Forwarded from Ismail Lagardien

John Enyang jenyan1 at
Thu Dec 14 14:22:02 MST 2000

> 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.

It is all too easy to find "revolutionary intellectuals" of any hue or
nationality who have treated Marxian thought uncritically or as an
abstract dogma. This, it seems, has a l w a y s represented a serious
problem - one, which in my view has little, if anything, to do with being
black. Nor does the author of the article begin to make a convincing case
that the "problem" is worse among "black revolutionary intellectuals" than

One might also ask, whether the author of this piece considers that Franz
Fanon, Aime Cesaire, CLR James "imbibed" Marxist thought "uncritically".

> 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.
This seems to be a straw man. Where has anyone seriously argued that the
local conditions and history should be ignored, or that Marx intended to
create a complete body of work which would be thoughtlessly applied in all
places and at all times?

> 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.
Actually, this critique, which the author has, for reasons obscure to me,
directed here soley at white South African Marxist intellectuals, applies
to post colonial petty-bourgeois (intellectual or not) as a whole. I refer
the reader (and the Author of the article) to Fanon's "Wretched of the
Earth" for an excoriating analysis of the African petty bourgeoisie.

> 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.
South Africa, like most of the former colonised world, is facing economic
and social rollback from the core countries in the capitalist system. And
in South Africa, the ANC has gone the way of most former liberation
movements -- turning itself into a cabal dominated by an ambitious petty -
bourgeoisie whose power and relative privilege depends on the local
services it is able to render to global capital.

In this situation, where the working classes (black and white, but
especially the black), and the black peasantry, face the grimest struggle
for day to day survival, it is populist and nationalist demagoguery, nay
it is scapegoating of the worst kind, to direct one's political energies to
attacking the "white marxist left" while the (mostly black, I might add)
petty bourgeoisie and opportunists in the South African government
implement an agenda dictated by the instruments of global capital -- not
least of which is Ismail Lagardien's putative employer, the World Bank.

Ebrahim Harvey's article displays all the worst shortcomings and
inadequacies of the nationalist approach -- an approach, which though it
has been the plague of the African working classes and peasantry, has
served the short term and day to day, political needs of an nefarious
aspiring African capitalist-bureaucratic elite rather well over the last
50 years.

John Enyang
 MSCS (M/C 249)
 SEO 322 / 851 S. Morgan Street,
 Chicago, IL 60607-7045,
 enyang at

> 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
> Marxism mailing list:

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