Market Socialism in Africa

in Theoria

Within European debates on the left about the future of the socialist project, particularly within the United Kingdom, market socialism has been enjoying a certain vogue over the last decade. It represents one of a number of approaches that have been canvassed in pursuit of a Third Way that would steer a course between the old authoritarian, state-controlled socialism of Soviet and Eastern European practice and the untrammelled excesses of a free market capitalist approach. It has claimed some influential supporters, as well as vehement critics who aver that in surrendering to the market and the law of value market socialism vitiates its socialist credentials. But the issues raised in the European context have specific contextual characteristics. European economies and social structures are what we term developed or advanced. While large disparities of wealth exist between social strata and social classes, there is an absence of the fundamental development problems and crushing poverty that are the all too familiar features of the world of Africa. It may be suggestive therefore to consider the application of market socialism within an African setting, acknowledging that there will be a shift of emphasis. While the concerns for social justice and equality that are central to the evaluation of market socialism in a European setting naturally remain relevant in the case of Africa, there is also the question of development itself. Can market socialism be considered as a prescription for the disease of underdevelopment that continues to undermine the economies, the politics and the very life of African societies? We will begin with a review of the history and nature of market socialism before returning to this central question. In general I subscribe to the view that we should avoid dealing with “Africa” in a general way, since it ignores the need to recognize country by country differences and specifics. However, on occasion, a broad brush is useful. I believe it has utility here in a comparison and contrast between European and African experiences of socialism.

Theoria

A Journal of Social and Political Theory

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