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1. Africa's economic backwardness

Sources and methods for the analysis
False analyses, false solutions

Sources and methods for the analysis

South of the Sahara
The origins of Africa's agricultural failure
Analysing the exploitation of peasants
North Africa and the Arab world: from statism to comprador capitalism

South of the Sahara

It has long been known that Africa's development has broken down.1 During the 1960s the annual per capita growth rate in GDP did not exceed 1.3%, before falling to 0.8% in the 1970s, and to almost nil during the first half of the 1980s, while the annual per capita growth rate in agricultural production became negative. -1%. Furthermore, these lamentable results seemed general in the continent. The best results in the countries often cited as exemplary were, in fact, modest. The record annual per capita growth rates in GDP in the 20 years, 1960-80, lie between 2.5% and 4% for the non-mining countries (Cote d'Ivoire, Kenya, etc.) and went no higher than 6% to 7% for the mining and oil-producer countries (Gabon, Nigeria, etc.) The best annual growth rates in agricultural production in the ten years 1970-79 were no higher than 3%. Industrial growth rates were also modest, despite the extremely low starting point: 3.3% a year for the 1970s as a median of Sub-Saharan Africa as against 1.8% for agriculture and 4.2% for services.

At the same time the current deficit on the external balance rose from $1.5 billion in 1970 to $8 billion in 1980 and nearly $25 billion in 1985, while foreign debt-servicing in 1985 took 30% of foreign earnings, as compared with 12% in 1980 and 6% in 1970. From 1985, debt-servicing was soaking up 123% of earnings from the export of primary products, the principal element in Africa's exports. The net contribution of foreign capital, which was positive until 1975, has since become negative and increasingly so: the surplus of debt-servicing ($15 billion in 1981, $21 billion in 1985) over the contribution in new loans rose from $5 billion to $22 billion in the same period. The total debt - in 1980 - was $130 billion.

Public finance has moved into a negative position, with a higher rate of growth in current public expenditure than in fiscal and related earnings everywhere (except for the few years of OPEC boom in the oil-exporting countries). Since 1985 in two-thirds of the African countries, state finances not only no longer contribute to any investment effort (as is the case in four-fifths of the countries!) but do not even provide for routine public services to the level that was maintained in the 1960s. In three-quarters of the African countries the only means of maintaining investments at a level to insure nil growth (implying a fall in per capita consumption) and essential imports (equipment and food) is reliance on foreign aid. This explains why Africa's foreign debt is mostly 'public', whereas 'private' of firms takes first place in Africa and Latin America. Whenever the foreign contribution goes down, inflation removes any benefit from the change.

Social indicators are even more shattering. With a population growth rate higher than 2.5% a year, and still rising, with urban growth rate ranging from 5% to 9.1% a year, it is estimated that half the potentially active, male, urban population has no steady income and constitutes a reserve of unemployed and semi-employed that cannot be taken up. The situation in the rural areas is no better since, as everyone knows, Africa has become the famine continent, taking over from Asia.

The crisis is staggering and to varying degrees widespread. But it is nothing new. All the negative factors that have been explosive in the drama of the 1970s and 1980s date back to the 1960s or earlier decades.

The ultimate reason for the failure of 'development', more striking in this region than in any other, is that Africa has not begun its agricultural revolution, without which any development is unimaginable. Agricultural revolution means a complex range of transformations capable of positive growth in agricultural and food production per inhabitant (of the order of at least 1%) over a substantial period (several decades at least), and an even healthier growth in agricultural production per rural family (of the order of 2% to 3%). Only by dint of this are industrialization, urbanization and social development possible.

In Africa, however, production and productivity per rural family has remained stagnant or even declined in some regions. In such circumstances rural emigration is not the result of relative over-population created by successful albeit socially unbalanced agricultural advance, but the opposite, a desperate flight of populations seeking an escape from famine. This kind of emigration causes monstrous urbanization without any prospect of industrialization being able to absorb the flow, and without generating any source of finance for new activities. Elsewhere, in Latin America and Asia, some steps have been taken on the path to agricultural revolution even if it has taken a chaotic and often tragic form from the national and popular stand-point.

The failure has deep pre-colonial and colonial roots. Unhappily little has been done since colonialism to reverse the trends.

The priority task of the agricultural revolution, and one that will remain for several decades to come, is obviously complex and multi-faceted. It has a technological aspect: what kinds of equipment and inputs (water supply, fertilizers, and so on) could bring an improvement in productivity per cultivator and per acre. These technical choices bring in their train the appropriate economic policies of support: for example, options as to prices and income structures to encourage behaviour in accordance with the aims, the industrial policies and appropriate patterns of financing. In turn these economic policies have social and political implications: what kinds of rural social administration (organization of property and its utilization, ground rents and agricultural wages, marketing, credit or producer co-operatives, among others) can help movement in the desired direction, or by contrast obstruct it; how the modes of social administration in effect, produced by historical social relations (particularly between the state and the peasantry) can be an obstacle to change; what kinds of social administration of trade and industry (state holding, co-operation, local and foreign private capital, and so on) may be combined with those required by agricultural progress.

On none of these questions, still less their interlocking relationships, can the experience of the developed regions of the West and East or of Asia and Latin America be transferred as it is. There are many reasons for this: availability of land, pre-capitalist modes of social organization and levels of productivity, too great a diversity of established industrial technology.

Because it is an entirely new task and a complex challenge. 'remedies' proposed by the development agencies are open to question. Many of them have failed the test of experience. Hence the flood of fashions. Some people, in the name of instant efficiency, refuse to acknowledge our profound ignorance of whet 'has to be done' end think it enough to invoke litanies either in praise of the virtues of the 'market' (as if a few price changes could bring the necessary incentives) or of state intervention (in disregard of the historical, political and cultural content that has shaped it) and there are, alas, too many of them to be cited here.

The origins of Africa's agricultural failure

Explanations for Africa's agricultural failure tend to be partial and contradictory.2 The remote past - pre-colonial Africa - is partly to blame. If there is one 'special characteristic' - apart from huge variety - of the modes of rural organization in the greater part of Africa, it is perhaps that the still scarcely begun communal or tribute-paying forms implied extensive occupation of the soil. This allowed for much greater food self-sufficiency than is commonly imagined, thanks to relatively high productivity of labour (as a complement to extremely low return to the acre). Higher production per head entails moving to intensive modes requiring a much greater overall quantity of labour in the year. This increase of production per head is accompanied by a reduced productivity of labour (of physical output per working 'day') but also by an improved return per acre. This move to intensive agriculture, as a precondition to any development worth the name, is the challenge that the African peoples must take up.3

But the challenge has not yet been taken up. Colonization did not only fail to do so: it was not even its aim. Colonialism found it easier to take an immediate super-profit without cost (without investment) by forcing the African peasants into unpaid - or poorly paid - surplus labour through forms of indirect control. Slightly higher output per head at the cost of a greater labour contribution, without equipment or modern inputs (but to the destruction of Africa's land capital), combined with a worsening of peasant living standards, was enough to provide an appreciable margin for capital dominating the global system. Colonization thus continued the ancient tradition of the slave trade: exploitation by pillage that made no provision for reproduction of the labour force over the long term or of the natural conditions for production.

Independence brought no change to this mode of integration in the world capitalist system. Change has come in response to the demands of the new phase in the worldwide expansion of capital (the European construct and United States hegemony) and not in response to the problem of the African peasant. Moreover the prosperity of the 1960s in the West has brought a new enthusiasm in Africa for the 'extroverted system'. And if René Dumont, always sensitive to the peasant question, has lucidly and courageously denounced the 'false start in Africa'.4 the World Bank, which is nowadays concerned about the peasants' fate (while the IMP forces the most wretched to pay the price of the failure) gave its enthusiastic support to the policies that were to lead, ten years later, to disaster.

The crisis of the 1970s was the result of a conjunction between the super-exploitation of land, men and women, reaching a level difficult to relieve and the crisis striking the capitalist system as a whole. In the face of this crisis the proposals raining down on Africa at an increasing rate are no more than a manifestation of a 'quest for palliatives'.

If it is no more than a matter of palliatives, then the media's talk 'in favour of agriculture' is shown as a contrast to a supposed 'preference for industrialization' that was at the origin of the failure. But any meaningful quest for greater output per cultivator is precisely to allow increased urbanization; and urbanization without industrialization can only be parasitic and disastrous. In turn, industry (but not unselectively) is necessary to permit greater output from agriculture for which it must supply equipment and to which it must offer a growing market. Here lies the option for an autocentric popular and national strategy. If this option is rejected in favour of a systematic integration in worldwide expansion, talk of 'priority for agriculture' becomes hollow and essentially demagogic. The contradictions in the other 'proposals' are manifest: export industry supposes low salaries and consequently low prices for food crops, at the same time as it urges price rises as an incentive to the peasants to produce more.

The populist garb some have given the proposals do not change their meaning despite talk of basic needs and the strategy of 'petty family production'. Meanwhile, such rhetoric has never prevented the Western laid' bodies from showing a preference, in fact, to support for agro-business and kulaks - in the name of efficiency. That these policies continue to be advanced is evidence at bottom of the scant seriousness with which Africa is treated. For Africa, in the imperialist view of the world, is above all a source of mineral resources for the West; neither its industrialization nor its agricultural development are genuinely considered.

There is nothing natural about the wretchedness of African agriculture.

Undoubtedly underpopulation of tropical Africa, compared with the dense population of tropical Asia, has been an obstacle to intensifying what is described as significant internal migration: and whatever may be said, the Sahel is not irrevocably doomed. There is water there (a group of rivers whose flow matches that of the Nile, extraordinary underground and fossil lakes, if confidential studies are to be believed),5 sources of energy - what about uranium? and the sun and the oil at less than 1,000 metres? - serviceable soils, populations. A social system that claims to be incapable of co-ordinating these 'factors' into a satisfactory plan able to nourish the populations in question can scarcely be regarded as rational, so let us admit that the capitalist system is not rational since it does not necessarily ensure the reproduction of the labour force in each of its segments. Here in the Sahel, for capitalism per se, it is the existence of the Sahelian peoples that is 'irrational'. Since for this capitalism, it would be more appealing if the Sahel had only uranium and not useless Sahelians... Such is the logic of this world system for which Africa is still exclusively a source of minerals. By highlighting the campaigns for emergency 'relief' distribution, the Western institutions have created a belief that the Sahel was irrevocably doomed. Hence it is accepted as if it were natural that the uranium was not intended for the 'natives', and Sahelians must be taught better ways of gathering the blades of grass in the desert and not waste them in their ovens! Africa must adapt to the West's wastage! Is there a better illustration of the vocation as a mineral resource that imperialism consecrates to the continent, and of the subjection of all the so-called development programmes to this essential logic than this ingenuous call to the 'imperatives' of the export of the regions's energy resources? But why not the reverse: let Africa regain control and use of its resources and Europe make the adjustment.

Capitalism's capacity in the abstract to 'solve the problem of African development' could be endlessly discussed. Not only has concrete capitalism, as it exists, that is, with worldwide expansion, failed to 'solve' - but rather created - the problem over the past 150 years (or even the four centuries since the start of the slave trade) but also has nothing in mind for the next 50 years. The challenge will, therefore, be taken up only by the African peoples, on the day when the necessary popular alliances enable them to delink their development from the demands of transnationalization.

Analysing the exploitation of peasants

If Africa as a whole has not even begun its agricultural revolution, this is essentially because the entire system in which it is integrated is based on super-exploitation of the African peasants' labour, and this is beneficial both to the system of dominant capitalism and to the local classes who act as its relay. The system of super-exploitation of the countryside, established by colonialism, has not been challenged by the neo-colonial system that faithfully carries on the tradition.

We are inadequately equipped to provide a theoretical analysis of this super-exploitation because the great majority of African peasants arc petty producers and consequently there are no obvious direct exploiters, such as the great landowners are or have been elsewhere. Conventional economic theory, almost on principle ignores the phenomenon of labour exploitation. By virtue of its emphasis on market mechanisms it remains a prisoner of the prejudice it feeds on, that of 'pure and perfect competition'. At most it allows itself to note in passing the gap between this model and the reality of capitalist production. It is particularly the case of Third World peasant production, which far from being independent, is subject to this exploitation by capital.

There are varying forms of integration of this peasantry in the world capitalist system: typified in very broad terms, by the integration of petty peasant production in the world commodity market. The essential here is not as it might at first seem: monopoly of colonial houses, mediated through state bodies in some circumstances, and such monopoly allowing super-profits from circulation, but at a more profound level, namely direct interference by capital in the organization of production. Obviously such interference will not be perceived if the field of economics is separated from politics, for it operates precisely through political, administrative and technical incorporation of the petty peasantry. It is through such incorporation that the peasants are obliged to specialize in certain crops, to buy the inputs these need and finally to rely on the income of their apparent sale. The peasant's formal ownership of the land and the means of production is maintained but emptied of its genuine content: the peasants lost control over economic decision-making and organization of the production process and is no longer genuinely a 'free petty producer'. Thus, behind the apparent sale of the output is concealed a sale of his labour power. Hence the peasant is integrated in capitalist production relations invisible on the scale of the peasant production unit, but perfectly visible at the level of the global system in which he is integrated. It is just as difficult to understand the failure to see the system of exploitation, of which Marx in Capital provided a masterly and recognized example, in the system of 'putting out' work.

Clearly, forms of exploitation of the peasant economy have themselves evolved in various ways. Sometimes integration in capitalist exchange has provoked appreciable differences in appropriation of the soil and the instruments of production. In such a case, the rich peasants' ('kulak') direct exploitation of agricultural labourers or of share-croppers, is superimposed by exploitation of the collective commodity production by monopoly capital. In other cases, administrative, colonial or neo-colonial incorporation is associated with primary native social control that for want of a better term may be described as parastatal, semi-feudal. Obviously the class that battens on this 'incorporation' does not directly appropriate the soil or the means of production, which is left in the peasants' hands, but it still levies its tithe - the output of the peasant's surplus labour - in one way or another. Here, too, the exploitation of the peasant in these apparently pre-capitalist systems apparent only (as they are the product of capitalist integration) - must not obscure the fact that the systems are integrated in global capitalist exploitation.

Obviously there are additional forms of superimposing relations of capitalist exploitation on pre-capitalist relations, whether themselves based on super-exploitation or not, just as there is an extremely varied range of forms of articulation between pre-capitalist and capitalist relations. In the case of Sub-Saharan Africa, we have noted three classifications: the 'trading economy', the 'reserve economy' and the 'concessionary companies economy'. All these forms of exploitation must be studied concretely; no abstract theory deduced a priori from some general principles can take the place of concrete analyses.

In analysing these forms of extraction of surplus it would be helpful to raise in general terms the issue of the law of value, which in the end implicitly governs the validity of the thesis. To make it possible to discuss exploitation the comparison of the values and costs of the labour power of the peasant in question and of the labourer - whose labour is embodied in the goods sold to that peasant - must have some meaning, as obviously the goods exchanged have values and costs that can meaningfully be compared. That is to say that the thesis assumes a worldwide value category of commodities and a worldwide value category of labour power. Even if the first of these theses has won general acceptance, the second has not. The sixth chapter of Capital [first published in 1933] however, showed that Marx already had some sense of the problem. Marx suggests in effect how difficult it is to grasp the value at the level of the basic unit of production. He raises consideration of the concept of 'collective labourer' and suggests that this tends to include all the workers in an increasingly broader area, comprising various production units. The contents of this chapter, remarkably in advance of its time and not known to Bukharin, were, however, implicitly taken on board by the latter in his view of a capitalist development that taken to its logical conclusion would lead to a 'sole ownership' of the means of production: by the state. The value category would then apparently have vanished; although it would still be there... Bukharin perhaps had partly in mind a possible evolution of the USSR. But above all he had in mind the profound tendency of capitalism whereby without reaching the stage of 'sole ownership' we have by now reached the stage where the dominance of capitalism spreads well beyond the production units that form its base. It is on such theoretical foundations that we have shaped our thesis that labour power tends to have a unique value on a world scale although it retains differential costs, above or below this value. The precise measure of this tendency to a differentiation of the costs of labour power can be gauged, albeit crudely, by 'double factorial terms of trade', or the relationship between gross terms of trade and the index of comparative productivities of labour.

An analysis of exploitation in these circumstances calls for a complementary analysis of the overall political economy of the colonial and neo-colonial system. In fact the increasing exploitation of peasant labour is the main source of the typical distortions of peripheral capitalist development. To go further in this field it is necessary to make a concrete case by case examination of how income distribution and the resulting demand have shaped industrial patterns. It is then necessary to make a concrete examination of how the increasing exploitation integrates the societies of peripheral capitalism in the international division of labour in such a way as to reproduce and intensify the increasing exploitation of labour. Obviously these patterns of development and the increasing contradictions they have provoked are at the origin of the crisis in the imperialist system and of the responses to it by the national liberation movement. The character of the compromises that have invested the independence of Third World states and hence the character of the reforms on which they embarked (such as replacement of the former colonial companies by state bodies) must be considered in this perspective.

We should argue that the current crisis of Third World agriculture reflects the partial character of these reforms, inadequate to free the peasants and the country from imperialist exploitation. We should further argue that peasant super-exploitation has reached a degree that endangers not only reproduction of the peasant producers themselves (through famine, rural exodus, and so on) but industrial development too, in the sense that agriculture gradually loses its capability of ensuring acceptable prices for food crops, essential in turn for exploitation of the working class. As is well known, the response of monopoly capital to this crisis is to envisage a series of technical innovations known as the 'green revolution'. These innovations are certainly intended in part to raise the productivity of peasant labour, but also and principally to integrate in the more intensive relations dominated by agro-business transnationals. A counterposing definition must be established as to the social, economic and technical changes necessary to sustain a national and popular programme capable of raising the living standards of the peasants and workers, and broadening the material and social base of the essential development of the forces of production.

The 'green revolution' of our day is undoubtedly different from the 'agricultural revolution' that preceded the industrial revolution in 1 8th century Western Europe but both these 'revolutions' lie within the same overall perspective: that of making agriculture capable of supplying the urban proletariat with the means of reproducing their labour power. The 'agricultural revolution' of mercantilist and physiocratic Europe fulfilled this essential role by disaggregating feudal relations and transforming them into agrarian capitalist relations. The methods of this transformation are peculiar to their time: there were as yet no industries; the production of inputs for the new agriculture was supplied by the labour of peasants and rural artisans: the surplus food crops sold by the peasants and capitalist farmers to the towns were delivered in their raw states without significant processing.

The 'green revolution' of our day surfaced in regions integrated in a global system already dominated by industry: that of the manufacture of agricultural inputs (farm machinery, fertilizers, sprays, for example) and of food industries offering urban consumers processed foods, with a reduction of the artisanal or domestic labour to prepare them in usable form. This 'revolution' certainly presupposes the abolition of certain pre-capitalist relations that had become too serious a handicap to agricultural modernization. Agrarian reforms fulfilled this preliminary role in most of the Third World during the three decades after the Second World War. Once this step had been taken the 'green revolution' was on the agenda. It encouraged - peasant or farming capitalist (kulak) - agriculture to integrate in the upstream industries (supplying agricultural inputs) and downstream industries (food processing). Who would control this agro-industrial integration? That was the issue.

Capitalism's 'classic' solution is to operate this integration through subjection of the farmers to industry, that is to the monopolies of the agro-business. This evolution, which had its early beginning in the United States and Canada and spread to the whole of Western Europe in the aftermath of the Second World War, is now proposed for the Third World countries. It would have the effect not only of transferring the benefit of peasant surplus labour to the monopolies but also of worsening the overall national dependence of peripherally capitalist societies on these monopolies, and further accentuating the distortions of accumulation in these societies.

In the early 1960s and in the excitement of independence, there began to develop in agriculture a sometimes rather impetuous movement of modern petty commodity producers whenever favourable conditions arose. We have suggested this to be the case where rural population density was 'optimum' (of the order of 30 inhabitants to the square kilometre) and where it was possible to attract wage labour by the immigration of outsiders to the ethnic group of the area. This movement encouraged the hope of the launch of an agricultural revolution, reproducing, mutatis mutandis, a model common in 19th century Europe. But the movement was soon smothered and had results only on the scale of limited micro-regions (in the south of Côte d'Ivoire and in Kenya for example) to the extent that on a continental scale or even within the beneficiary countries the overall results remained mediocre.7 The reason for this smothering is related to the fact that this agriculture of 'modem farmers' is super-exploited by the upstream industries (foreign in this instance) supplying inputs and by the world market imposing real price cuts on these export crops (the World Bank systematically encouraged over-production for this purpose).

The second solution is to subject agriculture to the state - one whose historical origins and class structure are integrated in various ways in the world system. It might be a Soviet-type state, contemptuous of the peasants, which sees the countryside as no more than a manpower reserve for industrialization and the provider of foodstuffs for the towns, lt 'collectivizes' and 'modernizes' by obliging the peasants to resort to mechanization, while retaining control of the machinery - this was the formula of the Soviet machine and tractor stations - just as it retains ownership and management of the agricultural produce processing industries. But it might also be a peripherally bourgeois state, one unable (for various particular historical reasons in this or that instance) to base its overall power on an alliance with an agrarian bourgeoisie, that becomes the peasant's 'partner', or in fact his master. This form allows exploitation of peasant labour to be subjected to the demands of industrial accumulation.

The third solution which is still being sought, would entail a genuine popular alliance with the peasants as genuine partners. In this dispensation the sphere of activities controlled by the peasantry could be extended to the upstream and downstream industries. In other words the 'shearing' from prices unfavourable to the rural community could be avoided by collective negotiation of the relative prices of industry and agriculture. Maoism adopted this principle, in intention at least. It was said of the Chinese commune, created in 1957-58, that it was based on equality between the town and countryside. The commune, as is well known, operated on three levels: the team (the natural village) handling simple means of production (draught equipment, hand tools), which - at China's level of development of the forces of production - are still the mainstay of agricultural production; the brigade handling modern equipment utilized by several teams (machinery, transport vehicles, improvements in the irrigation system, and so on); and finally the commune handling some minor upstream industries (for example, tool manufacture, workshops, rural building) and downstream (simple processing: rice mills, shelling, grain mills, among others). Peasant control in principle over these three levels, in marked contrast with the Soviet machine and tractor stations, bore witness to the reliance the authorities claimed to place on the peasantry and reflected the reality of the worker and peasant alliance that gave substance to this authority. The commune, moreover, in integrating social services (health, education, and so on) and administrative powers into its management system paved the way for an eventual integration of political power and economic management. Undoubtedly the 'industries' managed by the commune were still, at the current stage of the country's development, rather elementary and team output accounted for some 80% to 85% in value of the output of all three levels. In addition, some - the most modern - of the inputs were provided for agriculture by industry properly speaking, that is collectives of urban workers (or the state).

Obviously the challenge to the system after the Mao Zedong's death raises a question mark over the reality of the system as it was operating in the 1960s and 1970s, but this goes beyond the scope of this study. It has been argued that control of the communes really remained in the hands of the party bureaucracy who imposed prices less favourable than supposed. Deng Xiaoping relied on this argument in order to dissolve the communes, 'decollectivize' and allow the 'market' to operate to the peasants' advantage, and thus correct the terms of trade in a favourable direction, if not for the entire rural community at least for the segments that succeeded in securing a strong foothold in the new market for foodstuffs.8

It is impossible to define the exact forms of organization and implementation of economic management and national and popular politics formulated from a priori abstractions divorced from the actual dialectic of relations between state, peasants and workers. The principles emerging in this schema of the three outline models do, however, merit systematic consideration.

Finally, an analysis of exploitation of peasant labour power inevitably entails the closest examination of the organization of commodity and non-commodity labour within the peasant family. Obviously, the prices paid for peasants' labour decrease as they correspond to an increase in the quantity of 'unpaid' labour, that is the non-commodity labour by the peasant man, and much more often of the peasant woman.

For want of the means, it is rare to find a precise measurement of the quantity and character of the total labour supplied by the entire peasant family. A comparison of this overall quantity of labour and that supplied by the entire family of the worker under capitalist industry would provide a measurement of the real gap between the price of labour power at the periphery and at the centre of the system. We argue that this gap would be even more massive than that indicated solely by the double factorial terms of trade, which takes into account only the comparative amounts of direct labour producing goods.

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