and the international bourgeoisie is not pleased when we view this type of information and discern its implications. Elements within the local bureaucracy are not pleased either. It is up to them to decide whether they want to retort with rationalizations or whether they want to join in an honest search for the way out of our predicament of underdevelopment and dependence.


From the viewpoint of a progressive, the ideological struggle takes the form not only of resolutely contending against erroneous ideas at large in the society, but also that of constantly and critically examining one's own position. That is why this review of Shivji's paper is a necessity, so that collectively a progressive tendency can establish itself, complete with its own critical apparatus for self-correction. Capitalism is dying. Before 1917 capitalist power encircled the whole globe. Today it has been pushed out of huge areas of the world and it is receding. When a mode of production is dying, its ideological superstructure is also destined for extinction, so that the characteristic modes of bourgeois thought are on the wane. But this disappearance cannot take place without intense intellectual battle. That is very much part of The Silent Class Struggle in Tanzania.


No revolutionary doubts that the eventual outcome of the Silent Class Struggle in Tanzania and Africa will be victory for the workers and peasants; and it follows that the victory of ideas will be won by progressive tendencies allied to workers and peasants. It is the timing of the victory which is at issue, and one of the most crucial factors affecting that is the extent to which sections of the petty bourgeoisie attach themselves to and actually transform themselves into workers. Petty bourgeois intellectuals must have the humility and integrity to admit that in a certain sense they are no less self-appointed spokesmen of the masses than the others who are selling Africa down the drain. The Revolution requires that the millions who have been gagged throughout history should speak and choose. It is the responsibility of the revolutionaries to find ways and means of indicating to peasants and workers the relevance of Socialist ideology and perceptions to the latter's day to day lives. Only then can the working classes choose between the different lines that emanate from the petty bourgeoisie taken as a whole. There is also the heavy responsibility of learning from those directly engaged in production, both in terms of factual data and patterns of discipline. Undoubtedly, Shivji would agree with all this (given these premises upon which his paper rests) but his emphasis on the refractory nature of the petty bourgeoisie obscures the fact that contradictions are helping to detach more and more individuals of petty bourgeois background from the imperialist camp, and, as they blend into the working classes, the situation is created not only for disengagement from imperialism but also for the ultimate objective of constructing a socialist society.

[1] This paper was first published in Maji Maji No. 1, 1971.

[2] 'Events have shown that the only social sector capable of being aware of the reality of imperialist domination is the petty bourgeoisie'. Amilcar Cabral, Revolution in Guinea.