Africans Must Recognize the Difference Between Marxism and Scientific Socialism

Image of Kwame Nkrumah

Science is important. The masses of African people, as oppressed people, must base our struggle for liberation on scientific knowledge and action. Just because Europeans claim science as their invention does not mean that science belongs to them or that African people ought to reject scientific truth. Our people have been scientists for thousands of years. We knew the laws of science long before Europeans discovered them. The same must be said about scientific socialism.

Amílcar Cabral theorized reafricanization and returning to the source. He also understood dialectical materialism and organized his people for revolution to transform their material conditions and to free themselves from enslavement and Portuguese colonial rule. Perhaps most importantly, he understood the need to create one single unified socialist African state. Amílcar Cabral was in every way a scientist and in every way a man grounded in the reality of Africa and Africans.

People, African and non-African alike, criticize some of our people for cultural nationalism while failing to recognize that it was European chauvinism that our convinced our people that socialism is some sort of “perspective” that the West bestowed upon the world. In part, this is what happens when people use Marxism and scientific socialism as interchangeable terms and fail to recognize the application of scientific socialism within other ideologies such as Nkrumahism, Nkrumahism-Touréism, Cabralism, and other ideologies guiding the objective of revolutionary Pan-Africanism.

As Kwame Ture put it, “we call the laws of gravity Newton’s law, but everybody knows that Newton cannot invent that a body falls at the rate of g = 9.807 m/s2. Any man, any woman sitting in Timbuktu just observing the laws of gravity will come to the exact same conclusions as Newton, a body in motion tends to stay in motion unless stopped by an outside force.” Gravity is recognized as objective scientific truth. Very few African people dismiss gravity as a European perspective or conspiracy. This is because, while we often do refer to the laws of gravity as Newton’s laws, many of our people understand that the ancestors of African, Indigenous, or other colonized people very well may have understood these laws prior to Newton or, if not, would have come to the same conclusions as him later. At the same time, the myth that Europeans were the first to discover science or that they somehow “invented” science serves as a roadblock that prevents a larger number of colonized people from excelling in scientific disciplines. In an identical manner, the myth of Karl Marx as the inventor of socialism prevents our people from pursuing a scientific analysis of their struggles.

We live in a world where there’s knowledge of the Lebombo bone, the Ishango bone; the Dogon discovery of the atom; the Dogon discovery of Sirius B; the pyramids, built first in Sudan and then in Egypt; recorded understandings of mathematics and astronomy from the Library of Timbuktu; African fractal architecture across the continent and more. Yet, we are still meant to believe that Europeans invented science and the scientific method.

It is in this same vein that we are supposed to refer to Amílcar Cabral as a Marxist even though he clearly stated that he did not identify as such. We know that Marx could have never conceived of the Bissau Guinean peasantry building a socialist revolution under the conditions in which they did. Yet we MUST give Karl Marx credit where it is undue.

The same can be said about Kwame Nkrumah, who referred to his own ideology as Consciencism or Nkrumahism and who theorized categorial conversion and a form of pan-nationalism that would be unrecognizable to Marx. This is not to say that Consciencism or Nkrumahism draws absolutely nothing from Marx. Nkrumah stated that he was inspired by Hegel, Marx, Lenin, and above all else, Garvey. Yet, there is no rush to label Nkrumah a Garveyite or to give Garvey undue credit for the crux of Nkrumah’s work in a way that some are adamant to label Nkrumah a Marxist.

It should be obvious that I do not subscribe to Afrocentrism nor African cultural nationalism, nor do I believe in the existence of what some refer to as African socialism. I organize for revolutionary Pan-Africanism, African liberation and recognize that scientific socialism is universal and belongs to all. My argument is not that we should stop reading Karl Marx. We should read anything and everything we can get our hands on. However, there is no reason to treat Karl Marx as the inventor or the be all end all of socialism while disregarding colonized people who have led successful socialist revolutions or relegating their works to the category of supplementary reading. I do not read Kwame Nkrumah as a supplementary text to better understand Karl Marx. I may read Marx to understand Nkrumah better.

To be clear, some of the ancestors that I admire and learn from the most are Marxist-Leninists. Praise and dedicated study are due to Thomas Sankara, Walter Rodney, Claudia Jones, and many others. Still, let us be honest and acknowledge that there are other scientifically grounded ideologies in the African world and amongst Indigenous and colonized peoples worldwide.

Once there is a broader effort to distinguish Marxism, a specific ideology, and scientific socialism, an objective, and universal truth, it will be easier to organize the African masses and bring them to a revolutionary ideology based on science that speaks to their conditions, their history, and their struggles. Many Africans who are repelled by the word Marxism react to their aversion by subscribing to nonscientific approaches to overcome oppression. It is our task to assure that we do not replicate European chauvinism within our own communities by giving Marx undue credit for a science that does not belong to him and that can be found in other ideologies besides the ones named after him. It is only then that we will be able to reach those of our people that have been driven away.

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Inem Richardson is originally from the Bay Area in Northern California but she currently lives in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso where she is the founder of the Centre Thomas Sankara Pour La Libération et L’Unité Africain, a Pan-African library and political education center.