Congo, People’s Republic Of

Congo, People’s Republic Of
   In 1968, after a flirtation with socialism that followed the 1960 end to French rule in Congo, a military coup saw the installation of a MarxistLeninist government and the birth of the People’s Republic of Congo. 1963 had witnessed the overthrow of the post-independence government of Fulbert Youlou, and its replacement with the moderately socialist administration of Alphonse Massemba-Débat. Despite the creation a year later of the radical National Movement of the Revolution (Mouvement National de la Révolution—MNR), in August 1968 left-wing hardliners, led by Captain Marien Ngouabi, overthrew Massemba- Débat’s technocratic regime and put in its place the National Council of the Revolution (Conseil National de la Révolution—CNR). Ngouabi, as president of the new government, immediately set about wielding revolutionary changes, creating the vanguard Congolese Workers’ Party (Parti Congolais de Travail—PCT), and announcing the creation of the People’s Republic of Congo, the first outwardly and officially Marxist–Leninist state in Sub-Saharan Africa. Ngouabi also began a nationalization program, and sought to strike up friendly relations with communist countries in the Far East. In accordance with the Marxist–Leninist model, the state soon became subordinate to the diktats of the all-powerful PCT.
   However, Ngouabi’s commitment to Marxism–Leninism as an actual doctrine of rule, rather than an ideological tool with which to bind together the many fractious and disparate groups that made up Congolese society, was questionable. Despite paying lip service to Marxist–Leninist bedrock principles such as widespread nationalization and solidarity with foreign communist governments above all others, the Ngouabi regime left much private industry untouched and in the hands of capitalist companies from the Western world. This left the PCT leadership open to criticism from the left of the party, an early embodiment of which was the failed Maoist coup attempt launched by Lieutenant Ange Diawara in 1971. The defeat of the attempted usurpation proved only to be a temporary reprieve for Ngouabi and his government, as armed forces members, alarmed by the leader’s drift toward the political right, organized his assassination in early 1977. The new head of state, however, was the avowedly un-Marxist army colonel Joachim Yhomby-Opango, and his immediate act was to announce the start of a period of rule by authoritarian Martial Law.
   Yhomby-Opango never enjoyed the full support of his party nor complete power over his people, and having handed power over to the PCT he was succeeded in February of 1979 by the Central Committee’s overwhelming choice, Colonel Denis Sassou-Nguesso, seemingly a fervent and committed Marxist–Leninist. Sassou- Nguesso initially presided over a leftist renewal, increasing PRC ties with Cuba, and announcing a new constitution that reaffirmed and institutionalized Marxism–Leninism as the country’s ideological foundation. The constitution also promised huge public sector growth, further nationalization, and the introduction of an elected legislature, the National People’s Congress, as well as democratic regional and local councils. The reality, though, was somewhat different, as elections remained tightly monitored and limited to party list candidates. Consequently, the PCT emerged with an increased stranglehold on power and was able to indulge in the occasional purging of those deemed to be in opposition to the government. Additionally, key industries remained in the hands of foreign owners, with the nationalization that did occur bringing only untenable and unprofitable ventures into government possession.
   Just as the Congolese economy had benefited enormously from the oil boom of the 1970s, as oil prices plummeted during the following decade, Sassou-Nguesso’s government faced a devastating fiscal crisis. When coupled with the burden presented by maintaining an evermushrooming state sector, and the crushing budget deficit resultantly built up, the PCT was forced to seek methods removed from Marxism–Leninism to preserve rule and country. Thus, the regime accepted the measures required by the World Bank in order to formulate a reconstruction plan for the PRC’s debt that would in turn resuscitate its ailing economy. Inevitably, this meant an austerity drive that was to hit the Congolese people hardest, and provoke mass strike action, demonstrations, and the birth of oppositional political groups. It was in this climate that the PCT was forced in July 1990 to officially renounce Marxism–Leninism as its ideology, and shortly afterwards preside over democratic multi-party elections and the dismantling of the PRC.
   The Marxism of the PCT regime developed into little more than a sustained revolutionary posture aimed merely at cementing together the PRC, rather than steering the country along the path to communist utopia. The commitment to genuine Marxism–Leninism never extended beyond the rhetorical, and this was illustrated by the continuing presence and influence of free market forces throughout the country’s supposedly revolutionary epoch.

Historical dictionary of Marxism. . 2014.

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