Madagascar: Socialist experiments (1972-1979)

Updated July 2010

On May 18, 1972 Tsiranana gave power over to General Gabriel Ramanantsoa who was appointed Prime Minister with the task of forming a non-political government of national unity (Library of Congress 1994a, Marcus 2004, US State Department 2005). Ramanantsoa implemented a number of popular, but controversial, measures including increasing the minimum wage rate, introducing price controls on basic goods as well as strike pay and currency control. He also abolished poll and cattle poll taxes and corrupt state officials were prosecuted (Thomson Corporation 2005). Ramanantsoa's plan for the military to manage a transition under his leadership, and without parliament, for five years was overwhelmingly endorsed by the electorate in a referendum in October 1972 (see 1972 Presidential referendum for details); the population at large regarded the military as neutral in the conflicts that wracked the country. Tsiranana, who opposed these measures, resigned as President. Ramanantsoa released the political prisoners incarcerated by Tsiranana, broke off the relations with Apartheid South Africa that had been established in 1967, and formed ties with the Warsaw Pact countries. He reduced French influence in the country; Madagascar withdrew from the Franc Currency Zone and agreements with France were renegotiated so that French troops were withdrawn (Thomson Corporation 2005). Assets of French citizens were nationalised and workers and peasant collectives in the Soviet style were established throughout the economy (Columbia Encyclodedia 2005).

The government was not able to manage the expanded state sector effectively or efficiently and the stagnation that had characterised the economy hitherto now became a downward spiral, while foreign investment, already scarce, wholly dried up. In the meanwhile economic misery deepened and social and political unrest continued (Bertelsmann Foundation 2005, Marcus 2004). Recognising that he was no longer able to unite the country Ramanantsoa handed over power to a Marina commoner, Lieutenant Colonel Richard Ratsimandrava on February 5, 1975. The latter was assassinated less than a week later and a National Military Directorate was established which attempted to restore order by declaring martial law, suspending political parties and taking control of the media (Library of Congress 1994a). On June 15, 1975 the National Military Directorate handed over power to Lieutenant Commander Didier Ratsiraka, a Betsimisiraka, one of the ethnic groups that constituted the peoples of the coast. He was designated president of the new governing organ, the Supreme Revolutionary Council (SRC) (Marcus 2004).

The slow military coup d'état that brought an end to the First Republic was given legitimacy by a referendum held on December 21, 1975, which overwhelmingly endorsed a new constitution and a seven year presidential term for Didier Ratsiraka (see 1975 Referendum results for details; Library of Congress 1994b). The country was renamed the Democratic Republic of Madagascar. Under Ratsiraka's leadership Marxist-Leninist ideology was adopted. The development of Madagascar was to be guided by the principles of scientific socialism as articulated in the Charter of the Malagasy Socialist Revolution, called the Red Book, while Madagascar was to remain non-aligned in the Cold War between the USSR/Warsaw Pact and the USA/NATO (Marcus 2004, Library of Congress 1994b, Thomson Corporation 2005). The goals of the revolution were to uplift the Madagascan people, economically and culturally, through nationalisation of unexpropriated enterprises, heavy state investment in economic activity, centralised economic planning by the state and decentralisation of decision-making through reviving the ancient village councils structures (fokonolona) (Marcus 2004, Columbia Encyclopaedia 2005, Library of Congress 1994b).

In accordance with the tenants of Marxist-Leninism a vanguard professional party, called the Vanguard of the Malagasy Revolution (AREMA) was created. It did not supersede the other leftist parties but was the senior partner in a coalition of six parties subscribing to the Red Book, the National Front for the Defence of the Revolution (FNDR). Membership of FNDR was necessary for a party to be able to field candidates in elections (Library of Congress 1994b). Local (fokonolona) elections were held in March 1977, which AREMA swept, taking 90% of the seats. In the June People's National Assembly and provincial elections AREMA won 112 the 137 seats in the People's National Assembly and 220 of the 232 seats in the provincial assemblies (see 1977 National People's Assembly election results for details). In the government the party held 16 of the 18 ministries (Marcus 2004, Library of Congress 1994b).

The implementation of the government's economic policies immediately led to a capital flight. Managerial ineptitude on the part of state bureaucrats combined with the mismatches common to all attempts at centralised planning in complex economic systems led to a fall in the production volumes and quality of goods. The massive investments made by the state in the economy were unproductive and the huge amounts of capital borrowed to make them could not be repaid (Library of Congress 1994b). By September 1977 shortages of consumer goods in general, and food in particular led to growing unrest and popular demonstrations in Antananarivo in that month. In response to popular discontent the government became increasingly authoritarian. The media was tightly controlled and criticism of the government was stifled, while the military was used to suppress expressions of dissatisfaction by the public, such as the student riots of May 1978 (Library of Congress 1994b, US State Department 2005, Marcus 2004).

By 1979 the state was unable to service its loans and was effectively bankrupt. Ratsiraka was forced to turn to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank for assistance, as well as make appeals to foreign donors in Europe and America. In return for such assistance the government was forced to abandon its socialist policies and pressured adopt a programme of economic liberalization. This in turn raised the ire of his traditional left-wing support (Columbia Encyclopaedia 2005, Marcus 2004, Library of Congress 1994b).


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