The Review of African Political Economy - examining the politics of imperialism;
development; agrarian, popular and democratic struggles; class, gender and social justice
In this the 50th issue of the Review, and at the beginning of the last decade of the millennium, we take stock of the dramatic changes currently taking place in the global political economy and consider their significance for developments in Africa. We focus on the implications of the collapse of 'state socialism' in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union and the character of the emerging 'new world order' following the end of the Cold War, so triumphantly proclaimed by the Bush administration. In particular we explore (as does Chomsky in our first article) the modified role in this new order of the United States, poised now after its bloody victory in the Gulf (100,000 dead), to intervene more arrogantly and energetically in Africa, Asia and Latin America.
We also take this opportunity to reiterate the broad objectives of the Review as set out in the editorial to our first issue in 1974. These were to examine the roots of Africa's present condition and to contribute to debates among progressive intellectuals in Africa (and elsewhere) regarding the constraints to, and the potential for, broad-based economic, social and political development on the continent as a whole and in individual countries. Our commitment to a politically engaged and theoretically informed debate remains strong. We recognise the need to confront contemporary issues with realism and flexibility. Times have changed. Marxism-Leninism is increasingly subject to the kind of detailed critique of both theory and practice (that Pearce in this issue offers). Today on the left even 'socialism' is contentious. The related issues of democracy and human/civil rights have become the central preoccupation of many.
In the editorial to our 10th anniversary issue (no.32,1985) - which looked back on a decade in Africa characterised by the widespread success of the armed liberation struggle and by major problems of post-colonial economic and social development in a period of global recession - we reminded ourselves of the commitment made in our first editorial:
But we also admitted that we had published relatively little on the specifics of the 'strategies of imperialist powers and of monopoly capital' and 'Africa's changing position in the international division of labour ... [and the great powers'] spheres of influence' (p.1). Since that time the Review has devoted more space to these subjects and will continue to provide more commentary and analysis from a global perspective. From the start, however, the Review recognised that:
So, we also renew our commitment to make available to wider audiences the current debates and political struggles taking place within Africa, to underline the differences, as well as the similarities, in the circumstances facing African progressives and African peoples today.
We see our task over the coming decade broadly, therefore, as that of relating changes in the global political economy to the complex process of African transformation, while at the same time helping to identify both the constraints to and potential for 'progressive' development for the African people and to further clarify the meaning of this broad term in the 1990s. It is a task which will, more than ever, require collaboration and constructive debate among all those - based inside as well as outside Africa - who share such a commitment.
In our first editorial in 1974, we wrote that 'the world as a whole seems to be entering a new phase'. In retrospect that 'new phase' turned out to be characterised by a deep crisis of capitalism on a global scale. Two major recessions in the advanced capitalist states during the 1970s and the associated worldwide 're-structuring' have had catastrophic implications for most parts of the rest of the world during the 1980s. In Latin America and in Africa in particular, people suffered extensively from the failures of development strategies (themselves often prescribed from outside); from economic mismanagement, corruption, worsening terms of trade, lack of foreign exchange fuelled by a waste of resources (notably on arms), political repression, civil wars and military interventions. These problems were exacerbated by, and resulted in, a rise in foreign debt - placing governments and peoples at the mercy of 'structural adjustment' and 'liberalisation' policies imposed by the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, which have worsened rather than improved the situation of the urban and rural poor. Nor has this 'restructuring' provided much prospect of a stronger position in the international division of labour for Africa as a whole. Now at the beginning of the 1990s it seems very likely that world capitalism is once again about to experience a major recession, with all the re-structuring and turmoil that this inevitably entails, particularly for regions already disadvantaged like Africa.
But the 1980s also witnessed dramatic political and economic transformation in Eastern Europe. Starting in Poland, the edifice of 'state socialism, constructed with so much effort and pain during the early part of the century in the Soviet Union, and extended to Eastern Europe in the 1940s, was challenged and found wanting by its own citizens, including the workers in whose name the state existed but whose exploitation and oppression remained the foundation of ,state socialism'. Central planning and 'the command economy' have been deeply criticised and new measures initiated to liberalise and even privatise substantial elements of the economy. The position and role of the Communist party and both the theory and reality of the one-party state have been fundamentally challenged. But neither the political nor the economic restructuring has been achieved in the USSR, and all the East European countries have experienced major political and economic turmoil.
How far these dramatic changes are to be explained by the 'economic crisis' of the centrally planned economies during the late 1970s and early 1980s, how far by the authoritarian character of 'state socialism' and how far by the increasing integration of Eastern Europe into the international capitalist system dominated by the West, is debatable. The fact remains that all aspects of 'actually existing socialism' have come into question both theoretically and practically. Not only have the national Communist Parties fallen from power, but political organisations offering 'socialist alternatives' in many Eastern European countries have also had to contend with widespread popular rejection of 'socialism'.
Governments formed by the new non-communist and even anti-Communist groupings are introducing 'economic reforms'; in some cases the old regime is struggling to implement both economic and political reforms in order to 'ride the storm' and maintain effective control over the new forces for change. Many of these new political forces opposed to communist rule derive their strength from their appeal to ethnic and national identity and/or religious affiliation, always regarded as 'reactionary' and problematic in socialist ideology and strictly controlled under 'state socialism', but now developing again as a focus for mobilisation. The 'emerging civil society' in Eastern Europe is thus riven by deep cleavages and tensions which threaten both economic restructuring (perestroika) and political liberalisation (glasnost). These divisions are likely to involve not only the sectarian forces referred to above but also newly emerging social classes in the developing 'capitalist' economy and society. Given these tensions, there is always a possibility of heavy-handed efforts at the reassertion of 'control' by 'conservative' elements appalled at the threat to stability and the centralised state. Such reactions are of course paralleled by those in Africa like Moi and Kaunda who justify continued one-party rule as a protection against 'tribalism'. Surely, the lesson from the East is that ethnic affiliations have to be reckoned with and cannot just be assumed away?
With the supposed ending of the Cold War and, significantly, at a time of deepening recession and further restructuring, has come the dramatic reassertion of the US' role as the dominant actor in constructing 'a new world order'. The Bush administration, after some hesitation, moved to provide limited and conditional aid to Eastern Europe (thereby reinforcing the conception of the new relationship with both 'East' and 'South' as one involving assistance to 'developing countries'). It also sought to encourage the development of nationalist and separatist movements. The United States had already begun to reassert its military-political hegemony in unmistakable fashion during the Reagan years, with major military interventions in Central America (invasions of Grenada, Panama) and the Middle East (bombing of Libya), and more discreet 'counter-insurgency' and 'low-intensity warfare' elsewhere as in southern Africa, where it has increasingly taken over the destabilising role from South Africa (see Minter's piece) - all in the name of 'the new world order'. The massively destructive police operation in the Gulf, whatever its implications for the Middle East, was meant as a 'lesson', not just to Saddam Hussein but to any third world regime that might be designated a threat in terms of whatever new post-war criteria the US cares to apply. But the Bush administration's decision to pursue the military option in the Gulf and ignore all diplomatic openings has heavily underscored not only the aggressive character of the new US-dominated world order but also the contradictions referred to by Chomsky between its foreign policy and its relative economic decline. The dragging of the United Nations into what was a US adventure clearly undermines the prospects that may have existed for strengthening the UN's system for resolving conflicts.
The effective withdrawal of the Soviet Union from many earlier commitments and its clear unwillingness to intervene directly outside its own frontiers ensures that the US is able to act unilaterally with much greater freedom. The United Nations remains heavily circumscribed by the pressures exerted by the major world powers, especially the United States and the Soviet Union. It is likely, however, that international agencies of the United Nations will in future receive considerably greater backing from the latter, while the former will continue to make use of the UN simply as a cover for its own activities, where appropriate, and ignore it, when convenient. But if the US still 'runs the show' in terms of international politics, it has increasingly faced an economic challenge.
The rise of Japan as an economic power has been dramatic over the past three or more decades. Only recently, however, has its impressive economic achievement begun to translate itself into more direct forms of intervention abroad. But Japan's overseas investment has risen steeply since 1984, boosted by the economic recovery of the mid-1980s, a sustained current account surplus and the sharp appreciation of the yen; Japan is now seeking new areas for foreign investment, both private and public. Today it is the world's largest source of overseas direct investment; it is also the world's largest donor of Official Development Assistance (ODA). It is one of the largest contributors to, and one of the most powerful voices in, the two major international financial institutions, the IMF and the World Bank. Its future role in the Third World outside
Asia is not yet clear, and its efforts to play a more strategic role have so far been overshadowed by the US. For example, the proposal made by former finance minister Kiichi Miyazawa for the restructuring of Third World debt was first rejected by the US and then repackaged and unveiled as the Brady plan for debt relief. In Eastern Europe, however, Japan has, over the last few years, quietly committed very substantial resources to 'reconstruction' and development, with the promise of more to come. In other parts of the world also, there are indications of Japan's increasing role. In August 1989, for example, the Japanese government established a $2.5 million fund for the UN peace Keeping mission in Namibia. In Africa, Japan is now one of the continent's largest aid donors: at the end of the 1980s it was providing nearly $900 million in ODA to sub-Saharan Africa, compared with $130 million a decade before. Between 1990 and 1992 non-project grant aid will be worth $600 million.
The rise of the European Community and its challenge to the US since the mid-1970s is very clear. By 1980, the European Community accounted for nearly 14 per cent of world exports (excluding intra-European trade), with the United States exporting only 12 per cent of the total. But throughout the 1970s and 1980s, the countries of the EC also dramatically increased their trade among themselves, so that, if intra-European trade is included, the Community accounts for over 40 per cent of all world exports, making it a dominant trading bloc. This has enabled the Community to rival and challenge US interests in a variety of domains, including agriculture.
The recent national and international economic restructuring has been marked by the striking contradiction between the call for 'open markets', and the painful experience of 'economic reform' (liberalisation and structural adjustment) in the so-called developing countries, on the one hand, and the increased protectionism and support for national industries (agricultural and manufacturing) on the part of the advanced capitalist countries, on the other. But the struggles at successive meetings of the GATT and elsewhere, between the US, the EC and Japan over subsidies, and protection to agriculture in particular (which Watkins documents), are part of a more general struggle. The global capitalist crisis has involved a period of heightened competition and conflict of interests between these capitalist superpowers and different fractions of international capital, over global markets and access to the economies of 'developing countries'. The victims of these 'trade wars' have always tended to be the producers of countries in Latin America, Asia and Africa.
The existence of a trilateral structure to the world capitalist system - US, Japan, EC - each with its own special interests and special relationships in specific parts of the 'Third World' to protect and defend, has raised the spectre of a world economy divided into major competing blocs, as in the 1920s and 1930s, fraught with heightened potential for conflict. The greater integration of the capitalist world economy, however, will ensure some different pattern from that or the period between the World Wars. One possible scenario would see the development of two partly competing yet partly integrated centres of gravity in the world economy - that of the North Atlantic and that of the Pacific Rim. In such a configuration the United States and the Soviet Union would each be pulled both ways, adding to the precarious character of this new world order. The implications for most parts of the 'Third World' of such a prospect remain unclear, although there is little reason to believe that more than a handful of states will benefit from their relationship with these two poles. Whatever the pattern that develops there will be no escape (as Frank emphasises) from the dynamics of the global political economy.
But if the divisions within the capitalist world have become more acute, and the economic supremacy of the United States subject to powerful challenge, the US economy continues to exercise a major influence internationally (in part through the power of the dollar) despite its relative decline and its evolution from the world's largest creditor to its largest debtor. Furthermore, with the Soviet Union now largely absorbed in its own domestic problems, the United States has increasingly sought during the 1980s to reassert its global hegemonic power. Some have argued that the commonplace of the 1970s of the 'decline in US hegemony' was always misleading; that the US maintained its role as the dominant global superpower even through the difficult 'post-Vietnam' years and that its economic and technological eclipse was always overstated. Others have suggested that a more complex situation has developed since the early 1970s in which the US economy is increasingly challenged internationally by the rise of Japan and by the progressive unification of the European Community but that, despite this - or in some versions because of this - US strategic (political-military) supremacy gives it an essentially undisputed capacity to set the global agenda on international political issues.
The rapid disintegration of 'state socialism' has meant profound changes not only in Europe itself, but in all aspects of international relations. The Soviet Union's growing rapprochement with the United States and the end of super-power conflict on a global scale, have given way to 'interdependence' as the watchword of the Soviet leadership, while new themes, including 'the right to autonomous national development', have been emphasised in foreign policy towards the Third World (as Belikov points out). The Soviet Union and other Eastern European countries have drawn back still further from a commitment to a 'socialist' strategy for international cooperation and development. Even promoting 'socialist-oriented' development by appropriate intervention and assistance to specific developing countries and to specific political movements is questioned. It is important, however, in this connection to ask, as Saul does, how far such support or the export of such a model was ever really 'appropriate' to Africa - not least because the demise of 'existing socialisms' is being used as ammunition by critics of socialism, and may have led to a failure of nerve on the part of some progressive regimes.
Unable and unwilling to sustain a major presence and involvement in numerous regional conflicts and struggles, the Soviet Union has increasingly sought to collaborate with its erstwhile super-enemy, the US, to resolve such conflicts in southern Africa, the Horn and elsewhere, and to reduce its commitments overseas. There continues, however, to be considerable debate over Soviet foreign policy and 'aid' strategy. But while such collaboration between the super-powers, has certainly encouraged the effective resolution of specific regional conflicts and long-standing struggles it has tended to throw up structures that suit the US and its allies. Increasing exposure to pressures from an increasingly integrated international capitalism has pushed states and movements committed to some form of socialist (or non-capitalist) development to 'convert' to capitalism and to encourage 'bourgeois democracy'.
The disintegration of 'state socialism' in Eastern Europe and the increasing interdependence and growing heterogeneity of the international economy has eroded both the concept and the reality of 'the Third World' and promises the emergence of a heterogeneous yet hierarchical and inegalitarian structure of capitalist states, each with increasingly polarised internal class divisions. Capitalist development in the countries of what was the 'Third World' is likely, however, to be an uncertain project, with only a limited number able to achieve significant and sustainable progress in this direction. Despite the evident failure of 'structural adjustment' during the 1980s to provide the basis for renewed capital accumulation and capitalist development in most parts of the 'Third World' especially in Africa, it is almost certain that 'economic reform' will continue to be enforced, in the name of growth and development, however problematic and painful for both governments and populations. The demands of international creditors and lending agencies concerned to maintain debt and debt interest repayments will require this. The new 'concern' of the World Bank and other agencies with 'the problem of poverty' and the need to make more efficient use of human resources will undoubtedly (and correctly) be treated with considerable suspicion under these circumstances.
In Mozambique, Angola and in many other African countries, there has been a retreat from 'Marxism-Leninism' and other self-defined 'socialisms' and from the planned economy, although the significance of powerful external forces (imperialism, in short) and internal constraints in preventing the pursuit of a more decentralised and 'open' (or democratic) form of socialist development should not be underestimated (as Minter and Saul remind us). There is also a move in these states, but also in others not at all wedded to any kind of non-capitalist path, to question what Shivji terms the 'party-state'. Governments in Algeria, Angola, Benin, Chad, Congo, Guinea-Bissau, Ivory Coast, Madagascar, Mali, Mozambique, Niger, Tunisia, Zaire and Zambia have all been obliged to recognise the pressures for multi-party politics and have begun, to varying degrees, a process leading towards the formal recognition of a variety of political parties. In countries like Zambia and Kenya, the commitment by government to a one-party state remains strong. In others, new political parties have already been recognised and elections are being held or planned. Debates about a similar transition to multi-partyism are going on in Tanzania (see Babu's and Shivji's contributions), in post-Barre Somalia and elsewhere.
But the emergence of more than one recognised political grouping and the appearance of multi-party politics is not necessarily the same as democracy. When western 'donors', the IMF and World Bank, demand political pluralism and 'good governance' along with economic liberalisation as conditions for assistance, as they are now doing, they have in mind the breaking of state power and the 'opening up' of the economy and society for capitalist development. Francois Heisbourg, the director of the Institute for Strategic Studies in London epitomises this stance when he argues that 'without these prerequisites, there can be no durable economic development, no noteworthy foreign investment, and consequently no prosperity' (The Guardian, 29 December 1990). What is required for the kind of capitalist development envisaged, however, is political stability rather than democracy. With the collapse of the state socialist alternative, progressive forces in developing countries are faced with the prospect of increased integration and subordination within the hierarchical, inegalitarian structure of international capitalism, and with a continued drive for ,economic reform' and 'adjustment'. Under these circumstances, the prospects for even 'bourgeois' democracy would appear slight; more probable are various forms of authoritarian regimes with strictly limited political pluralism. For progressives, the collapse of 'state socialism' and the difficulties associated with the socialist project, has put democracy once again at the forefront of the agenda. But is 'bourgeois' democracy, much as it may create welcome political space, all that progressives should be striving for in any case?
The experiences of countries like Botswana, Senegal, Ivory Coast, Morocco and Zimbabwe, where multi-party competition has officially survived in some form, is mixed. The last three are heavily controlled from the centre and have experienced severe civil and human rights restrictions. Is there any hope of more popular forms of democracy - 'real people's power'? And can such slogans with their echoes of liberation struggles and more recent grassroots movements be given some meaningful constitutional form - along the lines, perhaps, that Shivji explores? What he does bring out, and Eastern European experiences confirm, is that any such shift to democracy (and even any new conception of socialism) has to be located in the realm of civil society. More than simply the modification of state forms and the recognition of parties, the civil societies of Africa, strangulated by the 'party-state', have to be given time and space to breathe and for non-statist movements to emerge (as Copans emphasises). Here again Shivji's specific recommendations, and the rather different formulations of Babu about Tanzania, need serious study. But it has also to be recognised that surviving elements of civil society are often hierarchical and far from democratic. They are in particular patriarchal, and much of the oppression of women is not through the mechanisms of the state. The emergence of social and political forms that give expression to the aspirations of women, the rural poor, the unemployed and not just workers will require not just space from the heavy hand of the state but creative and novel mobilising initiatives. What has also to be put on the long term agenda is the development of linkages between democratic forms in Africa and those elsewhere so that an alternative, democratic world order might emerge.
One striking political development of the last few years in Africa, prior to the rise of multi-partyism, has been the widespread and massive upsurge in popular protest at those government policies implemented in the name of structural adjustment and economic reform. Across Africa, the concerns of these popular protests and movements have challenged not only the policies but even the character of the regimes. Their concerns have been 'economic' (unemployment, declining real wages), 'social' (cuts in welfare services, deteriorating living conditions, price rises) and 'political' (repression, political marginalisation and lack of democratic and human rights) - and often all three as they point the figure at misdirection of resources and aggrandisement by corrupt regimes in the face of imposed austerity.
Progressive intellectuals must consider whether the long march to democracy can even begin, if such popular forces cannot be actively involved in the development of a sustained political movement. The classic 'socialist' or Marxist strategy has always emphasised the role of organised labour and the progressive intellectuals, tending to be wary if not actively hostile towards such popular forces. But, as Michaela von Freyhold suggested in an earlier issue (no.39) of this Review, such an exclusive vision of the progressive forces in the struggle for real democracy and socialism is arguably misguided in Africa (and elsewhere in the 'Third World'). Today, more than ever, with the fundamental questioning of the Marxist-Leninist tradition, a strategy which recognises the power of the people - ordinary women, men and workers in the broadest sense - and organises for popular, rather than 'bourgeois' democracy and for democratic socialism is likely to provide the most powerful challenge to state repression and to imperialism. The alternative to state power in the name of 'socialism' might well be popular power in the name of democracy.
Lionel Cliffe, David Seddon