By Wole Olubanji (Engels)

On 16th June 2020, the Movement for A Socialist Alternative (MSA) declared its break-away from the Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM) over the interpretation of Marxism, application of socialist ideas to emerging mass struggles and issues of internal democracy, especially those about how to conduct debates in a revolutionary movement. This split meant that the DSM has now witnessed the largest split from its ranks since its existence in 1987.

This development could not be avoided, because the constituted majority of the DSM’s National Executive Council (NEC) chose to use its control of the NEC and resources of the movement to bring the debate to an abrupt end. It feared that if it went the whole hog to the Congress of the DSM, as statutorily required, its vaunted NEC majority would have unravelled into a minority of general members.

The issues that led directly to the split emerged from debates at the meeting of the International Executive Committee (IEC) meeting of the Committee for A Workers’ International (CWI) to which the old DSM was affiliated. A prominent issue of contention of this debate was what the attitude of Marxists should be to identity politics/protests, like the feminist or youth movement, now surging across the world and in our own country. Other aspects of the debate dealt with democratic centralism and how Marxist organisations orientate towards the working class in our interventions in mass struggles as socialists.

The issues involved in the debate have so much significance that they should ordinarily lift the theoretical level of cadres. This was what was expected by a larger section of members, but the NEC conceived the conduct of the debate differently. It saw the issues as those it can resolve by a papal’s bull; by dictating the direction for the rest of the organisation to follow, without conceding to the Congress and branches the right to independently examine the issues and test them out on members’ understanding of Marxism. For us, the debate in Nigeria was soon transformed into the basic question of democracy and its central role also in the Marxist organisation and programme.

Nigeria’s NEC-majority was bent on replicating the same method of the ex-IS majority and IEC minority, which chose to declare itself a newly founded CWI as opposed to convening a world congress to test the validity of its position at the highest democratic organ of the old CWI, an essential Leninist demand in the process of taking political decisions that border on programmes and methods in a revolutionary organisation. This was what automatically resulted in the emergence of a new Socialist International, the International Socialist Alternative (ISA), after a minority of members in the old IS and their minority IEC members and splintered sections chose to appropriate the name CWI for themselves and drove off a majority of members from the CWI.

The new ISA has the task of winning new cadres into its ranks; attract the new forces entering the arena of struggle through the recent wave of agitation on racism, global warming and feminism and orientate them towards the working class. The ISA and its sections are providing necessary scientific analysis for these change seekers to see capitalism as the real monster creating and festering all the crisis in society. Above all, it is creating a new vanguard of socialist fighters across the world for the proletarian struggle.

Ordinarily, in Marxist organisations, leadership like the NEC is seen as the embodiment of the organisation’s ideas because of its concentrated experience and honest dedication to the ideas of Marxism. A layer of the old DSM, based on the authority of the NEC, wanted to listen to it, but at the same time hear both sides out from the tome of literature that was published by all sides of the debate, and at a congress resolve on the position of the Nigerian section. This was not to be.

The NEC majority started a war of bureaucratic manoeuvrings. It changed its position on convening a Congress and sought to alter the Constitution of the organisation without Congressional approval. These actions were taken and justified by the NEC majority in the name of a self-assumption of correctness. The decision of the MSA supporters in the branches to have a Congress was rebuffed, until the NEC summoned the courage to demand the exit from the DSM of all members opposed to its stance on the international debate. In doing this, the NEC did not only break with democratic principles but also threw overboard the idea of democratic centralism, which entails that discussions fundamental to the programmes of a revolutionary organisation are taken to Congress for a final resolution. Because the supporters of the ISA, now members of the MSA, constituted the majority members of the branches, having the most delegates to the Congress by the DSM’s statute; the DSM NEC chose instead to avoid a Congress by setting new rules unknown to the organisation’s statute.

The members of the MSA while in the DSM during the period of this debate supported the IEC majority, a side which more or less was smugly accused by the International Secretariat (IS) as “departing from Marxism.” In the wild opinion of the IS, since the IEC did not join in the crucifixion of a section of the International for conducting an election campaign under the mantra of ‘A Socialist Feminist’, all sections in defence of that section were designated ‘opportunist’ or as ‘departing from Marxism’. The same trend was replicated by the Nigerian NEC, which failing to subsume members under its weight proceeded to peevishly accuse them of opportunism, including a minority of the NEC that equals the rest of the members of that body in sacrifices and theoretical contributions to the DSM.

The DSM NEC majority and its international co-travellers erroneously equated the role of the working class as synonymous and reducible to work in the trade unions alone. Yes, Marxists must and as a matter of duty work in the trade unions, which are the traditional organisations of the working class. But it is wrong to ignore all forms of agitations and struggle of the other oppressed strata of society that are outside the trade unions. Moreso, the definition of the working class can no more be limited to those in formal employment covered by the trade unions, not when millions are organised and unemployed outside these formal structures.

Supporters of the IEC Majority in Nigeria were not persuaded by the arguments of the IS supporters, who inadvertently were suggesting a trade union-based Marxism as the only way to change society. As far back as 1902, Lenin rejected a similar idea as ‘Economism’ in an important pamphlet, “What is to be Done?” The importance of the pamphlet was its summary of the masses-wide intervention of a revolutionary organisation/party. While not detracting from the role of the working class to lead the oppressed people to transform society, Lenin noted that the intervention of a revolutionary organisation should not be limited to the trade unions. The struggles of all the oppressed people, including the dispossessed middle class, must be taken up by a revolutionary organisation to establish such organisation as the vanguard of the people, as a vanguard of the working class and other oppressed people in society.
The implication of the theoretical twist and turn into sectarianism suggested by the IS side of the debate was to lose sight of the population-wide struggles breaking out in society due to the corruption in the trade union bureaucracy, and as a result, the weakness of the trade union organisations.

In Nigeria, the ongoing #EndSARS campaign, a youth-led mass movement, started in part due to the vacuum created by the refusal of the labour leaders to provide leadership for the ripen mood of struggle against the ruling elites. This betrayal of the bureaucrats of the labour movement in calling off a General Strike hours to the take-off impacted on the consciousness of the youth to seek an independent path of struggle to achieve its demand.

The intervention of the MSA in such struggle was to deepen and expand the forces of Marxism and to correct certain illusions about transforming society based on age. Our role in such a movement was to also accentuate the division in society along the lines of economic exploitation and oppression that we face irrespective of age, tribe or gender, and the need to fight back as a class against a ruling class united in their oppression and exploitation of the people. For a movement that was suspicious of the working class because of its treacherous leadership, the MSA patiently explained the difference between the working class and its billionaire-leadership that have more in common with the ruling class than the workers they claim to represent.

In four months of splitting with the old DSM, Nigeria became engulfed in a struggle that tested how to correctly build in new areas of struggle while retaining a clarity about the role of the working class as the only consistent class capable of providing leadership for all oppressed people in society. Thousands of leaflets circulated during the #EndSARS gave clear support for the young people on the street, with suggestions for the movement to overcome its ageist and ‘leaderless’ limitations and a direct appeal to the rank and file of the working people to actively join the protests. On protest grounds, we gave speeches canvassing for same positions to protesters and the media. We also called for a bold transformation of the struggle by the setting up of leadership committees at protest grounds; for the creation of a democratic link with other protest centres in Lagos and elsewhere. Also, by making appeals to the trade unions to support the actions of the youth on the street with a 48 hours strike action, which went unheeded, we demonstrated the approach that should be adopted in approaching movements not directly initiated by the traditional organisations of the working class.

The MSA has had to take up the building of a new socialist organisation from the scratch; we are undaunted in this regard. Even though the DSM and its International, the refounded CWI, maintained a disreputable and scorch earth tactics with regards to the properties and resources that all members built together before the split.

We are starting a new paper, Solidarity, with which we will spread the ideas of Marxism in the trade unions, workplaces and seek to organize the working masses wherever they are, including students and youth. We will take up issues affecting both the urban and rural poor, including Nigeria’s teeming and cheated farmers. Community struggles to access necessities like road, electricity, schools and decent accommodation are all issues that would be the focus of our papers and interventions.

We are confident that of our mutual work with the DSM in building the Socialist Party of Nigeria (SPN) will continue and provide a common platform for joint work, which will further thin out or widen any line of differences between the two organisations as events unfold. The quest for a mass-based working class and masses’ political party is still a slogan at present, but we must continue to work to build the SPN with that perspective in mind.

We must pose to the working masses the need to join and build it with its programme of a Socialist Alternative, as the only path to transform and make life better for the working masses, through the instruments of class struggle and revolution to end the rule of capital and put in place a Workers and poor Farmers’ government that will rule with the sole interest of the working masses as the driving force of governance. We shall, therefore, continue to campaign, even with the members of the DSM, against the deregistration of the SPN as an anti-democratic decision by INEC to shrink Nigeria’s democratic space and reduce the hurdles before Nigeria’s discredited ruling parties of the APC, PDP and their satellite parties.
The MSA is here to stay. Join, Support, and Organise with us in the MSA wherever you are today!