Monday, April 15, 2024

Zambia Was Not a Socialist State and It has Never been One


By Faston Mwale

Recently, there has been a growing debate contending that the UNIP government ran a socialist state which failed and ultimately led to the ouster of the party from government. This is a popular bourgeoise narrative driven by agents of capital to counter the resurgence of socialist consciousness in Zambia and across the world. In the context of limited time and space vis-à-vis the widespread nature of the topic, I find it practically difficulty to delve into all the ramifications of the debate. Be that as it may, I will try to highlight a few salient issues that perhaps could be of help in the creation of the correct context. The very fact that socialism is openly being subjected to public discourse with much intensity than ever before is, first and foremost, a reflection of the crisis in the capitalist-imperialist mode of production, exchange and distribution. My rebuttal to the erroneous popular notions is not intended to generate unnecessary controversy but to lay ground for further ideological discourse on the same.

In the wake of the re-emergence of socialist consciousness across the world, there has been an insidious attempt from the bourgeoise world to identify the failures, the evils, the calumny, the social, economic and political maladies of the capitalist system with the noble struggle for socialism. Zambia was not and has not ever been a socialist state. The objective truth is that UNIP pursued state capitalism. Anti-apartheid activist and economist, professor Ben Turok described state capitalism as the concentration of political power in the state, the predominance of the state in the economy and the persistence of profit as the principle economic criterion in a class divided society. This characterization includes ownership relations, market relations and political relations each being an essential aspect of state capitalism. In the Zambian context, key production forces such as land, industries, banks, transport, tele-communications, energy, retail chain-stores, etc were under state ownership.

Having had the experience with the brutality, exploitation, oppression and inequality perpetrated by colonial capitalism, the first crop of African leaders rightly aspired for a more humane and just socio-economic system – socialism. In one of my write ups recently, I did allude to the fact that socialism does not arise of itself, it emerges as a response to the unjust nature of the capitalist system. The abysmal material conditions under colonial capitalism ultimately created the necessary conditions for the overthrow of colonial rule in pursuit for a better society. On the premise of socialist thought, masses were mobilized and coalesced around socialism and waged a decisive struggle against colonial rule.

The colonial masters did not underestimate the growing strength of socialism during the approaching end of colonial rule. It is worth noting that at the attainment of independence from Britain in 1964, Zambia was not only given a certificate of political independence, the exiting colonial powers dictated the economic system that Zambia should follow. They also prescribed how and where Zambia’s mineral resources should be sold at and at a price determined by them. In order to buttress the capitalist mode of production, they provided the intellectual and ideological cover for capitalism through perpetuation of Eurocentric education.

In attempting to dispense with the prescriptions of the former colonial powers, the majority of the first crop of African leaders made genuine strides to entrench socialism in their respective territories. History is replete with accounts of the consequences of this option. Dr. Kwame Nkrumah was overthrown, Thomas Sankara was toppled and assassinated while Seiko Toure of Guinea faced massive repression from France. Under the circumstances, the much envisaged genuine working class democracy failed to materialize. Scientific socialism did not fail, it did not exist.

An ideological attempt was made to humanize state capitalism through Humanism. The truth is that capitalism has no human face. In my view, this is what perhaps has been misconstrued as socialism. I stand to reject this notion on three grounds. One, socialism without the socialization of the principle means of production does not amount to socialism at all, two, humanism, misconstrued as socialism, was a utopian ideology that did not underscore class struggle and three, it lacked a radical transformative content, in other words, it lacked the revolutionary theory. So those claiming that Zambia was a socialist state should test their analyses against these key premises. At best, humanism served to manufacture a kind of a ‘consenting attitude’ of the working class to the unjust nature of the capitalist system. Humanism, to a certain extent, worked to conceal oppression, exploitation, expropriation and the yawning inequalities that had emerged under state capitalism.

Since 1891when the territory now called Zambia was first colonized by Cecil John Rhodes, Zambians have been subjected to a series of the crudest forms of capitalism. In all phases of capitalism, Zambians have resisted capitalism with enduring pain and extraordinary sacrifice. The struggle for socialism is a historical vocation. We are merely taking over from where our forefathers left. The possibility to create an egalitarian society and in which all kinds of inequalities, repression, exploitation and malice are eradicated lies within our reach. To realize this possibility, we have to wake up and get organized and fight for that which is rightfully ours together. Be wary, however, of the petty bourgeoise elements around the world who are carrying an ideological onslaught against socialism and its theoretical weaponry provided by Marxism. By slandering socialism and stigmatizing those committed to the struggle, capital is trying to extinguish the fire that illuminates the road to the liberation of the struggling masses. Masses of Zambians from all walks of life are joining the bandwagon for the struggle for justice, equity and a peaceful Zambia, a duty that must be accomplished against all odds.

The Author is the Socialist Party’s Copperbelt Provincial Spokesperson


  1. Whether Zambia was ever a Socialist state or not is a matter of ones opinion.
    But the hard fact is that Zambia will “NEVER” be a pure socialist state in the future.
    Those ideologies will remain in the political science and history text books.

  2. Socialism will never work in Zambia finito and klaar! We have to think outside the box and compete with others. Capitalism is here to stay and Socialism creates a bit of lapse in one’s mind. Chinese have drifted away from communism to capitalism and look where they are today. We need free minded people. Meanwhile PF must go!

  3. We need a political system which empowers people not that deprives them.. Meanwhile PF must go!

  4. There is no strict socialism anywhere in the world! The Chinese have admitted time and again that they are only socialist in name but are capitalists by nature.

  5. I would also paraphrase the headline as “Zambia was not and will never be a socialist state.”

    The writer starts well with an educative analysis of post-colonial Zambia but spoils it all in the last paragraph by trying to poliarize the reader into accepting a socialist ideology. As someone has rightly commented, we must be bold enough to be unorthodox – we can practise our own Zambia system which allows us to study and use workable methods from various political and economic models. Capitalism does not have to be an enemy if we know how to manage our resources and make the right investments.

  6. the problem with socialist ideologies is you you have to go down history lane. when people are making money in the current


  8. Zambia First, your language speaks of your your upbringing. Comrade M’membe is our President, whether you like it or not, he is going to be Zambia’s President come August 2021

  9. Socialism is send a major part of the developed and underdeveloped world into untold poverty.

    Will never happen in Zambia. Not even the light form of Socialism. Never.

  10. Zambia may or may not have been a socialist state . But one thing is certain today that Zambia under PF has become a failed state.

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