One of the earliest objections we encountered from our opponents when we entered the organized Marxist political activism in the early post-Civil War years was the one built around the thesis that Marxism, our ideology, was alien to Africa and to Nigeria in particular. We soon realised that this objection was not new, that it was as old as the history of the Marxist ideology in Africa and Nigeria.
We found that our older Nigerian comrades (especially the intellectuals and academics among them) had confronted the objection for at least two decades and a half before our entry. Still later, we learnt that the objection we are talking about was, in fact, a particular application of an older and larger objection, namely, that Marxism, as the overwhelmingly dominant ideology in the socialist and anti-capitalist movements, was alien to human nature.
As we grew older and stronger, but still early in our career as revolutionary Marxists, we found that German Nazism, under Adolf Hitler, had proclaimed that Marxism was an international Jewish “conspiracy” – originated by Karl Marx and promoted by international “conspirators” like Rosa Luxemburg and Leon Trotsky. This was, in fact, one of the specific Nazi “charges” against the Jews, as a race. It later became a pillar of Nazism as an ideology.
This admission may be made: As a young graduate student of mathematics, I was at first destabilised – but not intimidated or tempted – by these objections and charges. But, soon, I became strong enough to begin to respond along this line: To question the relevance, applicability and appropriateness of Marxism in Africa (or Nigeria in particular) is to inquire into the mode of arrival of Marxism in this continent and in this country. And, for a serious student of history (academic or non-academic), to inquire into this arrival is, in some respects, similar to an inquiry into the arrival, in our land, of modern religions, including Christianity and Islam. Finally, the general proposition: To question the relevance of Marxism in the revolutionary understanding of, and intervention in human society or in any segment of it, is to ask how capitalism arrived in human society or in the particular segment, and what it is still doing there.
To put our response more directly: To study the origin of Marxism and its historical trajectory is to study the origin and historical trajectory of Capitalism. Why? Because Capitalism and Marxism are inseparably bound, the latter being the organic “nemesis” of the former. If a young Nigerian asks me what Marxism is doing here, I will ask her/him to go and find out what Capitalism which originated in England is doing here.
I will also tell her/him that both Capitalism and Marxism emerged as adults, with clear identities, in England. Finally, before we end that session, I will re-state the mission of Marxism. This mission is not to defeat Capitalism and thereafter supplant it as “king”. No. The mission statement is that Marxism, as an anti-capitalist “weapon of criticism”, will defeat and bury Capitalism and thereafter become superfluous in an emergent classless and genuinely human society whose initial stages we call socialism.
In my recent published article, “Dialoguing with Pan-Africanist compatriots” (early June 2020), I subscribed to the view that Marxism is a science. Specifically, following Samir Amin, I defined it as the “social science of socialist revolution”. I have also described Marxism as an ideology, an ideology of liberation. I stand by both definitions: Marxism is both an ideology and a science. When I came in contact with Marxism it “fired” me because it rationalized and promoted my previously existing radical and rebellious consciousness. Karl Marx’s writings and deeds between 1843 and 1848, the teachings of my elders and contemporaries in the Nigerian Left and my own studies and experiences contributed immensely to making me a Marxist ideologically. Later, I realized that Marxism is more than an ideology, that it is also a science. Is there a contradiction here? No, not at all.