Approaches to the analysis of Tanzanian Socialism: A Review of:

John Hatch, Two African 5tatesmen – Kaunda of Zambia and Nyerere of Tanzania, Secker and Warburg, London, 1976, 6 pounds.

Cranford Pratt, The critical phase in Tanzania. 1945 – 1968. Nyerere and the emergence of a socialist strategy, Cambridge, 1976, 7 pounds 50.

Issa G Shivji, Class Struggles in Tanzania, Heinemann, London, 1976, 4 pounds 50.

These three books, published within months of each other, provide three strikingly different ways of looking at the socialism of contemporary Tanzania. John Hatch approaches Tanzanian socialism by means of biography. In his view the socialist ideology in Tanzania is the product of Julius Nyerere’s role as ‘philosopher king’, and in order to understand the ideology one has to understand Nyerere’s origins, education and experience and the character which they have shaped.

Cranford Pratt, by contrast, approaches Tanzanian socialism by means of political history. He sees developments of thought in Tanzania as ‘to a remarkable extent the work of one man’. But he sees as the crucial determinant of Nyerere’s own responses the particulars of post-independence politics. In Pratt’s eyes it is a matter of the choice between ‘political strategies’ and he traces the development of a socialist programme by means of a detailed narrative account of political events.

Issa Shivji, finally, approaches Tanzanian socialism by means of class analysis and the theory of class war. He cites with approval Carr’s belief that ‘the facts of history are indeed facts about individuals, but not about the actions of individuals performed in isolation, and not about the motives, real or imaginary, from which individuals suppose themselves to have acted. They are facts about the relations of individuals to one another in society and about the social forces which produce from the actions of individuals results often at variance with and sometimes opposite to the results which they themselves intended(1). His book is intended to constitute ‘a fundamental break’ with the emphasis on ‘the committment of individuals’. Accordingly Nyerere is hardly discussed; no biographical data is given: he is cited occasionally merely as representative of the regime and of his ‘class’. Nor is a detailed political narrative given. The policies pursued by Nyerere’s government are seen as resulting from its perception of its class interest.

These three contrasting approaches result in, or perhaps imply from the beginning, three equally contrasting judgements of the reality and success of Tanzanian socialism. Hatch’s book is written in almost hagiographic style, seeking to present a new and saving doctrine to a vexed world. For him the personal achievements of Nyerere’s life are inseperable from the achievements of Tanzanian socialism. Nyerere is ‘the most radical socialist leader in the world’, and his ideas will ‘profoundly influence the development of society in Africa, ideas in the third world and perhaps the future of human society’.

Cranford Pratt is more cautious. If Hatch echoes the high aspirations and hopes of the immediate independence period, Pratt echoes the more sombre realisation of the continuing poverty of Tanzania and of the ambiguities within its ruling party. For him Tanzanian socialism is a ‘political strategy’ in the process of working itself out: faced with great and continuing difficulties; making many mistakes: but nevertheless a genuine and valid option, striking more or less the right balance between the thrust to equality, the need for efficiency and the desire for participation.

Issa Shivji sees current Tanzanian socialism as an ideological cover for the interests of the ruling class, the ‘bureaucratic bourgeoisie’. They have used its slogans to validate their dominance of economic resources through nationalisation; their destruction of the rival commercial bourgeoisie; and their undermining of the kulak class in the countryside. In this clearing of the board they have served a progressive function, and their use of the slogans of socialism has allowed a more radical debate to begin. But Shivji believes that the progressive function of current Tanzanian socialism has ended. Today the conflict of interests between the bureaucratic elite on the one hand and the workers and peasants on the other has become obvious: class war between them will result in a genuine socialism.

The three books abound in explicit and implicit condemnation and contradiction of each other. Shivji attacks the ‘liberal academics who would only want to see celebration of the so-called Tanzanian experiment’. He writes of ‘an intellectual climate where celebration and occasional criticism, rather than consistent explanation,• are the order of the day’. There is little doubt that 5hivji would regard Hatch as a celebrator; Pratt as an occasional critic; while he seeks himself to provide consistent explanation. Hatch does not mention 5hivji – nor indeed any recent academic work – but he makes it plain that he does not agree with the assumptions of the left criticism. ‘In Tanganyika’, he writes of the period just after independence, ‘there were no classes’. As for Pratt, he is familiar with the earlier work of Shivji and very much concerned explicitly to refute it.

Hatch’s book seems to me to be unconvincing on contemporary Tanzania. It offers an interesting account of the odd combination of intellectual influences operating on Nyerere under colonialism. It balances the stereotyped and appalling image of African leadership associated with General Amin by presenting an attractive and persuasive counter picture of Nyerere as ‘philosopher king’. But the tone of the book is too unconditionally approving. At a time when Tanzania faces severe economic crisis; when her domestic policy is under sustained attack from radical intellectuals both inside and outside the territory; when her policy towards southern Africa is under attack from elements in the liberation movements; it does not serve merely to ignore these difficulties and this criticism. Both have to be met.

Hatch was close to Nyerere in the years leading up to independence, as he reminds us in his book. But it is perhaps significant that it is Pratt, with his much less celebratory approach, who has recently been much closer to the Tanzanian situation and to Nyerere’s own thinking about it. Pratt is of course very much his own man and his book is in no sense an ‘authorised’ account. But it does reflect the facts and the moods as they are seen and expressed in Dar es Salaam. It is an attempt to produce a consistent explanation in contrast to the radical consistencies of Shivji. Hence to read these two books is to enter into a debate which is going on in Dar es Salaam and among academic Tanzanianists elsewhere; a debate which is sometimes artificial and abstruse but which is essentially relevant to the present and future of Tanzania.

Within the confines of this Bulletin it is not possible to do more than to sketch the outline of Shivji’s critique and Pratt’s reply to it, but it may be useful at anyone to do that.

Shivji focusses on some of the most celebrated achievements of Nyerere’s government and interprets them in different and disconcerting ways. Many commentators have regarded Nyerere’s victory over the ‘racialists’ in TANU as opening the way for a socialist option; still more commentators have regarded the Arusha Declaration as heralding a break through to a socialist austerity, equality and self-reliance. Shivji does not see these episodes as landmarks on the road to a true socialism. He sees them instead as landmarks in the victory of what he calls the bureaucratic bourgeoisie, a new class which has successfully employed the slogans first of liberalism and then of socialism to entrench themselves in power and to undermine their rivals. How can such a case be argued?

5hivji begins with an analysis of the various classes and their interests in the last stages of colonialism. These classes had been called into existence by the needs of the colonial economy, which had extracted a surplus from Tanzanian agricultural production for the benefit of the metropolitan bourgeoisie, who were absent from Tanzania but nevertheless securely at the top of its hierarchy of classes. Below them came a series of classes necessary in one way or another to the functioning of the system. Most prosperous was what 5hivji calls the ‘commercial bourgeoisie’, whose role it was to cream off the agricultural surplus through trading operations and who were also allowed to accumulate some capital locally. The existence of this class as a class has been obscured, Shivji argues, by the fact that it was ethnically distinct. The commercial bourgeoisie consisted of Asian entrepreneurs, professional men and business men. Partly for this reason and partly because it profited from the colonial system this local bourgeoisie offered no challenge to colonialism.

Other classes called into existence by colonialism were less contented. Shivji distinguishes four broad classes – the petty bourgeoisie, the kulak farmers of the rural areas, the workers and the peasants. The petty bourgeoisie was a varied grouping of educated, trained and entrepreneurial Africans – teachers, clerks, traders, ‘intellectuals’, men serving in the police and army. The kulak class was made up of successful cash crop farmers who employed paid labour. The mass of the population had been defined as workers or peasants by the pressures of colonialism. All these groups were discontented with latterday colonialism; the workers and peasants because of low cash rewards and demands for increased output; the kulaks because of the authoritarian and limiting control ‘ over agricultural production; the petty bourgeoisie because traders resented the privileged position of the Asian commercial bourgeoisie and other elements wanted political and economic power.

Ordinarily, says Shivji, a petty bourgeoisie is not destined to play a significant role in history nor to acquire power in the state. But this petty bourgeoisie was compelled to oppose the c610nial state because it could not overthrow the commercial bourgeoisie without also overthrowing the state which supported them. This petty bourgeoisie was also bound to take command of the movement for independence. The kulak class was too small to be able to do so; so also were the working class. So the independence movement arose out of a conjunction of interest between the petty bourgeoisie and the broad mass of the people. The independence movement took on an ideological character appropriate to these origins. It was nationalist rather than radical; the workers were not thought of as a crucial element and there was no proletarian ideological influence; in so far as TANU was thought of as a peasant party this came to mean the employment of the sheer weigh~ of the peasants in a non-violent pressure on the colonial state, before which it succumbed.

Shivji remarks that to a limited extent this movement served a progressive role, but from his point of view it was already severely flawed. The petty bourgeoisie had very limited economic ambitions; they wished to overthrow the Asian commercial bourgeoisie but they had no wish to break away from Tanzania’s subordinate role in the world capitalist system; they had neither the means nor the consciousness to play the historical role of national bourgeoisies in Europe. The peasants could not introduce into the party any revolutionary element, since Shivji declares that a peasantry can only be revolutionised through the use of proletarian ideology.

Hence politics after independence was bound to be limited to the working out of the interests of the different elements of the petty bourgeoisie. Now, the traders had played a particularly important role in TANU. After independence they and others looked for a rapid Africanisation of commercial opportunity. But, so Shivji asserts, the traders and other African entrepreneurs were not nearly so prosperous or influential as such groups were in Kenya. In Tanzania the real power fell into the hands of the intellectuals and managerial petty bourgeoisie who gained control of the machinery of the state. These men chose another strategy – namely to undercut the commercial bourgeoisie, and to a lesser extent the kulaks, by use of the power of the state. In such a situation they could do so while at the same time appearing to be above class struggle and acting in the national interest and with a liberal ideology. In this way Shivji sees the defeat of the ‘racialists’ as a victory for one element in the petty bourgeoisie over another.

The victorious element was the basis of the new bureaucratic bourgeoisie, keepers of the national conscience, denouncers of private entrepreneurial ambition, trade union selfishness, etc. Shivji sees the Arusha Declaration as the master-stroke of this class. And here it is necessary to quote:

‘While the members of the bureaucratic bourgeoisie had made some inroads into the economy, they had not been successful in developing a substantial economic base. This could not go on. The only alternative, both for further struggle against the commercial bourgeoisie and for further penetration of the economy was state intervention … It was thus that the Arusha Declaration was born in 1967. It marked the end of one phase of struggle between the petty bourgeoisie and the commercial bourgeoisie and the beginning of the second, probably the decisive stage. It also marked an important historical turning point in the development of the “bureaucratic bourgeoisie … Moreover, by using the rhetoric of socialism it marked the beginnings of debate and discussion of the proletarian ideology as well.’

To Shivji, then, ‘the Arusha nationalisations constituted the first open attempt on the part of the bureaucratic sector of the petty bourgeoisie to carve out an economic base for itself’. As for the leadership code, which other commentators have interpreted as an attempt to prevent the rise of a privileged bureaucracy, Shivji remarks that ‘the code was the first act of class self-restraint imposed on the individual members of the class in the long-term interests of the class as a whole’. ‘Individual members of the class cannot be allowed to accumulate’, he writes later, ‘because it is the function of the state to accumulate on behalf of the class as a whole’.

Shivji makes a similar analysis of the other Arusha policies. ‘The very policy of Ujamaa Vijijini reflects its petty bourgeois class character … (its) objective effect … is to integrate the non-monetarised sector within the cash economy (and) this means integration within the world capitalist system’. ‘The implicit aim of the whole strategy is to raise production for the world market … The policy paper says hardly anything about a programme for simultaneous industrial development … but then the production of agriculture as the dominant economic sector and the peasantry as the numerically dominant class is precisely one of the most marked characteristics of underdevelopment’.

Thus Shivji sees ‘Socialism and Rural Development’ as showing ‘a complete lack of understanding of capitalism as a system’. In fact Nyerere’s policy is carrying out the historic mission of integrating Tanzanian cultivators more fully into the world capitalist system than the colonial state was able to do. In domestic terms, the policy is an attempt to continue the alliance which brought about independence. The peasantry, firmly under the control of the bureaucratic-elite, are to provide the mass base. The bureaucratic elite, says Shivji; have a horror and fear of an industrial working class and hence have no plans for industrialisation.

Plainly he does not see this collection of policies as socialist in any true sense. However, he sees a series of developments since the Arusha Declaration as clearing the way for a further class struggle which may bring about a truer socialism. The immediate aftermath saw the attempted resistance to the Arusha policies born by the commercial bourgeoisie and by the other elements of the petty bourgeoisie. This resistance has been in effect defeated. Hence there has been a clearing of the ground. ‘The very class struggle between the petty bourgeoisie (led by the bureaucratic bourgeoisie) and the commercial bourgeoisie was not only inevitable but historically necessary a such as political independence was necessary for the conduct of this class struggle. In a way, this struggle is helping to clear the way for further struggles unencumbered by the obfuscation of the racial divisions The most important role played by the bureaucratic bourgeoisie has been in the sphere of ideology. The vigorous “anti-imperialism” and support for the liberation movements have had their effects on the internal dynamics of the country … Thirdly, the historical necessity for expanding the public sector through the Arusha Declaration put socialism on the agenda for the first time in a concrete way. Discussion and debates about socialism are bound to contribute to t he consciousness of the people.’ But ‘whatever progressive role this class may have played politically at a particular juncture, it is being fast exhausted as the contradictions with the exploited classes, the workers and peasants, intensify’.

Shivji in fact detects in Tanzania since 1967 ‘the beginnings of proletarian class struggle’. He does not argue, of course, that there is yet a large or clearly defined proletariat. But he emphasises strongly the key role that can be played by proletarian ideas emanating from a radical working class, however small. He argues that there has been plenty of evidence of the” development of such a proletarian consciousness in the worker take-avers of factories, just as there has been plenty of evidence of a bureaucratic backlash.

Now here Shivji has some more re-interpreting to do. The workers were acting in terms of the Mwongozo document, which after all was promulgated by TANU and which some have interpreted as evidence of Nyerere’s desire to ensure participation rather than bureaucratic dominance. Shivji sees this pronouncement as forced upon the government because of its fear that the ‘right wing’ opposition from the defeated elements of the petty bourgeoisie and the commercial bourgeoisie might gain foreign support. The government needed to appeal for popular support and thus gave an opening for worker assertion. But ‘Mwongozo acted like a vehicle to carry the contradiction between the workers and the bureaucratic bourgeoisie to the fore. Immediately following … there was a spate of workers’ strikes’. Shivji’s account of these ‘post-Mwongozo proletarian struggles’ is in many ways the most interesting part of the book, but this already long summary must be brought to a close.

Shivji concludes: ‘The fundamental contradiction between the exploiter and the exploited … is going to be the dominant one henceforth. True, the workers’ struggles we have described have been sporadic and not necessarily couched in conscious class ideology. The reaction of the workers has been more a consequence of their class instinct, rather than because of definite class consciousness. But class consciousness does not come spontaneously. It is the role of proletarian ideology to develop class instinct into class consciousness. Meanwhile the workers have definitely declared that the stage of history in which they were used as cannon fodder in the intra-petty bourgeois struggles to be fast coming to an end. This time it will be their own struggles – their own class war – and the struggle of their fellow exploited class, the poor peasants, that they will fight, not to replace one exploiter with another but’ to begin to replace the very system of exploitation’.

How does Pratt respond to this analysis of Tanzanian socialism? In essence he does so by allowing that a development on the lines suggested by Shivji might perhaps eventually have taken place in Tanzania but that the policies of the Arusha Declaration and of Mwongozo have been successfully launched specifically to halt such a development before it becomes dangerous. Before the Arusha Declaration Pratt gives away a good many of the points made by Nyerere’s critics. Yes, he agrees that Nyerere was at first happy enough to continue with British development policies, or lack of them. Yes, he agrees that there was drift and lack of decision up to 1967. Yes, in some ways Tanzania in those years was a classic neo-colonial state. But for Pratt none of this had the inevitability of the working out of the imperatives of international capitalism or of the class war. The pressures upon Tanzania from outside were not so great that it was impossible for the Tanzanian government to choose its own policy of internal socialism, however unpopular it might be with the capitalist world. The rise of a Tanzanian bureaucracy had not hardened into a class. There was time to change. And for Pratt, the Arusha Declaration was a real change; the announcement of a genuine, progressive and valid Tanzanian route to socialism. Two passages in Pratt’s account merit quotation as a direct riposte to the 5hivji-style analysis, though it must be said that these are in a way incidental to Pratt’s own narrative purpose.

‘By 1967 there was real class stratification within Tanzanian society. The Tanzanian government was hardly a government of working people and Peasants. It was a government of ‘politicians and civil servants whose incomes … were vastly higher than the incomes earned by ordinary Tanzanians. Some commentators have seized upon these facts as being of central importance to an understanding of the politics of independent Tanzania. They identify the new civil service in particular as the new class enemy of the workers and peasants of Tanzania … Arguments of this sort are oversimplified and unrealistic. In the period under study the African bureaucracy and the political leaders in Tanzania had not become a narrowly selfish oligarchy. They were not primarily concerned with the advancement of narrow class interests. There was, for instance, no upward revision of the salary scales for middle and upper civil servants after 1961 despite the steady rise in the cost of living. A continuing nationalist commitment, sustained professional standards, democratic pressures from within TANU, the leadership of Nyerere and the comparative weakness still of this elite as a socio-economic class all checked with the emergence of a crass and self seeking oligarchic rule … The politicians and civil servants were still able to respond to a variety of professional, national, democratic and ideological considerations and motives.’

So Pratt concludes that in 1967 the bureaucrats ‘were not using the instruments of power in any serious or sustained way to perpetuate themselves as a ruling class’. Yet ‘nevertheless, they did constitute an economic elite with aspirations, with a standard of living and with a style of life which set them apart from their ordinary fellow Tanzanians’ . It was for this reason that the Arusha Declaration was essential. Pratt takes very seriously its professions of austerity and egalitarianism. He stresses that the ruling elite was open enough to accept them. Pratt discusses the view that ‘Nyerere ought rapidly and thoroughly to have subdued the “politico-bureaucratic bourgeoisie” or indeed even to have replaced it by appealing to the workers and peasants. He shows that Nyerere rejected this advice as ‘adventurism’, determined ‘to advocate that Tanzania advance as a united society towards socialism’. The bureaucracy could be won for socialist values; socialism needed their efficiency. ‘This strategy involves an effort to walk a narrow path between a too vigorous equalising policy which would undermine morale and produce declining efficiency if not more forthright obstruction, and a too timid policy which might result in an entrenched and self-perpetuating new political and bureaucratic class.’

In Pratt’s eyes the narrow path has been successfully walked in this and other ways. In the second passage which merits long citation he writes:

‘Marxist commentators tend to identify the bureaucracy as the source of the major threat to the achievement of socialism in Tanzania … This study would seem to suggest that there are two continuing threats to a successful transition to socialism in Tanzania which, though more traditional sounding and less sophisticated in conception, are nevertheless at least as serious as any that may emerge from the bureaucracy. The first of these is the tendency to authoritarian rule that still persists in the middle and senior ranks of TANU … The second is the threat of economic and administrative failures of such an extent as finally to alienate mass support … These variations in the judgement of commentators about the main threats to Tanzanian socialism are, unfortunately, not merely of academic consequence. They lead to different and in part contradictory policy recommendations. Marxists emphasise the need for a vanguard party and the liberate intensification of mass antagonisms towards the bureaucracy and the successful peasant farmer. These two recommendations, if pursued, might well help to check the emergence of a bureaucratic bourgeoisie but they would also be likely to increase the risk of authoritarian rule and of serious economic and governmental failures. A parallel point is equally .valid. The policy recommendations which are implicit in the identification of authoritarian rule and governmental and economic failure as the immediate major threats are, if implemented, likely to increase the risk of the entrenchment of the bureaucracy as a ruling class …

The strategy for the transition to socialism which emerged after 1967 cannot be dismissed as an intriguing mutation, an odd and unique consequence of the particular set of intellectual and ethical influence~ which shaped Nyerere’s political values. The emphasis in that strategy on equality, on self reliance, on-democracy and on a unity which includes the bureaucrat and the cash crop farmer rather than on a unity which is sought in opposition to them, entails an effort to hold in check all three of the central threats to the success of Tanzania’s transition to socialism … It is thus fair to suggest that however difficult and precarious its pursuit, the strategy for the transition to socialism which was initially largely shaped by Nyerere, was a subtle and realistic response to the complex set of challenges which face Tanzanian society.’


I have sought in this review to present readers with an abbreviated introduction to the debate between 5hivji and Pratt, rather than to seek to conclude between them. It is necessary to say that both books have weaknesses. Shivji’s is often longer on assertion than it is on evidence; he sometimes descends to the impressionism of the untrained observer, and there is a great need for some firm statistical evidence. Moreover, one cannot help but find the rapidity of the working out of the various stages of the class war a little unconvincing. Pratt also sometimes allows his hopes to overcome his scepticism. Shivji hopes for a militant and conscious working class and on the basis of that hope really rather than the basis of the evidence predicts it. Pratt hop~ that Nyerere remains committed to a participatory socialism into which people grow by persuasion , and on the basis of that hope he rather unconvincingly dismisses the recent enforcement of villagisation as ‘nationalist coercion’ rather than ‘socialist coercion’. Maybe it is even true that the technique adopted by each author – assertion rather than demonstration of class identities by Shivji, political narrative by Pratt – is by definition incapable of demonstrating the truth of their analysis: But the books are both important and the discussion initiated by Shivji is evidently regarded as sufficiently vital inside Tanzania for his book to be distributed there by the official Tanzanian Publishing House. Members of the Society might perhaps give John Hatch to a friend worried that Africa is descending into barbarism or that Tanzania is a puppet of the Chinese; but they should perhaps buy or borrow and read Pratt and Shivji for themselves.

Terence Ranger

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