Neoliberalism Cannot Help the Masses: We Must Fight for a Socialist Alternative

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Nigeria has been facing economic and social crises for many years. The situation has worsened over the last year. The country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth rate according to the National Bureau of Statistics, declined from 6.2% in 2014 to -1.6% in 2016, before recovering to 2.3% in 2019. It has increased again recently, reflecting economic growth on the back of the increasing suffering of poor working-class people.

GDP growth rates give insight into the expansion of wealth but do not express the economic situation of millions of working people and youth. The wealth of the three richest men in Nigeria could end poverty in the country. This means they are far wealthier than  80% of the population living in poverty.

Meanwhile, the poverty rate increased from 40.1% in 2019 to 63% in 2022, with over 133 million Nigerians living below the national poverty line. These dismal figures reflect the intertwined crises of a rising cost of living, a consistent naira devaluation, and the failure of neoliberal economic policies. Neoliberalism is an economic ideology that advocates for the primacy of the market over the state and promotes policies such as trade liberalisation, deregulation, privatisation, and fiscal austerity.

According to the National Bureau of Statistics, the annual inflation rate increased to 28.9% in December 2023, the highest level since 1993, while the naira had lost 96.55% value to the US dollar by the end of year 2023. Yet it continues to depreciate, reaching almost 2,000 naira to a dollar in February.

These trends reflect the structural inequalities that exist in the country’s economy, which prioritise the private interest of few persons over the welfare and needs of millions, hence condemning the mass of working-class people and youth to horrendous hardship. The causes of these crises are manifold, including the volatility of oil prices in the global market, a generalised state of insecurity and instability, the fiscal and monetary policy responses, the exchange rate regimes, the balance of payments imbalances, and the debt burden.

The consequences are also severe, affecting economic growth, income distribution, poverty reduction, human development indicators, public infrastructure, and environmental sustainability in  the country. Moreover, the working-class,  women, youth, farmers, vulnerable and informal workers sector bear the burden of these crises. They are confronted with reduced income, purchasing power, access to basic services, and opportunities for social mobility. These crises have also exacerbated the social and political tensions and conflicts that plague the nation. Therefore, there is an urgent need to address their underlying causes and to pursue an equitable economic path to a socialist Nigeria, which puts the mass of people first and above the interests of a few.

Nigeria, like many other countries in Africa, has been subjected to neoliberal economic policies since the 1980s, under the influence and pressure of international financial institutions, such as the World Bank and the IMF, donor agencies, and foreign investors. These neoliberal policies, they argued, would promote economic growth, stability, and development in Nigeria. However, these policies are based on flawed assumptions and arguments.

As a result, these policies have had negative outcomes and impacts on the economic performance and social development of Nigeria, such as low and erratic growth rates, high and rising inequality and poverty, poor human development, deteriorating public infrastructure and public services, and environmental degradation. Therefore, it can be argued that neoliberalism, and capitalism more generally, has failed to deliver economic development and social welfare in Nigeria for the vast majority of the population as was promised. We need alternative policies and paradigms to address the challenges of development that is in our interest as working people and youth.

Alternatives to Neoliberalism: A Pro-Working Class Perspective:

Neoliberalism has been exposed and widely criticised for creating social and economic problems, such as inequality, poverty, environmental degradation, and democratic erosion.

Also one of the erroneous positions of the promoters of neoliberal policies is that there is no alternative. If that is correct, it implies that there is no alternative to hardship, insecurity, kidnapping and the world, not only Nigeria, is destined for doom. But it is not so, there are alternatives.

The only effective and pro-workers alternative is socialism from below, which advocates for collective ownership of the means of production, distribution, and exchange under the democratic control of the workers.  Socialism rejects the idea that the market is the best mechanism to allocate resources and ensure efficiency. Instead, it proposes that economic decisions should be made democratically by the people who are affected by them, through various forms of participation and representation. Socialism also emphasises the values of equality, solidarity, and human dignity, and seeks to redistribute wealth and power from the few to the many.

To build alternatives to neoliberalism, it is necessary to take concrete actions that challenge the existing economic system and create a new one on the ashes of the old. These actions should be based on the principles of democracy, solidarity, and human rights, and the will and power to achieve that lies in the unity of all oppressed people, the working-class,  women and youth.

Socialism from below can transform the economic system and empower the people, by implementing collective ownership, wealth redistribution, and social protection, by supporting community-based initiatives, cooperatives, and participatory decision-making, and by taking concrete steps towards economic justice and sustainability. But capitalism will not merely give way for socialism to manifest, rather the oppressed people will bring to birth a new and pro-workers system with our collective and determined fight for change.

Mobilising for Change: Building Power and Solidarity.

Neoliberalism is not only an economic system but also a political and ideological project that seeks to maintain and expand the power and privileges of the elites and corporations, to the detriment of the majority of the people and the earth. To challenge neoliberalism and its exterminating impacts, we need to mobilise for change, by building power and solidarity among the oppressed and exploited people in the workplaces, markets and communities. The unity and organisation of workers will be crucial now more than ever with the excruciating hardship and as the government,  employers and labour leaders are preparing to commence negotiations for a new national minimum wage. We have to draw inspirations and more importantly lessons from previous struggles and collective actions of the oppressed people across the world.

Conclusion

The situation in Nigeria is critical and urgent and requires a radical and comprehensive paradigm shift from neoliberalism to socialism. This shift can bring about significant benefits and advantages for the economic growth and social welfare of Nigeria, such as reducing inequality, alleviating poverty, creating employment, improving living standards, enhancing social cohesion, and preserving the environment. This shift can also create a new world, that is more democratic, equitable, and resilient, and that respects the rights and dignity of the people and nature.

I call on  all the oppressed people to join the Socialist Workers League, a revolutionary socialist organisation which is committed to the struggle for the  total liberation of working-class people in Nigeria and the world at large. Equally, I urge pro-workers organisations, trade unions and the labour federations to rise up to the occasion and mobilise for social change from below. We have the power and the potential to create a better future for ourselves and our country. We have the will and the might to challenge the status quo and to create alternatives. We have the courage and the determination to act and to make a difference. We have nothing to lose but our chains. We have a world to win.

by Lai BROWN

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