Of boycotts, bankruptcy and Bolsheviks

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NASA leader Raila Odinga when he migrated to Airtel
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By Yasin Arkanuddin

Vladimir Lenin speaks: Should We Boycott the State Duma?

The party of the working class, the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party, is becoming united. Its two halves are merging and are preparing for a unity congress, the convocation of which has already been announced.

But there is still one point on which the two halves of the Party disagree—the State Duma. All Party members must be clear on this question, in order to be able to make a deliberate choice of delegates for the joint congress, in order to settle the dispute in accordance with the wishes of all members of the Party, and not only with those of its present central, and local bodies.

Bolsheviks and Mensheviks are agreed that the present Duma is a miserable travesty of popular representation, that this fraud must be exposed, and that preparations must be made for an armed uprising to bring about the convocation of a constituent assembly freely elected by the whole people.

The dispute is only about the tactics to be adopted towards the Duma. The Mensheviks say that our Party should take part in the election of delegates and electors. The Bolsheviks advocate an active boycott of the Duma. In this leaflet we shall set forth the views of the Bolsheviks, who at a recent conference of representatives of twenty-six organisations of the R.S.D.L.P. adopted a resolution against participation in the elections.

What does an active boycott of the Duma mean? Boycott means refusing to take part in the elections. We have no wish to elect Duma deputies, electors or delegates. Active boycott does not merely mean keeping out of the elections; it also means making extensive use of election meetings for Social-Democratic agitation and organisation. Making use of these meetings means gaining entry to them both legally (by registering in the voters’ lists) and illegally, expounding at them the whole programme and all the views of the socialists, exposing the Duma as a fraud and humbug, and calling for a struggle for a constituent assembly.

Why do we refuse to take part in the elections?

Because by taking part in the elections we should involuntarily foster belief in the Duma among the people, and thereby weaken the effectiveness of our struggle against this travesty of popular representation. The Duma is not a parliament, it is a ruse employed by the autocracy. We must expose this ruse by refusing to take any part in the elections.

Because if we recognised the permissibility of taking part in the elections, we should have to be logical and elect deputies to the Duma. Indeed, the bourgeois democrats, such as Khodsky in Narodnoye Khozyaistvo, actually advise us to enter into election agreements with the Cadets for that purpose. But all Social Democrats, both Bolsheviks and Mensheviks, reject such agreements because they realise that the Duma is not a parliament, but a new police fraud.

Because we cannot at present derive any advantage for the Party from the elections. There is no freedom to carry on agitation. The party of the working class is outlawed; its representatives are imprisoned without trial; its news papers have been closed and its meetings prohibited. The Party cannot legally unfurl its banner at the elections, it cannot publicly nominate its representatives without betraying them to the police. In this situation, our work of agitation and organisation is far better served by making revolutionary use of meetings without taking part in the elections than by taking part in meetings for legal elections…

Written and published in January 1906 as a leaflet both by the C.C. and the Joint C.C. of the R.S.D.L.P.

Vladimir Lenin, in this 1906 leaflet, summarily articulates the political contradiction (if one wants to be politically correct, but political hypocrisy if one wants to be brutally honest) of NASA’s call to boycott while at once legitimising Jubilee centre they seek to de-legitimise and dislodge, by being sitting Members of Parliament within.

But this charade is also not entirely duplicitous, as what ideological convictions have NASA betrayed? Now, given the flagrant misuse of the term ideology today, it becomes vital to define its use here.

Ideology refers to a “configuration of ideas and attitudes in which the elements are bound together by some form of constraint or functional interdependence”(Converse 1964, p. 206) “that are the shared framework of mental models that groups of individuals possess that provide both an interpretation of the environment and a prescription as to how that environment should be structured” (Denzau & North 1994/2000).

More simply by Erikson & Tedin (2003), it is “a set of beliefs about the proper order of society and how it can be achieved”.

More comprehensively by Shaykh Muhammad Taqiuddin Al-Nabhani, “…ideology is a rational doctrine from which a system emanates.  The doctrine is a comprehensive idea about man, life and the universe what preceded this life, what is to follow it, and the relationship of this life with what preceded it and what is to follow it. As for the system that emanates from this doctrine, it is the solutions for man’s problems, the method for implementing those solutions, preserving the doctrine and conveying the ideology to others. The method of implementing the solutions, preserving the doctrine and conveying the ideology constitutes the method, while anything else, which is the doctrine and the solutions, is the idea. Consequently, the ideology is composed of an idea and a method. (The System of Islam 1953, p. 35-36)

The Bankruptcy

There is no registered political party in Kenya that can by any stretch of the imagination be said to have an ideological doctrine.

For this reason, NASA’s bungling boycott and Jubilee’s complete political vacuity can be said to be quite consistent with the ideological bankruptcy that serves as their basis.

Let us begin by establishing in fact of political theory that NASA is “dead in the water”. It is going nowhere.

To understand their situation, one must question what NASA needs to do, to at once undertake collective action while in the same breathe de-legitimising and crippling the Jubilee-GoK centre – in essence, how does NASA create political opportunity?

The idea is to achieve new political life (National Resistance Movement is a mannequin/paper tiger for now), and NASA’s need to force a clash, which NASA hopes will create a turning point. But it won’t because NASA’s political message is vague and cannot therefore bond the people together tightly behind an initiative. This applies to its leadership as well as the followers, as it lacks strong cogency in the vein of “Pwani si Kenya”.

Secondly, NASA has no doctrinal/sociological basis. Oppression is a grievance and though it aids revolutionary work by softening the ground, it cannot be a basis. The basis needs to be clear and can only rise from instinct or ideology. If it is patriotism, then it should be fashioned after the Sabaot Land Defence Force; if ethnic Nationalism, then like “we are the Somali”; if socio-cultural Nationalism, then like “we are waSwahili”; if political ideology, then like “we are the Ummah”. Who is NASA?

Lastly, NASA, for having no basis, can have no social bond.

For this reason, the Nasa boycott call while inspiring for followers and terrifying for firms will go nowhere. Its internal cohesion greatly depends on an external aggressor, thus the need for never-ending, ever escalating “demonstrations”. This also applies to Jubilee, as it too has a core that is similarly void, thus the centre’s endless need for an opposition bogeyman or illusionary terror threat.

The Boycott

While Nasa boycott was a “good idea” politically, it’s execution is/has been ineffectual, whether by omission or commission. There was/is no boycott plan, no preparation, and no boycott dry-run.

A boycott requires political leadership. Institutionalised Political Leadership is manifest by a specialized group – a political party. A political party can only rise out of two possible bases: instincts or ideology. NASA either suffers from severe schizophrenia or crippling hypocrisy, as they can neither tell whether they are tribal hegemons or Bolshevik charlatans.

Because they lack an execution strategy, it looks uncertain whether they were really interested in the boycott’s success or in just the threat and intimidation.

As an aside, for reasons outlined in the “Safaricom: Empire, Kingdom or Republic?” analysis that ran in this platform in June, Safaricom cannot be effectively boycotted. Not just by the masses, but also by any institution including even the Government of Kenya, for reasons articulated in the subsequent “The Safaricom Republic” analysis. It is too deeply entrenched in the social body both physically and discarnately.

Therefore, now that we have answered the question of whether the NASA- led boycott can succeed politically or economically, the real question becomes, who will NASA go down with, how much damage they will inflict and how much it will cost to repair?

Damage to material and incorporeal assets – material damage being on tangible things like infrastructure, incorporeal assets being brand, confidence etc.

NASA will not succeed in its quest to seize the centre, but may inadvertently succeed in undermining key systemic pillars i.e. constitutionalism, rule of law, the vote or set the stage by burning a new trail that more serious, more committed groups will follow in the future, either in this region or other parts of the continent.

A new political age

Either way, the region is definitely entering a new political age. The ability of the tribes of the region to adhere to a political document was tested and they passed. An amalgamation of disparate tribes thrown together in a colonial petri dish, with no history of syllabary, ideology or state resisted the drift to use force and compelled their comprador to resolve their dispute using an extremely flawed document whose full portent is not even clearly understood and many do not even believe in. This is the one sociologically significant evolutionary change. This region of Africa is in new political territory that will be interesting to watch. ^

Writer is an Ideological Activist

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