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For our departed revolutionary idealists – part 2



Continued from yesterday
To explain what I mean by “Minimum Continuity” in the execution of RD’s general programme we may refer to three items in the programme. These are: “Strengthening the vanguard’s capacity to ensure the continuity of popular-democratic struggles (that is, struggles in promotion and defence of democratic, human, existential and civil rights) across the country at all times and in all conditions of bourgeois or even popular-democratic rule;” “expanding popular-democratic and socialist education among the toiling and working masses and all strata and segments of the population that suffer specific or general oppression under capitalist rule;” and “engaging in systematic research, information and documentation and building institutions and centres for this engagement.”

RD has not halted any element of these engagements, as well as ideological/intellectual engagements in the media and in academic institutions, since its birth in December 1975 and for the six subperiods of its history: (1975-1977), (1977-1985), (1985-1995), (1995-2005), (2005-2015), (2015-the present). This is what I mean by “minimum continuity.” So, the questions whether RD is in existence and what it now does – if in existence – are answered.

To understand what I mean by “regular discontinuity” in organisational forms, the following background will have to be appreciated. RD had no “organisational structure” in the ordinary sense this term is used. It was a collective in which every member knew and was conscious not only of her/his areas of special responsibility but those of others. RD acted through its individual members and through civil-society, sociopolitical and popular-democratic formations in which its members participate or in which they have influence. The bottom-line rule was that RD members in any organisational form must not only be selfless but must uphold the highest forms of democratic principle and practice. Having said this, the point I am making by “regular discontinuity” is that the organisational forms through which RD acted had been unstable – to put the matter mildly. Or, put differently, RD has experienced a massive “turnover” of organisational forms through which it acted.

We conclude where we began: Revolutionary Idealism. This has been the most enduring, the dominant of the dominant RD attributes. Revolutionary idealism, in the context of RD experience, is the heroic and selfless pursuit, by revolutionary Marxists, of “high or noble principles, purposes or goals” – but without giving sufficient consideration to “objective, historically-determined reality.” In its extreme forms this attribute can move from mere revolutionary impatience to what Leninists call “voluntarism” or “adventurism.” But an irony of history is that although revolutionary idealism frequently leads to defeats and draw-backs, no successful revolution has so far taken place without the vanguardism of revolutionary idealism.

For a peep into the history of RD’s revolutionary idealism, consider the following trajectory of its first six years of existence. Within six months of winning the “civil war” in Anti-Poverty Movement of Nigeria (APMON), RD united with a revolutionary formation and began a 12-month period of “extraordinary engagement” and “rural conscientisation” in western part of Nigeria. It withdrew in the middle of 1977. And shortly after this, by the end of the All-Nigeria Socialist Conference in Zaria in July-August 1977, RD had re-established itself in two centres: Calabar and Ife.

In Calabar, which became its new headquarters, RD tried to recreate the “rural conscientisation” in what is now the Southern Senatorial District of Cross River State. Comrade Assim Oto Assim-Ita, a revolutionary socialist, as well as a royalty, was a pillar of this new engagement. But RD embarked on this new engagement without adequate study of the new terrain or even a thorough analysis of its 1976/1977 experience in Western Nigeria. Simultaneously RD initiated the formation of the Movement for Progressive Nigeria (MPN) in the University of Calabar in the hope that with the existence of a similarly-named organisation in Kaduna/Zaria the revolutionary national movement of Nigerian students headquartered in Ibadan would expand faster and grow stronger.

The next step was the establishment of Action Centre Information and Documentation (ACID) in the Ibadan/Ife axis and the formation of Calabar Group of Socialists (GCS) and Democratic Action Committee (DACOM) in Calabar. By the end of the first five years of its existence, the “Ali Must Go” national students’ protest and its bloody aftermath had come and gone; a radical Leftist tendency had assumed the national leadership of the newly-formed Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC); the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) had emerged, and had been radicalized; the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS), the successor to the proscribed National Union of Nigerian Students (NUNS) had also emerged, radical at birth.

By the middle of its sixth year of existence, RD, as RD, had suffered its first known casualty: the murder, at the University of Calabar, on April 21, 1981, of Ingrid Essien-Obot, a radical lecturer in Medical Psychology (then taught as part of Sociology), a Leftist feminist, socialist humanist, German by birth, Nigerian by marriage and mother of five (one female, four males). While Assim Ita (late) was a full member of RD, Ingrid Essien-Obot and Tony Engurube (both late) were, at different times, associate members. By the middle of its seventh year, RD had embarked on “foreign expeditions.” This, in summary, is a sample of RD’s dominant experiences and attributes over the years. Some of these were positive, some were contradictory, others were deserving of severe criticism, but all were revolutionary, selfless and offer deep lessons for generations of the Nigerian Left.

I wish to end this piece and the entire narrative, which began with “For Jeyifo (BJ) and Komolafe (KK)” early this month, with the following categorical statement: RD’s discontinuation of its revolutionary “rural conscientisation” projects, as initiated, was a critique of RD’s revolutionary idealism and not the result of “unpreparedness” on the part of peasants and rural populations who received us in the two regions with maximum enthusiasm, faith and expectations. More concretely: Rural conscientisation, like education in general, can be conceived as an end in itself. But for revolutionaries, it must be conceived, in addition, as a means to a political end. Unfortunately and almost tragically, the nature and manner of this “end,” and how to advance to it, could not, in the given historical and material circumstances, be adequately conceived by the revolutionary agency, RD.


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