Monday, May 29

#RevolutionNOW: The Coming of the Nigerian Spring?

5 August 2019

“We need to get our people to believe that a Nigeria that is just and humane is possible”

White Fang

The dominant issue in the Nigerian political hemisphere of recent has been the #RevolutionNOWProject. As is typical of such protest, opinions have been split not just among the ordinary man in the street, but even among those who ought to be sympathizers to the organizers of the protest. The Maroonsquare tracked down White Fang, one of the members of the advocacy committee of the Coalition for Revolution (CORE) to put in context, what has given birth to the idea of #RevolutionNOW and other issues of concern. Excerpts below

Maroonsquare: How do you react to the perception in the public domain that one of the leaders of the protest being a former presidential candidate is compromised ethically to be in the forefront of this revolt? 

White Fang: There can be no doubt that the onus is first on those raising this issue of moral or ethical fitness to establish its relevance and validity. What exactly does it mean? And how does it pertain to the struggle of the working classes of Nigeria to reclaim from the ruling class the political power and national wealth which that class has monopolised and concentrated in their own hands since 1960 through methods of dubious legality, morality, and ethicality — if there is such a word as the last? Be that as it may, however, it is really a diversionary question they raise. Yes, Omoyele Sowore is one of the leaders of the #RevolutionNow movement but that has little to do with his having been a candidate in the last presidential election in Nigeria. He is a leader of the movement by dint of his leadership of a political party, the African Action Congress (AAC) that is a member of the organisation responsible for the protest, which is the Coalition for Revolution (CORE). It has nothing to do with his presidential ambitions.

But even if it did, how does that become an ethical issue? There is no ethical principle debarring presidential candidates from popular activism, at least not to the best of my knowledge. We know, for instance, that having run for presidential office in the Second Republic did not somehow render unethical Aminu Kano’s activism in the talakawa movement in northern Nigeria in the same period, a movement that was revolutionary inasmuch as its spirit was that of overturning the rule of the Sultante oligarchy, of breaking its power. The records do not show that the progressive movement considered this activism somehow unethical. So how is the charge valid in this case?

Maroonsquare: The argument is that there is periodic election and Omoyele Sowore has participated in that of 2019 Presidential Election and his call for revolution is an attempt to come to power through the back door. There is also the perception out there of a Sowore revolution? To fasten the process can you address along the question that this revolution tagged as ‘ Orange Revolution ‘ is like all revolution that had “color” being incubated by imperialism through some of the leaders of the #RevolutionNow?

White Fang: The quick response to your reference to the existence of periodic elections is that we need to understand that the democratic content of electoral processes depends not on their mere periodicity but also in the extent to which they are mechanisms for free expression of the popular will and the extent to which they faithfully represent that will. That is to say, mere periodicity does not make elections democratic. They also have to produce true expressions of the popular will. We know, however, that both domestic and foreign observers have released reports that are devastatingly critical of the 2019 elections in this respect. Their essential messages, the irreducible meaning of their findings, is that the elections were not free and fair and did not constitute a mechanism for the faithful determination of the popular will. There is a glaring democracy deficit in the electoral process, and one should think that true democrats would be concerned about that and not settle for the mere fact that we had elections in 2019.

Concerning the role of imperialism in the so-called colour revolutions and how that relates to #RevolutionNow, I would suggest first that we bear in mind the admonition not to judge a book by its covers. In this case, we would do well not to judge a revolution by its colours. Such an approach to political movements and revolutions — that is, determining their content by their colours and the historical antecedents of those colours — suggests a certain superficiality of analysis. For instance, the colour red is historically associated with the global socialist movement; but red also is the colour of the Republican Party in the United States. Does that mean they are socialist? It would, of course, be ridiculous to even suggest that, knowing the staunch hatred that party has for pro-people social policies and its increasingly-evident willingness to destroy what little democracy remains in United States governance in order to hold on to power. We must look beneath the form and appearance of things and look at their substance. In connection with social movements and revolutions, we need to look at the social vision they represent and the content of that vision as expressed in their goals and demands, as well as the socio-historical trajectory those vision, goals, and demands indicate.

I will come back to the question of the role of imperialism in the colour revolutions; but let me just say a word or two on how the #RevolutionNow movement came to adopt the colour orange. Red was the initial choice but because the university campuses were the real incubation places of the movement, there was a concern that adopting red berets would cause conflict and mistaken identities between the movement and the student cults who wear red berets to. The same reason knocked out the proposal of the colour black. The movement leaders therefore settled for orange.

If we return to what I have said about the socio-historical trajectories of social movements and revolutions, it is evident from the manifestoes of those colour revolution we have had in Europe and other parts of the world that their trajectories remained within the limits of the existing world capitalist system. They all demanded greater democracy — which it certainly desirable and worth fighting for. But they wanted this greater and richer democracy within the context of the global and domestic systems founded on capitalist social relations and imperialist relations between countries. That has been one of the biggest limitations of those revolutions. Does that mean they were instigated or influenced secretly by imperialism or, more specifically, by the international agencies of the imperialist countries? I do not know for certain, and it is of little use for those committed to changing the world to engage in idle conspiracy theories. What is certain however is that those revolutions emerged out of real contradictions between the people, on the one hand, and the governing and ruling classes, on the other, of the countries in which we have had those revolutions. The people rose up in revolt because they were suffering real issues of socio-economic inequalities, poverty, corruption, and repression. It is demeaning of their courage and insulting to their intelligence to suggest they were mere tools of imperialism. 

Yes, imperialism has an interest in gaining influence over these movements and their outcomes. But these revolutionary movements arose out of real issues of oppression and exploitation in their societies, and imperialism would have nothing to infiltrate and influence if those issues did not exist, because then the movements would not exist. So the real question we need to address is, how come the global Left could not contest effectively for influence in them, how come imperiaism was not countered by the Left in its effort to infiltrate and gain control over the goals and strategies of these movements? If the Left demeans these movements as projects of imperialism, that is actually a damning self-indictment by the Left. The issues of social oppression and exploitation are the historical and natural territory of the socialist movement, and the social movements springing up from these issues should be the social province of the Left. How come they — these issues and movements — became the jurisdiction of imperialism so much so that the Left, the socialist movement, is left out of them? The Left needs to interrogate its own perspectives, programmes, and methods, and try to locate where it lost its way, its say, and its sway in the movements against social oppression and exploitation.

So does imperialism have a role in #RevolutionNow? Perhaps the first question to ask is why imperialism would want to remove the Nigerian class from power. The movement has said from the start that its target of attack is not the Buhari government as such, or the APC, or the PDP, or any faction of the ruling class. Its target rather is the entire ruling class, irrespective of ethnic, religious, or party affiliation. We want them all out, because they have failed in their sixty years of rule to develop Nigeria and raise the people out of poverty, hardship, and cultural backwardness. The class, the entire class, stands convicted by every available evidence. So #RevolutionNow is against the entire class. Now, why would imperialism seek to remove that class from power? The Nigerian bourgeoisie has been a class of good and obedient boys to imperialism in all their six decades of dominance in the country. They have obediently implemented every desire of imperialism except where the people rose up to stop them, from the Anglo-Nigeria Defence Pact of the 1960s to the Structural Adjustment Programme imposed by the U.S.-controlled IMF and World Bank in the 1980s to the handover of our natural wealth to China in the Sino-Nigeria oil-for-infrastructure deal under the Obasanjo government in the early 2000s. So why would they want the class removed from its place of dominance.

Is that to say imperialism might not have an interest in gaining influence over the #RevolutionNow movement? Of course not. Imperialism has an interest in pre-empting any revolutionary upsurge of the oppressed in other to steal and mute its revolutionary thunder, to blunt its cutting edge. So I would not be surprised to find that they have been trying to plant their agents in the movement. However, the real question then would be, what is the Nigerian Left doing to contest the ground of influence with imperialism? There is no way anyone can tenably deny the reality of extreme oppression and exploitation in Nigeria today. Existing data show that 145 women die daily during childbirth in the country, that is 4,350 monthly and 52,200 yearly. We have overtaken India as the country with the highest concentration of extremely poor people in the world. We have among the highest rates of out-of-school children in the world. Nigeria has one of the highest rates of profit globally for foreign monopoly capital, yet Nigeria’s working people having among the lowest share of the national income. These are some of the many issues from which the #RevolutionNow movement arose. These are questions that should mobilise the Nigerian Left to militant action, if not in this movement then in the social conflict in general, to contest the ground with imperialism and other social forces that have an interest in infiltrating and influencing the burgeoning uprising. To shun the movement on grounds of insinuation that imperialism might have agents in it is actually a self-indictment by sections of the Nigerian Left of its own impotence as a force in the social conflict. Because, look, this conflict is taking place not just in this Left’s own country but specifically in its social, ideological, and political space, the space it should own incontestably and completely. That its ground for distancing itself from the movement is the mere possibility of imperialist influence — that is, in fact, an admission of its own impotence… or worse.

Maroonsquare: There is the accusation that the whole process has a garb of spontaneity? The requisite consultation was not done and adequate structures not put in place?

White Fang: Every process of class struggle is a dialectical unity of organisation and spontaneity. That is obviously a principal element in the current revolutionary process, this incipient movement towards a hegemonic confrontation between the Nigerian working classes, on the one hand, and capital in both its global and domestic dimensions, on the other, represented by the Nigerian bourgeoisie, foreign monopoly capital operating the country, and the various other agencies of imperialism. 

The spontaneous character of this movement is undeniable; but there is no absolute dichotomy between spontaneity and organisation. We find that while the origins of the #RevolutionNow movement has been marked by spontaneity, it’s very coming into existence has initiated the process of its acquiring an increasingly greater element of organisation. For instance, out of a political programme that consisted initially in little more than a more or less fuzzy social vision of a society of justice, equality, and solidarity, the movement over time has acquired an increasingly socialist spirit and set of of goals. That process is still developing and marked by unequal development of its various parts, i.e., in terms of social perspective, primary goals, strategies, and tactics. But the trajectory is clearly towards socialism, for the existing structure of social relations and the social conditions they have produced allow little room for subaltern struggles in the periphery of the global capitalist system to go in any direction other than towards revolutionary socialism. Capital has brought that fate upon itself, to produce its own grave-diggers in both its centre and periphery. We find also that the movement is acquiring greater structural definition, like it happened during the struggle against military rule in Nigeria — especially following the annulment of the June 12, 1993 presidential election. Now in the movement there is emerging a system of functions, a division of labour in performing them, a sketch of operational procedure. It is still inchoate, fluid, and marked by unequal development but the process is undeniable.

But the spontaneous origins of this movement again points to the failures of the Nigeria socialist movement, at least since the mid-1980s. The initiators of the #RevolutionNow movement are in a sense the disinherited generation of the socialist movement. This is in that the traditions of socialist theory, practice and organisation from earlier generations was not passed to them as it was to the generations of 1960s to the 1980s. Their socialism and radicalism is in large part spontaneous and instinctive, forced upon them by the material conditions of existence created by the global capital system through the agency of the Nigerian bourgeoisie. The suffering and hardships and hopelessness imposed on the working people and the lower sections of the middle class have since the early 1980s, with the deepening crisis of Nigeria’s neo-colonial capitalist formation, engendered progressively favourable objective conditions for revolution in the country. What has been missing is the subjective element, not in the sense that those among the oppressed who were willing to fight for a new society had not reached critical mass but more in the sense that the socialist movement could not muster the will and spirit to undertake the task of leading them in revolution. The anti-socialist violence of the Babangida regime and the crash of the regimes of the soviet bloc had sapped the will of the socialist movement, the influx of donor dollars into the civil society movement had corrupted it ideologically, and opportunities for incorporation into the governing order opened by the advent of civil rule in 1999 had made large portions of the socialist movement into participants in the reproduction of the existing social order. This movement therefore could not provide the impetus for the development of the subjective factors needed to combine with the favourable objective conditions to produce a revolutionary situation. They could not make radical theory grip the masses, in large part because there was little radical theory and spirit left in the movement.

These are the circumstances in which the #RevolutionNow movement emerged, and those circumstances could not but mean that its emergence and development would have a strong element of spontaneity in them. So if we must point fingers on this matter, the finger of guilt points directly and unwaveringly at the erstwhile socialist movement; for it is the failures of that movement that denied the activists of #RevolutionNow the training and support network they needed to develop their movement in a more organised manner.

It is not true, however, that these activists did not consult before launching the movement. I know they did and that these consultations took a considerable amount of time. What they experienced in this process was that most of those they consulted, who were principally of the older generations, either did not take them seriously or tried to dissuade them from starting a process that the younger comrades saw as demanded by the existing conditions in the country. For more than a decade and a half, the country has been in the grip of the Boko Haram insurgency. In the period also the material conditions of the popular masses have declined drastically, governance has become more corrupt and irresponsible, ethnic and religious conflict is worsening, and more and more youth are turning to kidnapping, robbery, brigandage, drug use, and suicide. But, although the Left offered endless criticism of these conditions, they offered no alternative to the working people, no way out of the aggravating national crisis. The initiators of the #RevolutionNow movement were forced to come to the conclusion following their consultations that the traditional Left was not about to do anything to remedy the situation. They decided therefore to start the process, in the hope that its momentum would pull the Left into its train but also ready to go on even if it did not.

Maroonsquare: The program in circulation seems to be demands on the state and not anchored on the programs of a movement which is sure footed?  

White Fang: It is understandable that the #RevolutionNow movement lacks the sure-footedness that a more mature movement would have. It is still a baby movement, for crying out loud! So a little wobble here or there should be expected. But there is nothing wobbly about its programme. They want a new Nigeria and they have a detailed list of demands and goals that addresses the particulars of that vision. They know that the bourgeoisie will not implement their social programme, so they know they have to take power and the national wealth from that class in order to implement it. And they know that this means open conflict over social hegemony between the bourgeoisie and the working classes. I cannot see how that perspective is unsure-footed.

Maroonsquare: Is there anything wrong for a Marxist to criticize a revolutionary process? This is because there seems to be some level of intolerance against those not comfortable with the “days of rage”particularly from the Left? 

White Fang: Of course not! Being a Marxist does not mean agreeing with every revolutionary process. It does mean however that in every conflict between capital and labour, between the oppressor class and the oppressed, the Marxist must side with the latter in both cases.

It is well known, for instance, that Marx did not agree with the Paris Communards when they launched their revolution; he was of the opinion that the conditions were not fully ripe and that the Paris insurgents were not fully prepared for the battle. However, he did not then abandon them or gleefully promise them that the troops of Premier Thiers was going to slaughter them. On the contrary, once the movement launched he did everything he could to support them and rally forces to their aid.

That is what Nigerian Marxists are expected to do in such circumstances. The young comrades of the #RevolutionNow movement say amongst themselves that “there is nothing Left left in the Old Left.” The truth or otherwise of that opinion is being tested in the present conflict between the bourgeois state and the movement. It is said that every great personage (and, apparently, event) in history occurs twice. In a profound sense, we are today in Nigeria where we were in 1948. Too many of the older generations of Leftists have adopted the attitude of Nnamdi Azikiwe towards the radical Zikists when in that year they issued their document titled “Call to Revolution” and the colonial state took repressive measures against them for that reason. Zik betrayed the Zikists. Will the Old Left do the same to the New Left of #RevolutionNow?

Maroonsquare: How will the movement measure its success after tomorrow (today)? This is based on the reports of state crack down on the leaders of the protest? 

White Fang: Nobody can say how this conflict is going to end. It is said every fighter can determine or at least plan exactly how they are going to start their fight but not even they, not even the stronger of the combatants, can predict its outcome.

So how will we measure our success tomorrow and after? Actually we can say we have already won this conflict, at least this first round. Yes, the Department of State Security yesterday abducted Omoyele Sowore, National Chairman of the African Action Congress and frontline activist of the #RevolutionNow movement. But this has served actually to energise the movement and to win it both greater visibility and support. We set out to ignite the flame of revolution in Nigeria, to spark off a fire in the subversive imagination of the subaltern masses, to get people to dream that a different Nigeria is possible, that the misery of their life is not ordained by God, that the dominance of the bourgeoisie and its worldview is not unassailable, to make the word of revolution the bread and milk in the mouth of babies. Now, look everywhere, people are talking of #RevolutionNow, the word “revolution” is on every pair of lips, people are asking for our programme, our demands and goals.

In that sense, we have already won. That the bourgeois oppressor state considered it necessary to abduct Sowore, to issue threats of brimstone and fire should we proceed with the August 5 action, to organise counter-demonstrations to ours: all these indicate that they recognise the start of a potent force of deep change, a radical potentiality that is becoming a revolutionary reality. That is in fact the best measure of a movement’s effectiveness in the social conflict: if the social opponent considers it necessary to expend some of its repressive resources against a movement, then that movement is a significant force in the social conflict.

No one can predict with any precision the ultimate outcomes of this revolutionary process; but it is clear that the #RevolutionNow movement has sparked the revolutionary imagination of the oppressed in Nigeria and that things can never be the same again. It is said that after God showed man a vision of heaven he could not anymore be satisfied with the riches of this world; his soul was gripped by an endless and passionate yearning for heaven. The Nigerian working people have for long suffocated under the black folds of night imposed by the Nigerian bourgeoisie; now the #RevolutionNow movement has struck and held aloft a flaming torch in the darkness of hopelessness and misery, and suddenly they see a way to a new dawn for themselves and their children, for our country, for us all.

So the outcome of this struggle is already won in the heart of the millions of youths flocking to the flame held up, and he who has the youths has the future. So we have already won, whatever may happen.

Maroonsquare: Is there desperation on the part of the Left to do this protest?

White Fang: Can anyone deny that this country is in dire straits that we are in desperate circumstances? Most members of the Old Left are perhaps comfortable and protected enough from the harshest effects of the crisis of our neo-colonial capitalist society that they do not experience the desperation of the working classes beneath them. Perhaps they can only relate to the situation as sympathisers at one or more removed from the experience of these masses. They can therefore go on with their life oblivious of the direness of the hardship of life for the working classes, and they can limit their Marxist practice to ringing declarations in workshops, in newspaper articles, and on social media. For most of the emerging New Left, however, the experience of the working masses is also their own experience: the hunger, the thirst, the poverty, the hopelessness, the police brutality, the landlord harassment, the desperate clinging to the crumbling shreds of their human dignity.

So what are they expected to do? They cannot afford the luxury of complacence and self-satisfaction the most of the Old Left so richly exhibit. What are they to do? Where is the solution to their situation, the situation of the broad working masses? Bob Marley said in one of his songs. “It takes a revolution to make a solution.” Rather than charge the New Left with undue haste perhaps it would be more fruitful to query the circumstance of their seeming “haste.” Rousseau said, “When the poor shall have nothing any more to eat, then they shall eat the rich,” or something along those lines. From that perspective, the ruling class has brought the anger of the poor upon themselves. Less than ten percent of the population control more than 70% of the national income and material wealth. That is surely an unsustainable situation. It is a desperate situation.

If the socialist movement is not desperate to change it, then something is wrong with the movement. Thus, to charge the New Left with undue haste and desperation is really to indict the Old Left with indifference to the direness of the situation. And how do we explain that? How do we explain that the socialist movement has failed to convert the over-ripe objective conditions in over three decades into a revolutionary situation in the country? Go figure. Free hint: you would be richly rewarded if you explored the integration of the erstwhile movement into the mechanism of system reproduction.

Maroonsquare: It will be good to know if Sowore is the leader of the revolt as MSM in Nigeria portrays him, and we need to be educated about Sowore’s ideological belief as you will concede that ideological vacuity does endanger any revolution? 

White Fang: The Coalition for Revolution (CORE) is responsible for the #RevolutionNow movement. CORE’s membership includes student, labour, community and civil society organisations, as well as political parties. Sowore and the African Action Congress are part of CORE, and he — because of his undeniable visibility — is a frontline activist of the movement. He is definitely a leader of the movement.

As to his ideology, he is the best person to represent himself on that question. I believe however that he is committed to the fight against injustice and oppression and that he has demonstrated this commitment since his time as a student leader in the University of Lagos. Is he a Marxist or socialist? I do not believe so, but he does not have to be any of those things to be an activist for justice and the liberation of the oppressed. His ideology is probably not as clearly defined as Marxism, nationalism, or any similar system of beliefs. However, it appears to me that at its core is an uncompromising opposition to injustice and oppression, an opposition that manifests as practical action in solidarity with the victims of those evils.

That practical opposition, demonstrated over the decades, seems to me a more genuine claim to social activism than a Marxism that is perhaps more clearly defined and structurally coherent but only demonstrated in vacuous grandiloquence in journal papers and television interviews. Whatever anyone may consider Sowore’s ideological weaknesses or strategic failings — of which there certainly are some — he nonetheless is a man who doesn’t just talk the talk but also walks it. He has the courage of his convictions, to follow lines of action that are consistent with them — which is more, much much more, than I can say about many of his critics.

Copyright © TheMaroonsquare, 2019

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