Eskor Toyo and the Struggle for the Working Peoples, By Edwin Madunagu
Comrade Eskor Eskor Toyo was indeed an outstanding and exceptional Marxist and Revolutionary Socialist. His commitment to the ultimate elimination of 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.
Introductory Statements: Range of Eskor Toyo’s Revolutionary Engagements
On Monday, September 20, 2010, Comrade Professor Eskor Toyo made what may turn out to be, on further historical assessment, his last major outing as a revolutionary Marxist public intellectual in Nigeria. On that occasion he delivered the Nigerian Golden Jubilee Independence Lecture titled “Project Nigeria: The journey so far”. The event was hosted by this institution’s Department of History and International Studies, and chaired by Professor Okon Edet Uya. Both men are now late.
The 59-page lecture was Eskor Toyo at his intellectual and ideological best, a long journey through the colonial, postcolonial and neocolonial stages of our national history. It was radical, categorical, unflattering, but passionately patriotic. The verdict which was also the conclusion was sad, very sad for a man who had been active politically for more than 60 years. But it was straight-forward: The journey had barely begun, or put more charitably, the journey had been grounded near the very beginning. Beyond this, however, the conclusion was a call on radical patriots, the working and toiling peoples and, above all, the working class to rise and save the nation by freeing themselves. The working and toiling masses cannot save the nation as slaves, and yet they are the vanguard of the people that can save the nation. It is a historical paradox. But a paradox that can be broken through struggle. And Comrade Eskor Toyo believed till his last breath that Nigeria can still be saved. So do the comrades he left behind.
Two days immediately preceding the lecture, that is on Saturday, September 18 and Sunday, September 19, 2010, Comrade Professor Eskor Toyo attended a National Executive Meeting of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) here in Calabar. You know the battle the union was then waging for the nation, for the education system and for its members. The battle is still raging, even as I speak. Comrade Eskor had been an activist member of ASUU since its creation in 1978 and a father-figure Trustee of the union since 1983. Beyond this, Comrade Eskor had been a leading partisan of ASUU’s predecessors and teachers’ unions generally as far back as the colonial era and the First Republic.
Just hours after the lecture of September 20, 2010 – a very long lecture, which if I remember well, he delivered standing or partly standing – Eskor Toyo, then an 81-year old war-horse, entered a meeting of Nigeria’s Revolutionary Left, also here in Calabar. The main item on the agenda of that meeting, in fact the sole item, was one of the most difficult and contentious issues in the contemporary history of Nigeria’s Revolutionary Left: namely, party formation. The “bone of contention”, as they say, is not whether, in principle, a party of the working peoples is necessary or not; not what it will do or should do or can do when formed. The “bone of contention” was about its timing and pre-conditions, and above all, its character, including whether it should be a mass party or a vanguard party. In short, the party’s strategy and foundational statement to the working class and the nation.
Eskor Toyo’s position, not by any means an isolated position, was for a party that could and should be formed immediately, a revolutionary socialist party that would be strong and flexible enough to decide whether to take part in electoral contest or not and, above all, a party that would be undissolvable by any form of bourgeois rule – from variants of military dictatorship to variants of civilian democracy. It could be called a Socialist Party or a Working People’s Party or a Labour Party or even a Communist Party. Historically and theoretically, the differences between Left parties formed under these names do not reside in the names themselves, but in their programmes, rules and strategies. The meeting of the night of Monday, September 20, 2010, though turbulent as expected, moved the debate a couple of steps forward. And the party, the Socialist Party of Nigeria (SPN), was indeed proclaimed before Comrade Eskor waved us goodbye.
The following day, Tuesday September 21, 2010, Comrade Professor Eskor Toyo held a one-on-one meeting with me at his residence. He had whispered to me the day before that he would like to see me. The meeting turned into a lecture, an extension of the previous day’s public lecture and the vanguard meeting following it. The only difference was that the extension was delivered to me alone, with no one even within earshot. Eskor Toyo spoke to me continuously for about 90 minutes – sometimes in whispers, sitting down, at other times standing up and shouting. I shall presently return to what he was saying.
Thus, for a period of four days – from Saturday, September 18 to Tuesday, September 21, 2010, Comrade Professor Eskor Toyo engaged various segments of the population – the working class and middle strata, the academic community and its hosts and hostesses and the Revolutionary Left – at various levels – but for the same strategic, passionate and all-consuming objective, a single objective: Workers’ Power, Popular Democracy and Socialism.
What I have just done is simply a selection of an extended weekend from a life of continuous struggle and study, of scholarship, of dedication, of sacrifice, of radical patriotism, of mass mobilisation, education and organisation, of revolutionary commitment and intransigence spanning over 60 years.
Eskor Toyo–Edwin Madunagu Meeting of September 21, 2010: Critique of the Nigerian Left
Eskor Toyo’s lecture to me at his residence was not a criticism of the Nigerian state or the Nigerian government. That criticism is assumed as background in every meeting of the Revolutionary Left. We are experts in radical and wholistic criticism of this oppressive and sadistic system. Eskor’s insistence was that we should not stop there. As the young Marx said: “The weapon of criticism should be replaced or, at least, accompanied by the criticism of the weapon”. Comrade Eskor’s lecture to me was, rather, a critique of the Nigerian Left: The tragic failure of Nigerian socialists, over time, to offer the type of liberating leadership that the long-suffering, but struggling, working and toiling masses of Nigeria needed and, from time to time, demanded, in various ways; the failure of Nigerian socialists to form and sustain a revolutionary socialist party; factionalism and sectarianism; confusing utopianism with Marxism; confusing social democracy with socialism; intellectual laziness and political cowardice; inordinate leadership ambitions; anarchist attitudes to democracy, “democratic centralism” and majority decisions; and the almost chronic inability of Nigerian socialists to recognise “revolutionary moments”. For Eskor Toyo, one of the most tragic and painful demonstrations of the last weakness in contemporary history of Nigeria was the failure to channel the working class-led popular protests under General Abacha to remove the military dictator from power because, according to our departed comrade, Abacha presided over the most isolated government in Nigeria since independence.
Comrade Eskor Toyo made no mention of the situation in the country then. In particular, he did not mention the preparations for the 2011 general elections. He made no mention of it because his attitude to it – which I shared – was clear. That attitude, once verbalised by an ASUU official, can be described like this: Suppose armed robbers in Nigeria – including the “willing” and “not-so-willing” – are persuaded to accept free, fair and credible elections in their ranks, how does that solve the problem of armed robbery in the country? This was not an argument against participation in electoral politics, but it was a strong statement both on maximum realistic expectation which we could allow ourselves to entertain, and on participation in electoral contests in which the working and toiling masses and their parties are essentially absent as a distinct and independent force.
Eskor Toyo did not also raise the triple subject of imperialism, neocolonialism and independence. His position, shared by the Socialist Movement, had been re-stated in the lecture he delivered the previous day, and that is: “The distinction between self-government and sovereignty, on the one hand, and independence, on the other, is like the sociological distinction between authority and power. Authority refers to right; power refers to capacity. In the same way, self-government, autonomy and sovereignty refers to the right to take one’s decisions whereas independence means the capacity to be really free from the power of other… To use autonomy or self-rule to proceed to independence, a country needs leaders who value independence and know what it entails”.
Eskor Toyo spoke to me directly as a revolutionary comrade and, through me, to Left tendencies identified with me. Eskor Toyo, we should note, recognised the inevitability of tendencies in the Labour and Socialist Movement, but abhorred factionalism in a Left organisation once it has been formed and proclaimed above ground or underground. I shall return to this point.
Clarifications in the sense of Eskor Toyo: Capitalism, Socialism, Working class, Working People, the People and Exploitation
The subject of this lecture is: Eskor Toyo and the struggle of the working peoples: Workers’ Power, Popular Democracy, Socialism. For a fairer understanding and appreciation of Eskor Toyo’s life-long struggle summarised in these phrases, six particular concepts that are objectively, historically and logically related, require brief clarifications – not academic definitions – here. These are Capitalism, Socialism, Working Class, Working People, the People and Exploitation. The irony here is that these clarifications are necessary not just for, or even primarily for, the working people or the young ones – students and youths – but also for the educated elite. As late as 2011, I watched Comrade Eskor Toyo engage a University teacher in Social Sciences on whether Nigeria is a capitalist country or not! What Eskor Toyo – and his comrades – had to engage was often as elementary as this.
A country is not capitalist only when the majority of enterprises therein are organised capitalistically, says Eskor Toyo in one of his unpublished books, What Is Socialism? “Neither is a country capitalist only when the majority of persons engaged in money-making activity are capitalist. A country is called capitalist when the firms organised capitalistically, however few they may be, determine the direction of development of the economy and the society. And they determine the direction when the political system is organised in their favour”.
In his book, Wage Freeze in Nigeria written about 35 years ago, Eskor Toyo had the working class and students in mind when he defined exploitation in simple but heuristic terms: “When in a society a certain group of people – call them A – occupies a position of political, economic or cultural privileges or advantages over another group – call them B – such that the people in A are able to enjoy an accretion of wealth or income to them that originate from the effort of those in B, then A is said to be in a position of exploiter of B”. That was Eskor Toyo: He formulated his theses and propositions in such a way that you must stand and fight or vanish, not run away.
Socialism is a new democracy, says Eskor Toyo. In fact, to Eskor Toyo, capitalism is an impediment to democracy. Comrade Professor Biodun Jeyifo, first President of ASUU, underlined this insistence by Eskor Toyo in his immediate tribute when he learnt of the latter’s death. In a private hand-written communication to me some years ago, Eskor Toyo urged Marxists to go back to the basics, namely, that “socialism is a new democracy based on social, that is, non-private ownership of the means of production and distribution of income according to social needs and work only – that is, to the exclusion of any other principle. It is a regime where exploitation based on the private ownership of the means of production and distribution is abolished”. Advocates of socialism must never lose sight of, or stray from, this foundation.
In The working class and the Nigerian Crisis, a highly polemical but scholarly work written in 1965 during the crisis that eventually led to the first coups and the civil war, Comrade Eskor Toyo described the working class as the “vanguard of the toiling people as a whole”. He gave the following substantiation: “In the first place, workers are organised for democracy in their trade unions, and the trade unions are a powerful instrument of struggle; secondly, workers are better educated than the peasant and petit-bourgeois fractions of the poor and toiling masses, and therefore have, and can have, a better understanding of public affairs; thirdly, workers are more disciplined, for they live their daily lives through office, workshop or factory discipline the type of which neither the peasants nor the poor urban bourgeois groups know”.
In the fourth place, “workers can unite more easily on the national level since the major establishments employing them are national in character; in the fifth place, workers can move easily into action as a class since owing to the grossly uneven development of the Nigerian economy, the working class is concentrated in few urban centres which are fairly well linked together by communication networks; by comparison the peasants are scattered in thousands of clans, villages and isolated petty semi-urban centres throughout the country. In the sixth place, workers have an effective weapon in the strike, especially the general strike, and of the use of the last weapon the Nigerian working class is a past master”.
Eskor Toyo wrote this more than 50 years ago when he was about 36 years old, a holder of a Bachelor’s degree in Economics by correspondence and a school teacher and principal. The thesis requires only minimal revision today.
Comrade Professor Eskor Toyo presented a paper he titled “Labour Movement and Advance to Democracy in Nigeria” to the seminar on Civil Society and Consolidation of Democracy in Nigeria organised by the Institute of Public Policy and Administration of this University in 2000. In that paper he explained that the term “working people embraces all those whose principal sources of means of livelihood are work rather than property income or any other privileged income like perquisites of office. Such people are wage workers, peasants or small farmers, salaried personnel, artisans or small businessmen and women, and self-employed professionals”. He insists that the core class basis of a socialist movement is the wage workers; but he also explains that the “socialist movement aims at the re-organisation of the society as a whole with the working people – not the wage workers alone – as the owners of the means of production and distribution”.
Re-organisation of society as a whole around a new class core, the working class core – that is what socialism is, in the sense of Eskor Toyo. And in our sense, also.
Comrade Eskor Toyo also provides a simple but ideological and heuristic definition of the concept of “the people” or “the common people” which is frequently employed in Marxist and socialist politics. The concept can be distilled into three stands: economic, social and political. Economically, the “people” or the “common people” means those people who do not exploit other people, but are themselves exploited; socially it means those who stand at the lowest point of the social ladder; and politically it means those who are completely excluded in the governance of their country. To this I add, invoking Karl Marx, that the people are those who are victims not of particular social injustices, but of injustice in general; people who cannot therefore liberate themselves without liberating society as a whole.
As a footnote – and to assist young researchers – I may insert here that I consider the Identification and Classification of Social Classes and Historical Materialism, that is, the Marxist Theory of History, as two areas where Eskor Toyo made the most significant contributions to Marxism.
In the early days of the recent wave of capitalist triumphalism and imperialist proclamation of the death of socialism or communism, Comrade Professor Eskor Toyo repeatedly dialogued with the working class and students, in particular, on a very simple subject: the various ways in which the term socialism is used, and can be used. In the first place, socialism may be used to mean the “idea of a modern exploitation-free society”. Secondly, it may be used to mean the “movement (that is, organisations and groups) advocating such a society”. And thirdly, it may be used to refer to “the system that was actually being built” by some countries. The triumphalists deliberately mix up the various senses. We must re-possess the distinctions. Beyond this, it is important to distinguish between a movement and organisations of the movement and between organisations of a movement and the leaderships of these organisations. Once you are able to do these simple analyses, you require only a long view of history and interest in what is happening before your very eyes to see the great deception of the triumphalists.
Our position, the position of the Socialist Movement of Nigeria on this global question can be re-stated before the world: If this planet Earth must be reprieved from self-destruction, if this common homeland must be saved for humanity, the present oppressive and irrational system called Capitalism must be dismantled and replaced – through struggle – with a rational and exploitation-free system that has gone by the name Socialism for more than 200 years. This replacement is a long and arduous task that has within its articulation the means of self-criticism, self-correction and self-renewal.
Eskor Toyo: A Revolutionary-at-large
Eskor Toyo was an itinerant revolutionary, a revolutionary-at-large, moving from South to North, East to West, campaigning for workers’ power, popular democracy, socialism. He moved by the cheapest public transportation, passing the nights with comrades or in the cheapest hotels, eating proletarian food. He was a roving and tireless teacher, ambassador and campaigner of the working class and its allies, including students and youths. To the best of my knowledge Eskor Toyo did not miss a single Workers’ May Day rally and did not fail to address any of such rallies from the time I myself entered the movement more than 40 years ago – until he was struck down by a succession of strokes from mid-2012. There is no trade union, no federation of labour, no popular–democratic formation, no anti-staquo group with progressive outlook in Nigeria that Eskor had not addressed more than once in congress or in special conference. He was actively and prominently involved in popular-democratic mass protests, as well as in organised workers’ strikes. He participated in struggles where big grammar is used, as well as in struggles where the state is simultaneously held at the throat and the testicles. He was found above ground where the mood and power of the masses are tested and demonstrated as well as underground where the revolutionary machine rooms are located. A leader of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) said that Eskor Toyo lived his life for ASUU from a particular date to the end of his life. I added that, in fact, Eskor lived his life for the working class of Nigeria and its movement throughout his conscious political life.
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 the 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 The 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 to Marxist politics what Zik was to bourgeois politics: a first class polemicist, merciless and total. He dealt with an opponent as if asking him or her to shut up for ever. 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 Strike, Comrade Eskor Toyo was a participant, a mobiliser, an organiser, 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 Organisation – 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 during its second appearance (1987-1990). A revolutionary group, Mass Line – Collective crystallised 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 Bassey Ekpo Bassey-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 recognise 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 apprehend 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 organised 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): Eskor Toyo, Eboney Okpa, Udo Atat, Assim Ita, Ita Henshaw, Bassey Ekpo Bassey, 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 a “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, when Eskor Toyo, Bassey Ekpo Bassey, 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 or against himself. This was extra-ordinary 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 Biodun Jeyifo, 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 organisational 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 Eskor Eskor Toyo was indeed an outstanding and exceptional Marxist and Revolutionary Socialist. His commitment to the ultimate elimination of 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”.
Edwin Madunagu wrote from Calabar, Cross River State, Nigeria.
This is the Eskor Toyo funeral lecture delivered in Calabar, Nigeria on March 4, 2016.