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  • Background to the Study

Two major concepts presently bedevilling Nigeria are class stratification and corruption. These two concepts though independent of one another, seem to always generate conflict in any society. These concepts will be looked at independently, and then in relation with one another. Stratification has been evident in human history since its dawn. Looking at the biblical creation story, God firstly created man from dust and later created woman from a rib from the man. While the creation of man is first level, the woman’s creation is second level. The man is also said to be in charge of all other creatures (bourgeoisie) created while the woman will only assist the man (proletariat) (Genesis Chapters 1 & 2).

            This is a confirmation of the class division as far back as the creation of man. Class stratification is one of the most inquisitive social factors which are caused by the economic status of the people. This economic factor unmasks class divisions which form and transform the characters in any society. The most famous and interesting discussion of class stratification in society within traditional setting is that of Weber (1968). Weber posits that stratification refers to the differences in social groups in terms of income or prestige or some other indicator. He goes further to define class as:

…a number of people with almost the same economic opportunity in life and with similar economic interests in income, products and the labour movement. Therefore, “property’ and ‘lack of property’ are the basic categories of all situations (Weber, 1986: 262)

 From this definition, the determining factor for social stratification is simply the ability of some category of people to amass property more than the others despite the fact that they live within the same space and time.

Written African literature from its beginnings has been reactive, first against the monstrosity of colonialism as it was experienced in Africa and later against neo-colonialism, which replicates the colonial structures, in most cases, even though Africans are now supposed to be in charge of affairs in the nations and states of Africa since the attainment of political independence from their erstwhile colonial masters. The neo-colonial phase of Africa’s political evolution has been largely dominated by ill feelings against the political class whose members assumed the mantle of governance at the exit of the colonialists. While politicians jostle for appointments to plum jobs and lucrative posts in the corridors of power, the aspirations of the common people have not been given the desired attention. Not only are the healthcare needs of the people almost at a zero point, there is massive corruption in the civil service and the staggering percentage of unemployment has accentuated the degree of insecurity of lives as some unemployed youths indulge in armed robbery, kidnapping of hostages with the aim of getting ransoms and other similar social problems.

    This unfortunate development has also deepened the despair and frustration of African writers who have had to change their role from being cultural custodians of the African society to using their writings to criticize the members of the political class in post-colonial Africa. This has manifested in the development of a very pessimistic tradition of literary writing in Africa, unlike the colonial period when both the political class and the intellectual elite class saw themselves as nationalists who had the common patriotic cause of driving away the colonial masters and thereby securing for their nations and states political sovereignty. This rift between the intellectual elite class and the politicians has been deepened by the writers’ subscription to the Marxist ideology, which is an equalitarian ideology that sees the interactions, conflicts and relations among peoples in class terms, but with a dialectical support for the oppressed class which redeems itself through the dictatorship of the proletariat class – the true vision of every socialist revolution. This tilting towards a literature of praxis has radicalized the outlook of the novels of Ngugi wa Thiong’O, Alex La Guma, Sembene Ousmane and Festus Iyayi “in which the writers assume the role of literary defenders of the masses and prescribe revolutionary solutions in the form of organized revolts and syndicalism to the problems of Africa in very combative and denunciatory ways” (Agho 2011:17).

    Essentially, the body of novels written by African novelists of the Marxist persuasion about contemporary post-colonial Africa concerns themselves with class struggle issues, i.e. problems of the common people, written from a perspective defined by the writers’ sympathy for the masses of the African people. Such novels, apart from centering their plots on simple folks, usually peasants and members of the working class, also democratize the concept of heroism by censuring messianic tendencies and favouring collective heroism. Such novels embody major revolutions, usually orchestrated by the working class against the oppression of its members by the oppressor or bourgeois class and work towards the redemption of the victims of the oppression by granting them victory at the end of the struggles. This is the pedestal from which radical African writers write about contemporary post-colonial Africa. In a nutshell, class conflicts constitute the central plots in the novels of radical novelists such as Ngugi wa Thiong ‘O, Festus Iyayi, Sembene Ousmane, Festus Iyayi, Alex La Guma and a host of others.

Class struggle may occur due to different demands and goals of different groups of people. Those things can be said or related with Marxism and socialism, such as groups of people of the same social and economy class. According to Marxism, there are two different classes, bourgeoisie and proletariat. There has been a struggle between the two classes. This struggle is known as the class struggle. The theory of class struggle according to Marxist theory by Karl Marx appears in some forms, one of which is an economic form. The potential for class conflict is inherent in every differentiated society since such a society systematically generates conflicts of interest between persons and groups differentially located within the social structure, and, more particularly, in relation to the means of production. The ways in which specific positions in the social structure tended to shape the social experiences of their incumbents and to predispose them to actions oriented to improve their collective fate.

            The concept of class struggle describes a constant conflict among the existing strata in the society. In the Selected texts, Animata Sow Fall’s The Beggars’ strike and Festus iyayi’s Violence, themes pertaining to class struggle were described, Class struggle becomes a necessity in any society with a wide gap between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’. This academic project examines the extent to which the duo of Animata and Iyayi utilized the theme – Class struggle, in their novels, The beggars’ strike and Violence respectively.

Karl Marx wrote to Friedrich Engels in 1882: “you know very well where we found our idea of class struggle; we found it in the work of the French historians who talked about the race struggle”. Class struggle predates Karl Marx; one may boldly say that it describes the history of all existing human civilizations.

            Social classes are often described as either upper, middle or lower based on income, wealth or estate. However, Marxist notion of class in a capitalist setting is based on the control of means of production. Karl Marx describes two main classes:

  • Proletariat (Labour)
  • Bourgeoisie (Capitalist)

The Proletariat (labour) makes a living directly from their labour whereas the Bourgeoisie controls the means of production, exploiting the proletariat, living off the surplus value on cheap labour. This may be perceived as a form of neocolonialism, labour is exploited to create economic and socio-political dominance. A most shameful version of Apartheid in post colonial Africa, perpetrated by Africans on fellow Africans. Burdened by extreme poverty and hunger, the masses inevitably revolt against oppression. The ensuing struggle, though often violent, non-violent struggle is not uncommon.

1.2 Statement of the Problem

The biggest problem staring Africa in the face and preventing her from attaining development is bad leadership occasioned by corruption and class stratification which has continued to dwarf African from independence to now. The challenges of leadership have often been addressed as a two dimensional problem. While critical literary works often project the dimension that implicates the nonchalant attitude of leaders as a major source of leadership problems, not much emphasis have been laid by literary scholars on class struggle. In the selected texts, forms of class struggle includes: industrial strike actions, protests, rallies, pilferage, sabotage etc Class struggle in Africa is inextricably linked to corruption and injustice. In an unjust society where wealth is unevenly distributed and the rule of law biased, class struggle is seen as a necessity. It becomes the only available option for the masses to fight for economic and social relevance. Class struggle is a brave attempt at reshaping capitalism into a more equitable system of governance and giving birth to a truly egalitarian, economically viable and politically stable Nation. Class struggle is a bold step towards achieving a true utopian society, which is the ultimate Marxist phantom. This study directs its focus on Festus Iyayi’s Violence and Animata Sow Fall’s The Beggar’s Strike by pointing out the expression of dissatisfaction by the oppressed via struggle such as confrontation and protest.

1.3. Purpose of the study

The main purpose of this work is to evaluate class struggle in Festus Iyayi’s Violence and Animata Sow Fall’s The Beggars’ Strike in order to:

  1. examine the extent to which the authors portray class struggle using various characters.
  2. determine how effective or otherwise the authors have employed struggle as the best weapon for emancipation.
  3. examine the motive behind adopting this narrative approach to arouse national consciousness on their reading populace.

1.4. Research Question

            The following research questions are raised to guide the study:

  1. to what extent has Iyayi and Animata portray class struggle using various characters?
  2. how effective or otherwise has Iyayi and Animata employed struggle as the best weapon for emancipation.
  • What is the motive behind adopting this narrative approach to arouse national consciousness on their reading populace?

1.5. Significance of Study

This work uses Marxist theory explore the vivid picture of class struggle in Festus Iyayi’s Violence and Animata Sow Fall’s The Beggars’ Strike. It exposes through struggle by the oppressed, the various leadership activities that inflict pains on the laboring masses of the society plus the self-help steps taken to overcome oppression. It is of academic concern and relevance because it constitutes a body of knowledge which gives a clear picture of the complex realties that confront contemporary Africa. It serves as a source material for researchers and also significant as it ironically sees silence among the oppressed as contributing to oppression and thus projects class struggle as an option for a societal change through consistent struggle that confronts the high class and bourgeois. The texts therefore illustrate how class struggle can be used to ignite tension between the oppressed and their oppressors.

Furthermore, the significance of this research apart from providing a reliable source of information for future researchers on class struggle is also of great value in appraisal of democratic values in Africa. Understanding the role of class struggle in society will strengthen Africa’s nascent democracy and promote good governance. This research is also a celebration of artistic imagination and dexterity displayed by these distinguished African Writers, Animata Sowfall and Festus Iyayi.

1.6. Scope and Delimitation

Festus Iygugi’s Violence and Animata Sow Fall’s The Beggars’ Strike shows the ills of social stratification, particularly as expressed by the rich in the society, which this work aims at bringing to fore. The choice of this topic was informed by the need to deploy class struggle as a means of confronting the social stratification challenges in Africa. This is because class struggle is a friction between the rich and the poor; between the oppressed and the oppressors. The choice of the texts understudy is informed by the fact that it expresses issues of oppression and suffering of the poor labourers by the rich in Nigeria and elsewhere in Africa. Secondary sources with established approaches to class struggle will help in presenting the propositions that this study seeks to display as a means of justifying the relevance of class struggle between the rich and the poor; the oppressed and the oppressors in the African society. Furthermore, the focus of this study is Africa, with Senegal and Nigeria as case studies as portrayed by the duo of Animata and Iyayi in The beggars’ strike and Violence respectively. This research investigates how judiciously the understudied works reveal the existence of class struggle and other sub-themes like, oppression and negritude in the context of francophone and Anglophone Africa. The choice of works based on Senegal and Nigeria is motivated by the fact that, the two countries give a fair representation of West Africa, giving the Francophone and the Anglophone point of view. This is imperative as it is almost certainly impossible to study works from every part of Africa considering the constraints of time and resources.

1.7. Marxist-Leninist Theory of Society

Marxism-Leninism is coined to denote the ideology that Vladimir Lenin had built upon the thought of Karl Marx. There are two broad areas that have set apart Marxism-Leninism as a school of thought.

First, Lenin’s followers generally view his additions to the body of Marxism as the practical aspect of Marx’s original theoretical contributions of the 19th century. Lenin called this time-frame the era of Imperialism. The most important consequence of a Leninist-style theory of Imperialism is the strategic need for workers in the industrialized countries to come together with the oppressed nations contained within their respective countries and colonies abroad in order to overthrow capitalism. This is the source of the slogan, which shows the Leninist conception that not only the proletariat, as is traditional to Marxism, are the sole revolutionary force, but all oppressed people; “Workers and Oppressed Peoples of the World, Unite!”

Second, the other distinguishing characteristic of Marxism-Leninism is how it approaches the question of organization. Lenin believed that the traditional model of the Social Democratic parties of the time, which was a loose, multitendency organization was inadequate for overthrowing the Tsarist regime in Russia. He proposed a cadre of professional revolutionaries that disciplined itself under the model of Democratic Centralism.

In solving the national question Leninism profer the following thesis:

a] The world is divided into two camps: the camp of a handful of civilised nations, which possess finance capital and exploit the vast majority of the population of the globe; and the camp of the oppressed and exploited peoples in the colonies and dependent countries, which constitute that majority;

b] The colonies and dependent countries, oppressed and exploited by finance capital, constitute a vast reserve and a very important source of strength for imperialism;

c] The revolutionary struggle of the oppressed peoples in the dependent and colonial countries against imperialism is the only road that leads to their emancipation from oppression and exploitation

1.8. Definition of Terms

Class: A set, collection, group, or configuration containing members regarded as having certain attributes or traits in common; a kind or category, Social rank or caste

Class struggle: the Marxism the continual conflict between the capitalist and working classes for economic and political power Also called class war

Race struggle: conflicts or war between races and civilizations

Proletariat: The class of industrial wage earners who, possessing neither capital nor production means, must earn their living by selling their labor

Bourgeoisie: In Marxist theory, the social group opposed to the proletariat in the class struggle. The ruling class of the two basic classes of capitalist society, consisting of capitalists, manufacturers, bankers, and other employers. The bourgeoisie owns the most important of the means of production, through which it exploits the working class

Capitalism: An economic system in which the means of production and distribution are privately or corporately owned and development is proportionate to the accumulation and reinvestment of profits gained in a free market

Means of production: the raw materials and means of labour (tools, machines, etc.) employed in the production process

Marxist-Leninist theory: An expanded form of Marxism that emphasizes Lenin’s concept of imperialism as the final stage of capitalism and shifts the focus of struggle from developed to underdeveloped countries.

1.9. Authors’ Biography

1.9.1 Festus Iyayi

Festus Iyayi (29 September 1947 – 12 November 2013) was a Nigerian writer known for his radical and sometimes tough stance on social and political issues. He employed a realistic style of writing, depicting the social, political and moral environment and system both the rich and poor live and work in. He was also a former president of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU). He died in a road accident on his way to Kano.

Iyayi was born in Ugbegun in Esanland, Edo State, Nigeria. His family lived on little means but instilled in him strong moral lessons about life. Iyayi started his education at Annunciation Catholic College (ACC) in the old Bendel State, finishing in 1966, in 1967 he went to Government College Ughelli, graduating in 1968. In that same year he was a zonal winner in a Kennedy Essay Competition organised by the United States Embassy in Nigeria.

Iyayi left Nigeria to pursue his higher education, obtaining a M.Sc in Industrial Economics from the Kiev Institute of Economics, in the former USSR (now Ukraine), and then his Ph.D from the University of Bradford, England. In 1980, he went back to Benin and became a lecturer in the Department of Business Administration at the University of Benin. As a member of staff of the university, he became interested in radical social issues, and a few years after his employment, he became the president of the local branch of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), a radical union known for its upfront style on academic and social welfare. He rose to the position of president of the national organization in 1986, but in 1988, the union was briefly banned and Iyayi was detained. In that same year he won the Commonwealth Writers Prize for his novel Heroes. He was later removed from his faculty position by the Alele Williams administration and he got back his job after winning the court case against the school authority and the government with the help of human rights lawyer Femi Falana.

Dr Festus Iyayi was one of the best lecturers at the department of business administration University of Benin and his students spans from Undergraduates, Masters and Postgraduate. His interests included behavioural science in business, human resources management, key concepts such as work place alienation, Theory of needs, Work and task, Recruitment and Selection, different paradigms: radical, system, political etc. Dr Iyayi was a key resource person who delivered lectures in the University of Benin Business School (MBA) and the uniben MBA graduates can attest to the qualities of his lectures and supervisions. He would have been a year into his retirement if he had opted for early retirement but the unexpected happened.

He died in a ghastly motor accident caused by a reckless convoy of Kogi State governor Idris Wada while on his way to Kano State to attend an ASUU (Academic Staff Union of Universities) NEC meeting concerning a four-month strike embarked upon by the union. Iyayi was a member of different Nigerian literary organizations and worked in the private sector as a consultant.

1.9.2 Aminata Sow Fall

Born in 1941 in Saint-Louis, Senegal, Fall is said to be the ‘first published woman novelist from Francophone Black Africa’. To date, Fall has published more than eight novels and a number of essays, including Un grain de vie et d’espérance (Food for thought and tomorrow’s life) in 2002 on her reflection on the significance of food in Senegal, followed by some twenty recipes proposed by Senegalese Chef Margo Harley. In June 2015, Fall received the Grand Prix de la Francophonie for her literary work in French.

Aminatta Sow Fall first achieved literary attention with the publication of Le Revenant (The Ghost) published in 1976.

It’s difficult to write about Aminata Sow Fall without mentioning her track record – which, like all the other women featured so far in this series – is pretty fascinating. Her education was split between Senegal and France – spending several years at the Faidherbe grammar school before finishing her secondary schooling at the Van Vo grammar school in Dakar. After obtaining her baccalaureate, Aminata Sow Fall then went to France to train as an interpreter, while taking French language and literature classes at the Sorbonne. In France, a sense of her love for writing is revealed:

Fall later dropped the interpreter programme to concentrate on her academic studies – getting a degree in Modern Languages, where she became agrégée de letters. Returning to Senegal in the early 1960s, Fall became a teacher (she first taught at a high school and sometimes at the Institut Cesti, which trained journalists). Later she worked in a group under the auspices of the Commission Nationale de Reforme de l’Enseignement du Francaise  (National Reform Commission for the Teaching of French)- adapting the teaching of French language to African realities. There, they produced textbooks for senior classes in French grammar and literature. 

Her many accolades also includes: being a member of the Commission for Educational Reform responsible for the introduction of African literature into the French syllabus in Senegal, before becoming director of La Propriété littéraire (The Literary Property) in Dakar (1979-1988). She was appointed the first woman president of Senegal’s Writer’s Association in 1985. In 1990 she founded the publishing house Éditions Khoudia – named after her mother. Director of the Centre Africain d’Animation et d’Echanges Culturels in Dakar and head of the Centre International d’Etudes, de Recherches et de Réactivation sur la Littérature, les Arts et la Culture that organised regular national and international Conferences in Saint-Louis. In 1997, Aminata Sow Fall was awarded an Honorary Degree at Mount Holyoke College, South Hadley, Massachusetts.

‘Fall says she considers herself a novelist first’, in June 2015, Fall received the Grand Prix de la Francophonie for her literary work in French. As explained in the Washington Post interview, ‘Fall says she considers herself a novelist’. And one who draws a lot on her imagination – as she explains (also in that Washington Post interview)

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