Tuesday, 2 April 2013

Marxisms past and present

Kirk Helliker, Rhodes University, South Africa
Peter Vale, University of Johannesburg, South Africa


Marxism was central to the understanding of South Africa’s struggle for freedom. This article provides a critical analysis of Marxist literature on South Africa since the 1970s, drawing out its relevance for contemporary analyses of the post-apartheid state and for radical politics today. It suggests that while the literature offered important insights into the character of the apartheid state, it failed to provide a critical appraisal of the state per se. Moreover, the capturing of state power by the liberation movement was not grounded in an understanding of the oppressive character of the state-form. The undermining of mainstream Marxism under neo-liberalizing conditions in post-apartheid South Africa has opened up the prospects for anti-statist radical libertarian thinking (including autonomist Marxism), and this thinking is consistent with the practices of certain autonomist popular politics currently emerging. Social theorizing on South Africa has had a complex relationship with Marxism. This article is interested in drawing on this experience in an effort to understand its implications for the ‘new’ South Africa where, 20 years after apartheid’s formal ending, social transformation remains caught in the logic not of Marxism but neo-liberalizing capitalism.

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