Friday, April 30, 2010

VI. Conclusions: Re-alignments

We are militantly against the dangerous tendency among elements of the post-apartheid left to reify certain personalities and struggles as permanently progressive and to continue to indulge in this festish long after the struggles in question have been emptied of any progressive content. The dark side of the growth and development of the post-apartheid left is that being left is now becoming a career option. In this context the most obvious dangers of the tendency towards reification include the deliberate marginalization of non-fetishized struggles and the development of relations of patronage between individuals providing political credibility and individuals providing resources in exchange for political credibility.[1]

This is a salutary warning that, ironically, now pits co-authors against each other.

Recent events in the country have shown that now is not the time to persist with spent myths, whether about national unity, the sanctity of any political subject and discourse or, for that matter, the readiness of people to wage class struggle as opposed to other mobilizations, or doing nothing at all. Partly as a result of the former glory of social movements these old myths now seem sclerotic. So too is the binary opposition between romantic "servants" of movements dedicated to amplifying their true voice (who are all good) and those authoritarian Leftists and other vanguards who dare to challenge, censure, engage and influence movements politically (who are all bad). Time has shown how topsy-turvy these labels can be, with the faithful Figaro's substantially directing the affairs of their "masters" in Abahlali better than any Leninist. Now is the time to soberly uncover the politics, as Sinwell has urged, of all political formations that purport to want fundamental social change. It is also a time to make whatever re-alignments are necessary, however dramatic, to ensure we live up to the responsibilities we assume.

This image of a group occupied with questions of responsibility, practicality and rigorous critique is also a myth mind you. I by no means wish to link truth to mere facts. Truth is a question of style and I acknowledge the role of art and myth in inspiring life and creating truths we live up to. I am with Oscar Wilde who goes so far to say that Life imitates Art. Good art though can succumb to cliché. The art of branded social movements nowadays has all the sound and fury of resistance but, like the dances at arrival halls at airports, the shouts and twirled knobkierries are mainly ceremonial, harking back to days when social movements were different organizations not consumed by court cases, conferences and curfews. At the centre of these displays are the imbongis, the praise-singers who use their accreditation at universities to doctor and profess. As they monopolise the field of writing so their deceptions get more outrageous. As the movements decline so their myths grow and their anger at those who seek to expose their manufacture increases.

Today some of the imbongis are teaching courses whose content reflects only their propaganda and spin.[2] Will students ask about where this knowledge came from? What kind of research was involved? What interests were at stake? Where these declared? Where are the counter-voices? Or will the propagandists develop another coterie of mythomaniacs with degrees in hand? What I do know is that a deep anti-intellectualism has been bred by the very people who supposedly make a living by a contestation of ideas.

While being the praise-singers of movements was a direction some of us took, its usefulness has passed. As class forces previously contained within a monolithic-appearing ANC spew outwards, the gaze at community particularities seems increasingly myopic. There is a difference between being a committed intellectual and showing brand loyalty to the social movements upon which so many intellectuals made their own names. Nor can questions of contesting political power and ideology be ignored now that the experiment with the phyletic inclinations of the (social movement) poor towards truth and revolution has led to liberalism, legalism and reform. A new mythical framework is needed but it is not one to be foisted onto the poor. The image of people concerned with practicality, rigour and the responsibility to fight for what is politically precious to them in their own name is the inspiration I believe should be adopted for the time being. In my view, this is the myth of what is to be done, a critical "pushing on from outside". This is what is appropriate to the cycle of a very uncertain but very promising upheaval we are about to enter.

Heinrich Böhmke, April 2010

[1] Desai, A. and Pithouse, R., 2004: 298.

[2] Richard Pithouse who works in the Politics and International Relations Department at Rhodes University teaches a postgraduate course entitled, "The Mind of the Oppressed." The seminar dedicated to dealing with "Emancipatory Theory in Contemporary South Africa" has, as compulsory readings, articles by Nigel Gibson called "Upright and Free: Fanon in South Africa from Biko to Abahlali baseMjondolo" and another by Raj Patel titled, "A Short Course in Politics at the University of Abahlali baseMjondolo".

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