Urgency of a working class alternative proven again

From Saturday 14 April to Sunday 15 April 2012, the National Committee (NC) of the Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM) met. Over 85 worker and youth members from different branches across the country attended the two day meeting. With the huge movement of workers and poor in January this year still fresh in mind, the NC provided an opportunity for a debate on the way forward for the struggle to change society.

Abiodun Aremu, JAF secretary, giving solidarity message to the NC - photo DSM

Amongst visitors to the meeting was Abiodun Aremu, the secretary of the Joint Action Front, the civic component of the Labour Civil Society Coalition (LASCO), who gave a solidarity message.

Top on the agenda were discussions on the class struggle in Nigeria and the world over as the world capitalist crisis rather than subside, continue to intensify.

Segun Sango (DSM General Secretary) speaking to the NC, photo DSM

Nigeria: Capitalism offers no hope

In his lead off on Nigeria, Segun Sango (DSM General Secretary) said there is a link between Nigeria and the rest of the world. All indices prove that the world economic situation has not improved significantly in the past and present period. In fact, austerity is the only perspective on the agenda of the capitalist governments in Europe. He pointed out to the massive scale of unemployment ravaging the world especially Europe and especially the Eurozone.

The link that the world economic situation has with Nigeria is multifold. One, most people in Nigeria and other less developed countries look on to Europe and America as lands of opportunities which explains the mass migration of able bodied men and women wanting to escape Nigeria’s hellish condition. However the mass unemployment in Europe and the United States, despite recent reports of a slight fall in unemployment rates, shows this is no more the case and may not be for a long time.

Secondly, if big capitalist economic models like Europe, US etc. are experiencing such ravaging economic crisis and austerity, then the fate of neo-colonial countries like Nigeria is doomed on the basis of capitalism. This is why socialists in Nigeria continue to offer the alternative of socialism as the best way to develop society.

January’s strike betrayal: A missed opportunity to change society!

January’s general strike presented the possibility of a radical change. This was the biggest and most widespread general strike in Nigeria. Millions were on the street from one end of the country to another in one of the greatest display of class unity in a country which local and foreign commentators often claim to be irrevocably divided along religious and ethnic lines!

In Kano, Christian youths guarded Muslims praying and vice versa. Not a single bomb exploded during the strike! According to Segun Sango, this confirms the position of the DSM that only the working class, youth and poor masses can genuinely unite Nigeria and resolve the nationality question. It is because of our faith in the working class that the DSM also supports the call for a Sovereign National Conference (SNC) but one which will be dominated by representatives of workers, youth and poor people to genuinely debate if Nigeria should be one and under what terms and conditions. This does not mean Socialists are separatists but at the same time we do not support forced co-existence - as British Colonialism did in 1914 without permitting a debate by the people!

However the strike despite its overwhelming power did not even win total reversal of hiked fuel prices because the labour leaders, frightened that the mass movement could begin to challenge the regime and the corrupt capitalist system, quickly called off the strike. For 6 days, the anti-poor government of President Jonathan was suspended in the air! Even the opposition political parties were greeted by protesting workers, youths and poor with the same derision!

The betrayal of the strike by the leadership of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and the Trade Union Congress (TUC) did not come as a surprise. Socialists have always pointed out that without a clear vision of an alternative way of running society different from capitalism, labour leaders are more or less incapable of fully defending the least material interest of workers and the poor masses.

This explains why when the demands by strikers and protesters escalated to the point of "regime change", the labour leaders immediately changed track and called off the strike. As the DSM argued during the strike, political power has to be taken by the working class and protesting youths in order to not just reverse fuel price but also to chase out the profit-hunting oil multinationals and oil marketers and bring into collective ownership the oil industry for the benefit of all and not the profit of a few.

However for the labour leaders, this is a political demand which is incompatible with the demand for reversal of hiked fuel prices! However at the end of the day, not even this demand was fully won! The betrayal of the strike mean in the immediate period a lost opportunity to change society and end the miserable live of poverty amidst plenty which is now the lot of, according to the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), over 100 million Nigerians in a population of about 170 million!

Today now, we are faced with the sceptre of a new increase of fuel prices. Because the labour leaders did not fully challenge the regime politically, they have allowed the ruling class time and breathing space to prepare for a new onslaught. Already there are surreptitious moves by oil marketers and government to organize artificial scarcity of petroleum products in order to force another price hike down the throat of Nigerians.

Even the much vaunted report of the subsidy probe carried out by the House of Representatives, which has revealed disturbing tales of scam in the petroleum industry, ended with a request for the fast-tracking of the deregulation of the petroleum industry – which plainly put means selling the whole oil industry, including the NNPC, to multinational oil companies as well as oil marketers.

Socialists support the call for the prosecution of all those found culpable in subsidy payment scam. However jailing the culprits is not enough. We call for the taking over and nationalization of the oil companies found culpable under the democratic control and management of workers. However it is only by fully taking over the entire oil sector from the private oil vampires that it can be possible to guarantee that Nigeria’s oil resources goes to benefit working people and the poor directly.

For Nigeria to break free from the stranglehold of misery amidst plenty, there is a need for a revolutionary overthrow of Jonathan’s anti-poor government and its replacement with a government of workers and poor people which through socialist programs of public ownership of key sectors of the economy under democratic public control and management can begin to break with capitalism and use the stupendous wealth of Nigeria in the interest of all.

The trade unions

The trade unions in Nigeria are important especially for the day-to-day struggles of workers for improvement in wages and working conditions. However Marxists recognize limitations of trade unions and especially the domination of the trade unions in Nigeria, and indeed the world over, by a corrupt pro-capitalist bureaucracy. The leaderships of the NLC and TUC in Nigeria have shown times without number that they are unwilling to challenge capitalism.

The solution to this is for socialists and genuine trade union activists to intervene energetically in the labour movement to argue for building the trade unions from below as fighting platforms of struggle with leadership accountable to the rank and file. This must also be linked with building ad-hoc organizations from below in and out of the official trade union structures to organize workers.

Ayo Ademiluyi drew lessons from the National Shop Steward Network (NSSN) in Britain in which the Socialist Party (DSM sister party in England and Wales) plays an important role and argued for such a rank and file movement of trade union activists to be built in Nigeria. Comrade Chinedu reported the struggle of private sector workers in the past period and the role the DSM played, especially the Dangote Pasta workers 200 of whom have been sacked for joining a union. Similarly in Zartech in Oyo State Wintola, a member of the DSM and a union branch official, was recently sacked for role he played in challenging the company management’s anti-worker policies.

Also in Oyo State, a strike from below of public sector workers for implementation of N18, 000 has been on for months and was only recently suspended on the basis of promises from the state government. In this strike, we witnessed a movement from below of workers against their bureaucratic leadership which led to the suspension of the official leadership on two occasions and their replacements by congressionally-elected committees.

These are pointers to the kind of challenge the whole labour bureaucracy could face from the rank and file in the next period as their compromises become increasingly unbearable. This is the more reason why socialists must not confuse the workers with their bureaucratic leadership but instead continue to intervene in the trade union movement. Socialists must support workers in every of their struggles and arm them with the ideas and method to reclaim their unions from the bureaucratic leadership.

Part of the NC meeting, May 2012 - photo DSM

A world in turmoil

Sophie Simcox, a leader of the Socialist Party, England and Wales and member of the International Secretariat of the Committee for a Workers International (CWI) – the international socialist organization to which the DSM is affiliated, led the discussion on world relations.

The continuous intensification of the world economic crisis which was unleashed in 2008 by the wheeling and dealing of financial speculators and hedge funds administrators in the US has opened up a new era of class struggle internationally. It is not just Nigeria that has experienced a strike in Africa, also in South Africa there was a strike of public sector workers early in the year.

Lanre Arogundade spoke about the coup in Mali and the mass struggle and elections in Senegal both which go to demonstrate the fact that capitalism faces instability in Africa as much as in Europe.

Sophie Simcox pointed out that the capitalist ruling class, depressed by the ineffectiveness of every measure deployed to plug the sickness of the world economy and frightened by the explosion of mass struggle in Europe and across the world against austerity, are willing to hang to any straw they can find. China is being touted as a possible saviour. However far from saving capitalism, China may be a factor that will add to the problem in the next period.

According to Sophie Simcox, implicit in the international situation are the blistering crisis of world capitalism on the one hand and the process of revolution and counter-revolution which we can see in the uprisings in North Africa and the Middle East.

She pointed out that the class struggle from one end of the world to another points out to the urgency of building a mass workers’ political party armed with socialist programs that can give leadership to the masses in struggle against anti-poor attacks as well as a platform to take political power and form a government that can run society in the interests of the working and toiling masses.

There is an alternative to misery!

Sophie Simcox explained that capitalist commentators especially in Britain and Europe argue there is no alternative to capitalism. Of course this is propaganda to head-off the huge struggle of the working class in Europe which has seen 17 general strikes in Greece between 2008 and 2012 alone! In many of these strikes in Greece, Britain (where there was a 24 hour public sector strike against pension reforms on November 30, 2011) as well as across Europe, the working masses are instinctively groping for an alternative to the generalized misery represented by capitalism.

A clear articulation of what an anti-capitalist alternative really means is not yet clear in the minds of many. This is a product the failure of trade union leadership and left organizations in clearly formulating a clear way out of the log-jam of capitalism. This much could be seen in the strike in Nigeria where although general dissatisfaction was expressed against the ruling PDP party as well as all the self-styled opposition political parties and their policies but this could not be fully expressed in the direction of a clear alternative because of the absence of a mass workers’ political party that could fully capture the yearnings of the masses for change.

However this ideological confusion will not remain for long. In Nigeria, Europe and the world over, the advanced minds in the ranks of the working class and youth will get in contact with the genuine ideas of a socialist alternative through their own experience in struggle and the work of the CWI and all its sections all over the world. As Sophie Simcox explained, the tide of history has moved in our favour.

Not only was the CWI able to foresee the global capitalist crisis much before 2008 and much before far-sighted bourgeois economists understood its implications, also the sections of the CWI have been playing leading roles in several of the mass movements that have broken out in Nigeria and South Africa, Europe, US and Asia as well as in the revolutionary uprisings in North Africa and Middle East.

Socialist Party of Nigeria

One of the highlights of the NC was the resolution to form and register a political party called the Socialist Party of Nigeria (SPN). This is the best direction to take in the next period given the inability of the trade unions to build the Labour Party as an alternative party of workers and the absence of other registered pro-working people party. This has left workers, youths and poor without a political voice and choice during elections.

Segun Sango and Wale Eleto spoke of the need for a campaign to recruit members into the party as part of the process of seeking party registration. We must also campaign openly against the various electoral restrictions in the electoral law and the 1999 constitution which put barriers against the emergence of parties that can genuinely represent the workers and poor.

Speakers after speakers went on to emphasize that the SPN will not mean that a mass workers’ party formed by the trade unions is no more needed. Indeed the SPN must take up this campaign energetically especially among a much bigger audience.

Sophie Simcox said that while it is not guaranteed the SPN will be registered even if we are able to meet the INEC requirements, given the fright of the ruling class at the emergence of a genuine party of workers and poor, yet the attempt will greatly inspire the working class. It will also show to the mass of people that our slogan of a mass workers party is not an empty slogan but something we are prepared to fight for.

However the SPN turns out, we will continue to build the DSM as there are no contradictions in the building of a revolutionary organization like the DSM and campaigning to register a political party. The process of campaigning for party registration will also impact on the growth and influence of the DSM.

Also the DSM will continue to campaign in the trade unions and among the left for a mass workers political party that can fully represent the whole of the working masses in Nigeria in struggle and in elections. However debate over how this kind of party can emerge has to be a continuous one in relation to different concrete stages of the class struggle.

As the NC resolved, the SPN although a small step forward is nevertheless an important opportunity for socialists and genuine change-seekers to stand in elections with clear alternative programs to the anti-poor programs of privatization of the PDP, ACN etc. Even if it is just in a local government that the SPN is able to stand candidates during elections, the impact of such an electoral campaign will be immense.

Segun Sango pointed to the example of the NCP in 2003 where Lanre Arogundade of the DSM stood for that party as the Senatorial candidate in Lagos West and polled over 77, 000 votes despite rigging and manipulations by the leading parties of the rich.

This shows how the SPN can also acquire mass force. Before it moved sharply rightwards, the NCP was even a broad popular party without full socialist programmes. A party like the SPN where we can put forward our full program of socialist alternative in elections can accelerate the growth and influence of Marxism. For the first, the working masses and poor looking for change would see a party with clear alternative ideas of how society can be run unlike when voters are always in every election confronted with PDP, ACN, CPC all who offer the same vicious anti-poor policies.

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