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My ‘unpopular’ propositions


Economy. Photo/financialexpress

Several times in the last ten years, I have compelled myself to discontinue public exploration, and application to Nigeria, of the concepts of “power bloc” and “popular-democratic restructuring”. These are concepts in which another concept – “the national question” or “ethnic nationality question” – plays an important, though neither dominant nor decisive role. I was, in fact, at a point, considering classifying these concepts and closely related ones as “unpopular” in a spirit that reminds me of Bertrand Russell’s “Unpopular Essays”.

However, whereas Bertrand Russell, in labelling his 1950 collection of essays “unpopular”, was condescending, abusive and cynical, I am honest and respectful to a host of my comrades in the Nigerian Left and many of my other readers in considering describing their reception of my employment of these concepts as “unpopular.”


But suppose a young Leftist directly asks why I should repeatedly compel myself to discontinue the exploration of important concepts like “power bloc” and “popular-democratic restructuring”? Or, why I should even now, be dodging a frontal encounter with these concepts? And why, on the other hand, I am not inclined to abandon them altogether and permanently? The answer to the first two questions is that my exploration of these concepts had been widely and grossly misunderstood – in different directions – and was, in fact, threatening to poison my relationship with some close comrades, compatriots, collaborators and friends.  I will then look at the young Leftist and ask, rhetorically, if that was not enough reason to discontinue the exercise.

The answer to the hypothetical Leftist’s last question is that I feel, very strongly, that a conscious permanent abandonment of my engagement with the twin-subjects of Nigeria’s “power blocs” and “popular-democratic restructuring” in Nigeria at this conjuncture in Nigeria’s history will be tantamount to abandoning the Marxist and Leninist dialectical method of investigation, analysis and organization in our struggle for popular democracy and socialism in Nigeria. This will turn me into a traitor not only to Marxism but also to the revolution of the Nigerian people and to the Nigerian Left whose product I am – in a profound sense.

My argument with myself at this juncture is, therefore, this: Since I am convinced – and have been so convinced since I became a Marxist – that only the Nigerian Left can consistently fight for and guarantee the genuine unity of this country, and since I am ever more convinced that my central propositions on Nigeria’s “power blocs” and “popular-democratic restructuring” are correct, and point to correct routes out of the current multiple tragedies in Nigeria and towards people’s revolution and socialism; but since it is untenable, undesirable and unacceptable that such a large fragment of my core comrades could be wrong on these same questions, it is my responsibility to try more strenuously to convince, or be convinced by, or to reach a dialectical understanding with more and more of my “dissenting” comrades on the “controversial” questions.


So, what do I do now? As the need for diligent elaboration and correct application of the concepts of “power bloc” and “popular-democratic restructuring” in the current multiple crises becomes stronger, clearer and more urgent, how do I resume my exploration? I decided a couple of weeks ago to proceed along the historical track: going back to the beginnings of my actual engagement with “socialism and the national question in Nigeria.” I feel very strongly that moving along this track the reason or reasons for the unpopularity of my public enquiry on my twin subjects will be uncovered. And I am not afraid that in doing this the language or lexicon of my existing formulations may change or undergo revisions. Is that not a test of the Marxist method, that it must be applicable, with equal force, to Marxism itself?

In the next section of this piece, I shall attempt a sweeping historical review of my engagement with “the national question,” and “problems of national unity” and identify either consistency or where and why a shift or expansion in focus occurred, or both. But let me preface this entire effort with a brief statement of my central and dominant premise. That premise is this: Nigeria is a capitalist society. By this I mean, specifically, that Nigeria’s ruling class is a capitalist class, the economy is a capitalist economy and the social formation is a capitalist social formation. But this does not mean that every strand of Nigeria’s economy is capitalist, that every stratum of the class is capitalist and that every level of the social formation is capitalist. What it means is that capitalism exercises dominance and hegemony in the economy and social formation and directs the mode of reproduction of the society as a whole.

That is the first part of my premise. The second part, anchored on the first, is this: Nigeria’s capitalist ruling class is not homogeneous. It is divided by many things, just as it is united by several things. But the unifying component is dominant. This unifying component is capitalist accumulation and profit. From the heterogeneity of the capitalist ruling class emerges entities that exercise political dominance and control over the entire ruling class and, hence, over society as a whole. These entities I call “power blocs.” For about 30 years I have identified two power blocs in Nigeria’s ruling class and some fractions of the class struggling to reach an accommodation with the “big two”. These struggling entities I designate as “political forces.” Power-blocs are political forces, but not all political forces are power-blocs. Big or small, all of them are forces in Nigeria’s capitalist ruling class.


We may now turn to the promised “historical sweep.” In late 1979, shortly after Nigeria’s return to civil constitutional rule, I wrote a sharp and angry article criticizing the bourgeois or ruling class politicians over their bitter and noisy quarrel over state creation. The article was originally published in the “Nigerian Chronicle,” the Cross River State government-owned daily newspaper. Later, the article, now under the caption, “A comment on national unity in Nigeria,” was included as an Appendix to my 1982 book, “Problems of Socialism: the Nigerian Challenge.” Below are relevant excerpts from the 1979 article. Because of the historical and strategic importance of the article for my present “case,” I plead that the excerpts will belong:

“One of the characteristics of our social life, and one which is at the same time the main source of the apparent strength and resilience of the present social order, is the fact that the formulation of our national problems is completely dominated by the bourgeoisie (those who rule over us), the government (those who govern us on behalf of the bourgeoisie) and their official and unofficial representatives, spokesmen, thugs, militants, theoreticians (or seers) and ideologists. The result is that, since the needs and interests of the bourgeoisie are, in most cases, quite distinct from popular needs and interests, and since bourgeois views are reflections of these perverted needs and interests, our national problems are frequently misrepresented, distorted, emptied of all content and meaning, and finally integrated into bourgeois discourse.”


The 1979 article continued: “Thus when the bourgeoisie say the public or the nation, they mean themselves: they are the public and the nation. When they say the security of the nation, they mean the security of their wealth and the social structure by which this wealth is accumulated. When they talk of subversion, they mean a threat to the conditions of their own dominance and perfidy. When they talk of national unity, they mean the unity of the bourgeois class, or a greater fraction of it, over the people, and when they talk of peace they mean the peace of the graveyard, where the poor and the neglected can suffer and die in silence.”

The article continued: “The struggle for, and against, the creation of yet more states is essentially a struggle between the different factions of the bourgeoisie. Those who are more favoured in the present scheme of things and whose sphere of influence and exploitation will only diminish with the creation of more states will naturally oppose state creation. On the other hand, those who see the creation of still more states as the only solution to their marginalization will naturally fight for state creation. In this struggle the common people – the masses – are mere recipients of loaded prejudices, they are mere instruments of bourgeois struggles, mere victims of bourgeois manipulation. In the struggle for, and against, state creation, the agitators are not seeking promotion of the interests of the masses, but their own interests. The various factions claim to be speaking in the name of their people while, in reality, they are merely looking for, or defending, exclusive domains of exploitation and theft.”

To be continued tomorrow.


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