Friday, October 21, 2016

Marxism and African Literature
October 17, 2016
Opinion & Analysis
Lovemore Ranga Mataire
The Reader
Zimbabwe Herald

In order to appreciate the relevance of Marxism in understanding of African literature, there is need to clearly define what it is, how it manifests in African literature and its future impact on post-colonial literature in Africa. Marxism is an economic and social system based upon the political and economic theories of Karl Marx and Friedrich Angels. The Encarta Reference Library further defines Marxism as “a theory in which class struggle is a central element in the analysis of social change in Western societies”.

The basic tenets of Marxism include public ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange of the same means of distribution. Marxism believes that the oppression of men by men is as a result of unfair distribution of resources which the capitalist society is wont to sustain. Marx proclaimed that history is the chronology of class struggles, wars, and uprisings.

Marx argues that under capitalism the worker has no control over the labour or product which he produces.

He advances the view that a proletariat or worker socialist revolution must occur, where the state (the means by which the ruling class forcibly maintains rule over the other classes) is a dictatorship of the proletariat. Religion, according to Marx, was the response to the pain of being alive, the response to earthly suffering.

In “Towards a Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right”, Marx says: “Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the feeling of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless circumstances.”

Marx identified the working class or the proletariat as a true revolutionary class, universal in character and acquainted with universal suffering. Post-colonial literature in Africa has been associated with disillusionment by the people because of the new black leadership’s failure in fulfilling the liberation ideals. This disillusionment has manifested itself in fiction by writers like Kenyan Ngugi waThiong’o, Mongo Berti of Mali, Ousmane Sembene of Senegal.

Post-colonial literature is writing which has been “affected by the imperial process from the moment of colonisation to the present day”. Its main characteristics include counteracting alienation and restoring a connection between indigenous people and places through description, narration and dramatisation. It is also concerned with asserting cultural integrity and restores pride in the practices and traditions that were systematically degraded under colonialism.

Another trait associated with post-colonial literature is that it seeks to revise history from the manner in which it was depicted by colonisers as existing “outside of history” in unchanging, timeless societies, unable to progress or develop without their intervention and assistance.

Central to post-colonial African literature is its identification with peasants and the ordinary workers who are viewed as being a lower caste of the social ladder and the ones suffering under the vagaries of a capitalist system.

The literature satirises the new black leadership’s insatiable desire for the accumulation of wealth and its marriage with former colonisers or imperial forces in the continued exploitation of the ordinary people.

An appreciation and understanding of Marxism will reveal that most post-colonial writers have an inclination towards socialism or Marxism as the ideological panacea to the problems outplaying in the post-colonial environment.

Marxism thus becomes the guiding post for writers like Ngugi wa Thiong’o in “Matigari”, “Petals of Blood”, “Devil on the Cross” or “I Will Marry When I Want” and Sembene Ousmane’s” God’s Bits of Woods” in that it is the ordinary people, the peasants, workers or the proletariat who take centre stage.

The collective effort that the characters undertake in raising their consciousness and in a revolutionary spirit endeavour to change the system is synonymous with the dictates of Marxism which advocates for the ownership of the means of resources by the workers. An understanding of Marxism is therefore a prerequisite in the analysis of most post-colonial literature as most writers seem to appropriate some of its basic tenets in their fiction.

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