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White Mischief

Africa and The Communist World

by Zbigniew K. Brzezinski et al.
Stanford, 272 pp., $5.00

How far the Communists may be winning friends and influencing people in Africa is obviously a matter of importance for all of us in the West as well as for themselves. Here we have the evidence and conclusions of eight highly-qualified Western experts on Communist strategy and tactics. So far as I can tell—and a mere Africanist will not be expected, in these recondite questions, to be able to tell very far—they provide between them a most able description of Communist aims and endeavors in Africa and some other parts of the “less-developed world.” They quote widely from Marxist sources in several languages, notably in Russian. They are at home with the jargon and jousting, open and private, of Communist parties and pressure groups in many lands. They write for the most part—especially Brzezinski and Alexander Dallin—with a quiet detachment that is attractively removed from the more brassy tones of the Cold War. They provide a painstaking and, I believe, unique survey. The question none the less surprisingly remains: is it a useful survey?

The answer, alas, is not so obvious as the expertise of these authors might suggest. If they are experts in Sovietology and its atmosphere of thought, they are anything but experts on Africa. Instead of starting their inquiry from the firm ground of African reality, they start from a quiet different place—from the endeavors and intentions of the Communists outside Africa. If it were not for their carefully moderate language, one could only suspect them of the most outrageous intellectual arrogance. For how can one sensibly discuss the impact of this or that ideology or political approach to Africa unless one first of all describes, delimits, and defines the nature of the African reality on which that impact will be felt? They deal with part of the story, in short; but it is precisely the part which is not going to be decisive.

It would be churlish and unfair to throw this in the face of these learned authors were it not for their implicit claim, made and re-made throughout the book, that they have taken this African reality into account. It is not their fault that although they are experts on the Communist half of the world they do not know Africa; it is their fault that they assume so casually so much of Africa’s reaction to their subject. It is useless for the disarming Mr. Brzezinski to say that this “is not a book about Africa as such”—what does as such ever mean in this context?—and that “no effort has been made to assess the degree of Communist penetration within Africa as such”: the whole book most flagrantly belies him. Far-reaching assumptions about what Africans think or are likely to think are scattered through these pages. Unfortunately, they do not seem to be based on any serious degree of observation.

The fact, in any case, remains that this lop-sided expertise, which the uncharitable might quickly interpret as an attitude of condescension towards Africans, who have minds and problems of their own, vitiates much that is written here. Are we really to think that Nigeria is “the most conservative of the new African countries”? Does Mr. Dallin really believe that it is “the weakness of the Communist parties [in Africa]”—and not the weakness of newly-urbanized workers and fresh-formed political parties—which “has vastly increased the importance of trade unions”? If so, he pays the Communist parties a compliment they do not deserve. Richard Lowenthal, who writes on China’s impact on Africa, is probably the worst offender. He embarks on several large statements about Africa without offering any evidence to prove them and even, I suspect, without having had any personal experience of that continent. “The Communist impact on Africa,” he roundly asserts, “was greatly strengthened and profoundly modified when a non-white, non-European Communist power [China] finally appeared on the scene as an active political force” Greatly strengthened? Profoundly modified? I have wandered intermittently in Africa for years, and I have yet to find any grounds for thinking so.

This attempt at writing Hamlet without the Prince of Denmark has more serious consequences than its reflection on the contributors’ capacity for gauging the outcome of the policies they have studied. When one comes to their conclusions—which are cautious but far-ranging—these consequences become clear. Mr. Dallin, in what I think is the best chapter in the book, writes that “the prospect therefore seems to be: Soviet appeal, yes; Soviet control, no.” Alexander Ehrlich and Christian Sonne, in a section on Soviet economic activity, substantially agree with him. “What the People’s Democracies will eventually achieve in Africa is impossible to forecast”; conclude Mr. and Mrs. Robert Bass, “but the prospects for success are not bright.” Yugoslavia, we gather from William E. Griffith, “is unlikely to have any major influence over the thoughts and actions of the new African states.” Richard Lowenthal considers that “it is becoming increasingly doubtful how much real impact Communist power is making on the thinking and actions of the most representative movements and personalities of present-day African nationalism…” There is, at present, Mr. Brzezinski says, “little likelihood that any of the new African states will espouse Communism or even associate itself fully with the Communist bloc.” And all this confidently said, forsooth, within the covers of a book in which “no effort has been made to assess the degree of Communist penetration within Africa as such.” As what, then? As a mere blank sheet for other people to write on? There are, as it happens, strong reasons for thinking that most of these conclusions may be right, but the reasons for thinking so are not given in this book. It is extraordinary that only with Mr. Brzezinski do we begin to hear a little of the African side of the case.

Let me rephrase my unkind question. Are these conclusions really useful? In the sense that they are based on a careful examination of a great many Communist attitudes and initiatives the answer, no doubt, may be yes. But in the larger and more meaningful sense—concerning what Africans themselves will do or not do—these conclusions tell us little or nothing that is worth while. For they appear to be based on a strangely static view of recent African history. The truth is that Africa is only at the beginning of its independent career in the modern world, and the over-simplifications of this book make no allowance for this. These writers seem to look at every major social change as part of a Communist plot, which is bound to be harmful to America. This cannot possibly be true.

None of these writers, in short, appears to have grasped the pressing fact of political and economic crisis in many parts of Africa, nor to be concerned with the possible solutions that Africans can adopt. On the contrary, all of them seem to think that such concepts as “neo-colonialism” and “the need for a second revolution”—that is, social and economic reconstruction after political independence—are merely parrot-phrases borrowed from the European past. Let them go to Africa, though, and they will soon find that concepts like these, no matter what their semantic origin, are at the heart of Africa’s problems, and they will long remain so.

It is one thing to say that Communist propaganda has latched on to these concepts, but quite another to imply—as this collection does to a large extent—that they do not come genuinely out of the African scene. They undoubtedly do. One needs only to observe the pathetic corruption and disarray of a number of new African governments, their incapacity to deal with current problems or to plan ahead, the vast overgrowth of bureaucratic jobs, to see that the “élites” on which the colonial Powers so largely relied are almost everywhere near collapse. It is no longer a slogan to say that political independence is not enough. Ask any thoughtful African, and he will tell you why. Without economic reconstruction, and thus without a radical reorganization of political structures, many of these countries are doomed to hunger and frustration.

And if this is true—but does anyone seriously deny it?—then it follows that a major effort will be made to accomplish this “second revolution,” no matter who first coined the phrase. It is precisely this effort that a number of countries are now beginning to put forth; but to write them off as “one-party, anti-Western dictatorships” (Brzezinski, p. 227) is to misunderstand the nature of their problems and of their attempted solutions. It casts an unkindly light not only on the standpoint of our authors (for they all seem to agree with Brzezinski), but on the quality of the thought behind their conclusions.

No doubt it may be true that most Africans will prefer neutralism; but neutralism can cover a multitude of attitudes. This being so, it is going to be the reaction of the East and of the West towards the needs and imperatives of this “second revolution” that will prove increasingly decisive to the future international scene. As between East and West the real competition has barely yet begun.

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