[DEBATE] : Re: (Fwd) Roberts' rascally radicalism
eharvey10 at telkomsa.net
Mon Jun 26 10:00:53 BST 2006
Patrick, DON'T waste your time and energy with one of South Africa's
most pretentious and ignorant "intellectuals". His grasp of Marxism
generally and his understanding of current leftist trends is so poor that
you have to decide if it is worthwhile and necessary to respond to him. His
article is riddled with terrible misunderstandings, distortions and
misrepresentations of the 'left' and Marxism. In fact nothing serves to
reinforce his lapdog intellectual role more than his concluding sentence:
"Instead of futile anger the ANC makes what Mbeki has called " the real fire
that cooks", when we know Mbeki's fire has been burning the black working
class since 1994 while big business (still overwhelmingly white) has had it
really good, which he conceded in his state of the nation address early this
year. Roberts has for a while been moving towards establishment "leftism" -
which is essentially a disguised neo-liberalism (disguised behind a
resurrecting black (in fact crude and narrow 'Africanist' majoritarian
chauvinism in which "coloureds"
and "Indians" too are not so welcome) nationalism (part of which is the
Native Club) to serve the purpose of obscuring the class-race dimensions of
his policies and its hideous effects, particularly in the most important
area of basic needs at the points or both production and reproductive
consumption, based on earlier promises. Well, this article will tell you
very clearly what we can expect from his book. Add to that his nauseating
arrogance and swaggering style and.... well, I think it is going to get
From: Patrick Bond [mailto:pbond at mail.ngo.za]
Sent: Sunday, June 25, 2006 1:24 PM
To: debate: SA discussion list
Subject: [DEBATE] : (Fwd) Roberts' rascally radicalism
(The most devious analysis I've yet seen from Pretoria's Marxologists.
Judging by this taste, Roberts' book promises to be an incomprehensible
upside-down concoction digestible only by those whose intellectual
palates formed in 1970s Moscow: the group Suttner has termed the ANC's
One step leftward, two steps right
Ronald Suresh Roberts: COMMENT
23 June 2006 12:59
When Venezuelan trade union officials attacked the "dictator", Hugo
Chavez, his popularity leapt, as Thabo Mbeki's has now. Mbeki's
attackers are, paradoxically, unpopular populists. Their attack already
seems as curious as the Irish Times headline from 1934: "[FDR] Roosevelt
Reports to Congress on his Dictatorship."
Was Congress of South African Trade Unions general secretary Zwelinzima
Vavi's carnivalesque outburst, with its drum-beating "majorettes",
perhaps a new front in the "class war" against a woman president? A
majorette is, after all, "the female leader of a marching band, who
often twirls a baton". And majorettes wear those ever so short,
allegedly permission-giving, skirts.
Are some leaders of South Africa's historically progressive "left"
entering a reactionary phase? Writer Richard Gott points out that the
trade unions at the nationalised oil company, Petroleos de Venezuela,
tried to topple Chavez long before the failed United States-backed coup.
The South African Communist Party discussion document likewise expresses
open contempt for the key figures of democratic sensibility, including
Nelson Mandela. Just as Vavi seeks to cram his agenda down upon the
National Union of Metalworkers, Chavez faced a Confederation of
Venezuelan Workers that had been progressive since 1936, but whose
leaders now defied intra-union and popular opinion to oppose Chavez.
The market-fundamentalist London Economist still applauds the bloody
Pinochet "reforms" that killed 110 Chilean trade union leaders. Yet 18
months ago, the same Economist articulated the Vavi thesis: "These
[growth, employment and redistribution policy] reforms left opponents
reeling. Those who wanted to see a state-dominated economy were barged
aside," wrote the magazine. When the "left" shares a hymn-sheet with the
Economist, global house organ of Chicago school free-marketeering, a
very complex game is under way.
"It cannot be too strongly stressed," Franz Fanon wrote, "that in
colonial territories the proletariat is the nucleus of the colonised
population which has been most pampered by the colonial regime."
Neocolonialism's divide and rule runs not only along tribal lines, but
also between the employed urban proletariat and the less organised rural
poor. Hence the nuanced blend of rural poverty alleviation and trade
union solidarity in the recent ANC discussion document, developing what
Mbeki said in January 2004: "We cannot afford to pay less attention to
the peasant question, seeing these peasant masses as nothing more than
voting cattle to return our parties to power, with no other role."
Meanwhile the SACP document has only three insultingly casual
occurrences of the word "rural".
Behind the cartoon imagery of "radical" Vavi and "conservative" African
National Congress, what is Vavi's true claim to radicalism? That
notorious skirt-wearer, the late Ruth First, explained that in her
anti-apartheid commitments, she did not feel particularly South African:
she was motivated by issues of global anti-imperialism.
Instead of modernising First's indispensable anti-imperialism, the SACP
discussion document nostalgically pouts: "A socialist South Africa, to
those who keep asking us what we mean by 'socialism' (as if we had
forgotten what has been said for more than 150 years now) will be a
South Africa in which, overwhelmingly, the ownership of the means of
production -- factories, land, banks, shops, mines -- is socialised, and
not in the hands of those whose prime motive is profit-taking."
Chavez's radical Venezuelan battle is not to "socialise" a private
Venezuelan oil industry, but rather to rein in an already nationalised
industry that had been (as Fanon predicted) hijacked by self-serving
elites -- resembling, in fact, Maria Ramos's challenges at state-owned
Transnet, where higher wage and salary bills would mean higher transport
costs and reduced services for rural and remote areas.
Fanon warned against the degradation of nationalisation into the mere
"transfer into native hands of those unfair advantages which are a
legacy of the colonial period".
The strange conjuncture of Schabir Shaik and Zwelinzima Vavi (mediated
through the floating signifier of Jacob Zuma) suddenly makes a lot of
sense. It threatens the same uninterrupted transition from colonialism
to state-backed klepto-cracy that destroyed Mobutu's Congo and the
Soviet Union alike.
Oxford professor Robert JC Young cautions that "Marx offers no
emancipatory programme specifically for colonial revolution in the mode
of Lenin, Mao or Fanon". The SACP, stuck on the unreconstructed Marx of
150 years ago, cannot explain the challenges faced by leaders such as
Mbeki and Chavez, as predicted by Fanon. The SACP document never notices
Lenin's key advance upon Marx: the decisive embrace of "the national
movements against imperialism". Fanon warned that "the trade union
officials ... have lost all contact with the peasantry" so that "there
is a lack of proportion from the national point of view between the
importance of the trade unions and the rest of the nation". A true
radicalism must reinstate this sense of proportion. But the "left"
instead narrowly privileges its antique texts. This inadvertently
assists the most hedonistic reaches of the black nationalist
bourgeoisie, who can easily discredit the SACP's unreconstructed Marxism
of "more than 150 years now".
Radical anti-imperialism looks beyond Eurocentric Marxism to a later
anti-colonial Marxism that is, as Anouar Abdel-Malek argued, "a dynamic
movement rather than a fixed body of doctrine" and was, in itself, a
"form of radical nationalism".
By offering little more than the Eurocentric Marxism of "150 years ago"
plus the parochial family album of its own party history (and even that
mis-stated), the SACP's latest document fails those of us who like what
Lenin signalled in his article "Backward Europe and Advanced Asia" and
in his later and better known anti-imperialist canon. Instead, a lazy
SACP just stokes a little local "dictatorship" hysteria and trades in
stereotypes ("Zanufication") that are as offensive from the self-styled
left as from the usual pseudo-liberal quarters.
On the "dictatorship" issue, Tony Leon's Democratic Alliance has
announced "complete agreement with the 'left' faction. Not, in this
case, because they are 'left' but because they are in fact right."
Leon's acknowledged ideologue, RW Johnson, wishfully sighted this
consensus long ago: "The nationalist government has always argued that
its liberal opponents are effectively communists," Johnson wrote, "[but]
in fact it has been the other way around." This was manifest silliness
in 1977, when Johnson wrote it. But now?
A true radicalism must earn and stand its ground in the spirit of
Amilcar Cabral, claiming no easy victories. In a spirit more radical
than romantic, Mbeki recently quoted Joseph Schumpeter: the "public
finances are one of the best starting points for an investigation of
society. The spirit of a people, its cultural level, its social
structure, the deeds its policy may prepare -- all this and more, is
written in its fiscal history." This is far more radical, for a
liberation movement within a democracy, than what Moshoeshoe Monare has
called "the cacophonous power" of the anti-ANC shouters.
Instead of futile anger, the ANC makes what Mbeki has called "the real
fire that cooks".
Ronald Suresh Roberts is writing a book about Thabo Mbeki and his
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