Remembering Eskor Toyo, a rounded Marxist scholar
On Friday March 4, Comrade Professor Eskor Toyo began his final journey home. The following day, a funeral lecture was delivered in his honour by Comrade Edwin Madunagu at the University of Calabar International Conference Centre, Calabar, Cross River State. Excerpt of the lecture is reproduced here:
Theory and Politics of Eskor Toyo
When Comrade Professor Eskor Toyo died as the sun went down and disappeared on Monday, December 7, 2015, I returned to the Archives holding his works and works on him. What I found amazed me although I placed them there. Before me was a massive collection -dating from early 1960s to just two years ago – made up of books, pamphlets, academic papers, intellectual disquisitions, mobilisational papers, public lectures, articles, essays and extended interviews in newspapers and journals, quasi-lecture notes, study notes, personal communications, political disputations, party programmes, internal party memoranda, scores and scores of unpublished manuscripts, etc.Truly intimidated, I simply took away just one document: my 1994 tribute, In praise of Eskor Toyo, which was published in my Guardian column of July 28, 1994. I read that tribute which I wrote 21 years before his death again and again, and concluded that I, in fact, had nothing substantive to edit, nothing substantive to subtract, but accounts of more revolutionary work to add.
Eskor Toyo, a professor of Economics, is an accomplished Marxist intellectual and one of the best the world has produced since World War II. He became a leading theoretician and partisan of the working class in Nigeria long before he read for higher academic degrees and became a university teacher. He was a unique organic intellectual of the working class of Nigeria in the sense of Antonio Gramsci. I confirmed this again to myself on February 6, 2016 when I re-visited and listened to his Larger Family at Oron.
With a long experience as a teacher and administrator in post-primary schools in the West, in the East and in the North of Nigeria, rising to a school principal, and with goundings in economics, history, sociology, anthropology, political science, the natural sciences, mathematics and logic, and with practical involvement in proletarian politics spanning about 62 years, Eskor Toyo comes forth as a very valued teacher, even when engaged in polemics against an opponent within or outside the movement.
Eskor Toyo was in Marxist politics what Zik was in bourgeois politics: first class polemicist, merciless and total. He dealt with an opponent as if asking him or her to shut up forever. Some indeed shut up, others said “for where?” He was rigorous, but lucid; prolific, but uniformly deep and serious. He was a captivating speaker, an orator. His command and deployment of the English Language greatly assisted his presentations. Like Karl Marx and Vladimir Lenin, he returned his readers, over and over again, to the fundamentals and like Rosa Luxembourg and Leon Trotsky he took them through broad historical sweeps. Eskor rises to his best, to his most passionate level when defending Socialism, Marxism and the Working Class.
The range, quantity and quality of Eskor Toyo’s academic and political works are, indeed, prodigious. He has authored enough books, papers, monographs, essays, articles, lectures and speeches to occupy a research institute of theoretical and applied Marxism. For introduction to the Marxism of Eskor Toyo, a researcher may refer to three of his books: The Working Class and the Nigerian Crisis (1965); The Working Class and the Third Republic (1986) and Crisis and Democracy in Nigeria (Comments on the Transition From the Babangida Regime)(1994), as well as his articles and essays in the Mass Line (1973-1977) and (1987-1990).
The first of these books is an analysis and critique of proletarian politics in Nigeria between 1960 and 1965 and, in particular, the 1964 General Strike – together with the events preceding and following it. In that General Strike Comrade Eskor Toyo was a participant, a mobiliser, an organizer, a chronicler, an ideologue and a theoretician.
Again, as a footnote, I can say that Eskor Toyo would have opposed the concept of The Marxism of Eskor Toyo in the sharpest language. I would, however, have insisted. That is the type of argument which only history can resolve.
Eskor Toyo had been actively involved in organised working class struggles, and in trade union and socialist politics since the formation of the Nigerian National Federation of Labour (NNFL) in 1948. He was a leading member of the United Working Peoples Party (UWPP) (1953), Nigerian Youth Congress (1960), Nigeria Union of Teachers (NUT), Socialist Workers’ and Farmers’ Party –SWAFP (1963), Nigerian Labour Party (1964), Nigerian Afro-Asian Solidarity Organization – NAASO (1967), Movement for People’s Democracy (1974), Calabar Group of Socialists (1977),the People’s Redemption Party (1979), Academic Staff Union of Universities – ASUU (1978/79), Directorate for Literacy (1987),the Nigerian Socialist Alliance (1989), the Labour Party (1989) and most recently, the Socialist Party of Nigeria (SPN). He was an editor of the Marxist journal, Mass Line during its first appearance (1970-1977) and the editor duringits second appearance (1987-1990). A revolutionary group, Mass Line – Collective crystallized around the journal in the 1980s and early 1990s. The Calabar Group of Socialists, the Directorate for Literacy and the Mass Line Collective, as well as Democratic Action Committee (DACOM) – all working-class formations – played a prominent role in the campaign, election, and the subsequent BasseyEkpoBassey-led Calabar Municipal Administration of 1988-1989.
Although Eskor Toyo has nice words for several of his predecessors and contemporaries, he singled out Michael Imoudu for special praise. If he had any hero at all, I suspect it will be Imoudu. In a private discussion with me (and I think this has been repeated in at least one open meeting), he said that the Nigerian Labour Movement has produced only one exemplary proletarian politician, namely, Imoudu. He singled out Imoudu for his proletarian and mass-line (as against petit-bourgeois and sectarian) approach to working class politics.
To explain the struggle between the various factions of Nigeria’s ruling classes, Eskor Toyo takes us back to the concept of primitive capitalist accumulation which he defines as the “sum total of economic and associated social processes by which a capitalist class emerges and matures in a country”. He insists: “Unless one understands the essence, processes, contradictions, historical pressures and cultural emanations of primitive capitalist accumulation in Nigeria, one cannot make headway in understanding her politics.”
“It is not enough to be political scientists,” he continues. “It is not enough to recognize that Nigeria has ethnic groups, is a neocolony and is underdeveloped, or even that she is ruled by a bourgeois class with unspecified character ….” Eskor Toyo is convinced that if one does not understand that the military coups and other political convulsions that have shaken Nigeria since independence are crises of the politics of primitive accumulation in a neo-colonial and multi-ethnic national setting”, his or her analyses and advice – either to the government or to the opposition – will be useless.
Were Eskor Toyo alive and conscious today he would have responded to the current “war on corruption” in similar terms, namely, that the next generation will witness another war on corruption just like the last one and the one before it unless the problem is tackled from the roots. Put explicitly: We must comprehend the connection between the department of corruption now being fought – the department which I myself in 1982 called the Political Economy of State Robbery– and Primitive Capitalist Accumulation which some Marxists also call Primary Capitalist Accumulation. This is where the Nigerian Socialist Movement is summoned by History to formulate that link and enter the current battle as an independent organized political force and not as individual cheer leaders.
Once one grasps Eskor Toyo’s thesis on the link between primitive capitalist accumulation, state robbery and the political crises, one will be able to understand why he did not regard the national question or ethnicity as an independent phenomenon, but rather insisted on the building of a revolutionary workers’ party – whether the state approves of it or not – and entering the political struggle with it under the banner: Workers’ Power, Popular Democracy, Socialism. This proposition is clear, bold and serious. Responses to it- whether in agreement, in disagreement or in modification -should also be at that level. That is the demand of Comrade Eskor Toyo’s revolutionary heritage.
I wish to say, with all seriousness, and in tribute to Comrade Eskor Toyo that his theses on the National Question, among some other important questions, require responses, robust responses and bold discussions, the type of discussions that Vladimir Lenin and Rosa Luxembourg initiated just before the First World War but which the global Left again neglected after the Russian Revolution … only to pay a very heavy prize for that neglect from the late 1980s. The Nigerian Marxist Left is still timid before the National Question, afraid to discuss it, let alone take a concrete rather than abstract, position on it.
Eskor Toyo and Intra – Group Struggle
That Comrade Eskor Toyo abhorred factionalism in Workers and Socialist Movement does not mean that he shied away from inevitable and often necessary internal struggles which ironically could only end in factionalisation or liquidation of one or both sides of a dispute. Eskor Toyo waged internal battles, epic battles, in his long revolutionary career. But his positions were always clear and principled, and, of course, always articulately and passionately argued. And he respected principled positions and arguments even when he was in disagreement. You cannot earn Eskor’s respect simply by supporting him. That was one of his strengths. And the Workers’and Socialist Movements benefitted immensely from that attribute: it prevented, in particular, the emergence of what in the history of revolution is called the “cult of personality” either around him or against him. Our history shows how damaging to the struggle the “cult of personality” could be. And, conversely, how helpful its absence could also be.I define the “cult of personality”simply as fanatical hero – worshipping, automatic support that rules out,ab initio, the need for debate, the possibility of error. The Nigerian Socialist Movement is fortunate that Comrade Eskor Toyo never attracted that phenomenon, as towering as he was. Let me provide a factual illustration.
The Calabar Group of Socialists (CGS)was formed in August 1977 by eight revolutionary socialists (four intellectuals and four workers – with varying backgrounds and experiences): EskorToyo, EboneyOkpa, Udo Atat, AssimIta, Ita Henshaw, BasseyEkpoBassey, Bene Madunagu and Edwin Madunagu. With Eskor Toyo leaving us only two of the foundation members are now alive.
In November 1977, barely three months after its formation, the Calabar Group of Socialists was engulfed by a bitter internal struggle over rules and discipline, and how to combine weapons in the confrontation with General Obasanjo’s military dictatorship, among other issues. The struggle was carried to workers and their organisations, to students and their organisations, to academics and their organisations, to other strata of the population and into civil and state institutions. But the struggle was principled. Two factions emerged. One faction leveled the charges of Anarchism and Dangerous Romanticism; the other responded with charges of Petit-Bourgeois Degeneracy and Individualism.
The two sides argued their positions openly and underground, verbally and in writing, locally and nationally. But there was no tribalism, no sectionalism, of course no religious bigotry, no sexism, no appeal to age, experience, education or social status. The fact that it was principled prevented the emergence of “cult of personality” and made reconciliation not only possible but easy to initiate. Reconciliation was indeed initiated but at the most unlikely location: the state police headquarters, whenEskor Toyo, BasseyEkpoBassey, Bene Madunagu and Edwin Madunagu were arrested and locked up in the same cell during the “Ali – must – go” students’ protest of April 1978. With that reconciliation, there developed in Calabar and the Old Cross River State one of the largest worker and student-based leftist groups in the country. Calabar became one of the leading centres of post-Civil War Radical Politics in Nigeria.
Between that epic struggle of November 1977 to April 1978 and his death three months ago – a period of 37 years – Comrade Eskor Toyo waged many internal struggles but attracted no “cult of personality” either around him or against him. This was extraordinary for a revolutionary of his stature: influential, committed and deeply respected. From history, we have also learnt that he had a similar record in his earlier days – before Calabar, before the Civil War.
Eskor Toyo and History of the Socialist Movement
In the last decade of his life, Comrade Eskor turned some attention to aspects of the history of the Left: Labour, Workers’ and Socialist Movement. He completed several manuscripts – some of which are autobiographical, others relatively detached, but all rich, though combative. Last month at the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, during the 70th Birthday Anniversary Conference in honour of Comrade Professor BiodunJeyifo, I renewed the call on Leftist intellectuals to start researching, collating and writing the history of their movement. They should start by putting together materials that exist today, including Eskor’s manuscripts. They should not allow the ruling classes and those they sponsor to write their own history and then write ours. I am repeating that call here in the name of Comrade Eskor Toyo.
Eskor Toyo: On the nature of Marxism
“As far as science is concerned … the essence of Marx lies in his method,” Comrade Eskor said in a review of an essay on Marxian Socialism many years ago. “His propositions are otherwise empirical propositions to be upheld or falsified by experience. His paradigm – overall theoretical view and method, that is, overall approach is powerful and the best in social science …. But the correctness of the paradigm does not validate every particular proposition associated with it”. I added on the margin: Or else, Marxism becomes a religion which it is not.
Eskor Toyo: A Dialectical Critique
In private life, Comrade Eskor Toyo was strict, but humane, humorous, and generous within the limits of his austere circumstances. In internal revolutionary politics, he often appeared overbearing and intimidating, but this arose not from so-called natural inclination, but from a combination of factors including his intellectual confidence and political boldness, our movement’s defective organizational structure with no clear lines between organs according to the principles of democratic centralism, and sometimes the timidity of others in the face of a repressive state apparatus and a vicious class enemy.
Because he was such a knowledgeable man, disagreements with Comrade Eskor Toyo were, some of the time, resolvable, not in theory, but in practice. Because he looked and saw very far – in both directions – he sometimes missed the contradictions just before him. But Comrade EskorEskor Toyo was indeed an outstanding and exceptional Marxist and Revolutionary Socialist. His commitment to the ultimate elimination and oppression from the face of the Earth – through struggle – never wavered, and his faith in the Working Class and Working People as vanguard agencies for that elimination never declined.
Eskor Toyo: Departing Message
“In the final analysis”, Eskor Toyo told me in a private communication, “we must remember that history does not guarantee anything. It only opens up possibilities which become actualities through struggle”.