The February/March general elections ushered in two decades of unbroken civil rule. A major lesson to learn in general, is that democracy of the bosses does not translate into working people’s democracy. When working-class people and activists fought to defeat military dictatorship, our aspiration was to win a better world where our needs would be met, and we the people would wield the power to shape our fate.
The bosses, who benefited from the pro-democracy struggle we waged, have now held six elections. The view of “it is a gradual process” to social progress is being gradually sown. And the perspective of a class-neutral democracy which is basically about the four-year electoral cycle (and naturalisation of government as a business of the bosses) is being entrenched.
As we can see, practice shows these perspectives to be quite false. We have had more of one step forward and two steps backwards in terms of “progress” of the electoral process, and the social, economic and political state of poor working-class people have worsened rather than improve. We need to critically; put the elections and the bosses’ governments in perspective and look beyond these to how we can emancipate ourselves – like our sisters and brothers in Sudan!
Revolution from below and not reformist electoral politics is how we can stop continuous; increases of fuel pump prices, police brutality, rise of cost of living, casualisation of work and general insecurity. In short, our aim is not the next level on the same scale of the bosses’ power. Our aim is revolutionary overthrow of their system which holds no promise of a better future for us and our children born and yet unborn.
What is the way forward to achieve this? First, we must deepen our understanding of what the elections and the system it promotes represent, not from a contemplative point of view, but with the intent of changing it.
Putting the elections in perspective
The build up to the elections showed an underlying yearning for something new. The number of political parties blossomed to 93 and more than 70 of these presented presidential candidates. Alliances were made and broken, as youths, presidential aspirants coming together (PACT) or different versions of the elusive “third force”. A socialist party of Nigeria had candidates in five states and a radical reformist movement to #TakeItBack built the African Action Congress which the SWL supported.
But, by the time the elections proper dawned, none of these had been able to build a critical mass in numbers or with political clout to present a clear alternative to the parties of the status quo. It was clear to the working masses that there was no real choice at the ballot box. They thus largely abstained. Voter turnout for the presidential election was just 34.75%, the lowest in the country’s history.
The desperation of the two dominant parties was also palpable. Violent clashes during their campaigns and as the elections were being conducted left 600 people dead. This turned off many who were not diehard partisans from going out to the polls. Voting for either Buhari or Atiku could not inspire them to face be ready to face possible death.
There was also a gale of “systemic failures” as well as the use of power of incumbency and bosses’ class bias to shut out candidates of opposition parties from spaces of campaign debates. Probably the most significant for change-seeking youths was the refusal of the National Elections Debating Group and the Broadcasting Organisation of Nigeria to allow Omoyele Sowore, presidential candidate of the AAC to participate in the most widely broadcast of a series of presidential debates.
And nearly 3 million of those who voted were disenfranchised with their ballots cancelled. This was four times the number in 2015, and likely a manifestation of electoral manipulation. Thugs and the military were used by different fractions of the political elite to intimidate and harass voters and observers. While some youth corps members who served as electoral officers revealed they were forced by some of these thugs to rig.
However, despite this disappointingly broken electoral system and a general recognition of the 2019 elections being two steps backwards from the 2015 step forward, representatives of the elite class and their organisations locally and internationally were in agreement that the people embrace the elections and move forward. Why was this so?
The main reason is for us to accept the bosses’ democracy as the pinnacle of what democracy can be. We are to be concerned with the quantitative issues of how to improve it and not the qualitative question of which class legitimises its hold on power through these elections.
Elections, government and power
As activists, we participate in elections because during these periods, large numbers of people who otherwise choose not to be bothered, including the working masses get involved, even if just passively, in politics. But we are not deceived into believing that we can change society just through elections.
The bosses’ class will definitely not allow us to vote away their power at the polls. Their power lies in ownership and control of the means of production (such as factories and mines) and finance (the banks, insurance firms etc).
Governments elected in elections organised by the capitalists essentially serve as the executive committee of the bosses as a ruling class, to run society in their collective interests.
Yes, they could allow some concessions in the form of reforms that improve our lives quantitatively to some extent or the other. This is so that we will not become too rebellious and demand the whole bakery instead of just some crumbs of bread from it, at their pleasure. And even to get these crumbs as the perennial struggle for miserly upward reviews of the minimum wage show, we must fight tooth and nail.
We must go beyond the deception of their democracy being government of the people by the people for the people. It is government of the bosses, by the bosses, for the bosses, over the poor working-class people.
To change this reality, we the poor masses must be organised politically. Participating in elections helps us to gauge the level of consciousness of working people on the need to fulfil this pressing need on one hand. And on the other hand, it helps us to build our forces and help raise the level of consciousness and organisation of working-class people.
So, essentially for us, participating in elections is about building workers’ power. And we must continually build this, both within and especially outside the electoral cycle – in the everyday struggle of working people against the capitalist system.
A major achievement of the efforts of socialists’ engagement with the electoral process on the platform of the AAC is the winning of tens of thousands of working-class people and youth to the realisation that we can change our reality ourselves.
We are building on this with the Coalition for Revolution (CORE) which brings radical youths in the Take It Back movement and socialist groups like the Socialist Workers &Youth League (SWL) and Socialist Vanguard Tendency (SVT) together. CORE has subsequently stood with working-class people in struggles against crazy electricity bills and demolition of informal settlements, for example.
The trade union movement’s lack of adequate concern for building a workers’ party with a socialist programme has led to political disorientation of the working-class. This lack of concern is not accidental as many in the trade union bureaucracy are aligned to the bosses’ parties.
For example, Boboi Kaigama, the TUC President was director-general of the Buhari campaign committee in Taraba state. And of course, Adams Oshiomhole who as president of NLC launched the Labour Party serves as the APC National Chairman.
SWL continues to campaign for the formation of a genuine party of the working-class. We will argue for the Take It Back to be part of the process for the emergence of one, if it ever emerges in the near future. TIB/AAC has proven itself a force on the field which the labour movement will have to take into consideration if it wakes from its political slumber.
Our orientation as usual is to the rank and file of workers – in their trade union branches and councils. Political education, mass mobilisation and organising to raise working-class consciousness and independent organisation is the central task ahead of us now. And revolutionary overthrow of the bosses with workers’ is our goal. Only on this basis can we establish a just, equitable society based on solidarity i.e. socialism from below!