Socialism as an “Attitude of Mind

But what constitutes a socialist society? “Socialism like democracy, is an attitude of mind”, is Nyerere’s reply. “In a socialist society, it is the socialist attitude of mind, not the rigid adherence to a standard political pattern, which is needed to ensure that the people care for each other’s welfare.”

The “possession or non-possession of wealth” has no relevance to socialism. The millionaire and the beggar are both capable of being socialist or capitalist. It is just as plausible for the rich to be socialist as it is for the poor to be capitalist. The pitiful fellow in rags who is forced by circumstances to beg in order to keep his bones together might be a worse capitalist if only he had the wealth; just as the millionaire can be a socialist because he shares his wealth. Mere physical possession of wealth is therefore not the deciding factor. What is important is the use to which the wealth is put; and this in the last analysis depends on the attitude one has regarding wealth. The “man who uses wealth for the purpose of dominating any of his fellows is a capitalist”, says Nyerere, and adds: “So is the man who would if he could.”

Nor is the level or mode of production the determining criterion as to whether a society is socialist or not. What matters is distribution, and it is in this sense that even a millionaire could be a socialist. But, how could this assertion be reconciled with the socialist belief that it is by exploitation of his fellow men that one becomes a millionaire? A socialist is one whose ‘attitude of mind’ is permeated with the spirit of Ujamaa. He could not accumulate wealth for the purpose of accumulating yet more wealth, as a millionaire-aspirant would, because this would be alien to his way of life.

Nyerere here is caught within the limitation of his own logic. If socialism is simply a matter of an attitude of mind, then anyone, rich or poor, exploiting capitalist of an Mjamaa, can become a socialist. Yet at the same time, Nyerere seems to realise that the path the wealthy and the millionaire had of necessity to follow was not an honourable one. It was not the way of Ujamaa. Nyerere admits this contradiction. “While a millionaire … could be a good socialist, he could hardly be the product of a socialist society”. The problem here is rooted in Nyerere’s insistence that it is distribution, and not production, which is the crucial factor. Yet if this proposition were to be accepted, it would deny socialism any real meaning. For the distinction between a ‘capitalist’ and a ‘socialist’ would revolve around the fact whether a capitalist is a philanthropist or not. If he were, he could then be a socialist.

Indeed, this emphasis on distribution as the crucial factor determining whether a man or a system is socialist or not, commits Nyerere to yet more confusions Having said that ” …. the very desire to accumulate must be interpreted as a vote of no confidence” in the system, (my emphasis), Nyerere goes on to assert:

“There is nothing wrong in our wanting to be wealthy, nor is it bad for us to want to acquire the power which wealth brings with it. But it most certainly is wrong if we want the wealth and the power so that we can dominate somebody else.”

At any rate, can the desire ‘to be wealthy’ be separated in practice from the desire to dominate? Could it not be argued that the man in pursuit of wealth is also he who is most likely to be predisposed to dominate others?  There is perhaps little difference between the irresistible urge to ‘conquer markets’ and to ‘out-fox’ other businessmen from the urge to dominate others.

There is in Nyerere’s socialism an Owenian flavour. For was not Robert Owen an industrialist and a capitalist himself, and yet espoused socialism? So too was Engels; indeed, it was Engels’ generosity which nourished the physical side of Marx’s existence. It is therefore possible to have a capitalist turned socialist, but to expect a whole system to be based on such social freaks, (those who have seen the light after a spell in the wilderness, as it were) is unrealistic.

Nyerere’s attitude to the ‘millionaire’ or the wealthy and material possession is very ambiguous. At times he looks at wealth as a constant factor with the wealth or the millionaire as the variables. It is not wealth per se that is crucial, but the attitude of the one who possesses it that matters. Hence a millionaire with the appropriate kind of attitude is acceptable: he can be a socialist. In other occasions Nyerere seems to regard even the wish to acquire material possession as something unworthy of man. There is no doubt that wealth and its possession play major roles in Nyerere’s socialistic thinking. What Nyerere really seems to be asserting, although his thoughts are not clearly elaborated in his pre-declaration writings, is that wealth has corruptive influences on people. Although a necessary pre-requisite to human life, socially unrestrained accumulation of personal wealth is not only deleterious to social harmony, but also morally wrong especially in a poor country like Tanzania. For it would always be the assertive, the individualist and the ambitious – the deviants in the African traditional society – who would succeed and this would be at the expense of the society at large. Nyerere also seems to feel that wealth erodes some of the essentially human qualities in man.

Nyerere contends that “no under-developed country can afford to be anything but socialist”. Socialism is the only way of life and a model for development for African countries. Why? African life has traditionally been ‘socialistic’. The African, Nyerere claims, needs education neither in socialism nor in democracy. Both socialism and democracy are ways of life familiar to the African as an integral part of his tradition.