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Vol. 81/No. 20      May 22, 2017

(Books of the Month column)

Equatorial Guinea: The future being born in the present

Capitalism and the Transformation of Africa by Mary-Alice Waters and Martín Koppel is one of Pathfinder’s Books of the Month for May. The selection is from the introduction by Waters, a leader of the Socialist Workers Party and president of Pathfinder Press. Copyright © 2009 by Pathfinder Press. Reprinted by permission.  

Capitalism and the Transformation of Africa: Reports from Equatorial Guinea is not an account of how centuries of colonial domination, the slave trade, and imperialist pillage have ravaged the peoples of Africa and plundered the natural resources of the continent. That history, in all its brutality and with all its consequences, has been lived by countless millions and documented thousands of times over.

The authors do not pretend to be experts on Equatorial Guinea, much less on the vast and richly diverse African continent. We do not cast the toiling people of central Africa as helpless victims. Nor do we call on our readers to join the chorus of wealthy rock stars and imperialist-funded NGOs weeping over Africa’s misery.

Our focus is quite different. We spotlight the transformation of the instruments of production and the new class relations emerging today in Equatorial Guinea. We look at the working class, drawn from the four corners of the earth, that is beginning to develop — in the same measure as a bourgeoisie is being formed, together with expanding layers of traders, middlemen, and professionals.

This is a book about the future being forged in the present. It is about the fight to make it a future that advances the interests of toiling humanity, different in all ways from the only past we have known. It is about the heightened expectations and the growing confidence, pride, consciousness, and combativity of the women and men who are themselves both agents and products of this ongoing transformation.

In 2005 and 2008, during two trips to Equatorial Guinea recorded in these pages, the authors and the reporting teams we were part of had the opportunity to see with our own eyes these accelerating changes, and to talk with hundreds of people whose lives are today deeply affected by them.

Equally important, those visits enabled us to see and record the living example of Cuba’s socialist revolution, without which the road forward for working people in Africa, as elsewhere in the world, would be far more difficult to discern. The hand of proletarian solidarity extended by the more than 230 Cuban internationalists working in Equatorial Guinea as doctors, nurses, medical technicians, teachers, electricians, and others registers the kind of social relations — and human beings — that only a socialist revolution can produce.

When spun together, these seemingly disparate threads — the beginning transformation of production and class relations in Equatorial Guinea, and the practical example of Cuba’s socialist revolution — produce the rich and complex fabric from which the future not only of Africa but the rest of the world will be cut.

Barely fifteen years ago, it was confirmed that vast deposits of oil and natural gas lay beneath the continental shelf surrounding Equatorial Guinea. U.S. oil companies contracted with the government to exploit those resources, making the country the third-largest oil producer in sub-Saharan Africa today, trailing only Nigeria and Angola. In the blink of an eye, historically speaking, one of the most capital-intensive, technologically complex, and highly monopolized international industries has been superimposed on a foundation of labor productivity that was the product of thousands of years of hunting, fishing, and subsistence agriculture — and on largely precapitalist social relations distorted by centuries of colonial domination and inhuman trafficking by African and European slave traders to meet the labor demands of plantation owners in the Americas.

Royalties and other income from the exploitation of oil and natural gas are now being used in part by the government of Equatorial Guinea to begin to develop the basic infrastructure on which modern industry and rising labor productivity depend: electrification, paved roads, modern deepwater ports, cell-phone and high-speed communications networks, safe water distribution and sewage disposal systems, primary health care and improved medical facilities, the establishment of a national university, a medical school, public libraries. And more.

As this process advances, to put it in the words of the Communist Manifesto, “all fixed, fast-frozen relations, with their train of ancient and venerable prejudices and opinions, are swept away, all new-formed ones become antiquated before they can ossify.”

The millennia-old social formations begin to dissolve as changing class relations emerge, full of glaring unevennesses, contradictions between old and new, and increasing class antagonisms.

What draws one’s attention above all in Equatorial Guinea today is not the expanding exploitation of the country’s natural resources, as striking as that is. Far more pervasive, and far more important historically, is the evidence that as the people of Equatorial Guinea are drawn inexorably into the world market — and as the legacy of colonial domination, which thwarted such a development for centuries, recedes — a modern capitalist class structure is emerging.

More than 160 years ago, Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, the young founders of the modern working-class movement, who gave voice to its line of march, charted the birth of capitalism in Europe with unmatched insight and eloquence, as they lived through its heady expansion across the globe. Capital comes into the world, Marx wrote, “dripping from head to toe, from every pore, with blood and filth.” The constant revolutionizing of the instruments of production that drives its never-ending search for profits is attained at the expense of the lives, limbs, and livelihoods of the class of propertyless laborers it creates.

Throughout each stage of class society, from slavery to feudalism to capitalism, Engels wrote, “every advance in production is at the same time a retrogression in the condition of the oppressed class, that is, of the great majority.”

But Marx and Engels were the last to decry the tremendous advances in the productivity of social labor engendered by the rise of capitalism.  
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