Karl Marx it was, who once wrote that men make their history, but not in conditions they have chosen. In trying to assess historical personalities therefore, we must be very mindful of the historical play of forces of the epoch concerned.This means that we must be able to penetrate the subjective matrix of ideological conceptions, to get to the roots of the class forces of the epoch in which these individuals make their history.It is a system of thought that must be dispassionate, merciless, and which shows deference only to scientific accuracy, and historical facts.
In the theoretical arsenal of modern science, the thesis of the decisive role of the masses in society’s development occupies an important place. It provides social science with the key to understanding the historical process and thereby helps to remove the defects of all pre-scientific thought. What this tells us is that outstanding public figures are not creatures of events and movements of the historical process. It is the support they receive from large social groups, such as classes, which lies at the basis of their actions, not their intelligence.
As Frederich Engels puts it, “When therefore it is a question of investigating the driving power which consciously or unconsciously and indeed very often unconsciously – lie behind the motives of men who act in history and which constitute the real ultimate driving forces of history, then it is not a question so much of the motives of single individuals, however eminent, as of those motives which set in motion great masses, whole peoples, and again whole classes of the people in each epoch”.
So whether or not outstanding individuals emerge, is inseparably connected to the operations of historical laws. Within all human activities, there always are talented and gifted people. But only the appearance of a social need for people possessing certain capabilities, certain qualities of mind and character can bring such people to the fore and create the necessary conditions for this.
It follows that who it is, that appears on the stage of history, under certain social conditions, remains, of course, a matter of chance, but the actual fact of the promotion of people, whose qualities correspond to the need of the age, has the character of natural law.
Engels again wrote: “That such and such a man and precisely that man arises at a particular time in a particular country is, of course,pure chance. But cut him out and there will be a demand for a substitute, and this substitute will be found, good or bad, but in the long run he will be found”. I was led the to re-examining these facts of the historical method when faced with reflections on the nature of the leadership that rules the various countries of Africa today.
From the West to the East, from North to South, with the notable exception of a few leaders, Africa is saddled with some of the most inept, reactionary, and anti-people regimes today. Why did a continent that had produced such outstanding personalities like Amilcar Cabral Augustinho Neto, Ben Barka, Kwame Nkrumah, Gamal Abdel Nasser, Dedan Kimathi, John Chilembwe, Murtala Mohammed, Yusuf Dadoo, Bram Fischer, Joseph Garang etc., is now in such a crisis as it is today?
Is there anything in the “destiny” of Africa, that says it must produce monsters like Idi Amin, Marcias Nguema;kleptomaniacs like Mobutu, cut throats like Samuel Doe, Blaise Campaore; or such megalomaniacs like Eyadema, and dictators of other hues? These questions are asked on a daily basis in every part of Africa, as societies decay under regimes that carry out the biddings of transnational corporations and imperialism, especially with the institution of structural adjustment programs.
The outstanding personalities in the first category were men who devoted their energies and talents to the struggle against colonial rule in Africa. These men led an alliance of all the classes within Africa-workers, peasants, petty-bourgeoisie and even a deformed, comprador bourgeoisie-against imperialism.
Every class in this alliance saw its aspirations being fulfilled by the removal of the colonial regime. But if they helped only in the removal of colonialism, they would not have been outstanding personalities. Afterall, HouphouetBoigny did the same in Cote d’Ivoire.
No. these personalities are remembered, because in thought and action, they proved capable of understanding the march of history and made every effort to gain historical relevance. Such personalities like Cabral and Neto, understood the central issue of the class struggle. They realized that the development of Africa’s productive forces, the essence of the struggle for independence calls for the creation of new, socialist societies in Africa. They understood the important of the African working people, and they create political movements for their mobilization.
This again shows that the qualities of outstanding personalities are infinitely varied, depending on the sphere of action of the personalities concerned, as well as the conditions of the epoch, plus the class nature of the movement that produced these people.The emergence of the Idi Amins, Mobutus, Does, can also be located within the development of the African post-colonial societies. These characters are caricatures, if bloody ones at that, of the dictatorship of the colonial system.
They represent the intensification of the class stratification and class struggle in the various societies of Africa. In all instances, these personalities represent the failure of the comprador bourgeoisie to come to terms with the nature of the state they inherited from imperialism, at the termination of the colonial system.
In a related view, these “leaders” represent the determination of the imperialists to preserve the ‘traditional’ roles of these countries in the scheme of things, especially when such preservation prove to be the most lucrative of arrangements. This explained why Mobutu is annually subsidized, as he maintains his kleptocratic reign, in Zaire. While that remarkably rich nation is being bled to death.
It is this kind of understanding, that informed the good press that Cote D’Ivoire had, as the ‘haven of peace and stability’, and the ‘economic miracle’, under HouphouetBoigny.Isn’t it of note that the ‘free press’ of the West have all kept silent about the Basilica the old man is building with millions of Dollars in his hometown, at a time the country is going through a very serious economic crisis?
The various regimes that Africa is saddled with today-from the utterly dictatorial, to those of the anti-people structural adjustment programs-all tell us that the class question is at the epicentre of the African agenda of the moment. They are a painful and tragic reminder of the fact that Africa’s decolonization was just the beginning of an arduous struggle to claim our continent for its real people – the working people, who created all its material and spiritual wealth.
If it is true, that society does not set itself tasks, for which the solutions cannot be found, within the ambits of the movement of the class forces of such a society, then there is no gain saying the fact that for our continent, the solutions to our present problems of underdevelopment, exploitation and oppression, so graphically embodied in reactionary rulers, are already present in our contemporary world. Indeed, men make their history, but they don’t choose the conditions.