By Henry Kyambalesa
This article is a response to a news article titled “Socialist Party President Dr Fred M’membe Unveils Job-Creation Strategy Focused on Education, Health and Peasant Agriculture.” It is designed to provide a bird’s-eye view of the following: (a) the Uruguay Round Accord, including the agreement relating to agriculture; (b) the proposed 25% allocation to education; (c) a critique of Karl Marx’s theories; (d) widespread repudiation of socialism; (e) socialism versus human nature; (f) China and private investors; and (g) the matter of economic growth and job creation.
1. The Uruguay Round Accord
The trade negotiations of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) which fell under the “Uruguay Round” rubric were started in September 1986 in Punta del Este, Uruguay, and concluded in December 1993.
Important elements of the Uruguay Round pact include the following: (a) the GATT protocol; (b) rules of origin; (c) agreement on export subsidies; (d) agreement on technical barriers to trade; (e) the anti-dumping code; (f) import-licensing procedures; (g) agreement on trade-related aspects of investment measures (TRIMS); (h) agreement on agriculture; (i) agreement on trade-related aspects of intellectual property (TRIP); and (j) agreement on trade in services.
The GATT protocol re-affirmed the original and general objective of the GATT (hereinafter referred to as the World Trade Organization or WTO, the new name it assumed on January 1, 1995)—that is: to create an open, liberal and competitive international trading system and thereby contribute to global economic growth and development, as well as enhance prosperity and welfare worldwide.
The following is a cursory description of each of the other elements of the Uruguay Round Accord cited above:
(a) Harmonization of rules of origin so that World Trade Organization (WTO) member-countries cannot use them either to promote their national trade objectives or to deliberately imperil international trade;
(b) Removal of any and all export subsidies which are intended, or are by design likely, to disadvantage other trading nations;
(c) Redressing technical trade barriers (such as health and safety regulations, labeling requirements, government procurement policies, international agreements which are likely to lead to the emergence of international cartels, multiple exchange rates [MERs], and border taxes), taking into account the special development needs of developing nations;
(d) Preclusion of the use of dumping as a trade strategy by any of the WTO member-countries;
(e) Streamlining of import-licensing procedures that are likely to have a negative effect on the flow of commodities into a country due to their being cumbersome and time-consuming to importers;
(f) Elimination of deliberate measures aimed at promoting investments that restrict or distort international trade (such as domestic purchase requirements, limits on imports and multiple exchange rates [MERs]), and promotion of unrestrained cross-border movement of investment capital;
(g) Progressive reduction of governmental support for, and protection of, agricultural activities in order to enhance market access and competitiveness internationally, having regard for member-countries’ quest for enhanced food security and protection of the fragile environment;
(h) Effective and adequate protection of intellectual property rights, while ensuring that measures and procedures designed to protect such rights do not themselves become barriers to trade; and
(i) Enhancement of transparency in, and progressive liberalization of, trade in services (including financial services, telecommunications, air transport services, and the like), not excepting the free movement of service providers, but with regard for national measures designed to maintain national security, public safety, public order, and public morals.
It is also important to note that the WTO requires countries which are signatories to the Uruguay Round accord to ensure that foreign business entities are not subjected to any covert trade rules, regulations and practices which are likely to place them at a competitive disadvantage against domestic firms. Obviously, this also implies that governments need to discourage domestic companies from engaging in “Buy Zambian” campaigns, for example.
Zambia is a de facto and active member of the WTO and must, therefore, comply with the rules and expectations of the Organization. Unfortunately, the Socialist Party’s contemplated socioeconomic policies would be in violation of the GATT Protocol and elements (b), (c), (f), (g), and (i) cited immediately above.
With respect to “agriculture,” M’membe has pledged that “The Socialist Party will prioritize peasant agriculture [and] … will transform the sector by providing appropriate ploughs, planters, harvesters, and other necessities.”
Our beloved country can hardly afford to deliberately attract sanctions and lawsuits from other members of the WTO for violating the Organization’s rules and norms. It is, therefore, cruel and folly for M’membe and his colleagues to attempt to resurrect an archaic and failed ideology that can surely impose greater suffering on the citizenry.
If M’membe and his lieutenants wish to contribute meaningfully to Zambia’s quest for sustained socioeconomic development, they need to swallow their pride, ditch the socialist ideology and adopt the free-market ideology. Arrogance stubbornness on their part will neither improve their legacies nor expand the socioeconomic vistas of our fellow citizens.
Besides, countries worldwide have moved away from the Agricultural Revolution of yesteryear and through the Industrial Revolution to the current post-industrial society based on information and services. While all governments generally recognize the crucial role locally based agricultural production plays in the attainment of food security, there is really no wisdom in shifting much of our country’s human and financial resources to “peasant farming” and inhibit “commercial farming.”
2. Allocation to Education
The pledge that Fred M’membe and the Socialist Party would allocate 25% of Zambia’s government revenue to education is both outrageous and outlandish. What percentage of government revenue would then be allocated to the following: Public Health and Sanitation; Agriculture and Food Security; Finance and Revenue; Commerce and Industry; National Defence and Security; Home Affairs; Works, Supply and Transport; Lands and Public Housing; Culture and Community Services; Justice, Prisons and Immigration; Foreign Affairs and Tourism; Bank of Zambia; The National Assembly; Executive Agencies; Cabinet Office + OP; and Provinces + Miscellaneous?
3. Karl Marx’s Theories
The theories and propositions by Karl Marx (and Frederick Engels) are both controversial and impractical, and have attracted numerous criticisms—some of which are cited by Phil Gasper (2005:25-28). They include the following:
3.1 That he could not prescribe the structure, organs and functions of a socialist and/or communist government at local, national and/or regional levels, and that he said “comparatively little about what this alternative—‘socialism’ or ‘communism’—[would] … look like.”
3.2 That his theories have failed miserably in practice, with particular reference to the collapse of the former Soviet Union and other socialist and communist countries in Eastern Europe.
3.3 That he and Engels treated the “bourgeoisie” as if it were an organized group or class of individuals or organizations whose existence could be likened to that of labor unions, trade unions, associations of manufacturers, or chambers of commerce and industry—a seemingly unfair characterization of a group or class of discrete individuals and organizations.
3.4 That capitalism is no longer what it used to be during his time, considering the fact that governments in capitalist countries now provide for social welfare programs designed to meet the basic needs of economically vulnerable or disadvantaged members of society. Also, there is a prevalence of labor unions worldwide, which advance the interests of workers. Besides, some corporations in capitalist countries provide for stock ownership by workers. And
3.5 That his views relating to the creation of a classless society were and are not consistent with “human nature”—that is, the inherent or intrinsic dispositions and traits of human beings, which include the following: (a) liberty-seeking nature—that is, proclivity for freedom to think, choose, act, and/or acquire property without being compelled or constrained by force, social norms or necessity; and (b) self-centered nature—that is, the tendency to concentrate selfishly or egoistically on one’s own needs and affairs, and to show little or no concern for the needs and affairs of other members of society.
3.6 The rigid and unrealistic stratification of any given society into “oppressors” (or the bourgeoisie) and the “oppressed” (or the proletariat) that is presented by Engels (1906:12) and cited by Phil Gasper (2005:40) in the second paragraph of Part I of the Communist Manifesto is a misconception of reality, because some members of the “oppressors” join the “oppressed” through mismanagement of their resources and/or unpredictable misfortunes.
And, on the other hand, some members of the “oppressed” join the “oppressors” through their own ingenuity, hard work and/or merely through some sheer stroke of luck—and this is apparently a more common state of affairs.
Thus, very few countries would tolerate anyone who would demonize, stigmatize or ostracize owners of organizations developed from scratch by individual members of society through their own ingenuity, hard work and/or merely through some sheer stroke of luck by referring to them (in the Manifesto of the Communist Party) as “The ‘dangerous class,’ the social scum, that passively rotting mass” which would need to be ex-terminated from society—Marx and Engels (1906:29).
As such, there was perhaps no better reason for the governments of Germany, France and Belgium to have expelled Marx from their countries. As noted elsewhere in this article, he sought asylum in London, England, where he lived until his death in 1883.
3.7 In the Manifesto for the Communist Party, Marx and Engels (1906:20&54) agitated for the abolition of what they referred to as “bourgeois competition” and replace it with “association” because “private property [that has to be abolished] cannot be separated from competition.”
This is perhaps one of the most controversial and impractical of the propositions advanced by Marx and Engels because, in reality, competition is actually a natural element in every sphere and facet of human endeavor. And the success (or failure) of all individuals and the organizations or societies they found or belong to is essentially and generally a direct result of their ability (or inability) to compete against other individuals, organizations and/or societies.
In other words, the ability, freedom and inclination to compete are what drives and propels individuals, organizations and countries to higher levels of performance; as such, any attempt to limit or abolish competition can ultimately undermine the potential of individuals, organizations and countries to meet the basic needs and expectations of the majority of their stakeholders.
3.8 In the same Manifesto, Marx and Engels (1906:16&37) pushed for what they referred to as “the communistic abolition of free trade, and of buying and selling of commodities.”
This is also one of the most controversial and impractical of the propositions advanced by Marx and Engels mainly because trade among nations particularly is actually an important element in any given country’s quest for heightened economic and technological development, and it can benefit a country in numerous and very specific ways.
The United Nations (2015), for example, has recognized the necessity of free trade among nations in the following words: “International trade is an engine for inclusive economic growth and poverty reduction, and contributes to the promotion of sustainable development.”
Among other benefits, it can: (a) enable a country to gain access to foreign goods, services and technology; (b) be a trigger of innovation and creativity in a country’s economy; (c) function as a conduit for a country’s potential surplus; (d) be a boon for job creation; (e) be a potential and reliable source of foreign reserves for any given country; (f) lead to the realization of economies of scale and scope by a country’s business and non-business entities; (g) be a boon for peace and amicable relations among trading sovereign nations and their citizens; and (h) be more potent than foreign aid in any given country’s quest to attain desired levels of socioeconomic development.
3.9 The following constitute other obvious and problematic issues which are directly associated with the idea of adopting socialism or socialist ideals by any country:
(a) Socioeconomic ills: A deliberate conversion or transformation of any given country’s mixed socioeconomic system, pseudo free-market economy or free-market economy to an economy based on socialist ideals would require the prospective socialist government to take the following unpalatable measures: (i) impose a one-party political regime on a country by banning opposition political parties; (ii) criminalize dissent and criticism because, by their nature, single-party political regimes do not tolerate dissent and criticism; (iii) nationalize and/or expropriate privately owned companies and convert them into state-owned enterprises; (iv) abolition of private property; (v) imposition of price controls, which, as Murray Sanderson (1993:2&4) as advised, can cause and/or exacerbate commodity shortages in a country; and (vi) alteration of the perceptions and psyches or psychological make-ups of members of society on a mass scale.
(b) Bolster to corruption: State-owned companies, to paraphrase Gerry N. Muuka and Binta Abubakar (2002:16), can (and have) become vehicles for embezzlement and bribery for personal aggrandizement, often at the expense of the implementation of aid-financed projects. Besides, they can foster the development of cronyism through patronage at the highest levels of government. Moreover, they can bolster the siphoning-off of public re-sources for party, political or factional purposes, as well as trigger the packing of public enterprises with supporters of the ruling political party without regard for genuine personnel requirements.
(c) Authoritarian rule: Socialism and communism greatly depend on a national government’s authority to introduce what is referred to in Marxist-Leninist doctrine as “dictatorship of the proletariat”—that is, exercise, control and retention of political power in a country by the economic and social class consisting of workers who derive their incomes solely from the ‘sale’ of their labor to employers.
(d) Suppression of innovation: In socialist countries, constraints on the process of innovation, as Goldman and Simon (1989:7) have discerned, are ideological in nature; and since socialist ideology regards S&T knowledge as belonging to all the people in a given country, it treats such knowledge as a free good. This undervalues the knowledge and, as a result, removes the necessary incentive for creativity and innovation. And
(e) Abolition of religion: Ordinarily, implementation of socialist and/or communist ideals would require a denunciation of all forms of religious worship and beliefs (including beliefs and worship associated with Islam, Judaism, Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism, and the Bahá’í Faith) in consonance with one of Karl Marx’s goals of abolishing religion because he regarded it as a source of illusory happiness among believers and worshippers as implied by the following declaration attributed to him: “Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.”
Nevertheless, religion somewhat provides explanations of situations, events and/or phenomena relating to human experiences or conditions which are not easy to understand or explain. For example, humanity is yet to ascertain, unravel or explain the origins and wonders of the Heavens and the Earth, the origins and intricacies of life and the possibility of life after death beyond reasonable doubt. Did the Sun, for example, come about by means of blind forces, by chance, or through intelligent design? And what exactly lies beyond what we can see above us with our naked eyes, and with telescopes?
4. Repudiation of Socialism
Three historical events signaled the end or rejection of socialism and communism as alternatives to the market-based socioeconomic system in the world’s quest to improve humanity’s socioeconomic vistas; that is:
(a) The worldwide quest for economic liberalization over the last 40 or so years by countries which have had socialist or communist national economies.
(b) The introduction of “perestroika” and “glasnost” in the former Union of Soviets Socialist Republics (USSR) by the Mikhail Gorbachev administration in 1987, and the eventual break-up of the USSR on December 26, 1991. And
(c) The dismantling of the Berlin Wall, which separated communist East Germany (that was under the tutelage of the former Soviet Union) and capitalist West Germany, in November 1989 and eventual reunification of the two countries into a united and capitalist Germany upon the signing of a reunification treaty on August 31, 1990.
The term “perestroika” refers to the profound reorganization or restructuring of the system of centralized planning and management of the entire economy of the former Soviet Union initiated by Mikhail Gorbachev (then leader of the Soviet Union) during the late 1980s.
Linked to “perestroika” was “khozrachot”—a concept or principle that provided for the following: (a) gradual elimination of subsidies, price controls and foreign exchange controls; and (b) conversion of state-owned and state-controlled monopolistic enterprises into competitive and independently operated business entities.
“Glasnost” refers to the concept of openness introduced in the former Soviet Union in 1987 by Mikhail Gorbachev, which provided for a general relaxation of constraints on freedom of speech in the USSR. As noted by Hall and Kirk (2002:778), “Perestroika” and “khozrachot” were also introduced during the same year.
5. Socialism v. Human Nature
In early February 2019 during a State of the Union Address, then U.S. President, Mr. Donald J. Trump, warned about what he perceived to be the emergence of incessant calls to introduce socialism in the United States of America.
The warning was apparently evoked by some Democrats in the U.S. Congress who have been espousing popular policies—including Medicare for all, tuition-free education at public colleges and universities, tax hikes on wealthy citizens and residents, and the New Green Deal.
Later during the same month, he was reported by Fishbein (2019) and Rodrigo (2019), for example, as having reiterated the warning in a speech he delivered in Miami, Florida, in the following words:
“Socialism is a sad and discredited ideology rooted in the total ignorance of history and human nature. [Here] … in the United States, we are alarmed by new calls to adopt socialism in our country. America was founded on liberty and in-dependence—not government coercion, domination and control.”
In the remainder of this section, an attempt is made to tender a set of what may be said to be salient traits of “human nature” and determine whether or not the traits of human nature are consistent with socialist ideals or beliefs.
5.1 Salient Traits of Human Nature: The term “human nature” is used in this article to refer to the inherent or intrinsic dispositions and traits of human beings, which include the following:
(a) A sense of belonging: An inclination to seek to be a member of a community of humans and to live as an accepted member of the community rather than live in solitude;
(b) Fairness-seeking nature: An inherent propensity to expect to be treated fairly as an important, vital and unique member of one’s community, and to be rewarded and/or recognized accordingly for one’s distinctive work in the community;
(c) Liberty-seeking nature: Proclivity for freedom to think, choose, act, and/or acquire property without being compelled or constrained by force, social norms or necessity;
(d) Pleasure-seeking nature: An inclination for the pursuit of leisure, happiness and/or relaxation;
(e) Self-centered nature: The tendency to concentrate selfishly or egoistically on one’s own needs and affairs, and to show little or no concern for the needs and affairs of other people; and
(f) The survival instinct: The impulse to be alive and to exist, especially in the light of life-threatening circumstances obtaining in one’s environment, and to avoid activities or situations which have the potential to cause or inflict pain.
5.2 Consistency with Human Nature: Let us now determine whether the ideology of socialism would be consistent with any of the traits of “human nature.” Firstly, socialism—which would require the forfeiture of privately owned factors or means of production and distribution—would not be consistent with the “liberty-seeking nature” of humans that seeks the freedom to think, choose, act, and/or acquire property without being compelled or constrained by force, social norms or necessity.
Secondly, the possibility of being compelled to jointly own and manage the means or factors of production and distribution that would be converted from private ownership to public ownership would be inconsistent with the “selfish,” “egoistic” or “self-centered” nature of humans.
And, thirdly, the provision of public goods (such as mass transit, healthcare and retirement benefits) and the subsequent prevention of the operations of private providers would also be inconsistent with the “liberty-seeking nature” of humans by which individuals seek the freedom to think, choose, act, and/or acquire property without being compelled or constrained by force, social norms or necessity.
However, the creation of a society where income and wealth inequalities are minimal is consistent with the “fairness-seeking nature” of humans.
In general, therefore, the ideology of socialism is not consistent with “human nature.”
6. China and Private Investors
Socialist ideologues worldwide are likely to point to China as an excellent example of a socialist / communist country whose economic outputs have continued to flood the entire world unlike any other country in modern history. In this regard, News China (2019:1) in an editorial has summed up the actual reason for the country’s economic success in the following words:
“China’s economic success in the past decades has been established on the premise of a liberalized and vital private sector.” And “Chinese President Xi Jinping affirmed in a meeting on November 1  that the [Chinese] government will support the private sector to become bigger and stronger.”
Also, the following quote excerpted from the South China Morning Post highlights the country’s yearning for foreign private investment: “[Former] … Premier Li Keqiang said China will make greater efforts to attract and utilize foreign capital, by expanding market access to foreign investors, especially in the modern service sector.”
In fact, it is not enough to consider a country’s progress only in terms of its economic outputs. Other considerations include the rights and freedoms exercised by citizens of multi-party and democratic systems of government worldwide—rights and freedoms which are not catered for in socialist and communist countries like China.
News China (2023:1) has perhaps provided a more succinct assessment of the private sector’s contribution to China’s remarkable economic performance in an editorial in the following words:
“The importance of the private sector [in China] has long been recognized and is dubbed ‘56789,’ an allusion to the private sector’s contribution [amounting to] … 50 percent of the country’s tax revenue, 60 percent of national GDP, 70 percent of technological innovations, and 80 percent of urban jobs, with private firms accounting for 90 percent of all enterprises.”
Private investors in the Chinese economy include indigenous capitalists and investors from a wide range of countries, including Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the United States of America.
7. Jobs and Economic Growth
Zambia needs a robust and competitive private sector if it is to attain meaningful economic growth and development and to create adequate jobs for citizens who are currently roaming the streets due to the persistent lack of employment opportunities. “Peasant farming” cannot be the primary engine for generating jobs in the Zambian economy, as insinuated or suggested by Fred M’membe. Such a myopic experiment failed miserably in the former Soviet Union.
In this regard, government leaders have tended to place a great deal of emphasis on stabilizing inflation at the expense of job creation and economic growth. There is a need to reverse this trend by placing greater emphasis on job creation and economic growth through low interest rates and progressive reductions in taxes in order to stimulate both investment and consumption.
What any given national government needs in its quest to uplift the standard of living of the majority of its people is neither socialism and its utopian ideals nor crude capitalism and its zealous quest for profit maximization; rather, it needs to strive to create what is referred to as the “social welfare state”—that is, a country that provides for a dynamic free-market economy which essentially has a human face.
More precisely, a “social welfare state” is a country whose government simultaneously provides for a highly competitive business system—which can be realized through various kinds of guarantees, inducements and essential public services and facilities designed to lavishly incentivize both local and foreign private investors—and an effective mechanism for re-distributing wealth to the needy.
In other words, a “social welfare state” is any country whose government is dedicated to diligently and simultaneously pursue pro-business, pro-labor and pro-poor policies.
Countries which have succeeded in meeting the basic needs and aspirations of the majority of their people—such as Finland, Australia, the United States of America, Japan, Canada, Luxembourg, Norway, Switzerland, Sweden, Denmark, Ireland, the Netherlands (Holland), and Germany—are essentially social welfare states!
When German philosophers Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels released “The Communist Manifesto” (originally referred to as the “Manifesto of the Communist Party”) in February 1848, the economies of Western Europe were predominantly administered through crude capitalism.
Perhaps this explains why some portions of The Communist Manifesto, as Samuel Moore (2019) has noted, feature “their ideas on how capitalist societies of the time would eventually be replaced by socialism.”
Incidentally, Germany today has a market-based economy in spite of the fact that it is the birthplace of Marxism. And Karl Marx was banished from Germany and had to seek lifelong refuge in London, where he died in 1883 despite having been denied British citizenship, perhaps due to his outlandish views.
In fact, one may even wonder whether the socioeconomic conditions that existed in Western Europe at the time when Marx and Engels were propounding, expounding and articulating their theories actually exist in modern African countries or elsewhere in the world.
Ultimately, the revolutionary transition of capitalism to socialism and, finally, to communism that Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels envisioned will apparently never come to fruition due to the emergence of welfare capitalism and the social welfare state.
In any given country’s quest to improve the livelihoods of the majority of its people, therefore, it is perhaps essential for government leaders to keep in mind the following caveat provided by the late F. W. de Klerk (1993:16) regarding the pursuit of socioeconomic development:
“The reality is that the economy does not grow from political slogans … [basic] requirements for economic growth [and development] are peace and stability, free enterprise, imaginative entrepreneurship, efficient and frugal government, innovative and caring management, a well-educated and motivated work force, and a lot of hard work.”