Cover Image
close this bookThree Decades of Production of Historical Knowledge at Dar Es Salaam (Dar Es Salaam University Press, 1993, 27 p.)
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentIntroduction
View the document1. The Starting Point
View the document2. The Impact of the First Publications of the Department of History
View the document3. The Critique of the Nationalist Historiography
View the document4. From Dependency to Materialist Historiography
View the document5. Historical Knowledge and Research Priorities
View the documentReferences

4. From Dependency to Materialist Historiography

Internationally the dependency theory which dominated the Dar es Salaam school of historiography in the first half of the 1970s was examined and re-examined. Critics came both from the left and right. From the left, for example, Frank was accused of confusing “the two concepts of the capitalist mode of production and participation in a world capitalist economic system”28 (Emphasis in the original). On the other hand, the dependency theory was criticised for lack of clarity on the class issue. Robert Brenner put it this way:

... they failed to focus centrally on the productivity of labour as the essence and key to economic development. They did not state the degree to which the latter was, in turn, centrally bound up with historically specific class structures of production and surplus extraction, themselves the product of determinations beyond the market. Hence they did not see the degree to which patterns of development and underdevelopment for an entire epoch might hinge upon the outcome of specific processes of class formation, [and] of class struggle.29

Towards the end of the 1970s, therefore, virtually all central proportions of the dependence school had been criticised by scholars on the left, except the repudiation of the dualist theory of development held by “bourgeois” scholars since the 1950s.30 This had conceptualized the division of developing economies into two sectors: the traditional sector which was pre-capitalist and the modern sector which was capitalist with profit maximizing firms. The traditional sector comprised of agriculture as the major part and included also petty trade and crafts. It was assumed that development took place because the modern sector was able to grow by recruiting labour from the traditional sector. On the other hand, the “underdevelopment theory”, as presented by Frank, saw the periphery economy as part of the capitalist economy and rejected continuation of pre-capitalist modes of production. Further debates on this issue (to which the Dar es Salaam school has also made contribution),31 clarified the situation further; that certain aspects of pre-capitalist modes of production were preserved under capitalism to facilitate participation in capitalist production in order to maximize profit. The so called two sectors were therefore articulated into a system focused on maximum utilization of cheap labour for production in favour of the metropolitan economy.

Henry Slater saw the situation at Dar es Salaam in the following manner:

By 1975, the outlines of a new crisis could be seen in Tanzania, a product of both internally and externally determined contradictions developing in the post-Arusha situation, and manifested particularly at the economic level. This crisis put to the fore both a rightist and a leftist critique of the socio-economic framework and political leadership, albeit much of it mounted from outside the Tanzanian social formation. The right called for are turn to the untrammeled reign of capitalist market forces, and the left for a move beyond “African” socialism toward a full-fledged “scientific” socialism.32

The Department, as part of the Tanzanian society was naturally affected by these struggles, according to Slater's summary, and debates focused on the weakness of the “transitional” historiography in pointing to the “correct” socialist direction.

According to the developing criticism, the transitional tradition was still in the “petty bourgeouis” position. Its progressive aspects included “its use of materialist theory of knowledge and of a methodology rooted in such a theory, taking the economic level as the starting point of the analysis; the deployment of the notion of class struggle and other Marxist concepts; Rodney's call for the political engagement of the historian; and the development of a critique of capitalism, and of the world capitalist system, which 'bourgeois nationalist' history singularly failed to mount.”33 But deeper examination would reveal that materialism had not “fully replaced idealism in providing philosophical and methodological determination of the work.” Thus, for example, the question of class struggle in Rodney's work remains at the level of undifferentiated, continental, racial or national blocs of people like “Europeans”, “British” or “Africans”.

Secondly, there was now need to clarify the methodology issue. What kind of methodology was needed in order to produce historical knowledge that would give a clearer understanding of the concrete realities of contemporary African situation? Deeper understanding of Marxist methodology helped to criticise the idealist content of the previous phase and chart a more rigorous materialist analysis. By the late 1970s the debate had advanced to an extent that benefits and problems involved in such methodology were clear. What had been spearheaded by Henry Bernstein and J. Depelchin34 had come to be accepted by the majority of historians at Dar es Salaam. When Josiah Mlahagwa stated in 1978 that the Department had found a methodological basis for producing appropriate “proletarian-oriented” history of Africa,35 he was probably giving the views of the majority.

It can therefore be said that there is a clear evidence that the Department of History has charted for itself a “Proletarian Socialist” direction for producing historical knowledge. This can also be confirmed from the substantial number of seminar papers discussed by the Department since 1975. There is also evidence that, on the side of imparting knowledge, the Department has made big strides. In a recent external examiner's report it was recorded:

The Department is to be congratulated for having successfully instilled a sense of History in the students. They clearly have a specific orientation - a materialist one. They also are confronting concepts and internalizing them, which is always difficult task for undergraduates. Above all they have a world-view of history. So the Department is doing a good job.

On the other hand, Slater's summary of the activities of the Dar es Salaam school (already referred to earlier), has shown that not much historical knowledge has been produced during this period. For almost two decades historians have concentrated on discussion of theory and methodology. In the History Conference of the Historical Association held in 1983, it was noted that there was “great hunger for reading material produced under this methodology”.36 It was, however, noted that the methodology had already filtered through to the subject panels producing textbooks for schools and therefore new school history books would contain the products of the materialist approach. Nevertheless, it was agreed that a person comparing the three phases of production of historical knowledge at Dar es Salaam would be struck by the apparent point of hesitation on the side of historians to produce knowledge for wider readership and instead they continued to debate among themselves for such a long time. Dr. Swai had tried to explain this hesitation in the following terms:

Indeed, right now the attempt to bring about some kind of revision has been met with much hostility from the establishment. The discipline of history is not only professional but political. The need to arrest the march of history and therefore its writing has made the life of historians and students extremely insecure, and the discipline rather unpopular.37

This explanation can be justified if considered in the context of the whole continent, as noted earlier. But from the Tanzanian context, this needs further clarification. The Arusha Declaration opened way for people to discuss direction for socialist construction and that opening has never been closed. That is why the Department has been able to continue to discuss and transform itself to the present level. It would appear that the process of transformation in the last stages was not so easy; it required concerted efforts and time. But Dr. Swai's explanation may have a valid psychological point which should not be I overlooked. His paper was presented in 1980, two years after the University crisis of 1978 which witnessed removal of a number of staff from the University of Dar es Salaam, one of them being a historian. I call this fear a psychological one since there is no evidence that the removal was in connection with specific production of knowledge on the side of the members. Yet, it is quite possible that it crippled the production of knowledge in many departments for a long time.

From the historians point of view, the two decades of debating theory did mean lost opportunity to produce historical knowledge for almost a whole generation. It must have been gratifying when the first major publication appeared in 1987 - Professor Abdul Sheriffs Slaves, Spices and Ivory in Zanzibar.38 Its appearance signalled hope that more books of the new tradition would appear. It is hoped that no new crises will dampen this awakening.

One of the losses incurred during the long debating time was mass support which involved two sides of the same coin: One, the “collapse” of the Historical Association of Tanzania, and two, the loss of the regular position of history as a subject in secondary schools. The first aspect was mentioned in the previous section where it was observed that by 1974, interest in the Association was declining. It continued to decline to an extent that, after 1978, there were no further activities except one active branch in Moshi and one active History Club in Morogoro.39 As noted earlier, the position of the Association's publications was central to its life. Therefore without constant flow of such publications, the executive committee of the organization would have had difficult task to revive interest among its members. The Hon. Secretary elaborated the problem further:

It is very difficult to tell why things have collapsed. In a way problems started since Dr. Kaniki was Secretary. But during my period as Secretary, a number of factors can be mentioned: (1) Lack of continuity within the executive committee...(2) The Association has not been an important schedule for many of its officers and it has also not been provided with funds....(3) The Department of History should have been more central in making many of the activities of the Association going. (4) Failure to produce our publications has been a major blow to its life. (5) The making of history as an option has also reduced interest in the subject in schools...40

This last point touches the other side of the coin. History is considered to be a key subject in building up proper community perspective among many nations, capitalist and socialist alike. In 1983 when the Historical Association of Tanzania was trying to revive its activities it was found that in Tanzania history had the same kind of recognition until the issue of “Biases” in secondary school curriculum was introduced in 1974. Apparently the problem was not yet obvious until the need to streamline the organization of these “Biases” necessitated the issue of “Education Circular No. 4 of 1979”. Previously history had disappeared as a required subject in “Engineering Bias” only; but in 1979 it had to become an optional subject in all other “Biases”. This meant that history would be taught in Forms one and two after which each student would have liberty to drop it, depending on the kind of specialization he (or she) was taking. The result was that in many secondary schools history was taken by a much smaller number of students than before.41

Further investigation indicated that there had been no change of policy; history was still recognized as an important subject. In some schools the situation of dropping history had arisen from “purely time-tabling problem.” The existence of “Siasa” (Political Education) as a separate subject also complicated the issue as some teachers tended to be convinced that “siasa” could replace history. Apparently all these issues were debated extensively without finding a better solution. Unfortunately these discussions were taking place at the time the Historical Association of Tanzania had declined and by 1979 had “collapsed”. Fortunately, since 1983 emphasis on continuing with history at least up to Form IV has been given by the Ministry and this has been seen as an advantage in terms of examination results and in terms of finding suitable combination for Form V selection.

The point which needs to be emphasized here is more philosophical. Societies from time immemorial have recognized the role of history in their continuity. Traditionally communities made sure that each generation was properly initiated into the norms of the society. Modern societies, too, are conscious of the central role played by this subject and require students to study it at different levels of education. The main reason for such requirement is not because human beings are antiquarian but because history does play a central role in enabling society to continue to exist and develop its capabilities to struggle against obstacles in its environment. The understanding of past activities of the society is crucial in making the preoccupations of today sensible and also in making meaningful planning for the future possible. Mwalimu Julius K. Nyerere, as Patron of the Historical Association of Tanzania, remarked while opening the Association's 20th Anniversary celebrations in 1986: “History is to the social sciences what mathematics is to the pure sciences” (emphasis mine). One wishes that this fact would be more clearly recognized by those responsible for educational planning in this country.