IR & Politic Stuff

Marx and The Complexity of Social Class in Africa

Today , i learned a lot at school while attending the African Politics and Government class. To be perfectly honest, when i took this class early in this semester i was kinda thinking this class as a blow off class. African politics is certainly not one of my region concern in IR, it’s just not my favorite region to study eventhough i’ve always been fascinated by african and african-american cultures (as in cajun,creole,southern soulful african-american,billie holiday, miles davis kinda stuff ).  I just know that this class would be easy to pass, and i don’t have to like the materials. But hey what do you know, i’m very much enjoying this class.

It’s only the 4th week of study, but i feel like i’ve learned alot.

Today we learned about social class and how it effects the distribution of legitimacy in most of african states. According to Alex thomson , writer of a book called “An Introduction to African Politics”,one of the most compatible tool to analyze the structure of social class in post-colonial African states is by using Karl Marx’s class analysis.  To understand his analysis we must first recognize what is meant by “means of production”. Classes itself form in relation to the means of production. Therefore, social classes are formed when there is a struggle of ownership on the means of production.

According to marx , means of production divide class society into the haves and the have nots, the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. But the idea of that class stratification only exist in capitalist mode of production. But we must know that in pre-colonial africa, traditional african society didn’t recognize class issue. There’s no equivalent of industrial revolution in their society , thus there was no capitalist penetration that became the base of marx’s analysis. And traditional african culture is still very much alive in modern society. The point is, it is not possible to explain post-colonial african social class only by using marxism. We also have to consider traditional african culture or what thomson called as pre-capitalist mode of production.

By combining both capitalist/marxist and pre-capitalist mode of productions, we could distinguish social classes in europe and africa. While social class in europe were relatively divided between the bourgeoisie and proletariat, we can’t really say the same thing happen in post-colonial africa. There is not a clear boundary between which class is bourgeoisie and which  is proletariat. social class is a complex matter in africa. And thomson itself mentioned several continent’s most recognizable social classes.

  1. first, there’s The Peasantry. These are\ small agricultural producers like farmers. Usually farmer could be categorized as proletariat. But in this case, peasants has their own means of productions(land) and therefore they are self-sufficient. so, you can’t really put them in proletariat category, but they also can’t be called bourgeoisie since they are individuals furthest away from the state. means, they have a very little acces to government and its power.
  2. Commerce bourgeoisie. known also as petty bourgeoisie. They are the merchants and traders who control the economic resources in africa. they only have limited ownership of means of production, giving them limited ability to exploit other classes.
  3. Bureaucratic bourgeoisie. known also as “bourgeoisie of the public service”, they are to be considered as the most powerful class in africa. Their legitimacy given by the colonial state gave them the ability to accumulate capital without the needs to own means of production.
  4. last, we have Traditional Leaders. some of these class still maintain their power in african states by using custom to gain their authority.

So, understanding social class structure in africa certainly helps me to understand african politics even more. It points out how these complex social classes are the one of the key point to understand what is happening in african politics nowadays. Powerful elites in africa are rarely homogenous. they contain of what thomson called as hegemonic bloc. These hegemonic bloc in the end creates like a tug of power that became one of the main explanation towards political instability in Africa.


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