ON SOCIETY AND IDEOLOGY
In our treatment of Chapter Two of Consciencism we observed that it exhibited an explicit theme dealing with the social content of philosophy and an implicit theme dealing with the development of egalitarianism. Egalitarianism started with the assertion of the fundamental equality of man whereby each man was equally endowed with an intrinsic worth or value. It then affirmed social equality. With fundamental and social equality each man participated in the other such that each individual became responsible for all others and all others became responsible for the individual. Egalitarianism then developed an antithesis to this conception of social equality whereby the individual, armed with fundamental and inalienable rights, was allowed to develop on their own and dominate others for his/her well-being. A social dialectic ensued in which the principle of each for all and all for each contended with the principle of each for himself. Whereas the former principle was overwhelmingly championed by materialist philosophers and led to socialism, the latter was championed by idealist philosophers and led to capitalism. On either side of the dialectic the principle of humanism, the assertion that man, not God, is the measure of all things, was upheld. Humanist egalitarianism thus evolved.
If in Western society humanist egalitarianism could branch off into the social-political systems of capitalism and socialism, in Africa it defined and informed the social-political system of communalism. In this chapter the implicit concern is with the development of a materialist philosophical statement to provide a firm conceptual basis to the ideological aim to achieve the restitution of African humanist egalitarianism. Explicitly, the chapter deals with the definition and role of ideology in the development of society. Hence, from pages 56 to 68 Kwame Nkrumah develops a concept of ideology that asserts it as that set of statutory and non-statutory instruments that apply coercion, appropriately understood, for the cohesion of society in pursuit of the development of the society according to a formally-stated or unstated view of the desirable society. Examples are multiplied to give an illustration of this definition. From pages 68 to 70 Africa’s ideological map is drawn and a call for a new emergent and dominant ideology predicated on the original humanist egalitarianism of Africa is made. The rest of the chapter, from the last paragraph of page 70 to page 77, makes a case for socialism as the requirement for the restitution in Africa of its humanist egalitarianism and condemns capitalism in forthright terms.
To begin with, let us consider some usages that some revisionists are capitalizing on in their cruel agenda to confuse the current generation of the African youth. In this chapter we see usages like ‘socialist ideology’, ‘socialist philosophy’, ‘socialism is a form of social organization’, ‘capitalism, which is only a social-political theory’, ‘capitalism is a system’, ‘capitalism … this social-political system’, and ‘capitalism is … method of slavery’. As we will see presently in Kwame Nkrumah’s treatment of ideology, ideology uses philosophy, social-political theory, history, morality, ethics, art, etc. as instruments for the pursuit of a form of society as the desirable society. Hence, we have a socialist ideology making use of these instruments. Hence, we have a capitalist ideology making use of these instruments. The instruments do not define the ideology. The ideology defines their content. To suggest that socialism, which the text refers to as an ideology, is first and foremost a social-political theory is to commit the hideous fallacy of inversion whereby the predicate of a sentence is converted to its subject and the subject becomes the predicate. Capitalism likewise suffers at the hands of that fallacy when it is similarly treated. If it were not so then each instrument could assert its right as defining ideology. The consequent and disastrous logical implications for the entire text of the chapter under consideration can only be imagined. Only a renegade of the highest order can luxuriate in them for maximum reactionary effect as he glibly parades as Professor of Consciencism.
At page 57 in the first paragraph, Kwame Nkrumah explains that in every society there is an ideology which is the set of fundamental principles, beliefs about the nature of man and the type of society which must be created for man; it therefore seeks to bring a particular order into the total life of the society. In this pursuit, it employs instruments like political theory, social theory and moral theory (page 59, paragraph 1) through which it expresses itself. In any given society the ideology is either that of the dominant militant segment of it or the society as a whole. In a communalistic society it is of the whole whereas in a class-structured one it is of the dominant class. It is usual to find more than one ideology in a particular society but only one of them, the ideology of the ruling class, dominates. But whether an ideology is of the dominant class or of the whole society, it seeks to unite the whole of society to establish common attitudes and purposes for the society (page 57). It does not just unite its particular believers but it seeks to unite society as a whole. Holistically speaking, therefore, an ideology involves a vision and a set of many instruments for the realization of that vision.
The fundamental concern of ideology is the pursuit and creation of the desirable society. To this end an ideology formulates and feeds into a conception of the desirable society (see page 66). This conception is based on beliefs about the nature of man. In traditional Africa, for instance, Nkrumah says at page 68 that man is believed to be primarily a spiritual being endowed with an original value, inward dignity and integrity. This original value, Christianity believes, was lost in favour of an originally sinful and degraded status. Hence, whereas traditional Africa believes man as being originally of a dignified nature Christianity believes man as being originally of a degraded nature. Given the specific belief about the nature of man certain duties are imposed on us (see page 69). These duties form the theoretical basis of ideology; that is, fundamental principles of conduct are derived from those duties. On the social level, such fundamental principles manifest in institutions. One such institution is the clan which, in traditional Africa, for instance, represents the initial equality of all and the responsibility of many for one (emanating from the concept of man’s original value – see the first sentence of paragraph 1 page 69).
An ideology thus determines the set of institutions that constitutes the form or type of social organization or society we have: feudal, capitalist or socialist. It gives countenance to the society. See page 56. In so doing, it sets common attitudes and purposes for the entire society as a united whole. See page 57. That is, it aims at uniting the actions of millions towards specific and set goals. See page 58. Hence, it seeks to bring about and establishes a specific order into the total life of society. See page 59. To achieve this it uses various instruments that appear to coerce society to conform. Nkrumah treats them one after the other.
His treatment shows that his concept of an ideology goes beyond it being a mere body of writing by either an individual or a small group of individuals and directed only at fundamental change in a society. See page 59. He thinks that such a conception is not correct. For him, to say that there is an ideology in every society is not to necessarily mean that in every society there is to be found a fully written set of statements. Ideology could be so widespread and yet be unseen at the same time. See page 58. The crucial issue is not the explicit statement of the ideology on paper, not the paper, but the thought itself. See page 59. Just as a morality does not appear as an explicit set of statements defining it so does an ideology not necessarily appear as such. See page 58. An ideology largely expresses itself implicitly. See page 58, paragraph 1. And this expression is not only at the time that it seeks to introduce a new type of society but also after the birth and during the development of the new society which it seeks to defend and maintain.
To introduce, defend and maintain the new society an ideology uses various instruments like philosophy. The statement of the ideology, its elucidation, that is, making it easier to understand, and its theoretical defence collectively form its philosophy. See page 56. This philosophy involves political theory, social theory and moral theory in which the said ideology is displayed. In being total, the ideology embraces the whole life of a society such that it manifests itself not only in its philosophy but also in its class-structure, history, literature, art and religion. These are all subtle instruments used to ensure that the individual, living in orderly surroundings, does not behave in a way as to jeopardise those surroundings. See page 62. They are non-statutory methods used to fill order in that large portion of life outside direct central intervention. See page 68. In their operation, they do not, as appropriately understood, only coerce the individual to conduct themselves within the permitted range of social behaviour but also ensure social cohesion.
It should be clear that the said subtle instruments as mentioned above are intellectual in form and directed at a common understanding (a consensus) that then pulls as many as possible together for their voluntary participation to realize the aims and purposes of the given ideology. There are others like the creation of social clubs and systematic ridicule. See pages 65 to 66. We might add peer pressure if only it is positively conceived. But it is in the area of the intellectual instruments that Kwame Nkrumah lays much emphasis. He picks history for special mention to illustrate how an account of African history and its anthropology is used as a subtle instrument of European oppressive ideology in Africa. This illustration covers almost three whole pages of the book. From pages 62 to 64, he writes it with absolute but controlled pain in his heart. Africa was projected as having had no history and lived in a state of inertia. The European contact, it was claimed, propelled Africa into history and thus African history was projected as an extension of European history. In these terms, African nationalism was seen as a perversion and neo-colonialism as a virtue. He describes these as malicious myths and calls for the European contact to be assessed and judged from the viewpoint of the principles animating African society as well as of its harmony and progress. This is a task of the new African renaissance – great emphasis on history presentation. Africa’s history needs to be appreciated in its integrity, as a whole.
Ideology also uses explicit statutory instruments to ensure conformity. At page 61 we see a reference to a Law Conference in Accra where Nkrumah stated that the law must be inspired by the ideals of the society in which it is enforced. This means that enactment of laws must reflect the ideology of the society as a whole or where the society is based on a class-structure the enactment reflects the ideology of the ruling class. Such enactments make prohibitions and permissions explicit. It is possible to think of a situation in which all permissive rights and prohibitive acts are backed by enactments. That would mean the centralization of all the instruments of coercion and cohesion. This is an extreme that, in fact, cannot be attained. Even if it is attained a huge bureaucracy will emerge to defeat the very intent of bureaucracy – that is, the realization of impartiality and avoidance of arbitrariness – and rather create an autocracy. Consequently, in many societies subtle or implicit instruments like the preacher’s sermon, trade union pressure, media criticism, etc. are additionally applied non-statutorily to coerce society to achieve and preserve cohesion. Implicitly, therefore, a limited statutory environ is the preferred choice.
From the second paragraph of page 68 to page 77 the discourse turns from the descriptive to the descriptive-prescriptive. In this regard, the process of change in traditional African society is described from page 68 to the last but one paragraph of page 70 and the aim of a new ideology is prescribed. From the last paragraph of page 70 to page 77 a case is made for socialism in terms of its defence of the humanist egalitarian principles of communalism and in vehement condemnations of capitalism. Regarding the process of change, Nkrumah says that in traditional Africa there were institutions like the clan in which there was fundamental (initial) equality of all and responsibility of many for one. In that society, the welfare of all but not some sectional interest was supreme. Legislative and political power was not exercised to aid the interests of any particular group. A man was regarded as originally endowed with a certain inward dignity, integrity and value. But the advent of colonialism changed all this as it created men of rank and prestige among the people, men seen by all others as associates of the colonial power. These men, together with groups of merchants and traders, lawyers, doctors, politicians, etc., were thus elevated in the light of their skills and affluence in service of the colonial power. In addition to these were some collaborative feudal-minded elements. All of them acquired European ideals which they accepted without question as valid for African societies.
Such ideals, inculcated through education from infancy, could scarcely be seen as being in accord with the scheme, harmony and progress of African society: individual accountability rather than collective responsibility was one such deviation. So were countless other such silent influences. They violated the traditional African egalitarian view of man and society. Such was the scale of European ideological subversion that African society never remained the same. The African society of today, Kwame Nkrumah says, is not the old society. A new African society has emerged. In its new form, traditional African society stands enlarged not only by the Euro-Christian presence but the Islamic as well. Hence, the African conscience is now a terrain of competing ideologies: the Euro-Christian, the Islamic and the traditional African. It is in crisis.
But society is a dynamic and united whole. It requires a single dominant ideology which genuinely caters for the needs of all to reflect this dynamic unity and, with true independence regained, forge a new harmony. This ideology must crystallize with a philosophical statement from the prevailing crisis in the African conscience as its theoretical basis. The ideology aims at containing the African experience of the collective presence of the Euro-Christian, the Islamic and the African tradition in tune with the original humanist and egalitarian principles underlying African society for harmonious growth and development. This requires the restitution of those original principles of African humanist egalitarianism in the first instance. The statement, elucidation and theoretical defence of these principles will collectively form a philosophy. That philosophy is what Nkrumah names as philosophical consciencism. It is directed at providing the firmest conceptual basis to this effort at the restitution of African humanist egalitarianism. See page 76 and connect that with the two paragraphs of page 56. The rest of the chapter, from pages 70 to 77, argue out and characterize the ideology as socialism.
Kwame Nkrumah declares in the concluding paragraph of the chapter that the restitution of Africa’s humanist and egalitarian principles of society requires socialism. He argues that society is placed in nature which it seeks to transform in such a way as will develop its environment for its better fulfilment. The transformed environment in turn alters the society through such better fulfilment. There is, therefore, a connection of transformation of nature with development (better fulfilment). This transformation and the consequent development result from the toil of man not just as an individual but also as a social being. To increase transformation requires the deployment of social forces for a harmonious and unlimited economic development in accordance with genuine principles of social equity and social justice. A section of social-political theory seeks to determine and determines the manner of this deployment. But we do not have just one social-political theory for the purpose. There are many of them: those provided by slavery, by feudalism, by capitalism and by socialism, for instance. Kwame Nkrumah says that it is the social-political theories of socialism that assure the aforementioned harmonious and unlimited development as well as social equity and social justice in so far as ideas of transformation and development relate to the purposes of society as a whole.
All these social-political theories are distinguished from each other by the manner of their respective focuses: either that those whose toils transform nature and produce goods are forcibly deployed to do so and then dissociated from the decision-making process to determine who benefits by what proportion from this transformation or that those whose toils transform nature and produce goods are peacefully deployed and involved in the decision-making process to determine how all might benefit by what proportion from this transformation. Whereas the former theoretical focus is shared to various degrees by the ideologies of slavery, feudalism and capitalism the latter is shared by communalism, socialism and communism. In the setting of a slave society, a certain high degree of political and forcible subjection is required to ensure the dissociation of the slaves from the decision-making process and the fruits of their toils. In the feudal setting, a lesser degree of the same subjection is considered enough to achieve the same purpose. Capitalism requires a still lesser degree of the same subjection for the same purpose. Each refines the method but retains the essence. Under communalism, socialism and communism higher levels of technological development are pursued in increasing measure while the State, as the decision-maker necessitated by slave as well as feudal and capitalist societies, increasingly dissolves into the society and approximates to it. This implies an increasing decentralization of the State which attains its highest level of centralization under imperialism, the highest stage of capitalism. Let us now look at the implications of these social-political theories in terms of their respective focuses.
The focus of capitalist theories on subtle methods of deploying social forces for the transformation of nature and for development without the benefits of such transformation being spread to the whole of society in violation of the principles of social equity and social justice, according to Nkrumah, attenuates (that is, slows down or reduces) the pace of development/social progress. He does not dispute the possibility and fact of progress under capitalism: there is an increase in productivity and production as well as a rise in the standard of living. This is why workers of today, in many respects, enjoy better circumstances of life than a good many feudal lords of the past. Social progress is not, therefore, altogether arrested under capitalism but seriously attenuated. Increase in production and productivity does not reflect in addressing the proportional imbalance in the distribution of value (that is, what is produced). This means that if at the end of the production of goods value is distributed on the basis of 25% to the workers and 75% to the capitalist and if this proportion is maintained when there is an increase in the next level of production of goods then although the workers gain in terms of quantity the difference between this quantity and the new quantity accrued to the capitalist is widened. This, again, means that with every increase in production and productivity the capitalist gains an ever increasing control over socially-created value. This results in the proliferation of shanty towns and slums with workers lying and dying in public squares as victims of hunger, cold and disease. It is all due to the profit motive under capitalist production. For Nkrumah, therefore, the issue is not whether there is some progress under capitalism but whether such progress is adequate.
On the other hand, the focus of socialist social-political theories on the deployment of all social forces for the transformation of nature and for development with the benefits of such transformation being spread to the whole of society in accordance with the principles of social equity and social justice, Nkrumah says at page 76, affords an ever-increasing satisfaction for the material and spiritual needs of the greatest number. That satisfaction or happiness, defined within the social context, is that feeling the individual derives from a particular social-economic-political context where they are in a position to realize their aspirations. At page 72 he declares that the objective of seeking increase in levels of production is for the sole purpose of ensuring that those whose toil make the production of goods possible have a raise in their standard of living with a new level of life and consciousness. The profit motive is signally banished here. The implications here are that socialism derives the highest development from the transformation of nature and is required for the restitution of African humanist egalitarianism. For, socialism defends the principles of communalism and, as a form of social organization, is guided by the principles underlying communism. See page 73.
At this stage Nkrumah discourses on reform and revolution. He says that all the above suggest that the transition from slavery through feudalism to capitalism is one of a reform but not a revolution. So also is a transition from communalism through socialism to communism one of reform. As a reform, the change involves the methods of pursuing the essence but not the essence itself. The essence remains intact. It is for this reason that Nkrumah says that reform is not a change in the thought but one in the manner of its expression. See page 72. This means that with Nkrumah reform finds a special meaning: however violent a change may be it is a reform if it retains the essence of the social order and provides only some relief; it is not a revolution. A revolution, on the other hand, involves a rejection of that essence which it then replaces, whether a gunshot was fired or not for the purpose. It is not the presence of violence or the show and exercise of force that defines a revolution. It may not even require it. The crucial issue is not a change in the manner of expressing the essence of the social order but a change of that essence itself. This is why at page 73 Nkrumah says that the passage from the ancestral line of slavery through feudalism and capitalism to socialism can only be through revolution; as what is involved here is a change from one essence to another.
The prospects for a revolution manifest when in its attempts to survive, the prevailing social order initiates, as a ruse, some of the proposals of an emerging and opposed social order to appease or deflate psychological irritants to revolution. See page 72, paragraphs 2 and 4. Revolutionary forces seize the opportunity to deepen and institutionalize such initiatives into institutions of the emerging new social order. The aborted mission of the Convention People’s Party, led by Kwame Nkrumah, pursued this as a subordinate strategy to dislodge colonialism in Ghana. It remains a useful tool in the struggle against the last stage of imperialism – neo-colonialism. The suggestion here is that a revolution has a period of evolution in its process when it capitalizes on opportunities offered by the ruling classes, due to a people’s pressures for change, to develop the institutions that will later be the instruments for the realization of its aims. A revolution, then, is a long-drawn-out process of initiating and building institutions and attitudes of an opposed nature that will ultimately replace the current and rotten institutions of the current social order for a new social order. It begins alongside and within the current social order and develops furthermore with the demise of the said social order. It is not a singular act of violence.
The African experience presents a society with a mix of communalist, feudalist and capitalist as well as incipient socialist images and realities. Capitalism, in the form of neo-colonialism, dominates in this mixture. Nkrumah suggests that socialist ideology is necessary not only for dislodging neo-colonialism but also for the restitution of Africa’s humanist egalitarianism. This restitution involves reform in areas of communalist living and involves revolution where feudal and neo-colonial existence manifest. It requires a scientific approach. Hence, the suggestion is not for a vague socialism but for scientific socialism. See page 74. On its part, capitalism is condemned not only as evil and alien but also as a system in which even the limiting aspirations of the people are by definition denied to them. Those are indeed strong words of condemnation. Let those latter-day revisionists and renegades of Nkrumaism listen real hard.
In particular, they should now listen to what Nkrumah says with respect to idealism and materialism. At page 74 he explains that the desire to transform society reflects not only in social-political theories but also in philosophy. Like the social-political theories, philosophy falls into two lots which he calls two real philosophical alternatives: idealism and materialism. At page 75 he also explains that the two exist in society but not in an equal relationship (equipoise). They are in a conflict in which now one predominates, now the other. Whereas idealism explains nature in terms of spirit and favours a class structure in which one class sits upon the neck of another, materialism explains nature in terms of matter and its laws and favours an egalitarian organization of society. It is in this same breath that idealism connects with an oligarchy and materialism connects with egalitarianism. This opposition of idealism and materialism in philosophy is paralleled by the opposition of conservative and progressive forces on the social plain; that is, whereas idealism pitches camp with conservative forces materialism pitches its camp with the progressive forces. Kwame Nkrumah concludes from all this at page 76 that it is one form or another of materialism, not idealism, that gives the firmest conceptual basis to the restitution of Africa’s egalitarian and humanist principles. It is clear here that Nkrumah does see idealism and materialism as opposites that lead in different directions and cannot mix in the formulation of a concept or a philosophical statement such as his philosophical consciencism. Revisionists would have you believe otherwise. Let us now look at the details of that statement in the next chapter.
[Since new forms of society emerge from but are not imposed on the old a process of evolution and revolution is always involved. It is the task of the revolutionary to discern the evolutionary moments of the newly emerging and progressive trend so as to promote its development and dominance over the old and dying trend. The decisive moment, the revolutionary moment, is when the final act is undertaken to formally assert and constitutionalize the predominance of the new and the demise of the old. Evolution is thus involved in the revolutionary process as its initial stage.]