"The crucial question now is not if or what, but how to begin immediately to build a Working class political alternative"
On a bright, warm and sunny morning of Saturday March 9, 2013 members and supporters of the Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM) – CWI Nigeria turned up early for the two-day National Committee (NC) meeting.
The enthusiastic early arrival of the comrades, cutting across the founding and younger generations of the DSM; male and female branch representatives; workers, students and professionals as well as new contacts presented a mood of readiness to address the key fundamental question of the meeting – the launching and building of a genuine socialist alternative political platform of the working masses of Nigeria.
DSM NC March 2013 – Segun Sango, DSM General Secretary, leading discussion on Nigeria Situation and Building SPN – photo DSM
This enthusiasm, more than anything else, sustained the comrades during an unexpected two-hour delay in the commencement of the political discussions on Nigerian and world economic and political perspectives slated for the first day.
The International Press Centre (IPC), venue of the meeting is located at a middle/upper class estate in the Ogba suburb of Lagos. Like many other estates of its status in Lagos, residents regularly contribute money for acquisition and maintenance of transformers that ordinarily should be the responsibility of the Power Holding Company of Nigeria – still referred to by many Nigerians by the old name of NEPA.
On this day, there was no power supply to the estate because the transformer had broken down yet again; one of the mayhems, apart from frequent power cuts, that still reigns supreme in the power sector, despite privatization. On the other hand, the frequency of power failures mean that generators used in most offices and homes as alternatives, also suffer the same fate of frequent break-down. IPC was no exception. The 27kva generator packed up and an alternative smaller generator had to be sourced as it would have been difficult to have the meeting without cooling systems in the scorching heat. All this took the better of two hours.
DSM NC March 2013 – cross section – photo DSM
In introducing his lead-off on the Nigerian Perspectives, DSM’s General Secretary, Segun Sango, highlighted how the perennial crisis in the power and energy sectors, serve as crucial evidence of the failure of neo-liberal policies the major effects of which have been the collapse of public infrastructure. Public education has collapsed, electricity is non-existent, tens of thousands of graduates are roaming the streets without jobs or the prospect of one. In this same Nigeria, people are dying like flies of preventable and curable diseases while according to reports, there are over 50, 000 Nigeria-trained doctors working in New York alone. The late afrobeat maestro Fela Anikulapo sang "water underground, water overground but ordinary cup for man to drink for town nko? E no dey" – that summarizes the Nigerian situation today.
"Despite enormous human and material potentials, Nigeria’s crisis of poverty in the midst of plenty continues apace. Vicious attacks on living conditions, wages and social services have reduced the mass majority to a state of perpetual misery. According to statistics, about 70% of Nigeria’s estimated 170 million-population exist on less than one dollar per day. The capitalist ruling elites continue to loot the collective wealth without remorse. Latest corruption scandal like the Pension Fund scam underlines the rapacious corrupt character of the ruling elite and the imperative of revolutionary change", Comrade Segun Sango said.
The primary reason for poverty is the capitalist system that governs the ruling of society. Now if all the objective factors needed for human greatness are bountifully present in Nigeria and yet there are no roads, no schools, no hospitals, no water, and added to this, we are perhaps the only country that grows yam and import poundo yam, we have crude oil but cannot produce enough petroleum to run our economy, then it means something is definitely wrong with Nigeria and what is wrong which we have identified is the capitalist way Nigeria is being run. That is why people are suffering in the midst of abundance. It is in order to abrogate mass suffering we are proffering socialist alternative.
Why does nothing work in Nigeria while they seem to "work" elsewhere? It is because capitalism by nature developed late in Nigeria like in many neo-colonial countries, and also because those who colonised us have only left officially, they are still the one controlling Nigeria’s economy today. Take the oil sector for instance, about 95% of all exploration and production activities is monopolised by a handful of foreign multinational oil firms. Nigeria can work only if the working class and poor take over the running of society in order to commonly utilize all these resources and democratically plan them in such a way that the basic needs of everyone can be met.
But as the separate discussion on World Relations showed the rest of the capitalist world, despite sometimes being more developed, is itself in crisis or threatened with crisis. In Nigeria the decline in living standards would worsen, he warned, as long as the capitalist elite continue to control power while the imperialist domination and control of the economy continues. The only alternative however, that is capable of halting the decline into barbarism is a socialist system that places public and working class ownership and management of the commanding heights of the economy above private and primitive accumulation of the wealth and resources belonging to the majority. "the bourgeois have turned abundance into adversity, they have turned prosperity into squalor, and if we are to move forward, we require a socialist transformation", comrade Sango said.
People are angry but they have no organisation of their own through which they can struggle to rescue Nigeria from the capitalist looters. The Labour Party as presently constituted, save for its name, does not represent the most basic aspirations of workers and poor masses. As a result, elections since 1999 have merely been a rotation of power between one set of corrupt capitalist looters to another. Now a combination of the same anti-poor political parties have grouped together to from the All Progressives Congress (APC) with the aim of dislodging the ruling PDP from power at the Federal level in 2015. But how would an APC victory in 2015 benefit the working and poor masses when the APC is made up of the same parties administering neo-liberal attacks in several states across the country?
The task of effecting this revolutionary change makes it an urgent necessity to build a political platform of the working class, the youth, the women and the rural and urban poor masses hence the decision of the DSM to initiate and launch the Socialist Party of Nigeria (SPN). The effort to build an alternative party has to come from socialists especially given the refusal of the labour leaders to build the Labour Party and their choice to abandon it to capitalist politicians. As Leon Trotsky said "where tradition is lacking, a striking example becomes imperative". Although registering the SPN would pose tough challenges, especially as INEC has begun the undemocratic deregistration of political parties, Comrade Sango explained that it would be a negation of years of hard work and the wasting of valuable experience gathered working in the Labour Party and the National Conscience Party, if the challenge is not confronted. Equally, challenging would be the ability of the SPN to fulfill INEC’s conditions for registration as they were designed for the millionaire-looters’ political parties.
Many contributions were made in response to the lead off with most comrades agreeing that the SPN’s time has come and making additional suggestions on the responsibilities of the branches and the individual comrades.
With Determination, We Can Build The SPN!
From the examination of Nigeria’s and the world relation, one crucial conclusion becomes apparent – which is that the most important task today for socialists is how to proffer a revolutionary alternative to the rotten status quo. As comrade Sango pointed out "after all is said and done, the pertinent question is how do we now begin to proffer a socialist alternative that can be embraced by the working masses?" It is however how we answer this question that differentiates us from others in the Nigerian left. He described how our invitation to some left groups towards joint work to build the SPN was turned down and the continued support of some on the "left" to the Labour Party (LP) despite the complete anti-working people and pro-capitalist character of this party.
Comrades were enthusiastic about the SPN initiative. Comrade Oladele Omokunle reported the good response SPN received at workers rallies in Osogbo, Osun State. This is in spite of the widespread disillusionment in "politics" given disappointment with bourgeois political parties. But "with commitment we can build the SPN!" This is very possible given the experience we have accumulated in political work over the years. Comrade Sango gave account of our successful work in the NCP and how we were edged out by the rightwing elements who came later in the period after late Chief Gani Fawehinmi stepped down from the party’s leadership. If we put the same commitment and energy into building the SPN, there is no predicting how far we can go.
South Africa Example
There were discussions around the name of the party and whether or not we could not come up with a name that can be easily understood by both literate and illiterate public. This is a point we have to debate further. The example of the Workers and Socialist Party (WASP) recently formed by our sister organisation is South Africa is an example of a party name that can immediately be understood. Comrade Pelad reported to an enthusiastic audience the struggles of the miners in South Africa, the leading involvement of comrades of the DSM (CWI South Africa) in the struggle and how this has transformed into building the WASP. However comrades agreed that as important as the issue of name may be, we have to start building the party at grassroots now while the discussion about name-change goes on.
DSM NC March 2013 – Seun Ogunniyi, member presiding committee – photo DSM
The Challenges are Surmountable
Yet there is the challenge of registration with INEC. The monstrous INEC conditionalities for registration of political parties are almost impossible for working class organisations like DSM to meet. However it is an obstacle we must surmount if the working masses and oppressed youth of Nigeria would have a political representation.
As comrade Raheem puts it "we must build a campaign against party deregistration linked with building the SPN". The end of the year was agreed as the target for registration. Between now and then, branches and all members are to begin building the party. Programs and activities to build were discussed including how to connect with the masses in such a way as to make them to easily understand the kind of alternative we mean. As comrade Seun Ogunniyi said, we have to simplify our language in the best possible ways in all our propaganda materials in order to reach all layers of the masses with our ideas.
Despite the disenchantment among many especially youths about politics as well as the initial illusion the APC may provoke in the 2015 elections, there is a bright prospect for the SPN to grow. As Comrade Abbey Trotsky pointed out, except for a few people, the APC is viewed with suspicion by many people and this creates a room for a political party like the SPN that proffers a clear socialist alternative to grow.
SPN Appeal Fund
The first major test of the preparedness of the comrades to pursue the SPN initiative with the expected political vision and fervour came by the way of the launching of the ’SPN take-off fund’ after the discussion on the Nigerian perspectives with a target of N1million. A sum of N1, 251, 000, in pledges, was raised at the meeting to build the party and meet requirements for registration. This surpassed the N1 million target! All the pledges are to be redeemed by June while we continue to contact comrades and supporters who have not pledged or donated to do so. In addition to the SPN appeal fund, a fighting fund of N22, 000 was collected between two days of the meeting.
DSM NC March 2013 – Lanre Arogundade leading discussion on world relations – photo DSM
Just like Nigeria, the world situation today shows how capitalism is beset on all sides by crisis, economic recession and a growing mood for change. According to comrade Lanre Arogundade who led discussion on world relations, revolution is on the world agenda but so also is the threat of counterrevolution. The revolutionary uprisings in North Africa and Middle East have to resume and must now go forward onto overthrowing capitalism before real economic and political freedom can be won by the working masses of this region. This would mean creating independent and democratic trade unions and political parties of the working class and poor to take political power.
While the mass uprisings two years ago were able to oust the brutal dictatorial regimes in Egypt and Tunisia, they left capitalism largely unaffected and the ruling elites still in firm control of society. The commanding heights of the economy were not put under public control and democratic management. This has meant power still resides in the capitalist ruling elite with members of the ancient regime still wielding enormous influence within the newly-formed governments. Indeed in Egypt, Mubarak replacement, Morsi has since proved to be capable of the same brutality and attack on democratic rights. We see the same situation in Tunisia where peoples’ rights including trade union centre (UGTT) have come under vicious attacks since the fall of the old regime. Alongside with this is the growth of rightwing political Islamic fundamentalism in the region.
Africa offers a picture of a continent perpetually in crisis of political, ethnic, religious and now terroristic nature. This crisis has a basis in the colonial looting of the continent and the capitalist system enthroned after independence which have only aggravated the conflicts. Africa is rich in mineral and other wealth but a rapaciously greedy ruling class ensures none of it benefits the working and toiling masses. This can only result in cataclysmic crisis as we have in Mali and a number of countries today.
In Mali, we have a military imperialist intervention in a sovereign country under the guise of stopping the advance of the armed Islamic fundamentalist militants from the North of the country. But this is just an intervention to protect imperialist interests in Mali which includes important investment in the exploitation of the natural resources of Mali including its gold mining sector. It is also to further loot the country.
As it has been pointed, Mali will pay for the cost of this intervention. What this would mean is not only that genuine peace would continue to elude the country but also that the already bad conditions of Malian working class will further worsen. On the whole, "it is a period of chaos and instability that has opened up in Mali unless the working class comes to power".
Fictitious Growth in Africa
Everywhere in Africa, so-called impressive economic growth rates have not materialised in peoples’ lives. This is not just true about Nigeria but also about Ghana despite its newly-found oil wealth. Greater crisis and instability are on the agenda for Ghana in the coming period. In South Africa we have seen important battles developing. Last year we saw how the miner’s strike developed and the crucial intervention of our comrades. With correct intervention, it was possible to link the struggle against the miner owners and the brutal ANC class-apartheid states backing them with the need for a working class alternative. As CWI comrades who visited South Africa recently reported, socialist consciousness is very high in South Africa perhaps than anywhere. Our comrades are in the leadership of this development. The formation of the Workers and Socialist Party (WASP) and good response it is getting is a motivation for us here in Nigeria
Europe "as our comrades in the CWI put it, has become the current epicentre of the crisis of global capitalism". It is equally the current epicentre of the growing resistance and fight back. We have seen in the last few years, mass strikes and struggle against austerity in capitalist Europe. Anger is exploding against attempts to drive down peoples’ living conditions in order to save capitalism. Massive unemployment, layoffs, attacks on wages, people’s homes (as in Britain and Ireland), cut in funding of education and vital services would see anger and the determination to fight deepen among the hardest hit – working class people and the youth.
General and partial strikes are now back on the agenda in Europe. As the crisis deepens, workers threatened with sudden impoverishment are rediscovering the best tradition of the labour movement. Television pictures of millions on the streets of European capitals demonstrating against austerity are an enormous inspiration to the working masses and youth in Africa. However the about 18 general strikes in Greece while they show the potential power of the working class equally demonstrates while a perspective to take power is crucial now. The need for united strikes of all of Europe and the building of working class political parties to take power and break with capitalism is the only forward. "Unless the movement against austerity in Europe leads to the working class taking power, the alternative is barbarism".
Everywhere, we raise the same perspective of the need to build independent working class movement as the only way to move forward. This is because nowhere is capitalism able to solve the crisis it has created. For instance in Israel and Palestine, there can be no solution on the national question on the basis of capitalism. If a Palestine state is to be built, it has to be built; it has to be on the program of the working class coming to power.
The significance of Hugo Chavez’s death and the Venezuelan revolution was discussed. As comrade Arogundade puts it, "the working masses, in the post-Chavez period, have to go the whole hog by breaking with capitalism and carrying out socialist tasks. Otherwise the rightwing could be strengthened". No doubt, Hugo Chavez death had impact beyond Latin America. Here in Nigeria, a lot of discussions took place on social internet sites among youths. The meeting agreed that branches should organise public programs to raise discussion about the significance of the radical reforms carried out by Chavez and the prospect for Venezuela in the post-Chavez period.
On the whole, our organisation has a good prospect to grow. This is already reflected in the increase in our branches and improvement in the different areas of our work. Our efforts to rebuild student branches are yielding results. A student meeting held on the eve (Friday March 8) of the NC, which had over 20 members from student branches present. The meeting discussed state of education and our role and agreed to continue the campaign of the Education Rights Campaign (ERC) against education commercialisation which would include public activities starting from March and mass actions on June 16. A 100 new members’ target has been set as the recruitment target for the campaign over the next three months. Also our student branches have to play active roles in the building of the SPN.
DSM Student Wing Meeting March 8, 2013 – photo DSM
Comrade Chinedu reported the activities and intervention carried out by the National Secretariat between last NC and now both in the labour movement and our intervention in struggles breaking out in work places. Active intervention in these struggles has won us a number of workers as members and sympathisers. This includes intervention in okada riders’ struggle in Lagos, Lagos doctors’ strike, LAGBUS workers’ struggle, the NIPOST Pensioners struggle and continued intervention in JAF. Three workers from Kabel Metal attended the NC on Sunday. So also were two Lagbus workers and unionists one of whom has been sacked by management for speaking out against management’s anti-worker policies and upholding the union’s position. Building the Campaign for Democratic and Workers Rights (CDWR) is very crucial as it will allow us to reach out to the workers searching for both a fighting and political alternative.
The NC ended with renewed commitment by all comrades to begin the building of the SPN in order to proffer a coherent political alternative for the working masses and change-seeking youths of Nigeria.
Comrade Lanre Arogundade’s reading of the solidarity letters from CWI sections in Europe to the meeting further elevated the mood of comrades and the realisation of the international dimension of our struggle for socialism. Another highlight of the meeting is dominant presence of working class elements who constituted over two-thirds of about 100 comrades who attended the meeting over the two days. This reflects in the success of both appeal fund for takeoff of SPN activities and fighting for other activities of DSM.
Over the next period, the DSM will be actively engaged at all branches to deepen our work and intervention in workers, students, youths and poor struggles, and to build the SPN as a political party that can rid Nigeria of the horrors of capitalism.