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The Communist Party Issue 59
Last update Jun 19, 2024
WHAT DISTINGUISHES OUR PARTY – The line running from Marx to Lenin to the foundation of the Third International and the birth of the Communist Party of Italy in Leghorn (Livorno) 1921, and from there to the struggle of the Italian Communist Left against the degeneration in Moscow and to the rejection of popular fronts and coalition of resistance groups
– The tough work of restoring the revolutionary doctrine and the party organ, in contact with the working class, outside the realm of personal politics and electoralist manoevrings

–   1. - Kenya of Today

Kenya of Today
The Current and ongoing Anti-government Protests

A spectre is haunting Kenya. The government of President William Ruto – a staunch puppet of the IMF and the World Bank – is attempting to force punitive taxes onto the masses. Youth protests have erupted in every central town and city, signalling a radical undercurrent. Kenyan workers are now demanding a general strike.

President Ruto called in the army after millions engulfed the streets against his severe austerity measures. In a previous televised address, he labelled the protesters as “treasonous” and “dangerous criminals,” vowing to treat every threat as an existential danger to the republic.

In the early hours of Wednesday, June 26th, anti-Finance Bill protestors surrounded the parliament building in Nairobi, attempting to paralyse the economy and force Ruto to abandon his plans to extract over $2 billion in new taxes from workers and rural poor, a puppet for the International Monetary Fund (IMF). The bill follows a period of economic instability where Kenya teetered on the brink of default – another in a long line of poor and “emerging” economies on the edge of a financial abyss. A $1.5 billion bond sale in February temporarily saved the government, allowing it to pay off another maturing bond.

Kenya’s situation has become so dire that new debt is being rolled on to pay old debt at ever-increasing interest rates. 30% of the government’s budget is spent on debt servicing. Enter the IMF and World Bank, with their “aid” in the form of loans, ostensibly to help Kenya repay its parasitic creditors – the catch: these debts are to be repaid by propping up ordinary Kenyans as blood bags.

Following the IMF’s dictates, the parliament has proposed the Finance Bill 2024, a package of brutal austerity measures that triggered the protests. This bill aims to raise $2.7 billion in additional taxes to reduce the budget deficit and state borrowing, as Kenya’s public debt stands at 68% of GDP. Facing economic challenges and uncertainty about accessing capital markets, Kenya turned to the IMF, which demanded that the government meet revenue targets to secure more funding. The bill includes new levies on essential commodities like bread, vegetable oil, and sugar. Most infuriatingly, it introduces the villainously named “eco-taxes,” including an “eco-levy” on sanitary diapers and menstrual pads, sparking outrage among young Kenyan women. Additionally, it proposes higher taxes on financial transactions.

Faced with these new taxes that further strain their already stretched finances, Kenyan workers have taken to the streets. Social media quickly became a platform for them to share their plight. Without a central leader or a dominant revolutionary party, young people across the country have risen on pure instinct – praxis without theory but naturally spontaneous. The government responded with threats of police violence, internet shutdowns, and the arrests of hundreds over the past weeks, attempting to crush the movement. Ruto and his goons have abducted several bloggers, activists, and social media influencers, hoping to intimidate the largely youthful protesters, with little success.

What began as small protests in Nairobi last Tuesday escalated into a nationwide movement by Thursday, as demonstrations spread to major cities and towns following the second reading of the Finance Bill. The day ended tragically with the police killing a 29-year-old protester, fueling calls for a national shutdown on Wednesday. People now call for a general strike, alongside planned demonstrations and potential spontaneous actions.

Initially, the government responded with repression, deploying water cannons, tear gas, and arresting hundreds of people. However, these tactics failed to suppress the masses. Protest numbers grew throughout the evening despite the violence. Videos circulated showing defiant prisoners singing in their cells. Many slogans expressed the deep-seated hatred for the ruling elite. Placards read, “Ruto is a thief!” “Ruto must go!” “Wake up, we are being robbed!” The masses are acutely aware that Kenya is pivotal to U.S. imperialism’s strategic interests in East Africa and that their leaders are merely puppets of imperialism and the agents of capital.

Most Kenyans are incredibly young, and this youthful energy is the driving force behind the protests. While this generation may not have direct memories of the IMF-imposed austerity of the 1980s and ‘90s, there’s a palpable feeling that they will not allow history to repeat itself.

The IMF, a dragon hoarding its blood treasure – calling international capital to rush in once it has picked a new victim. This story is all too familiar. Some readers might remember the fate of Yugoslavia after the passing of our dear General Secretary Tito.

Initially, many arrogant MPs dismissed the protests, earning themselves the moniker “MPigs.” One MP even claimed that the images of demonstrations circulating on social media were merely Photoshop creations.

As panic set in, the government attempted to make concessions, introducing a series of amendments. They dropped taxes on bread and vegetable oil and assured the public that “eco-taxes” would only apply to finished imports. As the nation produces many of these items domestically, this ruling is silly. But this was too little, too late. The millions, having tasted their power, are now more confident than ever. Both repression and concessions only served to fuel the movement further.

The government’s tactics were futile against the youthful protestors. Kenyan politicians had assumed the youth were apathetic and unlikely to mobilise. In the 2022 elections that brought Ruto to power, less than 40% of registered voters were youth, despite the median age in Kenya being below 20 and 65% of the population under 35.

These vibrant actions by the Kenyan youth and working class, though perhaps lacking the revolutionary education of past generations, echo the spirit of Lenin in Differences in the European Labour Movement:

«But, needless to say, the masses learn from life and not from books, and therefore certain individuals or groups constantly exaggerate, elevate to a one-sided theory, to a one-sided system of tactics, now one and now another feature of capitalist development, now one and now another ‘lesson’ of this development».

This “interaction between all classes” manifests as the Kenyan working class turns against a modern-day Goliath. However, the conscious workers will always have a hill to fight up against. Marx stating in the German Ideology:

«The ideas of the ruling class are in every epoch the ruling ideas: i.e., the class which is the ruling material force of society is at the same time its ruling intellectual force. The class which has the means of material production at its disposal, consequently, also controls the means of mental production, so that the ideas of those who lack the means of mental production are on the whole subject to it… for instance, that during the time the aristocracy was dominant, the concepts honour loyalty, etc., were dominant, During the dominance of the bourgeoisie the concepts of freedom, equality, etc.»

The ruling class made a fatal mistake, confusing detachment for apathy. With unemployment reaching as high as 35% for those aged 18-35, many young Kenyans have little hope for the future. The message from the Kenyan protesters is clear: with little to lose, they realise they have the world to win.

Last year, Odinga, an influential Kenyan oligarch, called off mass opposition to Ruto over the Finance Bill for the year prior, 2023, when the movement threatened to intersect with calls for strike action by civil servants. Odinga belongs to the wealthiest 0.1% of the Kenyan population, who owns more wealth than the bottom 99.9% (more than 48 million Kenyans). The government claims the new tax measures are necessary to fund development programs and reduce public debt. However, across the country, hundreds of thousands of teachers and healthcare workers, who have repeatedly struck over the past five years against low wages and precarious job contracts, vehemently disagree.

The Party previously discussed the 2012 Kenyan healthcare workers’ strikes in il Partito Comunista, n. 352 (translated from Italian): «The general struggle called by the Kenya Health Professionals Society union [had] workers of the Moi Teaching Hospital immediately go down into a fight, and march along the streets of the city protesting against the poor working conditions and for the enforcement of the agreement. Every time, all the workers in the other city hospitals fraternise and continue the fight. The strike extends to the province on the coast and again to the whole country, outside of union control. The workers, mostly women, denounce the betrayal of the trade union management. These direct statements of theirs: We have not been consulted and no questions have been put on the table: they have only been able to make promises. We don’t go back without the security of eating at the table. We don’t even believe that the deal actually is there; the negotiations have not earned us anything and we feel deceived. For this, we will continue with the strike until all our requests are met. We no longer want promises; we want immediate and tangible results”».

In the port of Mombasa, six thousand workers could halt Ruto’s overarching privatisation plans, bringing the region to a standstill. Thousands of aviation workers, including those at Kenya Airways, could block Kenya’s airspace. Millions of tea, coffee, and other agricultural workers in rural areas could paralyse the countryside in a country where 60% of revenue comes from the agriculture sector.

Despite the ongoing movement, trade unions are becoming the foremost restraining hand for workers joining the anti-austerity protests with their demands. The unions refuse to mobilise the tens of thousands employed in manufacturing, food processing, chemical production, plastics, and metal works in Nairobi’s industrial area. The Central Organization of Trade Unions (COTU), which consists of 36 trade unions and represents more than 1.5 million workers, has a sordid history of suppressing strikes and protests, including that by 4,000 doctors earlier this year.

Similarly, Francis Atwoli, the secretary general of the COTU, has defended the Finance Bill, stating that “people are being taxed everywhere and, indeed, if we pay tax and the money is used properly we will evade the issue of borrowing money.”

The “Let them eat cake!” attitude from the supposed labour representatives of the government couldn’t be more on the nose.

President Ruto is preparing to impose more police state measures, such as the Assembly and Demonstration Bill, 2024, restricting where protests can occur and imposing draconian fines for “violations” of up to $770, equivalent to half a year’s average wage.

However, following last week’s demonstrations, the government softened its position, with Ruto endorsing recommendations to scrap some new levies, including car ownership, bread, and the eco-levy on locally manufactured goods. The finance ministry has said such concessions would blow a 200 billion Kenyan shilling ($1.56 billion) hole in the 2024/25 budget and necessitate spending cuts.

Protesters and opposition parties have said the concessions are insufficient and want the bill abandoned. And with the recent national uproar, as graciously as they gunned down workers, the bourgeois government is now beginning to listen.

«Having reflected on the continuing conversation regarding the content of the Finance Bill 2024 and listening keenly to the people of Kenya who have thundered that they want nothing to do with this Finance Bill 2024, I concede, and therefore, I will not sign the 2024 Finance Bill,” President Ruto said during a television address Wednesday. “The people have spoken,” Ruto said. “Following the passage of the bill, the country experienced widespread expression of dissatisfaction with the bill as passed, regrettably resulting in the loss of life, the destruction of property, and desecration of constitutional institutions».

This rollback comes after Ruto championed the controversial tax reforms in the face of public opposition. However, Rotu seems to have forgotten, or at least not acknowledged, that this comes after mass protests turned violent the day earlier, leaving 23 people dead.

Now, the eyes of the world are on Kenya, where the struggle between the working class and the ruling elite unfolds in real time. As revolutionary fervour grows, Kenyan workers, particularly the youth, stand at a critical juncture. The message from the streets is clear: with nothing left to lose, they are prepared to fight for a future free from the chains of austerity and debt.

The battle for Kenya’s future is far from over, and as history unfolds, the courage and determination of its workers will undoubtedly inspire proletarian movements across the globe. The spectre haunting Kenya is a clarion call to the international working class: the proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains; they have a world to win.

Kenya - Here and now

Kenya today represents one of the most advanced in capitalist development in Africa. Following the global financial crisis 2008, which saw Kenya’s GDP growth drop to 1.6%, the country has since experienced a robust economic recovery, averaging an annual GDP growth rate of 5.4% from 2015 to 2023. Inflation, which soared to 14% in 2011, has stabilised in recent years, averaging around 6% in 2023. Both domestic and international factors drive this stability.

Kenya’s export economy is focused on agricultural output. In 2023, the main export items included tea (19%), agricultural products (18%), manufactured goods (16%), and coffee (5%). The value of tea exports, a traditional mainstay, continues to grow, though at a more moderate pace of 12% annually. Additionally, the rise in flowers and fresh produce exports has bolstered the agricultural sector, contributing to Kenya’s economic resilience and development.

The Kenyan government’s focus on infrastructure development, technology, and renewable energy has also driven economic growth. Investments in the Standard Gauge Railway and the expansion of the port of Mombasa have improved logistics and trade efficiency. At the same time, the burgeoning tech hub in Nairobi, dubbed ‘Silicon Savannah,’ has positioned Kenya as a leader in digital innovation in Africa.

Chinese development initiatives, particularly under the Belt and Road Initiative, have profoundly impacted Kenya’s infrastructure. Significant projects include the construction of the Standard Gauge Railway, which connects Nairobi to the port city of Mombasa, significantly enhancing trade efficiency. Additionally, Chinese firms are developing critical road networks and energy projects, providing much-needed capital and expertise to propel Kenya’s infrastructural advancements.

The United States has also been a crucial partner in Kenya’s development. The U.S. has contributed to various sectors, including healthcare, education, and energy, through programs such as the U.S. Agency for International Development and the Power Africa initiative. American investment has been pivotal in promoting renewable energy projects, particularly geothermal and wind power, aligning with Kenya’s goal of achieving universal energy access by 2030.

Domestically, Kenya has seen the rise of a robust class of local capitalists driving economic growth. Prominent Kenyan entrepreneurs and businesses, particularly in the banking, telecommunications, and agriculture sectors, have significantly contributed to the country’s development. Companies like Safaricom, Equity Bank, and KCB Group are significant employers and pivotal players in enhancing financial inclusion and technological innovation. These domestic capitalists have been instrumental in shaping Kenya’s economic trajectory, fostering a private sector that complements foreign investments and drives the ~5% economic growth yearly.

However, the Kenyan proletariat does not share in the dividends of capital. Instead, they face a reduction in the purchasing power of wages due to the rising prices of necessities. Between 2020 and 2022, actual earnings saw a steady decline, averaging a decrease of 2.7%. This trend has persisted as inflation rates surged in 2022, with average inflation reaching 8.7% between June 2022 and June 2023, peaking at 9.6% in October 2022 – the highest level since 2017. A staggering 77% of workers earn below the minimum wage, with median earners spending 60% of their income on food alone.

Workers are forced to engage in a tight struggle for economic survival, gaining valuable experience in the anti-capitalist struggle. This struggle, which starts locally and within specific sectors, must evolve into a united front for the working class.

The current wave of protests and strikes is a testament to the growing class consciousness among Kenyan workers. They are rising against the oppressive policies of austerity and exploitation imposed by local and international capitalists. This movement is not just about opposing specific policies but broad issues: international movements are moving ever closer to challenging the foundations of a system that prioritises profit over people.

Do not trust them!

This capitalist government, like all its predecessors and all its offspring, shamelessly ignores the interests of the working class, instead thrusting the burdens of capitalism back onto them. It steals their labour and then blames them for the system’s inevitable failures. The colossal weight of national and international capital rests on workers’ shoulders, which will not change, no matter who is in power. Short-term economic shifts are reactions to investor confidence in how well the administration serves the capitalist elite.

The relentless crisis of capitalism fuels continuous assaults on the working class, which will persist regardless of hollow government promises or party affiliations. Members of Parliament are nothing more than guardians of capitalist interests, enriching themselves as long as they don’t tarnish the system’s facade too blatantly. Meanwhile, the exploitation of the working class – the vast majority of society – remains unchallenged.

The working class knows this truth but has yet to take decisive action to seize power. Workers build and rebuild the world daily, wielding immense power that holds the potential to envision and create a world free from exploitation, poverty, economic crises, and wars. However, achieving this vision demands the overthrow of capitalism and the establishment of a communist society, where contributions are based on ability and needs are met accordingly. Communism will eradicate the rampant overproduction, waste, and ecological devastation caused by capitalism, replacing them with rational production that genuinely serves humanity without the empty rhetoric of “green” sustainability.

Communism will end poverty and war, but this cannot be achieved through voting for any party, especially those masquerading as communist or socialist. Actual change will only come when the working class, led by the International Communist Party, seizes power.