Read Time: 8 minutes

© Thomas Hodgkin

The only requisite was that the Assembly should take a permanent holiday and that the republic’s motto ‘Liberte, Egalite,
Fraternite’, should be replaced by the unambiguous words,
‘Infantry, Cavalry, Artillery!’
(Karl Marx, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte)
Thomas Hodgkin

ALTHOUGH General Ankrah is no Louis Napoleon, the Ghana
coup d’etat of February 24, 1966, was a counter-revolution of a classic type. It is only necessary to underline this point because the event has been widely represented in the British Press as the substitution
of a popular, liberalising regime for a hated autocracy.
(It is customary, of course, for counter-revolutions to be presented in this way by their promoters and backers.) No doubt the coup was
popular in a certain sense—in the sense explained by Mr. Cameron Duodo, editor of the Ghanaian edition of Drum (who, when I knew him, was living comfortably in Accra, but has since found it convenient to reveal himself as a ‘self-advised exile’) in an article in The Observer of March 13:

‘I was astounded by the spontaneous demonstrations of the
people,’ Colonel Apiah said. ‘One man gave me a bottle of champagne just like that.’

The coup, that is to say, was ‘popular’ in the sense that it was
approved by the bourgeoisie (or a substantial section of it) and by those elements among the urban population that can always be
persuaded to parade as stage crowds in front of Western television
cameras—and had no doubt been demonstrating as enthusiastically
for Kwame Nkrumah and the Convention People’s Party a week or two earlier as they demonstrated on this occasion against them. Of course food shortages, rising prices, import restrictions, gave rise to discontent and desire for change that any new regime could exploit, temporarily, in its favour. But there is no evidence that the coup was ‘popular’ in the deeper sense that it was genuinely supported and welcomed by the mass of the Ghanaian people.

I have described the Ghana counter-revolution as ‘classic’ because
it reveals certain characteristics that are typical of counter-revolutions
in contemporary African, Asian and Latin American states—and, in some respects also, in 19th Century Europe. At the same time it has its own distinct features, associated with Ghana’s history and social structure and the special part which Ghana has played, during the nine years since independence, in the struggle for African liberation. It therefore deserves careful study, both as an example of a
general pattern and as a special case. I shall confine myself in this article to a few preliminary remarks.

First, whatever its mistakes and weaknesses (which inevitably in
the present situation are presented in the grossest and most exaggerated
form), the CPP Government, against which the coup was
directed, was an essentially progressive regime. It was attempting to
lay the foundations of a socialist economy; to reduce economic
dependence by relatively rapid industrialisation; to achieve a rapid
expansion and improvement of free public education at all levels. Directly and through a variety of Pan-African organisations (which
it played a major part in helping to bring into being) it gave practical support to movements seeking national liberation in territories
remaining under colonial rule. It exposed the manoeuvres, and
sought to resist the pressures, of neo-colonialism (thereby earning,
naturally enough, the deep hostility of the neo-colonial network).

As a means to overcome these pressures, and as a precondition of
any really effective advance towards Socialism, it worked for the realisation of an African political union. It attempted to give definite meaning to the concept of ‘positive neutralism’ by avoiding an
exclusive Western orientation and developing closer political, economic and cultural relations with the socialist countries. (Nonetheless, the number of specialists and technicians from the West and from the capitalist countries in general greatly exceeded the
number from the socialist world.)

Second, the bourgeoisie had an active and long-standing dislike
for Nkrumah and the CPP. Since, contrary to the view generally put
forward in the Western press, a considerable degree of liberty of
expression existed in pre-coup Ghana, this dislike was commonly
and vigorously expressed by members of the Ghanaian intelligentsia
in particular—and, together with the views of taxi-drivers and dancing-girls, formed the basis for much of the ‘objective reporting’ of Western journalists. In crude terms the bourgeoisie can be regarded
as consisting of (a) the hereditary bourgeoisie, those belonging to
the great Coastal professional and intellectual dynasties; (b) those from other sectors of Ghanaian society who, through attendance at
‘the best’ secondary schools and/or universities, had acquired bourgeois status and tended to absorb bourgeois culture and values.

In a sense the bourgeoisie never forgave Nkrumah and the CPP — the party of the petty bourgeois, the ‘Verandah Boys’, the sansculottes—
for having defeated them in the struggle for power in
1949-51 and thus established themselves as the political heirs of the
British. To say that this bourgeoisie had no ideas is perhaps an exaggeration. They had in fact one central idea: that they themselves were an elite, whose social status and superior intellectual qualifications
equipped them for the exercise of political power. Everything
that Nkrumah and the CPP could do they could do better. It was
primarily the banned United Party (whose precise part in the coup remains obscure and controversial) and its predecessors, that
provided a means of political expression for this bourgeoisie. But of much greater importance, from the standpoint of effective power,
was the fact that they manned the higher ranks of the Civil Service (including the Diplomatic Service and the Police), the Judiciary, the
teaching profession, the various Church hierarchies—and the Armed Forces.

This leads to the third point: Ghana under the CPP regime was
far from being the kind of ‘totalitarian’ state controlled by an all powerful
‘monolithic’ party that appears in the stereotypes of Western writers and journalists. Nor was it, as Mr. Dennis Austin, in a petulant little attack on Nkrumah and the pre-coup system in New Society of March 3, asserts, ‘a ridiculous, cruel and capricious form of personal dictatorship’. The system, as anyone who took the trouble to observe its actual working quickly discovered, was
essentially pluralistic. The party might claim to be the only source of power within the state. But in practice power was diffused among a variety of institutions and agencies, subject only to the partial,
intermittent, and frequently ineffective, control of the party. The Civil Service, the Judiciary, the Universities, the Public Education
system, the Army, functioned as great estates of the realm, possessing a considerable degree of autonomy and initiative, subject to occasional directives (which were by no means always carried out) from party, Cabinet and President. In practice the Civil Service was controlled by (in general very competent) British-trained bourgeois senior civil
servants; the Judiciary was controlled by bourgeois judges; the
Universities were controlled by bourgeois dons; the Army was controlled by bourgeois Sandhurst-trained officers. Of course the
President could dismiss a Chief Justice or a Chief of Staff, make life
difficult for a Vice-Chancellor, deport (and later bring back) a Bishop.
But what difference did such individual acts make to the working of the system? Indeed, those promoted to take the place of those dismissed might (as in the case of the Police) prove to be less loyal, more hostile to the objectives of party and President, than those dismissed.

Why, it may be asked, did Nkrumah and the party tolerate for so
long a system in which there was such a sharp and evident contradiction
between the socialist, revolutionary, Pan-African objectives for which they claimed to stand and the predominantly bourgeois,
conservative, territorialist norms of those who controlled the institutions through which they were obliged to work? Partly because Nkrumah, whatever else he was, was not a ‘cruel and
capricious dictator’. Revolutionary in his conceptions and aims, he was essentially Fabian in his political methods. He believed in putting people whom he thought he could trust into positions of power within the system rather than seeking fundamental transformations
of existing political structures. In any case, to bring about such transformations, to replace bourgeois civil servants and officers with socialist civil servants and officers it would have been necessary to have an adequate supply of committed Socialists, with the requisite theoretical and professional training. Such people simply did not exist as yet in any numbers, though it was the intention that the Winnebah College of Political and Economic Science should in time
produce them. But Winnebah itself was under heavy fire from the right wing within the party. And Nkrumah had to work within the
limitations imposed by the actual character of the party as well as those imposed by the actual character of the state and its institutions. Far from being the kind of Tamburlaine figure that appears in the fantasies of Mr. Austin and others, he was in fact a highly intelligent, somewhat Utopian, radical, with a good grasp of the history of his time, confronted with a very restricted range of political choices.

Fourth, one must take account of the serious weaknesses within
the CPP itself. In regard to these there is not much room for disagreement. Over the past ten years the party had tended to undergo the kind of process of deterioration that is familiar in the history of radical nationalist parties. Though devoted, disinterested and hardworking
individuals could still be found at all levels of the organisation,
the party bureaucracy, and the bureaucracy of the para-party
organisations, had tended to transform themselves into a political elite, using their status within the party to further their own careers (and those of their relations and friends) and to achieve a bourgeois style of life. The party machine had come to be used as an instrument for transmitting orders to the people, and for mobilising them to take part in periodic rallies and celebrations, rather than for expressing
their demands and criticisms, developing their political
understanding, and enabling them to play an effective part in the work of economic and social reconstruction. The cult of Nkrumah’s
personality, the mystique of the leader, was used by the Old Guard of the party to cover up deficiencies in party organisation and strategy. The committed Socialists within the party were in a definite minority, and, though their relations with the press and with Winnebah, together with Nkrumah’s protection in intra-party conflicts,
gave them a certain influence, they had no effective body of mass support. Party discipline had become weakened, and internal factionfighting
gave encouragement to those who were working for counterrevolution.
(At the same time it is important not to exaggerate these
weaknesses. Little recent work has been done on the organisation and
functioning of the CPP at a local level. My own guess is that democratic processes and attitudes have survived in many areas to a much
greater extent than is often supposed.)

The Ghana counter-revolution cannot, of course, be explained simply in relation to its internal causes—the contradictions between the interests and objectives of the CPP and those of the bourgeoisie, the conflicts within the party and the running down of its organisation, the special function of the officer caste as the shock troops of the bourgeoisie. Its success (from a short-term point of view) depended
also on external factors—above all on the drastic fall in the cocoa price, Ghana’s principal export, which played a far larger part in bringing about a situation of economic crisis, favourable to military adventures, than all the prestige projects, waste of resources, mismanagement
and corruption, which constantly recur in the flood of anti-CPP and anti-Nkrumah propaganda unloosed in the Western press. We shall have to wait for more evidence before we can say with any degree of definiteness how important and direct a part the Western powers, their business interests and intelligence agencies, played in bringing about the downfall of Nkrumah’s government.

To judge from the chorus of satisfaction which greeted this event it can hardly have been negligible. One thing at least is clear: the real ground of Western hostility to Nkrumah and the CPP was not (as is often claimed) that they were illiberal or corrupt reactionary
regimes, like those of General Abboud in the Sudan or of the late
Sardauna of Sokoto in Northern Nigeria, can be as illiberal and
corrupt as they like and they will continue to enjoy the goodwill of the West. Nkrumah’s unforgivable crime was that he sought to be progressive, Socialist, anti-colonial, Pan-African, neutralist, not a
puppet of the West. Hence the need, from the point of view of the West, to replace his regime, which did, in however inadequate and
partial a way, genuinely seek to enlarge human ‘liberty, equality and
fraternity’, with one that would take its stand on the unambiguous, and entirely acceptable, principles of ‘Infantry, Cavalry, Artillery’
—that would reduce public expenditure, open up new fields to
private investment, disinterest itself in the struggle for liberation
throughout the African continent, break its ties with the socialist countries, and, in general, transform itself into a nice, docile,
chauvinistic, Western-orientated, English-speaking version of the Ivory Coast, incapable of playing any significant part in African or world history.
…. culled from LABOUR MONTHLY, APRIL, 1966 by Ekow Nelson.