18.12.2002 Feature Article

NDC: From Marxism to Social Democracy

By Press
NDC: From Marxism to Social Democracy
Listen to article

The following review article was written for NEW AFRICA NEWS and published in the July - August 1987 issue. It should provide thoughtful bedside reading for delegates attending the 21st December congress of the NDC to elect a flag bearer for the 2004 elections. BOOKS Which way Ghana: Politics, Economics and Society by D. I. Ray (F. Pinter Publishers Ltd, London, 1986) Reviewed by G. Kweifio-Okai New Africa News, July - August 1987 A coherent analysis of the Ghanaian military administration under Ft-Lt Jerry Rawlings was never going to be easy. Even when one succeeded in putting aside political prejudices, the task was not made easy by the following which characterized the early phase of his administration :

1. On assuming power through a coup in December 1981, the Rawlings Government failed to articulate any policy of a long term nature and how Ghanaians were going to be relieved of their hardships. Structures that were put in place to do the same were to some extent useful but were also disorganized, uncoordinated and in a large measure ineffective.

2. The many attempted coups and other forms of destabilization and the frequent changes in leadership line up created an air of disunity, siege, instability and temporariness about the Government.

3. Militant foreign policies and a relentless pursuit of domestic political uniqueness unduly alarmed neighbors and traditional sources of aid at a time when the country was not yet strong enough to be independent of them. It was also at this time that there was an internal debate as to whether to accept external aid from the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank and the attendant economic prescriptions or to achieve full self reliance without it. Since the economy was weak, analysis had to await resolution of the dilemma.

4. It was not easy to work out whether the failure of the economy to take off was in the main due to the Government¹s own economic policies - eg.. savage contraction of the wage differentials between low and middle class workers, control of management by workers¹ committees, overvalued currency - or to factors beyond the Governments control eg bushfires/drought/expulsion of one million Ghanaian workers from Nigeria.

The task of analysis now, as Ray¹s book shows, has been aided by the prudence of patience.

Ray¹s book deals with the administrative and political structure of the five-and-a-half-year-old ruling Provisional National Defence Council (PNDC), it¹s policies, supportive mass organizations, sources of dissent as well as the strengths and weaknesses of the Revolution as a broadly based mass phenomenon. The book makes easy reading and has basic data on Ghana and projections to the end of the century; it is well illustrated with maps, tables and figures as well as containing relevant recent bibliography. It is therefore useful to the academic, student and lay person, which may have been the author¹s intent.

The tool of analysis is Marxist. The editor on this series on Marxist regimes, B. Szajkowski, remarks in the preface : ³This [Ray¹s book] bridges the gap that has inhibited writers from exploring the Marxist option in a scholarly and non partisan way.² By way of introduction and consistent with the Marxist approach, appropriate emphasis is given to the ³history, political and social structures of Ghana² in the first chapter, in order to situate Rawlings' revolution in its specific context. However for further background on the subject Emil Rado¹s ³Notes Towards a Political Economy of Ghana Today² (African Affairs, 1986, pp 563-572) is strongly recommended. In it Rado contrasts two phases of Rawlings' Government : The first covering one and a half to two years, is characterized by much sensational domestic activity with little economic result. The later, up to the present, is characterized by restrained economic policies embodied in the Economic Recovery Programme (1983) and economic gains. A trade surplus of 6700 million cedis in the first half of 1986 compared with 27 million at the same period in 1985 (West Africa, 11th May 1987, p.925) and a World Bank donors pledge of US$819 million compared with the Us $575 million Ghana had asked for (West Africa, 18th May 1987, p.958) both evidence economic improvement and increased international confidence in the economy of the latter Rawlings' Government. COMPETITION FOR INFLUENCE The launching pad of Ray¹s analysis was based on the reasons he gave for the change in policies by the present administration in 1982 - 83. In a nutshell, according to Ray, two organizations on the hard left which emerged during the previous civilian administration competed for Rawlings favour. The policies of the one which won, The National Democratic Movement (NDM), prevailed; that which lost, the June Fourth Movement (JFM), became the dominant source of dissent from the Government. The characteristics of the initial phase of the Rawlings' Government were a result of the early competition, where clearly the JFM had greater influence. According to Ray the decision to accept loans from the World Bank and the IMF at the time of urgent need was the watershed in the competition between the two organizations for the dominance in the Rawlings Government - the NDM accepting it because it was consistent with its policies and the JFM rejecting it because it could sabotage the achievement of outright socialism which it favored. On reading this one got the impression that Rawlings was a puppet being manipulated by the left. To some extent this may be true, but the reviewer would rather think that the ascendancy of the NDM (and hence the demise of the JFM) had everything to do with Rawlings consolidation of his own power and position. The following factors, some acknowledged in Ray¹s work, lead one to that conclusion : Firstly, there was initially no difference in policies between the two organizations - both were Marxist an preached total dominance of the State in the domestic economy. The NDM had expressed its attitude to the IMF and World Bank loans through its former spokesperson, Dr. Hutchful, in the following terms ³Ghana should not accept loans from the world bank and IMF since [those] loans would allow international capitalism, through the medium of the IMF and the World Bank, to gain control over Ghana¹s economic politics. Moreover this will not solve Ghana¹s economic problems but merely place them in the hands of the perpetrators of those problems. Ghanaians must rely on themselves to solve Ghana¹s economic crises.² (p.49) Significantly, when the decision to accept the loans was made, the first to voice opposition was a group of University of Ghana lecturers associated with the NDM. Therefore the decision alienated both the JFM and the NDM. Secondly there was latent uneasiness between Rawlings and the JFM going back to Rawlings first military takeover in 1979, when the latter accused the former of having diluted the vigour of the ³cleansing² exercise and unilaterally calling for general elections three months after the takeover. It continued into the first phase of the present administration when Rawlings¹ basically nationalistic approach contrasted with the more ideological and volatile positions of the JFM. On Rawlings¹ attitude to the Revolution, Prof Honderick has written : ³The usages of the Revolution come to his lips less easily than those sentences which express his moral identification with his country and, above all, with those who are in bad shape.² (³The Revolutionary Era of Over Enthusiasm has Elapsed², The Listener, 19th September 1985, p.54). Ray did not identify or emphasize Rawlings¹ own position in the conflict nor the significance and diversity in the personality of Rawlings both as an individual and as a leader, distinguishable from the JFM and NDM as organizations with certain ongoing ideological commitments. A dominant position asserted by Rawlings would mean that the organization that tagged along was the one less threatening and more agreeable. The NDM formed most of Rawlings' advisers and held the foreign affairs and economic portfolios (unlike the JFM which held domestic portfolios and was involved in internal organization), and was therefore in a better position to appreciate the hopelessness of the dilemma facing the nation in the decision to accept the IMF and World Bank loans. SOCIALIST DEVELOPMENT Rays own interpretation of the conflict between the JFM and NDM enabled him to interpret the NDM ideological stand, once the latter was victorious, as Government policy, and then to analyze, through the eyes of the NDM, the present administration within the framework of the development of a Marxist State. Thus assuming for present policy Ray quotes the following (p.63) by Dr. Botchwey, Finance Minister and NDM member : ³The economic policies were modeled on Lenin¹s New Economic Policy (NEP) of the 1920¹s which were supposed to reconstruct, under socialist control, carefully selected sectors of the Soviet economy shattered by World War I, it¹s civil war and foreign invasion.² On the organizational front, Ray dwelt on the ruling movement (Ch. 4), revolutionary tasks facing the Government (Ch. 5), mass organizations (Ch. 6), political dissent from the government (Ch. 7) and the implications for the long term establishment of a Marxist state. The rallying point of the mass organizations was the Defence Committees. As Ray observes ³the hinterland of a country has often proved to be a difficult place in which to organize a revolution that originated in the capital. In the case of Ghana, the lack of an already existing network across the country meant that the December 31st revolution started with only a few pockets of support outside Accra. Accordingly, the PNDC decided to create defence committees as the mechanism to extend the revolution into each village, even if that village or town had little or no previous involvement with revolutionary organizations, such as the June Fourth Movement or New Democratic Movement, prior to the 31st December 1981.² (p. 80). With the demise of the JFM in 1982 - 83, which was the more successful at organization and mobilization, the present government became, as it was getting to, a coalition of like minded mass organizations around a Marxist core. In this Ray reads a Maoist ³New Democratic Strategy². Thus both by economic policy and by mass organization, Ray concluded that the present Ghanaian Government is at the National Democratic phase of Socialist Revolution. Note his words : ³This would appear to be thoroughly Marxist Leninist, comparable with Lenin¹s NEP and the process of achieving socialism and Mao¹s concept of the National Democratic phase of Socialist Revolution.² (p. 63) UNDER SIEGE A few comments on policy and organization in socialist development ! Firstly Rawlings was under siege for what some of his supporters on the left saw as a major departure from the philosophical / ideological basis of the revolution - the exact words : ³Rawlings has hijacked the revolution.² It is one thing to say, under siege from your power base, that a particular policy initiatives is not inconsistent with Socialist Revolution. It is quite another to say that it is a stage of the revolution. For socialist revolution is above everything else not merely elements of socialism but a total commitment to it. This point is emphasized in spite of the exact words attributed to Dr. Botchwey above. Secondly, Ray himself acknowledges that the preparation for political power sits oddly in classical Marxist strategy. Marxist strategy, he reminds us, requires a small core of converts recruiting and educating, agitating and using the leaders of labour over time to prepare the ground for political power. But he observes that political power came too early, before the left had organized. Thus if one was generous enough to grant the left preparation since 1978, when they fought against a previous military government¹s referendum on permanent sharing of power between the military and civilians - rather than in 1980, when both the NDM and JFM were formed - political power by 1981 was still too early for both organizations to have made any significant impact on the Ghanaian political consciousness. In any case Rawlings¹ coups of 1979 and 1981 and the change in policy in 1982 -83 could be argued to have taken the wind out of the lefts sails towards a classical Marxist state. MASS ORGANIZATIONS IN DANGER Thirdly, Ray himself frankly dismisses the mass organizations which are supposed to sustain the presumably long term goal of achieving a socialist state. After an exhaustive evaluation of one Defence Committee in Daboya, northern Ghana, he comes down with this indictment : ³The peoples defence committee as a mass organization was increasingly in danger of collapsing at some future time under pressure from the traditional power structure. Such an outcome would negate the possibility of the PDC¹s forming the cells of a future party.² (emphasis mine) [An example of how traditional power structures make or break elected or unelected governments in the third world was seen recently in Fiji.] Admittedly the Daboya PDC was located in a remote area of the country where traditional authority was strongest. However, PDC¹s (now committees for the Defence of the Revolution) located in the cities are not without problems - some problems which they share, according to Ray, with similar organizations in third world countries building socialism. A measure of corruption and arbitrariness, questionable sincerity of some cadres, lack of effective control and co-ordination are some criticisms pointed out (see several issues of West Africa) - so quite clearly it cannot be seriously suggested that the city PDC¹s with the greatest potential could act as a center for a careful OEinvasion¹ of the hinterland. Emil Rado has written of the Rawlings Government : ³The foundations of the regime are insecure. Internally it rests on three sources of support (the Defence Committees being one) which enable it to keep afloat but not, I think, to sink roots of legitimacy in the soil of popular consciousness.² (see above) Herein lies the danger of predicting a Marxist outcome of the present situation in Ghana. History keeps reminding me of the fragility of the mass organizations Nkrumah, the more determined socialist, built around him in Ghana. So where do Ray¹s efforts leave us? By analyzing Rawlings' Government within an ideological framework, Ray has succeeded where more have failed in bringing coherence and general understanding to Rawlings¹ policies to date. Economic success, which is crucial to the credibility and legitimacy of the government is evident. The absence of any credible challenge from the traditional conservative wing of Ghanaian politics coupled with the persistence of support from mass organizations have made the Rawlings ideology the most influential. The implications of these favorable developments for the long term prospects of the Rawlings Government, however depend on shakier grounds. It depends on what in the Ghanaian psyche is the primacy of the problem - economic or political - that faced the nation. Was the economic problem the result of previously ineffective political institutions? If so, then present economic performance will serve to legitimize the Rawlings Government and its methods. If the problem was seen as primarily economic that undermined an otherwise good political system, then economic performance (as much as the lack of it!) might in the long run make the present political arrangement redundant. Arguing this way is tantamount to breaking into a vicious circle - economic instability can be both a cause and an effect of political instability. Yet this nebulous contention is at the basis of differences in political allegiance to Rawlings. It is also one that books like Ray¹s would have to contend with so long as Rawlings does not seek to legitimize his power, favourable as conditions may be for him now, through popular elections.

Reviewed by G. Kweifio-Okai New Africa News, July - August 1987 The reviewer is a native of Ghana, and a social commentator based in Melbourne, Australia.

ModernGhana Links

Join our Newsletter