National Sections of the L5I:

Nigerian workers need workers party

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The continuing crisis in Nigeria, expressed in four general strikes in four years, has led the Nigeria Labour Congress to launch a Labour Party. This is an important organisational step as it gives the workers their own alternative to the ruling class parties such as Obansanjo’s People’s Democratic Party.

Last year, there was an attempt to set up a social democratic party by a section of the NLC. The party did badly at the polls because the leadership of the NLC stuck with Obansanjo in last year’s elections and even gave him a platform at a May Day rally.

So the launch of a Labour Party is to be welcomed, representing as it does a break by the workers from capitalist parties.

In its programme on politics, the leadership of the NLC is critical of past attempts to ally the workers movement with bourgeois forces in order to secure democracy: “This type of approach [allying with bourgeois parties] collapsed as soon as parties began to implement the dominant perception of democracy, which is to sustain existing economic relations.”

The NLC programme also states that the Labour Party should be “unambiguously socialist” but then goes on to say little about what it should stand for apart from basic human and workers rights and a mixed economy. For example, the NLC would “take into account the growing need to adopt a more participatory approach, which will involve identification of specific policies that should be pushed by representatives of the NLC in dealing with government, employers and other social, economic and political actors. Participatory strategies mean processes of consultation that involve convening appropriate organs where specific discussions of policy matters are identified and decided."

But the Labour Party has already been criticised for supporting the ending of the general strike after three days. Members of the People’s Redemption Party, which has one seat in the lower house of the National Assembly, attacked the Labour Party and also accused the NLC leadership of conspiring with Obansanjo. However, most of these organisations while critical of the NLC leadership and the Labour Party still believe that the grinding poverty and despair in Nigeria can be solved within the capitalist system.

Two organisations in Nigeria however argue for a socialist solution. The Committee for a Workers International (the Socialist Party in the UK) have an organisation called the Democratic Socialist Movement in Nigeria. The DSM is involved in the National Consciousness Party (NCP), a radical organisation that started life as an anti-corruption party and is led by human rights and union lawyer Gani Fawehinmi. The DSM has its own platform in the NCP and leads it in Lagos. It is now calling for conferences of unions, the Labour Party, NCP and other groups around the Labour and Civil Society Coalition to start organising at a state level to decide what the next step and the programme of the new party of the working masses.

Its former co-thinkers, which led by Ted Grant left the CWI in the early 1990s and are now grouped around Socialist Appeal in the UK, have an organisation around the journal Workers Alternative in Nigeria. To its credit, Workers Alternative has consistently called for a Labour Party in Nigeria based upon the unions and supports the building of the NLC backed Labour Party.

However, what unites these organisations is their inadequate conception of the programme the Labour Party needs to be founded on. Both call for democratic and social reforms, and measures for the working class to take control of the unions against the misleaders and bureaucrats such as Oshiomhole. On the question of state power, the DSM calls for the “removal of the capitalists from power and their replacement by a workers and peasants socialist government.” It also calls for the “public ownership of the country’s vast resources and wealth under the democratic management and control of the working people.”

Workers Alternative calls for a mass Labour Party with a socialist programme with the key demand of “the nationalisation of the commanding heights of the economy under the control of the workers and peasants".

Both organisations, however, fail to mention that the capitalist state will have to be smashed by the militant action of Nigerian workers and peasants. In a country where state violence is an every day occurrence, where “kill and go” squads patrol the oil fields, and where the threat of a military coup is an ever present factor of political life, failure to clearly state that socialism will involve a physical struggle with the capitalist government and their multi-national backers means both organisations are providing opposition forces within the NLC with only half a solution.

They both adopt a “stagiest” argument: first let us build a mass reformist party and then get it to adopt more and more revolutionary policies. However to do this they believe it is necessary to hide basic fundamentals of Marxism such as the necessity to smash the capitalist state, its army and police.
Rather then becoming a UK-style Labour Party, ie a reformist one, or a more radical centrist party, the Nigerian workers and their allies such as the fighting youth of the Ijaws and other ethnic groups need a party that is revolutionary in policy and in deed.

Revolutionary socialists should work alongside workers and unions and build the Labour Party as a mass organisation. But at every opportunity revolutionaries must put forward clear class answers to the attacks of the government and to the betrayals and misleadership of the union and ethnic leaders. In effect, the organisational break taken by the formation of the Labour Party must be completed by a political break from the bosses and capitalism by the adoption of a revolutionary socialist programme. Then, there is the possibility of building a mass revolutionary party that can save Nigeria from the multinationals, the poverty, despair and inter-ethnic strife and build a socialist future.