Paper presented at Centre for the Study of Equality and Multiculturalism,
History and Ideology in South Africa - the intellectuals and the struggle for equality.
By Hans Erik Stolten.
What exactly is it that makes South Africa interesting for a historian? Let me first enumerate some general reasons why I, during a number of years, have been involved in this field of research.
(PP2) South Africa's history reveals – within one country - many of the social, ethnic, and cultural conflicts, which continue to concern us globally. Racism, migrant labour, social segregation, nationalism, separatism, authoritarian capitalism, industrialization, urbanization, unemployment, democratization, human rights, toleration, and redistribution – can be viewed within the same illustrating, structural complex.
The possible solutions to some of those conflicts - including the Truth Commission's handling of history - could hold a general lesson - also about the possibilities and limitations of freedom struggles against neo-colonial domination and for a just development, more or less independent of Western economic power.
(PP3) Also; South Africa has historic ties to Denmark and the Nordic countries - such as the solidarity of the anti-apartheid movements and the governments’ sanction policies - and later because South Africa now functions as a gateway to Africa for trade and aid.
Moreover, historians and social scientists played a significant ideological role in both the creation and the demolition of the apartheid society.
Finally, it should also be part of the picture that is challenging and relatively easy to do research in South Africa, because the country has a large, qualified academic environment with an inclusive, international debate style.
During the past 15 years, South Africa has - in the eyes of the Western world - been normalized. The country is now seen as just "an ordinary country" (Alexander, 2002). We like to see it as a stable Western democracy. But, when this normalization-view is extended to South African history, it leads to easy rationalizations and regression of what really happened. In the first half of the 1990s, a majority of South Africans probably had revolutionary expectations.
This presentation deals with attitudes and behaviours of South African intellectuals and their significance to the transformation from apartheid to democracy. The main focus is on certain left wing movements’ divergent positions. At the same time, I try to contribute to an understanding of the historical context by glimpses, which particularly include social rebellion and revolutionary traditions, which in a straight line can be said to point toward the regime change of 1994, since common causes, tactics, and forms can be found. I also try to highlight some typical features of South Africa's political economy, whose special inner-colonial exploitative form – in the first instance, that is to to 1990 - sat the scene for a combination of democracy struggle, national liberation, and social revolution - rather than for reform. Finally, I demonstrate that the strategy of revolution that the South African Communist Party adopted already in 1929, and whose main features were embraced by the ANC from the 1960s, was actively used all the way up to 1990 and still serves as a part of the official rhetoric.
(PP4) I have chosen to study the South African situation from a historiographical angle. Thereby I hope - at the same time – to be able to communicate an understanding of both; how the South African society has functioned - and how leading social scientists have tried to change it.
Of course, such an angle also opens an opportunity for analytic self-reflection. How should one's own role as an intellectual unfold, when it comes to one’s relation to a popular political movement in a contemporary historical situation, that you both are a part of and describe?
(PP5) This whole ideological complex of Cold War debates about guilt and shame and left internal strife may well seem a bit antiquated. Why hold on to the investigation of a seemingly outdated, historical right-left debate of the Cold War era? – Well, how can it be that issues from this debate pops up all the time if this history has ended?
(PP6) How could it be that the new South Africa moved in a neo-liberal direction when developments prior to the liberation from apartheid had raised far more radical expectations? Were the involved left wing historians just useful idiots or can debate can still be used for something? Were the Marxists of the 1980s harmful for the quality of historical research and the reputation of the profession? This is just a few further issues that this line of research suggests.
I will argue that history has not ended, that the 1970s and 80s Marxist discussions have a persistent, progressive significance, and that the historic left-right debate between radical and liberal forces has continued relevance.
(PP7) South Africa's realhistory can be periodised in various ways. For a start, it is sufficient to be aware of the difference between the segregation period up to 1948 and the following apartheid period. We can return to that.
(PP8) Several times in its history, South Africa has been close to a revolutionary situation - and the way that intellectual analysts have treated these revolts, invite to comparative analysis. In my eyes, the intellectuals actively contributed to an accumulated, collective memory/experience, which was useful for the country's oppressed majority. Progressive history writers’ reconstructions of former resistance struggles were actually a precondition for the tremendously broad and well-organized regime-resistance up to 1994. Both liberal and Marxist intellectuals had a share in that development.
(PP9) In the crucial decade from 1984 to 1994, South Africa's cities were dominated by militant mass mobilizations of striking workers and protesting township residents, often gathered under revolutionary socialist slogans. The experience of influence and gradual progress had never been part of black workers’ life experiences. Thus, reformist traditions were weak and an articulated social democratism scarcely existed.
The lacking development of social reformism contributed to a system-crossing, anti-authoritarian consciousness, hostile to the state, which has made it difficult for South Africa's black workers to accept a co-optation model, in which they could see themselves as a part of society. The constant interventions of the apartheid State in labour market conflicts meant that every black workers’ strike automatically was a struggle against the existing political order. Political and juridical race-group discrimination prevented black workers from perceiving themselves as individual members of society and contributed instead to the creation of a collective African national sentiment.
At the same time, Communist Party strategies became entrenched within the ANC through the exile movement and armed struggle experiences. The domestic popular revolt of the 1980s was supported by infiltration and sabotage operations, by logistical support from the Eastern Bloc, by revolutionary leaders of newly decolonised frontline states, by the anti-apartheid movement's solidarity and international sanctions. But, also by ideological currents that raised consciousness. At one point, it looked like pretty much like a revolution.
My own view of the realhistory is that South Africa's revolution began, not with the widespread riots in 1985, but as early as with the Congress Alliance Freedom Charter of 1955. It apparently prevailed with the National Democratic Revolution in 1994, which was seen both as a radical transition and as a whole new type of society, but simultaneously with the transition to majority rule, the revolution was crippled by a negotiated national compromise, which in turn was dictated by two factors: namely the desire to avoid actual civil war, and of the prevailing, global, neoliberal, pressure.
My analysis of the history, visions, and conflicts of the intellectual activists are not made with artificial distance. After many years of involvement in the anti-apartheid movement, it is not my ambition to produce neutral history writing. My research has also been used by the international and Danish solidarity environment and in cooperation with trade unions, the social democracy, the NGO sector, and foreign ministry initiatives. I was for several years a member of the Central Committee's International Secretariat in the Danish Communist Party (DKP), where I worked with relations to African sister parties. Nevertheless, I believe that I have considered a representative selection of sources in a reasonably balanced manner. My conclusions are however far from impartial.
My research deals with divergent schools in South African social science and with the significance of their views for the transformation from apartheid to democracy. As I see it, progressive history writers contributed to a collective accumulated experience for the country's oppressed majority. Their reconstructions of former resistance struggles were a precondition for the tremendously broad and well-organized regime-resistance up to 1994. Both liberal and Marxist intellectuals had a share in what was then called the National Democratic Revolution.
The political economy of South Africa called for rebellion
Antisocial redistribution policies and ethno-national disempowerment was an integral part of South African history and the country has more than once been close to a revolutionary situation.
A revolution often starts as a reaction against an unjust regime that seeks to maintain outdated power or production relations and ownership structures with repressive methods. If a combined economic, political, and ideological crisis forces the regime to an incomplete reform opening because it is impossible to continue governing the old way - and the lower classes have little to lose - revolt will sometimes seem the lesser evil (Barrington Moore Jr., 1978 : 367; Lenin, 1982: 188-201; Mandel, 1989: note 7).
Many of those special class divisions and nationality conditions that characterized the peculiar South African apartheid capitalism, was present already from the beginning of the 1920s (van der Walt, 2004). Ownership of gold and diamond mines had rapidly been transformed from one-man claims (each man, his hole in the ground) to a complete centralization totalling only a few large conglomerates. A privileged white working class had monopolized all well-paid, skilled jobs. The white workers' loyalty was bought by colour-bar privileges funded by the mining industry. Black competition was excluded and the white labour aristocracy became an integral part of the corporate society’s ruling class alliance (Maud, 1978: 346). Concurrently with the natives’ banishment from the best farmland, a black proletariat was created partly of forced, first-generation workers, who were picked from tribal communities for temporary employment in mines, farms and industry. From the start, these workers were condemned by tradition and law to a subordinate position characterized by extremely poorly paid, unskilled migrant work, and they were eventually stripped of all social and political rights (Terre Blanche, 2002). These completely different conditions meant that the South African labour movement became increasingly torn according to racial lines (van Onselen, 2001).
A few white and black labour leaders with a socialist vision for the entire nation, among others, S.P. Bunting, W.H. Andrews and Moses Kotane, were active in the spread of revolutionary traditions by organizing both white, black, and mixed unions during the segregation period before 1948 (Gitsham and Trembath, 1926; SP Bunting Papers). They influenced the black mining strike in 1920, the Rand Revolt in 1922, and mid-1920s broad socio-political trade union, the ICU, Industrial and Commercial Workers Union (Drew, 2007).
During 1940s, industrial growth demanded the organization of a new black trade union movement, CNETU, Council for Non-European Trade Unions, which lead several strike waves in the manufacturing industry. ANC was radicalised, influenced by its own new Youth League, under the leadership of Nelson Mandela, Oliver Tambo, and Govan Mbeki (ANC Youth League, 1944). The enlightened, civilized, black petty bourgeoisie, which had unfolded in the first decades of the 20th century, had been banished and depleted and concurrently, liberal positions had lost influence within the ANC (Alfred B. Xuma Papers).
Anti-Fascist and anti-colonial sentiments characterized the period just after WWII. In combination with disappointed expectations and higher living costs, this led in 1946 to the largest black mining strike in the Witwatersrand area (O'Meara, 1975). Heavily armed police crushed this strike movement, but the turmoil scared the whites and the 1946-strike became part of the reason for a regime change in South Africa from a more liberal-oriented segregation policy to the declared apartheid policy after Nationalist Party's election victory in 1948.
(PP10) Historians often classify South African historiography into main waves such as Anglo-imperial historiography, Afrikaans-nationalist, liberal and radical-revisionist history writing, post-structural perceptions, and recently Africanist government-inspired trends.
As historian you always take, to some degree or another, a point of departure from your own position in the present - and while the debate between liberal and radical discourses are important for understanding the freedom struggle against apartheid and the fundamental choice of direction just after 1994 - then it might be more relevant for an understanding of the discussions between mainstream and left-wing views within the ANC, to look at attitude developments over time internally among the former radical apartheid opponents.
The liberal historiography
Many liberal scholars have been deeply opposed to the flagrant injustices in their immediate surroundings and have often written as if they would have preferred a different past, as a prerequisite for a genuine reform work in their own time. This kind of interaction between historical reality, historiography, and present has been a prominent feature of all historical schools.
However, many, both progressive whites and militant blacks, have - in view of liberal co-operation with the apartheid regime over time - been sceptical of liberal reformism as an action plan for South Africa and have therefore also deployed a critical attitude to liberal research’s capacity for finding the truth about the history.
(PP15) The liberal school broke through during the 1920s and 1930s with the work of Macmillan, Walker, De Kiewiet and Marais. In their interpretation of history, the liberals laid emphasis on racial factors and cultural differences - and they also criticized the previous romantic colonial-nationalist settlertradition - and the primitive ideological elements of afrikaaner racism. Subject wise they addressed from the start the brutality and the destructive effects of certain forms of colonial expansion. In regard to contemporary politics, they were in favour of protective English-civilizational guidance as the most sensible solution to the race problem or the native question, as it was called.
Despite the emphasis of cultural differences, the liberal viewpoint included, from the beginning, a general human message that apparently went beyond social classes, ethnicity, nationality and culture - a message that was, in some way, troubling for most white South Africans with their long historical tradition of formalized exclusivity divisions and privileges. Taken at face value, the liberal message was is in fact an invitation to participate in a historic unification process.
Separation Policy, they believed idealistically, had been tried in countless forms since Jan van Riebeeck’s landing in 1652 and had never worked, because forces that bring people together is stronger, in the long run, than those trying to keep them apart. South Africa's history had, overall, been a move toward closer interaction between the communities and toward a common economic system. Forced Labour and the cheap labour system was described as ineffective. A cheap, low motivated workforce ment poor workers and the exclusion mechanisms that kept the price of African workers down, therefore simultaneously decelerated economic growth.
The liberal historians found the most important explanations of South African racism in tradition, culture, and the Boer character. The racist attitudes that they saw as the cause of the Afrikaner-dominated government’s increasingly rigid segregation policy should be found in the special mentality that developed in the expanding frontier areas of the Cape province from early in the nineteenth century. It was there that the Boers began their self-identification as whites, superior to the indigenous population and this enemy image was institutionalized in the South African Union after 1910.
The early liberal school included a distinct anti-Boer bias in its explanation of the segregated society. That racist attitudes were at least as well developed in the English-dominated Natal, they were mentally fully able to ignore it seems. The liberals did not think that the frontier ideology behind the segregation policy had any meaning or place in a modern state. The idea level was central to their explanation. Racial prejudice was simply a kind of paranoia that stemmed from old, but now unwarranted, fears. Segregation policy, designed to secure white supremacy in all spheres of life by administrative measures, was explained as a result of outdated group identity that had arisen in the contested and threatened frontier. Boer stubbornness and their inclination to withdraw from English imperial authority was also made possible only by the wide open spaces of the frontier. And boer prejudices were later dispersed by the miserable Afrikaans speaking poor whites, who flocked to the urban areas in the first half of the twentieth century.
For the liberal social scientist, the meeting between diverse ethnic groups are one of the most important factors in South African history. The history is about racial differences and interactions between racial groups. It was the disturbed ideological, political, and administrative order that created conflicts in the South African society. The main players in South African history has been the ethnic groups. The poles that created the essential tension in South Africa, was white and black. Social oppression and black poverty are therefore mostly seen as a result of white racial preconceptions and black incapability. It must therefore be concluded that in the liberal perspective, personal, racist prejudgments is the central, crippling deficiency in the South African reality.
This perception, that racial chauvinism occurred as a natural result of border conflicts and then were preserved in the Afrikaner republics for subsequently to be transformed into the segregation policy, was convenient for English-speaking liberals. It placed the primary responsibility for, "what had gone wrong," on the Afrikaners. Liberal scholars like L.M. Thompson and Monica Wilson, considered South Africa's discriminatory racial system as an unnatural deviation from the liberal ideals, or more concretely, as the victory of the former boer republics’ frontier ideology over Cape liberalism.
But there are reason to question the nature of the liberal academics’ interest in black welfare. Their real goal was mainly to gain political influence through a history-based reasoning, which they used against the growing dominance of afrikaans speaking whites. Their aim was not primarily to Africanise South African research. The liberals mostly treated the African communities in generalizing terms and often referred to them as inferior and backward. Their sympathies lay with the "progressive" Africans who had broken with traditional attitudes and "backwardness." They were interested in the effects of white politics on Africans, because they – without being confucianists - thought that a conflict-free, harmonious society would be better for business. However, they had little interest for African societies’ internal development on their own terms.
With the adoption of the so-called Hertzog Bills in 1936-37, which deprived Africans of most of their remaining parliamentarian rights, the liberals were further from their stated objectives than ever. But did they continued to find hope for their visions in South African economic growth, such as they projected it into the future based on their development-optimistic view of history.
(PP16) Their logic was as follows. They saw that the growth of manufacturing industry would create a demand for skilled workers. The limited size of the white workforce would require training of a large group of blacks. The migrant labour system would not be able to meet these requirements and a growing group of blacks had to be allowed permanent settlement in the cities. These blacks had to be given some education, a certain amount of social security, and perhaps even some political rights.
Many white liberals believed, already in the mid-1930s, that this trend was in full development and that this would make both statutory and tradition bound job-reservation disappear, and that black workers would receive substantial pay increases. The new manufacturing industry would flourish in an expanding domestic market and this would require that all South Africans joined the society - not only as producers but also as affluent consumers. South Africa would therefore, within a short timeframe, work its way out of racism’s obsolete forms.
So, race discrimination derives meaning from a pre-industrial order, which had hampered contact between people from different social strata and groups, because of strict social norms and reduced mobility. Modernization processes, especially the industrialization process, undermines and destroys traditional societies. It dissolves former values and social relations and promotes the emergence of a new social order by creating a new framework for interaction and by encouraging alternative values and prescribe new forms of cohabitation. The new societal structure is supported and legitimized by higher living standards and life expectations. Urbanization, spurred by developments in the mining industry means a growing erosion of established conventions. Large sections of the population are being forced into new group affiliations and loyalties. Through market logic employment opportunities are decided by intelligence and competence and not by race. Irrational racial distribution criteria disappears. Wages are increasingly determined by productivity rather than by race. The free capitalist market are "color blind" and will eventually "liberate" oppressed racial groups, so that the coincidence between race and class disappears.
(PP17) The liberal school of history in South Africa have contained a market economic determinism that deliberately foresaw a political realization of a predicted future. The liberal school claimed that racial preconception and racial segregation was itself backward and irrelevant and in near future would gradually weaken through the logic of economic rationality.
The consequence of this viewpoint is that apartheid should be demolished by largely non-economic, ie. political methods, which could simply support the natural evolution created by the economy, and that companies that had adapted to conditions in the racist state, would be able to work just as well under “normal” conditions. The action prescribed by history, therefore, should be gradual, human-rights-oriented, political reforms in line with the economic development phase and civilization level. (It could be argued here that in the case of hostile or socialist-oriented countries, liberals have often been in favour of forcing through a sweeping combination of political and economic reforms).
(PP18) The liberal historians and social scientists have thus agreed that economic development reduces racial divisions and therefore, the explanation of the growing racial discrimination in South Africa in the twentieth century is sought outside the economic sphere. The causes are therefore anti-liberal and repressive state intervention stemming from erroneous and harmful political decisions. The core of the problem is found in the Afrikaner ideology. An irrational "exclusivity ideology" was put in place as a result of the Afrikaner society's increasing influence and institutional solidification from the 1920s and until its full takeover in 1948.
Since the liberal historians therefore believe that South Africa's departure from the "normal" development patch cannot be sought in the economic system, but rather in the political sphere, the key explanation focuses on a perverted, Calvinist inspired, political culture's abuse of state power. The liberal interest in the so-called “Calvinist paradigm” is probably due partly to the fact that it gives a purely ideological explanation of apartheid and thus absolves capital interests. It is an important point that most liberal social scientists do not focus on the economic system as a causal factor for the consolidation of white dominance.
(PP19) Actually, the liberal historians claimed that the separation operation in the extreme form of separate development – in theory the complete segregation in all areas - was always an illusion - a castle in the air. De Kiewiet claimed early on that the apartheid mind-set has never been anything more than wishful thinking; an escape from reality through a dream of absolutes. The liberals also emphasized that segregation and apartheid delayed economic growth because it stood in contrast to the requirements of the expanding industrial economy.
The most interesting in this is of course the happy prospect for the rest of the 20 century, that the liberal ideology painted.
(PP20) However, the unambiguous link between political liberalism and economic growth rate showed to be highly problematic. The optimistic expectations about the free market economy's democratizing effects, proved premature. Economic growth had been present throughout the century, especially in the 1960s, but coupled with extreme and ever increasing repression.
So, in South Africa things developed rather different than prescribed by modernization theory. The most striking feature of the whole process of industrialization, until recently, was the increasingly extensive legislation along racial lines, with corresponding differences in legal status between different population groups.
The most obvious objection to the liberal argument therefore emanates from the fact that South Africa, in spite of the rigid measures of racial politics, have had a satisfactory economic growth in most of the last century, even in the period of the relatively developed industrial society.
After 1948, the National Party government enforced racial discrimination in almost all areas of life. But apartheid is not slow down economic growth! There was a transient crisis of confidence in relation international capital after the Sharpeville massacre, but the economy got new impetus, and growth rates in the latter half of the 60s were the second highest in the world, surpassed only by Japan.
The Awareness History within the ANC
Until the late 1960s, the "cultured" historiographical discussion was largely confined to the debate between the English liberal and Afrikaner nationalist schools of thought. But other opinions that reflected divisions in society were of course present at the more grassroots level.
Much later - in the time just after 1994 - it was easy to see the ANC through rose-coloured spectacles and since the ANC's self-image is to some degree historically based - and legitimizes the sitting government - there is good reason to critically examine the development of the organization's history-image.
(PP21) ANC has, as a significant national movement for nearly 100 years, attracted many different types of history writers and a more thorough investigation would reveal a whole mosaic of different thematic developments, rather than one coherent school.
One could, rather arbitrary, divide the ANC's literary tradition until 1990 into four epochs: the earliest phase mainly contains biographies, historical fiction, and social commentary. It shows an organization whose leading figures were still devoted to a native rural culture. Next followed a wave of autobiographies produced in the 1950’s township surroundings. A third category comprises a number of partially analytic representations written by communists within the Congress Alliance in the 1940s and 50s. The last wave came from ANC-sympathetic social scientists whose intellectual training mainly took place in exile environments in England, North America, Holland, Sweden, Australia, the Soviet Union, and Eastern Germany.
Many of the works included in ANC's history-tradition, are not the work of professional academics, but that doesn’t mean that the ANC has lacked a historical identity. ANC speeches and statements are peppered with historical references to pre-colonial societies, to early resistance against colonization, and to previous political campaigns. ANC has frequently justified its position through references to historical experiences, its own as well as those of international revolutionary movements. If the ANC continues in its moderate social-liberal track, the future may offer a rediscovery of the works from its early tradition. At least – the ANC's conception of history can draw on several, different historical traditions.
On the left side of the organization's ideological spectrum is what one might call the black fellow-partisan or party functionary history writing. An unreserved partisan history, written out of a popular movement tradition and naturally eager to demonstrate politically defined demands to the past.
Even a superficial text analysis will easily identify features that include emphasis on competent leadership, an urban-based point of departure and a somewhat manipulative rhetoric. Colin Bundy has proven that the texts more often than not embody a quite unproblematic view on the past. The ANC is seen to have had a smoothly advancing development towards its current victorious situation, having been almost infallible and steadily growing in membership, maturity and militant bearings as years went by. There is not much room in this version for the misjudgements and blunders of the heroes. In addition, there are only very few indications of the many contradictions, tensions or mutual conflicts among the leaders or between leadership and rank-and-file members or between the various social classes united by the freedom struggle.
Henry Bredekamp, former head of the Robben Island Museum, warned these historians of the people against letting peoples-history to become the new politicians "servant," such as liberal and Afrikaner history served the old politicians.
Unfortunately Bredekamp does answer the question of how to admit the progressive part of society outside academia influence on the reconstruction of history without violating the historians’ freedom of work.
Colin Bundy, who after 1994 became the leader of both the University of Witwatersrand, University of Cape Town and the School of Oriental and African Studies in London, criticized the early black-national historiography for being archaic in the sense that it uses many of the same conceptual framework as the white-centric history, it is a reaction. Peoples history in this form looks often, according to Bundy at people and communities as an undifferentiated mass, totally united in their commitment to the struggle. This he characterizes as "left romanticism," which ignores internal differences in class relationships and diverging interests within the movement. Bundy, who often places himself inside the radical school claims, however, that the later, soft, culturally oriented radical revisionist history and social sciences have overcome these flaws and reflects a “...totality of social and political relations” in its theory and methodology.
Bundy warns progressive historians to gloss over the dark sides of freedom struggle story, which will only create an interpretation of history that will obstruct further struggle for justice. If social science wants to provide a mapping of the past that provides a guide for action for the future, then all the dangers on the road must be revealed.
Another category that could be called ateoretisk black-national history shares in reality some stylistic similarities with Afrikaner nationalist works. Like most of these, it tend to take nationalism for granted, it views it as an organic expression of a common identity but are often relatively insensitive to how this identity has been built up over time. This view of history tends to overlook the problems that lie in the social composition of the national movements. It do not poses questions about black politicians’ class background or class interests and, not surprisingly, it is rarely able to give answers that highlight internal contradictions or tensions in black-national politics. In this it resembles Africanist historiography constructed in other African countries in the period after 1960, when anti-colonial enthusiasm created a wave of pro-nationalist histories of resistance victories. It views the mass mobilizations of the 1950s as a sort of golden age, and overemphasises the continuity and the shared identity inside the black-nationalist movement over time. Representatives of this style is among others Eddie Roux, Mary Benson, Andre Odendaal, and Gerhart Walshe.
After the 1960s a new generation of historians influenced the history writing about the ANC. Its representatives were, in contrast to the earlier generation, often academically educated. A good deal of the intellectuals in the ANC's inner circle consisted from the 1970s of men whose first political experience came from their involvement in student activities at Fort Hare University in the early 1960s. This tendency is obvious as an intellectual element in the ANC debates starting from the early 1970s, as can be read e.g. in Oliver Tambo’s speeches and Bernard Magubane’s, Francis Meli’s and John Pampallis’ history books.
Of course, there are also ANC-critical representations within the African-nationalist tradition. One type of criticism attacks the organizational basis for the 1950s Congress Alliance between the ANC and the Indian, coloured, and white congresses, since it could be argued that this partition de facto accepted the ethnic divisions between the various participating partners in the Alliance. According to this criticism, coming from different ideological positions, the movement actually duplicated the race view of the state in this way, while it covered class issues behind African-nationalist attitudes.
A related criticism focuses on the class composition and divergent class interests within the Freedom Alliance leadership. In its simplest form, the critics denounced the ANC leadership as being petty bourgeois and saw its allegedly lack of action as a result of this purported class position. That kind of critique came from people inside the PAC , for example. In its more nuanced, conscious, time-bound versions, as when it came from the Trotskyists, it was probably not totally unfounded.
Revolutionary programs and communist influence
(PP22) One of the more important organizations on left wing of the political spectrum - both in theoretical and practical terms - and one of the only genuinely cross-racial - was the South African Communist Party. The strategy was, from the beginning, based on a Leninist view.
In January 1950, the CPSA Congress ruled that the strategic goal that Comintern had enforced on the party already in 1928-29, and which prescribed the formation of a black republic as a necessary part of a revolution was still valid: ”An independent native South African republic as a stage towards a workers’ and peasants’ republic, with full equal rights for all races” (Comintern, 1928; Legassick, 1973: 16).
Immediately hereafter the party was prohibited by law and forced to dissolve itself (Suppression of Communism Act, No. 44, 1950). A successor party (SACP) was formed in 1953, but its existence was kept secret from that Congress Movement (consisting of the African ANC, the trade unions in SACTU, the Indian Congress SAIC, and the coloured Congress SACPC), in which party members played a leading role by means of the white cover-organisation Congress of Democrats. Only with the publication of the now classic 1962-program the illegal underground party was made official. Its declared goal was to demolish internal colonialism and white supremacy as a necessary precondition, before a socialist path of development could be advanced (SACP, 1962).
In the party program of 1962, the strategic goal was still the formation of a black republic as a necessary first step in a two-stage revolution. The analysis of the relationship between nation, class, and race was now refined with the clarification that South Africa was characterised by a special type of colonialism that housed an imperialist state and a black colony within the same geographical, political, and economic entity. It was also decided that the party would promote a broader cooperation between black farmers, petty bourgeoisie, and intellectuals for the sake of national liberation (SACP, 1984: 299; Everatt, 1992).
The growing of the influence Communist Party in the freedom movement right up to 1990 is reflected in formulations in documents from a series of ANC conferences. In several cases, it is possible to demonstrate a typical sequence of events: First, a strategy meeting in the party, then a key ANC conference, followed by an upsurge in armed struggle, international solidarity and mobilization of resistance inside South Africa.
From 1969, the ANC believed that Western imperialism was weakened due to socialist and newly liberated countries, that its own democratic struggle ought to point toward economic equality, and that the working class was the main driving force in societal development. A fellow ANC member was now a comrade. Fresh research shows that the ANC president, Oliver Tambo, in the 1970s, was the only member of ANC's top leadership, who was not also a party member. In the period after 1985, 24 out of 29 national executive members were party cadres. The ANC never declared itself a socialist organization, but the wording was very often identical with that of the party, albeit with somewhat greater emphasis on the first stage of the revolution: "the national liberation of the Black people".
(The strategy laid down by the Communist Party as early as in 1929, was in the 1940s and '50s adopted by the ANC and actively used all the way up to 1990. The strategy was based on South Africa's special form of internal colonial exploitation and it sat the scene for a combination of democracy struggle, national liberation, and social revolution - rather than for reform.)
One of the government-sanctioned historians in the new South Africa, Gregory Houston, employed the South African Democracy Education Trust (Sadet), inscribes the insurgency strategy of the semi-legal umbrella organisation, UDF during the late 1980s in a Gramscian-Leninist theory model. He hypothesises a direct and logical line from CPSA’s early devotion to Lenin's theory of a revolution in two stages (which he links with Gramsci's ideas of a historic bloc, which he again interprets as a popular front) to the ANC / Congress Alliance involvement of Indians and coloureds, the adoption of the 1955 Freedom Charter, to SACP’s connectedness with the SACTU unions and the ANC, and later the creation of a broad national front through UDF’s cooperation with the new national trade union organization COSATU under the auspices of the broad Mass Democratic Movement MDM, toward a likely situation of guerrilla warfare and popular uprising. The alternative to the conditional surrender of the apartheid regime, in his eyes, would have been victorious revolutionary civil war.
However, the fact of the matter is that the Communist Party always refused the possibility of a purely military victory and when party chairman Joe Slovo, took over as commander of ANC's military wing, Umkhonto we Sizwe, after Nelson Mandela's arrest, this organization was subordinated to the ANC's overall liberation strategy where armed struggle played a carefully limited role.
During the last phase of the freedom struggle, Slovo argued for a broad cooperation securing a controlled system change, based also on the middle class and growing black upper class support. He defended this view against more sectarian leftist theorists who attacked the ANC for being more populist than revolutionary.
The left intellectuals' efforts for a regime change
So, Orthodox Marxism and classical historical materialism has been discussed and used strategically in South Africa long before the ‘68-generation. Many leftist university intellectuals from that generation have found it difficult to see that. At least they have found it difficult to recognize organized socialist or African-nationalist writers as intellectuals. So let us take a look at what it means to be intellectual on the left.
(PP23) The question of the relationship between, or a possible unification of, scientific work and political engagement has always been central in South Africa. The progressive intellectuals' role has been under discussion for several generations and the issue has retained its importance under the new South Africa's transformation process.
But who are the intellectuals? Can practical revolutionaries, a communist party cadre for example, be included or does the designation refer only to the thinkers of academia?
According to the social scientist and educational researcher Harold Wolpe, it ought to be possible for intellectuals to find a fertile middle ground between the utopian ideal of full research autonomy and the mechanical, self-reducing, ideological dependence of a freedom movement like the ANC (Wolpe, 1985: 74). John Saul has the same view, while Belinda Bozzoli criticizes it as a simplification, (Saul, 1990: 6; Bozzoli, 1983a: 143, 156). Lawyer and Apartheid prisoner Raymond Suttner views intellectuals as individuals, educated either conventionally or within an organization, who use their skills to give the situation perspective, show ways out of oppression and create visions for future alternatives that are necessary and potentially achievable (Suttner, 2003: 2). Blade Nzimande, a sociologist and communist party functionary, simply states that any anonymous activist in the organization, who formulate ideas for the resistance struggle, automatically participates in the creation and expression of a public interest and thus is an organic intellectual (Nzimande, 2005).
The above authors’ Gramscian definition of the Intellectuals' role expands the spectrum in a democratic manner, (Karabel, 2001) so that both institutions of alternative education and organizations qualify as collective intellectuals.
Such “organic-intellectual” activity started early. ANC-journalists did a great job creating a modern black identity.
In 1925, the Communist Party initiated evening classes in rented church buildings in Ferreirastowns slum, which educated blacks in Bukharin's ABC of Communism (Roux, 1964: 203). The party was for long periods the only South African organization, where a teamwork could occur on totally equal basis between, for instance, the African Mbeki, the Indian Muslim Pahad, and the white Jew Kasrils. ANC, for example, opened, only gradually to non-African membership beginning in 1969 (Ellis and Sechaba, 1992: 55). In return, the party was relatively distant to popular leaders, who profiled themself through premodern, ethnic rituals (as the leader of the Zulu-chauvinist Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP), Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi Gatsha, and as ANC leader and president Jacob Zuma developed a tendency to at some point). Outside Africa, Comintern’s schools in Moscow trained also African non-communists such as Kenya's future president, Jomo Kenyatta and Pan-African leaders such as George Padmore.
Inside South Africa, the trade unions and the ANC fostered organic intellectuals, for example authors of substantive books on workers history like Ivan Walker and Ben Weinbren, Brian Bunting, and Mr. and Mrs. Jack and Ray Simons (Walker and Weinbren, 1961; Bunting, 1964; Simons and Simons, 1969). Also, the Trotskyist Unity Movement, which later had some influence on the 1970’s intellectuals in the Black Consciousness Movement, trained historians like Majeke and Mnguni (Majeke, 1952; Mnguni, 1952). ANC’s military camps and the prison on Robben Island also gave space for alternative education (Sparg, Schreiner and Ansell, 2001; Sisulu, 2001).
Most of the university-based neo-Marxists of the 1970s and ‘80s chose to ignore this older tradition, as if Marxism had no previous history in South Africa. Some did not know of it, because orthodox Marxist literature was banned and dangerous to touch. Others were not able to cope with it because it would imply, either a recognition of efforts of the Communists', or the opposite - a rejection of ANC's policies. Some were attracted by Marxism almost as if it was just a new intellectual fashion and expressed reluctant distance to involvement in grassroots organizations.
In a manner contrary to Marx's original sociological intention; such Marxologists prioritises abstract understanding as more important than practical efforts for progressive change (Marx, 1845: XI).
For example; an article by Andrew Nash on South African Marxism contains several stereotypical elements, characteristic of many of the organizationally uncommitted, white intellectuals, as his analysis of the paradigms of the democratic struggle underestimates or completely excludes developments such as: early, African journalism and autobiography, the world history of anti-colonial struggle, historical pan-Africanism, the long-lasting, non-racist tradition of the communist party, and the popular defiance campaigns of the 1950s.
In his discussion, his own preference, Western Marxism, is contrasted only with Stalinism and Trotskyism - not with the broad, non-sectarian (often Communist-led) resistance movement at home and abroad. Steve Biko, the Africanist tendency, and the black high school students' interaction with the Black Consciousness Movement prior to the Soweto-uprising are neglected, while the white university students are seen as highly conscious (Nash, 1999b).
In another article, Nash notes that the differences between activists and academics seem overwhelming, "the gap seams unbridgeable" (Nash, 1999a: 168). Supposedly, because many activists methodically attempted to imitate the real intellectuals, but in a small-minded and dogmatic way. But also because the academics too often regard their research as a form of activism in its own right and therefore replace scientific methods with externalist, political considerations. A somewhat arrogant and not entirely logical defence of his own knowledge-power position, as I see it.
During apartheid, the white, English-liberal universities in South Africa had a degree of academic freedom that did not exist at black and Afrikaans speaking universities - including the possibility to read banned literature. Furthermore, many better-off whites took their tertiary education in England, while black students and activists got their political schooling either during exile, by domestic, alternative, underground, education initiatives, or on ANC's schools in frontline states.
Competing conceptions of Marxism therefore developed through inadequate dialogue, during which only white academics were allowed to express themselves relatively freely. Nevertheless, many university Marxists eventually got involved in support work in trade unions and local neighbourhood organizations, and there are many examples of mutual influence.
The grooving consciousness and activity level of the left intellectuals were - often unacknowledged – born out of respect for the militant black organizations’ displays of alternative power. Many white academics began to recognize that radical political and social protest was necessary, because the liberal ideologues’ prediction; that market economy developments by necessity would make apartheid disappear, had proved grossly inadequate.
Marxist theory development was a general tendency in the West in the aftermath of the Vietnam War and the worldwide decolonisation process, including dependency theory (Andre Gunder Frank), world-system theory (Immanuel Wallerstein), and other kinds of development research, and non-Soviet, Marxist, third world thinking was often a genuine enrichment of Marxism, although the deference to the leading role of the Soviet sister party made it difficult for the communists to recognize this except in particular cases, as with the works of Frantz Fanon and Amilcar Cabral.
The radical-revisionist view of history
During the 1960s, talented groups of South African historians and social scientists gathered at universities in England. Partly because of the traditional career path for graduate students from English-speaking universities in South Africa, partly because of the growing academic repression at home. They included among others Harold Wolpe, Shula Marks, Stanley Trapido, Martin Legassick, Dan O'Meara, Charles van Onselen, and Colin Bundy. More and more young historians in South jumped the wave. Confrontations with the system had radicalized many of them, and reformism did not seem able to provide the answers that the present demanded from the past. The liberal opposition to apartheid could show an impressive list of defeats and political misjudgements in the South African case – or so it seemed at that point.
The new radical school of social scientists started up with a critique of the liberal's pragmatic cooperation policy towards the police-state. In light of the militant freedom movements’ sabotage campaigns against the now extreme repression, some scholars felt it necessary to distance themselves from the relaxed liberal faith in evolution.
In South Africa, the historians' choice of research areas gradually changed. The indigenous communities. wars against colonization (Guy, 1979), processes of proletarianisation (van Onselen, 1976), black workers’ organization history (Lodge, 1983), African farmers’ struggle against expropriation (Beinart and Bundy, 1987), migrant workers’ and women’s everyday history and township culture (Bozzoli , 1979), together with ideological confrontations with afrikanerdom and liberalism, became popular topics (O'Meara, 1983; Dubow, 1990).
The radical universe of history, economic development and racial discrimination were seen as complementary and mutually reinforcing societal elements. Some radical writers have emphasized the long continuity of industrial capital’s influence on state power. Others have worked with modern capitalism’s impact on African agriculture and argued, unlike the liberals, that this developed flexible and competitive until it was banished to the reserves. Other radical-revisionists have placed the analytic emphasis on the African workers’ persistent ingenuity in response to exploitation and oppression.
Especially for history and sociology, the radical analysis during the 1980s served as a political tool, whose influence extended far beyond the sector of education and contributed to the increasing political pressure.
(PP24) University Marxism initially focused on the conspiracy between capitalist exploiters and state racist oppressors. Since the nefarious elements of Afrikaaner nationalism’s apartheid ideology seemed pretty obvious, the showdown with the prevailing paradigms often consisted of attacks against liberal apartheid-collaboration and joint responsibility for colonialism and segregation.
The relationship between ideology, race politics, and economic system is central to an understanding of the radicals view of history.
The declared policy of apartheid that permeated the South African society after 1948, was by some historians simply regarded as a more intense version of the earlier period’s segregation politics, now dominated by the National Party's racial ideology, which just reinforced the rhetoric surrounding "the politics of necessity" (necessary seen from a white stability point of view).
While segregation was the political superstructure, appropriate for the earlier period; apartheid represented an attempt to preserve the rate of surplus value and capital accumulation in a later period, which was marked by a declining importance of African subsistence agriculture, and of proletarianisation and urbanization. Apartheid and its late phase, separate development, was seen first and foremost as an economic mechanism specific to South Africa during the period of secondary industrialisation, and whose function it was to ensure a high rate of labour exploitation through a system that guaranteed a cheap and controlled workforce in a situation where the reproduction conditions for this workforce were changed and, at least initially, worsened.
A fundamental element of this theory, for which Wolpe is probably the most prominent spokesman, is the dissolution of the reserve / bantustan economy and thus the deterioration of the economic basis for the cheap labour system.
According to this explanation, the overwhelming economic and political force of modern capitalism had already at the end of the 1920s, through unequal trade conditions and more direct coercion, pressured the African economy into a situation of underdevelopment. A production surplus that could be sold on a market was virtually stopped in the African areas. This reduced the African population to a labour reserve for the dynamic, capitalist sector. In South Africa, this work force was exploited through periodical migrant work. The black migrant workers had, through their families in the indigenous farming communities, access to means of subsistence outside the capitalist sector, which allowed the mine owners to pay wages that were lower than the actual reproduction costs of the workers. In the wage level was counted in that the individual worker's family periodically supported him through the reserve-based agricultural production. Therefore, wages could be frozen to the absolute minimum of existence for the individual worker. One element of the system was that the reserve / Bantustan provided a social safety net and thus freed salaries / production-costs for the burden of nursing care and pensions.
During the early industrialization the reserve production was crucial to the livelihood of the majority of African workers. One of the segregation politics’ main functions was thus to maintain a certain capacity and a kind of social system in the reserves / bantustans as a basis for the migrant workers’ reproduction.
(PP25) So, according to Marxist analysis, South Africa was dominated by a colonial-like dual economy that tied modern and indigenous societies together. The balance in this combination was changed gradually as wage labour became more widespread at the expense of traditional African family agriculture. (Arrighi, 1970). This macroeconomic model was undermined also by concentration of land ownership and the formation of a growing group of landless, as the Africans were evicted from the white farm land.
This meant that the production of staple foods in the impoverished, overpopulated African reserves was dwindling and therefore no longer able to supplement wages for the growing, more resident workforce in the cities, which then again lead to rising wage pressures (Alexander, 2000: 37). Rising poverty in the countryside led to urban poverty.
A more direct repression therefore was needed to maintain the cheap labour system, and that hardened line of apartheid was an expression of a shared interests that went beyond the mining industry and also included white farmers and workers, while the manufacturing industry's position on the race-segregated apartheid state was more ambivalent, since this part of the business community had a growing need for a stable, educated workforce (Wolper, 1972; Johnstone, 1976; Lipton, 1986).
This dual effect of modern capitalism’s breakthrough developed new conflicts, not only about wages, but in many other aspects of life both in town and in the reserves and questioned society's fundamental structures. The intensified conflict was met with political action, which in turn triggered a counter reaction from the black population.
Simultaneously with the abandonment of the costly old-fashion colonial exploitative system in most of Africa, the 1950’s socio-political mass movements meant an intensified threat to the apartheid system. Along with the development of an Afrikaaner owned high finance with close ties to the state apparatus this situation led by the beginning of the 1960’s to the implementation of a terrorist state with fascist traits.
Dan O'Meara’s formulation may act as a common denominator of the radical structuralist view: “Racial policy is an historical product...designed primarily to facilitate rapid capital accumulation.”
While the antagonism in the relationship between apartheid and capitalism, as postulated by the liberals, would indicate a gradual degradation of the race system and an evolutionary change towards an efficient, self-sustaining capitalism, the radical-revisionist view indicated the build-up to a system-transgressing situation that would abolish both apartheid and eventually also the familiar form of capitalism.
The discussion between the discourses
Liberal academics have accused the radicals of being unable to explain apparent conflicts of interest between the state and at least some parts of the business world and of building their analysis on a one-sided characteristic of the South African society as built on cheap, forced labour. Radical-revisionist writers have in turn attacked the precondition for the liberal explanation; that market forces automatically ensure a fair distribution of all kinds of resources and that oppression and injustice must therefore be attributable to factors in politics, ideology and morality.
The historiographical controversy between liberals and radicals have therefore been fought around the relationship between South Africa's economic development and the racial politics of the state. The liberal historians have taken the market's rationality and indifference to skin colour for granted. They directed the spotlight on attitudes, identities, and behaviours. The radicals pointed instead on economic interests rooted in the peculiar structures of a colonially defined capitalism as the main cause of the misery.
There is reason to be critical of the teleological way that many radical historians, implicit or openly, wanted to dictate what liberal historians could or should have written, without understanding that these liberals simply expressed the contemporary, general racial prejudice. Later generations’ inability to recognize this often seems somewhat ahistorical and narrow-minded.
The radical-revisionists exhibited in their early phase in the 1970’s tendencies to attack a liberal viewpoint, which was represented in a stereotyped and over simplified way.
The radicals argued rather simplistic that the segregation policy, from first to last, had helped to advance industrial development. The English mining capital had not only adapted to the existing racism. It had founded the prevailing order in the racial state.
Those historians who have worked from a radical revisionist perspective has never been firmly united under a single methodological or theoretical concept. Indeed, during the confrontation with the conventional liberal wisdom, the paradigm was marked by an extensive internal discussion.
(PP26) It was, for example, Deborah Posel’s believe that the radical-revisionist discourse, after having raised new key questions, developed a functionalist-reductionist approach to history and society that hampered further innovation. While the liberal discourse had initially focused on the political level and on identity and therefore had over-weighted racial prejudice and ethnic fears as causal explanations for the segregation policy, the neo-Marxists underrated this causation. By the one-sided use of historical materialism’s class concept as the dominating, analytical category, the structuralist, radical wave had created a simplistic truth.
From the mid-1980s, this insight also spread in their own ranks and the radical practice changed away from the rigid, theoretical orientation, so that everyday experiences and psychological-emotional factors became stronger in their explanations. Belinda Bozzoli and Peter Delius believes that this social history inspired rethinking took place in several stages, where historians questioned the notion of ”a predetermined capitalism which was bound to produce a predetermined working class with an ideal-typical consciousness”.
The radical history-view became more nuanced as the degree of dissimilarity in “race system benefits” for the different economic sectors of could be detected. Commercial agriculture and mining capital had not, for instance, the same position on reservation policy. The means to achieve the desired labour reserve was assessed differently. White farmers preferred to keep Africans as deprived labour-tenants near the land they had taken from them and did not like to see them as migrant workers in city location compounds.
The mine owners, however, largely won this interest battle. In return they had to pay for the system's stability with the job colour bar, The mines and Works Act etc. (PP27) F.R Johnstone rated pros and cons for the mining industry. In his major work from 1976, he estimated the presence of cheap black labour as more important to the mine owners than the extra costs, the obligatory share of highly paid white workers caused them.
The debate between Marks and Rathbone on the one side and Bozzoli on the other about the importance of class can be compared with the debate within western Marxism between G.A. Cohen and E.P. Thompson understood the way that Marks and Rathbone with almost verbal correspondence accept Cohen's objectivist-structuralist definition of class membership, while Bozzoli takes Thompson's side in the attack against a value-based, judgmental Marxism which almost saw class as something reified from which one can automatically deduce the corresponding class consciousness such a thing ought to have.
Many university Marxists were, from early on, critical of the communist understanding of nation and class, that saw popular African nationalism as a major force of change. But the critics' ambivalence revealed the internal turbulence among the left-oriented intellectuals and thus why their case lost some of its impetus. Its left-hardliners attacked the traditional African nationalist tribal petty-aristocracy for being out of touch with the black working class. At the same time, some soft closet-liberals of the left-wing accused, those who used the African nation in their struggle against the apartheid state, for simultaneously preventing reformist workers' efforts for gradual changes of the racial state through liberalizing economic reforms. Neither of these views made them popular in the ANC.
(PP28) With their critique of capitalism, the left neo-Marxists constantly stimulated the black workers and students' combat readiness, but without being able to fully join the struggle themselves. Their discourse appreciated dynamics and variability in consciousness creation and identity - and denounced the lack of respect for individual and organizational autonomy they saw in the practical, elitist vanguard role that the ANC / SACP had assumed, only partly justified by being under the pressure of illegality.
The Communists in the SACP, on the other hand, had no sympathy for university Marxists. Due to their objectively different class/race-interests, they did not trust them. And their competing mentor/administrator efforts in the independent trade unions threatened Alliance-control over the development of events. The white intellectuals and the independent trade union movement, FOSATU, were accused of an ahistorical view of the trade unions in SACTU and of the revolutionary party, and of overestimating the free trade unions as organizational form, rather than seeing them as only a part of the whole freedom movement.
(PP29) Western Marxism served as an inspiration and moral corrective to both liberalism and communism in South Africa, but it did not itself constitute a real alternative to the prevailing power relations. Its critique of; how capitalism naturalized racial domination (that is, made it to an integrated feature), remained open and unfinished. And it lacked a precise theoretical definition of what kind of autonomy it was that capitalism denied the workers and especially how this should be restored or established.
On the other hand, the communist party's theoretical reasoning was occasionally marked by circular arguments and many left wingers felt that it was mostly due to the talent for organizational marginalization of opponents that it won its dominance over the freedom movement.
Until the late eighties, the SACP at times saw western Marxism as an "ideological enemy", but glasnost forced the party away from the seclusion of exile diplomacy and returned it to the diversity of the South African reality.
The break with dogmatism in the party was led by Jeremy Cronin, who worked underground as tactician and editor in the umbrella organisation, United Democratic Front, UDF. In his defence against left-wing criticism of the party, raised by particularly Alec Erwin, Peter Hudson and Colin Bundy, as well as in his strategic analyses in the African Communist, a renewed method appears, partly based on inspirations from Western Marxism used as an extension of classic communist theory. Cronin’s Marxism presents itself as open to criticism, with meticulous verification of his arguments and without any automatic reference to the authority of Marxism-Leninism. But it retains its instrumentalism. The way theory is used is still down-to-earth and practical, in the service of freedom struggle, denouncing artificial theoretical abstractions. The need was for a strategy for change that could unite the oppressed under broad, acceptable slogans. For that purpose, symbolism, victims, and heroes of the past could be used: “The struggle is also a struggle of memory against forgetting”. Which stands in some contrast to the post-apartheid “historylessness”, symbolized by Mandela's call: "forget the past".
The university Marxists had insisted on keeping a distinction between socialism and black identity because of their fear of nationalist dominance. The communists in SACP actually upheld the same distinction, however, with opposite signs with its tradition that class struggle was, in the first instance, subordinate to national liberation.
Cronin’s and the party chairman, Joe Slovo’s, practical dissociation from the former Soviet dependency, once the political situation after 1990 necessitated it, and the confession to a historical "mild Stalinism", allowed the party to stick to Marxism-Leninism as a brand that actually continued to be popular in South Africa.
In a critique, the neo-Marxist development researcher Mike Morris regarded this new self-knowledge and reform-will quite inadequate and superficial. So did actually, then senior party member and later Minister of Culture, Pallo Jordan and other leading figures underway to dissociate themselves from the party.
While the Communist parties in the West, after 1991, generally were weakened even more drastically than other left wing forces, the goodwill of the SACP meant that the party almost absorbed the South African left in the period immediately after its legalization. Leaders of trade unions, which previously had been independent of COSATU and distinguished by autonomous university Marxist guidance, joined the party, and the party opened itself to their membership and influence. Mike Morris, however, responded pessimistic to this development and saw it as the end of Western Marxism in South Africa.
Many probably expected that the party leadership would be the ultimate decision maker under the new order. What actually happened was that the party continued to take the Alliance, now called the Tri-Partite Alliance, seriously, and realistically subordinated to the national compromise and the rainbow policy of the ANC.
Initially Communist Party power strategies and tactical faction work showed completely victorious giving control over the popular movement against apartheid – but at the same time, the party's ultimate goal had to be postponed to a distant future. As its leaders became involved with post-apartheid pragmatic reform policy, the respect for the party began to dwindle among black workers. Many of the newcomers among leading members disappeared in the opposite direction.
The intellectuals in the post-apartheid state
In the eyes of many intellectuals, the victory of the freedom struggle and the democratic transition in South Africa, together with the bankruptcy of the “real existing socialism” as politico-economic system in a large number of countries, rendered the debate on Marxist solutions superfluous. The liberation movement's main organization became now the governing party. The deal was now about how to implement the national compromise and the partial victories on the practical level, and a competitive alternative to capitalism did apparently not exist. With that, radicalism was taken out of social critic and at the same time the revolutionaries were spread to the winds.
(PP30) Some of them became career politicians in government and provinces, some were employed as officials and expert advisers, others as private policy advice consultants, and many of those who remained at the universities, retreated into the academic ivory towers and exotic, individualized research topics. The need for black leading figures in public and in private industry did, along with a growing brain drain (and apartheid’s educational heritage) that the influx of skilful, black, African researchers to the universities remained very low.
As I interpret developments on the left wing, the fall of the Berlin Wall had consequences that the university Marxists scarcely imagined. Instead of being freed from the ideological burden of anti-Sovietism, they just became more or less irrelevant. Although the vast majority of them, in the quest for a postulated integrity - or for academic acceptance - had rejected the Cold War logic, their significance was in reality depending on a balance of strength, which ultimately rested on Soviet nuclear weapons. They could not bring themselves to defend imperfect, socialist developments in relatively backward second and third world countries, but when western capitalism triumphed in the system-struggle against these developments, the alternative power base that gave their critical resistance weight also vanished.
The worsened conditions for genuine, materially based, ideological conflict gave instead space for the poststructuralist wave, some of the intellectuals jumped on. Others followed the quest for power and sought towards social democratic and liberal positions to pragmatically renew the influence they had actually had through their embeddedness in the popular movement.
White, English-speaking university intellectuals - including many former neo-Marxists - have shown some reluctance to participate actively in nation building after the ANC's turn toward African Renaissance. Apparently, the attempt seriously to make South Africa a part of Africa does not appeal much to them. This distrust is mutual. For example, some white historians’ attempts to write applied transitional history in the form of ”shared past reconciliation history” during the period of initial rainbowism just after 1994, has become less relevant after former president Mbeki turned toward a more Africanist form of New Patriotism. When Mbeki said that South Africa still consists of two different nations - then there had probably not been a common past either.
So, despite the radicalism of the popular movements and widely shared revolutionary expectations, it looks as though liberalism, at least for now, has won, what Krista Johnson has called an "Ironic Victory". The irony, paradox, or miracle, which some will probably call it, is that the democratic revolution could only win after that socialism on a world scale had been defeated. The revolutionaries won, but was unable to use their victory for the scenario they had imagined. As a highly dominant ruling party, the ANC has on the contrary been criticized for embracing too much of the global, neo-liberal logic.
On the other hand, the fear of governmental centralization and forced Afrocentrism proved to be less justified in the education sector. Some semi-official text books, autobiographies and ANC-histories have been published, but the ruling party has not been glorified at university level, and despite scattered student demands on Africanisation, the traditional academic freedom has not been threatened seriously.
If anything can be concluded about the role of the left intellectuals after 1994, it is perhaps that; after a period when open, militant uprising seemed most likely, they were caught off guard by the negotiated revolution, whose dynamism and context they found it difficult to accept. The Africans had won their national liberation struggle, but the social movement integrated in this, which had inspired many white intellectuals, were disarmed by the ANC government. At the same time, many university Marxists felt themselves overruled by the ANC-discourse’s politically disciplined practitioners, who side-lined them. It was not easy to relate to a progressive, democratic government that had no use for white university intellectuals or for potentially treacherous poor.
Most intellectuals, however, surrendered. Desai and Bohmke vividly describes the change that many leading leftists went through from ideology critique to the realization that they belonged within the secure borders of the establishment. Several of them painlessly replaced the Marxist authority they had leaned against, with a right-wing ditto and participated in the demonization of a whip-shy Left.
Some post-radicals, as Alec Erwin, opportunistically differentiates between “politics of liberation” and “politics of transformation”. With the prospect of a democratic constitution and the recognition of the role of the trade unions in a tripartite model, Marxism as a peoples movement instrument had conquered hell and simultaneously rendered itself obsolete.
While Erwin, Webster, and Maree, among others, view their own transformation to Social Democrats as natural and reasonable, this proves for Desai and Bohmke that neo-Marxism was false and treacherous from the start. The upper-class children, who had used it as education and career instrument could now return to their natural positions.
How then, can anyone claim that this has anything to do with a revolution? If one's revolutionary definition requires fast structural changes both at the political and social level simultaneously, then South Africa probably meets the requirement, but if one expects profound changes in class structure and ownership of the means of production, then the country obviously still awaits its revolution.
There is in South Africa very broad consensus that the 1996-Constitution and the abolition of formal racial discrimination in itself constitutes a human rights revolution, that is a political revolution. Several post-radical ANC leaders maintain that they still hold on to the perspective of a real social revolution, but simply "don’t want to commit the same mistakes as Cuba" in the immediate situation. And although Cuban standards would actually be a step forward for many unemployed South Africans with poor access to health and education, African Communist half-heartedly accept black capitalism as the revolution’s interim target.
A socialist dominated ANC secured the state for itself and thereby solved the revolution’s fundamental problem of power, but the victory came through a power-sharing agreement with the previous regime and under international economic and political pressures that did not offer space for alternatives. In the case of South Africa, therefore, it remains unclear whether what we have witnessed were just political reforms pushed through by civil unrest or the first phase of a more fundamental societal change.
At the political level, a new black elite (including several former communists) consolidated its leadership role and for a while checkmated the Left. In this process, the ANC draw heavily on the popular credit the organization had created through its resistance struggle merits.
Many of the left's discussions on the interaction between South Africa's past and present have revolved around developments in the relationship between class, race and nation. During and after Thabo Mbeki's presidency, African identity and South African feelings of nationhood have got a renaissance, but perhaps mostly as a cover for lack of progress in the social sphere.
If one compare the nuances of government documents in the period after 1994, a gradual shift can be observed; from a focus on inequality, seen as a result of an unjust political-economic system, toward a focus on poverty in general, seen as an inevitable by-product of improvements in national economic indicators, and later also more attention to an elite role of Africans in business. Meanwhile, attention has shifted from non-racialism and the rainbow nation to African Renaissance, with more emphasis on African ethnic identity than class consciousness.
Several of the ANC's current leaders and government members, including former President Mbeki, spent a year or more at the Lenin School in Moscow during the Brezhnev period. This could be part of the reason, why the ANC's current government policy appears as a strange mixture of neoliberalism, Brezhnevite rhetoric and ”triumphalist nationalism”, while it, in its practise, have sought, in vain, to approach some kind of African social-democratism. At least, one can ascertain that the popular front traditions of the liberation struggle together with socialist-oriented statements of aim is so entrenched in the South African reality that Mbeki's economic liberalism was forced to go hand in hand with a continuation of the revolutionary rhetoric.
The response from the Communist Party has, after extensive soul-searching, been the slogan “Socialism is the Future, Build it Now” that allegedly seeks to maintain a revolutionary momentum by building the socialist elements in today’s society. Despite a recent tightening of both discourse and organizational practice, it is quite unclear how this differs from the social democratism of an earlier time.
So, what can we learn from the intellectual debate on the deferred revolution? For those defectors who believes that neo-Marxism has completed its mission, the lesson are already learned. For the orthodox, who only saw western Marxism as a diversion and a weakening of the masses’ energies, there was never anything to learn. The university Marxist Andrew Nash believes that the conflict between the Marxist discourses is unresolved and in diverted form remains current for South Africa, in the sense that the Soviet model's focus on growth in production and consumption, planned by superior minds - as it is being practiced with opposite signs by this model’s reformed followers in the ANC government - continues to face the vision of autonomous individuals' self-conscious engagement; the vision that critical intellectuals uncompromisingly should follow.
As I see it, the independent, intellectual Marxism, used as an inspiring corrective to realpolitik and tactical organizational thinking, has become a scarce commodity. The sheer force of the global right-wing in the post-Cold War situation resulted on the left wing in an indulgence and effacement of responsibility that in reality promoted an unfair and ahistorical view of the history of the ideological debate.
In spite of ideological convergence, the decline of the humanities, institute mergers and predictions that the discussion has superseded itself, it is my expectation that the intellectual, ideological right-left debate sooner or later will recur due to interaction with the surrounding community. After many years of commitment to international solidarity movements, I may belong to those that are stuck in a kind of ”struggle-limbo”. It is difficult for me to believe that we are “beyond” the debate between socialists and liberals. This debate reflects some of the most fundamental societal divisions and despite great progress in the area of human rights, class struggle in South Africa has not been abolished. In fact, much suggests that it could get a renaissance.
What I want to do with my project is simply to explore the history writing about all this to find out in what way the professional debate has effected actual decision making at different levels of politics.