Nigeria: Marxism and the Biafra Question


Comments on the Article of Sanyaolu Juwon on the Biafra Question


Editorial Board of "Revolutionary Communism" (Theoretical Journal of the Revolutionary Communist International Tendency), September 2018,




We have republished a document of Sanyaolu Juwon on the Biafra Question in Nigeria which the comrade has written and published in 2015. (“On The Biafra Question – A Marxist Analysis”, Comrade Sanyaolu Juwon has been the Organising Secretary of the Pacesetters Movement in Nigeria. He has also been the long-time spokesperson of the Alliance of Nigerian Students Against Neoliberal Attacks (ANSA) until recently. However, in recent months, comrade Sanyaolu Juwon and his Trotskyist friends had to wage a political inner-party struggle against the old Stalinist guard which continued to control the apparatus of the Pacesetters Movement. On 2 September 2018, the comrades split finally with the Stalinist bureaucrats. They are now building a new revolutionary socialist, i.e. Trotskyist, organization as the sympathising section of the RCIT in Nigeria. (See more on this in our interview with comrade Sanyaolu Juwon here:


We republish this article as it outlines an excellent analysis of the Biafra question, an important issue of politics in Nigeria. While we are not in a position to judge about every detail given our lack of detailed knowledge about Nigeria, the document as a whole makes a very strong impression. It serves every reader to deepen his or her understanding of the economic, social and political history of Nigeria.


In this preface we wish to make a few comments on issues raised in this article.


First, while we agree with the authors’ rejection of tribalism and separatism driven by the elite of this or that ethnic minority, we think that it is important for Marxists to outline a revolutionary democratic program for the national question. This seems important to us also because of the particular character of the national question in Africa. We wrote on this in an analytical document: Africa's modern history is characterized by colonial occupation and imperialist plunder. The legacy of this has been the creation of artificial borders between the states and the fostering of tensions and divisions between ethnic tribes (e.g., the tensions between Hutu and the Tutsi in Rwanda, between the Xhosa and the Zulu in South Africa, or between the Shona and Ndebele in Zimbabwe). The ongoing imperialist policy of ‘divide et impera’ as well as the reactionary policy of bourgeois African leaders looking for factional support along tribal lines has been a huge obstacle for the formation of modern nations. While this process is unevenly developed in different countries, it remains a crucial issue in black Africa, as is reflected by the fact that between 1,200 and 3,000 languages are spoken on the continent.“ (RCIT: Theses on Capitalism and Class Struggle in Black Africa, Part 4,


The solution to this peculiar situation seems to us to fight for a positive program for the national question as it was elaborated by Lenin and the Bolsheviks. This means, basically, to combine a centralist conception of the state with strong emphasis of local self-government and to combine full equality for all national and ethnic groups with striving for total unity of the working class of all different national and ethnic groups.


The national programme of working-class democracy is: absolutely no privileges for any one nation or any one language; the solution of the problem of the political self-determination of nations, that is, their separation as states by completely free, democratic methods; the promulgation of a law for the whole state by virtue of which any measure (rural, urban or communal, etc., etc.) introducing any privilege of any kind for one of the nations and militating against the equality of nations or the rights of a national minority, shall be declared illegal and ineffective, and any citizen of the state shall have the right to demand that such a measure be annulled as unconstitutional, and that those who attempt to put it into effect be punished. Working-class democracy contraposes to the nationalist wrangling of the various bourgeois parties over questions of language, etc., the demand for the unconditional unity and complete amalgamation of workers of all nationalities in all working-class organisations—trade union, co-operative, consumers’, educational and all others—in contradistinction to any kind of bourgeois nationalism. Only this type of unity and amalgamation can uphold democracy and defend the interests of the workers against capital—which is already international and is becoming more so—and promote the development of mankind towards a new way of life that is alien to all privileges and all exploitation.“ (V. I. Lenin: Critical Remarks on the National Question (1913); in: LCW 20, p. 22,


Local self-government on a broad scale; regional self-government in localities where the composition of the population and living and social conditions are of a specific nature; the abolition of all state-appointed local and regional authorities.“ (V. I. Lenin: Materials Relating to the Revision of the Party Programme (1917), in: LCW 24, p. 472)


In the RCIT’s founding program – The Revolutionary Communist Manifesto – we proposed, among others, the following demands as part of a program for the national question:


Equal rights and equal pay! (...)


* For a public employment and education programme under the control of representatives of national minorities and the workers movement - paid for by the capitalists profits!


* For the abolition of the official state languages! Equal treatment and equal supply of languages of national minorities in the schools, courts, public administration and in the media!


* For extensive regional autonomy and self-government of regions with specific national composition! Defining the borders of self-governing territories by the local population themselves!


* No to the nationalism of the (petty) bourgeois forces in the oppressed nations! Against the policy of isolation of communities from each other and for the closest possible union of workers of different nationalities!


* For the right to self-determination of oppressed peoples including the right to form their own state, if they wish so! Wherever oppressed people have already clearly stated their desire for a separate state, we support this and combine this with the slogan for a workers ‘and peasants’ republic.


(RCIT: The Revolutionary Communist Manifesto, 2012,


It seems to us that a positive program against any discrimination of ethnic and religious groups would be crucial for Nigerian Marxists in order to combat both bureaucratic oppression of minorities as well as nationalism wiped-up by local elites. This would, for example, include giving equal rights to the different languages of the ethnic groups, equal access to public administration, etc. Naturally, the details of such a national program have to be discussed and elaborated by the Nigerian Marxists.


Secondly, it seems to us, that the last paragraph contains some formulations which are not sufficiently clear. The author writes: “We do not however support right to self determination should it be pursued mechanically any more than we advocate mechanical unity under the bourgeois state. We would only support the Unity of the working masses of Igbo for a right to self determination under socialist programs. Only the united struggle of the working people of Igbo under socialist programs can guarantee a real victory for the generality of the Igbo lest it becomes the interest of few privileged Igbo bureaucrats. This however is not to mechanically conclude that the struggle of the working Igbo people is totally different from the plight of the general Nigerian masses, neither is it the illusion that the needed victory of a Biafra workers state is independent of the united struggle of the Nigerian workers as it would be tantamount to total daydreaming. Only a workers Unity can guarantee a country we can all be proud of and a world free of socio-economic violence.


Of course, we fully agree with the program of fighting against the bourgeoisie of the Igbo (or any other ethnic minority). Likewise, we wish, like the author, to unite the masses of different tribes on the basis of a socialist program.


However, unfortunately it is often the case that the working people of national minorities, because of their oppression and because of their political inexperience, follow not a socialist program but rather a bourgeois or petty-bourgeois leadership. Marxists must not deal with such a situation in an ultimatist way but should support the right of national self-determination of an oppressed people even if they are still led by (petty-)bourgeois forces. If they do not so, they, involuntary, lend support the oppressor nation and, as a result, they will find it difficult to gain the trust of the working masses of the oppressed nationality. But, and this is the decisive point, Marxists can only successfully fight against the influence of the bourgeois elite among the working people of an oppressed nation, if they succeed in gaining the trust of these working people.


This was effectively the main issue in the debate between Lenin and the ultra-left wing inside the Bolshevik Party led by Bukharin, Pjatakov and Bosh after 1914. Bukharin and his supporters proposed to speak in the party program only about the right of national self-determination of the working people but not of the nation. Lenin strongly opposed this:


Our programme must not speak of the self-determination of the working people, because that would be wrong. It must speak of what actually exists. Since nations are at different stages on the road from medievalism to bourgeois democracy and from bourgeois democracy to proletarian democracy, this thesis of our programme is absolutely correct. With us there have been very many zigzags on this road. Every nation must obtain the right to self-determination, and that will make the self-determination of the working people easier. In Finland the process of separation of the proletariat from the bourgeoisie is remarkably clear, forceful and deep. At any rate, things will not proceed there as they do in our country. If we were to declare that we do not recognise any Finnish nation, but only the working people, that would be sheer nonsense. We cannot refuse to recognise what actually exists; it will itself compel us to recognise it. The demarcation between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie is proceeding in different countries in their own specific ways. Here we must act with utmost caution. We must be particularly cautious with regard to the various nations, for there is nothing worse than lack of confidence on the part of a nation.” (V. I. Lenin: Eighth Congress of the R.C.P.(B.) March 18-23, 1919, Report On The Party Programme; in: LCW 29, p. 174,


We wish to finish our comments by reemphasizing that these critical observations do not minimize our strong appreciation of comrade Sanyaolu Juwon’s document! We do not doubt that it will certainly play an important role in the construction of a revolutionary party in Nigeria.