The bosses ARE the problem! Build workers power NOW!!
The year started with sorrow, tears and blood for poor working-class people. Different sections of the bosses’ and would-be bosses’ classes are trying to exploit this to further their own interests. 14 killed in Port Harcourt, 73 in Benue, while Boko Haram’s attacks remain “as lethal as ever” according to the BBC, with over a dozen persons killed in several attacks in January.
Petrol scarcity saw thousands queuing up for hours at petrol stations while the price of fuel has unofficially shot up by over 50% in most states. This has already impacted on transport costs for millions of commuters and poor travellers.
Despite the government’s claim that the pump price of fuel will not be increased (as they always say before most price increments), we are likely to face yet another price hike with the increasing complaints of major and independent oil importers that the current price does not reflect reality i.e. reality for their fat profits.
Meanwhile, 12 states still owe public sector workers’ backlogs of salaries, in some cases for more than two years. And the unemployment rate has increased by 4.6%, with 34 million people either unemployed or barely eking out more of a dismal existence than a living.
The appalling living standards of working-class people in the country has been captured by a recent report which shows that 82.8 million Nigerians are extremely poor. This is the largest number of impoverished people anywhere in the world representing 45% of the country’s population. This is also the highest percentage of any population living in abject poverty.
It is thus generally clear that life has become “nasty, short and brutish” for the poor masses. It is this context of our sufferings that Generals Olusegun Obasanjo and Ibrahim Babangida, two former heads of state, for example, seek to exploit with their recent public statements.
But are they really concerned about our plight? Can we as working-class people and youth place our fate in their hands or those of other middle-class intervention “movements” positioning themselves for relevance in preparations for the 2019 general elections? How can we break the chains of exploitation and oppression, emancipate ourselves and build a better society?
The ruling class: a “band of warring brothers”
The bosses exploit our labour and the natural resources in our lands. The secret of their wealth lies in our poverty. They set-up institutions of law and order to maintain the status quo which benefits them at our expense. But that is not enough.
They also ensure that the dominant ideas, values, beliefs and morals in society reflect their interest. This is very important for them to control and manipulate working-class people because it helps grant legitimacy to their ruling status, and subtly encourages we, the masses, to frame how we think, based on the interests of our oppressors.
However, while the bosses’ as a class are collectively united against us, different sections of this class are always in competition with each other over who gets the lion share of the wealth and who controls or at least wields the greater influence over the institutions of state power.
The volley of criticisms against the Buhari presidency by people like Obasanjo and Babangida who are of the same millionaires and billionaires class of capitalists reflects this inherent intra-class struggle of the bosses. But that is not all. Nor does this general situation fully explain why the criticisms are coming now.
The more perceptive bosses (largely so because they are out of the blinding corridor of self-deceit which their fellow bosses in direct control of governmental power walk in) can better sense the fact that the terrible situation poor working-class people are faced with is a keg of gunpowder which can explode at any moment.
And they are keen to defuse it, in a way and manner that further helps to legitimise the rule of the bosses’ class, including channelling our discontent into the peaceful route of the ballot box as a means of inventing our consenting to whichever set of the oppressors will lord it over for us from 2019.
The alternative which scares all the bosses of course is that we rise and fight with strikes, taking up the streets, and throwing the class of exploiters into the rubbish bin of history as workers did in Russia a hundred years ago.
It is within this context that we can best understand the wolf-in-sheep’s-clothing concern being expressed by some “big men”. We should not allow them to divert us with the superficial debate of Obasanjo and IBB having no moral right to speak out on one hand or that the message and not its messengers should be considered on the other hand.
It is no secret that the two Generals are shameless thieves and were grossly incompetent even by capitalist standards as rulers. We need not waste our time listing out the well-known mile-long evidence whish substantiates these. A cursory look at their statements is important only for understanding the strategies of these warring brothers as they scheme to “use our heads”.
The “towards a national rebirth” statement credited to IBB (even though in his characteristic manner he later stylishly disowned) stresses the need for “new breed leadership” as the way forward out of the mess that people like him have made of the country, with “rebranded politics”.
Essentially, what his perspective aims at, is to prepare the ground for the flourishing of a younger generation of the bosses’ class to perpetuate the same anti-poor people system and policies of degenerate capitalism, probably with a few cosmetic reforms. But what we need is deeper than a generational change. What we need is revolutionary system change.
In his earlier issued statement, Obasanjo pointed out the obvious; a failing economy and a presidency reeking with the rot of nepotism-as-corruption. But it is rather disingenuous to reduce the reason for this to Buhari’s lack of “knowledge and understanding of the economy”. Essentially the economic woes of Nigeria are tied to the systemic crises of global capitalism, which it is part of.
However, while he lists a litany of complaints about his fellow soldier-politician, President Buhari, many of which are self-evident, his main aim (which he uses these to justify in the most manipulative manoeuvre of a warring brother), flowing from a realisation of the failure and inability of both PDP and APC to defend “the national interest”, is captured in the title of the statement: “The Way Out: A Clarion Call for Coalition for Nigeria Movement”.
Barely days after, this “third force” of his, an animal called “Coalition for Nigeria Movement,” was openly declared.
“Third Forces” and their discontents
There is so much confusion about the very idea of a supposedly “third force”, despite the idea’s gaining currency in political discussions. There are different groupings representing this notion. But they all share something in common; intent to divert the political energies of working-class people into the sterile waters of electoral politics (and mainly with 2019 in view).
There are broadly speaking, three coalitions of the “third force”, independent of each other. And they are all pursuing their objectively common goals in different ways. These are the Coalition for Nigeria, National Intervention Movement and Coalition for a New Nigeria.
The Coalition for Nigeria is the manifest masquerade behind the mask of Obasanjo’s “clarion call”. It is comprised of “the same old politicians wey rule Nigeria before”, as Fela Anikulapo-Kuti put it Army Arrangement, a still relevant song in “honour” of Obasanjo (and Buhari under whom N28bn oil money went missing as minister of petroleum)!
They include former and serving public office holders, most of them being members of both the PDP and APC. On the face of it, considering Obasanjo’s dismissal of both PDP and APC, this seems contradictory. But we need to take a deeper look at why such a “coalition of the concerned and the willing – ready for positive and drastic change, progress and involvement” is considered needed and why it has to still draw its leadership from the otherwise expired parties.
The basis of emergence and nature of political parties is the economic structure of society. Fundamentally, parties represent the interests of classes. There are different factions of the bosses’ class as we pointed out earlier. Like the blood-sucking parasites that they are, the shapes these factions take is largely determined by the nature of, and level of development of their “host”.
For example, the Democratic party representing slave-owners in 19th century United States of North America supported the confederate forces that wanted to continue slavery while the Republicans who were more of industrialists in the north were for an end to slavery based on business calculations.
In a backward economy such as Nigeria where they are all bound by nothing but crass primitive accumulation in perpetuity, the factions cling like leaches to ethnic and regional identities in what Bala Usman described as a “game of masks”.
Thus, different sections of the same class emerge and evolve, competing to take charge of the steering wheel of political power in ways that make them appear to be enemies. But of course, once the power of the bosses’ class as whole is challenged by working-class people, they band together and do their very best to crush such “rebellions” before they can give birth to revolution.
A major function of capitalist democracy is to give the immense majority of the population, comprising poor working-class people the illusion that we have a say in how we are governed, through the very institutions which the bosses utilise to wield their dictatorship over us. This illusion comes packaged as ballot boxes and voters’ cards.
However, even this is not enough to perfect the bosses’ class deceit. Like some parents who in secret are useless people, but still want to maintain parental authority over their children, they have to present a façade of being able to provide leadership, and thus cement our consent to their cloaked dictatorship.
A major disaster which dogged the footsteps of the ruling class in Nigeria for decades was the inability of any of its sections to either fully provide hegemony on behalf of their class, or take power from the equally inept ones at the centre. They floundered time and again, requiring their military wing to come and establish law and order.
PDP was the first near-successful venture at overcoming the first part of this weaknesses. APC’s coming to power represented the overcoming of the second part. The emergence of the Coalition for Nigeria is a realisation of the failure of both near-successes and an attempt to grasp the illusory consensus the bosses need to forge, to make their rule appear natural.
The National Intervention Movement on the other hand is largely a band of middle-class elements, who as “professionals” see politics as a technical problem that merely requires fixing, with the voter’s card. Quite a few of them, like many a petty-boss with a good dose of moral outrage at the despicable conditions of working-class people, want to help the poor masses.
But it is not the intervention of a handful of well-meaning would-be bosses that will end our woes. It is through our struggle, as working-class people, that we can and will break the chains that hold us down to a state of perpetual suffering and pitiable mere existence.
Besides, not unlike the vacillating social class they represent, the aim of a significant proportion of those in the NIM, is to step into the shoes of the bosses’ class themselves. Indeed, some of them have been and still remain part and parcel of this class. Which is why we are not surprised that there are members of the NIM, like Donald Duke, who are also members of the CN!
The Coalition for a New Nigeria (CNN) was also constituted at the beginning of the year. It is a platform of 30 political parties. But, these are mainly parties with virtually no mass following. And apart from probably the National Conscience Party, none of them has a radical programme that could benefit working-class people.
Despite its vaunted wish to be an alternative force in the polity, it is likely to have little or no effect in changing the course of events in the near future. It is also not likely to go beyond the 2019 elections, that is if it still holds up till then. Its assured place in history is most likely as a footnote.
There would definitely have to be concerted efforts for the APC to be electorally dislodged by a radical political movement. Considering the political-legal framework for electoral politics, this would amongst other things involve some form of alliance or coalition of political parties.
But such coalition cannot be one of a band of strange bedfellows with little or no mass following and without a concrete alternative agenda to that of APC and PDP. A more close-knit coalescence would have to be distilled out of the CNN or emerge independent of it.
A “new Nigeria”? Workers and Youth Unite!
It is pertinent to consider what the options are for working-class people. The first thing to do is to disabuse our minds that emancipatory change can be won through the ballot box.
As Lucy Parson advised: “Never be deceived that the rich will allow you to vote away their wealth.” The challenge ahead is to build working-class political organisation and generalise a clear consciousness of the need to overthrow the capitalist system, within our ranks as working-class people.
It is also important to note that the idea of one Nigeria, old or new is quite deceptive. There is a Nigeria of the rich and a Nigeria of poor working-class people. Nigeria has been working well for the ruling class of rich bosses.
It would appear that such a basic point is now lost on some hitherto revolutionary activists with international socialist background. Their aim has not only essentially become limited to one of “take back Nigeria”, they have taken to attacking patriotic elements utilising the same decidedly nationalistic slogan as if it were a registered franchise!
A Nigeria was not taken from the poor masses. The Nigerian state was created by colonialists to further capitalist interests. The working-class people’s “Nigeria” which has always been one of being exploited and marginalised by the bosses, has always been there side by side with the bosses Nigeria. It is actually the conditions of the working-class everywhere; born to suffer.
The extent to which the often-glorified early period after independence was better than things are for us now was defined by the political, ideological and programmatic struggle of workers, organised as trade unions with a political agenda.
The struggle for our emancipation requires a mass party of working-class people with a socialist programme. Being registered as an electoral party does not change a small grouplet of activists, no matter how genuine they are or claim to be, into such a party.
Patient work by activists within the working-class movement, explaining the need for such a party, debunking illusions in electoralism as a means for the working-class self-emancipation and building organisation that could serve such a party is of the essence at this moment.
Our aim as workers must go beyond taking the state of the bosses from them (and like the pigs in Animal Farm ending up just like the oppressors of yesterday). We must pose demands to the bosses: for decent work, to end unemployment, have salaries paid as and when due, have arrears of salaries and pensions cleared, for a new minimum wage of not less than N66,000.
These reforms are definitely important and we must fight for them. But if we do not see beyond these, we will always be mugu to the bosses. They will take back our gains at the slightest opportunity they have. Our overarching aim, which we must never lose focus of, is to smash the bosses state, with workers’ power.
Building a new society on, and with our self-emancipation, in solidarity with working-class people across the world, is the only social order that will be new, and to our benefit. That is the way forward, to a “new Nigeria” and beyond it.
The road ahead is one with bends and turns. Social life, and particularly mass politics does not follow a linear straight forward pathway. Electoral moments are important for the struggle for democracy from below not because of any illusion in taking the bosses state from them, but rather because millions of working people and youth tend to be drawn into political engagement with enthusiasm as much as with illusions at such moments.
The unfolding moment of the 2019 elections is turning out to be one with a major difference. New layers of protagonists are throwing their hats into the ring as aspirants for the presidency. These include activists of many years standing, who were at the barricades of the struggle against military dictatorship.
As socialist activists, we cannot stand aloof from the radical turn they could bring to bear on the pulse of campaigns. We are dutybound to call for the unification of their efforts as much as possible, to concentrate the thrust of an alternative platform to the business-as-usual platforms of the bosses’ parties.
And even more importantly, we will throw ourselves energetically into the flurry of politicking with a difference. The aim of a popular working-class electoral agenda cannot be limited to the election of persons into the presidency or any other office.
It must be to establish and strengthen independent organisation of working people and youth from below. As the campaign deepens, popular committees of working people and youth would have to be established in the workplaces and communities.
These would be alternative structures of power to those of the bosses. These would be nascent organs of the people’s revolutionary power. Without these, even if a radical platform were to win at the polls, it would not be able to rule. The challenge we face is thus that of mass mobilisation for revolution, which takes the 2019 elections beyond the reformist limitations of electoralism.