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COVID-19 has circled the planet several times the first year into the outbreak, reshaping nearly all aspects of human society.
It’s now clear that the virus worsens the underlying forms of violence that capitalism imposes upon everyday people. Unemployment remains through the roof. Public health is damaged beyond the outbreak itself, with, for instance, riskier childbirths and failing campaigns in malaria elimination.1 In contrast, massive public bailouts are being handed over to the more politically connected industrial sectors, including, in the U.S., fracking companies, cruise ships, and airlines, as exploited frontline workers and whole communities go uninsured and unprotected.2 We see the impacts in the rise of racist, fascist rhetoric broadcast across countries. From street vigilantes to neoliberal and authoritarian governments, the coronavirus is painted as an exotic aberration originating in “other” people,
The pamphlet works through how recent analyses of the connections among urbanization, industry, and agriculture have been used to argue for more of the kinds of surveillance and population displacement that help bring about many of the world’s current crises, this time “updated” in the name of controlling disease. The commentary details a recent high-profile report by global change ecologist Rory Gibb and his colleagues in Nature on the interconnection between land-use change, biodiversity, and zoonotic diseases—diseases that emerge out of nonhuman animals. The authors highlight the importance of the group’s findings while also pointing out the perils of the way in which this work has been mapped onto policy and intervention. If followed through, the expectations and conclusions of the Gibb group are likely to further reproduce the very kinds of social and ecological damage that the study supposedly addresses. They finish up here by introducing agroecology, an environmentalism of the peasantry, the poor, and indigenous, long in practice, that treats agriculture as a part of the ecology out of which humanity grows its food. They present the approach as both a pathway forward for the world and as an alternative that folds in the insights of the Gibb study without falling into the worst of its traps.
People Resisting Xenophobic Violence: Understanding popular political responses to the South African identitarian crisis
The book is concerned with popular responses to the crisis of xenophobic violence in South Africa. It argues, that xenophobia itself is not primarily a reaction to poverty, inequality, or any other set of social conditions. Rather, xenophobia must be considered to be a collective political discourse which has arisen in post-apartheid South Africa from an exclusionary conception of state nationalism. Where this work may be distinguished from the majority of research on xenophobia in South Africa is in the fact that its particular focus is on instances where ‘ordinary’ South Africans have challenged and resisted xenophobic violence in their communities through collective political mobilisation. I suggest that these sites of resistance deserve careful consideration in their own right. I argue that they may demonstrate a subjective break with the oppressive politics of state nationalism through the affirmation of alternative political conceptions. Drawing on the political theory of Sylvain Lazarus, and his principal thesis that people are capable of thinking politics in ways which can subjectively think beyond the social and the extant (underscored by his political and methodological axiom, people think), the book will argue that these sites of resistance show that people – and especially those who are considered to be marginalised from the domain of legitimate politics – can and do think politically, and it is in the thought of people that new and potentially emancipatory visions of politics may emerge.
The first chapter of the book sets out empirically the rise of xenophobia in post-apartheid South Africa, with a focus on the ways in which state politics and practices have produced a hegemonic xenophobic discourse in the country. Chapter Two situates this discussion within a review of the academic literature, arguing that sociological explanations are by themselves unable to account for the phenomenon.
Chapter Three discusses three sites in which xenophobia has been effectively contested through collective political mobilisation: by Abahlali baseMjondolo (AbM) in Kwa-Zulu Natal, the Merafong Demarcation Forum (MDF) in Guateng in 2008, and in the Unemployed people’s Movement (UPM) in Grahamstown (now Makhanda) in 2015 (where I conducted fieldwork over a year). It is argued that the presence of collective political organisation before the outbreak of xenophobic violence provided the conditions for an effective challenge to xenophobic politics to occur.
Chapter Four is largely theoretical, drawing primarily on the work of Sylvain Lazarus, as well as Alain Badiou and Jacques Rancière. The chapter argues that it is essential to insist on politics as subjective, as it is only in the thought of people that emancipatory modes of politics which exceed socially located interests may emerge and be constituted through collective mobilisation into political praxis.
Chapter Five sets out the methodological approach to my own research with members of the Unemployed People’s Movement in Grahamstown. The aim of the approach is to aid in the investigation of what Sylvain Lazarus has called ‘subjective singularities’, or specific forms of thinking which characterize a political sequence. Put simply, the approach endeavours to try to understand people’s thinking on its own terms, through the categories and idioms which are specific to that subjective singularity, and which cannot be sociologically reduced to external explanatory referents such as class, race, power, or identity. The aim is to be able to identify and elucidate the specific prescriptive thought which may emerge as people think and articulate their own struggles.
Chapter Six sets out my discussions with 18 UPM activists. Based on the methodological approach indicated above, the purpose of this empirical chapter was not to provide any form of ethnography or sociology of the movement, but to try and elucidate, through the activists’ own categories, the subjective singularity which underpinned the movement’s anti-xenophobic politics during a particular sequence. The aim is not to extrapolate from the activists’ statements concepts, cases or types which might have broader application for the study of xenophobia generally, but only to try to understand and elucidate the forms of thinking which characterised this particular sequence in its subjective singularity. These forms of thinking, I argue, are notable and important in their own right.
[Note: Additional material from the interviews with the UPM members, which I was not able to include in the MA thesis, will be incorporated into the book manuscript to extend and develop the investigation into the political thinking of UPM members and to delineate the character of the political sequence].
Revolutionary Hope vs Free-Market Fantasies: Keeping the Southern Africa Liberation Struggle Alive – Theory, Practice, Context
This book is the second of a roughly-hewn trilogy of books that represents some kind of a culmination of my own writing over 50 years on the global struggle from below against both the overweening structures of globalized racism and those of globalized capitalism. In particular John Saul has concentrated both his scholarly work and his own political work as an activist on the liberation struggles in southern Africa that were mounted, historically, against white rule and capital’s local economic control, especially during the 30-plus years of war for southern African liberation (1960 to 1994). Since he first went from his native Canada to Africa (to live and to work in Tanzania) in 1965 before returning to Canada via Mozambique in the 1970s, he has written and/or edited over twenty-five books on related themes. Now, as suggested above, he seeks in his 80th decade to pull this work and this practical experience of struggle together in a final trilogy. He has already published a first volume of this trilogy under the title On Building a Social Movement: The North American Campaign for Southern African Liberation Revisited, published by Africa World Press globally and in southern Africa and by Fernwood Books in Canada in 2017. He is now completing a third volume entitled Race, Class and The Thirty Years War for Southern African Liberation, 1960-1994: A History for Cambridge University Press in the U.K that is to be published in 2022 (it will completed by spring, 2021). The present volume fits between these two and is a book that both locates my work theoretically (in Section I: “In Theory: A Moralizing Science”) and in relationship to my own personal experience of the struggle under examination (section II: “In Person: From Theory to Practice”). Then a third section allows for some deeper (and more recent) examination – on a country by country basis of certain key aspects of regional developments (Section III: “In Context: The Paradox of Liberation in Southern Africa”), aspects touched upon on but not explored as deeply as they might have been in my Cambridge volume in preparation. And the book concludes with an envoi entitled “For Want of a Conclusion – An Envoi: On Writing and Acting on the Premise that the Struggle Continues.” In one book, then, the analytical premises and the practices of participant observation that mark my work are set out and are then exemplified in case-studies of both the period of active liberation and the period of the victories and defeats of hopes for a genuine liberation in succeeding decades in Tanzania, Angola, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Namibia and South Africa. As we will be reminded, the region has come to know “false decolonization” and “recolonization” aplenty but the book also provides evidence that the struggle for a more effective liberation continues!
As African people most of us are brought up to believe many myths about ourselves. One of these is that we are poor because we never grew out of the dark ages. Another such myth is that we will always need European guidance because of our backwardness. Not only has there been a lot of research done within the last few decades disproving these myths but the constant forward and backward motions of various societies in the world proves that a new beginning is always “in the cards” when a forward-looking vision and a determined set of energies are released.
However, to be properly understood, all this must be put into historical perspective. This is what the author has done: starting from the early days of Egypt down to present day Southern Africa, he has analysed the long journey from development to underdevelopment and back towards development. The fact that European/North American domination has played such a large part in influencing the direction of this path, this manuscript is about both the history of African and European people as well as an economic analysis of foreign domination.
Given the extensive nature of this task the author has deliberately downplayed statistics as most of the empirical details stated are taken from the research work of reputable scholars, reference to which is constantly engendered, so that the reader could independently pursue the documentation of all aspects of the work.
Frederick Engels, the classical socialist philosopher, reflecting on the nature of scientific thinking stated:
“The analysis of nature into its individual parts, the grouping of the different natural processes and objects into definite classes, the study of the internal anatomy of organic bodies in their manifold forms, these are the fundamental conditions of the gigantic stride of our knowledge of Nature… But this method of work has also left us as legacy, the habit of observing natural objects and processes in isolation, apart from the connection with the vast whole; of observing them in repose, not in motion; as constants, not as essential variables; in their death, not in their life.”[i]
Most of the facts and events have been documented in numerous scholarly writings. But one item of his concern is that most of these works have in one way or other fallen prey to Engels’s criticism, either on grounds of limited geography or of limited history (tackling only a short period). However, what is more usual for the more bourgeois–influenced scholars is to limit their scope to one or two of the arbitrarily imposed “disciplines” of Economics, Anthropology, Sociology, Political Science, Psychology, etc.
Of course, it is understandable that the two types of limitations (geography and history) are not made without reason, as no one person could hope to cover a broad enough scope in a detailed and rigorous manner especially within easily readable limits. However, the need of scientists especially when covering as important a topic as the development process, to produce a work covering the broadest possible perspective.
Given limited resources, the author has attempted to do just that – albeit in an introductory manner. It is his hope, however, that more people start viewing development as a broad, holistic process and not just a phenomenon limited in space and time to economics or even political-economy. In this regard, the annual compilation of The Human Development Index by the UNDP whereby countries worldwide are ranked, not merely by GDP per capita – as is usually cited in classical bourgeois economics – but by Life expectancy, Fertility and Under-five Mortality Rates, Combined School Enrolment, Adult Literacy Rate, Urbanisation, and (generally) by a Human Poverty Index. This approach can only be viewed as a step in the right direction.
An extra bonus for readers is that I have included quotes from a cross-section of classical scholars on the development process. Hence, readers can follow up on these references to further edify themselves.
[i] Frederick Engels, Socialism: Utopian and Scientific (London: Swan Sonnenschein & Co., 1892), 406.
Transforming ourselves, Transforming the World: An open conspiracy for social change – Second Edition
This is a new edition of the book originally published by Zed Books in 1999. The book includes an Introduction written by David Austin and an Afterword from the author, Brian Murphy.
In every single country around the world, there are millions of women and men, young and old, who continue—in the face of setbacks, political alienation and the shadow of despair—to dedicate their lives to a profound and hopeful activism. These activists continue to come together to promote healthy communities where they live and work, struggling to create democratic economies and accountable government, fighting for economic and social justice for all citizens, and demonstrating for peace and human rights in their own countries and internationally. They struggle together to improve their lives and the lives of their neighbours. They struggle to keep alive a dream of a world based on the human values they have defined for themselves—a world which, at the very least, promises to strive continually towards one standard of dignity and opportunity for all, regardless of who they are or where they live.
This activism is driven by necessity, and by the personal integrity, dignity and courage of millions of individual citizens working together to make their world a better place. But at the same time this activism is increasingly inhibited, and too often extinguished, by the inevitable conclusion that change, fundamental change, will never be achieved in the face of the globalized power and greed and authoritarianism of the elites who have come to control the planet and its resources.
This book examines, and attempts to transcend, this conclusion. It focuses on human capacities and the possibility of bringing about substantive change in ourselves and the world we share. Most political theorists do not deal with the psychosocial, whereas this is where this book begins. The book deals with the significance of action, and the fundamental question of whether and how progressive change is possible. And in particular, it situates the role of transformative knowledge as a critical factor in the change process.
The book provides an analysis of the essential qualities and capacities that embody the potential of each of us to transcend the conditions of our lives and change the world—to be the ‘missing link’ between a deterministic past and an intentional and conscious future. The qualities of consciousness and ‘vision’—our capacity to see what is, and imagine what is not, but could be—are highlighted as central to activism and change. The book also explores the potential for legions of socially-conscious and engaged people empowered within an ‘open conspiracy’ for social change—an open, concerted, visible and broad-based proposition to transform elements of the prevailing social order to bring about an increasingly just and equitable world.
Table of Contents
Introduction to Second Edition: David Austin
Preface and Acknowledgements
1 The Courage to Be
2 The Dilemma of Action and the Psychology of Inertia
3 Confronting the Dilemmas: Beyond Inertia
Possibilities in Process
4 The Missing Link
5 The Individual, the Visionary
6 Challenging the Established Rationality
7 Imperatives for Modern Education
The Open Conspiracy
8 The Open Conspiracy: Allies for Health and Action
9 Theatres and Strategies: Embracing the Future
10 Education and the Open Conspiracy
Eclectic Notes on Knowledge and Action
Afterword to the Second Edition – Brian Murphy
What is to be Thought? The Dialectics of Emancipation and Africa: political theory and political practice
Beginning from the understanding that it is imperative today to develop new concepts for the thinking of an emancipatory politics on the African continent (Fanon), this book proposes to focus on dialectical thought as the core subjective feature of all emancipatory political experiments on the African continent in particular. It traces a dialectical thinking to its origins in Ancient Egypt that arguably influenced Plato, and notes its opposition to the idea of representation in state politics during various historical sequences right up to the present. Starting from the fundamental conception that all people are capable of universal thought, and that an idea of universal humanity is central to popular thought during experiences of collective emancipatory struggle, the argument traces and analyses a number of emancipatory historical political sequences and their attendant contemporary narratives. Currently it is proposed to include
1) the Ancient World: Ancient Egypt (The Tale of the Eloquent Peasant – 4000 BCE) and Plato (as read by Alain Badiou);
2) Pre-colonial Africa and resistance to slavery: the Donsolu Kalikan (in the Manden/Mali, 1222), the Antonian Movement (in Kongo, 1684-1706) and its continuation in the Lemba Movement, and the Haitian Revolution (undertaken by slaves from Africa),
3) The National Liberation Struggles of the 1960s as thought by Fanon and Cabral, and
4) The mass popular struggles in South Africa during the 1980s.
The core of the political dialectic in each case differs and creates, during a limited sequence, what can be called a subjective political singularity that always combines dialectically a particular thought of resistance emanating from its specific social location with one of universal humanity during what is a process exceptional to hegemonic social relations.
It is further argued that whereas the political dialectic is not a given feature of African cultures as such, the latency of universalistic conceptions of humanity is identifiable within many African cultures. This means that rather than having to be invented ex nihilo, conceptions of the human universal in Africa have the potential to be (re-)activated in practice. Ato Sekyi-Otu and Ernest Wamba-dia-Wamba are discussed as major contemporary African dialectical thinkers.
Coming to the present period, the book elaborates a theory of neo-colonial state politics through unpacking the core idea of representation and the absence of popular sovereignty. It is argued that the neo-colonial character of the state must be understood beyond binaries but rather, following Gramsci, as structured by objective dialectical relations characterising fundamentally distinct modes of rule. This objective dialectic is assessed, in addition to Gramsci, through a discussion of a number of well-known contemporary thinkers of the dialectic (Lenin, Mao, Dunayevskaya, CLR James, Carchedi, Anderson, etc).
These modes of rule enable the neo-colonial state to reproduce itself and social relations in conjunction with popular responses to such rule. Differing modes of state rule are identified and the formation of distinct domains of politics corresponding to them and founded on different forms of representation are elucidated. These domains amount to three types:
1) civil society (where the state rules through a relation of citizenship and the right to rights),
2) uncivil society (where the right to rights is inexistent and thus state violence is dominant), and
3) traditional society (where the state rules through custom and tradition itself the object of struggle).Using various cases from Africa, contradictions and struggles within each of these domains are analysed and the potential to draw on latent cultural conceptions of universality (when in existence) is discussed.In this manner both the dialectic of emancipation and the character of state power are thought conjointly and dialectical thinking is opposed to the idea of representation in politics as well as in social science. The concepts and categories used are explained in a simple manner understandable by all.
Finally and as a kind of concluding argument, it is proposed to rethink the idea of representation through a critical engagement with the political practices of what could be called the “heroic figures of liberation”. This will be undertaken via an assessment of the politics of Toussaint Louverture and Nelson Mandela in particular regarding the “colonial question” as identified by Aimé Césaire.