Liberia has been taken over by multinational corporations that are exploiting its resources at the expense of Liberians, especially the country’s working class that serves as cheap labour to these foreign companies.
Unlike other countries in the sub-Saharan region, Liberia was never formally colonised by European imperialism. Therefore, the West African nation was neither militarily nor politically occupied by any of the colonising states to give rise to the unhindered and unquestioned penetration of foreign capital for the colossal exploitation and exportation of raw material from the soil and sub-soil of Liberia after the partition of Africa took place in Berlin, Germany in 1884-1885.
Nevertheless, Liberia’s social system has produced the principal contradiction of the “dictatorship of the multinational corporations”—the wholesale plunder of the nation’s wealth and people by foreign multinational corporations that have their origins in colonial powers. We do not abhor contradictions as they are mutually opposite aspects that exist in all phenomena whether nature, society or human thoughts. Wherever contradictions exist, the internal struggle of the opposites in those phenomena are what engender a new stage of human development and a new form of contradictions as well as new methods for resolving them.
In our study of the Liberian state, there are two mutually opposite aspects of the contradiction of the dictatorship of the multinationals. On the one hand, there is the exploiting class, which consists of the owners of the multinational corporations and their office allies in the state bureaucracy. On the other hand, the exploited classes, which consist of the workers, farmers and masses of poor people. The multinational corporations and their office allies in the state bureaucracy are the principal elements of the contradiction while the workers, farmers and poor masses are the secondary element of the contradiction. And of course the principal element of any contradiction is what determines the nature of such phenomenon or process in which the contradiction exists.
The principal element of the particular contradiction in the Liberian society exploits the labour and resources of the country and exports the surplus values with little appropriated to changing the quality of the Liberian society in order to pave the way for the industrial production of goods and services. It is against this unequal relation to the means of production that the nature of the Liberian society has been characterised as underdeveloped, impoverished and backward.
The multinational corporations, with their international capital are owners of Liberia’s properties of production. They acquired these instruments of production through the comprador bourgeoisie-multinational asymmetrical relations. In such a setup, the local middle class in Liberia formed a marriage with foreign capital not for the purpose of transforming the homeland, but to export and exploit the resources of our country in its most crude variety.
Now, the multinationals accumulate huge surplus value and in turn give crumbs to its local lackeys dubbed as a middle class who do not form part of the productive process, but are rather occupying positions in the various state apparatuses. This social relation of production was entrenched by Tubman’s Open Door Policy after the Second Imperialist War. The laws of the state are crafted around such a system, which many progressive African scholars refer to as neo-colonial capitalism.
This social system smoothens the way for the acquisition of the means of production by multinational corporations. Currently, as it was in the past, the multinational corporations have the iron ore, rubber, gold, timber, mega hotels, telecommunications, etc. Arcelor Mittal, one of the world’s steel giants is here in Liberia, not manufacturing steel but exploiting iron ore and exporting in its raw state to advanced economies. Firestone has been in Liberia since 1926 growing, harvesting and exporting rubber in its latex form. Liberty Gold Mining is here in Liberia. MNG Gold Mining is here in Liberia. Golden Veroleum, Sime Darby, Farmington Hotel, Royal Grand Hotel, Boulevard Palace, Lonestar, MTN, Orange etc. are also here in Liberia.
At their various production centres, workers who play no part in their appropriation produce wealth dubbed as surplus value. The working people at those production centres are paid paltry sums in “so-called” wages that cannot cater for their basic needs for goods and services [that they contribute to produce]. The surplus value they produce from the mountains, soil, forest, etc. are exploited by the owners of the means of production, which include the labour of working people, to amass wealth through private profit maximisation. The surplus values, due to their outward orientation, are exported instead of being reinvested in the Liberian economy; thus leading to the underutilisation of the productivity of labour.
At some point in time, the private profit motive leads to expansion in production, which uses technologies that pollute the working people’s environment. When the working people and communities’ dwellers resist this, the standing army is sent by the state bureaucracy to crush the resistance of the mass of people. A case of reference is the pollution of the communities in Kokoya, Bong County by MNG Gold Mine and the lethargy of the people to resist due to fear of reprisal from the state.
When there arises the economic situation of downward shift in the demand for the commodity or service produced at the production centres, thus leading to the drop in total income, the working people whose labour is the only commodity of production that produces wealth while being consumed, are affected either through wage cut or employment or contract termination. When this is protested against through strikes, the state’s standing army is sent to shoot at the working people. The shooting of protesting workers by the Emergency response Unit of the Liberia National Police at the Liberty Gold Mine in Kinjor, Grand Cape Mount County sometime this year is a case in point. The workers were demanding wage increment and better working conditions at the mining sites. The state responded to their plights with violence and thus condemnation from its communicators including the head of the Traditional Council Zanzan Kawar.
When the board of directors, in isolation of the workers, decides to close down the production centres specifically due to declining profit levels, workers are laid off and the state does nothing in the interest of the working masses, but justifies the actions of multinational corporations. Putu Iron Ore Mining Company and China Union in Grand Gedeh and Bong Counties respectively shut down operations, thus leading to the loss of hundreds of jobs. Up until no, many workers have not gotten their just benefits and the state is doing nothing to remedy such situation.
There are reports that Lonestar Cell MTN and Orange Liberia: the only two telecommunication service providers in the country recently threatened to shut down due to a colossal drop in their profit margins. As a way of saving the so-called investments, the state, under the watchful eye of President George Weah (Country Giant) reacted by increasing tariff on international calls by US $ 0.05cents. Ordinary Liberians including workers, farmers, small traders, etc. who communicate with their families, friends and loved ones in the diaspora will be highly affected.
The reactionary involvement of Chief Zanzan Kawar in the repression and abuse of our people must now bring us to the conclusion that the aiding and abetting of the marginalisation of the masses of people by a segment of the population should never be looked at from the perspective of the minority Americo-Liberian domination against majority native Liberians. Throughout the history of our country, the subjugation of the masses of people by the exploiting class has always been orchestrated by the two elites of the “Native and Congau” social formations, just that for a very long time the “Congau” social sect has been the head of such an alliance. The taking away of natives’ land in 1822 was never done without the consent of the elite native chiefs. Even the giving away of our people to Firestone Liberia in the 1920s as cheap labourers by state power, which was predominantly controlled by Americo-Liberians was aided and abetted by elite native chiefs.
During the presidency of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, a woman of Americo-Liberian descent, the National Legislature was dominated by the so-called educated native elites. Before 2012, the descendant of the Americo-Liberian social formation had sent to the National Legislature 68 concession agreements between the government of Liberia and multinational corporations for rectification. The native dominated legislature, without proper due diligence passed into law all the concession agreements. A 2012 Moore Stephen’s audit report revealed that 66 of the 68 concession agreements were signed bogusly. So, class formation in human society is never premised on race, tribe, religion, social sects, and etc. although members of these social formations form part of either the exploiting or exploited class. The crux of the debate is that class formation has always been formulated based on one’s relationship with the properties of production – properties that produce the wealth of human society.
During slavery, the exploited class were composed of slaves while the exploiting class consisted of slave masters. Under Feudalism, the exploited class consisted of the serfs while the exploiting class consisted of the feudal lords. Under present day capitalism, especially in the advanced capitalist countries, the exploited class is the working class or what we call “proletariat” – those who produce wealth on the various factory floors but play no democratic part in how such wealth is appropriated. The exploiting class is the ruling class or the bourgeoisie – the owners of the means of production who exploit the labour of workers to accumulate wealth through surplus values. There are black workers and there are black bourgeoisie. There are white workers and there are white owners of the properties of production.
This is why civil rights leaders like George P. Jackson in the United States of America did not limit the struggle to the abolition of racism. Their fight was also extended to the pattern of ownership of the means of production and thus the class struggle – the liberation of labour from the exploitation of capital. To have only dealt with the issue of race and left out the pattern of ownership of the wealth and means of production would have been like dealing with the effect and leaving out the cause.
Similarly, the African liberation struggle was not just limited to ridding the continent of the white-colonialists, but also creating the condition to avoid the creation of black-colonialists.
In Liberia, as we indicated in the labelling of Liberia’s principal contradiction, the exploited class consists of the workers, farmers, and poor masses while the exploiting class consists of the owners of the multinational corporations, which are predominantly owned by foreign capital.
Throughout history, Liberia has really not produced indigenous bourgeoisie. The Liberian bourgeois class is found in the state bureaucracy. This class, which makes up elite Liberians who occupy positions in the three branches of the government, makes every law conducive for the unhindered exploitation of Liberia’s resources and the labour of the Liberian working class by multinational corporations. This is why we say the social system produced the principal contradiction of the “Dictatorship of Multinational Corporations”.
State power is exercised in the interest of the multinational corporations although the apparatuses of the state (executive, legislature and judiciary) were instituted democratically by the workers, farmers and poor masses to act in their interest. Paradoxically, when workers resist their exploitation by multinationals, state power sends the armed body of men to crush the class actions of the toilers. When the people protested against Golden Veroleum for desecrating their traditional shrines in Sinoe County, the state sent in the Emergency Response Unit to violently curb the action of the rural masses.
The reality is, individuals, whether “Natives” or “Congaus” occupying the various apparatuses of the state depend on the multinational corporations for their economic survival. Portion of the surplus value exploited from the wealth produced by the workers is paid to the national government in the forms of taxes and rent. Instead of such funds being used to change the quality of the Liberian society (education, health, infrastructure, etc.), they are diverted to the huge salaries and perks of robber bureaucrats in the executive, legislative and judiciary branches of the government.
The budget of the president’s office is US $ 21million for fiscal year 2018/2019 while there is zero allocation to improving technical and vocational education in the country. A cabinet minister in the executive branch makes about US $7, 800 in addition to other benefits monthly. It is an open secret that a lawmaker in the National Legislature makes over US $14, 000 plus other emoluments monthly. The same can be said of hierarchies in the Judiciary! In all of these, Liberia remains the citadel of illiteracy, disease and poverty – conditions, which reproduces the other segments of the exploited class (impoverished farmers in the rural communities and poor masses in the urban centres).
The contradiction of the “Dictatorship of the Multinational Corporations” has protractedly remained in place since the country got co-opted into the neo-colonial capitalist order although there have been molecular changes as the result of the struggle of the secondary aspect of the contradiction. These changes have only taken place relative to who occupy the apparatuses of state power/bureaucracy. This has left the social contradictions unresolved. Thus, the blames of the social crisis in Liberia have been continuously placed on dishonest and corrupt leadership, tribal and religious divisions, the mass illiteracy of the people, etc.
But these are just other contradictions that have existed and developed as the result of the continuous existence and development of the dictatorship of the multinational corporations, which is the principal or particular contradiction in the Liberian society. Once this contradiction is resolved by the secondary aspect (exploited masses) struggle against the dominant principal aspect (owners of multinational corporations and occupants of state power), the Liberian society would enter a new face of socioeconomic development.
As it is with every contradiction, the continued domination of the principal aspect of the contradiction goes side by side with the struggle of the opposite, which is the secondary pole of the contradiction. It is this struggle of opposites that leads to a leap in the development process. With this, quantitative change is transformed into qualitative change. The exploited become the exploiting while the exploiting becomes the exploited. This change from the principal into the secondary and from the secondary into the principal is a simple dialectical logic. Nothing is permanent. Everything is in constant motion, always changing, always coming into being and passing away.
In the context of Liberia’s history, the “The dictatorship of the Multinational Corporations” has always been nurtured by reactionary regimes that emerge out of the ruling class, but the struggle of all the segments of the exploited class always turned against these forces in the ruling class and one way or the other has led to the transformation of quantity into quality. This leap in the development process was experienced on 12 April 1980 when the masses of the Liberian people overwhelmingly supported the military overthrow of the decadent True Whig Party oligarchy. Another leap occurred on 24 December 1989 when the people welcomed the Charles Taylor’s insurgency against the despot Samuel K. Doe and also the ousting of Charles Taylor in 2003 by two rebel forces.
But these struggles of the masses against the reactionary regimes that emerged out of the ruling class have led not to a genuine new stage of development in which the people become the owners of the properties of production and that they develop the productive forces for the benefit of all. The change has only been reflected in the segment of the exploiting class relative to changing those who occupy state power while the relations of production remain in place – foreign monopoly capital’s ownership of the means of production.
This distortion in the process of development in Liberia is only due to the lack of a revolutionary party and its understanding of the quantitative change in the relative position of the masses and the exploiting class as well as its inability to draw out the right revolutionary leadership and programmes to concentrate its struggle against the different reactionary forces and build up a broad-based united front to drive the social transformation of the Liberian society.
Some enlightened intellectuals under the canopy of the “Progressive Forces” emerged in the 1970s to play such revolutionary vanguard role but were crushed by the combined forces of the exploiting class firstly in 1980 with the orchestration of the military coup; secondly in 1984 when Samuel K. Doe, with support from internal and external reactionary elements, proscribed the two progressive parties from participating in the 1985 general elections.
Lastly, the crushing of the progressive forces was culminated in 1989 when every effort to have the revolutionary vanguard lead the liberation war was sabotaged by certain global powers that had interest in the Cold War as well as links to most multinationals in Liberia. This lack of a revolutionary vanguard to facilitate the change from quantity to quality has led to the emergence of different reactionary regimes including the Coalition for Democratic Change – led government of President George Manneh Weah. Our duty now is to not repeat the fatal mistakes of our history!
Struggle or perish – There is no third way!
*Moses Uneh Yahmia is a student of the University of Liberia. He studies Political Science and Economics and can be reached via <[email protected]>