Organising For Social Transformation: Experiences And Alternatives By Jaye Gaskia
This paper was originally written in 2010 in preparation for the annual Nigeria Social Forum [NSF], which was to gather in Benin City. The NSF is an integral part of the World Social Forum [WSF] movement, which also holds annually about January. The WSF was first convened in Porto Allegre in Brazil, in a state where the Brazilian Workers Party was in power, before that Workers party took power nationally in democratic elections under immediate past President Lula.
It was convened as a direct response to and rebuff of the annual World Economic Forum [WEF] gathering of state and business leaders promoting various versions of the free market, in its regulated or unregulated forms. It was a gathering where government leaders of the dominant economies held discussions with world business leaders on how best to promote the interest of capital, and sustain capitalist exploitation globally.
The WSF was convened as a direct follow up to the Seattle game changing mass demonstrations against the World Trade Organisation [WTO]. The mass demonstrations saw the coming together in joint struggle of old and new social movements; the trades unions and the movements of peoples and citizens across the globe. The mass demonstrations paralysed the WTO, and prevented the worst outcomes for developing countries and labour in general from being rubber stamped by delegates.
From its outcome, in the revivalist atmosphere of its victory, the decision to challenge the WSF with a rebuff and an alternative forum for peoples was taken; hence the Social Forums Movement was conceived.
It is important to understand this context, and to understand that the global situation that the social forums movement sought to respond to has since deepened, and given rise to the Global economic collapse which has since some of the longest period of economic crisis in modern human history inaugurated since about 2007.
We are, globally and nationally still in the grip of these global crises which has seen the convergence of 5 different currents of global crisis: Financial, Economic, Political, Social, and Ecological/Environmental crisis.
The resultant effect of ruling classes not being able to rule in the old way, and subordinate classes not accepting to be ruled in the old way, has been the global wave of resistance that have seen the birth of the Arab Spring; the revival of the mass general and political strike in Europe; the global Occupy movement; the January Uprising in Nigeria ; the February Uprising in Senegal ; the avalanche of inconclusive elections, hung parliaments and coalition governments of strange bedfellows; as well as the revival of the hard/revolutionary left measured in their increasing share in electoral votes and increasing influence within the Global Mass Resistance.
Nigeria is part of this global dialectic of crisis and resistance, and it is within this context that we need to situate the unfolding political crisis in Nigeria, and the historic task which confronts this generation of subordinate classes, as we seek to seize the moment to achieve our social emancipation and national liberation.
BACKGROUND AND CONTEXT
Against the background of ongoing preparations for the Nigeria Social Forum and subsequently the Africa and World Social Forums, and within the context of the discourse around the role of social movements in social transformation, it has become urgent, and necessary to place the debate within the perspective of class and class struggle.
This paper seeks to explore the class bases and class compositions of social movements, and the struggle of classes, which is at heart of social transformation. Taken this way it soon becomes quite clear that the quest for social transformation by certain social classes or alliance of social classes does not preclude, but in fact presupposes the existence of ongoing social transformation process being driven by some other classes or alliance of classes. This fact is important if we are to properly understand the nature of social transformation and the class interests driving and opposed to particular trends or strands of it.
WHAT MANNER OF SOCIAL TRANSFORMATION?
From the foregoing it becomes imperative to pose the question, ‘what manner of social transformation is being organised for?’ Social transformation is a process driven by the interaction of classes and class fractions, in essence the struggles of social classes and class fractions over access to and control of the means of production and distribution, within the context of the social relations of production corresponding to the mode of production and the level of development of production forces.
For instance it would be quite unrealistic to presume that because oppressed and exploited classes are struggling for social transformation, that no social transformation has and or is taking place over the several decades since independence, and before independence! Of course social transformation has been taking place, it has been and is being driven by elite and ruling classes and alliance of ruling class fractions in coordination with imperialism and imperialist ruling classes and class alliances with whom they share core capitalist class interests.
Although this social transformation process has been driven by the ruling capitalist class, its exact contours and nature have equally been shaped by the nature and level of resistance and or acquiescence of the oppressed and exploited classes and class alliance. The implication of this is that a process of capitalist social transformation has been ongoing in a dependent manner; dependent that is on imperialism, since the catastrophic contact with and conquest by Europe.
So back to the question; what manner of social transformation is being sought here? By what/which classes?; And in the interests of what/which classes?
There are several responses that can be made to these questions. Depending on how radical, deep and thoroughly democratic the social transformation being sought is, the outcome maybe reform, even radical reform of capitalism in order to mitigate exploitation, co-opt resistance and blunt the edges of revolution. The outcome maybe revolutionary, in the context of the establishment of new socialist mode of production, and the building and construction of new socialist relations of production on the basis of the new mode of production that is being established. Or in fact the outcome maybe the mutual exhaustion and destruction of the two main contending classes, and a counter revolutionary restoration through the mediation of barbarism, as was the case with fascism and the various manifestations of Bonarpatism over the years through out the history of capitalism.
The outcome of a process of social transformation can therefore either be reform of capitalism, revolutionary establishment of socialist mode of production on the basis of the revolutionary overthrow of the capitalist mode of production, or even counter revolutionary restoration of the old order through say the victory of fascism.
That is social forces, that is social classes and or class fractions engaged in the struggle for social transformation need to be conscious of what they are struggling against, and what they are struggling to replace it with.
It is in this sense that the struggle needs to define itself and needs to be defined, not only by what it is against [e.g anti capitalist, anti-globalisation, anti-imperialist, anti-war, anti-racist, etc], but even more importantly by what it is struggling to achieve, a socialist or other forms of organisation of society and human civilisation]. This is very important and decisive; for a revolution can be half made, a process of revolutionary social transformation can be inconclusive; as a result of the lack of understanding, clarity, awareness, agreement, of the concrete outcome being sought. If we have no clarity about what we want to replace capitalism, imperialism and capitalist globalisation with, if we have no understanding of the nature of the capitalism which we resist and oppose, if we have no agreement about the nature of the outcome we seek, then it will be difficult to avoid the cooptation of the struggle by the ruling class, its defeat, and or it’s the harmless dissipation of social energy; and therefore the reformist or counter revolutionary restoration of capitalism.
CLASSES, EXPLOITATION AND CLASS STRUGGLE
At the heart of the struggle for social transformation are social classes and or alliance of social classes and class fractions that are organised into social movements.
Social movements are therefore a specific mode of active organisation and mobilisation of social classes in the struggle to transform society in their collective interest. As said earlier this maybe a struggle to maintain the status quo in one form or the order, or even a struggle to renew the status quo as a means of sustaining it; or it may be a struggle to overthrow and supplant the status quo and construct a new kind of society on the basis of a new mode of production with its associated relations of production.
Human beings in order to meet and provision their basic means of existence, interact with nature as well as with one another. It is the manner in which this social interaction with nature and other humans take place, which defines the mode of production and the relations of production, which arise on its basis.
In the cause of these processes, the human community interacting with nature and organising the production and distribution of things, goods and services become differentiated into social collectives, which coalesce into social classes and class fractions, defined and driven by their place or location with the production process.
Where the nature of this social relations of production is exploitative, and where the mode of production requires such exploitative relations of production, then the social classes on the basis of their location in this production system/process acquire exploitative or exploited character. This is what gives rise to ruling and exploiting classes on the one hand and exploited and ruled classes on the other hand.
Under capitalism, the root of this exploitation is embedded in the nature of extraction of surplus value. Surplus value, which is the value of the labour of a worker in a capitalist enterprise, produced over and above, that covered by the cost paid for the labour and the cost of machinery, and which the owner of the means of production appropriates.
The two main classes of capitalism are the ruling capitalist class, the owners of the means of production either of goods or services on the one hand; and the oppressed and exploited working class of labourers from whose labour surplus value is being extracted and or caused to be circulated and exploitatively redistributed among capitalists and their business and industrial concerns. These two classes have undergone significant transformations since the dawn of capitalism, and now manifest their existence in various ways dependent on the nature of transformations undergone by capitalism through to its recent imperialist and current globalised phases.
Where a mode of production is exploitative, and the relations of production consequent upon it are also exploitative, it follows that such a mode of production will also be oppressive. And where there is oppression, depending on the nature and intensity of the exploitative oppression, there will be resistance.
This is the context within which, and the background against which the class struggle takes place. The class struggle is the specific mode of manifestation of the interaction of social classes, defined and framed by the social relations of production, in exploiting and oppressive class societies based on socially exploitative and oppressive mode of production.
At this juncture it is important to note that all classes, whether ruling or exploited wage the class struggle, through the life span of such classes and the mode and relations of production which have produced them. Furthermore, because of the relative difference in the development of class consciousness, that is the self awareness of a class and its particular class interests, this class struggle between classes is also waged within classes by class fractions motivated by their specific interests within the social class and framed by their level of development of their class consciousness. This is why Marx and Engels spoke of social classes existing as class in itself and class for itself. To undertake this transformation from a class in itself to a class for itself, a social class needs to undergo a process of refinement of self-awareness and class-consciousness mediated by the manifestations of the class struggle. It is only in the context of class struggle that a social class acquires class-consciousness. Because of the way in which development processes takes place in uneven and combined manners, certain fractions of a class will be the first to acquire class consciousness ahead of other fractions. This is determined by their location in the mode and relation of production and their level of exposure within that system. These class fractions that have acquired class-consciousness then find that in order to organise effective struggles against the other socially antagonistic class, they need to organise and mobilise their class and proactively catalyse the development of class-consciousness within the class as a whole.
MODES OF EXPRESSION OF THE CLASS STRUGGLE
The class struggle waged by all social classes can be expressed in various forms. The form in which the class struggle is expressed is determined by and dependent on the modes of expression of class exploitation and oppression in that society.
The primary exploitative fault line in class society is that of class, but this class fissure may then interact with other divisions in class society which are not on their own exploitative by nature, but which are then through such interaction co-opted by the exploitative mode of production and integrated into the nature of class exploitation. Thus such divisions as that between sexes become integrated into class exploitation and take on the expression of gender inequality and the oppression of women. This is similarly through of the differences between religions and national cultures and ethnicities or races. A difference in skin pigmentation, culture, language or religious beliefs is integrated into the exploitative relations of production in a class society, and members of human society characterised by such differences then become largely marginalised, exploited, and or repressed.
In this situation majorities of this races, religious groups, gender, national culture or ethnicity, then become integrated in exploited labourers from whom surplus value is exploited.
It is in the absorption and integration of this differences and divisions in human society into the exploitative character of the social production process [mode and relations of production], that the national, ethnic, religious, minority, race and women questions have emerged and their development and manifestations shaped.
Thus it is that the class struggle can and is often expressed in the form of the struggle for women’s’ right, minority rights, ethic and national struggles and anti-racist struggles. But as it is already stated the class struggle is waged by all classes, ruling and exploited alike; and between and within classes; it therefore follows that it is not only the members of the oppressed and exploited classes among women, religious/ethnic/national/racial minorities that wage the class struggle; the class struggle is also waged by members of the ruling elites and classes within such groups. Depending on the class or class fraction at the end of the struggles of these oppressed and exploited groups, such struggles’ aims and outcome maybe the mere inclusion and accommodation of the elites into the ruling class structures of wider society; some form of generalised social reforms which integrates the excluded group into the wider society proper, guaranteeing citizenship and human rights; or the establishment of new mode of productions and building of new social relations of production on its basis. What this means is that for example as with nationalism and the national and ethnic questions, the outcome maybe integration into the nation state, the establishment of a nation state or the full democratisation of production relations. The goal and outcome may therefore be national self-determination or class social emancipation.
Similarly with the women question and feminism, the goal and outcome maybe the guarantee of women’s rights, the integration of elite women from the ruling class into the structures of political and economic domination of society; or it may result in the democratisation of production relations which transform women of the oppressed and exploited classes alongside their men counterparts into class conscious actors in the socialist transformation of society; This will be a class social emancipatory outcome.
Effectively therefore two nations, or more appropriately classes, are in the womb of every oppressed nationality/ethnicity/religious group, and women; the nation of exploiters or aspiring exploiters, and the nation of the exploited and oppressed ruling class.
SOCIAL MOVEMENTS AND THE SOCIAL FORUMS
Thus the organisation and mobilisation of a social class is required not only to effectively prosecute the class struggle and defeat the class enemy, it is required also to achieve the transformation of the class in itself to a class for itself.
Social movements are thus organised and mobilised expressions of the formations of the exploited and oppressed social classes, their class fractions and alliances of classes. Social movements have emerged as major vehicles of and organisational forms of waging the more or less conscious class struggles of the oppressed and expressed classes.
The nature of social transformation being sought by a social movement is defined by nature of social classes, class fractions and alliance of social classes of which it is composed of, and which provisions its leadership. The actual outcome of the struggle embedded in the character of the emerging social transformative process is also shaped by the class struggle. Whether the outcome is a new form of organisation of society, a new mode of production and new relations of production; or whether it is the consolidation in a reformed manner of the old form of society, the counter revolutionary restoration of the old mode of production and relations of production; depends to a large extent on the mode of organisation and mobilisation of the social movement and the struggle it is waging; its class composition; the class origin or interests of its leading lights, and the nature and intensity of struggle waged by the ruling classes. But the outcome is also dependent on the level of development of class-consciousness within the social movement, among its generalised membership and in particular among its leadership. This class consciousness is also reflected in the way and manner which the social movement describes itself, either as anti one mode of expression of existing reality alone [anti-capitalist, anti-imperialist, anti-war, anti-globalisation, anti-racist]; or as also being a movement representing a new and defined type of society, and or a movement working towards a social transformation process which involves the overthrow and supplanting of the existing social order, and even the establishment and construction of a new more democratised mode of production and relations of production.
The social forums have thus emerged as the space for the active interaction of these social movements; the space for their joint and collaborative definition and elaboration. And because it is a space not a conscious organisational platform for mobilising and organising, the social forums have failed to lead to social transformation of society and the establishment of new forms of organising society politically and socially.
The social forums nevertheless have provided space for the building of international solidarity, and have driven the renewal of internationalist organising and mobilising for global social transformation.
This is very important. For the capitalist system, which is organising the dominant form of social transformation is a global and international system. And althought this system will be breached repeatedly from the weakest points in the imperialist chain, the system will not be defeated or supplanted except it is globally defeated and overthrown. The struggle to negate, overthrow and supplant an international socio-economic formations such as capitalism, and particularly in its globalised phase, can only be victorious within the context of a global and international struggle and a global and international revolutionary replacement of the capitalist mode of production with a the more genuinely democratised socialist mode and relations of production.
CHALLENGING POWER AND CHALLENGING TO TAKE POWER
Those social movements which have triumphed and are engaged in the construction of new forms of society, thus giving clear and concrete expressions to the quest for social transformation by exploited and oppressed classes and alliance of class forces, are those which have not only correctly posed the question of power, but have gone ahead to learn from their own and global experience, to make the transition from challenging state power and the expressions of capitalist domination and exploitation, to challenging for and proceeding to take state power and on that basis proceeding to reorganise society in the interest of exploited classes.
If we are to be victorious, we must not only organise and mobilise to challenge state power and capitalist domination and exploitation; we need to also concretely pose the question of power, and align and build our movement in a manner that will allow us to challenge to take state power, politically defeat the capitalist ruling classes and alliance of classes, dismantling the undemocratic and exploitative capitalist class state, replace with a popular workers democratic state, and on the basis of this revolutionary political victory begin the supplanting of the capitalist mode of production with the socialist mode, as well as the building of new mass democratic socialist relations of production on the basis of the new mode of production.
Social movements are composed of social classes actively waging class struggle as an integral part of bringing about social transformation of society.
The class struggle is waged by all social classes, and also between and within classes.
The social forums have provided the space for renewal of internationalism as well as the coming together of social movements. But because they are not organised political spaces, they have been unable to drive the process of transiting from challenging state power to challenging to take state power.
Capitalism is a globalised international system; it can only be defeated, supplanted and replaced within the context of an international revolution.
The capitalist chain will be breached from time to time at its weakest links/points, but unless those who have become momentarily victorious build active solidarity with those who are still struggling in a common and coordinated effort to globally defeat capitalism, the system will internationally regroup, and organise and mobilise its world supremacy to recover lost ground and re-establish itself globally. The consequences of this will be disastrous for humanity, as history has repeatedly shone.
The struggle for self-determination of oppressed nations, the struggle of women for liberation and emancipation, the struggles of religious, ethnic and racial minorities for human rights, are all forms and modes of expression of the class struggle. Whether the outcome of the struggle will be socially emancipatory for oppressed and exploited classes within these groups, or end in some form of accommodation of the demands of the elites of these groups by the existing capitalist formation, will depend to a large extent on the class composition and interests of the leaderships of these groups and their movements, as well as on the balance of class forces within those groups and movements.
Finally, the way a social movement understands its exploitation and oppression; the way it defines itself and its struggle, the way it poses the question of power; and the level of its awareness of itself as a class with distinct class interests, separate from those of the ruling class; will determine the way it organises itself and its struggle; the nature of alliances it will construct; and the outcome of the struggle for social transformation it is engaged in waging.
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PAPER AT NSF MEETING
ABUJA, AUGUST 2010; REVISED JULY 2013
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