DR. KWAME NKRUMAH
PHILOSOPHICAL APPLICATIONS IN BUILDING A SOCIALIST STATE
An Article Dedicated to Ghana’s Day of Shame 2013
Lang T.K.A. Nubuor
Karl Marx, the foremost intellectual leader of the international working class movement, originates the ideologico-philosophical system that is now named after him as Marxism. That system forms the basis of analysis that working class intellectuals undertake worldwide. That is to say that the latter use the principles of the system as tools of analysis. Dr. Kwame Nkrumah is one of such Marxist intellectuals. Among progressive intellectuals in Africa and elsewhere, however, there is not yet an agreement as to when he becomes such an intellectual. This creates philosophical problems of a practical nature about his thought system which he variously describes as Marxism-Nkrumaism or Nkrumaism.
In this brief presentation we trace the history of Dr. Kwame Nkrumah’s adoption of Marxism as his ideologico-philosophical system as well as his application of the principles of that system in his analysis of the African situation to facilitate the building up of a Socialist State in Africa. In this endeavour we marshal evidence to the effect that by 1943 Dr. Nkrumah already uses the tools of Marxist analysis to dissect intellectual problems and finding solutions to them. This debunks suggestions that he becomes a Marxist only after 1966. In so doing we hope to come to terms with the ideological choice issue that befuddles clarity on the organizational question on whether to build or capture State Power – different things they are.
The philosophical system of Marxism is what Karl Marx describes as dialectical materialism. On the basis of this system he develops what he, again, describes as historical materialism. Dr. Kwame Nkrumah refers to ‘dialectical materialism’ in his doctoral dissertation of 1944, presented to the Pennsylvania University. The dissertation, captioned Mind and Thought in Primitive Society: A Study of Ethno-Philosophy, sets out a virtual history of Western philosophical thought (in the manner of Consciencism) in which he has an occasion to observe at page 23 that ‘Hegel’s synthetic view is teleological – a position to which modern dialectical materialism stands opposed.’ A statement crafted in the spirit and letter of historical materialism then follows.
According to that statement, ‘The methods by which social man satisfies his needs are determined by the nature of the implements with which he tries to conquer nature, and these in turn determine the nature of his mind.’ He then declares immediately that ‘This is an incontestable fact in human progress and development.’ (ibid. p. 23) He concludes that ‘Dialectical thinking thus became essential not only in philosophy and science but also in history and social development.’ (ibid. p. 33) We find Dr. Nkrumah here stating not only the position of historical materialism but also his strong agreement with it. In fact, in his 1943 article, titled Education and Nationalism in Africa, he applies the principle.
Published in the November 1943 issue of Educational Outlook, the article observes in line with dialectical thinking that ‘When two cultures meet there is bound to be a crisis – a crisis which often results in the cultural dialectic synthesis of the two. Development leads, at a certain point, to a revolutionary break and to the emergence of a new thing – a new culture, a new education, or a new national life.’ (ibid. p. 212). At page 34 of the dissertation he is to assert the principle that ‘the development of mind as process conditioned and occasioned by productive forces became the basis of Marxian dialectics’ which we see him apply here. He sees Marxian dialectics as ‘the general law of life, change and development’ (ibid. p. 34).
All this suggests that before Dr. Kwame Nkrumah writes his first known book Towards Colonial Freedom in 1947, he had developed a full-blown conviction in Marxist philosophy and applied it in his analyses. No doubt then that that book comes out as a clean illustration of his Marxist skills of analysis. It is, therefore, not fortuitous that at page 196 of June Milne’s Kwame Nkrumah: The Conakry Years he says that the ‘Essence of Marxism-Nkrumaism is contained in Towards Colonial Freedom. This plus Consciencism has its place in the development of Nkrumaism.’ This confirms that his effort to trace the line of his Marxist intellectual history in the Revolutionary Path is not a self-serving ploy as some people hold.
In the face of these incontrovertible facts those who are desperate in their efforts to dissociate Marxism from the philosophical thought system of Dr. Kwame Nkrumah have claimed a dichotomy between Consciencism and Marxism. They trace the origins of the former to an African source dating some centuries or millennia back. Yet, in Consciencism we find no such reference although we see general references to ‘African traditional culture’. And this offers no surprise to us since throughout his intellectual career Dr. Nkrumah never deviates from the position of his philosophy dissertation that ‘calls for correlation between African culture and that of the western world.’ (ibid. p. 212); that is, a cultural reciprocity.
In fact, his worry has always been ‘how to educate and initiate the African into modern life without uprooting him from his home and tribal life.’ (ibid. p. 212) In this respect, he opts for ‘acculturation’ whereby a process of assimilating new ideas into the existing cognitive system is promoted. Twenty-one years later, in Consciencism, he repeats this idea when he makes the African system the base that accommodates the foreign ideas. The process of this accommodation is pursued on the basis of the analytical principles of Marxism. No doubt then that in his book Revolutionary Path Dr. Nkrumah is occupied with showing the Marxist thread holding his intellectual and political life together; and, thereby, urging us to do the same.
Thinking within the Marxist framework, at least since 1943, Dr. Kwame Nkrumah sets his mind to the achievement of Africa’s self-determination. In his 1943 article Education and Nationalism in Africa he sees a problem in a process whereby Africans were emerging from one culture into a new one without the power of self-determination to choose the direction of their development. Hear him: ‘The problem becomes greater and more embarrassing as we view a people emerging from one condition of culture and embracing a new culture which is both intricate and complex in its civilizational techniques and at the same time see that people refused self-determination to choose its own course and manner of existence.’
The import of his restiveness about the question of self-determination is founded on his philosophical position that matter has an independent existence. This is how he states it in his 1944 dissertation: ‘The assumption that the individual is given, to begin with, implies the independent existence of matter…’ (ibid. p. 60). If matter is independent then Africa, as a material objective existence, does not have to be refused its self-determination by which only it can choose its path of development. [It is curious that at this stage Dr. Kwame Nkrumah asserts ‘a dualism of mind and body (matter)’ (ibid.). Listen carefully: ‘a dualism’. In Consciencism, he explains at length by the application of ‘categorial conversion’ what this dualism entails as opposed to the prevalent dualism.]
This deep-seated conviction, rooted in philosophy, disposes Dr. Kwame Nkrumah into an unshakable commitment to the African Destiny. And this commitment does not get lost on contemporaries like Ako Adjei who is to invite him later to give vim to the lethargic elitist United Gold Coast Convention (UGCC). Before that, his arrival in Great Britain and participation in the 5th Pan-African Congress in 1945 bring a new meaning to the Pan-African struggle. Serving as a Secretary of the Congress and for the first time in the history of the Pan-African Congresses, he pens The Declaration to the Colonial Peoples and appeals to the workers of Africa on whom he places the burden of Africa’s achievement of self-determination – a Marxist position.
This general declaration, with its special and specific appeal to the workers of Africa, Dr. Kwame Nkrumah is to follow with efforts to bring together socialist African leaders after the 5th Pan-African Congress. For which reason, he travels to Paris in France to talk with the African members of the French parliament. In so doing, he tells us of his awareness that these socialists are not scientific socialists. No doubt then that the effort failed. Back in Great Britain, he forms a secret Marxist group called The Circle. The importance of calling attention to The Circle being secret is that for over a decade Dr. Nkrumah is to keep his Marxist orientation secret as a security measure in an era when communism is outlawed.
On his arrival in Ghana in 1947, the vehicle of the UGCC and its payment of a monthly salary to him enhance his fortune as a professional revolutionary as The Circle prescribes for its members. As a Marxist professional revolutionary, Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, serving as the General Secretary of the UGCC, changes the elitist statements-issuing strategy of its leadership to a grassroots strategy of directly participating in the life of the working people and mobilizing them for the ultimate street confrontations with the colonial state. In these efforts he seizes every opportunity to mount pressure on the colonial system to cede power to the people. At the centre of his agitations is the tiny working class of trade unionists.
Within a few months of his return to Ghana Dr. Nkrumah succeeds in setting in motion a mass movement. Given the tiny nature of the working class and the virtual absence of an indigenous capitalist (bourgeois) class in the colony he conceptualizes not the rule of the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’ (as conceived in the Soviet Union a la Marxism-Leninism) but the rule of the ‘dictatorship of the masses’ (The Conakry Years, p. 196).* Hence, the movement set in motion potentially comes into confrontation with its own general elitist leadership as well as the colonial state. Consequently, in the light of threats from the other leaders of the party to sack him from the party the party mass urges him to resign for a new party.
On the bent back of a member at a rally in 1949 he writes and reads his resignation letter and pronounces the Convention People’s Party (CPP) formed. The concept of ‘dictatorship of the masses’ comes into play when the CPP is later declared as a vanguard party of the masses. The parallel in the Soviet Union is the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) serving as the vanguard party of the working class. The CPP as a vanguard party of the mass movement displays a heterogeneous membership. According to Capt. Kojo Tsikata, while Ernesto Che Guevara attends a party function in Ghana the latter asks about Ghana’s vanguard party. Che smiles when fingers are pointed at the sprawling mass in attendance.
It is this vanguard party type that becomes the base for the evolution of a new state type appropriate for the new developmental direction of building a non-capitalist economy. For, Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, being a Marxist thinker and activist, directs the post-independence reconstruction effort not at promoting capitalist industries but building State industries in the interest of the masses. This reflects the reality of a very tiny working class in an atmosphere where capitalist industries were virtually non-existent; for, colonialism leaves the country with virtually no established industries. Rather than use state resources to promote exploitative interests of individuals he directs such resources to the mass interest.
Categorization of the on-going process as ‘socialism’ is based on the fact of intention to re-orient the economy away from colonial, neo-colonial and capitalist exploitation in the interest of the masses. We are anxious to explain that this ideological choice necessitates a state of the new-type. For, the inherited colonial state, designed to facilitate the execution of colonial capitalist policies, cannot be an effective vehicle for policies of an opposite nature. It is all like using a maize-grinding machine to grind rocks. The said intention materializes with Dr. Nkrumah’s creation at the Flagstaff House of a parallel budding socialist state structure of security, administrative and ideological institutions to facilitate the new process.
This presents a panorama of an increasing neglect of the inherited colonial state apparatus to the chagrin of its personnel. The newly emerging state set up becomes more co-operative with socialist countries and less with those of the West. The occasioned institutional conflict then creates the grounds for the Western countries’ collaboration with aggrieved personnel of the inherited colonial state system to overthrow the Nkrumah regime. The success of the operation ends in the precipitate and systematic destruction of the newly emergent state leading to the abandonment of the re-orientation programme for economic development occasioning the sale of the new state industries to the Western competition for destruction. It marks the Day of Shame.
This destruction of the new state industries and their supervisory state apparatus leaves in its trail a mass of working people available to be employed in new capitalist enterprises promoted by the UGCC elite who now act as advisers of the military regime and thereafter as the cream of the established neo-colonial state. In these new circumstances, a working class (proletariat) of an impressive size emerges. By 1970, Dr. Kwame Nkrumah is convinced that the working class has become more formidable than ever before. For him, this means that the conceptualization of ‘the dictatorship of the masses’ gives way to the concept of ‘the dictatorship of the proletariat’.
The mass movement now requires a proletarian vanguard – vanguard party of the working class, he concludes in his book Class Struggle in Africa. That vanguard party is at the centre of building the People’s State from the grassroots with power in the People’s hand. The era of the mass party passes out. With this the intellectual and political life of Dr. Kwame Nkrumah is seen not as a static phenomenon but a dynamic whole unfolding in tune with the development of the class struggle in Africa which he projects to end in a socialist united Africa under the socialist People’s Republican State of Africa.
In his own words at page 196 of The Conakry Years, ‘Marxism-Nkrumaism … is not a concrete set of laws or principles, but will evolve as the revolutionary struggle in Africa evolves’. This is a statement of the essence of philosophical dialectical materialist thinking as a guide to building the Socialist State: first, as a parallel emergence; second, as a developing structure in struggles with the existing neo-colonial state; and, finally, replacing the latter after its destruction but not its capture. To undertake this project in Africa with the assistance of a critical mass of professional revolutionaries is the African working people’s task.
During the colonial struggle the colonial state is captured but in our era of the neo-colonial state the latter is destroyed and replaced with the socialist People’s Republican State.
- In his intended constructive critical review of Dr. Kwame Nkrumah’s Class Struggle in Africa, Omafume F. Onoge seriously misses the point that in Dr. Nkrumah’s revolutionary practice of and transiting from ‘the dictatorship of the masses’ to ‘the dictatorship of the proletariat’ it is the objective material conditions of the struggle that determine his choices but not a so-called Ghandist idealism. The strategic issue here is Onoge’s failure to recognize Dr. Nkrumah’s concept of ‘the dictatorship of the masses’ extracted from the objective reality of a virtually non-existent indigenous bourgeoisie during the pre-independence struggles.
Date: January 25, 2013