INSTINCT, CONSCIENCE AND
IN RELATION TO CULTURE
THE MIND OF SÉKOU TOURÉ
Lang T. K. A. Nubuor
Table of Contents
In this contribution to the discussion of Ahmed Sékou Touré’s Revolution, Culture and Pan-Africanism we need to first of all acknowledge the fact of Sékou Touré being a Marxist. In an entry of Wikipedia, we find a statement to the effect that
Touré’s early life was characterized by challenges of authority, including during his education. Touré was obliged to work to take care of himself. He began working for the Postal Services (PTT), and quickly became involved in labour union activity. During his youth and after becoming president, Touré studied the works of communist philosophers, especially those of Karl Marx and Vladimir Lenin…
During his presidency Touré led a strong policy based on Marxism, with the nationalization of foreign companies and strong planned economics. He won the Lenin Peace Prize as a result in 1961. Wikipedia
This, it seems to us, helps to understand the methodological essence of his thought processes. In particular, his employment of Marxist usages help us not to see logical contradiction in his assertion, for instance, that culture being the creator of man is itself created by society. This assertion, for those conversant with Marxist usages, is made on the basis of the Marxist concept of dialectical contradiction which validates it.
We are obliged at this early stage to state this acknowledgement in view of the emergence of a certain concept of Afrocentricity or Afrocentricism within a particular scholarly trend in Pan-Africanism. That trend, which we have had occasion to christen as The Sankofa Tendency, implicitly rejects the use of Marxist categories in the analysis of African reality. When pushed to the wall, its younger advocates defensively refer to those categories having originated from African sources. They cite the Arab African Ibn Khaldun as one of such sources. We must confess that we are at a loss as to the point of their contention: is it the categories that they are disputing or their authorship?
Whatever it is that The Sankofa Tendency is contesting, we are certain in our mind that both Dr. Kwame Nkrumah and Ahmed Sékou Touré hold on to a concept of Afrocentricity that asserts the universality of culture. By this, they hold – if we are to quote, firstly, from Dr. Kwame Nkrumah’s 1944 dissertation Mind and Thought in Primitive Society where he has a citation from his 1943 article ‘Education and Nationalism in Africa’ (published in Educational Outlook, November, 1943) – to effect that
In the educational process of the African the best in Western culture should be combined with the best in African culture. In this respect there should be collaboration between educators, sociologists, and anthropologists, whose findings should enable those who are responsible for African education to prevent destruction of the best in indigenous African culture and at the same time to acquaint the African with the best in his own as well as in foreign civilizations. Any system of education is impossible without respect for the educand.
Whatever may be the political and educational trends and potentialities, education in Africa should produce a new class of educated Africans imbued with the culture of the West but nevertheless attached to their environment. The new class of Africans should demand the powers of self-determination and independence to determine the progress and advancement of their own country. They must combine the best in western civilization with the best in African culture. Only on this ground can Africa create a new and distinct civilization in the process of world advance. p.212
Dr. Nkrumah reiterates the essence of this1943 statement in an October 23, 1960 speech ‘To The Students of Ghana College’, Tamale, when he tells the students that ‘Culture is universal, but every country adds a specific flavour and a unique contribution to the heritage.’ (Samuel Obeng, Selected Speeches –Kwame Nkrumah, Vol. 1, p.195). Endorsing and elaborating on this dimension of the definition of culture, Sékou Touré states at page 13 of Revolution, Culture and Pan-Africanism, that ‘The Peoples of Africa, emerging once again to the world of responsibility, must collectively and resolutely rank under the banner of African Culture the humanistic values, moral and material richness of which will constitute their contribution to the universal cultural heritage’.
In spite of their admission of the universality and particularity of culture, both Dr. Nkrumah and Sékou Touré resist foreign domination of African culture and suggest how the particular should relate to the universal. In their resistance, they assert a concept of Afrocentricity. In this respect, as to which aspect of the cultural mix must be dominant, Dr. Nkrumah asserts the centrality of African reality in thought and practice at pages 78-79 of his 1964 book Consciencism in these clear terms:
Our attitude to the Western and the Islamic experience must be purposeful… Our philosophy must find its weapons in the environment and the living conditions of the African people. It is from those conditions that the intellectual content of our philosophy must be created.
The philosophy that must stand behind this social revolution is that which I have once referred to as philosophical consciencism; consciencism is the map in intellectual terms of the disposition of forces which will enable African society to digest the Western and the Islamic and the Euro-Christian elements in Africa, and develop them in such a way that they fit into the African personality.
Hence, the Afrocentricity adumbrated by Dr. Kwame Nkrumah is not only dialectical and therefore non-exclusivist but also revolutionary in intent and practice. It accepts the presence and reality of Western and Islamic cultures in the African milieu. But it asserts the dominance of African culture over those cultures within the African framework with this latter as the base that enriches itself through a digestion of the others. And what is digestion but the extraction of what is useful and rejection of that which is harmful within what is taken in for one’s healthy living and development!
In his work at hand Revolution, Culture and Pan-Africanism, Ahmed Sékou Touré elaborates on the universal when he explains that ‘The universal becomes thus a set of guiding laws considered a common language, and which express themselves both through all languages of culture of various social dimensions and human qualities, and through means and conditions of existence that are as diverse, and different as the standards of historical development of human societies.’ (Italics added) He states one of such laws in these terms:
Human societies necessarily act on the basis of means and forms peculiar to them; this explains at once the universal character of the People’s aspiration to the same ideals of grandeur, happiness, justice and peace, as well as their peculiarity, particularity and specificity which, in turn, express the authenticity of their past, their social, historical context and means. Page 13. (Italics added)
It is in this spirit of contribution to the universal that Revolutionary Pan-Africanists assert their right and feel no sense of being dominated when they dip their hands into the universal culture fund to avail themselves of what is useful for their purposes. This is why Dr. Kwame Nkrumah feels no sense of shame when he says that
For the third category of colonial student it was especially impossible to read the works of Marx and Engels as desiccated abstract philosophies having no bearing on our colonial situation. During my stay in America the conviction was firmly created in me that a great deal in their thought could assist us in the fight against colonialism. I learnt to see philosophical systems in the context of the social milieu which produced them. I therefore learnt to look for social contention in philosophical systems. (Kwame Nkrumah, Consciencism, p.5
In fact, it is from this learning that he could be seen to pursue the truth about the African reality from the living conditions of the African people but not those of American or European society – leading to his brand of Afrocentricity which does not invalidate the appropriation of laws, universally contributed to in a long process of debates and polemics, like those of Marxism in particular (contrary to the practice of the neo-colonial elite who equate the universal with the particular and go around bleating out statements like this: ‘You see, in America or the UK this is how it is done; so it’s wrong to think otherwise’). On his part, Ahmed Sékou Touré puts all this by way of elaboration thus:
The foundations of African Culture were built by our own creative genius. We must protect and enrich our own cultural wealth, our own conceptions, our own values. We may learn by ourselves everything that is necessary, everything that we find positive in Europe, America, etc. If necessary, we may adapt methods of action of other Peoples to Africa’s development, provided that they are convenient to us and that we are free to change them in order to further valorize our own culture. (Ahmed Sékou Touré, Revolution, Culture and Pan-Africanism, pp. 185-186)
At this point, we make bold to assert that this is scientific and revolutionary Afrocentricity as opposed to the undialectical, unscientific and metaphysical as well as racist Afrocentricity or Afrocentricism that The Sankofa Tendency in Pan-Africanism promotes with such pitifully misplaced scholarly audacity. It is this scientific Afrocentricity that Revolutionary Pan-Africanism projects. It is that Afrocentricity that shares in the universal appropriation of universal laws that peoples of all cultures and climes, including Africans (be they Black Africans, Arab Africans, Indian Africans, Boer Africans [Afrikaners] and African Americans), have made and continue to make their contributions to.
In this respect, let us remind those Sankofa metaphysicians that their opposition to Marxism is oblivious of the fact that Marxism was in the 19th century a culmination of philosophical materialism’s struggles against idealism from the 18th century waged by materialist philosophers in Germany, including the African philosopher from Ghana, Anthony William Amo, who taught in German Universities in Halle, Jena and Wittenberg and wrote the book De Humanae Mentis Apatheia. To deny the African the use of universal laws they have contributed to in the process of discovery is the quintessence of a nonsensical neo-colonial scholarly reactionary profile.
It is in the face of such reactionary profile that Dr. Kwame Nkrumah boldly asserts his ideological system as Marxism-Nkrumaism. (Check June Milne, Kwame Nkrumah: The Conakry Years p.196). This is the ideological system that guides and informs Revolutionary Pan-Africanism and finds its elaboration in the works of Africans like Sékou Touré, Patrice Lumumba, Amilcar Cabral, Felix Moumie, etc.
In a significant page 78 statement of definition in Sékou Touré’s Revolution, Culture and Pan-Africanism, culture is defined as the totality of a society’s accumulated material and immaterial equipment for a people’s liberation and mastery of nature in the process of building a better society. In the elaboration of that statement, Sékou Touré itemizes the components of the said equipment as ‘works and constructive works, knowledge and know-how, languages, behaviours and experiences’.
The accumulation process is explained to exhibit stages. At page 70 Sékou Touré designates that ‘instinct … is a stage of culture’. Instinct is then seen on the same page as capable of changing into a higher stage; thus suggesting it to be a lower stage in the process of culture’s development. That higher stage is asserted as ‘conscience’. In the words of Sékou Touré: ‘The change of instinctinto conscience, in the course of history, has marked and sanctioned the accession to a higher stage, corresponding to a qualitative bound.’
The process of how this change occurs might be found at pages 164 and 88. Whereas the poem that is captioned ‘Revolution’ at page 164 dramatizes the process as ‘from the instinct suddenly appears … conscience’, page 88 explains that ‘In the stage of development of life, conscience substitutes itself to the instinct…’ This act of substitution could be appreciated within the context of a statement at pages 56-57 to the effect that instinct and conscience co-exist in man from the level of the cells that determine his/her form and capacities; but that in the course of time conscience develops at the expense of instinct due to the fact that experience (the past) feeds it and more. Read:
… right from the cells which give him his form and his various capacities, man is the mixture of the infinitely small and the infinitely great, the dynamic synthesis of two beings identical by nature, while different. He is at the same time instinct and conscience, the one developing at the expense of the other. The past is the source which feeds conscience, and that conscience has the role of actualising in the present a portion of that past, in view of making it converge towards the future. This indicates that conscience is the sum of experience (past) and knowledge (the present projected towards the future). Pp.56-57
Certainly, there is a difficulty in reconciling ‘substitution’ with ‘sudden (appearance)’ if our understanding is that there is a time sequence between the emergence of both ‘instinct’ and ‘conscience’. This understanding is reinforced by the statement at page 55 in reference to ‘the creation of … conscience by a qualitative change of the instinct’ which implies the emergence of conscience from instinct. The assertion, however, that man ‘is at the same time instinct and conscience’ rather suggests otherwise with the implication that the two emerge simultaneously in the process of foetal development. Furthermore, Touré distinguishes instinct (from conscience) as ‘an undefined cultural stock’ (page 69) or ‘the natural cultural stock’ (page 129) that involves all animal categories but independent of space, time and the environment. These are his words at page 69:
For us … instinct represents an undefined cultural stock including all categories of animals but excluding space and time as well as the surrounding creatures and natural phenomena affecting the course of life. This distinction would not be of the order of conscience, because it proceeds neither from analysis, nor from a synthesis, nor even from a value judgement. But in fact, a dog that avoids a danger has certainly analysed it before ‘taking the decision’ to keep away from it.
Hence, with Sékou Touré, as indicated by our italics in the citation immediately above, instinct is not actually a stage of conscience as some philosophers affirm. It is a stage of culture. That stage is overtaken by the stage of conscience which, unlike instinct, is susceptible to the influence of the environment as well as space and time; but which, like instinct, as indicated by the analytical dog, has always been present. In fact, he is impatient with philosophers who take contradictory positions on the issue and thus declares: ‘We will not go into futile philosophical discussions taking instinct at one time as conscience of the lowest degree, at another time admitting it as totally different in nature from conscience.’
At this new stage, the stage of conscience, Sékou Touré concludes at page 72 that conscience is ‘the prime mover of culture’. He also refers to this stage at page 88 as ‘the stage of development of life’. He characterizes the previous stage as ‘a biophysical stage’ where people protect their life first and where ‘instinctively imposed behaviour’ dominates (page 87). The instinct that is said to dominate here is also, at page 70, said to have been endowed. This forcefully explains the position above that instinct is independent of the environment as well as space and time. Doesn’t endowment imply innateness here? This requires clarification; for, how can a ‘cultural stock’ be innate? We’ll be back.
Another point that also requires clarification is the origin of conscience. In stating above that man is at the same time instinct and conscience Sékou Touré gives us an impression of the co-existence and simultaneous origination of both instinct and conscience in man. With respect to conscience, however, page 125 states that ‘The conscience, contrary to what the idealists try to say, is not entirely in man as such, in a perfect, completed state and the genesis of which would be inexplicable by its own nature’. That appears to be a partial reiteration that conscience originates (has its genesis) in man. But at page 124 we see ‘intelligence’ interchangeably used with ‘conscience’.
In itself, intelligence could be understood to be part of the capacities that at pages 56-57 Sékou Touré talks about when he refers to ‘the cells which give (man) his form and his various capacities’. If this were so then the equivalence expressed between ‘intelligence’ and ‘conscience’ should enable us understand conscience in terms of intelligence. This is justified within the appreciation of how Sékou Touré at page 126 apprehends the process of the evolution of conscience: ‘In order for man to raise the level of conscience he must as well continually perfect his theoretical knowledge, accumulate and develop his experience, learn to analyse and select, to act concretely and express what he feels and knows…’ That is how intelligence also develops.
All this suggests that conscience, in Sékou Touré’s terms, is a capacity of the brain susceptible to development from the exigencies of the environment. As the prime mover of culture, therefore, conscience is the seat of culture. In this sense, the usage of conscience here has no connotation of ethical or moral suggestions. It rather suggests the presence of mind and it is mind. It suggests consciousness and it is consciousness. It is, therefore, interchangeably used with ‘mind’ or as ‘consciousness’. These usages are in conformity with usages in philosophy where mind, conscience and consciousness are employed in the same sense. This is, however, without prejudice to the ethical or moral connotations of ‘conscience’ where it is variously stated to mean:
- Conformity to one’s own sense of right conduct.
- A feeling of shame when you do something immoral.
- Motivation deriving logically from ethical or moral principles that govern a person’s thoughts and actions. (The Sage’s English Dictionary)
Hence, within the philosophical context, conscience connotes understanding in terms of knowledge acquisition and morality or ethics in terms of value judgement. These are more or less explicitly stated at page 129. Regarding the understanding and knowledge it is therein stated that ‘Conscience that man gets and which the beast lacks is the only factor which distinguishes him more and more from the beast, that reinforces his power on nature by knowing the laws of the latter, knowledge that makes him more and more man thanks to natural philosophy, natural sciences, techniques and technology.’
In respect of morality or ethics, Sékou Touré observes that ‘An unperspicacious thinker affirms simply: there is always a man comparable with himself. But actually, the analysis, to be complete, must distinguish two forms of conscience corresponding to two forms of culture, two ways of opposed, differentiated and antagonistic life, thought and behaviour owing to contradictory interests: class conscience which regards man as an object or subject of history and for which human progress is the end assigned to all social activities, and class conscience which considers man as equal to instrument, a tool, a means to be used by others.’ He then explains this by the assertion that:
The history of Humanity then tends to be the history of the struggle of class consciences, class cultures, characterized by class interests, the struggle opposing justice to injustice, right to wrong, progress to stagnation and to regression, finally Revolution to counter-revolution on the permanent basis of antagonism between interests, objectives and cultures making groups of men different.
It is instructive to observe in these citations that the moral or ethical dimension of conscience is not only asserted as class conscience but also that this class conscience is of two forms generated by contradictory interests in correspondence with two cultures. These two cultures are then described as class cultures. In dialectical terms, Sékou Touré states this in this sophisticated way: ‘Culture, being the secretion of the conscience and the generator of the supreme conscience, becomes then a culture of a social class’.
Having identified what we may now call the epistemological and ethical dimensions of conscience – one dealing with knowledge and understanding (truth search) and the other dealing with morality (interests pursuit) – Sékou Touré shows how they are connected: the one makes use of the other. At pages 104-106 he explains that one of the two class cultures utilizes the knowledge resources (truth) generated by the epistemological dimension of conscience for the advancement of the people while the other utilizes them for their exploitation. This universal access to knowledge to the classes is stated thus:
The Man of Culture is … somebody who obeys the conscience of the right, the truth and the individual who obeys the instinct of evil, cupidity and uses the resources of knowledge against the People, and man in order to exploit them…
Among men of culture loyal to the People, translating the deep aspirations of the People, there are some who know how to handle marvellously a pen and know how to speak; but there are also and mainly those who act courageously, with lucidity and abnegation without knowing how to write while getting brilliant and noble ideas.
Men of Culture are undeniably masters of Arts; also, just as the first, they do register events in the register of history which demands for its perenniality neither paper nor pen: the immortal memory of the immortal People…
The P.D.G. congratulates all the artists of all disciplines and urges them to continue to produce and to make constant use of Revolutionary Culture in order to accelerate the liberation of our People from mystification, from all ideological and economic deficiencies.
It is on the basis of this interconnectedness between the two dimensions of conscience, which Sékou Touré sees as the prime mover of culture, that he makes this final statement to encapsulate the entire idea of a culture thus: ‘Well then, what is culture if not the sum of experiences of knowledge, allowing the human being to regulate his own behaviour, his relation with external nature?’ But these, as required of a materialist philosophy, do not yet comprehensively explain the origins of instinct and conscience. The assertion of man being endowed with ‘instinct’ and by a certain extension ‘conscience’ is not enough. As it is, it lends itself to claims of innateness which is the arsenal of idealist philosophy for the mystification of life through the introduction of objective spirit entities into the philosophical discourse by the mistaken route.
That explanation is found in Dr. Kwame Nkrumah’s Consciencism at pages 23-24. Firstly, let us note that Dr. Nkrumah treats ‘mind’ and ‘conscience’ as category equivalents and therefore uses them interchangeably as, for instance, in the page 23 assertion that ‘philosophical materialism accepts mind or conscience only as a derivative of matter’. Secondly, the idea of mind as a derivative of matter is biologically explained at page 24; that is, the origin of mind or conscience is located in a biological source but not in any process of mysterious endowment or innateness externally conferred. The suggestion at page 24 is that mind or conscience is not inborn but the result of developing matter or the nervous system attaining a critical point. Intelligent activity cannot, therefore, be observed in the foetus before that critical point. Read:
Mind, according to philosophical materialism, is the result of a critical organization of matter. Nervous organization has to attain a certain minimum of complexity for the display of intelligent activity, or presence of mind. The presence of mind and the attainment of this critical minimum of organization of matter are one and the same thing … That is to say, notwithstanding that the meaning of … ‘mind’, is not ‘a critical organization of nervous matter’, as the meaning of ‘submarine’ is ‘a ship capable of moving under water’, mind is nothing but the upshot of matter with a critical nervous arrangement.
Hence, once again, we find that ‘intelligence’ ‘conscience’ and ‘mind’ are used in the same sense by African philosophical materialists of the Pan-African Revolutionary Tendency who locate ‘them’ in the process of the biological evolution of the human foetus. It is within that process that ‘instinct’ also emerges through the accumulative experiences that the foetus acquires from the environment within the womb. (At page 129, Sékou Touré talks about ‘instinctual culture which is accumulated’)
The reactions of the foetus to change of conditions within the womb, which conditions are the primary sources of experiences of pain and pleasure for the foetus, constitute ‘the natural cultural stock’ that the born baby emerges from the womb with as ‘instinct’. The use of the adjectival ‘natural’ only refers to the biological environment of the womb as opposed to the material environment into which the baby is later born. There is no implication of ‘innateness’ which by itself suggests a presence even at the very minute that the spermatozoic cell fuses with the ovular cell.
All of us now know that kind of presence to be a mistaken claim. If it were not then Sékou Touré would not talk about the possibility of getting rid of the instinct and advocate such riddance. The possibility of this riddance is tangentially acknowledged at page 138 thus: ‘The more man acquires by his scientific knowledge, intellectual, technical, ideological and moral capabilities and the more he gets power in order to get rid of the instinctual orders, conscience evolution is therefore related to cultural efficient, historic and rate value.’
Culture and Ideology
Sékou Touré makes conscience the prime mover of culture; and while he distinguishes conscience from ideology when he states at page 72 that ‘conscience is not ideology’ he also states at pages 70-71 that ‘culture is the framework of ideology, the latter remaining the content of the former’. Just as Dr. Kwame Nkrumah holds ideology as the content of cultural expressions which it utilizes as its instruments for self-realization so does Sékou Touré see culture as a container (framework) within which ideology operates. Sékou Touré’s introduction of ‘conscience’ in the equation appears to deepen it.
The significance of this occurrence of three categories in the cultural equation for the determination of the dynamism of culture could be felt in Sékou Touré’s virtual comprehensive statement that employs them thus: ‘Since the foundation of all culture is Society itself, since the prime mover of all culture is the collective conscience of Society, considering that collective conscience is not ideology, the historical process of evolution of every Society has consistent repercussions in the process of its cultural and ideological development.’ P.72
How do we understand that? We appear to be aided at pages 75-76. There, we are told that society creates culture, first, spontaneously and, second, more consciously. As we have already seen, these correspond respectively to the biophysical stage (instinctual) and the stage of development of life (conscience) in culture. The said pages proceed to explain that once created by society culture does not only become society’s ‘distinguishing characteristic feature’ but in turn reacts upon society to recreate it. It also has a corresponding ideology (pages 70-71) which consistently follows its development and with it interacts. The content follows the framework. Read:
To every culture corresponds an ideology and the nature of culture is but a transposition of the ideology which, as a set of rules of conduct fit for the attainment of certain ideals, follows unintermittingly (sic) the development noted in culture which is the framework of ideology, the latter remaining the content of the former. The harmony between the framework and the content forms the basis for the appreciation of the viability and dynamism of culture and ideology. This characteristic feature of the interaction between the framework and the content justifies the specific character of the cultural personality of each society.
Thus, whereas ideology constitutes the content of culture as its framework, it appears to be at the heels of and determined in its development by culture. And since conscience is presented as ‘the prime mover of culture’ we are obliged to understand conscience to be the ultimate determinant of ideology. According to Sékou Touré (pages 75-76) although the analysis distinguishes between the acts of creation of culture by society and re-creation of society by culture in a sequential order, in reality the process is integrated. We might be justified in including ideology in that integrated process. Hence, ‘conscience’, ‘culture’ and ‘ideology’ are integrated in the definition of culture – with ‘conscience’ being the source of dynamism.
Thus, in the beginning are instinct and conscience:
Then conscience overtakes instinct.
Conscience shows two forms:
The epistemological and the ethical or moral.
It finally gets rid of instinct.
While the epistemological understands the environment
And constructs systems of science and philosophy,
The ethical or moral sorts out the right and the wrong;
These latter are determined by which class interests are represented,
On the basis of which interests ideological systems are erected
To determine the ideals to be attained in promotion of right.
Right is justice
Wrong or evil is injustice
In promotion of which two – justice and injustice –
The fruits of science and philosophy are mutually employed.
All these actions and reactions on the environment accumulate
As Culture of the people who thus create it
But on whom it reacts to recreate them in their eternal march forward.
So that every human society exhibits a culture of and for its survival;
No human society therefore ever lives without a culture.
That is why Africans have always had a culture;
That Africans ever lived without a culture,
As their colonizers and neo-colonialists claim,
Is a lie that no African should ever accept
Lest the light of the African Personality be dimmed in its brilliance!
Thus saith Revolutionary Pan-Africanism
Through the voice of Ahmed Sékou Touré
In elaboration of Marxism-Nkrumaism.
July 1, 2013