LIBERATION, SELF-RELIANCE and MARXISM – the Tanzanian Way of Socialism

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Marxism as the ideological core of a developmental strategy emerged in Tanzania in the late 1960s as a result of a particular constellation of forces – the intension of the newly liberated country to pursue an alternative development model. This led to the promulgation of the Arusha Declaration and the TANU Guidelines of 1972. Its concentrated expression found the surge for a Tanzanian way of Socialism in the ideological battles at the University of Dar-es-Salaam.

Petty-bourgeoisie and Ujamaa – a Background

Merely five years after the attainment of political independence in 1961, class divisions and distinctions in Tanzania – though still in their formative and hence embryonic – were becoming more and more visible and glaring. The Tanzanian petty-bourgeoisie who spearheaded the struggle for independence (Uhuru) in the 1950s and who had come to wield political power in 1961, started to socially differentiate. By using state positions and connections, these political elites increasingly began to accumulate wealth at the expense of the majority of Tanzanians and it is precisely for this reason that they were called wabenzi, meaning the owners of Mercedez Benz cars which were essentially a status symbol of wealth and power. Insightful leaders like Julius Nyerere did not fail to notice the two important implications of this type of social polarization. First, unity which had been forged during the Uhuru struggles was slowly and surely giving way to disunity. Second, overcoming social inequality – which constituted one of the principal objectives for waging the independence struggle – was then being sacrificed by the ruling class. The Arusha Declaration which ushered in the policy of Tanzanian Socialism (Ujamaa) and Self-reliance became the answer in 1967.

Essentially, the Declaration was a call for a revolution: it nationalized the major means of production; it introduced a Leadership Code to top civil servants and Party leaders who were prohibited from having shares in capitalist companies, were not allowed to earn more than one salary, to let houses and other stringent measures. The overall objective was to prevent those occupying high ranking positions in the ruling political party as well as those in the civil service from using state positions and connections to accumulate private wealth.

There is no doubt that the Arusha Declaration was the turning point in the political development of Tanzania as it imbued the people – and particularly the youth – with the zeal and interest to start thinking seriously about socialism. However, it soon turned out that the Declaration was simply a pragmatic move formulated by enlightened members of the petty-bourgeoisie – a move intended to solve some of the immediate and observable social problems. But it did not mean that petty-bourgeois TANU leaders had embraced Marxism. The ruling petty-bourgeoisie was typically petty-bourgeois in their outlook and class position: their class interest conflicted with those of the masses, they were desirous of accumulation of wealth, and more importantly, they were also desirous of perpetuating the Tanzanian colonial economic structures on the basis of which the country had been integrated into the world capitalist system. Thus, the leaders had no vision of transcending colonial capitalism.

However, Ujamaa – the Tanzanian way to Socialism – is basically a brand of socialism which lacks a coherent concept of capitalism, imperialism, state, class, exploitation and domination; therefore, it lacks a totalizing knowledge to confront capitalism which is a totalizing system but also one which is highly dynamic. The Ujamaa-Socialists regarded Marxism still as a “foreign ideology”.

Intellectuals at the Hill – the University of Dar-es-Salaam

Since its inception as a constituent College of the University of East Africa in 1961, the University College of Dar-es-Salaam was not different from any one bourgeois University – it was a typical bourgeois academic institution fashioned on bourgeois norms, values and other paraphernalia. Thus, Issa Shivji notes that “the ideological level at the Campus was extremely low. Reactionary ideas held sway and what bourgeois lecturers taught in the classrooms was taken as gospel truth. Straight bourgeois theories went unchallenged. In our case, the bourgeois education that was dished out was nine-tenth harmful and one tenth useless.”  The intellectual apathy and indifference to the course of the labouring masses of the students was also corroborated by another militant student from Uganda – Yoweri Museveni. According to him he was induced to join the University College of Dar-es-Salaam as an undergraduate student solely on the revolutionary fervent and euphoria which was then reigning in Dar-es-Salaam. “It was Dar-es-Salaam’s atmosphere of freedom fighters, socialists, progressive nationalist, anti-imperialists that attracted me rather than the so-called academicians” (Museveni). But he was deeply disappointed when in July 1967 he reported at the campus for his three year undergraduate degree course, and he greatly laments: “I was, almost immediately disappointed on arrival at the College. I found that the students were lacking in militancy and were even hostile, not only to socialism, but even, at least some of them, to the whole question of African liberation. At any rate, there was no clear, militant commitment on the part of the broad sections of the student body. Instead, most of our extra-curricular time was taken up by frivolous activities: drinking, dancing and watching decadent Western films”.

More specifically, it was from such a lackadaisical atmosphere prevailing amongst the broad sections of the student community that militants like Hirji, Museveni, Shivji, Mapolu, Meghji  and others initiated ideological struggles against what they labelled as reactionaries – both students as well as members of the academic staff. It was mainly due to ideological confusion then prevailing on the campus that the militants started ideological classes on every Sunday morning from 10 o’clock. 

It was no accident, therefore, that during the late 1960s and the 1970s there developed an extremely lively intellectual fervent at the University of Dar-es-Salaam – a fervent, which was all pervasive. Every occasion, be it a normal seminar discussion or an event such as a publication, all were a forum for ideological struggle: students and academic staff were locked in ideological confrontations which were based largely on the two philosophical systems and standpoints, namely, bourgeois and materialist world views. Pioneered by the radical wing of the University community, the concern of the students was how to transform the capitalist system into a socialist one: they were concerned with how to solve social problems of the masses, particularly the abysmal conditions of the people in Africa; issues of social inequality (gender, class, ethnic, cultural, national, economic, social, political etc.); peace and security as well as environmental destruction occasioned by the capitalist system. It is the constellation of the opposing forces and ensuing struggles, which eventually led to the second stage of establishment of University Students African Revolutionary Front (USARF) and which in collaboration with TANU Youth League branch established Cheche [The Spark] – as their magazine. After the state banned Cheche, the militants founded another journal called Maji Maji.

The principal agenda which informed the materials published in Cheche and subsequently in Maji Maji was the liberation of man from the yoke of capitalism and imperialism. And proceeding from the premises that insurrection of arms must be preceded by the insurrection of ideas, their role as intellectuals as opposed to intellect workers (à la Baran) was, to transcend the narrow and specialised fields of knowledge characteristic of the bourgeois Universities. The approach enables the intellectual to perceive the interrelationship between and among phenomena in a holistic manner – a feature, which marks him off from the intellect worker. And hence, the axiom: the whole is the truth. Furthermore, the militants argued that the search for truth is only one of the essential qualities of an intellectual; the others are commitment and courage, which in turn, demands a social conscience and a dedication to a cause in the interest of humanity.

Class, State and Imperialism – the Debate

The pioneering work by Issa Shivji Tanzania: the silent class struggle which was published in the student magazine Cheche in 1970, unmasked the various forms of exploitation – many of which are very subtle – that goes under the cloak of joint ventures, management and consultancy agreements, trademarks and patent rights, tourism, foreign trade, and loans. This work played an extremely important and seminal role in exposing the limited role of nationalisation, as by its very nature it does not end exploitation; on the contrary, exploitation may simply take a new guise while it remains intact in essence, and it may even be accentuated as it was the case in Tanzania.

                Shivji’s second publication, Class Struggles in Tanzania (1976), was another event of profound importance and significance in the development of Marxism in Tanzania as it formed the basis for discussing very fundamentally, complex and intricate issues such as neo-colonialism and forms of imperialist exploitation; the nature of social classes that are formed under imperialist hegemony; and the nature of the neo-colonial state. The vibrant discussions “on the Hill” were finally compiled by Yash Tandon in The Debate: Class, State and Imperialism (1982).

                But all in all, one essential feature is that since its birth, Marxism in Tanzania has had very little social impact partly because all along, in the course of its evolution and development, it has been confined largely to only a few academic intellectuals who – despite their good intentions and commitments – have not been able to impart the doctrine to the working people. Even in the event of their departure from the ivory tower, and after they have joined and occupied senior positions in the bureaucracy as Ministers or as District and Regional Commissioners, as individuals, Marxists have had little or no influence at all in policy formulations. Most frequently, both ideologically and in practice, they have simply ended up toeing the ideological line of the ruling class.

                Nonetheless, one can justifiably identify two major documents which were highly critical of the Tanzanian social formation which appear to have been influenced by Marxists who were occupying top positions in the ruling party hierarchy, first in TANU and later in CCM – namely the TANU Guidelines of 1971 as well as the CCM Guidelines of 1981. While the former castigated and denounced the undemocratic, bureaucratic and the highhandedness of the Tanzanian management system then, the latter provided an unusually critical appraisal of the nature of class configurations which had emerged fifteen years after the Arusha Declaration.

                The Declaration had been hijacked by a class of Tanzanian capitalists who had emerged following the nationalization measures. The period following the Arusha Declaration saw the mash rooming of these capitalists who utilized the state organs to develop the capitalist sector in the country – particularly, the industrial, trade, communication and construction sectors. In other words, ujamaa was damped or abandoned due to the class interests upheld and internalized by the very capitalist classes which had been given the responsibility of nursing and developing it. And the emergence of neo-liberalism in the 1980s served to consolidate their economic position to such an extent that in 1992, the Arusha Declaration was officially abandoned.

Times are Changing – the Onslaught of Neo-liberalism

In its attempt to weaken and dampen radicalism at the University, round about 1978 the Tanzanian state revoked work contracts of some foreign radical academics at the University and also disengaged from employing a number of Tanzania radical academicians who were still in employment with the University of Dar-es-Salaam. Similarly, early in the 1990s another set of Tanzanian radical academicians were issued with letters of transfer from the University which required them to join other institutions of higher learning in the country, either as heads of the respective institutions or as normal lecturers. However, the government’s move backfired as none of the concerned lecturers complied with the move, they vehemently refused to get transferred.

                With the onslaught of the neo-liberal policies of the 1990s, various Marxist individuals and groups associated with training institutions, gender based NGOs, and human rights associations have been organizing debates at various fora in the country. For example, there have been debates on the social implications of neo-liberal policies of cost sharing in the form of user-fees in the education, health and utility service sectors; debates on the Tanzanian state and the still on-going land reforms. HAKIARDHI, for example, has been prolific in producing leftist inspired research works, programmes and analyses on land and land conflicts in the country as well as analyses of the social implications of commoditization of social life, privatization and marketization as they impinge on the working people livelihoods.

                More importantly, from 2009 up to 2013, Issa Shivji, the first Mwalimu Nyerere Professorial Chair in Pan-African Studies at the University of Dar-es-Salaam, together with his colleagues reinvigorated intellectual debates on the prospects, opinions and difficulties of African development. However, apart from conducting the Nyerere Annual Lecture, the Chair also ran a number of programmes including coordinated research and publications. Throughout the life span of the Mwalimu Nyerere Professorial Chair, the publications of a journal called Chemchemi: The Foundation of Ideas have had the same ideological impact: to further debates on development issues in Tanzania in particular and Africa in general. Likewise, today, through his own initiative, Shivji and his colleagues are running similar debates and research programmes though in another form at the Nyerere Research Centre (KAVAZI) which is based at the Tanzania Commission for Science and Technology (COSTECH) in Dar-es-Salaam.

                Last, but not the least, for about a year now, a group of young Tanzanians did organize themselves into a “socialist debating club” which has eventually crystallized into a platform called Jukwaa la Wajamaa (Platform for Socialists). It was formed late in 2016 in order to conduct weekly ideological classes and discussions amongst members of the group on different themes and topics based on a set of reading materials. Currently, the Platform has taken on another important task of liaising with Unions in the transport and logistics sector of Tanzania. The purpose here is not only to revive Marxist theory but also its practice by means of uniting it with the working people.

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Ujamaa failed principally due to its utopian nature as well as its reliance on the bourgeoisie to implement it. It mistakenly believed that state ownership of the means of production was sufficient to build socialism; it instead of developing the productive forces in the country it concentrated its efforts on co-operative living in the villages (villagisation). Consequently, knowingly or unknowingly, it was building and consolidating peripheral capitalism in Tanzania. But the failure of Ujamaa has succinctly vindicated the belief that socialism is a working people issue and one which can only be achieved by and through class struggle. But, in order that Marxism can reach out to members of the working people, it is necessary to overcome the language barrier. Marxism in general and Marxist analyses in particular, is still conducted through the English language which is inaccessible to the laboring majority. To impart the doctrine to the working people a conscious and deliberate effort is required to translate all important works of Marxism and Marxist analyses into Kiswahili, a language which the people can understand. Moreover, different forms of class struggles – economic, ideological, political and eventually militant struggles will be necessary.


  • Museveni, Yoweri (1970): “My three years in Tanzania: Glimpses of the struggle between revolutionaries and non-revolutionaries”, Cheche, issue no.2, July 1970.
  • Shivji, Issa (1993): Intellectuals at the Hill: Essays and Talks. Dar-es-Salaam: Dar-es-Salaam University Press.
  • Shivji, Issa (1976): Class Struggles in Tanzania. New York: Monthly Review Press.
  • Shivji, Issa (1973): “Capitalism Unlimited: Public corporations in partnership with multinational corporations”, The African Review, vol. 3, no.3.
  • Shivji, Issa (1970): “Tanzania: The silent class struggle”, Cheche, (special Issue).
  • Tandon, Yash (ed) (1982): The Debate: Class, State and Imperialism, Dar-es-Salaam: Tanzania Publishing House.

The Autor Joachim Abunuwasi Lugansya Mwami taught sociology at the University of Dar-es-Salaam from 1992 to 2013 when he retired. In the same year 2013 he joined the Umaru Musa Yar’adua University in Nigeria where he spent three years teaching Sociology in the Faculty of Social and Management Sciences until the end of 2016 when he returned to Tanzania. He completed his doctoral thesis at the Johannes Kepler University Linz in Austria in 1997. His main areas of specialisation were sociological theories, gender studies, rural and urban sociology and social work. Joachim Mwami has translated Capital (Das Kapital) vol. 1 into Kiswahili and currently he is making the final touches to the manuscript before it is finally submitted to the publisher sometime in 2018. Hand in hand with this translation work, he is also writing in Kiswahili A Guide to Capital which is a simplified introduction to vol. one of Capital.

Selected publications:

  • Social insecurity of the elderly people in Tanzania to-day: A Theoretical Framework (2002).
  • The Food Question in Tanzania (mimeo) (2011).
  • Land Grabbing and Popular Responses in the Rufiji River Basin in a Post Investment Period – co-author (2012).
  • The Federo Question of Buganda in Uganda within the Context of the East African Political Federation – co-author (2012).
  • The economic crisis and household vulnerability: the economic and social consequences of ill-health amongst low income earners in urban Tanzania (forthcoming).
  • Bourgeois feminism and cultural imperialism in Tanzania today (forthcoming).