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African Socialisms

North African, "arab" Socialisms, African Socialists, Afro-marxism, Conclusion, Bibliography

Socialist ideas have been in Africa before the advent of colonialism at the turn of the nineteenth century. African socialisms represent various combinations of African thinkers, politicians, and activists' absorption with and reconfiguring of nineteenth-and twentieth-century European socialist ideas and practice. The sources are multiple, from trades unions and contact with European workers, to affiliations with European political parties, and through contact with Pan-African (West Indian and African-American) radicals. Many African thinkers and movements have identified with various strands of social democratic and Marxian forms of socialism, seeking to indigenize them to Africa.

The rise of African socialisms as a movement coincides with the early phases of nationalism and national development, the high point of which was the non-nonaligned movement and Third Worldism. African socialism as practice began with the first self-proclaimed socialist-nationalist revolution in Africa, Gamal Abdel-Nasser's (1918–1970) 1952 Officers Coup in Egypt; and intended with globalization meeting South Africa's thwarted redistributive social democracy.

All African socialisms shared overlapping features that provided bases for nationalism and approaches to postcolonial development and nation building. First, was a combination of state ownership, an equitable distribution of wealth, and increasing citizen well-being; second, was the urgency of conquering underdevelopment, of "catching up"; third, was creating relevant noncapitalist institutions that would shape economic development; and fourth was creating well-balanced social relationships of citizenship that could establish cohesion between people and the state.

Prior to the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution in Russia, socialist ideas and practices were mooted among sections of the African middle and working classes. The Sierra Leone Weekly News in 1913 compared union-based socialism in industrial Europe with the supposed hallmark of an indigenous socialism, African "hospitality," auguring in sentiments (and myths) subsequently invoked by African Socialist-nationalists and political leaders. Striking laborers and clerks in Lagos in 1897 had neither socialist ideas nor organization to mobilize them against low wage labor policy for Africans, yet African socialist movements begin with the development of a modern work force.

Where industrial capitalism had penetrated more deeply in Africa, as in South Africa, Egypt, and Algeria, burgeoning workers and trade union movements would become subjects of communist and socialist ideas. Established primarily by settler, expatriate or European unionists and intellectuals, these movements learned their socialism in metropolitan-based parties. Striking white miners between 1906 and 1907 and from 1913 to 1914 in South Africa would beckon the call of (white) trade unionism and socialist organizing and practice, as would black workers in 1918. Socialism's claim to social justice would uniquely shape South Africa's national experience, where a class divided by race would force the national question to the center of discussions about the nature of socialism and independence in South Africa.

The first communist party in Africa (and in the Arab world) was formed in Egypt in 1921, where textile and transportation workers became the subject of communist attention after World War I. The general orientation of Egyptian Marxists and socialists was directed to the Arab world, which would persist into Nasserism. Egyptian communism remained small; having a large impact upon intellectual Marxism, debating many important questions about socialism in a backward country; it had little impact upon Egyptian politics and was unable to develop a mass following among a large indigenous working class, a well-developed trade union tradition, and millions of Egyptian peasants, or fellaheen. The party eventually disbanded in 1965 through in-fighting and Nasser's repression.

Until the formation of the 1970s Afro-Marxist regimes, movements espousing revolutionary Marxism were nonexistent. An exception was one the large metropolitan, European dominated, Algerian Communist Party, formed in 1936. By the 1950s it had disgraced itself by constantly placing the French interests above Algerians'. Two other exceptions were Sudan Communist Party and the South Africa Communist Party (SACP). In the early twenty-first century the SACP remains numerically strong, while the large Sudanese Communist movement, founded in 1946 under the influence of Egyptian Marxists, played a role in the nationalist movement, retaining significant influence in Sudanese politics before General Gafur Nimeri's murderous purges in the early 1970s.

Marxist influence would find homes within African socialism. Soviet and Chinese communism were benchmarks of socialism throughout colonialism, nationalism, and the formative years of national development. With few exceptions, like self-management in Algeria (1960–1965), alternative or academic socialisms had little foothold in Africa. If communist party formation was prohibited during colonialism, many independence parties (especially in Francophone Africa) were modelled on communist parties. Many African leaders, even when seeing communism as threatening, were impressed by the rapidity of its modernizing achievements through centralization, planning, and the one-party state. The Cold War also demanded positions on communism; most African states preferred charting unaligned vistas between it and Western capitalism.

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