There was a time—say, from 1966 to 1974—when the University of Dar es Salaam was one of the most thrilling intellectual centres in the world. Giovanni Arrighi spent two formative years on its faculty, collaborating with John Saul. Tamás Szentes, recruited by the Tanzanian government as part of a plan to staff the social science departments with non-Stalinist intellectuals, researched The Political Economy of Underdevelopment from his post as head of the economics department, teaching alongside Justinian Rweyemamu, the so-called father of Tanzanian economics. C. L. R. James, Paulo Freire, Samir Amin, Immanuel Wallerstein, Stokely Carmichael and Cheddi Jagan would drop by to give lectures, while Walter Rodney devoted his years at the university to writing How Europe Underdeveloped Africa. The future Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni convened Sunday morning ‘ideological classes’ attended by students and professors who pored over Capital. Julius Nyerere, Tanzania’s President, would arrive on campus to field questions from students—earning himself the nickname Mwalimu, ‘teacher’ in Kiswahili. Talking with a group of undergraduates who had just been beaten by police, he encouraged them to continue protesting, while clarifying that as head of state he would still dispatch the police to arrest them.

The country reddened, as did the campus. In 1967, six years after an initially cautious exit from British rule, Tanzania announced itself as socialist with the Arusha Declaration. The upper reaches of the economy, from banks to breweries, were nationalized, and party membership was restricted to peasants and workers. Nyerere claimed that, since Tanzania had no domestic bourgeoisie, the class struggle would be fought on the international plane. In response, students wrote retorts to the official party paper and in 1969 launched one of the great—if short-lived—anti-imperial Marxist journals of the period, Cheche, ‘the spark’. The first issue featured Rodney, Museveni and Issa Shivji, then still a student, who soon became its most arresting contributor. September 1970 saw the release of a special issue containing a long essay by Shivji, ‘The Silent Class Struggle’.

In it, Shivji observed that the international left-liberal embrace of Nyerere’s Arusha Declaration—‘Tanzaphilia’, as Ali Mazrui dubbed it—had developed in a vacuum of analysis. Superficially, Shivji agreed with Nyerere: there wasn’t really a bourgeoisie in Tanzania, nor much of a domestic class struggle in a classical sense. But Nyerere’s rhetoric obscured the country’s contradictions. Rather than launching a distinctively African socialism, or ujamaa, the Arusha Declaration provided Tanzania’s bureaucracy with an economic perch within the international bourgeoisie, such that a petit-bourgeois caste of party officials could occupy enlarged roles in a neo-colonial landscape. Nationalizations of key industries functioned through byzantine networks of international partnerships. Farm collectivization, the hallmark of Nyerere’s vision of ujamaa, emphasized production for the world market over self-sustainability, while in the cities worker self-organization was flouted at every turn, and the state lavished investment on tourism and hotel construction, to the neglect of everyday consumer goods. Tanzania teetered ‘in a state of flux’, Shivji wrote—its top leadership committed to socialism, however foggily expressed, while below ballooned a bureaucratic class reproducing itself within the world of imperial capital, waging a ‘silent class struggle’ against the workers and peasants it supposedly represented. The essay caused a stir; the next issue of Cheche featured a roundtable with Rodney, Saul, Szentes and others weighing in. Two years later, Saul and Lionel Cliffe published an edited collection of the whole debate under the title, Socialism in Tanzania.

So began the career of Nyerere’s greatest critic from the left. Born in 1946 in the upland town of Kilosa, 160 miles west of Dar, Shivji trained in law at the University of East Africa and London School of Economics. Tanzania’s foremost authority on development, public intellectual, newspaper columnist, legal scholar, he is also a writer of great range. Class Struggles in Tanzania (1976) excoriated the country’s bureaucratic class and its stifling of democracy; subsequent books have included Law, State and the Working Class in Tanzania (1986) and The Concept of Human Rights in Africa (1989), shifting the focus of rights to the social and political plane. In the early 1990s, Shivji chaired the Presidential Commission of Inquiry into Land Matters, producing recommendations for the democratization of land tenure under village assemblies that neither the World Bank nor the Tanzanian state could swallow; he set out his case in Not Yet Democracy: Reforming Land Tenure in Tanzania (1998). Suggestive of the full sweep of Shivji’s interests, however, is the stimulating essay collection, Intellectuals at the Hill (1993), in which Shivji appears as an African proponent of the embattled left critique, best represented in Anglo-American letters by Stuart Hall and Mike Davis, that sought to peer deeply into the neoliberal moment, understand its populist appeal and describe how its paradoxes might be turned leftward.

Shivji’s latest project is billed as the ‘first comprehensive biography of Julius Nyerere’. Development as Rebellion is a vast production, unique in conception, written in three volumes by a trio of authors—Saida Yahya-Othman and Ng’wanza Kamata, former colleagues at the University of Dar es Salaam, in addition to Shivji. It sets out to tell the story of Tanzanian socialism, fifty years after its imf-led strangulation. How do Shivji’s critiques modulate, when seen through the prism of Nyerere’s life? The future president was born in 1922, as German East Africa fell under British rule, in a village on the eastern shores of Lake Victoria named Butiama. His father was recognized by the colonists as a chief among the Zanaki people; his mother was his father’s fifth wife, of an eventual eighteen. Up to age twelve, the young Nyerere spent his days herding goats or listening as village elders discussed community issues, but pressure soon mounted on his father to send him to school—a rare thing for a village boy, but becoming plausible for a chief’s son in the modernizing 1930s. Taught first by missionaries, Nyerere converted to Catholicism; learned Swahili and English; acquired his first Western clothes; and excelled, leading him to Tabora—‘Tanganyika’s Eton’—and Makerere, then East Africa’s premier university, perched on a hilltop overlooking the Ugandan city of Kampala. Arriving in 1943, Nyerere served in student government, joined the debating society and met the soon-to-be postcolonial elite of East Africa: future doctors, lawyers, politicians, a large number of his own eventual cabinet ministers. Revolutionary winds blew, particularly among the Kenyan students, but gently; ‘African socialism’ was in the air. In a prize-winning essay, Nyerere adapted the theses of J. S. Mill’s The Subjection of Women to Zanaki life.

By the time he graduated in science and classics, his father had died. He built his mother a home, ‘pounding the building mix with his feet’, and took up a teaching job, becoming involved in the early stirrings of the independence movement. In 1949, he received a scholarship to continue his studies in Edinburgh. There Nyerere was taught political economy by Richard Pares, the historian of empire, and followed the first signs of liberation: independence in India, Nkrumah’s advance in Ghana. The story fits postcolonial convention—student travels to metropole and returns armed with the colonists’ knowledge—but Nyerere preferred another archetypal tale, no less prone to myth but telling in his fidelity to it: socialism as the African peasant’s cultural heritage. He later remarked that he did not convert to socialism so much as grow up amid it: its roots were in the collective rhythms of village life.

These details come from Book One of Development as Rebellion, lead-authored by Yahya-Othman. Kamata’s Book Two picks up the story with the invention of Tanganyikan mass politics. For the first twenty years of German colonial rule, ethnic groups waged guerrilla war, culminating in the ruthlessly extinguished Majimaji Uprising of 1905-07; the memory of the repression silenced political action for two decades. Reorganization slowly gathered pace: in 1929, a group of teachers and civil servants formed the African Association, the first in a line of organizations that would evolve into Nyerere’s political party, the Tanganyika African National Union (tanu). As a Makerere graduate, Nyerere fit the type. Yet as Kamata argues, Nyerere’s genius, once he returned from Edinburgh and assumed leadership of the organization in the 1950s, was to envision a mass party that would grow with an eye toward what followed independence.