Kwame Nkrumah

The Welfare State and Collective Imperialism (1968)

Adapted from The Handbook of Revolutionary Warfare (1968).

The full document is written from the perspective of, and with the aim of contributing to, national liberation movements in Africa. This cut, however, highlights Nkrumah’s understanding of his enemy and his analysis of the international geopolitical situation. As always, the original document is very much worth reading in full. [1]

For a very pertinent discussion of the evolution of Nkrumah’s thought, away from idealism and onto the concrete analysis in display here, see Walter Rodney’s Marxism in Africa[2]


Threatened with disintegration by the double-fisted attack of the working class movement and the liberation movement, capitalism had to launch a series of reforms in order to build a protective armour around the inner workings of its system.

To avoid an internal breakdown of the system under the pressure of the workers’ protest movement, the governments of capitalist countries granted their workers certain concessions which did not endanger the basic nature of the capitalist system of exploitation. They gave them social security, higher wages, better working conditions, professional training facilities, and other improvements.

These reforms helped to blur fundamental contradictions, and to remove some of the more glaring injustices while at the same time ensuring the continued exploitation of the workers. The myth was established of an affluent capitalist society promising abundance and a better life for all. The basic aim, however, was the establishment of a “welfare state” as the only safeguard against the threat of fascism or communism.

However, the problem was to find a way to avoid sacrificing the all-important principle of ever-increasing profits for the owning minority, and also to find the money needed to finance the welfare state.

By way of a solution, capitalism proceeded to introduce not only internal reforms, but external reforms designed to raise the extra money needed for the establishment and the maintenance of the welfare state at home. In other words, modern capitalism had come to depend more heavily than before on the exploitation of the material and human resources of the colonial territories. On the external front, therefore, it became necessary for international finance capital to carry out reforms in order to eliminate the deadly threat to its supremacy of the liberation movement.

The urgent need for such reforms was made clear by the powerful growth and expansion of the liberation forces in Africa, Asia and Latin America, where revolutionary movements had not only seized power but were actually consolidating their gains. Developments in the USSR, China, Cuba, North Vietnam, North Korea, and in Egypt, Ghana, Guinea, Mali, Algeria and other parts of Africa, showed that not only was the world balance of forces shifting, but that the capitalist-imperialist states were confronted with a real danger of encirclement.

The modifications introduced by imperialism in its strategy were expressed:

  1. through the disappearance of the numerous old-fashioned “colonies” owing exclusive allegiance to a single metropolitan country.
  2. through the replacement of “national” imperialisms by a “collective” imperialism in which the USA occupies a leading position.

The roots of this process may be traced back to the period of the Second World War, when the socialist camp was still too small and weak to give decisive assistance to the European working class movement. The workers were therefore all the more easily deflected from the objectives of their struggle, and allowed themselves to be dragged into a bloody war of imperialism.

The Second World War seriously strained the political and economic strength of Europe, although capitalism as a system emerged relatively intact. However, the true winner of the whole contest turned out to be the United States of America. Having helped the allies to win the war, the USA was from then on able to retain its pre-eminent position, and to acquire increasing influence in the economic life of the exhausted European states.

[…]

The principle of mutual inter-imperialist assistance whereby American, British, French and West German monopoly capital extends joint control over the wealth of the non-liberated zones of Africa, Latin America and Asia, finds concrete expression in the formation of interlocked international financial institutions and bodies of credit:

  • International Monetary Fund (IMF), USA 25% of the votes.
  • International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD), USA 34% of the votes.
  • International Development Association (IDA), USA 41% of the votes.

On a lesser scale, Europe as a whole, and West Germany in particular, find profitable outlets for big business in Africa through the agencies of such organisations as the European Common Market (EEC).

The imperialists even make use of the United Nations Organisation in order to camouflage their neo-colonialist objectives. This can be seen, for example in US policy in South Korea and the Congo.

[…]

Neo-colonialism constitutes the necessary condition for the establishment of welfare states by the imperialist nations. Just as the welfare state is the internal condition, neo-colonialism is the external condition, for the continued hegemony of international finance capital.

Significantly, the neo-colonialist system costs the capitalist powers comparatively little, while enormous and increasing profits are made. This is shown by the ever-rising graphs representing the turn-over figures of the big capitalist business concerns implanted in the neo-colonialist areas of the world, and by the ever-widening gap between the wealthy and the poor peoples of the world.

In the final analysis, the neo-colonialist system of exploitation, which is the external condition for the maintenance of the capitalist welfare state, remains essentially dependent on the production of the neo-colonised workers, who must not only continue to produce under stagnant and continually worsening living conditions, but must produce substantially more than they did in the colonial days. They must do more than satisfy the needs of the metropolitan state. They must cater for the insatiable demands of the client government.

[…]

A substantial part of the military, anti-revolutionary effort is channelled into four organisations:

  • NATO — North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (1949). USA, Britain, France, Italy, Belgium, Holland, Luxembourg, Canada, Iceland, Norway, Denmark, Portugal. Since October 1951 Greece and Turkey, and since 1954 West Germany.
  • SEATO — South East Asia Treaty Organisation (1954). USA, Britain, France, New Zealand, Australia, Philippines, Thailand and Pakistan.
  • ANZUS — Australia, New Zealand, United States Treaty (1951). The Pacific Pact.
  • CENTO — Central Treaty Organisation (1959). Britain, Turkey, Pakistan and Iran. Emerged from the 1955 Baghdad Pact. USA in 1959 entered into bilateral defence agreements with Turky, Iran and Pakistan.

In effect, this system of military blocs and alliances enables US imperialism to exert de facto leadership not only over the entire “western” world, but over extensive zones in Latin America and Asia. This is achieved through an external network of some 2,200 bases and installations manned by approximately a million troops in readiness for war.

The US external forces of intervention may be grouped as follows.

  • Group One: Against the USSR with bases in Western Europe, North Africa and the Middle East.
  • Group Two: Against China with bases in Pakistan, South East Asia and the Pacific Ocean.
  • Group Three: Against revolutionary movements in Latin America — the Organisation of American States (OAS) group with bases in Panama, the Bermudas and Puerto Rico.

In Africa, there are at present seventeen air bases owned and operated by members of NATO. There are nine foreign naval bases. Foreign military missions exist for example in Kenya, Morocco, Liberia, Libya, South Africa, Senegal, Niger, Cameroon, Chad, Gabon and Ivory Coast. In addition, there are three rocket sites and an atomic testing range in North Africa.

The armed forces of foreign powers in various strategically-important parts of our continent present a serious threat but not an insurmountable obstacle in the African revolutionary struggle. For they must be assessed in conjunction with the forces of settler, minority governments in Rhodesia and South Africa, and with imperialist forces in the few remaining colonial territories.

The formation of NATO led to the signing of the Warsaw Treaty in 1954, by which the Soviet Union, Bulgaria, Hungary, German Democratic Republic, Poland, Romania, Czechoslavakia and Albania made arrangements to protect themselves against imperialist aggression. An attack on any one member would be regarded as an attack on all. Provision was made for:

  1. A political consultative body to take political decisions and to exchange information
  2. A united military command with headquarters in Warsaw

In comparison, the Independent States of Africa are at present militarily weak. Unlike the imperialists and neo-colonialists they have no mutual defence system and no unified command to plan and direct joint action. But this will be remedied with the formation of the All-African People’s Revolutionary Army and the setting up of organisations to extend and plan effective revolutionary warfare on a continental scale.

[…]

The struggle for African continental union and socialism may be hampered by the enemy within, — those who declare their support for the revolution and at the same time, by devious means, serve and promote the interests of imperialists and neo-colonialists.

Examination of recent events in our history, and of our present condition, reveals the urgent need for a new strategy to combat imperialist aggression, and this must be devised on a continental scale.

Either we concentrate our forces for a decisive armed struggle to achieve our objectives, or we will each fall one by one to the blows of imperialism in its present stage of desperate offensive.


  1. Kwame Nkrumah, 1968. The Handbook of Revolutionary Warfare. [web] 

  2. Walter Rodney, 1975. Marxism in Africa. [web]