In the late nineteenth century, the European powers abandoned the concept of informal empire and partitioned Africa into a number of colonial states. This political domination enabled the metropolitan governments to draw Africa ever more firmly into the orbit of the global economy, and the continent increasingly became an exporter of raw materials and mineral commodities to the industrial centers. The need for black labor to work in these industries rose accordingly. As a result, during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the colonial authorities pushed large numbers of Africans into the wage labor market.
The consequences of African participation in wage labor have been a matter of considerable debate. Certain similarities between the attitudes and behavior of European and African workers, particularly the forms of labor protest and the phases of their development, suggest parallels with the development of the working class in Europe. However, some important differences occurred as well. For one, colonial workers rarely became fully proletarianized because colonial officials and employers fostered a migrant labor system which placed much of the cost of labor reproduction on Africans in the rural areas. Racial divisions in the labor force, the dominance of foreign capital, and the nature of the colonial state also contrasted with conditions in the industrial nations.
Because of these differences, some scholars deny the relevance of class analysis for the African context. They argue that economic divisions in Africa are still blurred by ethnic and racial divisions which make class terminology premature. Such scholars prefer social and cultural pluralism, elites, or “situational selection” and network theory.1 Other scholars, who accept the existence of African workers, insist that labor’s ties to the land make comparisons with workers in the developed world misleading, and that “labor migration . . . delays the process of consolidating Africans into a class-conscious proletariat.”2 These approaches have a number of problems, but what they ignore most of all is the process of class formation over time.
Recently scholars have begun to use class analysis for examining wage labor in colonial and post-colonial Africa.3 Although the importance of political and ideological factors in class identity/determination remains in dispute,4 these scholars generally agree that the class experience and thus the source of class consciousness and class action is “largely determined by the productive relations in which men are born—or enter voluntarily,” and that participation in the capitalist mode of production tends to create an awareness of common interests and class opposition among workers.5 The resulting attitudes (consciousness) and behavior, however, vary with the nature of the class struggle in a given social formation over a period of time. This approach assumes worker consciousness and action in any given situation and period must be analyzed in relation to the specific social and historical circumstances in which they are situated and out of which they emerge, rather than in terms of some abstract linear evolutionary theme.6
This study seeks to show the relevance of class analysis for understanding the development of attitudes and behavior among the African mineworkers on the Northern Rhodesian Copperbelt during the colonial period. In this respect, it differs from a considerable and important body of literature on the Zambian miners, which focuses on government, corporate, and traditional African institutions to explain worker behavior.7 It asserts that the attitudes and behavior of the copper miners are best understood as a form of class consciousness and class action. By analyzing the objective interests of the different occupational groups on the mines, and the manner in which these interests are perceived and acted upon in the colonial period, it avoids economic reductionism,8 extends understanding of the constraints operating for or against the development of class consciousness and class action on the Copperbelt, and provides one more case study examining the link between class structure and behavior.
This is a study of black miners on the Copperbelt. It examines the interrelationship between management strategies, the work process, living conditions, and worker responses in the Northern Rhodesian copper industry during the colonial period. The emphasis is on process, on the manner in which mineworkers recognized shared economic concerns within a new social formation, and their willingness to act together in defense of class interests. Broader political and class allegiances are only examined as they relate to this setting.
CLASS, CONSCIOUSNESS, AND ACTION
As is well known, Marx’s prediction of proletarian revolution has rarely been realized. Workers in the industrialized nations have generally been content to negotiate short-term gains within the capitalist system, rather than challenge the system as a whole. Marxist theorists have created a number of explanations for this deviation or “false consciousness.”9 One group of workers has been singled out for its lack of revolutionary zeal—the highly skilled stratum or “aristocracy” of labor. Marx and Engels located much of British proletarian apathy in this stratum of the work force. Lenin placed all workers in the developed world in this category, and concluded that only a revolutionary political party could move them beyond mere trade union consciousness.10 Gramsci, on the other hand, stressed the role of ideology in the formation of class consciousness and class action. The dominant or hegemonic class uses a variety of mechanisms, particularly religious and educational institutions, to impose its vision on society as a whole. Like Lenin, Gramsci believed an alternative vision of society would only develop among the subordinate, or corporate, classes under the leadership of a revolutionary elite, although not necessarily political activists. Unlike Lenin, Gramsci saw consciousness as largely rooted in production, and held that “the economic base sets, in a strict manner, the range of possible outcomes, but free political and ideological activity is ultimately decisive in determining what alternatives prevail.”11
There are a number of problems with these approaches. The labor aristocracy thesis assumes structural class position defines behavior. While class identification is important, it is clearly not the sole determinant of the class experience. Recent studies emphasize the fluidity of worker consciousness and the basic working-class orientation of the “labor aristocrats.”12 When examining working-class elites, the connection between behavior and class structure has to be the question, not the answer. Ideology and political factors influence class behavior as well. The question at issue is the relative importance of political, ideological, and economic factors on the class experience. A deterministic emphasis on ideology leads back to an Hegelian interpretation of history, while focusing on politics reduces the impact of the relations of production on consciousness. Both interpretations stray significantly from Marx’s assertion that the production process shapes consciousness.
Poulantzas has recently developed a model incorporating politics and ideology into the analysis of social class. While agreeing that economic position is the principal determinant of social classes, he maintains that political and ideological relations of domination and subordination also play an important role. He rejects the notion that social classes exist as economic units and then enter into a class struggle; rather, “social classes coincide with class practices, i.e. the class struggle, and are only defined in their mutual opposition.”13 The working class perform productive labor, are manual rather than mental laborers, and hold non-supervisory positions. It is distinct from the new petty-bourgeoisie who are unproductive laborers, supervisors, and mental rather than manual labors. According to Poulantzas, the traditional and new petty-bourgeoisie are one class because both represent the political domination of capital over the working class. Thus the objective interests of the proletariat and the petty-bourgeoisie can be understood and identified on political, ideological, and economic levels by understanding the reproduction of the social division of labor.14
Pulantzas’ definition of class identity, however, tells us little about the actual behavior of classes, or class fractions. He rejects the comparison between classes-in-themselves (an economic class) and classes-for-themselves (a class conscious of its class interests), but in fact creates a similar dichotomy. He too is left trying to explain the difference between the objective interests of a given social class, and the behavior of that class, or class fraction, in a specific situation. Like Marx and Lukács, he posits a correct form of consciousness and behavior given the objective conditions of a particular social class, and implies that any deviation from this position is somehow a failure, or false consciousness. This continued allegiance to an ideal class position forces him to explain deviations, diverting analysis from behavior. Political and ideological inputs remain primarily descriptive categories derived from economic position. Little consideration is given to the influence of archaic ideological and political structures upon changing production patterns, and to the impact of decisions and actions by individual actors. Although structural analysis is valuable, it can only define limits and pressures on class behavior.
What then can we say about the relationship between class membership and behavior? Rather than focus on process, the studies mentioned above either lapse into pessimistic gloom about the revolutionary potential of the working class, or assume that structure will win out in that social classes will eventually perceive and act on their objective class interests.
Neither voluntarism nor structural determinism provide adequate approaches to the study of class behavior. For an alternative strategy, we turn to a number of recent writings.15 First, the historic and relational nature of this task must be understood. Classes and class fractions, like the social relations from which they arise, exist in antagonistic and dependent relations to each other. The expression of class consciousness and class action is located in the relations between classes during a specific historic conjuncture. We need to know the objective interests of the different social classes as they struggle to better or maintain their position in a specific social formation. The objective interests of different groups in the social division of labor will affect the interests and possible range of actions of each group. “Capital does have certain requirements in relation to the reproduction of labor power. . . . This process of reproduction, then, is always a contested transformation. Working-class culture (and behavior) is formed in the struggle between capital’s demand for particular forms of labor power and the search for a secure location within this relation of dependency.”16
In the capitalist mode of production, the tension between capital and labor thus tends to create an awareness of opposition between those who own and control capital and those who do not. The position of the working class in the production system generally pushes workers toward an understanding of their identity of interests against capital and the need for collective action (both ideological and political) against capital in order to protect worker interests. Following the work of Olin Wright, we reassert the primacy of economic position in both class membership and class behavior, and agree that those groups in contradictory class positions are most likely to act contrary to their objective class interests.17
The economic structure of a society and the social division of labor are thus the essential framework shaping the objective interests which a social class, or class fraction, will tend to understand. We can say then that class consciousness and class action among workers in the capitalist mode of production tends to unfold in the following stages:
1. Workers must be aware of their common interests as a group within industry and accept the relative permanence of this status (worker identity).
2. At the level of consumption, workers must recognize that they are exploited by management through the wage relationship and are not receiving a fair share of the socially-produced surplus in the form of wages (worker opposition).
3. Workers must recognize that their collective class interest is antagonistic to that of management and must be willing to engage in class conflict, e.g., striking, in order to secure their class interests (worker consciousness).
4. Workers must be willing to form organizations to pursue class interests, regardless of prior status or social origin of fellow workers (trade union consciousness).
5. Workers become aware of the class structure on a societal level (class consciousness).
6. At a societal level, workers must recognize the need to engage in political activity in order to create the conditions that will secure their class interests (political class consciousness).
7. Workers recognize the need to engage in political activities which will alter the social formation in which they live (revolutionary class consciousness). This, as we have stated earlier, is rarely achieved.18
At the same time, no necessary linearity can be posited for worker attitudes and behavior in a particular social formation. Class behavior and class membership must not be conflated. Behavior by any class, class fraction, or economic group varies with the nature of the class struggle at a given historical conjuncture. The mode of production, and the need to reproduce it, limits the range of choices available to social actors. Within a given industry, moreover, economic and technical constraints alter the relations between workers and management. Those industries needing larger components of skilled labor generally have to be more responsive to labor demands, while industries with large unskilled labor forces can more easily replace recalcitrant workers. Thus, the opportunities for effective labor action vary with industry’s labor needs and labor supply. The position of an industry in the world market also affects management’s ability to offer concessions to workers. High profits can be used to buy off worker protest, while low profitability forces management to confront and stymie demands for higher wages and better working conditions.
Both worker and managerial organizations play a crucial role in the struggle between labor and capital as well. Trade unions and professional associations can protect workers and petty-bourgeoisie wage earners from management, both by organizing collective action and by espousing ideas of class opposition. The internal structure of these organizations, and their ethnic, craft, skill and community ties, can affect the capacity of class or class fractions to organize in opposition to capital. Managerial institutions provide information and a base of cooperation among capital against labor. They also help justify capital’s domination, both to other capitalists and to the dominated classes.19
The class struggle is embedded in political relations as well. Labor and capital act within a larger political context. In the capitalist mode of production, capital looks to the state to help maintain the social division of labor, especially its control over labor. However, this is rarely a passive process. The state, while seeking to maintain the social division of labor, and therefore the dominance of the capitalist class, must maintain the unity and cohesion of the social formation as a whole. This task is complicated by divisions within the bourgeois class. The state must mediate between these antagonistic groups, usually establishing a power bloc in which a fraction of the bourgeois class dominates the society. In order to do this, to find allies for this bloc, and to maintain harmony among all classes in a given social formation, the state requires a degree of relative autonomy. This autonomy enables the state to play off the various contending forces in a social formation in order to successfully reproduce itself. Support for the power bloc can be achieved by rewarding certain classes, or class fractions, particularly peasants, petty bourgeoisie, and skilled workers. The state’s need for support and harmony gives the dominated classes some leverage and can result in state support for some of their goals despite opposition from the dominating class. This can alter the perceptions of class interests and class strategies of the dominated classes, encouraging economism rather than class conflict. The impact of the state on a particular class struggle must, of course, be examined in its specific historic context over time.20
The class struggle is also waged on an ideological level. In order to maintain the social division of labor in the capitalist mode of production, the capitalist class uses ideology to ensure its dominance. To maintain harmony between capital and labor, the dominant, or hegemonic, class portrays itself as the purveyor of reality for society as a whole. Once again, however, this is not a simple process. As Miliband points out, “The discussion of hegemony and class consciousness more than ever requires the inclusion of the concept of a battle being fought on many different fronts and on the basis of the tensions and contradictions which are present in the actual structures or work and of life in general in capitalism. . . . The ideological terrain is by no means wholly occupied by the ideas of the ruling class: it is highly contested territory.”21 The ideology of the dominated classes is not simply a reflection of the hegemonic class, it emerges from the struggle between capital and labor, and thus, on some level, challenges the hegemony of the ruling class. These ideas are embedded in and often, but not always, facilitated by working-class culture—“the common sense or way of life of a particular class, group, or social category.”22 The study of both working-class culture and ideology is thus crucial for understanding the actual working out of the class struggle in a given social formation. Linked with economic and political relations, an understanding of the ideological struggle between capital and labor helps avoid structural functionalism without lapsing into the empiricism so common to cultural studies.
CLASS ANALYSIS IN AFRICA
Considerable literature on class formation in Africa has been published in recent years. Informed by the French structuralists, a number of studies, most notably by Gavin Kitching and Robert Davies, seek to delineate the objective structure of class and production relations rather than class behavior.23 Classes are seen as relations which emerge in the reproduction of the social division of labor in a specific social formation. While sometimes disagreeing over exact criterion for class membership, this approach contributes to a more fundamental identification of classes in Africa, one based on objective similarity of interests in the social division of labor rather than merely observed inequalities. It has also encouraged closer examination of the forms of accumulation, the class struggle, and the role of the state in Africa.
The state emerges as the fundamental political force establishing and maintaining class formation in Africa. Following recent work by Berman and Lonsdale, the colonial state may be seen as a special form of the twentieth-century capitalist state, designed to maximize the transfer of surplus to the metropole, while also maintaining political reproduction—that is, the pattern of class domination and subordination within the state. This necessitates not only intervention in class struggles, but also involvement in a range of ideological activities to justify the existing system. It also demands a certain level of autonomy in order to maintain the illusion of concern for the social order as a whole, and is complicated by the need to restructure the precapitalist mode of production to fit the new colonial economy. The social engineering involved is complex, often necessitating the use of force as well as persuasion. However, since the colonial state has only limited access to the surplus it helps generate, its ability to create and control an African working class is hampered by the need to maintain social control for minimal cost.24
The role of the settler and the post-colonial state in class formation is a bit more complicated. The settler-dominated state often opposes large transfers of surplus to the metropole, and instead “manages to retain an increasing proportion of the surplus in order to build an infrastructure, reproduce specific forms of labor power, and foster indigenous capital accumulation.” As a result, the settler state has more resources to establish and control the African working class so necessary to its reproduction and expansion. The post-colonial state, on the other hand, is more integrated into the global economy, and its ruling class is highly dependent on foreign expertise. As a result, the governing class uses the state to protect its class interests by making the ex-colony attractive to foreign investment. In order to do this, the state frequently intervenes to guarantee production and contain labor protest. The penetration of the state into the production process transforms industrial struggles into political struggles against the state, with important implications for worker consciousness and action.25
The growing literature on class, class formation, and the state in Africa is certainly a welcome change from the earlier rejection of class. When examining class behavior, however, many of these studies fall into the trap of structural determinism. As Kitching points out, much of “Marxist work on Africa has been hopelessly ensnared by attempting simultaneously to grapple with what is often called the ‘objective’ structure of class and production relations and the ‘subjective’ structure of consciousness, ideology and political factions. . . . A persistent conflation of these two entirely different theoretical problematics has been the principal hallmark of much of the neo-Marxist work on Africa.”26 Working-class behavior is inferred from the degree of proletarianization or position in the division of labor. Although some debate continues over the definition of a proletarian,27 much of the scholarship on African labor assumes that the greater the dependence upon wage labor, the more class conscious the workers. Thus, the limited consciousness and action of migrant workers are the result of structural dependence upon both capitalist and non-capitalist production modes.28 The absence of revolutionary class consciousness and behavior among African workers is explained in structural terms as well. According to Arrighi, Saul, and Fanon the privileged skilled workers, or “labor aristocrats,” are alienated from other Africans. They become the “bourgeois” fraction of the colonized people, dependent on the colonial authorities, and, as a result, unwilling to align themselves with the colonial system rather than with revolution.29 These studies overemphasize structure, neglect the impact of historical circumstances, and consequently overlook some important aspects of the class experience in Africa.
A growing number of scholars are now examining class formation and class consciousness among African workers in both the colonial and post-colonial periods in a somewhat different way. They focus less on structural class position than on worker values and practice,30 and emphasize the process whereby persons involved in wage labor become “a group groping for self-expression and the creation of a corporate identity/’ Workers are seen as active agents in the creation of their own group solidarity, consciousness, and action.31 In agreement with E. P. Thompson, these studies see class as “a happening expressed in shared values, feelings, interests, life experiences, and set in concrete historical events and processes.”32 They emphasize the special factors affecting class formation and class consciousness in Africa, without assuming a linear progression towards a preordained form of class consciousness. Looked at this way, worker consciousness and organization are altered by the mode of production and mediated by the slow and partial character of African proletarianization, racial and ethnic divisions, and the nature of the class struggle at a particular historic conjuncture. Much of this research is concerned with worker behavior before the development of sustained working-class organizations. For example, Charles van Onselen and Ian Phimister look to “the less dramatic, silent and often unorganized responses” of workers for early expression of worker consciousness among Rhodesian gold miners.33 Other studies examine more explicit expressions of class action, such as work stoppages, for despite the lack of formal working-class organizations, strikes did occur in colonial Africa, particularly among railwaymen, dockers, and mine workers.34 Recent studies on African labor organizations have taken a more grassroots approach as well, analyzing trade union activity as an expression of worker solidarity and class action.35 They see the inequalities experienced daily and repetitively by laborers in capitalist production as the driving force behind worker organization. At the same time, the variety of African labor protest, ranging from simple economism to concerted and sustained efforts to overthrow a particular regime, affirms the futility of grounding worker behavior in structural terms and arrangements alone. This more eclectic approach recognizes that in certain instances, particularly those severely repressive, reformism and populism are most likely to emerge.36
One promising approach to be followed in the present study is the in-depth analysis of workers in a specific industrial setting. This allows one to examine the impact of participation in the industrial mode of production in greater detail. It permits an analysis of daily life within a particular political-economy with a view toward uncovering class-based loyalties and their various expressions. Its focus is the world of work on the one hand, and the process and dynamics of the transition from “class in itself” to “class for itself” on the other. In this respect it is congruent with most current studies which have identified participation in industrial production as a determining factor in the development of consciousness. As Lubeck discovered in Kano, “At the place of work, organizational pressures tend to homogenize differential ethnic statuses into a common class identity that derives from common inequality relationships and common class interests. . . . During early industrialization, communal loyalties begin to erode, at least in work situations, in favor of class-based loyalties.”37 And yet, we have seen that the development of class consciousness and class-based action is not a linear process. Even for fully proletarianized workers, consciousness and class action are shaped by the historical circumstances in which they work and live. The interrelationship between daily experiences in industrial production and external forces impinging on them, and its effect on the development of class consciousness and class action, needs further investigation. By looking in detail at workers in one industry, this study focuses on what actually happened in the work place, and how work experiences shaped the complex process of class formation, consciousness, and struggle.
The first chapter outlines the development of the copper industry in Northern Rhodesia during the colonial period. Chapter 2 describes corporate labor strategy before and after the Depression, emphasizing the correlation between labor supply and corporate policy. The next two chapters analyze the impact of stabilization on worker attitudes and behavior, particularly the growing willingness to strike for better work and living conditions. The fifth chapter shows how the stabilized miners gradually recognized the need for a broadly-based worker organization to protect their interests. Chapter 6 traces the spread of trade unionism throughout the mine work force. The last chapter examines the struggle between management and the union, the triumph of management, and the subsequent adoption of more economistic behavior by the mineworkers. It also investigates miner attitudes during this period, and concludes that well-developed class consciousness continued to exist, despite changes in behavior.