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ADAMS, Jason. "Non-Western Anarchisms: Rethinking the Global Context". -3-
African Anarchisms: Igbo, Egypt, Lybia, Nigeria and South Africa
Article published on 26 December 2005
last modification on 23 April 2015

by r-c.
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Introduction

Asian Anarchism: China, Korea, Japan & India

African Anarchisms: Igbo, Egypt, Lybia, Nigeria and South Africa

Errico Malatesta (1853-1932)
One of the founders of anarchism, he contributed in the launching of several groups around the Mediterranean as well as in South America

Early African anarchism developed along the extreme continental margins, primarily in the context of ethnically diverse North African and South African port cities. Other than the small amount of literature available on these movements, very little has been published on the subject. As in the Indian context, this is partially because there is less of a history of anarchism here as a coherent ideologically based movement. But it is also partially due to the hegemony of either capitalist-imperialist nation-state systems or post-colonial "African socialist" sytems throughout the region. The largest anarchist movement on the continent in the first quarter of the 20th century was that of South Africa. Indeed, recent studies conducted by Nigerian anarchists such as Sam Mbah have noted that anarchist thought as an ideology did not in any substantial way reach much of the African continent until the mid-20th century (1997, p. 1). However, while acknowledging the lack of an ideologically coherent form of anarchism, throughout their study anarchistic social elements found amongst many African tribes are greatly emphasized. In this way tribal "communalism" is understood as a non-Western form of anarchism, uniquely and specifically within an African context. In their own words "all…traditional African societies manifested ‘anarchistic elements’…the ideals underlying anarchism may not be so new in the African context. What is new is the concept of anarchism as a social movement or ideology" (p. 26).

In this usage, the term communalism is used somewhat similarly to Marx’s conception of "primitive communism" - a stateless society that is post-hunter gatherer and pre-feudal — though such grand narratives are not taken seriously. This is because this "historical stage" is one that most of Africa never "advanced" beyond, especially in the rural areas of the continent. In this context, elders in the tribal community are recognized as leaders on the basis of experience, but not as authorities with access to any form of a legitimate use of coercion, per se. Religion and "age-graded" groups of males who performed specific tasks for the village acted as methods of maintaining an internal social cohesion, though some stateless societies were also matrifocal (p. 33). In particular the Igbo, Niger Delta Peoples, and Tallensi are well known for being marked by anti-authoritarian, directly democratic social formations. They organized primarily around the supreme authority of mass village assemblies in a form of direct democracy, tempered with the advice of the council of elders. Though these societies were primarily patriarchal, women played certain roles in the governance of society through their own organizations as well (p. 38).

The advent of so-called "African socialism" emerged out of the colonization, industrialization and urbanization of the continent. This began with the Berlin Conference of 1884-1885 in which Europe carved Africa up into nation-states, placed over and between the stateless societies that had formed the basis of decentralized continental social administration in the past. These colonial nation-states facilitated the extraction of natural resources to the benefit of European elites, destroying, displacing, dividing and undermining stateless societies. In many African nation-states, the anti-colonial movement was led by "African socialists" such as Muammar Gadhafi of Libya, Gamel Abdel Nasser of Egypt and "negritude socialists" such as Senghor. The one thing most of these had in common was that they were very quickly co-opted and subjugated to the interests of Western capital. But while such African socialisms were largely controlled by a Marxist orientation, shaped and guided by outland capitalist interests, not all were.

After Nigeria gained independence in 1960, it implemented a nationwide collective farming system based on a synthesis of elements of traditional African communalism and the Israeli Kibbutzim system. Likewise it can be seen that Gadhafi’s well-known "Green Book" was as influenced by his reading of Bakunin as it was by his reading of Marx. His concept of jamarrhiriyah was also quite similar to that of the Nigerian collective farming system. But far more exemplary than either of these is the theory and practice of Julius Nyerre’s Ujamaa system. In this system, where capitalism is opposed as much as "doctrinaire socialism," a renewed form of African communalism became the basis of postcolonial Tanzanian society. Unfortunately the Ujaama system ultimately failed as a result of a rapid degeneration into state control over the peasantry under the watchful tutelage of the World Bank (p. 77). On the African continent, Tanzania was by no means alone in this development, which curiously occurred as often in the "socialist" nation-states as it did in the capitalist nation-states.

As mentioned earlier, one country that did have a significantly large organized anarchist movement in the early 20th Century was South Africa. A white Afrikaner by the name of Henry Glasse had helped to organize the earliest rumblings of an anarchist movement in the country in the late 19th Century. Shortly after the turn of the century, the Social Democratic Federation was founded in Cape Town by a coalition of anarchists and other anti-state socialists, followed by the emergence of the short lived South African IWW. The one thing that stood out about these formations at the time was that they were overwhelmingly made up of whites, in a nation-state in which the vast majority was not. Most of the higher paying skilled labor jobs went to whites, while Indians, coloureds (mixed-race people), and poor whites took the "in-between" jobs and blacks were stuck with the most labor intensive unskilled labor jobs (van der Walt, 2002).

This situation finally changed in 1917 when members of the International Socialist League helped to organize the mostly black syndicalist organization, the Industrial Workers of Africa. While heavily influenced by the IWW, it retained the early pro-political DeLeonist elements that had been abandoned in the IWW after the split between syndicalists and DeLeonists in 1908 (Mbah, p. 66). When some began to question the efficacy of engaging in electoral politics the Industrial Socialist League was born with an explicitly direct-action, anti-electoral orientation. From 1918 to 1920, the African National Congress had several anarchist syndicalists amongst its leadership. But by 1921 first wave anarchism was on its last feet in South Africa, as leading activists abandoned anarchism in the service of building the Communist Party of South Africa. As has been shown already, anarchists in many countries became important communist leaders in China, and as we will soon see, such was also the case in Brazil and other Latin American countries as well.

As in South Africa, North African port cities on the Mediterranean played a major role in the spread of anarchist ideas as well. The Egyptian anarchist movement is a good example of this trend, for here anarchism was almost entirely an immigrant phenomenon. As early as 1877, the Egyptian anarchist movement began to put out the Italian language anarchist journal II Lavoratore, which was followed shortly by La Questione Sociale. Its primary audience was Egypt’s thriving Italian immigrant community concentrated primarily in the Mediterranean port city of Alexandria. As Alexandria was a port city, it was quite diverse and would act as a reservoir not only for anarchist activity but for anarchist exiles from around the Mediterranean region as well. In the late 19th Century Malatesta sought refuge here after the attempted assassination of King Umberto I, as did Luigi Galleani in the year 1900. Soon, the anarchist ideas of the Italian community would spread to Greek immigrant workers, who would then go on to organize an anarchist-oriented labor union for shoemakers in Alexandria. However, there is little evidence that anarchist ideas spread in any significant way out of the immigrant communities and into the indigenous Egyptian communities themselves (Stiobhard).

Tunisia and Algeria were the two other countries where anarchism gained a foothold. The port city of Tunis in northern Tunisia featured an anarchist movement amongst Italian immigrants, and as in Egypt, they engaged in publishing several journals including L’Operaio and La Protesta Umana. The latter was published by the well-known pamphleteer Luigi Fabbri, who was living in Tunis at the time. In addition, the port city of Algiers in northern Algeria was a major repository for anarchist activity featuring several anarchist newspapers including L’Action Revolutionnaire, Le Tocsin, Le Libertaire, and La Marmite Sociale. Though there is little information available about the interim period, it well documented that after the failure of the Spanish Civil War in 1939, many anarchists relocated to Algeria around the port city of Oran (Stiobhard).

Continued:

Latin American Anarchism : Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil, Chile, Mexico and Cuba

Middle Eastern Anarchism: Armenia, Lebanon, Turkey, Palestine

Conclusion


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