We are starting this perspective document with an excerpt from Leon Trotsky’s The “Third Period” of the Comintern’s Errors, written in January 1930. In this work, Trotsky explains the importance of perspectives for a revolutionary Marxist organisation to correctly orient itself towards the working class.
“[A] Marxist sees the road as a whole, all of its conjunctural ups and downs, without for a moment losing sight of its main direction – the catastrophe of wars, the explosion of revolutions.
“The political mood of the proletariat does not change automatically in one and the same direction. The upturns in the class struggle are followed by downturns, the floodtides by ebbs, depending upon complicated combinations of material and ideological conditions, national and international. An upsurge of the masses, if not utilized at the right moment or misused, reverses itself and ends in a period of decline, from which the masses recover, faster or slower, under the influence of new objective stimuli. Our epoch is characterized by exceptionally sharp periodic fluctuations, by extraordinarily abrupt turns in the situation, and this places on the leadership unusual obligations in the matter of a correct orientation.
“The activity of the masses, properly understood, expresses itself in different ways, depending upon different conditions. The masses may, at certain periods, be completely absorbed in economic struggles and show very little interest in political questions. Or, suffering a series of defeats in economic struggles, the masses may abruptly turn their attention to politics. Then – depending on the concrete circumstances and the past experiences of the masses – their political activity may go in the direction of either purely parliamentary or extra-parliamentary struggle.
“We give only a very few variants, but they characterize the contradictions of the revolutionary development of the working class. Those who know how to read the facts and understand their meaning will readily admit that these variants are not some kind of theoretical construction but an expression of the living international experience of the last decade. […]
“The art of revolutionary leadership is primarily the art of correct political orientation. Under all conditions, communism prepares the political vanguard and through it the working class as a whole for the revolutionary seizure of power. But it does it differently in different fields of the labor movement and in different periods.
“One of the most important elements in orientation is the determination of the temper of the masses, their activity and readiness for struggle. The mood of the masses, however, is not predetermined. It changes under the influence of certain laws of mass psychology that are set into motion by objective social conditions. The political state of the class is subject, within certain limits, to a quantitative determination – press circulation, attendance at meetings, elections, demonstrations, strikes, etc., etc. In order to understand the dynamics of the process it is necessary to determine in what direction and why the mood of the working class is changing. Combining subjective and objective data, it is possible to establish a tentative perspective of the movement that is a scientifically based prediction, without which a serious revolutionary struggle is in general inconceivable. But a prediction in politics does not have the character of a perfect blueprint; it is a working hypothesis. While leading the struggle in one direction or another, it is necessary to attentively follow the changes in the objective and subjective elements of the movement, in order to opportunely introduce corresponding corrections in tactics. Even though the actual development of the struggle never fully corresponds to the prognosis, that does not absolve us from making political predictions. One must not, however, get intoxicated with the finished schemata, but continually refer to the course of the historic process and adjust to its indications.”
What stage are we passing through?
We are passing through one of the most turbulent periods in the history of the country. The ruling elite is once again tobogganing into the crisis with their eyes wide open, and they are incapable of doing anything about it.
As we explained in an article in 2015 and in our 2014 perspectives document; the APC [the All Progressive Congress, the party of President Buhari] would not enjoy the same honeymoon that the PDP [Peoples Democratic Party] enjoyed. When these pieces were written, their points would have seemed quite abstract to the majority. Today they have become much more concrete.
To stabilise itself politically, this new regime spent its way out of the crisis that PDP governments had plunged society into. In attempting to restore political stability through massive borrowing, the regime only succeeded in transforming a political crisis into a crisis of very deep economic instability. It can not be otherwise under this capitalist system, where the wealth of society is concentrated in the hands of extremely few people at one pole, whilst the mass misery of the people concentrates at the other pole. Because the wealth of the society is concentrated in the hands of extremely few, the ruling elite usually borrow or create fictitious wealth (quantitative easing) whenever they want to pacify the masses.
Economy in complete shamble
It is not true that COVID-19 caused the crisis. It only exacerbated it. Before COVID-19, the unemployment figure was already at 33.3% as of the last quarter of 2019. In other words, one in three employable Nigerians was unemployed. The rising spate of insurgency, banditry, kidnapping, and the persistent farmer-herder conflicts were already making life unbearable for the ordinary masses before COVID-19 struck. At no point under Buhari has the Nigerian GDP growth rate exceeded the rate of population growth of 2.6%. Annual GDP growth in 2016, 2017 and 2018 were -1.58 percent, 0.83 percent and 1.89% percent respectively. In 2019 and 2020, annual GDP growth rates were 2.26 percent and -0.125 percent respectively. Extreme poverty has risen under Buhari, with 51% of Nigerians now classified as poor – 105 million Nigerians are in an extreme poverty trap, according to the World Poverty Clock. Nigeria dropped three places to a very low position of 161 out of 189 countries according to the Human Development Index in 2020. She scored 152 in 2015 when Buhari took power. An estimated 8.7 million children are of out of school – the figures being especially high in the northern part of Nigeria. Life expectancy is approximately 54 years, compared to 64 years in Ghana and South Africa.
The Naira has nosedived since Buhari came to power. On 22 December 2021, the Naira officially stood at N411.32 to $1, but was above N550 to $1 in the black market. Whereas $1 exchanged for N155 in November 2014, a year later and six months after Buhari had come to power, it was devalued to N197.
Inflation is in double digits at 17.38%, and Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) continues to nosedive. The total FDI into Nigeria in the first half of 2021 was $2.78 billion, a 61% decline compared to the $7.15 billion invested in the first six months of 2020, according to the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS).
The means by which this regime has sought to stabilise itself are precisely the major factor in its own destabilisation. What started as predominantly political instability has become profound political and socio-economic instability, with an attendant crisis on a huge scale.
The direct consequence of this economic instability is insecurity, which has been exacerbated by the attacks of ‘Bandits’(criminal gangs) that are engulfing the whole of the Northern region, and which look unstoppable. There are now certain areas in the North that are completely under the control of the Bandits. The so-called ‘dormant’ Northern masses are already stirring for a major confrontation against the regime, which for years has consolidated on the back of an ethnic bloc in the region. This regime is doing everything to maintain its hold on the North and to continue to maintain the whole region as the backbone of its base of support. But give the extent of the crisis and the unbearable burden that is growing in the North, this support is gradually waning. It is just a matter of time before the whole region severs itself from the unholy grip of this dying regime.
The significance of the ‘ENDSARS’ movement
The magnificent ‘ENDSARS’ youth movement of October 2020 gave us a glimpse of what is to come. Though the movement of the youth is just a barometer of the pressure at the base of the society, the magnitude of this movement qualifies it as a dress rehearsal of the fast approaching Nigerian revolution.
The movement marked the forceful entry of the youth into the political arena, and the youth of Nigeria will not cheaply return to the background until they have politically fought it out with the ruling class.
With objective conditions for a showdown with this degenerate ruling class having ripened – the main established bourgeois parties (PDP and APC) being completely discredited already – and in the absence of a mass working-class party coupled with the compromising, degenerate, reformist, bureaucratic leadership of the working class (NLC/TUC); we are certainly going to be in for a very long, tumultuous and highly convulsive periods of instability.
Nature abhors a vacuum. In the absence of a genuine alternative on offer from the leadership of the working class, and given the growing demand of the masses for an alternative political party that is completely and radically different from the existing bourgeois parties, it is highly likely that a reformist or even an outright populist political party will emerge in the coming period. Such a party will reap from the growing mood of dissatisfaction developing among the mass.
The national question rears its ugly head once again
Historically, whenever the Nigerian ruling class found itself in the kind of multi-dimensional crisis it is currently in, it has done everything it can to divide the masses along ethnic lines. As the 2023 general election approaches, with the crisis becoming increasingly intractable and with their loss of control over the situation becoming glaring, the use of ethnic politics as a weapon of both intra- and inter-class conflicts become more pronounced.
Unfortunately for the ruling class, the required social base to prop up a right-wing, ethno-nationalist movement is too narrow to make such a movement strong enough. The ruling class also fears that if these nationalist agitators are completely left to take charge, the situation will quickly degenerate into barbarism of unimaginable proportions, because of the extent of the anger and confusion already in the land.
This renewed agitation is rooted in the inability of the Nigerian ruling elite to advance Nigerian society. The economy is currently in a terrible mess. Unemployment has skyrocketed, and the Naira has been haemorrhaging for some time now, with no end in sight. Many existing factories are closing down. Problems with electricity remain unresolved, while millions of Nigerians continue to live below the poverty level.
In this kind of scenario, even an ordinary bigoted and narrow-minded nonentity can easily mobilise the ever-increasing lumpen, de-classed and even criminal elements in society under the banner of nationalism and self-determination. Although, it should be noted, in the current circumstances, naively confused but honest Nigerians can also easily be carried away by the nationalist rhetoric. This is because the labour leaders offer no way out, as they continue to hang on to the coattails of the ruling class.
Sunday Igboho, the prominent right-wing Yoruba Nation agitator, and his counterpart Igbo nation agitator in the South East, IPOB’s Nnamdi Kanu, are currently in detention. This has put the strength of their social base to the test. Though the ruling classes from these regions have completely lost their authority over the masses, still for the overwhelming majority, the option of right-wing ethnic politics is not yet deeply rooted. As the 2023 general elections approach, the resurgence of this ugly distraction (ethnic agitation) is most unlikely. Rather, we are going to witness a growing mood of determined struggle of the oppressed against their common oppressors, irrespective of their ethnic extraction.
As we have always said, any move to secede on a capitalist basis would lead to unimaginable butchery, or ‘ethnic cleansing’ as it is politely referred to. The end result would be either a bloody war to hold Nigeria together, or equally bloody secessions as in Yugoslavia, with reactionary regimes formed on all sides.
This is because the migration of various ethnic groups to other areas has made the situation in Nigeria far more complicated. For example, over 10 million Igbos now live in the North, with over 3 million estimated to be living in Kano alone. Equally, there are over 10 million in Lagos and the South West alone. There are a multitude of Northerners who have also settled in the South. In the same way, millions of Yorubas have settled in the North over the course of several decades, many never returning to their historical base. There have been inter-marriages and many combined business setups.
We ask, what would be progressive in such a reactionary breakup of Nigeria? How would the interests of the Nigerian workers and poor be defended in such a scenario?. How would the Igbo worker or peasant be better off under a capitalist Biafra Republic? How would the Yoruba worker or peasant be better off under a capitalist Oduduwa Republic? The problem lies in the fact that Nigeria today is in the hands of a backward, weak and inept ruling capitalist class which is running a backward capitalist economy.
As long as a tiny minority of people controls the economic resources of the country, as against the massive majority of the people, mass poverty and unemployment will persist. Even the formation of the so-called ‘Republic of Biafra’ or ‘Oduduwa Republic’ would solve nothing fundamental on a capitalist basis. This is the lesson of South Sudan.
TPAP-M and the weakened state of the Nigerian left
As the crisis gets deeper and becomes more and more unbearable for the masses – and especially the youth – there is a growing mood among the masses for political action and a determined struggle for power against the discredited ruling class. But the Nigerian left is in such bad shape that it is incapable of articulating this mass mood and of giving it a practical political expression.
We can only imagine what the political consequences might have been had the leadership of labour publicly launched a political party of the working class and put forward significant resources for the mobilisation and building of such party. The whole political landscape would have been magnificently transformed. But the labour leadership has never been so compromising and unpopular as it is now. The absence of such leadership pushes the initiative to campaign and attempt to build such a party into the hands of the recently formed broad-left coalition – The People’s Alternative Political Movement (TPAP-M). It is still early to see clearly whether this coalition will be successful in building a Pan-Nigerian political movement capable of politically engaging the ruling class.
Registering a new party is already a milestone, but this is just a small first step of many more ahead. We wholeheartedly support this initiative; it is a stride in the right direction.
The breaking of the barrier of ethnic and religious divisions has always been the traditional obstacle to building a left-leaning party in Nigeria. This barrier could have been easily overcome by the labour movement, had the party been able to rest on the organised trade unions. This is because, over the course of the years, the NLC/TUC has already broken this seemingly ‘insurmountable’ barrier.
If TPAP-M carries its campaign with a very clear orientation towards the working class, and makes its ideological content very clear and devoid of common confusion and ambiguity, it can actually lay the basis for this important milestone.
No doubt the period we are passing through throws up completely new difficulties and contradictions. But of what use is it to simply blame the “nature of the epoch” for the challenges that we are confronted with? Should we just go home and wait for “better times”, when labour leadership would have been transformed? Far from it.
If anything, for our purposes, the current situation is more favorable than it has been in the past.
The overwhelming majority of Nigerians have already broken with APC and PDP (the two established parties) and are steadily moving to the left, searching for a solution that can only be found in the ideas of revolutionary Marxism. Our task, therefore, is to understand and patiently explain the stage we are currently passing through. At no time can we afford to lose sight of the bigger picture. At every step, we must work with our long-term goal in our mind: the socialist transformation of Nigeria and of the whole world.
While developing political perspectives as a guide to action is a crucial part of our work, we should not get too caught up in this or that detail or symptom. The mood in society is already beginning to change. We can be confident in our ideas and perspectives, and in the future of our organisation. With the right orientation, we must therefore find the ‘ones and twos’ and win them over.
If you agree with these perspectives, or would like to discuss them further, please contact us to learn more.