Sanction all revolts: a reply to Rebecca Pointer.
The men's words were no longer law. The women were no longer silent. (Fanon, Dialectic of Experience, 1996:211)
This short article was only noteworthy because it was such an isolated effort at taking Mkhonza's murder seriously. On the day that we sat down to discuss a response to Rebecca Pointer's article the Independent on Saturday, in a tiny article on page 3, reported that Thabo Mbeki, speaking in response to the death of Teboho Mkhonza, had
sent out a clear message that the government will act decisively against communities that use violent means to protest against lack of service delivery ... Mbeki said ... his government would not tolerate the destruction of public property and anyone who broke the law would be arrested by the police. (2004: 3)
The words and phrases in Mbeki's discourse are loaded to fall against the poor. For example, the rebellions that are breaking out around the country with increasing frequency are almost always fuelled by the exclusion of poor communities from services that they already have and not the failure of the government to 'deliver' fast enough. The view, pervasive in elite publics, that people must wait patiently while the State 'delivers' is pure ideology in a situation where the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer, amidst a raging orgy of dispossession and enrichment by primitive accumulation. Furthermore, the process of excluding people from services and confiscating their goods to pay off debt is very often violent, while occupying a road in protest is not. In 1649 John Warr observed that 'what freedom we have by the law is the price of much hazard and blood' (1992: 102). Although this remains true, centuries of struggle have not changed the fact that the law remains a terrain on which the rich can still easily out-manoeuvre the poor. Most people can smash a water meter: very few can win an urgent interdict, let alone an audience with the Constitutional Court. Nevertheless, it remains a fact that the Constitution commits the South African Government to the progressive realization of socio-economic rights and so, even within the legal logic of the system that consecrates Mbeki's rule, the police and the State are in violation of its spirit when they exclude the poor from basic services. Shooting peaceful protestors dead is in direct violation of criminal law. So Mbeki is, as protest songs with new words and old tunes often observe, a liar. This is unsurprising. The scandal is that there is no scandal. The police murder of Teboho Mkhonza--like the police murder of Michael Makhabane in a student protest in 2001 (Pithouse, 2001) and the police murder of Marcel King, committed during an attempt to reason with the men disconnecting his mother's electricity in early 2004 (Pillay, 2004), and the de facto endorsement of these murders by elites--is just another ordinary day in neo-liberal South Africa. Liberation is for the rich. For most participants in elite publics, neo-liberalism is common sense and politics has collapsed into technicism to the point where the only political questions that remain are about advancing factional agendas within the neo-liberal consensus. This in a context where the United Nations reports that South Africa's human development index has steadily declined since 1995 and is now at 1975 levels, leaving South Africa ranked below occupied Palestine and Equatorial Guinea (This Day, 2004: 3).
The case for militant action is indisputable--teleological fantasies of inevitable salvation are not tenable. History is not waiting in the wings. Neil Lazarus observes that in Ayi Kwei Armah's literary account of the betrayal of the great hopes of revolutionary anti-colonial nationalism (The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born), 'time has ceased to be the repository of political hope; it had once been so, during the colonizing years, but now, in independence, it has become empty, barren, homogenous' (2004: 609). Hence the necessity to seize the time. For Zizek, 'we simply have to accept the risk that a blind violent outburst will be followed by its proper politicization--there is no short cut here, and no guarantee of a successful outcome either' (2002: 225). Zizek attacks the pseudopolitics of the cult of the victim and advocates a return to the politics of the act undertaken in the face of the existential void and without external legitimation. He argues (2004) that, since Kant, there has been an entrenched philosophical suspicion that such acts are really driven by some unconscious pathology, but that in reality it is an act in itself and for itself that creates so much trauma that it must immediately be contained in symbolic terms. The value of this line of argument is that it begins to offer a partial explanation for why a thinker like Fanon, and the more militant social movements in post-apartheid South Africa, attract such caricatured stigmatization from factions of the left unwilling to connect theory to action. The fear of commitment to the actual is also taken up by Hegel via his famous criticism of the conscience for which '[a]nything that exists an sich is demoted to a mere moment' (1977: 574) with the result that
[c]onsciousness, the relation of mind to something objective, has vanished into empty self-consciousness, and what we have is really the untruth of the moral consciousness rather than its truth. What emerges out of this emptying of morality is the beautiful soul, which is too fine to commit itself to anything. It lacks force to externalize itself and endure existence. It does not want to stain the radiance of its pure conscience by deciding to do anything particular. It keeps its heart pure by fleeing from contact with actuality and preserving its impotence. Its activity consists in yearning, and it is like a shapeless vapour fading into nothingness. (pp. 575-6)
The commitment to action requires us to reject the attractions of empty sentimentality abstracted from actual struggle and helps us to better understand Adorno's statement that '[t]here is tenderness only in the coarsest of demands' (in Eageleton, 2003: 174). So, from the Phenomenology to Fallujah. Arundhati Roy insists that:
The Iraqi resistance is fighting on the frontlines of the battle against Empire. And therefore that battle is our battle. Like most resistance movements, it combines a motley range of assorted factions. Former Baathists, liberals, Islamists, fed-up collaborationists, communists etc. Of course it is riddled with opportunism, local rivalry, demagoguery, and criminality. But if we are only going to support pristine movements, then no resistance will be worthy of our purity ... This is not to say that we should never criticize resistance movements. Many of them suffer from a lack of democracy, from the iconization of their 'leaders,' a lack of transparency, a lack of vision and direction. But most of all they suffer from vilification, repression, and a lack of resources. (2004: 33)
But while the great danger of a failure to act is the endurance of the status quo--which in South Africa means local domination (Bond, 2004) under, and in league with, global fascism (Patel and McMichael, 2004)--active militancy carries its own dangers. Fanon issues two crucial warnings in this regard.
The first warning concerns strategy and speaks to the dangers of taking on the immediacy that comes from the intensity of struggle:
The group faces a local attack as if it were a decisive test. It behaves as if the fate of the whole country was literally at stake, here and now. But we should make it quite clear that this spontaneous impetuosity which is determined to settle the fact of the colonial system immediately is condemned, in so far as it is a doctrine of instantaneity, to self-repudiation. The hard lesson of facts, the bodies mown down by machine-guns: these call forth a complete re-interpretation of events. The simple instinct to survive engenders a less rigid, more mobile attitude. (1976: 106-7)
At times the immediacy of struggle--the stress, lack of sleep, day-to-day confrontation with joy and terror--leads to a state of mind analogous to mania (1) with all the hubris that description implies. But Fanon's warning is that the battles are not the war and that there are no easy structural victories. Nigel Gibson, in a Fanonian critique of the anti-apartheid struggles, argues that '[t]he South African case highlights what happens when the theorizations of spontaneity do not happen, when there is no dialectical relationship between spontaneity and organization' (2001a: 72). Citing Fanon's warning that without theorization people engaged in a strategy of pure spontaneity can succumb to the 'mirage' of their 'muscles' own immediacy' and degenerate into 'a strategy of immediacy that is both radical and totalitarian' (p. 73), Gibson goes on to argue that the ANC's strategy of 'making the townships ungovernable' turned ordinary people into cannon fodder, encouraged a counter brutality and, with slogans like 'liberation before education', left the people waging the most dangerous and damaging end of the struggle unable to contribute to its theorization, or to share in the concessions it eventually won. Later, when people were asked to give up those practices of direct democracy that had survived state repression and the internal authoritarianism of the ANC, in favour of parliamentary representation and elite-driven technocratic anti-politics, there was an inability to contest the battle of ideas. In Gibson's view the outcomes may have been different had the liberation movements followed Fanon's injunction to radically democratize--which means to encourage 'the self-activity and the self-direction of the masses' and to take seriously political education--a collective and democratic 'fundamental questioning' (p. 376). Careful thinking about strategy and tactics is vital.
Fanon's second warning speaks to the purpose of struggle: The militant who faces the colonialist war machine with the bare minimum of arms realized that while he is breaking down colonial oppression he is building up automatically yet another system of exploitation. This discovery is unpleasant, bitter and sickening: and yet everything seemed to be so simple before: the bad people were on one side, and the good on the other. The clear, unreal, idyllic light of the beginning is followed by a semi-darkness that bewilders the senses. (1976:115-16)
Although this warning also has consequences for strategy it is primarily a concern about the ethical character of the struggle. So it appears that with regard to both strategies for realizing a project and the ethical questions about the nature of the project militancy--aggression, war, and so on--is not enough. It is also necessary to be scrupulous--meticulous, troubled by conscience, and so on. Which comes first: militancy or scrupulousness? The ideal answer is to say that they go together and that if their registers are too different to be fused then they should at least be in permanent dialogue from the moment that a struggle beings. Fanon's answer, from his interest in thinking through the dialectic of experience, rather than in generating principles in idealist abstraction from the lived experience of struggle, is that engaged scrupulousness emerges from militancy and that there must then be a struggle within the struggle to subordinate militancy to scrupulousness. In other words, the project of militant revolt produces, through its defeats and failings, an opportunity to struggle for a praxis of reflection and dialogue which can then become the project to which militancy has the relation of a tool to consciousness. It would do Fanon's immanent spirit an injustice to reify his reflective experience into some kind of formula. Alain Badiou is right about the primacy of the situation:
A political situation is always singular; it is never repeated. Therefore political writings--directives or commands--are justified inasmuch as they inscribe not a repetition but, on the contrary, the unrepeatable. When the content of a political statement is a repetition the statement is rhetorical and empty. It does not form part of thinking. On this basis one can distinguish between true political activists and politicians ... True political activists think a singular situation; politicians do not think. (2003: 82; emphasis in original)
But, still, Fanon's account of the Algeria Revolution does teach us that it would be a huge mistake to demand the immediate practice of scrupulousness as the grounds for dialogical solidarity or to assume that struggle has an inevitable and inevitably progressive trajectory. Fanon's work also makes clear the need to work for the development of scrupulousness and its priority over militancy as quickly and effectively as possible. We should sanction all revolts, but always look for opportunities to participate in the dialogical production and development of scrupulousness from militancy.
When we wrote our academic article on the Mandela Park Anti-Eviction Campaign (MPAEC), the Campaign had received no academic attention and only hostile observation from the State and corporate media. We wrote the article with two goals in mind. The first was to provide uncompromising academic legitimation for this struggle in an elite public, from which so much ideological delegitmation of this and other struggles is produced. The second was to use the example of this struggle, including the conditions that have produced it and repressed it, to mount an attack on the academic common sense that works to reinforce these conditions.
We stand by all of this. We stand by it because the struggle in Mandela Park was a revolt, a desperate action to which, in the historical moment in which we wrote, our first duty was to offer an uncompromising sanction. The situation in and against which we wrote included the fact that the MPAEC was facing severe and increasing repression and that there had been no explanation or legitimation, let alone solidarity, for this struggle in the academic or elite intellectual spheres, aside from a small section on the Campaign in Ashwin Desai's We are the Poors (Desai, 2002) and a short article by Desai and Peter van Heusden (2002) for the Centre for Civil Society website. (2)
Knowledge develops dialectically. Rebecca Pointer's article is the first radical critique of an essay written in support of the new South African rebellions, and so it marks a new stage in the development of radical thought in the post-apartheid academy. The maturing moment of dialogical self-reflection has arrived in the academic sphere (it has long been present in other spheres). And it seems right that a critical reflection on revolt follows an attempt to legitimate that revolt, just as it would seem right for more scurpulous theoretical and ethnographic work to follow intitial legitimations of the right to revolt painted in broader, bolder strokes.
Pointer's critique begins with a general questioning of a register in our work that she calls romantic. We make no apologies on this score. However, we would like to point out that to discern courage and hope in the peculiar intensity that accompanies a collective break with the passivity that feeds oppression is to valourize a particular event--a concrete universal in Hegel's terms--and not a set of individuals or a particular struggle, organization or place. As Badiou notes:
the subject of a revolutionary politics is not the individual militant--any more, by the way, than it is the chimera of a class-subject. It is a singular production, which has taken different names (sometimes 'Party', sometimes not). To be sure, the militant enters into the composition of this subject, but once again it exceeds him (it is precisely this excess that makes it come to pass as immortal) (2002: 43)
Furthermore, to valorize an event which breaks with one aspect of domination is not to claim or imply that the event heralds some sort of rosy dawn in which all domination is called into question. We celebrate decisive moments in struggle because they are rare and precious but posit no pure revolutionary subject (person, organization, struggle, place, time, etc). On this score we are fully in agreement with Holloway's attack on Hardt and Negri's (2000) valorization of the ontological richness and purity of the multitude. Holloway argues that failure to acknowledge the mutual interpenetration of labour and capital, the multitude and Empire
means both to underestimate the containment of labour within capital (and hence overestimate the power of labour against capital) and to underestimate the power of labour as internal contradiction within capital (and hence overestimate the power of capital against labour). If the interpenetration of power and anti-power is ignored, then we are left with two pure subjects on either side ... For over a hundred years, communism has suffered the nightmare of the Pure Subject: the Party, the working class hero, the unsullied militant. To resurrect the image of the Pure Subject, just when it seemed at last to have died the indecent death that it merited, is not just a joke, it is grotesque. We hate capitalism and fight against it, but that does not make us the embodiment of good fighting against evil. On the contrary, we hate it not just because we adopt the common condition of the multitude, but because it tears us apart, because it penetrates us, because it turns us against ourselves, because it maims us. Communism is not the struggle of the Pure Subject, but the struggle of the maimed and the schizophrenic. Unless we start from there, there is no hope. (2002: 88-9)
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 nonfetishized struggles and the development of relations of patronage between individuals providing political credibility and individuals providing resources in exchange for political credibility. Pointer is not making any of these mistakes but the autonomist lens through which she sees struggle is a lens that enables the development of these pathologies.
Pointer also questions our article on the grounds that it is not an attempt at writing for a movement to speak to itself. Our article was an academic intervention and not, unlike a participatory workshop or popular education initiative, an intervention directly aimed at generating and then participating in dialogue within a movement. It is true that now that that connections have been forged between sections of the academy and organic intellectuals in movements, there is no firm boundary between academic and movement interventions. Nevertheless, although the movement intellectual never escapes responsibilities with regard to the movement, there are different spheres of intellectual engagement in which different situations are confronted. The situation confronted by this article was both the complete failure of any elite public outside of that constituted by a handful of movement intellectuals to develop any non-pejorative understanding let alone legitimation of the Mandela Park struggle and the general, although of course not complete, failure to question the nature of the elite transition in South Africa.
However there are two broad thrusts of Pointer's critique with which, we think, a more serious and ongoing engagement would have much value.
The first of these relates to her ideas on the issues of leadership and democracy. Here her thinking is strongly marked by her insertion in the autonomist strand of the emerging post-apartheid South African left. Each of the ways of thinking and being that comprise the range of political traditions and ideological dispositions to which movement intellectuals are attracted--anarchism, autonomism, black consciousness, radical femminism, radical humanism, socialism, and so on--have their strengths and weaknesses. The broader movement would be rendered poorer if it were deprived of any of these modes of praxis. However, it may well be that autonomism, as the newest, most fashionable, and most racialized, demands the most rigorous critical scrutiny. Trevor Ngwane (2003) and Richard Pithouse (2005) have made some steps in this direction. Although we have often drawn on autonomist insights and fully acknowledge the richness of the debates within autonomism, the concerns that we have around how autonomism actually functions in South African struggles turn on four key points, each of which seems to stem from Hardt and Negri (2000) and is repeated in Pointer's essay: (1) the Manicheanism of the idea of the multitude vs the empire; (2) the idea that complete ontological redemption is found within the multitude; (3) the inability to think dialectically; (4) the horror at organization and leadership.
To us Pointer's article seems to skate across all four of these thin patches in the autonomist ice. Perhaps the most urgent problem stemming from the first point is that Manicheanism disguises the power relations with 'the multitude'. For example, Pointer is quick to diagnose who is in and who is out of the multitude that excercises power-to and which is ranged against those exercising power-over. Max Ntanyana, who is unemployed, has spent the best part of three years incarcerated or restricted to his house, lacks any means of transport and has been kidnapped from his home and beaten by members of the police force, but still carries the support of hundreds of people in his community in a militant struggle against corporate and state power, is quickly and easily identified as being in the latter camp. But for Pointer the questions raised around the role of outsiders in the movement, including herself (a middle-class white woman) and various visiting foreign leftists, are radically unaceptable and indicative of a deep problem within the campaign. She herself says that people in the campaign were seeking to hold the ANC to its election promises, while outsiders were invested in more far-reaching ideas of revolution. So on what democratic basis can the Campaign be denounced because of a lack of interest in missionaries and adventurers from the American left with ideas of some sort of complete revolution? There are moments in her article when Pointer almost seems to imply that the struggles of the most marginalized and dispossessed should be evaluted by middle class leftists on the extent to which these struggles fulfil their fantasies. This will to deny certain power relationships within the movement, in the name of a greater solidarity in which most participants in the movement have no investment, carries obvious dangers.
However, we need to make it clear that we are not suggesting that the task of the 'outsider' movement intellectual is simply to, as some suggest invoking a new fetish, obey 'the community' or 'the struggle'. For Fanon, the alliance between revolutionary intellectuals and grassroots militants can be explosive. It produces 'critical dialogue between avatars of the differing lifeworlds which inhabit the hybrid body of the nascent society' (Sekyi-Otu, 1996: 172) that enables the formation of links between different struggles, better organization, better reflection on strategy and tactics and the fashioning of 'what Cdsaire called a "common sense" out of differing languages of existence' (p. 177). This includes the need for 'an idea of man and of the future of humanity' (Fanon, 1976: 164). Sekyi-Otu, writes that '[i]n place of the anarchic particularisms of spontaneous revolts ... The outcome which Fanon envisages for this meeting of interlocuters from different social spaces is a "mutual current of enlightenment and enrichment"' (Sekyi-Otu, 1996: 179).
Fanon makes a crucial point (3) about open-ended and unstable social space, in which liberatory praxis must occur. The first is that the intellectual must begin from an appreciation of his/her estrangement. This caution does not mean that radical intellectuals or middle-class militants are unwelcome interlopers in movements. On the contrary, they often bring valuable capacities with regard to knowledge, resources, networking and advocacy for movements in elite publics. This is not necessarily co-opting or predatory. In fact it can be essential and widely-enabling political work. As James (1989: 294) noted, '[i]t is on colonial peoples without means of counter-publicity that imperialism practices its basest arts'. The point is simply that these capacities must be deployed within, and in constant dialogue with, the movements that nourish the insurgence of subaltern agency. Hence Fanon's insistence that the intellectual must neither legislate for the people, or in response to that error commit another and become a 'yes-man' for the people.
This leads directly onto the second thin patch on the autonomist ice, which is a set of illusions (4) about the multitude being a site of collective ontological redemption. For example, for Negri
the multitude is ontological power. This means that the multitude embodies a mechanism that seeks to represent desire and to transform the world--more accurately: it wishes to recreate the world in its image and likeness, which is to say to make a broad horizon of subjectivities that freely express themselves and that constitute a community of free men. (2004: 112)
This is the valorization of a social space and not of political events or processes. It is an illusion. It is interesting that poor people are reified with equal vigour by both the dominant discourses of the World Bank and, their mirror image, the Negrian discourses of reaction. Both discourses are resolutely ahistorical. The poor simply are the poor, because they are the poor. Hence poverty becomes an ontological rather than a historical condition. In the South African context this makes both the Bank and the Negrian discourses complict with racism. The Bank's discourses naturalize the poor through colonial tropes of passivity and ontological lack (Pithouse, 2003). Hardt and Negri (2000) naturalize the poor through Fransican tropes of ontological abundance. The reality is that, like everyone else, poor people make their lives within and against history. In the Western Cape the experience of working class Africans is one of particularly acute marginality, uncertainty, and offically and unoffically state-sanctioned violence. Middle-class activists, taken by Negrian illusions and seeking ontological redemption in the struggles of the poor, will find all the varied emotions and practices that one always finds in a group of people under major multi-generational social stress. These will include courage, beauty and wisdom, as well as fear, ugliness and paranoia. To enter this concrete space in illusion, and to then condemn the revolt that has managed to emerge and to sustain itself against all odds because it does not conform to 'our' dreams is, at best, culpably naive and, at worst, a form of ontological predation.
There is a long-standing debate about whether revolutions can only be made by people with revolutionary subjectivities, or whether these subjectivities emerge in the praxis of struggle. Pointer's assumption seems to be that enlightened outsiders can, like new missionaries, create these subjectivities. Our view is that, in so far as these subjectivities ever emerge fully-formed in individuals, they do so via the practice of struggle and dialogical reflection on struggle. In Fanon's words, 'it is the essence of the fight which explodes old truths and reveals unexpected facets' (in Gibson, 2001b: 384).
The World Bank and Negri are both radically undialectical. They both pose good against evil and see redemption as the penetration of the latter by the former. The suspicion of dialectical thinking is very understandable in South Africa, where the South African Communist Party advances a dogmatic dialectical theory of a two-stage revolution that demands that its cadres defend the 'National Democratic Revolution' from 'ultra-left' critics, on the grounds that it is the first stage of the transition to socialism. Of course the articulation of the former is entrenching relations of domination and thus making the possibilities of the latter progressively more remote. But thinking of the dialectic is not exhausted by its Stalinist articulations. For Fanon the dialectic is not an inhuman force driving history towards a pre-established goal. It is rather the 'unstable, critical and creative moment of negativity ... (that produces) movement through absolute, irreconcilable contradictions' (Gibson, 1999: 340; emphasis in the original). So Fanon insists that:
[w]e must join (the people) ... in that fluctuating movement which they are just giving a shape to, and which, as soon as it has started, will be the signal for everything to be called into question. Let there be no mistake about it; it is to this zone of occult instability where the people dwell that we must come. (1976: 182-3)
For Fanon experience and reflection on experience produce changes in thinking and therefore in action. There is no teleology here. On the contrary there can be stasis, progression and retrogression. So he recommends 'a subjective attitude in organized contradiction with reality' (1976: 53) because this is necessary to facilitate the development of liberatory ideology in dialogue between intellectuals, militants and the broader base of social movements that can:
counteract both the hollow rhetoric of both the nationalist middle class and the romanticising, and potentially retrograde, nativist ideology, with its appeal to traditions. The problem of a lack of liberatory ideology is expressed in the failure to convert the openings created by mass movements into a moment of change--a genuine revolutionary moment. (p. 357)
It is often the case that 'ordinary' grass roots participants in movements are far more ideologically conservative (in orthodox left terms) than militants and movement intellectuals, but much more numerous and much better able to express their ideological militancy in popular registers. This means that a practice of mutually transformative dialogue may slow down ideological movement, but speed up political movement. This result richly rewards the investments required to produce it. After all, as James told us, '[i]t is force that counts, and chiefly the organised force of the masses ... It is what they think that matters' (1989: 286: emphasis added).
Thinking dialectically, in this manner, about Mandela Park would require a thinking that understands the histories and current experiences that are generating movement in various directions and which seeks, via reflection and dialogue, to participate in the development of a liberatory praxis. This is quite different to an approach which demands a fully-formed extant praxis without regard to history or current experience, condems a movement, and actors within the movement, for not instantly measuring up to the demands of a naturalizing ideology and poses no critical questions to the middle class white voice.
Pointer's comments about the limitations of the leadership within the MPAEC raise some important issues. But autonomism's fetish of spontenity means that it lacks any meaningful capacity for posing, let alone answering, the important questions about democratic structure, practice and leadership within movements, and so Pointer ends up making absurd judgements--the popularly accepted leadership in a radically-oppressed community is suddenly an 'elite' cabal that must be replaced--and simply condemning individuals. At times Pointer goes so far as to describe the actions of the individuals in whom she has lost faith, in precisely the same language as the State. For example, Ntanyana and Goboza are described as 'orchestrating a mass rally'. However, the actions of indivuals in whom she retains faith are described very differently. She writes that 'Bin Laden, Pahlane, Mfundisi, Charles, Tami, Winnie and Neliswa, continued the work of returning people to their homes' (Pointer, this issue). These actions seem a lot like leadership, but are described in the most benign terms. This disjuncture makes us hope that Pointer's horror at leadership is not simply functioning (consciously or not) as a means for an outsider to legitimate one faction against another.
The second broad thrust of Pointer's article, to which we are much more sympathetic, is her femminist critique of both the MPAEC and our representation of the Campaign. Pointer raises, and on occasion very powerfully, many questions that movements have failed to take up and which require serious collective reflection.
However, we reject her implied diagnosis of a link between pervasive sexism and Xhosa culture and question her failure to historicize sexism in Mandela Park. In this instance, her thinking slots into the grooves worn by a set of discourses with colonial origins and we feel strongly that the structurallysexist consequences of neo-liberalism (Samson, 2003), the links between the disempowerment of poor men and the male will to dominate family life, and the anti-sexism articulated within Xhosa culture (5) all need to be taken seriously. Moreover, the very long (and raced and classed) history of using claims about the mistreatment of women to justify domination continues from the colonial era into the neo-colonial discourses of World Bank feminism (Pithouse, 2003) that seek to legitimate intervention by stigmatizing poor men. It is asbolutely necessary to oppose these tendencies and to show that, contrary to the Bank, poor men are not naturally brutes. Questions regarding the relationship of 'public' domination in broader society to 'private' domination in the home need to be raised. We need to ask what happens to men who are raised for a social role--waged employment--that no longer exists. This does not mean that the sexism of some poor men should be excused but, on the contrary, that it must be opposed within a theoretical framework that historicizes rather than naturalizes it, recognizes that it occurs within an unstable and changing social space, and which is vigorously opposed to the reproduction of raced and classed stereotypes.
Although no one that we spoke with in Mandela Park, man or woman, raised these issues with us, we do accept that Pointer is very likely to be correct in diagnosing acute sexism within and around the Mandela Park struggle. After all, the society in general is deeply sexist and while social movements are overwhelmingly constituted by women, they are almost always led by men, and seldom take up gender issues in a programmtic way.
For Spivak (1988: 296): it is not easy to ask the question of the consciousness of the subaltern woman, it is thus all the more necessary to remind pragmatic radicals that such a question is not an idealist red herring. Though all feminist or antisexist projects cannot be reduced to this one, to ignore it is an unacknowledged political gesture that has a long history and collaborates with a masculine radicalism that renders the place of the investigator transparent.
We have some sympathy for Parry's (1987) suggestion that Spivak's commitment to deconstruction may function, itself, to prevent the written representation of the speaking of the actually existing subaltern. Anxieties about textual violence to subaltern consciousness can reproduce the beautiful soul syndrome that generates a failure to act in the midst of an ongoing offensive by capital and the State. But this does not mean that there are not better or worse ways of writing about the experience and agency of subaltern women.
George Eliot is quite right when she writes to remind us, against our epistemological laziness and ethical stupour, that:
[i]f we have a keen vision and feeling of all ordinary human life, it would be like hearing the grass grow and the squirrel's heart beat, and we should die of that roar which lives on the other side of silence. (in Brink, 2003: iii)
So how does one procede? If this woman, why not that woman? If a Xhosa woman, why not a Pondo woman? If a Pondo woman, why not a Pondo girl'? Everyone in Mandela Park deserves the scrupulous attention that van Onselen's (1996) textual intervention gives to Kas Maine's life, and even that exemplary work could not be a complete account of a life. Some things must be left out.
The full version of our article includes a longer interview with Hleliwe Nosense Elsie Gaji. When Ashwin Desai knocked on her door on October 2003 she was illegally occupying the house from which she had been legally evicted. She was terrified to answer the door. When she did open the door this destitute woman had a smartly-framed picture of Nelson Mandela on her wall. She is prepared to break the law, but desires obedience to the father of the nation that literally has no space for her and stigmatizes her as criminal. Consciousness is contradictory. Speaking to more women does not guarantee the emergence of a subjugated feminist analysis. It is also the case that having women do the listening and writing does not necessarily lead to the closer attention to women's voices. On the contrary, there are women active in movement elites that ruthlessly defend relationships of mutual patronage with grassroots men.
The intellectual culture within and around South African movements is expanding and developing fast. (6) There is a rapidly growing community of people who accept the legitimacy of revolt. Militancy has forged and defended a group of linked social spaces for the practice of scrupulousness (of course this has to be struggled for within these spaces--left careerism is also emerging here). New questions that are being raised in these spaces include questions around race; linkages with 'global' movements; the relation with the State; relations between community organizations, social movements and trade unions; the nature of the investments which middle-class activists have in social movements; and issues around organization, democracy and strategy.
Moreover, feminist ears and voices are gaining ground in these spaces. The feminist sensibilities of academic movement intellectuals, like Amanda Alexander, Shereen Essof, Mandisa Mbali and Raj Patel, are beginning to create new ways of listening and women at the coal-face of community struggles are increasingly speaking in ways that echo a powerful statement from Insurgente Commander Esther of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation:
[A]s women, the rich man tries to humiliate us, but also the man who is not rich, who is poor like our husbands, our brothers, our fathers, ours sons, our companions in the struggle, and those work with us and are organised with us. So we say clearly that when women demand respect, we demand it not only from the neoliberals, but also from the those who struggle against neoliberalism and say that they are revolutionaries but in the home are like Bush. (Esther, 2003) (7)
A nascent femminist challenge to thinking in and about social movements is at hand.
No doubt this emergent movement within the anti-neo-liberal movements will, as it comes to fuller voice, radically alter everyone's praxis including ours. The question 'how does one proceed?' looks set to be answered very well, and in different ways by a range of different people.
But that is the way things are going. We remain uncertain whether or not our desire to sanction the revolt in Mandela Park was complicit in a particularly masculine radicalism. One the one hand everything that we witnessed in Mandela Park indicated that hundreds of women gave courageous support to the Campaign and to its de facto leadership. There was much that the article did not deal with, but is it not the case that an academic intervention that punches one hole in the thick ideological curtain between common sense and the roar on its other side has done its work and done it well? It would be an entirely different matter if that intervention made any claims to be more than one hole or to be a definitive representation, but our article made no such claims. (8) But, on the other hand, even if one accepts Fanon's model and moves from the position that the collective praxis of academic engagement with struggle should begin by sanctioning revolt and then move on to explore, dialogically, nuances and strengths and weaknesses from a position of critical solidarity, should we not have made a much more serious attempt to include women's voices and positions in our originary academic account of the MPAEC, or to ask critical questions about power relations in the 'private' sphere? (9)
All of our arguments about the general need to endorse revolt and to oppose the particular stimgatization of the MPAEC seem to support the former position. But there are strong arguments for the latter position.
Firstly, there is the simple point that women hold up half the sky. Our article takes up questions of race and class vigorously. However, there are multiple forms of popular oppression--xenophobia, homophobia, sexism, generational power, and so on. They all matter hugely, but if every written intervention tried to take all of these into account there would be no good writing, for the simple reason that more breadth means less depth. Nevertheless, gender issues have a particular urgency because any general account of a community is an account of social space, that is at least half constituted by women--and we do well to remember that ideas of 'the community' or 'the struggle' often function, like the idea of the nation, to order, to exclude and to discipline. These facts do indicate a complicity in accepting the unproblematized mediation of dominant men in a community of men and women. They demand that thinking of ideas like 'community' or 'struggle' brings, as quickly as possible, as much scrupulous attention to questions around internal and proximate power relations as the evolving political situation allows.
Secondly, South Africa has a very long history of violence carried out by the State's armed assault on the poor, and local feudal elites' defence of their relations of patronage, which has produced a powerful current of machismo. Although there are many men who do not participate in this machismo, and some women who do, and although there are times when counter-violence is a politcal neccessity, the fact is that it is a mode of action that tends to marginalize women. This fact must also render scrupulous attention to women's voices and experiences within movements a vital discipline for everyday praxis here and now. As the State steps up its violence we have to simulatenously offer a full sanction to defensive counter-violence and to problematize its dominance as a mode of action within movements. If the latter is delayed (macho) militancy will never be subordinated to the practice of scrupulousness.
Thirdly, there is Sekyi-Otu's point regarding the gendered failures of movements to achieve an order congruent with the ethical claims that legitimate their opposition to previous orders. Sekyi-Otu, in dialogue with Fanon, asks a crucial question:
Could it be, then, that the nationalist allegory of agency lost and regained is pathalogically gendered, hence seriously and tragically flawed? Could it be that at the heart of anticolonial nationalism is a sturdy roof, gendered privileges, men's right of agency ...? (1996: 229)
And he gives a powerful answer to a second crucial question:
What would the project of decolonization look like if its protagonists took to heart the principal indicment against racial and colonial subjugation--namely that it violates the 'independence of persons'--and if they embarked upon a work of transformation adequate to this critical discourse? The vision of women's independence, the vision of integral emancipation, is the outcome of this call and response between skeptism and heretical hope. (p. 231)
In other words, the experience of women is a key measure of the degree to which movements are genuinely oppositional, as opposed to a mere project of incorporation within domination.
But if we accept that rebellion (and writing about rebellion) is a dialectical and collective social process, rather than an absolute ontological condition, at what point do we make the experience of women a key measure? For Machel:
[t]he idea of waiting until later to emancipate women is erroneous; it means allowing reactionary ideas to gain ground only to fight them when they arestrong. Is it not like fighting the alligator on the bank only to fight him in the middle of the river? The armed struggle, acting like an incubator, has already created the conditions for the masses to be receptive to the idea of progress and revolution. To avoid joining battle when conditions are ripe is lack of political forsight, an error of strategy. (1980:158-9)
Samora Machel's logic holds when transposed into our situation--the moment to begin this struggle is the moment struggle begins, because this is the moment when things are called into question. This does not mean that failures in this regard should cause militants to abandon actual struggles that pose an actual challenge to material domination, in order to preseve the purity of their conscience. But it does mean that these questions must be asked from the beginning and with the same relentlessness required by all the questions that really matter.
Our militance would have spoken more powerfully for heretical hope, had it more actively fought itself and other militancies, in order to listen more scrupulously to women and their experiences. We welcome Pointer's questions, in so far as they are a moment in the development of a challenge to the primacy of militancy by one form of scrupulousness--public attentiveness to the 'private' experiences and voices of women in anti-neo-liberal movements. Onward.
On 5 September 2004 the following article appeared in the City Press:
Sunday 5th September 2004.
From The City Press (South Africa) Shocking video on Harrismith STAFF REPORTERS.
EXCLUSIVE but shocking video footage in City Press's possession shows how Harrismith police opened fire indiscriminately on demonstrators as they slowly crossed the N3 highway last week and then continued firing at them as they fled for cover.
This move led to the tragic death of 17-year-old Teboho Mkhonza.
The video shows how the toyi-toying group slowly started crossing the highway. The demonstrators were not throwing stones, as some reports claimed, and their numbers were nowhere near the reported 4500 claimed by police earlier this week.
Before the demonstrators were halfway across the road, police opened fire without any warning. The demonstrators turned and ran for cover.
Police, however, continued to fire at their backs. They also continued shooting as people fell to the ground. The video clearly identifies three police officers firing at the fleeing demonstrators, although more were involved in the shooting. The footage then shows at least four police officers grappling with a demonstrator and forcibly pushing him into the back of a police van.
In extremely disturbing footage, one then sees a badly injured and bleeding Mkhonza lying on the floor of a police van. Fellow demonstrators locked in the van are visibly upset by police inaction to call an ambulance. Mkhonza wailed in pain and battled to breathe with what looked like a chest wound.
(1.) We are indebted to Raj Patel for this insight.
(2.) After our article was completed, the highly respected radical South African academic, Martin Legassick (2003), wrote an account of the MPAEC struggle for Labor's Militant Voice and is now planning a carefully ethnographic study.
(3.) This is discussed very well by Sekyi-Otu (1996) and by Gibson (2004b).
(4.) For Freud (1989), an illusion is a belief elicited and maintained by unconscious desires irrespective of evidential support.
(5.) For a broad theoretical argument about the dangers of condemning practices as 'cultural', while ignoring democratic contestation within the culture in question see Neocosmos (2005).
(6.) This growth is reflected in the recent rapid expansion of organic and more academic spaces for movement intellectuals to meet, discuss and publish. Examples include the Social Movements Indaba, the Centre for Civil Society, the forthcoming special issue of the journal Development Update on social movements, the Centre for Civil Society research report series and social movements project and many other publications, projects and organizations.
(7.) We are indebted to Raj Patel for passing Insurgente Commander Esther's letter on to us.
(8.) Although Pointer clearly misread our valorization of resistance against evictions and disconnections as a general valorization of the MPAEC and its leading members.
(9.) Our opportunities to visit Mandela Park were constrained by our lack of money to travel there, but we could have used our limited time there differently.
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Ashwin Desai is an honorary research fellow at the Centre for Civil Society at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. His most recent book is We are the Poors: Community Struggles in Post-Apartheid South Africa (2002, Monthly Review Press).
Address: Centre for Civil Society, Howard College Campus, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban, 4000, South Africa. (Desai@ukzn.ac.za)
Richard Pithouse is a research fellow at the Centre for Civil Society at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. He is the editor of University Struggles in South Africa (forthcoming 2005, African World Press).
Address: Centre for Civil Society, Howard College Campus, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban, 4000, South Africa. (Pithouser@ukzn.ac.za)
Ashwin Desai * Richard Pithouse **
* Honorary Research Fellow, Centre for Civil Society, University of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa.
** Research Fellow, Centre for Civil Society, University of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa.
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|Author:||Desai, Ashwin; Pithouse, Richard|
|Publication:||Journal of Asian and African Studies|
|Date:||Aug 1, 2004|
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