The reformist politics of the neoslites (i.e., the new SL, otherwise known as Socialist Labour) has been brought to the fore with its stand on the 2023 elections. The People’s Redemption Party-Vanguard highlights this in a response to the call by leading neoslite, Drew Povey aka Alex Batuso, urging the left to vote Peter Obi.
In a widely circulated WhatsApp message entitled, “Socialist Labour and the Elections”, Drew Povey made this categorical declaration:
“Socialist Labour and most of our supporters hope that Peter Obi will win the elections. We do not believe he will really change the lives of most Nigerians, but his victory will increase our confidence that change is possible.”
Not just that.
“This, hope, will lead to a more active trade union movement that will win more strikes – this will make a difference.”
Povey’s call is in effect hinged not on concrete reality, but on “hope” and the need to “win more strikes”, and have “active trade union movement”, and not necessarily any qualitative change in the lives of most Nigerians should his favourite man becomes Mr. President.
We do not know where Povey drew his ‘hope’ and ‘confidence’ from, nor are we aware of the theoretical underpinnings, socialist or capitalist, that informed his perspective and conclusions on the 25th of February 2023 presidential election in Nigeria. We can therefore only speculate on this.
Yet we can hazard to claim that Povey is either living in a dream land or is nursing the ambition of becoming president Peter Obi’s minister of “win more strikes” for the “trade union movement” in Nigeria.
Let’s quickly examine Povey’s argument piece by piece. He premised his case on two grounds:
First is the idea that an Obi victory will raise the hope of citizens that “change is possible”; and, second is the notion that an Obi victory will trigger more strikes that will eventually lead to trade union improvement. Both premises are tenuous.
‘Hope’. Is this not the catch phrase that was used to seduce Nigerians in 2015 to vote massively for General Muhammadu Buhari? Did his defeat of president Goodluck Jonathan not raise the hope of the people that an incumbent administration can be beaten in a free and fair election? Did Buhari not contest as an outsider General, not fully embraced by the insiders who toppled him on August 27, 1985, to become a civilian president of the country in 2015?
Where is the evidence that mere ‘hope’, that change is possible in a single election, can automatically translate into positive change in the lives of working and toiling peoples under a bourgeois order dominated by a rent seeking and comprador ruling class? If such automatic improvements in workers quality of life was possible, how come it did not occur in the last eight years under Buhari? Or in the previous six years under Jonathan? Hope, after all, was not in short supply at the time both presidents entered office. Besides, hope tends to greet every new administration. It is what the mainstream media has labelled ‘the honeymoon spirit’.
Further, by Povey’s own admission, Obi is not a socialist, nor is his Labour Party manifesto committed to “the key reforms we need that were summarised in the NLC’s Charter of Workers Demands.”
Yet, Povey still expect us to support Obi based on some abstract hope that “of the three candidates that [stand] a chance of winning, if he wins things may improve.”
Note that Povey and his socialist labour comrades did not bother to refer to Peter Obi’s actual political antecedents as a governor of Anambra state, and his treatment of workers while in office, or his handling of perceived non-indigenes and migrants in his state as chief executive, including his shifting political loyalties amongst bourgeois parties as a politician.
All these concrete experiences were ignored as evidence of Obi’s distance from working class interest and struggles. Instead we are required to meekly hope that by some miracle Monsieur Obi will suddenly love the working masses more than his billionaire peers in the presidential race, Tinubu and Atiku, because his government, when formed, will usher in a season of strikes without counter measures being mounted by the ruling class to protect the interest of capital.
Jolly man, Peter Obi, is not expected to fight back to enforce labour discipline on behalf of the ruling class and international capital, as he ably did as a governor in the South East. How naive.
Povey indeed has a point when he stated the obvious that the left is divided “in terms of the tactics we adopt for the elections”, and that “we should not let this create permanent or antagonistic divisions in our ranks.”
It is to address this tactical, but quite understandable, divide that led some in the left, including the PRP vanguard, to advocate for the formation of a Left Front to fight the election under the banner of an authentic socialist party on the ballot.
This effort did not fully materialise partly because of the hostile environment within which the left operates, and its material, organisational, and ideological limitations. These are not insurmountable challenges. They can with dogged struggle be surmounted over time, not with expediency and opportunism but, with immersing ourselves in the daily travails of the working people, building trust, developing cadres, raising consciousness, and uniting our forces for the common battle against the system.
It is too late at this stage to belabour the point about the type of structure the AAC was trying to build since 2019. What we can discern right now is that it is the most authentic leftist party on the ballot, despite its limitations. The PRP is divided. A tiny bourgeois group is endorsed by INEC, while the vanguard-Akida group with mass base is in alliance with the AAC.
We do admit that “In electoral terms, it is not good enough for the candidates [or even the party] to be good socialists.” A broad and effective base is needed under current conditions to be electorally viable.
Forming a broad coalition is vital, but with whom? The Povey list for this consist of “the AAC, PRP, NNPP, SPN, TPAP-M and the Labour Party to really have a good chance of winning.”
The trouble with an over elastic coalition is that it will make you lose your individual identity and sense of mission once it embraced assorted ideological platforms.
Take the Labour Party that Povey and his branch of socialist labour are endorsing for instance. Its president is ideologically light years away from its base. To expect Obi and Datti to ditch their hard-line capitalist principals in pursuit of working class reform policies once in office is to engage in self imposed cognitive deniability.
We can’t see the duo being any different from the APC and PDP flag bearers. In fact, Obi and Datti are closer to Atiku and the PDP than they can ever be to the base of the Labour Party. In addition, the notorious generals endorsing the Obi-Datti ticket were well known for their abuse of workers rights and rigid advocacy of neo-liberal policies when in power.
How an Obi presidency will navigate this balancing of interest without throwing workers under the bus is something Povey is yet to clarify or explain.
On the issue of leftist groups tilting towards Tinubu on account of their preference for economic development over ‘equal rights and socialism’, one is tempted to ask for the evidence that these groups truly understand the difference between economic development and economic growth on the one hand; and self serving opportunism’ and elite urban renewal program on the other. Trickle down economics under primitive accumulation can produce its own marginal beneficiaries. Tinubu seems to understand this more than his oligarchic peers.
So no serious minded observer of Nigeria’s political economy is surprised that the “massive economic growth in Nigeria between at least 2002 and 2015… did not lead to better lives for most” citizens. Non inclusive growth hardly trickles down to the bottom millions.
Finally, Povey declared that,
“Socialist Labour believes that it is the extent to which the trade unions are successful that will determine whether most people’s lives improve. That is why we concentrate our activity on the trade unions and argue for a strategy that will lead to effective strikes that win our demands.”
The above passage is the core of Socialist Labour’s ideological disposition. And as Frederick Engels once argued “Every strike is a revolution in miniature”, as it is an opportunity for workers to build solidarity, organise themselves, improve their working conditions and mindsets. It puts them in direct confrontation with management and capital.
Generally the left is agreed on the central role of the working class in the struggle for socialism. But where blue and white colour workers are shrinking, and the working class small, the left cannot afford to treat election and politics as mere distractions, only to concentrate on shop floor struggles to win concession for workers from management.
In the context of Nigeria, this limited focus of the struggle risk alienating trade unions from the rest of the working masses that rightfully include peasants and the urban sub proletariat.
Going by Povey’s take workers should restrict their struggles to the shop floor and suck generous lollypops provided by their employers. Does this not sound like Washington’s ‘syrup socialism’ that Obama approached Cuba with but was rejected by Fidel Castro who refused to meet him and his “syrup.” Are we over reading Povey on this score?
Some in the academic and NGO left, especially in the West, have since abandoned any struggle that is directed at ultimate change in property relations, thereby limiting themselves to relations of production, which is narrowly defined in trade union terms. This suggest that incremental improvements in working conditions, as quantitative changes, will over time lead to qualitative transformations of the work place, with multiplier effects on the rest of society.
Where the workforce is large and industry advanced such gradual improvements in union members standard of living could produce significant impact on the rest of the economy.
But in the Nigerian social formation the left cannot afford to abandon the struggle for altering property relations for the pursuit of only reforming relations of production. To do so is to abandon scientific socialism and resort to Fabianism or worse. We hope this is not what Povey is implicitly advocating?
While elections can be a distraction, political struggles in bourgeois democracies often find expression in them. On this 25th day of February 2023, Nigerians are confronted with a crucial decision. Who should be their president for the next four years? For the left, the question is the same:
WHO should we vote for today?
This question is what Povey sought to answer in his WhatsApp message to the Nigerian left issued in the name of Socialist Labour on the 15th of February 2023, just ten days to the election.
Povey’s conclusion is that the left should vote for Peter Obi of the Labour Party. We have presented a counter case that says Obi is no different from Tinubu and Atiku as portrayed by Povey. To vote for any of them is to take ‘One step forward two steps back’.
The option for the left is to concentrate on constructing a formidable front for the task ahead. That is, dogged opposition to the system and its savage assault on the lives and livelihoods of the working masses in the months and years ahead, irrespective of who the occupant of Aso Rock is: president or general. Meanwhile, it is wise to protest against the system by voting for the only leftist party leader on the ballot. . .
25th February 2023