Theses on Capitalism and Class Struggle in Black Africa (Part 3)

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The Working Class and the Oppressed




1.                   The working class in black Africa is growing both in numbers and militancy. As Table 2 shows, the share of wage workers in the overall working population rose to 22.9% by 2006. However, it is important to note the significant difference between the proportions of men and women working for a wage, twice as many men as women being salaried (29.2% of men vs. 14.4% of women).


Table 2: Share of wage and salaried workers in Sub-Saharan Africa (% of total employment) [1]


Wage and                            Employers                          Own-account                       Contributing family

salaried workers                                                            workers                               workers


1996      2006                      1996      2006                      1996      2006                      1996      2006


20.6        22.9                        3.1          3.0                          49.1        48.7                       27.2        25.4




2.                   Given sub-Sahara Africa’s low level of industrialization, its share of manufacturing employment in total employment is relatively small (only 6.0% in 2010-2013). [2] As a result, sub-Saharan Africa’s share of the world industrial proletariat is (with 29.3 million workers representing 4% of the global total) relatively small. (See Table 3) However, the industrial working class plays a strategic and crucial role in Africa's economy. Since the growth of Africa's capitalism depends in great part on the production and export of oil, gold, diamonds and other raw materials, the miners, oil workers, transport workers, etc. have powerful leverage. Clearly, the fate of the African revolution will be decided if the black Bolsheviks on the continent succeed in building a revolutionary party among these sectors of the working class.




Table 3: Distribution of Labor Force in Industry in different Regions, 2013 [3]


Labor force                                                         Distribution of

in industry (in Millions)                                      industrial labor force


World                                                                  724.4                                                                    100%


Developed economies                                        106.8                                                                    14.7%


Eastern Europe & ex-USSR                                44.8                                                                      6.2%


East Asia                                                            250.1                                                                    34.5%


Southeast Asia                                                   59.0                                                                      8.1%


South Asia                                                         144.3                                                                    19.9%


Latin America                                                    58.3                                                                      8.0%


North Africa                                                       18.7                                                                      2.6%


Middle East                                                        13.0                                                                      1.8%


Sub-Saharan Africa                                           29.3                                                                      4.0%




3.                   Overall most Africans are still employed in the agricultural sector as peasants. In 2013, 202.4 million (61.3% of total employment) workers in sub-Saharan Africa were officially employed in the agricultural sector; 29.3 million (8.9% of total employment) were employed in the industrial sector; and 98.6 million (29.9% of total employment) worked in the service sector (See Table 4). Most workers and peasants are working in extremely insecure conditions. According to official figures, more than ¾ (76.4%) of all laborers are working in conditions classified as "vulnerable employment" by the ILO. Here again women (85.1%) are much more effected by these conditions than men (69.1%).




Table 4: Employment by Sector in Sub-Saharan Africa, 2013 [4]

                                              Million                 Share (in %)


Agriculture                               202.4                     61.3%


Industry                                  29.3                       8.9%


Service                                   98.6                       29.9%




4.                   Africa's trade unions have already played an important role in the struggle against colonialism and against Apartheid in South Africa, and they continue to do so today. The heroic strike of the South African miners in Marikana in 2012 and the subsequent split of the metal workers' NUMSA from the treacherous COSATU federation are the best know recent examples of the ongoing heroic tradition of the black working class in Africa.


5.                   The central problem of the trade unions remains, as is the case on other continents, the enormous level of corruption and bureaucratization of the union apparatus. The widespread, closely-woven bonds between the leadership of various trade unions and their respective national government, along with the various business activities of the union bureaucrats often rob the unions of any independence from the bourgeois state and capitalist class. The corrupt links of the South African NUM leadership with the Lonmin Corporation and the strong ties between the COSATU leadership and the ANC government made sure that the union bureaucrats not only failed to support the miner strikes but even actively worked for its suppression! Similarly, we saw in Zimbabwe that many corrupt union bureaucrats preferred close relations to Mugabe ZANU-PF than with their own workers, something which led to a split of the trade union federation in the late 1990s. Later, the former Zimbabwean trade union leader Morgan Tsvangirai created the MDC which became just another example of a cross-class coalition of trade unionists and sectors of the capitalist class.


6.                   Hence, the case of Zimbabwe demonstrates yet another danger: Specifically, when a union leadership correctly breaks with the regime but, instead of building an independent party of the working class, it creates a popular-front alliance with sectors of the bourgeoisie aligned with imperialist powers! The struggle for the independence of the working class – as well as all other oppressed – from the bourgeoisie and its state constitutes one of the most important tasks for revolutionaries in Africa.




Rising Class Struggle




7.                   A crucial factor for the global class struggle in the coming years and decades will be the rapid growth of Africa’s population, already the second largest among the world’s continents. According to estimates of the United Nations “more than half of global population growth between now and 2050 is expected to occur in Africa. (…) Consequently, of the additional 2.4 billion people projected to be added to the global population between 2015 and 2050, 1.3 billion will be added in Africa.[5] Consequently, Africa will contribute a growing share of global working class in the years ahead.


8.                   Given the fact that capitalism has entered an historic period of decay manifested in a depressed level of capital accumulation, it is literally impossible that economic growth, in general, and industrialization, in particular, will be able to accelerate enough in the years ahead to absorb the rapidly growing number of young people entering the labor market. As a result, while the number of employed workers may grow to a certain degree, the "industrial reserve army" (Marx), i.e., the share of unemployed and, in particular, youth without jobs, will increase even more so. As a result, the future augers an African political landscape characterized by a more disturbed social equilibrium than that of today, which will at one and the same time exacerbate conditions with the potential to lead to revolution, while fostering the adoption of counterrevolutionary measures promoted by the respective national bourgeoisies and their states. The emergence of Boko Haram in Nigeria is an example for such reactionary dangers.


9.                   Black Africa has seen a massive upswing of class struggles, first in the early 1990s and then again after the beginning of the Arab Revolution in early 2011. Consequently, we have witnessed a huge increase of worker strikes not only in South Africa but also in Nigeria, the most populous of the African states, with nearly 190 million residents. Similarly, there have been a number of democratic uprisings against reactionary regimes in Burundi, Burkina Faso, Zimbabwe and Ethiopia, among other African states. [6] In Somalia, an ongoing armed guerilla struggle has been waged for years against a foreign occupation force trying to pacify the country in the interests of the imperialist powers. In fact, as Firoze Manji – the editor of the African Pambazuka News – has pointed out, nearly every African country has seen a popular uprising since 2011. He explains: "Each of these uprisings has been fuelled by decades of dispossessions and pauperisation that accompanied the latest phase of capitalism, popularly referred to as ’neoliberalism.’ They were fuelled also by reversals of the gains of independence that established universal education, access to health care, social welfare, water, power and a wide range of social infrastructure.[7] The growth of class struggles in Africa is reflected in the steep rise of the curve starting in the second half of 2010 in Figure 3 as well as in the change in the social unrest index for 2015-2016 depicted in Figure 4. Figure 5 shows the intensity of mass protests throughout the entire African continent for 2015.




Figure 3: Index of Public Protests in Africa, 1996-2015 [8]






Figure 4: Global Index of Changes in Social Unrest, 2015-16 [9]






Figure 5: Intensity of Protests in Africa by location, 2015 [10]








[1] ILO: Global Wage Report 2008/09, p. 10

[2] UNIDO: Industrial Development Report 2016. The Role of Technology and Innovation in Inclusive and Sustainable Industrial Development, pp. 33-35

[3] ILO: Global Employment Trends 2014. Risk of a jobless recovery?, p. 97

[4] ILO: Global Employment Trends 2014, pp. 96-97

[5] United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division (2015). World Population Prospects: The 2015 Revision, Volume I: Comprehensive Tables, p. xxi

[6] See on this e.g. Platform of the Socialist League of Zimbabwe (Section of the Revolutionary Communist International Tendency),; Zimbabwe: Stop the Police Brutality!; Zimbabwe: Protests in Harare turn violent,; Zimbabwe: Mugabe Regime threatens Social Media “Abusers”,; Zimbabwe: New Upsurge of Mass Protests;; Zimbabwe: Mugabe Attempts to Terrorize the People,; Popular Protests in Zimbabwe: “We fight for our Rights!”,; Zimbabwe: Mass Unrest against the Mugabe Regime!; Yossi Schwartz: Ethiopia: Down with the Dictatorship of Hailemariam Desalegn! Revolutionary Communist International Tendency, 17 August 2016,; Johannes Wiener: Burundi: Support the Popular Uprising against President Nkurunziza! No to Any Military Coup d’État! Onward to a Government of the Workers and Peasants! 19.5.2015,; RCIT: Burkina Faso: Long Live the Popular Uprising! Down with the Military Regime! Advance the “Sub-Saharan Spring” to an Authentic Revolution of the Workers and Peasants! 4.11.2014,

[7] Firoze Manji: Is Africa rising? A critical perspective (Part 1), Amandla! No. 37/38 December 2014,

[8] African Development Bank, Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, United Nations Development Programme: African Economic Outlook 2016, p. 119

[9] ILO: World Employment and Social Outlook – Trends 2017, p. 10

[10] African Development Bank, Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, United Nations Development Programme: African Economic Outlook 2016, p. 120