Zambia lacks a real ideological debate on the type of social system that will engender real growth and ensure improvements in standard of living in the people. For the past 15 years, there has been only one discourse which is that there is simply no alternative to the present economic paradigm based on neoliberalism. Given the demobilisation and pauperisation of the working class and the intelligentsia, Zambian politics lack a class basis. Parties are led by influential individuals with money and not rooted in the people. Discussions of the preferred development model do not reflect the actual situation obtaining in the country. While elites recognise that the neoliberal economic model is inappropriate, but if they have to attract the support of the Western donors and the International Financial Institutions, they have to operate within its logic. What is clear is that the neoliberal paradigm does not guarantee social welfare, improve incomes and reduce social inequalities. If anything, structural adjustment programmes call for reductions in social spending, as wasteful, especially in the crucial social sectors such as health and education. As a result, social indicators have considerably declined during the last years of neoliberal policies. Zambia was ranked 154 on the UNDP Human Development Index suggesting that neoliberal policies contributed to the decline in social welfare contrary to what proponents would want us believe.
The Marxist theory is at least sensitive to the idea of extending social welfare to the greatest number in the population. Hence, it emphasis a type of politics that takes into account the people’s welfare as the modus operandi of party politics. Further, it recognises that all politics is class politics, meaning that if political parties are dominated by businessmen, as is the case in Zambia, they are likely to promote the their own interests and not those of the mass of the people. It is important that party promoting particular interests are promoted by the classes involved. The difficulty in Zambia is that the revolutionary segment of the working people, the trade unions, acquiesced into an alliance with a party committed to promoting anti-worker policies. It can be argued that the elite segment of the population, especially the educated elite, has been compromised by careerism and sheer opportunism.
The tendencies that Marx identified towards the concentration and centralisation of capital and the inefficiency of the market are relevant in Africa today. In the Zambian case, the consistent implementation of neoliberal policies for the past 15 years has not contributed to a reduction in poverty, reduce income inequalities and put the country’s economy on the road to sustainable growth. Poverty levels increased in the last 15 years from around 56 percent to 72 percent despite structural adjustment. Further, Zambia is listed among the poorest countries in the world, with a GDP per capita of around $380 in 2003. it was on account of this that the country qualified for the Highly Indebted Poor Countries Initiative (HIPC) facility that saw the debt forgiveness of around $6.5 billion during 2005.
Most critiques of Marx scarcely engage with his profound economic analysis of capitalism. Two limitations in Marxist analysis of capitalism are worth a brief note. One relating to the transition to and shape of the socialist future. The other relating to an analysis of the nature class politics in emerging societies. There has been a considerable debate on the methods to establish a socialist society ranging from ‘socialism in one country’ in the Soviet Union to different forms of vanguard in many countries, including variants of African socialism. However, the most common critique of Marxism has invariably been directed at the failure of the socialist project in the world.
The ascendancy of neoliberal ideas became more prominent in the wake of the collapse of the centre of world socialism – Soviet Union. But it is important to point out that the relevance of socialism is not related to the nature of socialism. Different societies used different approaches to establish socialism. Following Marxist dialectics the handling of class contradictions explained the success or failure of the socialist project in some countries. Marx did not provide a blueprint of how socialism could be established. He only provided a theory derived from the observation of the dynamics of the capitalist system. Hence, those who blame Marxism for the failure of socialism simply do not understand the role of Marxist theory in socialist construction.
Marxism is predicated on historical materialism. That is to say, the development of society can be understood as a struggle and unity of opposites, a class struggle. In a capitalist class society this
8 III Conferencia Internacional La obra de Carlos Marx y los desafíos del Siglo XXI – Neo Simutanyi