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Life Histories from the Revolution: Three militants from the Kenya Land and Freedom Army tell their stories
In the early 1970s, Donald Barnett — who worked with Karari Njama to produce Mau Mau From Within (published by Daraja Press) — also worked with three militants of the Kenya Land and Freedom Army to enable them to tell the story of their experience in fighting for freedom and against British colonialism. These rarely acknowledged militants were Karigo Muchai, Ngugi Kabiru and Mohamed Mathu. Their stories were published in 1973 by LSM Information Center (Richmond, British Columbia, Canada) as part of a series entitled Life Histories of the Revolution, as The Hardcore: The Story of Karigo Muchai; The Man in the Middle by Ngugi Kabiru; and The Urban Guerrilla by Mohamed Mathu.
As part of its mission of Nurturing reflection, sheltering hope and inspiring audacity, Daraja Press is please to republish the three booklets as a book that will help a new generation of activists — Kenyan and international — reflect on a history that might inspire audacious struggles to continue the struggle for freedom that was the goal of the Kenya Land and Freedom Army.
Donald Barnett wrote the foreword to each of the booklets as follows:
One of our objectives in launching this series of LIFE HISTORIES FROM THE REVOLUTION is to provide a medium through which individual members of these classes-in-motion within the revolution can speak. We also believe it important that they be heard by those of us who comprise imperialism’s privileged and literate metropolitan minority. Their recounted lives throw our own into sharp relief, while at the same time they offer us fresh perspectives on the processes of repression and revolution from a unique vantage point: from below. Their life stories provide us with a window into the qualitative—as distinct from the merely statistical and quantitative—aspects of class conflict, thus enabling us to better understand and weigh the various factors at work in transforming oppressed masses into revolutionary classes. Again, their remembered life experiences can provide us with significant insights into the dialectical relationships between material and subjective conditions which shape the revolutionary situation, embrace the revolutionary transformation of individuals and classes alike, and move humanity forward toward a new international social formation.
Not all of the individuals whose life histories are included in this series are illiterate peasants or workers. Some are educated defectors from petty bourgeois classes who have joined the revolution and identified their interests with those of the oppressed masses in a very concrete way. They constitute a very important part of the revolutionary vanguard—i.e., the middle cadres who articulate the relationship between leadership and base, who carry forward the military and civilian programs in day-to-day contact with the armed militants and popular masses. The selfless dedication, integrity, comportment and skill of the middle cadres is an essential ingredient within any successful revolutionary process.
The life histories in this series have been recorded and prepared as historical documents from the revolutionary struggles of our time. The techniques and methods employed at each stage of the process, from initial contact to final editing, have therefore been chosen or fashioned with the purpose of guaranteeing the authenticity and integrity of the life history concerned. These stories, then, to the best of our ability to make them so, constitute a body of data and testimony as revealed by a few of those history-makers normally condemned to silence while others speak on their behalf.
We would like to express our thanks to Ole Gjersta, Steve Goldfield and others involved in the LSM Information Centre for making these booklets available.
The COVID-19 pandemic has brought into sharp relief the deep structural problems affecting nonwhite racialized workers in the core and periphery. Yet, many social scientific analyses of the global political economy, at least in the pre-COVID era, are race neutral or willfully indifferent to the persistent racial pattern of global inequalities. This piece seeks to understand how the unremitting super-exploitation of Black and other nonwhite racialized labor in the core and the periphery persisted throughout the COVID-19 crisis through the lens of Black radical scholarship on racism and capitalism. It historicizes the pandemic within the long arc of racist capitalist labor super-exploitation at the birth of capitalism and in its subsequent unfolding. It also shows the mechanisms by which COVID-19 has exacerbated the already existing, structural racial and colonial inequalities that undergird the global economy. White capital and European and North American states have deemed Black and other nonwhite racialized labor “essential” to maintaining profits and called upon these workers both within North America and Europe and in the global periphery to ensure continued production and profits in almost every realm. These workers were seen as essential but expendable; compelling them to continue laboring during the deadly pandemic increased the precarity and danger they faced and exacerbated racial and economic inequalities both within and between countries. At the same time, neoliberal racist states are further marginalizing these very workers by excluding them from much needed social protections to cope with the impacts of COVID-19 on their health, income, and overall well-being. The piece also illuminates why, despite the dire social and economic conditions threatening the lives and livelihoods of workers writ large, white workers continue to refuse to join a multiracial antiracist movement for liberation from imperial and racial capitalist exploitation. The author ends by reflecting on what it means to “return to normal” within the architecture of racial capitalism and the pursuit of a different path to justice and freedom.
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].
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.