1960s >> 1966 >> no-740-april-1966

News in Review: Nkrumah falls

After Nigeria, Ghana. After Ghana— where?

 

The African continent is crowded with newly independent states with leaders who, having come to power on the promise of freedom, have established dictatorships. Some of these have been described, with breathtaking audacity, as “One Party Democracies” or something similar. But whatever lies are used to excuse them, the fact is that these countries are dictatorships where only one political party is legal and where opponents of the regime are usually imprisoned or exiled.

 

The Africa which was once the plaything of the imperialists is now in a turmoil under its suppression. It may well be that Nkrumah is not the last dictator there to lose his office.

 

The history of independent Africa must be a great disappointment to the supporters of organisations like the Movement for Colonial Freedom, who were once so insistent that freeing Africa from European rule would give the continent a happier, more democratic way of life.

 

It was obvious from the outset that these organisations did not understand the problem they were dealing with. It was clear that the alternative to rule by the colonial powers was simply rule by a native government. At the best, this was the replacement of one type of suppression by another.

 

Sometimes it has turned out worse that that. In Dr Banda’s Nyasaland, for example, the government recently pushed through an Act which revived public executions—something abolished by the British when they occupied the country.

 

And sometimes, of course, it has meant outright dictatorship, with a leader surrounded by sycophants and living in continual fear of his life. This was Ghana under Nkrumah.

 

The African states have not yet absorbed a lesson which some of the older capitalist powers have found useful. A political opposition has its uses. It acts as a brake on a government’s excesses, it is a method through which a country’s capitalist class can exert pressure on a government, and by publicising facts which are inconvenient to a government it actually keeps that government in touch with reality.

 

Nazi Germany, as many of its military, industrial and scientific leaders have since testified, suffered as a capitalist state because of the intricate, intolerant nature of the Hitler dictatorship. And it is hard to believe that Nkrumah would have gone to Peking if he had reason to think that his power was being undermined.

 

The fact that he did not realise this was, in very great part, due to the lack of an opposition in Ghana. Had there been one, it would have reflected the growing discontent with Nkrumah’s regime and with the country’s increasing economic difficulties.

 

The absence of a safety outlet meant that the whole thing exploded and Nkrumah, the great dictator, the redeemer, the man who thought that a dictatorship would keep him in power and would make him Africa’s man of destiny, has been hoist with his own petard.

 

Lord Robens said it

 

Lord Robens, who is chairman of the National Coal Board, is the best friend the miners ever had. Who said so? Lord Robens himself.

 

A couple of months ago Robens was made a Director of the Bank of England —a job which, as everyone knows, was created with the special intention of being friendly to the miners.

 

This elevation came after some years of Lord Robens busily closing pits and sacking tens of thousands of workers in the coal mining industry.

 

Of course, this process was never vulgarised with the name “sacking”. The Bank of England probably called it rationalisation. Politicians like Mr. Wilson probably call it modernisation. Lord Robens, presumably, calls it being the Miners’ best friend.

 

The mineworkers, however, have been doing a bit of rationalisation of their own with results which have made Lord Robens feel less than friendly.

 

Many of them have noticed the large scale sackings which have been carried out. They have also read in the newspapers that the National Coal Board has plans for more closures, more redundancies. Not unexpectedly, a lot of them have decided that the Coal industry holds no future for them, and they have been getting out of it.

 

During 1965 a total of 38,000 people left the Coal industry. But this was twenty thousand more than the Coal Board intended; they had planned to sack only eighteen thousand. The rest left on their own accord, which has caused Lord Robens to complain:

 

  The run out at this pace was something of a disaster for us. It has had a very adverse effect on the financial turn-out of the Board.

 

Now it is obviously very inconsiderate of the miners not to sit down and wait until the Coal Board decides to clear them out, and to jump the gun by going out and finding another job before everything is ready for them to be sacked like docile, boss fearing workers should be.

 

Perhaps they are applying the same standards as Lord Robens applies to the workings of the mines. He is interested in making a profit; they are interested in a secure wage. Perhaps they are disillusioned with nationalisation, which Lord Robens, when he was plain Alf and a member of the post war Labour Government, supported but which he is not so sure about now:

 

  He (Lord Robens) was in favour of rationalisation of the coal distribution trade but no nationalisation. (The Guardian 8/3/66).

Whatever the truth of this, one thing is certain. The miners who are leaving the Coal industry are doing no more than try to protect their interests in a social system which continually attacks them. Whether they succeed or not they cannot be criticised for taking the action; capitalism is a world where everyone fights for himself.

 

Least of all can the miners be criticised by those who so assiduously uphold capitalism, as politicians, as employers, as leaders of capitalism’s symbols of commerce and privilege. In this respect, Lord Robens lives in a very fragile glass house, and he should be the last person to throw lumps of coal.

 

Communist confusion

 

The Communist Party, which has never been famous for clear thinking, is deeper in confusion than ever.

 

To start with, they are hopelessly split over the quarrel between China and the Soviet Union. These two countries were, after all, once supposed to be in inseparable comradeship in the struggle for Socialism—and here they are squabbling over all the classical capitalist issues like frontiers and trade routes and spheres of influence.

 

For the Communist who takes seriously the claim that Socialism exists in Russia and China, the choice between the two must be next to impossible.

 

Then there are events like the recent trial in Russia of the writers Daniel and Sinyavsky, for allegedly criticising the Soviet regime. The Communists are in more than one mind about this.

 

Should they automatically condemn the two writers, as they have done in similar cases in the past, as enemies of the people, saboteurs of freedom, imperialist agents and the rest of the terminology which we all know so well by now?

 

Or should they agree with John Gollan, Secretary of the Communist Party in this country, when he said that “The handling of this affair has done a greater disservice to the Soviet Union than the works of Sinyavsky and Daniel”?

 

For a Communist who has always dutifully believed that the Soviet can do no wrong, and that the Russian government is incapable of prosecuting a man unless he is guilty (even before he has been tried) the choice here must be very difficult.
And what about the Communist Party’s decision to abolish the Daily Worker and replace it this month with a paper called the Morning Star?

 

Is there not something honourable, to a Communist, in the word worker? Should he not be proud to sell a paper with it blazoned across the top?

 

Or is the Communist Party now trying to cover the association which it has always claimed with the working class movement? Has it gone in for a bit of market research and discovered something which was obvious anyway—that the history of the Daily Worker had made it, for many members of the working class, a bad joke?

 

Perhaps the name Morning Star is simply part of the Communist Party’s efforts to get in on the latest craze of modernisation. At their rally last month at the Festival Hall, the Communist Party were claiming loudly that they were the real modernisers of British capitalism.

 

They were demanding more expenditure on schools, a nationally integrated transport system, reduced arms spending. And naturally there were the usual inducements of magnificently generous pensions, family allowances and so on—generous in direct proportion to the unlikelihood of the Communist Party getting power and having to implement them.

 

All of this must have been very confusing to any member of the Communist Party who strayed into the hall under the impression that he belonged to an organisation that had something to do with Socialism. It must have been confusing to those who remembered the wartime days when the Communists wanted more spent on arms, and the days when, far from supporting modernisation, the Communist Party was opposing the Attlee government’s productivity drive.

 

Yes, all very confusing—unless we grasp a basic fact. The Communist Party, whatever it claims for itself, does not stand for Socialism and never has done. It is merely another, if rather peculiar, party which supports capitalism.

 

And that is exactly the reason for their changes of policy—and for the splits and arguments and confusion they cause among the party’s misguided supporters.

 

A boring business

 

Everyone knows that at election time political parties promise all sorts of rewards to people who vote for them— provided, of course, enough of them vote to get the right side into power.

 

From another point of view, though, the electorate deserve some sort of recognition for the tremendous effort they make to find something to distinguish the Labour Party from the Conservatives and, having found it, to make enough of an issue of it to persuade themselves to vote one way or the other.

 

At one time, perhaps, this was a little easier. There was a time when the Labour Party breathed the fire of revolution—or at any rate when they wanted to nationalise a few industries, which they passed off as Socialism. There was a time when the Tories stood for red-blooded Private Enterprise and for the British- Empire-On-Which-The-Sun-Never-Sets.

 

These were at any rate clear differences between the two parties, even if they were superficial. But even that has changed now.

 

Ever since the Labour Party came to power after the war, they have inexorably travelled the road which their nature and their policies laid out for them. They have grown more and more like the Tories. They have tried—how they have tried during the past few years!—to convince the electorate that they are no more than an alternative method of running capitalism, with no more nonsense about social revolution.

 

This has had its effect. Mr. Wilson has been openly referred as the best Conservative Prime Minister we have. Very few serious political correspondents
pretended during this last election that there were
any real differences between the two sides.

 

  . . . no one could maintain that there is a black and white difference either in the politics or the competence of this Labour Government and its Conservative predecessor. (Robert McKenzie in The Observer).

 

  If a Tory Government were returned it would either have to pursue similar economic policies or instigate an about-turn. If the first applies we might as well stick to the present lot. If the second were to happen, we should have complete confusion. (William Davis in The Guardian).

 

For the average voter, who wanted nothing more than to support a capitalist government, the election came down to a few simple questions.

 

Did he want a government which said it would build another aircraft carrier or one which said it would not? A government which said it would nationalise steel or one which said it would not? A Prime Minister who said he stood for action not words or one who said that this is a time for decision?

 

These were the limits of the argument between the Labour and Conservative parties. On the other issues their differences were hardly discernible and in any case both of them naturally reserved the right which all capitalist parties reserve, to change their minds when they are in office.

 

So the election was really all a massive sham, a choice between two similars. It was also, for anyone who is interested in the welfare of the human race and who realises the potential which lies behind the votes at an election, a terrible, frustrating bore.