Monday, 4 July 2011

The Moment of Western Marxism in South Africa

by Andrew Nash, 1999

Any attempt to build a South African left which is both  militant and rational — capable both of engaging with the struggles of the oppressed majority and developing analyses and arguments which depend on argument and evidence rather than faith — had better be aware that history is against it. We build on an activist culture pervaded by sectarianism and dogma, and an intellectual culture in which the assimilation of radical ideas has reproduced patterns of intellectual dependence and fragmentation. This legacy will not be overcome except to the extent that we understand the forces that produced it. Indeed, to the extent that we do not understand those forces, the more vigorously we seek to distance ourselves from that legacy, the more likely we are to reinforce it instead.

This is a real prospect for the South African left today, after the demise of the generation of Marxist intellectuals and activists that emerged in the 1970s. Their Marxism sought to overcome the dogma and reductionism of Stalinism and Trotskyism, to engage with history as a living process rather than a mechanical formula, to found a historical consciousness linking local struggles to global processes, and implant itself in a working-class movement which sought to control its own destiny, openly and democratically, rather than submitting to the authority of nationalism or pseudo-science.

Click here to download this paper in pdf.