Notes on political alliances
We may begin by recalling two key propositions that have so far emerged in the current discussions on the political responsibility of the Nigerian Left in this period. And, for clarity, by “this period” I mean the 20th year of the Fourth Republic, a period defined by the approach to a general election, worsening of the material conditions of the masses, national disunity, aggravated violence and insecurity, declining ability of the Nigerian state to discharge the elementary functions of the state (except the coercive ones) and absence of any national mobilising project or promise by the ruling class or any of its leading factions or segments.
The two propositions to which the opening paragraph refers include, first and foremost, the imperative of constructing a viable fighting organisation around a general programme of struggle and a people’s manifesto that responds concretely and openly to the key issues that currently assail Nigeria and the masses of the Nigerian people. The “viable” in this first proposition carries its ordinary meaning: possessing the capacity for self-reproduction or elementary continuity. The construction of a viable organisation and the publication of a people’s manifesto are formulated as an integral project, that is, the same process. That is what will make the appearance of the platform serious and historically different from its predecessors. The materials and conditions for this construction exist – even now. To discover them, inspire them and mobilise them is part of the task.
The second broad proposition relates to the question of alliance-construction. But an abstract idea or an ideological movement cannot construct alliances. It is a concrete organization with a concrete programme or project that seeks and constructs alliances with another concrete organisation or organisations. What this means in our own context is that the Nigerian Left, as an ideology and as a movement, must evolve a viable organization with a concrete programme and a concrete people’s manifesto and, armed with these, seek to construct electoral and/or non-electoral alliances with other concrete organisations. This is a precise statement of the primary task of the Nigerian Left in “this period”. And it is the subject of this piece.
It is accepted that every serious or “adult” alliance has or should have a platform, that is, “terms of reference” and limits. And the terms are always specific – to achieve a specific common objective or a set of specific common objectives, to be pursued by specific means and methods. In other words, there is no “alliance-in-general” or “general alliance.” As soon as it becomes possible to construct a general, open-ended alliance, an alliance without limits between two or more organisations, then there are no essential differences between them. In that case, a merger, rather than an alliance should be on the table. On the other hand, if a Leftist organisation in an alliance is so encumbered and restricted by limits that it loses its essential identity and is denied all means of independent residual activity, then such alliance is simply liquidationist and nothing should lead a Leftist formation into it. And if accidentally, it finds itself there it should pull out immediately – quietly or noisily, depending on the situation.
The need for Leftist organisations to construct political alliances for legal and extra-legal, electoral and non-electoral struggles is central in the global history of all known variants of modern revolution: national-liberation, national-democratic, popular-democratic and socialist. The need was confronted and realised in the Russian Revolution (1917), the Chinese Revolution (1949), Cuban Revolution (1959), and several post-Second World War anti-imperialist struggles in several countries of the Middle East, Latin America, Southeast Asia and Africa. The need was also confronted and realized in several European countries in the period before, during and after the Second World War. That was the period of popular fronts necessitated principally by fascism.
The Nigerian Left did not emerge in a historical void or in a political-ideological vacuum. It did not emerge as an isolated phenomenon. The Nigerian Left emerged in the mid-1940s as a tendency in the anti-colonial students’ groups and labour groups, Nigerian returnees from the Second World War, and then the nationalist movement where it shaped up ideologically as militant nationalism. From being a self-appointed protector of the leadership of the National Council of Nigeria and Cameroon (NCNC), the Left became a self-conscious ally of the Council. In this alliance, the Left, now mainly organised as the Zikist Movement, linked up with other militantly anti-colonial activists in the labour movement, youth and students’ groups and occupational associations.
In underlining the point that the Nigerian Left emerged from the nationalist movement and later became an independent ally of larger organisations of the movement, I may refer readers to, or remind them of, the critical role played by radical students and youths in the formation of NCNC in 1944.
Now, this proposition: Although the question of alliance has been controversial – and at times, really divisive – in the Left, and although some tendencies and groups in the Left had adopted and embarked on revolutionary lines which, for some time, implicitly ruled out the question of alliance not only with groups outside the Left but also with most groups within the Left itself and although the actual experience of the Left in political alliances has, in general, not measured up to what was anticipated, the need for political alliances has never been categorically denied and could not have been categorically denied. The questions have always been and remain: Alliance with whom? Against what? For what? And how?
It can be categorically stated that organisations of the Nigerian Left had, in the history of the movement, actually sought and constructed alliances within the movement and with political entities outside the movement. The critical issue here is really with the latter because a replay of the former, taken broadly, is a pre-condition for a resurgence of Left activism. In several articles written on this subject in the last eight months I had listed some of these latter alliances. In the remaining part of this piece I shall remain with the Zikist Movement and its immediate successors. Subsequent experiences – up to the recent past – will follow. The aim here is to be armed with an inventory of actual experiences – for lessons and guidance.
Historically, the global Left in general, and the Nigerian Left in particular, have gone into political alliances for one or more of the following three broad reasons: To fight against certain forms of dictatorship including fascism and the one-party state; to expand the “democratic space”; or for office or power. The Zikist Movement – NCNC alliance falls into the second category – to fight for independence (expanding the “democratic space”).
In this alliance the Zikist Movement maintained its independence in organisation, militant advocacy and methods. But the platform of the alliance included anti-colonial agitation, mass political mobilisation, labour campaign for socioeconomic reforms, fundamental human rights and national unity. But while the NCNC, together with other mainstream nationalist formations increasingly wished to “collaborate” with colonialism in the hope of supplanting it through a gradual and guided process, the Zikist Movement became increasingly radicalised and wished to “chase away” the colonialists, achieve independence, establish national unity and move towards popular-democracy and socialism.
The alliance inevitably collapsed under the combined weight of colonial repression and “abandonment” of the militant Zikist Movement by its “responsible” senior partner, the NCNC. The Zikist Movement was finally banned in 1950. In its place, several radical and Leftist organisations emerged. While many former Zikist activists broke completely with the NCNC, many others retained their membership of the party. Some of those who broke with the NCNC went into other mainstream parties including the Action Group (AG), the Northern People’s Congress (NPC) and the radical Northern Elements Progressive Union (NEPU).