Publication History - Rosa Luxemburg - International / Transnational - Africa - East Africa “Only One Thing: Socialism”

Rosa Luxemburg’s unlikely re-emergence in neoliberal Tanzania



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Sabatho Nyamsenda,


March 2019

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Tanzanian President Julius Nyerere
Julius Kambarage Nyerere during a visit to the Netherlands, 1985 Rob Bogaerts / Anefo

The name Rosa Luxemburg enjoys a special place in the struggles of the Tanzanian Left, secretly reuniting its fragments and later rejuvenating it when it was in retreat. The former happened during the era of radical nationalism (1960s and 1970s), and the latter during the era of neoliberal capitalist crisis (from 2007 onwards).

Globally, the 1960s and 1970s were heady years for the Left. The Soviet Union was a superpower that challenged imperialism and provided a breathing space for anti-imperialist countries. The Chinese Revolution was consolidating under the Cultural Revolution. US imperialism had been defeated on the battle field by the courageous Vietnamese and Cubans, and vilified at home and abroad by the anti-war movement. Africa had largely thrown off the old colonial empire through violent revolutions, as in Algeria, or “peaceful” mass mobilizations as in Tanzania, while liberation struggles to uproot the remaining colonial powers (including the apartheid state in South Africa) were ongoing across Southern Africa. Tanzania was also impacted by these developments, functioning as a hotbed of revolutionary activity and the headquarters of Southern African liberation movements. In 1967, Mwalimu Julius Nyerere pushed his party, the Tanganyika African National Union, to adopt the “Arusha Declaration”—the country’s roadmap to building a socialist and self-reliant nation. The Declaration became a beacon of hope for the masses and spurred the development of radical socialist scholarship at the University of Dar es Salaam.

The Tanzanian Left was divided. Those holding state power, like Nyerere, were opposed to Marxism. Nyerere argued that Marxism was being presented as a religious dogma without regard for the circumstances of the country—and as such lost its scientific rigour. Equating class struggle with violence, he was also opposed to the emphasis on “guns”, without which one would not be seen as charting out a socialist alternative.

Nyerere therefore engineered his own version of socialism, which he called Ujamaa. Although not Marxist, he nevertheless admitted that all versions of socialism, whether Marxist or not, shared the basic principles of equity, social justice, and freedom.  Nyerere’s critics were Marxist intellectuals based at the University of Dar es Salaam. While the government had nationalized the commanding heights of the economy, his critics pointed to the fact that it had not socialized them, and as such capitalist relations of production remained intact. Moreover, although the Arusha Declaration emphasized national self-reliance, Tanzania’s economy continued to be subjected to the economic logic of imperialism.

At times the ideological debates between these two versions of socialism grew confrontational, with the state flexing its muscles to restrict freedom of expression. The USARF, a Marxist student organisation, and its mouthpiece Cheche were banned in the early 1970s. While the name of Karl Marx divided the Left, that of Rosa Luxemburg covertly united it. Like his radical critics, Nyerere was a secret admirer of Rosa Luxemburg. Going through his archives 2012 and 2013, I found a note written  to Nyerere by Joan Wicken (a British Fabian socialist and Nyerere’s long-time comrade and personal assistant). Wicken told Nyerere that she stumbled on a used book: a biography of the socialist Nyerere admired most. And who was this socialist? Rosa Luxemburg, of course.


SABATHO NYAMSENDA is an assistant lecturer at the University of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania; a research associate at the Society, Work and Development Institute (SWOP), University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa; and a founding member of Jukwaa la Wajamaa Tanzania (Tanzania Socialist Forum). This publication is based on a presentation held at the Rosa-Luxemburg-Stiftung’s Regional Planning Conference in Arusha, Tanzania, on 6 September 2018.

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