Lecture Delivered by Eskor Toyo (Professor of Economics) at the 6th Professor Wole Soyinka Lecture held at Cultural Center, Calabar on Tuesday 13th, July 2004.
The National Association of Seadogs asked me to speak on Sustenance of Democracy in a Developing Economy: the Nigerian Experience. I have modified the topic out of scientific necessity for the advancement of knowledge.
The original topic is presumptive. We do not blame the Seadogs for this because they were induced by conventional beliefs, especially in the capitalist world. Nigeria has not arrived at a democracy. Therefore, there is no democracy to sustain. We shall see that no capitalist country can be an authentic democracy; therefore, the question of sustaining non-democracy masquerading as democracy does not arise in any capitalist country.
Conventional belief is thoroughly misguided on democracy and thoroughly confused about the relationship between democracy and the economy. With regard to this confusion, one school of presumptions divorces democracy or the polity completely from the economy. This is a grave error. Another school of presumptions, in opposition to military rule, urges that democracy is a means to and a necessity for economic development in a developing economy. Given what is conventionally meant by ‘democracy’ and by ‘developing economy’, this school, again, is thoroughly in error.
‘By the way’, it is not only an economy that develops, although conventionally, ‘development’ in the social discourse has come to mean economic development. The society, the polity and culture do develop, although their specific development is basically predicated on a specific economic development properly understood. The notion that we can think of the development of a country only in terms of the conventional conception of the development of its economy is again a grave error. Very fundamentally, social development is the development towards or of a civilization. As we go along we shall treat democracy, development and modern development, patterns of development in developing countries, the democratic contents of socialism, Nigeria’s experience with plutocracy, the challenge and what to sustain.
The so-called Western World is inundated with the make-believe that the United States of America, Britain, France and other countries dominated by the capitalist class in which the so-called elected governments are democracies. They are not. It is Abraham Lincoln, as President of the United States of America, that pronounced an authentic, though partial, definition of democracy. He defined it as “government of the people, by the people and for the people”. This concerns what is conventionally called ‘government’.
Lincoln was not just politician or leader of state. He cared enough for the down trodden to proclaim in 1865 the emancipation of American slaves. He did so against the opposition of powerful slave owners who preferred dissolving the United States of America to emancipating the slaves. That was the issue in the American Civil War (1862-1864). Lincoln as President pronounced the emancipation after he and the other emancipationists had won that war. What Lincoln meant by “the people’ was not ‘persons’, ‘the population’, ‘the citizenry’, or ‘the governed’. The term ‘people’ can be used with any of these meanings. He meant the underprivileged or what in English is called ‘the common people’ or ‘the working people’
The term ‘democracy’ comes from Greek social analysts. There were many state systems in the ancient world around the Mediterranean Sea and the Persian Gulf. In trying to classify them the Greek analysts correctly did so using as differentiating criterion the locus of power in class or social privilege terms. Accordingly, they identified a state in which one man ruled by his own power as autocracy, a state in which a class of nobles had power in their hands as aristocracy, a state where the wealthy had power as plutocracy, and a state where the people had power as democracy. The word ‘demos’ in Greek means ‘the people’ and the term ‘crasis’ means power. Lincoln was thus only spelling out the Greek term, ‘democracy’.
Power is defined by sociologists as the ability to make others do ones will. Although Lincoln’s definition is in terms of political power as commonly understood, we have come to know since the nineteenth century that economic power exists and that economic and political powers go together. I point out that cultural power also exists, namely, the power to determine social preferences. Cultural power depends on what confers prestige or influence or what makes anthropologists call a group of people a ‘reference group’ in society.
Political power is exercised by the apex group of policy makers, by the civil administration, by the law courts and law enforcement agencies, and by the armed forces. Actually, the armed forces constitute the ultimate prop of state power. Its preferences vis-à-vis other classes will be sustained by the armed forces that has political power. It is politically the ruling class. Economic power rests with the ownership of the means of production and distribution in a society, which means he who owns the means of production and distribution of a society possesses the ultimate power of life and death, if we exclude the armed forces. Cultural power depends on the way of life of those regarded as successful or as leaders. This way of life exerts an enormous behavioural pull.
Social historians and analysts have found that in a state political power is used to acquire or sustain economic and cultural power, that economic power is used to acquire or sustain political and cultural power, and that cultural power goes to sustain political and economic power. It is in this connection that some sociologists speak of ‘the power elite’.
There can be no doubt whatsoever that if we name things according to their real essences rather than mistaken impressions, no capitalist country can be a democracy. A capitalist country is a state whose polity, economy and culture (i.e. behavioural norms) are dominated by a capital-powerful minority. Since it acquires and extends its wealth and power by exploiting the people, it is opposed to the people.
Chambers Twentieth Century Dictionary defines exploitation as making gain out of or at the expense of others or using resources for selfish purposes. There is no doubt that this is the way capitalists and all other predatory classes in history obtain their wealth. A capitalist state is clearly a plutocracy, money and capital plutocracy.
What of the element of election, which gives the impression that a capitalist state can be a democracy? Let us deal with that. In the late eighteenth century when the people agitated and fought for liberty, equality, fraternity and democracy against the autocracy, and aristocracy of feudal lords, the people consisted of peasants, artisans, merchants who were becoming capitalists and a relatively few wage workers. The nascent capitalists then were small-scale operators in comparison with feudal lords and what the capitalists became later. In the American Revolution (1774-1783) liberty and equality were the war cries of the people. It was supposed that if the pre-modern feudal or slave master-and –servant order, including the colonial master-and-servant system arising from their international relations, were thrown overboard, the people would know both freedom and equality.
No one would be present to enjoy political, economic and cultural power over the people as they then were. Liberty meant personal and national sovereignty. Equality meant equal rights to wealth or everything else of value to the society. It was thought that if the exploitative relations involved in the master-and-servant schemes of slavery, feudalism and their international relations were dissolved, there would be fraternity, i.e. co-operation and self-help, in place of predation, antagonism and conflict. These thoughts inspired between 1750 and 1890 antislavery, anti-feudalism, national self-determination and, in some, anti-racism.
It was then thought that if a government was set up that was elected by the people there would be liberty, equality and fraternity. A government by elected representatives of the people would be a democracy. In other words, it was thought that such a government would really represent the people and express the power of the people-as against the power of slave owners of feudal lords.
‘Democracy’ to Jean Rousseau, John Locke, Thomas Paine, Thomas Jafferson, Benjamin Franklin, Patrick Henry, etc did not mean simply a mechanism for decision-making. It meant the state power of the underdog mass of peasants, artisans, traders, master craftsmen, nascent capitalists and wage workers, who were not a master class. These people-groups constituted the so-called Third Estate as against the bishops (First Estate) and the lay feudal lords (Second Estate) who were the landlords, slave owners and rulers of European feudalism cum slavery.
Capitalist Seizure of Power and Electoplutocracy
As industrial revolutions proceeded between 1760 and 1880, however, a new society emerged involving a new economic, social class and political reality. In the economic, political and social revolutions that made the period a very stormy one in Euro-American history, the nascent capitalists led the rest of the people to shove off the feudal lords and abolish feudalism. New masters emerged, namely, capitalists, and they used their newly acquired political power to abolish feudalism and slavery, seize the land, acquire capital, depress wages and build a capitalist society. In other words, the so-called Third Estate that overthrew the feudal lords was led by the bourgeois class, i.e. the class of merchants and nascent capitalists that were prominent in the cities. It is this class that used their political power to develop industrialism and capitalism, so that a new society, namely, industrial society in its capitalist form, emerged.
As industrialism and capitalism developed, the society got split once more into a new master-and-servant scheme. The capitalists owned the industries and were the new masters and exploiters. Correspondingly, the class of wageworkers grew, labouring for them. These workers came out of ruined peasants, artisans and petty-traders some of whom remained but were dwindling in economic, political and socio-cultural significance. Actually, capitalism turned out to be a modern (i.e industrial) slave society. The capitalists who owned industries, farms, and substantial commercial enterprises were the masters and slave users; the wage workers were their slaves. The capitalists did not own their wage slaves as property; however, they owned their labour power for fulltime use by buying it through the wage employment contract. This is why capitalists were and are slave users. The fact that capitalism is a form of slavery, an industrial form, is of utmost importance.
Thus between 1760 and 1880, the society was rapidly transformed into an industrial society which was also a new master-and-servant society and a new kind of slave society. In some countries, such as Britain, France and the United States of America, the institution of an elected parliament which was a means of expressing the voice or will of the people, as Third Estate, won from feudal autocracy was used by the bourgeois leaders of the new industrial society to decide who among them should exercise governmental power. Whereas parliament was supposed to be a rebellious instrument of the people, it became, after substantial defeudalisation, a manipulative instrument in the hands of the new ruling class. The new classes forming ‘the people’ of the new society, namely, wage, workers, artisans, peasants and petty traders, with wage workers as emerging core, had no economic power. Consequently, they had no political or cultural power.
As for the wage slaves, when a society is split into master and servant classes, it is impossible for the servants to have economic, political and cultural power. To begin with, property as the vital means of life and command over things and men is owned by the masters. This means that the country is actually owned by them, whoever happens to be born into it. Then the armed forces are built to be loyal to and defend the state. This means that in the last resort they have to defend the property rights and economic power of the masters. Next, the main laws are made always in the last analysis to be on the side of the masters as a condition for social reproduction. Finally, all social values are subordinated to or reconciled with the wishes to the masters or they are ostracized as ‘deviant’ to borrow the language of functionalist sociologists.
In those capitalist countries where elections are held to elect legislatures and heads of government or state, what do the elections really decide? These elections do not give power to the people, i.e. the working people. To answer the question truthfully we have to be aware that the capitalist class is a class of ever-competing wealth grabbers. Unless a military dictatorship emerges, they are forever wrangling among themselves. Where elections are held, their role is to decide which faction of the rich will manage the exercise of the power of the rich in the next few years.
Capitalism is clearly an electo-plutocracy. It is, as we have seen, a plutocracy of the money-rich and the capital rich. However, as there is an election element to decide who will for a term manage the plutocracy, we call it an electo-plutocracy. A capitalist state like Germany, Italy and Japan under fascism is a fascistic plutocracy. When a capitalist state is under military rule it is a military plutocracy. To call a capitalist state a ‘democracy’ is to trample on reality.
Power of the People for the People?
Before we finish with electo-plutocracy, let us look at five bodies of facts. They are the suppression of efforts to transit to real democracy, the actual dominance of wealth in the existing capitalist electo-plutocracies, the fact that the capitalist electo-plutocracies, the fact that the capitalist regimes operate against the people, and the character of elections and conduct of government in the electo-plutocracies.
The slamming of the door to real democracy in terms of power against the people has been from the beginning a feature of bourgeois revolutions. In the English bourgeois revolution in the 1640s, the masses of working people – peasants and artisans – supported Oliver Cromwell. They expected the revolution to distribute land and lead to citizen equality, but Cromwell turned out to be a bourgeois autocrat. He slammed the door against them. They became opposed to him and intended to complete the revolution but, with the support of the bourgeois merchants, he suppressed them.
In the American Revolution, 1774-1783, which was led by the bourgeoisie – then mainly merchants – the Declaration of Independence, which was the testament of the revolution, stated that “all men are created equal”. Not long after the success of the revolution, John Quincy Adams as President of the United States declared, even though he had signed the Declaration of Independence, that he did not believe in equality because all men did not have the same ability. That slammed the door against the belief in real social equality in the USA. Equality, however, is the authentic basis of democracy. The bourgeoisie, having won their liberty to make money without feudal and colonial restrictions, turned their backs on citizen equality, which had served them to rally the toiling people against British colonial rule.
In the French revolution, 1789-1783, the bourgeoisie led the fight to overthrow feudal rule. The slogan, ‘Liberty, Equality and Fraternity’, was used to rally the working masses. However, once feudal autocracy, inequality, and domination was overthrown and social land redistribution and an advance to real democracy achieved, the working people who sought equality formed a group against the bourgeoisie but was suppressed.
Again in 1871, Germany invaded France in the Franco-German war and advanced up to Paris. To save the wealth of the rich in the city, the bourgeois French government surrendered Paris to the Germans. At once, the workers of Paris, caring for independence, liberty, equality and real democracy, refused to accept the surrender. They set up their own government, a genuine democracy for the first time, and prepared to defend Paris and France against the Germans. The French bourgeois government then turned its arms from facing the Germans to destroying the workers’ government. This government was called the Paris Commune. A most heroic defence was put up by the Communards, but the French government executed a most savage slaughter of the people. The commune vanished and so was the door slammed with maximum barbarity against an attempt to get beyond bourgeois liberty to be new slave masters to real democracy, which demands real citizen equality.
Since 1871 the working people have made an effort time and again to gain political, economic and cultural power and set up an authentic democracy. Each time the effort has been made the capitalists have had recourse to their armed power to suppress it. In many places, they have succeeded. Apart from the earlier cases cited, this has happened in Germany, Italy, Hungary, South Korea, Taiwan-China, South Vietnam before the Vietnam war, Greece, Guatemala, Indonesia, Malaysia, Burma, Ceylon, Cameroon, Kinshasa/Zaire under Mobutu Sese Seko, Mozambique, Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Ethiopia, Somalia, Cameroon, Guyana, Chana, Mali, Afghanistan, Nicaragua, Peru, etc. In other places, the working people succeeded. These include Russia, the republics that formed the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria, Albania, Yugoslavia before the break-up, East Germany before Gorbachev, North Korea, Mongolia, Mainland China, Yemeni Peoples Republic, Angola, Vietnam, Kampuchea, Laos and Cuba.
Wherever the working people struggled to establish a real people’s power and thus the foundations of a genuine democracy the fight by capitalists (foreign and local) and by would-be capitalists against their coming to power was fierce, armed and unrelenting. Capitalists may put up electo-plutocracy as a democratic mask to fool the people. When the people can no longer be fooled, the capitalists resort to arms, to military dictatorship or to fascism to render a transition to an authentic democracy impossible. Let us turn facts about the real ownership of a capitalist country, especially today.
All statistical data on wealth show that private wealth is very concentrated in capitalism. The concentration, of course, increases as monopolies take over more and more of industry, trade and banking. Let us take the United States of America. Data show that US industry, trade, banking, transport and communication are actually dominated by three millionaire empires. Table 1 gives a picture of asset concentration in industry in the USA. The table is compressed.
Table 1: Assets to Top 100 Industrial Corporations in the USA
(in billions of dollars)
|Year||Assets (billion dollars)||Percent of all industrial corporation|
Source: For 1909-1958, see Norman Collins and Lee Preston, ‘The Size Structure of the Largest Industrial Firms, 1909-1958’, American Economic Review, Vol.II, No. 5, December, 1981, p.909. For 1983-1985, see Statistical Abstract of the United States, 1987, Table No. 884.
To be observed is the very large size and proportion of the assets of the top 100 companies even in 1909. The all-consuming expansion in both absolute assets and proportion from 1909 to 1970 is even more breath-taking. The smaller the proportion of millionaires who actually own and have power in the USA the more strident is the fantastic noise that she is a ‘democracy’. All those who know the facts, however, know that the USA is owned by and run for the Czars that own Standard Oil, International Business Machines and similar firms. Many economists and sociologists have enough of scientific conscience to liken the social system of the USA, Britain, France, Italy, Japan, etc. to a new feudalism, an industrial and commercial analogue of feudalism. Let us go to operation against the people by capitalist electo-plutocracy.
Table 2 shows that capitalism is a system that sacrifices the people to the money god that the millionaires worship rather than give the people the power to serve themselves, let alone give commands. Nothing illustrates the powerlessness of the people better than unemployment and poverty in the midst of plenty. Unemployment, poverty, inflation and depressions are commonly used economic indicators of insecurity.
Table 2: Unemployment Rates in Eight Capitalist Countries (Percent of Labour Force)
|Date||United State||Canada||Australia||Japan France||Fed. Rep. of Germany||Britain||Italy|
Source: Marvin N. Kosters, ‘Unemployment, Adjustment and Structural Change’, Economic Impact No. 4, 1986, p.68.
Table 2 is abridged. A large unemployment exists in capitalism all the time. In the case of the USA unemployment rate of 1 percent of the labour force means about 1 million people are unemployed. The unemployment worsens in a depression, which occurs for a year or more in about every five. The period from 1975 to 1985 was one of prolonged depression. This is reflected in the large unemployment indicators for 1980 and 1985. This unemployment is of people who have virtually no property and hardly any saving.
Table 3: Persons Living Below the Poverty Line or Below 125 Percent of Poverty Line in the USA
|Date||Below Poverty Line||Below 125 Percent of Poverty Line|
|Number (Millions)||Percent of Population||Number (Millions)||Percent of Population|
Source: Statistical Abstract of the United States. 1987, p.442
Table 3 is abridged. It shows that even in the 1970s and 1980s, after one hundred years as an industrial capitalist country, the United States of America still had between 25 million and 40 million of her people – the real people-living below the official poverty line. These constituted between 12 percent and 15 percent of her population. Between 35 million and 47 million people in those years lived either on or below the poverty line or only a quarter above it.
In the words of the poet, Oliver Goldsmith, who saw early capitalism, as wealth accumulates in the hands of the rich and powerful masters, ‘men decay’. Yet we are told that it is these decaying men that have power. It must be a strange kind of power: power to sentence themselves in millions to unemployment, poverty and decay.
Let us return to inflation. Data show that in nineteen capitalist countries made up of fifteen in Western Europe, two in North America, Japan and New Zealand, in the period 1965-73, inflation rate ranged in thirteen between 5 and 7 percent. In the period 1973-84, inflation rate ranged in twelve between 7 and 18 percent. The history of capitalism shows that since capitalism turned monopolistic in the 1880s, prices have been going persistently upward at different rates. It is known to economists that inflation impoverishes contractual to enrich non-contractual income earners. In plain language it robs the worker and landlord Peters to pay the capitalist Pauls. Economic and social historians know that with the rise of capitalism, landlords lost their economic and political power and that the workers are mere slaves with neither political nor economic power. Yet we are asked to believe that it is workers, rather than capitalist monopolizes, money makers and other profiteers, that have power. Strangely, they use it to inflict inflation on themselves.
Let us touch on depressions, financial crises, and technological changes. These are forms of social insecurity in capitalism. They are produced by capitalist grabbing ambition, capitalist competition, and capitalist supply of, trading in and manipulation of money. A depression is a period of general low production and commercial activity brought about by a general curtailment of the rate of investment of earned profits by capitalists owing to their fear of a decline in the rate of profit. Its advent results in a massive loss of jobs by workers. Inflation is a form of financial instability and leads to a loss of purchasing power by workers.
There are other forms of financial instability, such as stock market and foreign exchange crises that worsen business conditions and bring about some types of so-called frictional unemployment. Technological innovations lead to loss of jobs by workers already in jobs. This is called technological unemployment. It also engenders an increase in the unemployment of those who lack qualifications to fill available vacancies. This kind of unemployment is called ‘structural’ unemployment. There is no provision against it or any other kind of unemployment in capitalism. Depression and the other forms of capitalist instability, which bring the people misery, are capitalist and are inevitable consequences of the capitalist type of profit quest. Their causes are known, but the people are helpless before them, being losers from them but unable to do anything about them.
Let us look at elections and governance under electo-plutocracy: We can make only brief observations. The constituencies are territorial rather than class constituencies. This makes it possible for any purported ‘champion’ to put himself up as a representative not really of the people but of the population of an area. This kind of ‘representation’ started in Britain, and feudal lords used it to send their own purported ‘representatives’ of the people’ to parliament. It is however, possible to organize representation according to class rather than territory and have such a representation.
Money power is dominant in the elections under capitalism. There is no need to say more about this. The issues in the elections are those that pass through the capitalist filter. Fundamental questions regarding the structure of society are not raised. Whenever such questions are seriously raised the bourgeoisie abandon elections and turn to one form or other of capitalist terrorism – military coup d’etat, fascism, etc. Slavador Allende’s career is one of the clearest, latest, and most eloquent examples.
There is no citizenship equality to begin with. Unless access to wealth is equalized no such equality can be established. Under electo-plutocracy a millionaire actually has a million or more votes.
Under electo-plutocracy modern mass information organs belong to millionaires and there is no equal access to education. Unless these conditions that affect a citizen’s capacity to make decisions in modern are changed, there is no citizenship equality and no authentic democracy is possible.
In the electo-plutocracies that exist, a frequent complaint by political observers is that politicians promise one thing in elections but do another when voted into office. The reason for this is that elections are to the bourgeoisie only a mechanism for getting into office.
Slaves and servants must suffer from obsequiousness and diffidence because in their daily lives they take orders from and serve masters. When the working people develop a revolutionary consciousness, i.e. a desire to be masters, this becomes incompatible with bourgeois rule and bourgeois elections.
The elections are frequently rigged in one way or another, including gerrymandering. The rigging is done by the rich.
Elections do nothing but seek opinion from underlining concerning what they think of the different issues or personalities, which rival factions of masters, present to them for the management of slavery for the next few years. Opinion is not the same thing as power, even if it is opinion expressed by an equal, which is far from the case here.
Democracy is often confused with liberalism. Liberalism permits one to hold one’s view on a question. That can happen even in a military regime. Power is a different matter.
Elections do not decide how government will actually be run. This depends on a host of weighty influences that have nothing to do with the preferences of the underling.
Finally, the fact that people endure a situation does not mean that they like or accept it. A revolution is an extremely difficult and risky affair. It is for this reason that pre-capitalist slavery lasted for many centuries and so did feudalism. In history oppressive regimes are very seldom overthrown by the underlings. The continuation of electo-plutocracy is far from being an evidence of its validity as democracy.
Limitation of the Greek-Lincoln Definition
We have treated Abraham Lincoln’s definition as the correct spelling out of what the Greeks and early bourgeois thinkers meant by democracy. This meaning of democracy, as we have seen, was abandoned by capitalists who grabbed power but retained elections for sorting out matters among themselves.
However, the Lincoln-Greek conception itself suffers from the limitation that it has been applied exclusively to one sphere, namely, the so-called political sphere. As we have seen there are actually three types of power in society: political, economic and cultural. The study of social history and the development of the social sciences enable one to see this. Moreover, capitalism itself has made economic power more distinct for analysts to recognize.
If we are thinking of democracy today we should be thinking of a polity, an economy, and a culture owned and managed by the people for the people. We should not be vague about ‘the people’ either, because of the many ways in which, at least in English, the term ‘people’ may be used. We should speak of the working people as distinguished from privileged groups sponging on the people in consequence of privileges derived directly or indirectly from private property ownership. In other words a really satisfactory definition of ‘democracy’, which means ‘common people’s power’ should be in terms of the three forms of social power.
Another way of looking at the matter is that we should be talking today not simply of a democratic polity but of a democratic society. Let us explain the ultimate sources of power and what a democratic society ultimately implies.
Political power rests ultimately on the armed forces, the policy-making executive, the law courts and law enforcement agencies, and the civil administration. Unless, therefore, it is the working people who set these up, who choose those they want to serve on them, and who enjoy the loyalty of these institutions, there is no political power of the people.
Economic power rests on productive property ownership. For a modern or modernizing economy the crucial property for power is industrial property. However, because of the elaborate division of labor in a modern economy, transport, communication means and banks are also valuable for power. Unless therefore, the working people own the decisive industries, transport and communication means and banks, and unless those that manage these sectors are put there by them and are loyal to them, there is no economic power of the people.
Cultural power derives from an elite position. It derives from being looked up to as an example to emulate or appreciate in any sphere of life. Positions of leadership in the shaping of values, i.e. in politics, wealth accumulation, science, art, education or religion confer the power to influence culture. It follows that unless political positions, wealth, science, art, education, and art and leadership in religion are open to working people, and unless those who hold such positions have empathy with or are loyal to them, rather than having their empathy or loyalty placed elsewhere, there is no cultural power in the people. Let us now proceed to economic development.
The term ‘development’ may be applied to quantitative and qualitative changes, which enhance the capacity of anything to deal with its environment or solve problems better. Economics is the social science which studies the wealth or poverty of human societies or groups therein in terms of means of want satisfaction that can be increased or improved by man’s effort. It is man’s effort that makes the matter interesting. The economic development of a society can be affected by many things in it, including the polity, religion, cultural values, etc. However, conventionally economic development is thought of as improvements in a part of the forces of production. Usually mentioned are capital input, savings and business habits and sometimes technology.
However, to speak more validly of economic development, one has to look at three things principally. These are forces of production and relations of production, which have been recognized in extant literature. To these I add the economic mechanism. The forces of production have to do with man’s mastery of and ability to exploit nature. They consist of knowledge of nature or scientific knowledge, technology, work skills, work effort, savings reinvested, and organizational effectiveness. These forces determine what can be produced and in what quantities. They determine, therefore, what and how much is there to allocate and share.
The relations of production are relations of men to men. They have been recognized as concerned with co-operant relations arising from the division of labor and the claims relations arising from poverty ownership. I add a third category of relations, namely, the command relations. The relations defined by claims (or proprietary relations) determine the entitlement of the actual worker to the property with which he works, the use of his own labor ability, and the output of his work. This set of relations determines how the property in production is owned and what each person gets from the output. The command relations concern who can order who in production. It decides who can give order and who must obey. These relations come into actual management. The economic mechanism is the arrangement actually put in place to allocate, produce and distribute goods and labor power.
When an economy is said to develop, this may involve changes in the forces of production, in the relations of production and in the economic mechanism, provided they enhance the capacity of the economy to produce, distribute and creatively use goods. A particular pattern of forces and relations of production gives us a specific mode of production. Examples of specific modes of production are the primitive haunter-gatherer, primitive farming, patriarchal, slave, feudal, other patron-client, capitalist, and socialist modes of production. Because two or three modes of production usually interact, giving rise to a system with a dominant mode and subordinated modes of production, we have economic formations. Although a general concept of a mode of production or economic formation exists, it is more concrete to speak of a specific mode of production or economic formation, like slavery and the slave state imperial system, feudalism and the feudal state of imperial system, and capitalism and the capitalist imperial system. No system is fully established overnight; each develops.
The class epoch in history emerged some six thousand years ago. Up to about 1750 the class-based economic systems were based in agriculture with some cities like Rome or Kano where merchant activity was prominent. The toilers were peasants, slaves or handicraftsmen working for masters or powerful patrons.
The modern economy developed from England around 1750. It was industrial in its forces of production, capitalist in its relations of production, and trade or market-based in its economic mechanism. It grew rapidly because of the growth of science and the invention of mechanized production.
As from the 1850s, as a result of the invention of machines to make machines, cheap steel making, railways, steamships, ocean cables, etc., there came the possibility of easily crossing oceans and penetrating continents. A need arose also for the capitalists to build very large enterprises, form monopolies to avoid ruinous competition among giants, and launch capitalist imperialism to capture and exploit areas of the world that were not industrialized. Capitalist imperialism and capitalist colonies came to exist between 1860 and 1914.
In the mean time, a revolutionary movement was developing in Europe. It was a movement to take up the task of building an equal, genuinely democratic and non-predatory society. This was the cause abandoned by the capitalists in the nineteenth century who had then become new masters building modern slavery in the form of wage-labour slavery. The new movement, of course, sought to put the people in power. It became clear that this had to be political, economic and cultural power; otherwise there could not be the working people’s democracy which alone is genuine democracy
As we have seen, the first clear attempt by workers to shake off illusions about their bourgeois Third Estate anti-feudal leaders and build a genuine democracy once and for all was the Paris Commune, 1871. As we have seen, it was crushed, but the movement to think of and organize for a genuine democracy had started during the English revolution and did not disappear. This movement was called ‘socialism’, because of the emphasis away from the egoistic greed and exploitation of other people and the whole society by capitalists who replaced the feudal lords in this.
In 1917, the working people (i.e. workers and peasants) of Russia resumed the effort to establish a genuine democracy. Because of the lessons which their leaders learnt from the Paris Commune, this time they succeeded. In the vast Russian empire was established the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, a nucleus of a genuine people’s democracy. After the Second World War, workers and peasants in China, Eastern Europe and several other places, as we have seen, embarked on this search for an authentic democracy. It is worth mentioning that after its worker-peasant revolution in 1949, the Chinese socialists called their new state ‘New Democracy’. After the worker-peasant revolutions in several countries of Eastern Europe, North Korea, Mongolia, Vietnam, Cuba, etc., the worker-peasant states emerging were called ‘People’s Democracies’.
It is detractors of real democracies, dishonest enemies of the people, and those that do not hate socialism but who do not care to know or do not have the opportunity of knowing much about it that give or go by the impression that democracy is one thing and socialism another. Socialism is democracy; it is democracy in its authenticity. Democracy is not bourgeois election. No one is really a democrat who is not a socialist or does not welcome socialism.
Development, Democracy and Developing Countries
The divorce of economic development from the polity, as is often done, is wrong. Economic development involves the development of forces of production, relations of production and the economic mechanism. It is the development of a slave, feudal, nascent capitalist, monopolistic capitalist, liberal capitalist, fascistic capitalist, imperialistic metropolitan capitalist, colonial capitalist appendage, and neo-colonial, nascent socialist or industrial socialist economy. A pattern of economic development, pre-modern or modern, always involves one form or other of social development. There is no socially neutral development, and there cannot be, because an economy is only one aspect of a specific social economy.
The polity is involved in economic development in several ways, but the most important aspect of this involvement is that in class society there is a ruling class and this class uses its power to favour, promote and frustrate any particular economic development. This is what governmental economic policy is all about. In fact, what the state will or will not do depends broadly on the nature of the ruling class.
In the developing countries today the economy, by way of the forces of production, is not yet industrial. That is to say that it is not yet modern. This is one sense in which we say it is not developed. However, from the nineteenth century up to 1917 the industrial economy where it existed in Europe, North America and Japan – was capitalist. The working people’s revolution took place in Russia in 1917. From then to 1937 an industrial economy building socialism instead of capitalism came into being.
Developing countries are not new. Once Britain came into capitalist industrialism by 1850, any other country-like France, Germany, Russia, the USA and Japan-in which industrialism and capitalism were being built was, by comparison with Britain, developing into not only industrialism but also capitalism.
By the end of the Second World War, Russia had developed into an industrial society of the socialist type. Then after 1945 several countries made a socialist revolution to build an industrial society of the socialist type. They were developing countries also, but developing in a socialist direction.
Another side of development after 1945 is that from about 1870 to 1945, several non-industrial countries in the world had been conquered or subdued into their colonial or semi-colonial countries by the capitalists of Britain, France, the USA, Japan, Italy and Belgium. After 1945, these colonial countries won some independence, but in some of them, like Nigeria, the independence is not real. Such countries became neo-colonial countries. Neo-colonialism is a condition in which a country is sovereign in international law but has its economy dominated by capitalist transnational in the same imperialist countries we have here mentioned.
In some of these neo-colonial countries, semi-industrialized capitalism has been going on since at least 1970. Such countries are Brazil, Pakistan, Egypt, Mexico, South Africa, Israel, South Korea and Taiwan. Some others like Nigeria have not succeeded much to build industrialism but are building capitalism of an industrially very backward type.
Among the countries like North Korea, China, Vietnam and Cuba that are developing industrialism of a socialist kind, no question of independence arises because their revolutions were also against imperialism as international capitalism. The first thing they did in this respect was quickly to destroy the imperialist holds on their economics and build up the economic means of economic independence, industrialization and defence against imperialism. These means are the iron and steel, other metallurgical, machine building, power generation, chemical, and construction material generation, chemical, and construction material industries. They remain fiercely anti-imperialist.
In countries that have stayed put in neocolonialism, like African, most Asian, most Middle East, Caribbean and most Latin American countries, the questions of development into total independence and in independent path of development arise.
Thus in the developing countries today a country may be developing towards industrialism, towards capitalism and towards independence like India. It may be developing into industrialism with some success and also into capitalism, but not into real independence, like Brazil, Mexico and South Africa. It may be staggering with little success in industrial development, going capitalist and still held in bondage by imperialism as are most African, Asian, etc countries. It may be developing industrialism, going socialist, and liberated from imperialism and steering an independent and anti-imperialist course, as Vietnam, Cuba, etc, are doing.
It is these four roads of economic development that exist. The political system existing in a country is tailored to back up any of the three capitalist courses chosen by the capitalist leaders or the socialist course chosen by leaders of the working people.
We have said that there is an untrue presumption in the conventional linking of democracy with economic development. The presumption comes from the bourgeois liberal idea that military rule or bureaucracy retards economic growth-which they call development’. Bourgeois liberals conclude that what they call ‘democracy’ i.e. capitalist electo-plutocracy, is necessary to advance economic growth. Actually what we see here is American bourgeois propaganda to win the nascent bourgeoisies in developing countries for their conceptions about economic progress and ‘democracy’.
We have seen what their conception of ‘democracy’ is; it is electo-plutocracy. What is their conception of economic progress, growth or development, which to them are the same? It is the growth of towns; the infrastructure; agricultural, mining and some consumer industry output; commercials activity; their profits. It is their growth into millionaires and multi-millionaires. It is growth in the things that enhance the wealth of the bourgeoisie. The people are not for them the focus of development. The people are mere means for the growth of things for others – slaves and beasts of burden.
It is simply not true that electo-plutocracy is necessary for the economic development of any country or class. Ancient Rome or Babylon started from a small town and developed into a giant city with a far-flung empire, great wealth and high culture. Yet Rome and Babylon were not at any stage electo-plutocracies as understood by the capitalists. Feudal England, France, China or Japan knew a great deal of development in economy, polity and culture over centuries but each of these was an autocracy. So were ancient Egypt, etc.
In modern times, Germany and Japan industrialized and developed capitalism very rapidly from 1860 up to the Second World War as autocracies, except for the brief Weimar electo-plutocracy in Germany in the 1930s which was soon destroyed by Hilter’s fascistic bourgeois autocracy. In recent years, from 1962 to 1975 a ruthless military dictatorship whipped up a rapid industrial and capitalist development of a neo-colonial type in South Korea. In short, so-called civilization in the last five thousand years has seen only a few cases of electo-plutocracy and that only in the last one hundred and fifty years. Yet all that time, economic development took place at varying rates on all continents.
Capitalism in the last two hundred years developed the economy for capitalists more rapidly than any former ruling class for itself. However, this was not due to electo-plutocracy, whose role was merely to chain the rebellious working people. The rapidity of capitalist development was due to scientific and technological revolutions, the concentration of the capitalists on economic accumulation rather than militarized overlordship, the engagement of the capitalists in predatory but productive investment rather than predatory aggrandizement, and the industrial and commercial drives from the capitalist type of greedy competition. Electo-plutocracy had nothing to do with the matter.
Where there actually is democracy, i.e. where working people have political, economic and cultural changing power, investment, allocation, appropriation and structural decisions are taken by the people. Then and only then is democracy relevant to the form and rate of economic development. This is what happens in a commune and has happened in socialist construction countries. For instance, by any indicator the overall rate of growth and the extent of structural reconstruction in China, the independence of development there and the benefits for the people far transcend the developmental performance of any capitalist country, developed or developing. In China, the people are in charge. Let us turn to socialism as democracy.
Democratic Content of Socialism
From what the socialists have stood for since about 1830 and from what they and the working people have been doing in the different countries going socialist, we can summarize what they desire or have done to realize an authentic democracy. We shall merely list the principal thrusts.
- A socialist revolution takes place for people’s power to change polity, economy and culture. By this revolution the workers or workers and peasants become the ruling class or class alliance. This revolution by itself places democracy in power.
- The country is made independent. There can be no question of democracy if the people take economic, military, etc dictation from predatory foreign overlords.
- Capitalist enterprise is sooner or later taken over and put in the people’s ownership. This ownership may be by central or by regional and local people’s governments, by a civil society agency, by a commune, by a collective of workers, peasants, artisans or professionals, or by a company of working people. Putting productive property in the hands of the working people does a number of things. It gives the people economic power. It equalizes citizenship. It makes it possible to plan the economy and use all the resources for no other purpose than serving the people.
- Take-home income is distributed according to work. This makes it possible for all to derive income from the same source, which is the people’s source. A lot of the income ceases to go to a microscopic minority. Every income in any society is ultimately from the people’s work.
- Non-take-home income is used in ways that benefit the working people as a collective. Such income no longer sub serves a microscopic minority of predators.
- All the laws are on the side of the people
- The law courts are made easily accessible to all on the same terms.
- The armed forces are erected and educated to serve the people in case of any conflict with parasites. The same is true of the civil administration.
- Education is made cheap or free from kindergarten to university, including the education of those already in employment. This gives every child the same chance in understanding things and holding positions in society. Knowledge is power.
- Health facilities are made easily available and affordable or free for all.
- Everything is done to provide decent housing for all without privilege. Society cares for the housing of the people. There does not exist the plague of private landlords.
- Society acquires for distribution to those who need land all the land that is not used for creative purpose by working people. There is no private hoarding of land, so that land may be available to all that really need it.
- Recreation facilities are made easily available to all that really need it.
- There is emphasis on science. This liberates all from being victims of primordial and superstitious attitudes.
- Organizations of the people like trade unions and cooperative societies flourish.
- Except for safeguards needed for the success of a state, which is still a revolutionary state, all functionaries are elected by appropriate bodies of the people.
It must be emphasized that authentic democracy has just started in the world after five thousand years of master-and-servant society and master dictation. No genuine democrat can forget the Paris Commune and the repetition of it throughout the twentieth century. Every hour, the predators and enemies, of the people plot to cripple and put to death every genuine democracy that has been set on foot. They do not want to see for a minute the Soviet, Chinese, and North Korean, Vietnamese, East European or Cuban example in front of the working people of the world. The socialist revolution is the world’s first genuine democracy in practice. It cannot afford anything that the well-armed and imperialistic exporters of counter-revolution can exploit to overthrow the people. Even inside the Soviet Union, experience has shown that very greedy and fascistic men wanting to restore capitalism still exist. They are eager to work with today’s equivalents of the bourgeoisie, who buried the Paris Commune in the blood of the Parisian workers. Let us turn to the Nigerian case.
The Nigerian Case
It is obvious that Nigeria is not a democracy. Even electo-plutocracy in Nigeria is a wretched copy and has been wobbling since 1960. What causes it to be so wretched and wobbling? It is the anti-social economic and political behaviour associated with primitive capitalist accumulation. We must explain capitalist behaviour and primitive capitalist accumulation.
Capitalist activity is inspired by and promotes selfishness, greed, egotism, covetousness, opportunism, grabbing, antagonistic competition, suspicion of others, commercialism (willingness to sell and buy anything, including honor, sex, cocaine and humans – even money) myopia, impatience, kleptomania (tendency to stealing) and mendacity. One needs to see capitalism in several situations in history and compare it with primitive communalism to see all this. All these behavioural traits infested capitalism all along. They are particularly virulent, because they were uncurbed during the period of dominant primitive capitalist accumulation.
The word ‘primitive’ means embryonic or primary. Textbooks of economics written as apologia for capitalism give the impression that capitalists get their initial capital from their own personal savings, now called household savings. The reader of these texts is made to think that the capitalist’s capital comes – at least initially from his own belt tightening, called ‘abstinence’ by the apologists. Capitalist enterprise is a fairly large, large or very large enterprise. It employs many people to produce goods on a larger scale than handicraft or peasant units. For this type of activity a capitalist needs large capital. As we have noted in several lectures or papers, the following are the usual sources from which he obtains this capital:
- Gains from foreign and domestic long distance trade;
- Rents from land owning or gains from land speculation;
- Gains from real estate ownership or speculation in the growing towns;
- Gains from inflation and speculative trading,
- The creation of money by banks, which goes out as loans to businessmen;
- Bank lending out of funds deposited by landlords and governments;
- Gains from infrastructural and other subsidies for which government bears the cost;
- Loans from government revenue;
- Gains from contracts executed for and goods sold to government agencies;
- Gains from peculation, i.e. fraud, stealing and bribes, often involving large government funds or costly property;
- Gains for agency services to foreign big business, if the country is colonial, semi-colonial or neo-colonial;
- Perquisites in the form of fat salaries, allowances, prizes, gift and rewards for elite positions held in the corrupt system;
- Government property cheaply transferred through privatization;
- Subsidy to profits due to low wages arising from wage policies.
In Nigeria, primitive capitalist accumulation is on a giant scale, is unproductive, and is segmentary. It is on a giant scale because of large windfall mineral oil revenue, which is there for grabbing. It is unproductive because the bourgeoisie who grab the petroleum money through one process or other do not in the main invest it in production. They rather go for service activity or steal gain. The niggardly investment in production makes for a consumption-biased economy so that the bourgeoisie gain still more primitive capital through imports, price inflation and relentless speculative activity. The process is segmentary because the bourgeoisie are fragmented into ethnic segments, unlike workers who work in large government or transnational enterprises transcending ethnic bounds. Consequently the grabbing competition or capitalist and would-be capitalist in Nigeria manifests itself in ruthless contests in which ethnicity is used with abandon to gain vantage positions for primitive accumulation.
The last sentence actually summarizes the politics of Nigeria. It is the power-position game of primitive capitalist accumulation. To the bourgeoisie, the patriots in Nigeria from 1930 to 1960 had merely fought to wrest from the British lion an elephantine carcass, which vultures can now settle on to tear up among themselves. The so-called political parties in Nigeria are not formed around any issue that transcends cake sharing. They are trains for cake-sharing gangs.
The different behavioural propensities and grabbing processes of primitive capitalist accumulation are not peculiar to Nigeria. They were the same in Britain and caused Cromwell’s coup d’état, the same in France and caused the coup d’état of Bonaparte, the same in the USA and resulted in the civil war, and the same in Japan, Czarist Russia, etc. They are the same in every developing capitalist country today.
For instance, there is a common complaint among these countries concerning the scale of official corruption. This and other manifestations of primitive capitalist accumulation give rise to an epidemic of military coups.
What are peculiar to Nigeria are the three things we have mentioned: the large size of windfall revenue to be stolen; the consequent non-commitment to production; and the politics of unconscionably segmentary competition which has even killed anything like patriotism or tribe-transcending issues in politics. The redrawing of state and local government boundaries has remained a never-ending casus belli.
What exists in Nigeria is everything that brings about coups d’état. As for the people, they exist only as show pieces to enable a politician who goes abroad for some reason to claim he has a country. Otherwise, the people are like cattle and the country is on the map; only money from almighty petroleum revenue exists in his bourgeois heart.
Conclusion and the Road Forward
If one is looking for democracy he has to look for it in socialism. Anywhere in capitalism there is no democracy to be sustained; only a predatory empire or a predatory slave state, which may be a neo-colony as well. What is to be sustained is the idea itself that mankind can arrive at genuine democracy and the resolve that the message of the Paris Commune will never disappear.
The road to democracy is the socialist revolution. A host of thoughtful Nigerians have now drawn the conclusion that Nigeria needs a revolution. That intuition is sound. The vultures can be sent away. The country does not need military coups d’état, which only bring a flight of vultures with khaki feathers and armed beaks and claws. Capitalism is slavery; it has to go. Democracy is incompatible with any master-servant economy, mature or developing.
Developing countries have the advantage that if freedom lovers in them think independently and fast, they can throw out the growing slave masters and their foreign mentors before they grow deep roots, dig in, and legitimize their plutocracy. This is the age of socialist revolutions to give mankind the long yearned-for rule of the people, by the people and for the people. In Nigeria the military have been right to challenge the gangly thievery that again and again advertises itself as ‘democracy’. Where they have been wrong is in joining in the loot. No one, however, ought to expect the military as such to ferry the country through the inevitable storms on the genuine way to a genuine democracy. Only a popular movement whose aim is socialism and which is revolutionary without any equivocation is equal to that task. Some slave master there may well be who has a human heart, but the social system is a complex of objective relationships interests and drives. It is different from the sentiment of this or that isolated philanthropist.