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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.
Insurgent Possibilities looks at the George Floyd uprising using the theory of the Black Radical Tradition and Black Marxism. Part of a global wave of rebellions against the police, inequality, and the state, the 2020 uprising opened up a new chapter in the revolutionary history of the proletariat. Erupting in Minneapolis in late May, the uprising spread across the United States. Over the course of the next few months, dozens of police stations were attacked, hundreds of cop cars were burned, and thousands of stores in downtown urban centers were looted. The Black proletariat led the charge, but other racialized proletarians joined the fight, demonstrating new possibilities for multi-racial struggle. At the same time, this uprising was contained and repressed by a Black led counterinsurgency that played a definitive role in neutralizing the revolutionary potentials of the movement. Furthermore, there were clear limits to the uprising when it came to gender. When it was time to rebel for Breonna Taylor, few were willing to fight as hard as they had for George Floyd. These and other uncomfortable truths are considered in the opening text, “Race, Class, and Gender in the 2020 Uprising.” Aside from wrestling with these contradictions, Insurgent Possibilities documents the Walter Wallace Jr. rebellion in Philadelphia, where the Black proletariat refined the tactic of looting by car, one of the greatest tactical innovations of the uprising. “Cars, Riots, and Black Liberation” is a first hand reflection on this phenomenon. Insurgent Possibilities also argues that the tensions and contours of the 2020 riots indicate the unique relationship between civil war and revolution that is so pronounced in the United States. Building off of the analysis set out in earlier texts, “Prelude to a New Civil War” traces the mounting hostilities of the uprising back to the unfinished business of the first US Civil War. The last text in the collection, “Fire on Main Street,” looks at how the uprising played out in small cities and suburbs throughout the country, focusing on the strategic implications that these peripheral areas pose for questions of insurrection and revolution.
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!
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].
But isn’t this at last, Glaucon, the song that dialectic sings? [Plato, The Republic 532]
This book condenses the theory and extends into new empirical domains the core arguments of my treatise on political theory Thinking Freedom in Africa: toward a theory of emancipatory politicswhich was awarded the Frantz Fanon Prize in 2017. It proposes to focus on the dialectic as the core subjective feature of all emancipatory political experiments on the African continent. It traces dialectical thinking to its origins in Ancient Egypt and notes its systematic opposition to the idea of representation in politics in various historical sequences right up to the present in the thought of emancipatory struggles. Starting from the fundamental conception that all people are capable of thought, namely that anyone can think beyond interests and identities, the argument traces a number of historical political sequences most notably the Haitian Revolution (undertaken by slaves born in Africa), the emancipatory thinking of the National Liberation Struggles of the 1960s and the mass popular struggles in South Africa during the 1980s which themselves presaged the popular upsurge in North Africa in 2011. The core of the dialectic in each case differs but always combines a thought of the particular with one of universal humanity. The text also elaborates a theory of neo-colonial state politics through unpacking the core statist idea of representation. Differing modes of state rule are identified and the formation of particularistic social movements explained, particularly in the case of South Africa. Resistance to state modes of rule are analysed in order to elucidate the features and limits of the subjective political domains structured by these modes of rule. 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.
Market:activists, academics, students and trade unionists.
Table of Contents
- Introduction: people think – recovering the dialectic in thought
- The expressive-excessive dialectic and historical political sequences
- From Saint Domingue to Haiti: the thought of universal humanity and its subjective limits
- National Liberation Struggles: universalism, statism and party representation
- South Africa: from ‘people’s power’ to national chauvinism
- Representation as anti-dialectic: parties, civil society, NGOs, social movements
- The Neo-colonial State: Modes of Rule and Popular Struggles
- Conclusions: dialectics vs representation and the future of emancipation