It is not the kind of story you expect to see these days, but there it was. The Social Democratic Party, said a report in Daily Nation, had changed its name to Communist Party of Kenya with effect from March 5, 2019.
“In an advertisement in the local dailies,” said the story, “Secretary-General Benedict Wachira, said the party remains committed to its Communist path founded on a Marxist Leninist line and the strength of Kenyan working class and its allies.”
The difference between socialist/socialism and communist/communism is a fine one, and most people often use them interchangeably.
However, definitions from Investopedia captures it well: “Communism and socialism are economic and political structures that promote equality and seek to eliminate social classes. In a communist society, the working class owns everything, and everyone works toward the same communal goal.
There are no wealthy or poor people --- all are equal, and the community distributes what it produces based only on need…
“Like communism, socialism’s main focus is on equality. But workers earn wages they can spend as they choose, while the government, not citizens, owns and operates the means for production. Workers receive what they need to produce and survive…”
And to complete this, because it will be relevant later, it defines capitalism. “In capitalist societies, owners are allowed to keep the excess production they earn. And competition occurs naturally...Capitalism tends to create a sharp divide between the wealthiest citizens and the poorest, however, with the wealthiest owning the majority of the nation’s resources.”
Communist parties have fallen out of fashion these days; even the most successful one, the Chinese Communist Party, is actually the world’s biggest capitalist party.
Still, Kenya’s SDP’s rebaptism as communist, is in keeping with the global shift to socialist sensibilities, with demands for a fairer distribution of wealth in a world that is increasingly unequal.
Few organisations fuel this debate like the charity Oxfam, which has cornered this conversation with its annual world inequality report.
It ruffles feathers whenever it comes out.
This year’s spoke of a still-growing concentration of the world’s wealth, reporting that in 2018 the 26 richest billionaires owned as many assets as the 3.8 billion people who make up the poorest half of the world’s population.
The rich grew richer and the poor poorer, the Oxfam study said, with the wealth of over 2,200 billionaires in the world having increased by $900 billion in 2018 –a 12 per cent increase, against a fall of 11 per cent in the wealth of the poorest half of the world’s population.
With this picture, we have the unusual spectacle of populist right wing parties (in Italy and Brazil for example), which in years gone by would have been gung-ho capitalists, demanding for socialist style redistribution of wealth to deal with this divide, and the political polarisation it is causing almost everywhere in the world.
Extreme left parties, also, are demanding the same thing. “Tax the super rich big time” is a new rallying cry. It’s both a very good, and very bad, time to be a billionaire.
Attempts to redistribute wealth, in China for example, have reduced poverty radically, yes, but also the inequality gap and number of the super rich have increased dramatically at the same time.
The bigger problem, however, could be that we have reached a point where the current state structures are the problem. You cannot reduce inequality, or make a dent on poverty much further in them.
First, all modern states depend on taxes (your own or other’s through aid or grants) and fees, not old-fashioned plunder and pillage, to run governments and manage countries. Invariably, you have to privilege the owners of capital (whether private business police or state/party bureaucrats and officials the state is the “owner” of capital) over labour.
And within labour, you have a pecking order with higher value producers up there, and the “low value” down. You cannot escape paying the brain surgeon more than the sweeper at the hospital.
Then, the very act of redistribution, even in the purest communist state, breeds inequality, because there are big men and women along with knives along the chain, who decide how much to cut for who. And, of course, they will get a bigger cut.
It’s possible to have a perfectly unequal world. It’s just that none of us who are demanding for it, know how to make it happen, or if we do, we don’t have the guts to go for it, because it will eat us too.
The author is publisher of Afri-capedia.com and explainer site Roguechiefs.com. Twitter@cobbo3