Since the 1990s, globalization has been heralded as a means whereby humans would achieve a higher quality of life and greater prosperity. Of course we know that such claims were greatly exaggerated as globalization, as a process, has produced profoundly uneven benefits–allowing vast accumulations of wealth for the global elite while simultaneously producing desolation and dispossession for others. Culturally, it has produced manifold complexities and contradictions in the lives of people the world over.
Ujamaa: Economics and African Values
Eric Williams’s monumental work Capitalism and Slavery captures the synergistic links between the rise of modern capitalism and white racism. In it, Williams argues that racism, as an ideological framework that argued for and sought to concretize in the realm of social relations the subordination of Africans and the superordination of Europeans, emerged as a necessary by-product of the system of chattel slavery. Williams’s analysis thus shows that racism cannot be delinked from capitalism, and that from this vantage point, the struggle against racism must also necessarily entail a struggle against the malformations of capitalism.
In Kawaida Theory (the body of ideas that spawned both the Nguzo Saba and Kwanzaa), there are seven areas of culture. These are: “history, religion (ethics and spirituality), social organization, economic organization, political organization, creative production, and ethos” (Karenga 1997, 10). Of these, economic organization, offers valuable lessons pertaining to the form and character of our liberation struggle, and is directly related to the principle of Ujamaa, “Cooperative Economics”.
There are two dimensions to be discussed here. First, it is critical that we control the economics of our communities. This means that we must produce, distribute, and consume goods and services produced by ourselves for ourselves. No sovereign people, nor any people aspiring to sovereignty, can attain such a status so long as they remain dependent on another for their basic, day-to-day necessities.
Second, it is necessary that our economic institutions do not reproduce the malformations of the dominant society—that is extreme forms of stratification and dispossession. Ours must be a humanizing system, that is a system that respects the rights and dignity of people over that of capital, profit, and greed, and that seeks to enable people to achieve their maximum development. And as an African people, such systems must also be Africanizing, that is that they must facilitate our process of cultural reclamation and renewal, and reflect the African value system.
This latter point takes us to the root of the word ujamaa itself, which is jamaa. Jamaa translates into English as “family”. Ujamaa translates as “familyhood”, and denotes a collective interest or concern. This is part of why the word ujamaa has been employed to refer to socialism—an economic system emphasizing shared resources and shared profit in the interest of all. This was not due to a reliance on the ideas of any European theorist, but due to the values inherent in the economic systems of traditional African society, which entailed concerns about the collective welfare, the greater good. Thus, while the pursuit of profit was welcomed and envouraged, the values of compassion and generosity were also enforced. Such a sentiment is born out in the ancestral wisdom which states, “Ubepari ni unyama,” which translates as “Capitalism [exploitation] is animalistic”, that is, savage. A just economy, must enhance our humanity, not negate it.
Karenga, Maulana. 1997. Kawaida Theory: A Communitarian African Philosophy. Los Angeles: University of Sankore Press.
Williams, Eric. 1994. Capitalism and Slavery. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press.
On capitalism and post-capitalism: Five perspectives
“Every decisive gain achieved by the anti-capitalist forces will be countered by the state against the working class. This repression will be significantly greater against Blacks and other national minorities than experienced by other sectors of the working class. Socialists must come to the conclusion at the outset that there will be no peaceful culmination in the achievement of state power. ”
-Manning Marable, How Capitalism Underdeveloped Black America
“Think about the strangeness of today’s situation. Thirty, forty years ago, we were still debating about what the future will be: communist, fascist, capitalist, whatever. Today, nobody even debates these issues. We all silently accept global capitalism is here to stay. On the other hand, we are obsessed with cosmic catastrophes: the whole life on earth disintegrating, because of some virus, because of an asteroid hitting the earth, and so on. So the paradox is, that it’s much easier to imagine the end of all life on earth than a much more modest radical change in capitalism.”
-Slavoj Zizek, Zizek!
“The importance of socialism to the Kawaida project begins with the fact that the basic tenets of socialism are rooted in African communitarian thought and practice and are thus a part of our cultural heritage. As Nkrumah noted, communalism is the socio-political ancestor of socialism and socialism is communalism in modern form and circumstances. In this regard, we reaffirm the central African communitarian principles of shared work, shared wealth and shared decision-making in an unalienated communal environment–in a word, ujamaa. Secondly, socialism offers the most severe critique of capitalism and thus makes a necessary, even critical contribution to our understanding of the society we live in and struggle to change in the interest of social justice and human development.”
-Maulana Karenga, Kawaida: A Communitarian African Philosophy
“Not all economists have fallen for the notion that growth will go on forever. There are schools of economic thought that recognize nature’s limits and, while these schools have been largely marginalized in policy circles, they have developed potentially useful plans that could help society adapt.
The basic factors that will inevitably shape whatever replaces the growth economy are knowable.To survive and thrive for long, societies have to operate within the planet’s budget of sustainably extractable resources. This means that even if we don’t know in detail what a desirable post-growth economy and lifestyle will look like, we know enough to begin working toward them.
We must convince ourselves that life in a non-growing economy can be fulfilling, interesting, and secure. The absence of growth does not necessarily imply a lack of change or improvement. Within a non-growing or equilibrium economy there can still be continuous development of practical skills, artistic expression, and certain kinds of technology. In fact, some historians and social scientists argue that life in an equilibrium economy can be superior to life in a fast-growing economy: while growth creates opportunities for some, it also typically intensifies competition—there are big winners and big losers, and (as in most boom towns) the quality of relations within the community can suffer as a result. Within a non-growing economy it is possible to maximize benefits and reduce factors leading to decay, but doing so will require pursuing appropriate goals: instead of more, we must strive for better; rather than promoting increased economic activity for its own sake, we must emphasize whatever increases quality of life without stoking consumption. One way to do this is to reinvent and redefine growth itself.”
-Richard Heinberg, The End of Growth
“It is the purpose of education, which ultimately makes it Maatian. The most fundamental difference between Western and African education is its purpose. The purpose of Western education is to train people to function within a Capitalist system, to fill the ranks of the workforce as capitalists, to consume the material things produced by the society, to acquire position, money, power, to gain control over others and the planet. Quite differently, the purpose of Maatian education is the protection and development of all life, society, self, and to respect and care for others and the Earth, to show compassion and create harmonious balance and health.”
-Rkhty Amen, A Life Centered Life: Living Maat