Forwarded from Ismail Lagardien

Louis Proyect lnp3 at
Thu Dec 14 11:53:07 MST 2000

[Comrades will find this exceptionally interesting, I'm sure. I am not
exactly sure whether Ebrahim Harvey is a pen-name for Ismail, but in any
case the article raises some important questions. I should add that Ismail
was subbed to the Marxism list briefly and everybody used to get a big kick
out of the fact that he was (and still is) employed by the World Bank. Talk
about boring away from within!]



This will appear in tomorrow's Mail & Guardian in South Africa. Would love
to hear your views on this: I was a member of the Black Consciousness
Movement (essentially socialists) in South Africa for a long time... You
may want to post it to the WSN or PSN forum (without this note from me,



To break free from the white left
Ebrahim Harvey

Because the Industrial Revolution, which gave rise to classes and class
struggles, began in England and Europe there is no doubt that the
historical, ideological and epistemological foundations of Marxism reside
with white European intellectuals, such as Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels,
Vladimir Lenin and Leon Trotsky.

Black people in the Third World, who were subjected to slavery, racism,
colonialism and imperialism by the forces which that revolution unleashed,
had no role whatsoever in the original formulation of Marxist theories and,
in fact, had relatively little to do with the subsequent development of
these theories, and the struggles which they gave rise to.

However, many black revolutionary intellectuals in Africa, particularly in
our country, imbibed and applied these theories uncritically. This always
represented serious problems both in theory and practice.

The most fundamental of these, that many today, on the basis of political
and organisational experience, are beginning to realise, is that
perspectives, as provided by their own experience in the Third World, could
not be solely based on the foundations laid by Marx and others. In fact it
is precisely on the epistemological foundations of Marxism ó conditions
determine consciousness ó that it could not.

In South Africa white Marxist intellectuals, whether inside the African
National Congress-led alliance or outside it, have never been an organic
part ó historically, socially and economically ó of the black working
class, particularly since the Nationalist Party won the 1948 elections.

The racist basis of its rule and the systematic and extensive privileges
all white people enjoyed, including the white left, in spite of their
consciousness and whether they fought against apartheid, made that an
indisputable fact of life before 1994. In fact white people enjoyed one of
the highest standards of living in the world due to the gross exploitation
of black labour.

The white left, in its diversity, has had no living experience of
oppression, racism and hardships. They know of it only through the
experience of black people. They brought no blood, sweat or tears to the
black working class. What they brought was intellectual and financial
resources and a commitment to change.

Today, in the post-apartheid era, they still control huge resources, linked
to their academic and other work, which is, again, the basis of their
involvement with, and in many cases control of, the support, solidarity and
scholarly work they conduct with unions and community organisations.

Look at most of the white left and not far behind them you will see lots of
money and other resources or the means to access it. This is an extension
of their privileged background.

This enabled them, among many other privileges, to study and achieve
academic qualifications, travel, dominate the academia and all areas of
scholarship. Until today most academic disciplines, research and
scholarships are dominated by whites. What this meant was that the
white-left intellectuals had a huge advantage over black intellectuals and
radi-cals in critical areas of knowledge and research which mainstream
white universities enjoyed over black universities.

Undoubtedly, apartheid benefited the entire white left, the legacy of which
lives on.

It is this background that enabled them to play the leading role they did
in linking up with the union movement and providing various services to
black workers. But it was always intellectual leadership made possible on
the basis of the privileges they enjoyed. That they performed an important
role in developing the union movement is without doubt but it was not as
organisers of black workers. Their role in the unions was always in an
official capacity based on their academic qualifications and intellectual
skills. In other words, the nature of their involvement in the labour
movement arose from their privileged petit-bourgeois material base, similar
to the roles played by the European intellectuals in relation to the
working class.

Not a single International, from the first, founded by Marx, to the fourth,
founded by Trotsky, had struck deep and enduring roots in Africa because of
the Eurocentric disposition of Marxism since its origins. To the limited
extent that Africa and Africans featured in these Internationals they were
always dominated by Europe, financially and intellectually, the twin
historical characteristics upon which such domination was always based.

In the Marxist workers tendency of the ANC we see the same forces at play:
domination of black comrades by the white intellectual leadership through
their control of resources.

We used to criticise Stalinists in the ANC-led alliance for keeping the
left outside it from positions for which they were qualified or for using
resources to control and manipulate people. Well, we are seeing this being
subtly played out by many of the university-based and other white left of
South Africa who control budgets which run into millions. Their approach is
to strategically link up with leading black activists ó to gain credibility
ó whom they use and control to their own ends.

Financial resources are allocated to those blacks, often young and
inexperienced, they can control. They resent strong and independent black
revolutionary thinkers who can see through their schemes.

The nature of the leadership of intellectuals in working-class struggles
has, in the light of historical and international experience, to be
seriously reviewed. In our country, where race and class are intertwined,
that task is even more urgent. We need the development of an independent
black Marxist cadre and thinker, who combines the best of Marx, Amilcar
Cabral and Malcolm X, and is not dependent on the financial and
intellectual resources of the white left, who, lacking historically organic
links with the black working class, and the experience that brings, only
have that to their credit. Historical and material conditions have shaped
our experiences very differently.

Trotsky said that academic intellectuals live off the intellectual credits
of capital. In South Africa they live comfortably off that and the black
working class, without whom they are little or nothing. Very seldom have
they ever organised white workers and communities, where organisation of a
different kind was most needed. Why? This was largely due to their own
petit-bourgeois character within the white population. What is ironic is
that the resources they control for their own ends is, in the final
analysis, the blood of the international working class. Now there is a job
for a revolutionary "African renaissance".

Ismail Lagardien

Louis Proyect
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