Karl Marx in Keffi: Not Yet the end of History, By Issa Aremu

Of course the ghost of Karl Marx who died a century and some decades ago ( precisely on the 14 March 1883 in London!) was never sighted in Keffi, Nassarawa state. But last week, the philosophical thoughts of the great 19th century revolutionary philosopher “resurrected” and (better put: resonated) at Nasarawa State University, Keffi,  as Marxists and radical scholars revisited some of the revolutionary theories of Marx. 5th of May this year  marked the 200th anniversary of Karl Marx’s birthday. In radical cycle, 2018 could very well be year of reflections on radical thoughts and practices. Many thanks to the comrades for the energy and commitment in  putting together  the historic conference on Marxism under the theme: Capitalism, Imperialism and Revolutions in the 21st Century.  Thanks to professor Jibrin Ibrahim Political Science and development consultant/expert who commendably popularized the conference resolutions.

Karl Marx espoused the theory of socialism and communism flowing from a time-tested enduring critique of 19th century capitalism. Vladimir Lenin, (a lawyer) was the great Russian revolutionary Marxist of the 20th century who (together with the Bolshevik revolutionaries) audaciously translated Marxist  theory into political practice by overthrowing Tsarist dictatorship in 1917  proclaiming the first socialist state on earth. Lenin  summed up Marxism as “…. three main ideological currents of the nineteenth century, …represented by the three most advanced countries of mankind: classical German philosophy, classical English political economy, and French socialism combined with French revolutionary doctrines in general”. Yours comradely was billed to be there. The conference however came up same week of the 40th anniversary of our union Textile and Garment Union. Interestingly  there was a  parallel session on – Marxism, Work and Trade Unions. Marx conference assumes special significance because it takes place during the year of 40th anniversary of  industrial unionism in Nigeria. Have the unions achieved the objectives for which workers formed the union; pursuit of decent work and decent living? Against the background of the demand for new minimum wage by organized labour, how can Nigeria initiate a wage-led economic growth and development just as “socialist” China has successfully done as compared to the present Nigeria’s  neo-liberal jobless growth, wage repression, wage theft and open ended profits and capital flight? The relevance of trade unionism as an instrument to achieve the articulated end of radical change is at the core of Marxist theorizing. Trade unions are seen to be ‘conveyor belt’ of the workers’ assumed desire for transformation. In general, ambiguity expressed in terms of duality characterized the Marxian ‘system-transcending’ model of unionism. It is held that ‘conflict’ and ‘accommodation’ are the fundamental preoccupations of unions within a capitalist system (Hyman:1971). The conflict dimension of union relevance goes back to Marx’s contention that ‘wage –slavery’ would inevitably bring industrial proletariat in direct conflict with capitalist production relations resulting in the transformation of the economy and society. Union, as a collective organization, in combat against ‘the violence of capital’ is an assumed  logical outcome in  mainstream Marxism  articulated  in the writings of Lenin and Gramasci, the most referred authors of ‘system-transcending’ unionism. Expressions for the discrepancy between union performance in real life and normative political perspectives in Marxist discourse are based on the assumed ‘lack of class consciousness’ or ‘false consciousness’. Gramscian and Leninist paradigms attribute frustration and despair about non-fulfilment of expected revolutionary goals assigned to unions to the activities of ‘labour aristocrats’ and ‘labour mandarins’, said to be that section of the working class integrated and sold out to the capitalst system by getting saddled with ‘economism’ through collective bargaining for wages and work improvement. The relevance of union is measured in terms of ‘right consciousness’ or ‘class consciousness’. How valid are these theories about unionism in the light of the performance of trade unions in Nigeria? I certainly missed the polemics and the worthy debates among my comrades that include professor Alubo, professor Jibrin, Ibrahim Muazam, Sam Egwu, Salihu Lukman, Abdullah’s Sule Kano, John Odah, among others which would have brought to the fore the nostalgia of the battle of ideological ideas of the 80s. In particular, I would have loved to share with comrades and students alike, that while trade unions are far from system/ regime change paradigms, through collective bargaining, mass actions and solidarity, trade unions have given voices to organized working women and men.

Even Marx’s ideological opponents acknowledged him for giving the world an integrated alternative theory and program of transformation and development. His seminal classical works on great themes like “revolution”, “class struggle”, “socialism and communism” include; Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts in Summer (1844),  Theses on Feuerbach and The German Ideology (with Engels, who became his lifelong friend ), The Communist Manifesto  (1848), Value, Price and Profit given (1865),  Capital (1867). One essential idea of Karl Marx is revolution.. “The history of all previous societies has been the history of class struggles” is the most quotable Marx. What kind of socialism remains a polemical question among Marxists.  What is however clear is that it was Karl Marx, through historical and dialectical materialist analysis that showed scientifically that “Revolutions are the locomotives of history”. The world is still hunted by the specter of revolution (even if not socialist or communistic!) All liberations movements in Africa, from Ghana to Angola, Algeria to Namibia drew inspirations from Marxism. It is significant that the Conference “ urged the political left to support comrades who are running for public offices on credible progressive platforms. In so doing, the political left would commit itself to promoting the ideals and values of an alternative system that seeks to change the present order.” Out of the 90 registered political parties, the point cannot cannot be overstated that only Labour Party (LP) with all its weaknesses is ideologically committed to socialism and social democracy. Which explains why yours comradely is running on the platform for the governorship of Kwara state in 2019!

Issa Aremu mni


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