Monday, October 20, 2014

Any suggestions on what to read about caste in India?

It seems to me on the basis of a very small amount of reading that there are some significant between racial discrimination and caste discrimination. But, I don't know enough about the history of India to really be able to make a well informed argument yet. It could also be that my initial impression is wrong. However, what I have read so far is intriguing. Does anybody have any suggestions for reading on the topic of caste in India?

The Mighty Jesus Supermarket

Around the corner from my flat is the Mighty Jesus Supermarket. It even has its own bags with its name printed on them. The Mighty Jesus Supermarket is really a small warehouse stuffed with canned, boxed, and bottled goods. It is a good place to get things like boxes of fruit juice, tins of meat, packages of ramen noodles, and other things of that nature. It doesn't have much room for people to move in between the aisles of imported goods. But, it is very convenient being literally just around the corner from me in the middle of the Adenta SSNIT flats. I really don't like carrying groceries on the tro tro if I can help it.

Friday, October 17, 2014

African Electrical Outlets and Pan-Africanism

Last night I realized that my kitchen is a hybrid of Ghanaian and South African electric outlets. Earlier this week my kettle died after three years. I purchased a new one, but it had a South African plug and not a Ghanaian one. So I also purchased an adaptor. The adaptor died in less than three days. Then I noticed that one of the outlets in the kitchen was South African and not Ghanaian. But, it died after a day of use. Then I realized that there were brand new good South African outlets for the refrigerator and microwave both of which have South African and not Ghanaian plugs. Since I rarely use the microwave I have commandeered that outlet for the kettle. But, the first step of Pan-Africanism should be for the entire continent to have a single uniform plug for electric appliances.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Morning Classes

On Thursdays I have to get up at 4:00 am in order to get to my 7:50 am city campus class. So by noon I have already been up and moving for eight hours. This is exhausting. But, it doesn't end because I have to get up at 5:00 am on Fridays to get to my 7:30 am main campus class. Then on Saturdays I have to be up at 6:00 am to get ready for the cleaning woman who comes at 7:00 am. I am told the average Ghanaian get up by 4:00 am everyday and I have encountered cases of them waking up to start work as early as 1:00 or 2:00 am. But, next semester I really want to free of all classes that start before 9:30 am. I have only had one semester out of the nine I have taught here where I did not have a 7:30 am class. I am told such things don't even exist in the US.

Thursday, October 09, 2014

A Comparison of Ghana and Kyrgyzstan



At first glance Kyrgyzstan and Ghana appear to have very little in common except for the fact that they are both geographically rather small countries with large lakes. A second glance will show that overall that most people living in both Kyrgyzstan and Ghana are quite poor in comparison to most countries in the world. In 2013 out of 187 independent states the IMF ranked Kyrgyzstan as number 146 in terms of PPP and Ghana as number 138. Other similarities, however, are not immediately apparent. Ghana is clearly a post-colonial country that was one of the early leaders of the various Pan-African and  Afro-Asian solidarity movements and later the Non-Aligned Movement that defined the Third World. Kyrgyzstan in contrast was part of the USSR and hence clearly a Second World country at least until independence was forced upon it. The relative poverty of Kyrgyzstan is thus quite new. During the 1960s not only was Kyrgyzstan richer than Ghana it was also richer than Iran (ranked 78 in 2013) and Turkey (ranked 67 in 2013).[1] Its development along socialist lines further meant that it had a much more equal distribution of wealth than Ghana as well as a much higher literacy rate. The building of infrastructure, industry, schools, and hospitals as well as the provision of salaries, wages, services, and benefits in Kyrgyzstan was heavily subsidized from other regions of the USSR prior to 1991.[2] Ghana on the other hand both before and after independence was unable to access the level of capital provided to the Kyrgyz SSR by Moscow. Its economy followed a rather typical colonial and post-colonial model of dependency and poverty despite efforts by its first president, Kwame Nkrumah, to break this cycle from 1957 to 1966.

A closer look, however, reveals that the state formation of both Ghana under colonial rule and Kyrgyzstan as part of the USSR has far more in common than appears at first. In both cases the boundaries of the states were  largely created by a single outside power out of territory conquered from the indigenous populations in stages. The state of Ghana granted independence on 6 March 1957 consisted of four separate territories. These were the original Gold Coast Colony along the coast, Asante around Kumasi, the Northern Territory, and finally British Togoland. The territory that became Kyrgyzstan in contrast was annexed by the Russian Empire in two stages. The northern half between 1855 and 1868 and the southern half by 1876. Pishpek was incorporated into the Russian Empire in 1863 and the Ala-Too Cinema on Chui Prospekt was built in 1963 to commemorate the centenary of this event. The creation of borders by outside powers has led to a number of problems for both states following their independence. In particular their small size has led to economic difficulties once severed from the greater markets of the British Empire and USSR respectively. These imposed borders, however, enclosed two very different types of state formations in the cases of Ghana and Kyrgyzstan. In Ghana a multi-ethnic state emerged while the Soviets purposely created Kyrgyzstan like all other national-territorial formations in the union as the homeland of a single essentialized ethnic group.

Another similarity between Kyrgyzstan and Ghana that is not readily apparent without some historical digging is that despite all of its claims to be granting the Kyrgyz and other non-Russian nationalities national self-determination,  the Soviet policy of korenizatsiia (indigenization) looks to be nothing more than the logical conclusion of the policy of indirect rule imposed upon the Gold Coast and other West African colonies by Lord Lugard.  Whether Soviet rule over Kyrgyzstan constituted colonialism is a contentious issue that revolves around whether one considers the core of colonial rule to be economic or political. In a political sense Kyrgyzstan was just as much subordinated to a Russian dominated Moscow as the Gold Coast colony was to an English dominated London. The local elite in Kyrgyzstan executed political and economic policies formulated in Moscow and had no real autonomy in these spheres.  Where Soviet policy towards Kyrgyzstan appeared radically different from British policy towards its colonies has already been described above. There was a net flow from the center to periphery in the case of the USSR with the richer European areas heavily subsidizing the poorer Asian ones. The economic exploitation of  the periphery by the metropolis that characterized classic colonialism was missing in the case of Soviet rule of Kyrgyzstan and other Central Asian republics.  Instead you had politically subordinated areas ruled by indigenous representatives of the metropolitan power that benefited heavily from a net flow of economic resources from the center to the periphery. Thus Soviet rule over these territories resembled colonial rule in political terms, but not economic ones. Voselensky has described this situation as semi-colonial.[3]  In terms of political self rule the non-Russian republics of the USSR had no more real autonomy from Moscow than most European colonies in Africa. Central Asia, however, was free from the economic exploitation that marked the European colonies. Instead of suffering from a net extraction of resources from their political masters, the Central Asians, especially the Kyrgyz benefited from receiving a net influx of capital from other regions of the USSR.

Despite this key economic difference,  there were significant similarities between Soviet rule over Kyrgyzstan and the British policy of indirect rule in the Gold Coast in the political and cultural spheres. This is hardly surprising considering that ultimately every colonial venture required some degree of indigenous collaboration to work. What is unusual about the Soviet case is that Central Asia like Algeria had a very large settler population at the time of the Bolshevik Revolution. That the Soviets prudently opted for a strategy that stressed indirect rule through indigenous cadres over direct rule by Russian settlers shows they had a much greater understanding of how to maintain political rule over their non-European territories  than did the British or the French in similar situations.



[1] Alec Nove and J.A. Newth, The Soviet Middle East: A Model for Development (London: George Allen & Unwin, Ltd., 1967), 105-112.
[2] Nove and Newth, 40-104.
[3] Michael Voslensky, Nomenklatura: The Soviet Ruling Class: An Insider's Report (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1984), 284-285.

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Monday, October 06, 2014

Communism in the Gold Coast in the 1920s and 1930s

Communism was an international movement and the Soviet government made an effort to support revolutionaries in the colonial world. Although, the limited nature of Soviet material assistance and the effectiveness of colonial repression severely hampered these efforts, they did have some success, particularly in Asia. The greater distance, lower level of aid, and more effective repression of communist movements by the European powers in Africa meant that by the time most African countries received independence that there were very few major communist movements on the continent. The one large communist party in Africa in the 1950s and 1960s was the Sudanese Communist Party.[1] It owed its strength to the fact that it was the only political party in the country that crossed racial and religious boundaries to have strong representation from both the north and the south of Sudan.[2] But, in 1970 the Sudanese government thoroughly crushed the Communist Party and executed its leaders.[3] In contrast by 1954 communist governments had been established in Mongolia, North Korea, China, and North Vietnam. Large and powerful communist movements also developed in Indonesia, the Philippines, and Malaya. Nonetheless, Africa was not completely devoid of communists during the colonial era. The Sudanese Communist Party founded in 1944 has already been mentioned.[4] There was also an organized, although predominantly white communist party in the Union of South Africa. Other regions of Africa, however, were also not immune from communist agitation. There were individual communists active in British West Africa including the Gold Coast despite harsh colonial repression. The history of the international communist movement in the Gold Coast, however, still remains largely unwritten. This article is a first attempt at rectifying this lacuna and integrating West Africa into the history of the world communist movement during the 20th century.

The 1930s saw the embryonic development of a communist movement in the Gold Coast. It centered around Isaac Wallace-Johnson and Bankole Awooner Renner. The first of these two men was from Sierra Leone and he worked in the Gold Coast only briefly from 1933-1936 following his deportation from Nigeria until he left to go back to his home country. Both Wallace-Johnson and Renner had been students of KUTV(Communist University for Toilers of the East) in Moscow and in 1935 they founded the Marxist West African Youth League in the Gold Coast. Wallace-Johnson had been active along with George Padmore in the International Trade Union Committee of Negro Workers (ITUCNW), a communist trade union for Blacks around the world established by the Profitern in Hamburg Germany in 1930. The ITUCNW published a newspaper by the name of the Negro Worker which circulated in the British West African colonies.[5] At this time there was no Gold Coast Communist Party separate from the British Communist Party.

The KUTV was founded in 1921 and played an important role in providing ideological training for African communists. Initially the university only received students from Asia and the Middle East, but starting in 1923 a few Africans began attending the institution as well. One of the first Africans to enroll in KUTV was Bankole Awooner Renner from the Gold Coast. Renner had become a communist while studying in the US and went to continue his studies at KUTV in November 1925. While at KUTV Renner raised the issue of Soviet policy towards sub-Saharan Africa both in person and in writing with Zinoviev, but was never able to get any type of substantial answer.[6] The Soviet government's policies towards Africa remained in an undeveloped state throughout the 1930s and 40s.

After attending KUTV it appears that Wallace-Johnson and Renner had some contact with each other in the League Against Imperialism (LAI). Founded in 1927 in Brussels this Soviet front group sought to support communist movements in the colonial world, particularly in India. It seems that Wallace-Johnson was operating under the name of A.E. Richards at the time and was secretary of the LAI for West Africa. But, overall the LAI's influence in British West Africa was quite limited. It had far more success in French West Africa.[7] The ITCUNW proved to be a more effective instrument of communist agitation in the Gold Coast than the LAI.

In response to the formation of the LAI and activities of the Comintern the British colonial authorities in the Gold Coast passed the Sedition Bill in 1934.  This bill was to ban the entry into the colony of people deemed subversive. Among those fitting this description were people associated with the Communist Party, ITUCNW, LAI, and the Profitern. The Inspector General of the police named four men he considered to be especially dangerous subversives. These men were Essuman Gwira Kobina Sekyi, Benjamn Wuta-Ofei, Alfred John Ocansey, and Emmanuel K. Caeser. Among Sekyi's contacts in the above mentioned subversive organizations was Wallace-Johnson. Both Renner and Wallace-Johnson were prominent in the Gold Coast press and political organizations such as the West African Youth League and Friends of Ashanti Freedom Society.[8] Wallace-Johnson's journalistic criticism of the colonial regime in the Gold Coast especially upset the authorities. On 1 June 1936, he was arrested for violating the Sedition Act.[9] Although convicted, Wallace-Johnson only received a 50 pound fine. In March 1937 Wallace-Johnson left the Gold Coast and did not return until after Ghana had received its independence.[10] However, communism as a movement lost out to the Pan-Africanist aspirations of Nkrumah and the Convention Peoples Party during most of the first decade of independence. The 1930s in fact like in many other places represented a high point for the communist movement in West Africa.






[1] Vijay Prashad,  The Darker Nations: A People's History of the Third World (NY: The New Press, 2007), 158-159.
[2] Prashad, 160-161.
[3] Prashad, 161.
[4] Prashad, 160.
[5] Hakim Adi, “The Communist Movement in West Africa,” Science and Society, 61, no. 1 (Spring 1997): 94-96.
[6] Woodford McClellen, “Africans and Black Americans in the Comintern Schools,” The International Journal of African Historical Studies, 26, no. 2 (1993):  373-374.
[7] John D. Hargreaves, “The Comintern and Anti-Colonialism: New Research Opportunities,” African Affairs, 92, no. 367 (Apr., 1993): 258-261.
[8] Stanley Shaloff, “Press Controls and Sedition Proceedings in the Gold Coast, 1933-1939,” African Affairs, 71, no. 284 (July 1972)
[9] Shaloff, 257.
[10] Shaloff, 259-260.