Saturday, March 31, 2012

More on Africa's lack of communists.

A number of people have posited orthodox Marxist interpretations for the lack of communists in Africa during the 20th century. That is they have pointed out the lack of a European style working class. But, Lenin basically removed this criteria from Marxism. There was only a small working class in Russia in 1917. Likewise China in 1949, North Vietnam in 1954, and Cuba in 1959 were not anymore industrialized than most of Africa. So I do not buy this explanation as satisfactory. The country in Africa that most closely followed the Soviet model of development was Ethiopia. It had one of the smallest working classes in Africa in 1974 when Mengistu came to power. So why were there so many more Asian communists compared to African communists in the 20th century when both continents were largely pre-industrial and had experienced European colonialism? Surely somebody has done some research on this topic? If anybody knows any useful publications on this point could you please cite them in the comments?


Withywindle said...

There were a fair number of socialists of one stripe or another; e.g., Milton Obote and Julius Nyerere. I think you will also find that every country had a significant Communist element, and that more of them might have come to power in very slightly different circumstances. And of course there were Communists in Angola, etc., and you might simply check every African country where Cubans fought, whether nominally Communist or not. The simplest answer would be that most African countries gained/were given independence without the hard fighting that tended to bring Communists to the fore, so left-inclined party leaders could choose what to call themselves. Post-1945 (and post-1960 in particular), it was easier to call yourself Socialist, so as to avoid automatic opposition from the US; then you could loot your county in the accustomed manner and still collect foreign aid bag money from the West because, honest, you weren't Communist. And when you looked at what happened in Communist countries such as Angola, that choice would be reinforced.

But a good deal of Africa was a chamber of horrors anyway. Idi Amin wasn't Communist; whoop dee. Neither were the Hutu genociders, nor the crushers of Biafra, nor most parties in Zaire/Congo.

J. Otto Pohl said...

The number of communists in Africa was quite small compared to Asia. In Asia communist governments came to power in the USSR, China, Mongolia, North Korea, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, and Afghanistan. Many of these countries such as China, Vietnam, and the Asian areas of the USSR had many millions of communist party members. On top of this at least in Soviet Central Asia there were a lot of non-party supporters of communism. In addition strong communist movements existed at one time in Indonesia, Malaysia, Burma, Thailand, and the Philippines. Communism was strong in Asia already in the 1940s and 50s.

In Africa only Angola, Mozambique, and Ethiopia ever had communist governments and then only after 1974. The Cubans fought in Angola and Ethiopia. They probably kept the MPLA from falling in Angola. But, outside these three countries there are not any large communist movements in Africa. The SACP was probably the largest and it was overshadowed by a number of other organizations such as the ANC, PAC, and UDF. But, South Africa was also the only African country where European style industrialization existed. There was at one time a small communist movement in Cameroon, but it seems to have gotten nowhere. Nothing like the huge communist party that existed in Indonesia prior to 1965 is apparent in Africa.

Yes, there has been plenty of bad governance in Africa. To your list could be added a lot more African dictatorships. But, I am interested in why communism had so little appeal in Africa compared to Europe and Asia. The presence of run of the mill military dictatorships, kleptocracies, and regimes devoted to mass killing in Africa does not seem to be a causal factor. Indeed one might expect viable communist movements to rise in opposition to some regimes of this kind.